I look at the house behind him, wondering what that must be like for a child to grow up in such a home. “Must be nice,” I mutter.
“Used to be.” He turns and begins walking up the driveway, toward the front door. I instantly feel bad for him. I’m not sure I’ve given much thought to the situation this family is in. This little boy, who can’t be more than five years old, has lost both of his sisters. And who knows what that kind of grief has done to his mother? I know it was apparent in Jeremy.
I save my suitcase for later and shut my door, following the little boy. I’m only a few feet behind him when he opens the front door and walks into the house, then closes the door in my face.
I wait a moment, wondering if maybe he has a sense of humor. But I can see through the frosted window of the front door, and he continues through the house and doesn’t come back to let me in.
I don’t want to call him an asshole. He’s a little kid, and he’s been through a lot. But I think he might be an asshole.
I ring the doorbell and wait.
I ring the doorbell again but get no answer. Jeremy put his contact information in the email he sent me, so I pull up his number and text him. “It’s Lowen. I’m at your front door.”
I send the text and wait.
A few seconds later, I hear steps descending the stairs. I can see Jeremy’s shadow through the frosted glass grow larger as he approaches the door. Right before it opens, I see him pause like he’s taking a breath. I don’t know why, but that pause reassures me that maybe I’m not the only one nervous about this whole situation.
Weird how his potential discomfort brings me comfort. I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.
He opens the door, and although he’s the same man I met a few days ago, he’s…different. No suit or tie, no air of mystery about him. He’s in sweatpants and a blue Bananafish T-shirt. Socks, no shoes. “Hey.”
I don’t like the buzz rushing through me right now. I ignore it and smile at him. “Hi.”
He stares for a second and then steps aside, opening the door wider, waving me in with his arm. “Sorry, I was upstairs. I told Crew to get the door. Guess he didn’t hear me.”
I step into the foyer.
“Do you have a suitcase?” Jeremy asks.
I spin around to face him. “Yeah, it’s in my back seat, but I can get it later.”
“Is the car unlocked?”
“Be right back.” He slips on a pair of shoes next to the door and walks outside. I spin in a slow circle, checking out my surroundings. Not much is different from the pictures I saw of the home online. It feels odd because I’ve seen all the rooms in the house already, thanks to the realtor website. I feel like I already know my way around, and I’m only five feet into the house.
There’s a kitchen to the right and living room to the left. They’re separated by an entryway with a staircase that leads to the second floor. The kitchen in the pictures was trimmed with dark cherry cabinetry, but it’s been updated, and all the old cabinets have been ripped out, replaced mostly by shelves and a few cabinets above the countertop that are a blonder wood.
There are two ovens, and a refrigerator with a glass door. I’m staring at it from several feet away when the little boy comes bounding down the stairs. He runs past me and opens the refrigerator, pulling out a bottle of Dr. Pepper. I watch as he struggles to twist open the lid.
“Want me to open it for you?” I ask him.
“Yes, please,” he says, looking up at me with those big green eyes. I can’t believe I thought he was an asshole. His voice is so sweet and his hands are so tiny, they can’t even open a bottle of soda yet. I take it from him and twist open the bottle with ease. The front door opens as I’m handing the soda back to Crew.
Jeremy narrows his eyes in Crew’s direction. “I just told you no sodas.” He leaves my suitcase against the wall and walks over to Crew, pulling the soda out of his hands. “Go get ready for your shower. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Crew rolls his head and stalks back toward the stairs.
Jeremy cocks an eyebrow. “Never trust that kid. He’s smarter than both of us put together.” He takes a sip of the soda before returning it to the refrigerator. “You want something to drink?”
“No, I’m fine.”
Jeremy grabs my suitcase and carries it down the hallway. “I hope it’s not weird, but I’m giving you the master bedroom. We all sleep upstairs now, and I thought it would be easier because it’s the closest room to her office.”
“I’m not even sure I’m staying the night,” I say as I follow behind him. The place gives me an eerie vibe, so it would be nice if I could grab what I need and find a hotel. “I was planning to check out her office and assess the situation.”
He laughs, pushing the bedroom door open. “Trust me. You’ll need at least two days. Maybe more.” He lays the suitcase on a chest at the foot of the bed, then opens the master closet and points to an empty area. “I made some space in case you need to hang anything.” He points toward the bathroom. “Bathroom is all yours. I’m not sure if there are toiletries, so let me know if you need anything. I’m sure we have it.”
“Thank you.” I look around the room, and this all feels so bizarre. Especially that I’ll be sleeping in their bed. My eyes are pulled to the headboard—specifically to the teeth marks bitten into the top edge of the headboard in the center of the bed. I immediately tear my eyes away before Jeremy catches me looking. He’ll probably see all over my face that I’m wondering which one of them had to bite the headboard in order to keep quiet during sex. Have I ever had sex that intense?
“You need a minute alone in here, or would you like to go ahead and see the rest of the house?” Jeremy asks.
“I’m good,” I say, following him. He walks into the hallway, but I pause, eyeing the bedroom door. “Does this door lock?”
He takes a step back inside the bedroom, looking at the door handle. “I don’t know that we’ve ever locked it.” He jiggles the handle. “I’m sure I can find a lock if it’s important to you.”
I haven’t slept in a bedroom without a lock since I was ten. I want to beg him to find a lock, but I also don’t want to be even more intrusive than I already am.
“No, it’s fine.”
He lets go of the door, but before stepping back out into the hallway, he says, “Before I take you upstairs, do you know what name you’ll be writing this series under?”
I hadn’t thought about it since finding out Pantem agreed to the demands Jeremy told me to make.
I shrug. “I haven’t really thought about it.”
“I’d like to introduce you to Verity’s nurse using your pen name, in case you never want anyone attaching you to the series.”
Her injuries are bad enough that she needs a nurse?
“Okay. I guess…” I’m clueless as to what name I should use.
“What street did you grow up on?” Jeremy asks.
“What was the name of your first pet?”
“Chase. He was a Yorkie.”
“Laura Chase,” he says. “I like it.”
I tilt my head, recognizing that pattern of questioning from Facebook quizzes. “Isn’t that how people figure out their pornstar name?”
He laughs. “Pen name, pornstar name. Works across the board.” He motions for me to follow him. “Come meet Verity first, and then I’ll take you to her office.”
Jeremy takes the stairs two at a time. There’s an elevator that looks newly installed right past the kitchen. Verity must be in a wheelchair now. God, the poor woman.
Jeremy is waiting for me when I reach the top of the stairs. The hallway splits, with three doors on one end and two on the other. He turns left.
“This is Crew’s bedroom,” he says, pointing toward the first room. “I sleep in that room.” He points to the door next to Crew’s.