Home > Verity(6)

Author: Colleen Hoover

“He still lives in the same town. He remarried a few years later. Has a few stepkids and grandchildren.”

There’s something in Jeremy’s expression that makes me think he knows I’m lying, but he seems appreciative that I did.

“You’ll need to spend time in Verity’s office going through her things. She has years of notes and outlines—stuff I wouldn’t know how to make sense of.”

I shake my head. Did he not hear anything I said? “Jeremy, I told you, I can’t—”

“The lawyer is lowballing you. Tell your agent to ask for half a million. Tell them you’ll do it with no press, under a pen name, with an ironclad non-disclosure. That way, whatever it is you’re trying to hide can stay hidden.”

I want to tell him I’m not trying to hide anything other than my awkwardness, but before I can say anything, he’s moving toward the door.

“We live in Vermont,” he continues. “I’ll give you the address after you sign the contract. You’re welcome to stay for however long it takes to go through her office.”

He pauses with his hand on the door. I open my mouth to object again, but the only word that comes out is a very unsure “Alright.”

He stares at me a moment, as if he has more to say. Then he says, “Alright.”

He opens the door and walks out into the hallway where Corey is waiting. Corey slips past him, back into the conference room where he closes the door.

I look down at the table, confused by what just happened. Confused as to why I’m being offered such a substantial amount of money for a job I’m not even sure I can do. Half a million dollars? And I can do it under a pen name with no tour or publicity commitment? What on earth did I say that led to that?

“I don’t like him,” Corey says, plopping down in his seat. “What did he say to you?”

“He said they’re lowballing me and to ask for half a million with no publicity.”

I turn in time to watch Corey choke on air. He grabs my bottle of water and takes a drink. “Shit.”

I had a boyfriend in my early twenties named Amos, who liked being choked.

It’s why we broke up—because I refused to choke him. But sometimes I wonder where I’d be had I entertained his urge. Would we be married now? Would we have children? Would he have moved on to even more dangerous sexual perversions?

I think that’s what worried me the most with him. In your early twenties, vanilla sex should satisfy a person without the need to introduce fetishes so early on in a relationship.

I like to think about Amos when I find myself disappointed with the current state of my life. As I stare at the pink eviction notice in Corey’s hand, I remind myself that it could be worse—I could still be with Amos.

I open my apartment door farther, allowing Corey to step inside. I wasn’t aware he was coming over, or I would have made sure there were no eviction notices taped to my door. It’s the third day in a row I’ve received one. I take it from him and shove it into a drawer.

Corey holds up a champagne bottle. “Thought we could celebrate the new contract,” he says, handing me the bottle. I’m appreciative he doesn’t mention the eviction. It’s not as dire now that I have a paycheck on the horizon. What I’ll do until then...I’m not sure. I might have enough money for a few days in a hotel.

I can always pawn what’s left of my mother’s things.

Corey has already taken off his coat and is loosening his tie. This used to be our routine, before my mother moved in. He’d show up and begin losing pieces of his clothing until we were under the covers in my bed.

That came to a complete halt when I found out through social media that he had been on a few dates with a girl named Rebecca. I didn’t stop our sexual relationship out of jealousy—I stopped it out of respect for the girl who wasn’t aware of it.

“How’s Becca?” I ask as I open the cabinet to find two glasses. Corey’s hand pauses on his tie, as if he’s shocked I’m aware of what’s going on in his love life. “I write suspense novels, Corey. Don’t be so surprised that I know all about your girlfriend.”

I don’t watch for his reaction. I open the bottle of champagne and pour two glasses. When I go to hand one to Corey, he’s seated at the bar. I stay on the opposite side and we raise our glasses. But I lower mine before he can make a toast. I stare down at my champagne flute, finding it impossible to think of anything to toast about other than the money.

“It’s not my series,” I say. “They aren’t my characters. And the author responsible for the success of these books is injured. It feels wrong to toast to this.”

Corey’s glass is still paused mid air. He shrugs and then downs his entire glass in one sip, handing it back to me. “Don’t focus on why you’re playing the game. Just focus on the finish line.”

I roll my eyes as I set his empty glass in the sink.

“Have you ever even read one of her books?” he asks.

I shake my head and turn on the water. I should probably do dishes. I have forty-eight hours to be out of this apartment, and my dishes are something I want to take with me when I go. “Nope. Have you?” I pour dish soap into the water and grab a sponge.

Corey laughs. “No. She’s not my style.”

I look up at him, just as he realizes that his words double as an insult to my own writing, considering I was offered this job because of our supposed similar writing styles, according to Verity’s husband.

“Not what I meant,” he says. He stands up and walks around the bar, standing next to me at the sink. He waits for me to finish scrubbing a plate, and then he takes it from me and begins rinsing it off. “It doesn’t look like you’ve packed anything. Have you found a new apartment yet?”

“I have a storage building and plan to have most of it out by tomorrow. I’ve put in an application at a complex in Brooklyn, but they won’t have anything for two weeks.”

“The eviction notice says you have two days to be out.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“So where are you going? A hotel?”

“Eventually. I’m leaving Sunday for Verity Crawford’s house. Her husband says I’ll need to go through her office for a day or two before I start the series.”

Immediately upon signing the contract this morning, I received an email from Jeremy with directions to their house. I requested to come on Sunday, and luckily he agreed.

Corey takes another dish from me. I can feel him staring at me. “You’re staying at their house?”

“How else am I supposed to get her notes for the series?”

“Have him mail them to you.”

“She has thirteen years’ worth of notes and outlines. Jeremy said he wouldn’t even know where to begin, and it would be easier if I sorted through it myself.”

Corey doesn’t say anything, but I can sense he’s biting his tongue. I slide the sponge down the length of the knife in my hand and then hand it to him.

“What aren’t you saying?” I ask.

He rinses the knife in silence, sets it in the strainer, then grips the edge of the sink and turns his head toward me. “The man lost two daughters. Then his wife gets injured in a car wreck. I’m not sure I’m all that comfortable with you being in his home.”

The water suddenly seems too cold for me. Chills run down both arms. I turn off the water and dry my hands, leaning my back against the sink. “Are you suggesting he had something to do with any of it?”

Corey shrugs. “I don’t know enough about what happened to suggest anything. But has that thought not crossed your mind? That maybe it’s not the safest thing to do? You don’t even know them.”

I’m not ignorant. I’ve been digging up as much as I can find about them online. Their first child was at a sleepover fifteen miles away when she had an allergic reaction. Neither Jeremy nor Verity was there when it happened. And the second daughter drowned in the lake behind their home, but Jeremy didn’t arrive home until the search for her body was already in place. Both were ruled accidents. I can see why Corey is concerned, because I was, too, honestly. But the more I dig, the less I can find to be concerned about. Two tragic, unrelated accidents.

“And what about Verity’s car wreck?”

“It was an accident,” I say. “She hit a tree.”

Corey’s expression suggests he isn’t convinced. “I read there weren’t any skidmarks. Which means she either fell asleep or she did it on purpose.”

“Can you blame her?” I’m irritated that he’s making baseless claims. I turn around to finish the dishes. “She lost both of her daughters. Anyone who suffers through something like that would want to find a way out.”

Corey dries his hands on the dish towel and then grabs his jacket off the barstool. “Accidents or not, the family obviously has shit luck and a hell of a lot of emotional damage, so you need to be careful. Get in, get what you need, and leave.”

“How about you worry about the contractual details, Corey? I’ll worry about the research and writing part of it.”

He slips on his jacket. “Just looking out for you.”

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