Verity

 

 

 

I choose not to read more of Verity’s manuscript. It’s been two days since I read about the attempted abortion, and the manuscript is still at the bottom of her desk drawer, hidden and untouched by me. I can feel it, though. It exists with me in Verity’s office, breathing shallowly beneath the junk I covered it with. The more I read, the more unsettled I become. The more unfocused I become. I’m not saying I’ll never finish it, but until I make progress on what I’m here to do, I can’t get sidetracked by it again.

I’ve noticed, now that I’ve stopped reading it, being in Verity’s presence doesn’t creep me out as much as it did a few days ago. I actually came up for air after working all day yesterday in the office to find Verity and her nurse seated at the dinner table with Crew and Jeremy. In the first couple of days I was here, I was in the office while they had dinner, so I wasn’t aware that they brought her to the table when they ate together. I didn’t want to intrude, so I went back to my office.

There’s a different nurse today. Her name is Myrna. She’s a little older than April, round and cheerful with two rosy spots on her cheeks that make her look like an old-fashioned Kewpie doll. Right off the bat, she’s a lot more pleasant than April. And honestly, it’s not that April is unpleasant. But I get the vibe she doesn’t trust me around Jeremy. Or Jeremy around me. I’m not sure why she dislikes my presence, but I can see how being protective of her patient would mean judging another woman who is staying in her invalid patient’s home. I’m sure she thinks Jeremy and I lock ourselves in the master bedroom together after she leaves every evening. I wish she were right.

Myrna works on Fridays and Saturdays, while April takes the rest of the week. Today is Friday and, while I expected to be moving into my apartment today, I’m relieved it’s all worked out the way it has. I would have left here unprepared. The extra time I’ve been given has been a lifesaver. I’ve knocked out reading two more books in the series in the past two days, and I actually enjoyed them a lot. It was fascinating, seeing how Verity always writes from the antagonist’s point of view. And I have a good sense of the direction I need to take with the series. But just in case, I still search for notes now that I know what I’m actually looking for.

I’m on the floor, digging through a box when Corey texts me.

 

Corey: Pantem did a press release this morning, announcing you as the new co-author of Verity’s series. Sent a link to your email if you want to take a look.

 

As soon as I open my email, there’s a knock on the door of the office.

“Come in.”

Jeremy opens the door, peeking his head in. “Hey. I’m headed to Target to get a few groceries. If you make me a list, I can grab whatever you need.”

There are a few things I need. Tampons being one of them, even though I only have a day or two left of my period. I just wasn’t expecting to be here this long, so I didn’t pack enough. I’m not sure I want to tell Jeremy that, though. I stand up, dusting off my jeans. “Actually, do you mind if I go with you? Might be easier.”

Jeremy opens the door a little wider and says, “Not at all. Leaving in about ten minutes.”

 

•••

 

Jeremy drives a dark grey Jeep Wrangler with jacked-up tires, covered in mud. I’ve never actually seen it because it’s been in the garage, but it’s not what I expected him to drive. I assumed he’d drive a Cadillac CTX or an Audi A8. Something a man in a suit would drive. I don’t know why I keep picturing him as the professional, clean-cut businessman I met that first day. The man wears jeans or sweatpants every day, is always outside working, and has a rotating stock of muddy boots he leaves by the back door. A Jeep Wrangler actually fits him better than any other vehicle I’ve been picturing him in.

We’re out of his driveway, about half a mile down the road, when he turns down his radio.

“Did you see Pantem’s press release today?” he asks.

I grab my phone from my purse. “Corey sent me the link, but I forgot to read it.”

“It’s only one sentence long in Publishers Weekly,” Jeremy says. “Short and sweet. Just how you wanted it.”

I open the email and read the link. It’s not a link to Publishers Weekly, though. Corey sent me a link to the announcement made on Verity Crawford’s social media page, via her publicity team.

 

Pantem Press is excited to announce that the remaining novels in The Virtue Series, made successful by Verity Crawford, will now be co-written with author Laura Chase. Verity is ecstatic to have Laura on board, and the two are looking forward to the co-creation of an unforgettable conclusion to the series.

 

Verity is ecstatic? Ha! At least I know never to trust another publicity announcement. I start reading the comments below the announcement.

 

-Who the heck is Laura Chase?

-WHY IS VERITY HANDING OVER HER BABY TO SOMEONE ELSE?

-Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

-That’s how it usually works, right? Mediocre author gets successful, hires shittier author to do her job?

 

I set down my phone, but it’s not enough. I turn off the ringer and put it in my purse, then zip it shut. “People are brutal,” I mutter under my breath.

Jeremy laughs. “Never read the comments. Verity taught me that years ago.”

I’ve never really had to deal with comments because I’ve never really put myself out there. “Good to know.”

When we arrive at the store, Jeremy hops out of the Jeep and runs around to open my door for me. It makes me uneasy because I’m not used to this kind of treatment, but it would probably make Jeremy even more uneasy if he allowed me to open the door myself. He is just the type of guy Verity describes him to be in her autobiography.

This is the first time I’ve ever had a guy open a door for me. Dammit. How messed up is that?

When he grabs my hand to help me out of the Jeep, I tense up because I can’t prevent my reaction to his touch. I want more of it when I shouldn’t want any of it.

Does he feel the same around me?

Sex for him has been out of the picture for quite a while now, which leads me to wonder if he misses it.

That has to be a hard adjustment. To have a marriage that seemed to revolve around sex in the beginning, only to have sex ripped out of the marriage overnight.

Why am I thinking about his sex life as we’re walking into Target?

“Do you like to cook?” Jeremy asks.

“I don’t dislike it. I’ve just always lived alone, so I don’t make meals very often.”

He grabs a shopping cart, and I go with him to the produce section. “What’s your favorite meal?”

“Tacos.”

He laughs. “Simple enough.” He grabs all the vegetables he’ll need to make tacos. I offer to make spaghetti for them one night. It’s really the only thing I cook that I can honestly say I’m good at.

He’s on the juice aisle when I tell him I’ll be back, that I need a few things outside of the grocery department. I get the tampons, but grab other things to throw in the cart with them, like shampoo, socks, and a few shirts since I didn’t really bring any with me.

I have no idea why I’m embarrassed to buy tampons. It’s not like he’s never seen them. And, knowing Jeremy, he’s probably purchased them for Verity a few times. He seems like the type of husband who wouldn’t think twice about it.

I find Jeremy in the grocery section, and as I walk toward him, I notice he’s flanked by two women who have abandoned their carts to talk to him. His back is pressed against the ice cream cooler, giving the impression that he wishes he could melt right into it and escape. I can only see the backs of their heads as I approach, but when Jeremy’s eyes meet mine, an attractive blonde turns around to see what he’s looking at. The brunette seems more my speed, but only until she looks at me. Her glare changes my mind instantly.

I approach the cart as if it’s a wild animal, cautiously, timidly. Do I place my items into the cart or will that make this awkward? I decide to set my things in the upper basket, a clear line in the red-cart sand: We are together but not together. The women both look at me, simultaneously, their eyebrows climbing higher with each item I set in the basket. The one standing closest to Jeremy, the blonde, is staring at my tampons. She looks back up at me and tilts her head.

“And you are?”

“This is Laura Chase,” Jeremy answers. “Laura, this is Patricia and Caroline.”

The blonde looks like she’s been handed a warm cup of gossip tea. “We’re friends of Verity’s,” Patricia says. She gives me a very noticeable condescending look. “Speaking of, Verity must be feeling better if she’s got a friend in town.” She looks at Jeremy for more explanation. “Or is Laura your friend?”

“Laura is here from New York. She’s working with Verity.”

Patricia smiles at the same time she makes an mhm sound and looks back at me. “How does one work with a writer, exactly? I assumed it would be more of a solitary job.”

“That’s usually what non-literary people assume,” Jeremy says. He nods at them, dismissing us from the conversation. “Have a good afternoon, ladies.” He begins to move the shopping cart, but Patricia places her hand on it.

“Tell Verity I said hello and we hope she’s recovering well.”

“I’ll share the message,” Jeremy says, walking past her. “Give my best to Sherman.”

Patricia makes a face. “My husband’s name is William.”

Jeremy nods once. “Oh. That’s right. I get them confused.”

I hear Patricia scoff as we walk away. When we make it to the next aisle, I say, “Um. Who is Sherman?”

“The guy she fucks behind her husband’s back.”

I look at him, shocked. He’s smiling.

“Holy shit,” I say, laughing. When we get to the register, I can’t stop smiling. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that kind of epic burn in person.

Jeremy begins placing things on the conveyor belt. “I probably shouldn’t have stooped to her level, but I can’t stand hypocrites.”

“Yes, but without hypocrites, there would be no epic karmic moments like the one I just witnessed.”

Jeremy grabs the rest of the things from the cart. I try to keep mine separate, but he refuses to let me pay for it myself.

I can’t stop staring at him as he runs his credit card. I feel something. I’m not sure what. A crush? That would make complete sense. I would develop a crush on a man who is so devoted to his ailing wife that he’s too blind to see anyone or anything else. He’s too blind to even see who his own wife was.

Lowen Ashleigh, falling for an unavailable man with more baggage than even she has.

Now that’s karma.