Home > Verity(3)

Author: Colleen Hoover

I can’t stop staring at his wedding ring.

“Are you a writer?” he asks.

I nod. “Are you?”

“No. My wife is.” He pulls at his tie until it’s secured in place. “Have you written anything I would know?”

“I doubt it. No one reads my books.”

His lips turn up. “There aren’t many Lowens in the world. I’m sure I can figure out which books you’ve written.”

Why? Does he actually want to read them? He looks down at his phone and begins to type.

“I never said I write under my real name.”

He doesn’t look up from his phone until the elevator doors open. He moves toward them, turning in the doorway to face me. He holds up his phone and smiles. “You don’t write under a pen name. You write under Lowen Ashleigh, which, funny enough, is the name of the author I’m meeting at nine thirty.”

I finally get that smile, and as gorgeous as it is, I don’t want it anymore.

He just Googled me. And even though my meeting is at nine, not nine thirty, he seems to know more about it than I do. If we really are headed to the same meeting, it makes our chance meeting on the street seem somewhat suspicious. But I guess the odds of us both being in the same place at the same time aren’t all that inconceivable, considering we were headed in the same direction to the same meeting, and therefore, witnessed the same accident.

Jeremy steps aside, and I exit the elevator. I open my mouth, preparing to speak, but he takes a few steps, walking backward. “See you in a few.”

I don’t know him at all, nor do I know how he relates to the meeting I’m about to have, but even without being privy to any details of what’s happening this morning, I can’t help but like the guy. The man literally gave me the shirt off his back, so I doubt he has a vindictive nature.

I smile before he rounds the corner. “Alright. See you in a few.”

He returns the smile. “Alright.”

I watch him until he makes a left and disappears. As soon as I’m out of his line of sight, I’m able to relax a little. This morning has just been...a lot. Between the accident I witnessed and being in enclosed spaces with that confusing man, I’m feeling so strange. I press my palm against the wall and lean into it. What the hell—

“You’re on time,” Corey says. His voice startles me. I spin around, and he’s walking up to me from the opposite hallway. He leans in and kisses me on the cheek. I stiffen.

“You’re never on time.”

“I would have been here sooner, but…” I shut up. I don’t explain what prevented me from being early. He seems disinterested as he heads in the same direction as Jeremy.

“The actual meeting isn’t until nine thirty, but I figured you’d be late, so I told you nine.”

I pause, staring at the back of his head. What the hell, Corey? If he’d told me nine thirty rather than nine, I wouldn’t have witnessed the accident across the street. I wouldn’t have been subjected to a stranger’s blood.

“You coming?” Corey asks, pausing to look back at me.

I bury my irritation. I’m used to doing that when it comes to him.

We make it to an empty conference room. Corey closes the door behind us, and I take a seat at the conference table. He sits next to me at the head of the table, positioning himself so that he’s staring at me. I try not to frown as I take in the sight of him after our months-long hiatus, but he hasn’t changed. Still very clean, groomed, wearing a tie, glasses, a smile. Always such a stark contrast to myself.

“You look terrible.” I say it because he doesn’t look terrible. He never does, and he knows it.

“You look refreshed and ravishing.” He says it because I never look refreshed and ravishing. I always look tired, and maybe even perpetually bored. I’ve heard of Resting Bitch Face, but I relate more to Resting Bored Face.

“How’s your mother?”

“She died last week.”

He wasn’t expecting that. He leans back in his chair and tilts his head. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Why haven’t you bothered asking until now? I shrug. “I’m still processing.”

My mother had been living with me for the past nine months—since she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. She passed away last Wednesday after three months on hospice. It was difficult to leave the apartment in those last few months because she relied on me for everything—from drinking, to eating, to turning her over in her bed. When she took a turn for the worse, I wasn’t able to leave her alone at all, which is why I didn’t step foot outside of my apartment for weeks. Luckily, a Wi-Fi connection and a credit card make it easy to live life completely indoors in Manhattan. Anything and everything a person could possibly need can be delivered.

Funny how one of the most populated cities in the world can double as a paradise for agoraphobics.

“You okay?” Corey asks.

I mask my disquiet with a smile, even if his concern is only a formality. “I’m fine. It helps that it was expected.” I’m only saying what I think he wants to hear. I’m not sure how he’d react to the truth—that I’m relieved she’s gone. My mother only ever brought guilt into my life. Nothing less, nothing more. Just consistent guilt.

Corey heads for the counter lined with breakfast pastries, bottles of water, and a coffee carafe. “You hungry? Thirsty?”

“Water’s fine.”

He grabs two waters and hands one to me, then returns to his seat. “Do you need help with the will? I’m sure Edward can help.”

Edward is the lawyer at Corey’s literary agency. It’s a small agency, so a lot of the writers use Edward’s expertise in other areas. Sadly, I won’t be needing it. Corey tried to tell me when I signed the lease on my two-bedroom last year that I wouldn’t be able to afford it. But my mother insisted she die with dignity—in her own room. Not in a nursing home. Not in a hospital. Not in a hospital bed in the middle of my efficiency apartment. She wanted her own bedroom with her own things.

She promised what was left in her bank account after her death would help me catch up on all the time off I had to take from my writing career. For the past year, I’ve lived off what little advance I had left over from my last publishing contract. But it’s all gone now, and apparently, so is my mother’s money. It was one of the last things she confessed to me before she finally succumbed to the cancer. I would have cared for her regardless of her financial situation. She was my mother. But the fact that she felt she needed to lie to me in order for me to agree to take her in proves how disconnected we were from one another.

I take a sip of my water and then shake my head. “I don’t really need a lawyer. All she left me was debt, but thanks for the offer.”

Corey purses his lips. He knows my financial situation because, as my literary agent, he’s the one who sends my royalty checks. Which is why he’s looking at me with pity now. “You have a foreign royalty check coming soon,” he says, as if I’m not aware of every penny coming in my direction for the next six months. As if I haven’t already spent it.

“I know. I’ll be fine.” I don’t want to talk about my financial issues with Corey. With anyone.

Corey shrugs a little, unconvinced. He looks down and straightens up his tie. “Hopefully this offer will be good for both of us,” he says.

I’m relieved the subject is changing. “Why are we meeting in person with a publisher? You know I prefer to do things over email.”

“They requested the meeting yesterday. Said they have a job they’d like to discuss with you, but they wouldn’t give me any details over the phone.”

“I thought you were working on getting another contract with my last publisher.”

“Your books do okay, but not well enough to secure another contract without sacrificing some of your time. You have to agree to engage in social media, go on tour, build a fan base. Your sales alone aren’t cutting it in the current market.”

I was afraid of this. A contract renewal with my current publisher was all the financial hope I had left. The royalty checks from my previous books have dwindled along with my book sales. I’ve done very little writing this past year because of my commitment to my mother, so I have nothing to sell to a publisher.

“I have no idea what Pantem will offer, or if it’s even something you’ll be interested in,” Corey says. “We have to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they’ll give us more details. The secrecy has me curious, though. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but there are a lot of possibilities and I have a good feeling. We need this.”

He says we because whatever the offer is, he gets fifteen percent if I accept. It’s the agent-client standard. What isn’t the agent-client standard would be the six months we spent in a relationship and the two years of sex that followed our breakup.

Our sexual relationship only lasted as long as it did because he wasn’t serious about anyone else and neither was I. It was convenient until it wasn’t. But the reason our actual relationship was so short-lived is because he was in love with another woman.

Never mind that the other woman in our relationship was also me.

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