Home > Verity(4)

Author: Colleen Hoover

It has to be confusing, falling in love with a writer’s words before you meet the actual writer. Some people find it difficult to separate a character from the individual who created them. Corey, surprisingly, is one of those people, despite being a literary agent. He met and fell in love with the female protagonist of my first novel, Open Ended, before he ever spoke to me. He assumed my character’s personality was a close reflection of my own, when in fact, I couldn’t be more opposite from her.

Corey was the only agent to respond to my query, and even that response took months to receive. His email was only a few sentences long, but enough to breathe life back into my dying hope.

I read your manuscript, Open Ended, in a matter of hours. I believe in this book. If you’re still looking for an agent, give me a call.

His email came on a Thursday morning. We were having an in-depth phone conversation about my manuscript two hours later. By Friday afternoon, we had met for coffee and signed a contract.

By Saturday night, we had fucked three times.

I’m sure our relationship broke a code of ethics somewhere, but I’m not sure that contributed to how short-lived it was. As soon as Corey figured out that I wasn’t the person my character was based on, he realized we weren’t compatible. I wasn’t heroic. I wasn’t simple. I was difficult. An emotionally challenging puzzle he wasn’t up for solving.

Which was fine. I wasn’t in the mood to be solved.

As difficult as it was being in a relationship with him, it is surprisingly easy being his client. It’s why I chose not to switch agencies after our breakup, because he’s been loyal and unbiased when it comes to my career.

“You look a little frazzled,” Corey says, breaking me out of my thoughts. “Are you nervous?”

I nod, hoping he’ll accept my behavior as nerves because I don’t want to explain why I’m frazzled. It’s been two hours since I left my apartment this morning, but it feels like more has happened in that two hours than in the entire rest of this year. I look down at my hands…my arms…searching for traces of blood. It’s no longer there, but I can still feel it. Smell it.

My hands haven’t stopped shaking, so I keep hiding them under the table. Now that I’m here, I realize I probably shouldn’t have come. I can’t pass up a potential contract, though. It’s not like offers are pouring in, and if I don’t secure something soon, I’ll have to get a day job. If I get a day job, it’ll barely leave me time to write. But at least I’ll be able to pay my bills.

Corey pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket and wipes sweat from his forehead. He only sweats when he’s nervous. The fact that he’s nervous is now making me even more nervous. “Do we need a secret signal if you aren’t interested in whatever the offer is?” he asks.

“Let’s listen to what they have to say, and then we can request to speak in private.”

Corey clicks his pen and straightens in his chair as though he’s cocking a gun for battle. “Let me do the talking.”

I planned to anyway. He’s charismatic and charming. I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who could categorize me as either of those things. It’s best if I just sit back and listen.

“What are you wearing?” Corey is staring down at my shirt, perplexed, just now noticing it despite having spent the last fifteen minutes with me.

I look down at my oversized shirt. For a moment, I forgot how ridiculous I look. “I spilled coffee on my other shirt this morning and had to change.”

“Whose shirt is that?”

I shrug. “Probably yours. It was in my closet.”

“You left your house in that? There wasn’t something else you could have worn?”

“It doesn’t look high fashion?” I’m being sarcastic, but he doesn’t catch it.

He makes a face. “No. Is it supposed to?”

Such an ass. But he’s good in bed, like most assholes.

I’m actually relieved when the conference room door opens and a woman walks in. She’s followed, almost comically, by an older man walking so closely behind her, he bumps into the back of her when she stops.

“Goddammit, Barron,” I hear her mumble.

I almost smile at the idea of Goddammit Barron actually being his name.

Jeremy enters last. He gives me a small nod that goes unnoticed by everyone else.

The woman is dressed more appropriately than I am on my best day, with short black hair and lipstick so red, it’s a little jarring at nine thirty in the morning. She seems to be the one in charge as she reaches for Corey’s hand, and then mine, while Goddammit Barron looks on. “Amanda Thomas,” she says. “I’m an editor with Pantem Press. This is Barron Stephens, our lawyer, and Jeremy Crawford, our client.”

Jeremy and I shake hands, and he does a good job of pretending we didn’t share an extremely bizarre morning. He quietly takes the seat across from me. I try not to look at him, but it’s the only place my eyes seem to want to travel. I have no idea why I’m more curious about him than I am about this meeting.

Amanda pulls folders out of her briefcase and slides them in front of Corey and me.

“Thank you for meeting with us,” she says. “We don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll cut right to the chase. One of our authors is unable to fulfill a contract due to medical reasons, and we’re in search of a writer with experience in the same genre who may be interested in completing the three remaining books in her series.”

I glance at Jeremy, but his stoic expression doesn’t hint at his role in this meeting.

“Who is the author?” Corey asks.

“We’re happy to go over the details and terms with you, but we do ask that you sign the non-disclosure agreement. We would like to keep our author’s current situation out of the media.”

“Of course,” Corey says.

I acquiesce, but I say nothing as we both look over the forms and then sign them. Corey slides them back to Amanda.

“Her name is Verity Crawford,” she says. “I’m sure you’re familiar with her work.”

Corey stiffens as soon as they mention Verity’s name. Of course we’re familiar with her work. Everyone is. I hazard a glance in Jeremy’s direction. Is Verity his wife? They share a last name. He said downstairs that his wife is a writer. But why would he be in a meeting about her? A meeting she isn’t even here for?

“We’re familiar with the name,” Corey says, holding his cards close.

“Verity has a very successful series we would hate to see go unfinished,” Amanda continues. “Our goal is to bring in a writer who is willing to step in, finish the series, complete the book tours, press releases, and whatever else is normally required of Verity. We plan to put out a press release introducing the new co-writer while also preserving as much of Verity’s privacy as possible.”

Book tours? Press releases?

Corey is looking at me now. He knows I’m not okay with that aspect. A lot of authors excel in reader interaction, but I’m so awkward I’m afraid once my readers meet me in person, they’ll swear off my books forever. I’ve only done one signing, and I didn’t sleep for the week leading up to it. I was so scared during the signing that it was hard for me to speak. The next day, I received an email from a reader who said I was a stuck-up bitch to her and she’d never read my books again.

And that’s why I stay at home and write. I think the idea of me is better than the reality of me.

Corey says nothing as he opens the folder Amanda hands him. “What is Mrs. Crawford’s compensation for three novels?”

Goddammit Barron answers this question. “The terms of Verity’s contract will remain the same with her publisher and, understandably, won’t be disclosed. All royalties will go to Verity. But my client, Jeremy Crawford, is willing to offer a flat payment of seventy-five thousand per book.”

My stomach leaps at the mention of that kind of payout. But as quickly as the excitement lifts my spirits, they sink again when I accept the enormity of it all. Going from being a nobody writer to co-author of a literary sensation is too much of a jump for me. I can already feel my anxiety sinking in just thinking about it.

Corey leans forward, folding his arms over the table in front of him. “I’m assuming the pay is negotiable.”

I try to catch Corey’s attention. I want to let him know that negotiations aren’t necessary. There’s no way I’m accepting an offer to finish a series of books that I’d feel too nervous to write.

Goddammit Barron straightens up in his chair. “With all due respect, Verity Crawford has spent the past thirteen years building her brand. A brand that wouldn’t exist otherwise. The offer is for three books. Seventy-five thousand per book, which comes to a total of two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.”

Corey drops a pen on the table, leaning back in his chair, appearing to be unimpressed. “What’s the time frame for submission?”

“We’re already behind, so we’re looking to have the first book submitted six months from the contract signing date.”

I can’t stop staring at the red lipstick smeared across her teeth as she speaks.

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