Alex appeared, his dreadlocked head captured under a wool beanie. “What up, chica?” he said, wrapping his arms around me and giving me a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Too much to get into right now,” I mumbled, ripping the plastic wrap off the lasagna dish and tossing it into the trash.
“I would stay around and wade into that land mine, but I have class in twenty, so you’ll have to lament your woes to me some other time,” he said, grabbing a granola bar and snagging his backpack off the floor.
“Thanks, roomie,” I called out sarcastically.
He waved, pounding on Zach’s door on his way out. “Zach!” he yelled, then spun, giving me a quick grin and jogged out, slamming the door behind him.
Zach appeared thirty seconds later, pulling a baseball cap on his head. “What’s up?” he said, eyeing my lasagna as he walked past me into the kitchen. I leaned against the counter and stuck a fork in the dish, waiting, my mouth full of Stouffer’s pasta.
He opened the freezer, glanced inside, then looked at the box, sitting on the counter. He raised his eyebrows at me, then his hands. “From the look on your face, I’m not even going to go there. Take as many as you want. I’m not hurting for the three dollars right now.”
I grinned despite myself. “Thanks, Zach. Alex just left—he’s the one who called for you.”
He nodded, opening a cabinet and pulling out a bag of Doritos. Undoing the tie, he grabbed a handful of chips and hoisted himself up onto the counter. Tilting his head at me, he studied my pajamas. “Is your internship already over? I thought you had one more week.”
I opened the trash, chunking the remaining lasagna into it. “They let us go home early. My boss was found dead this morning in the office.” I moved past him to the sink, washing my fork, my peripheral vision catching his shocked expression. Even in my fragile state, I could appreciate the shock value of my statement.
“No shit,” he breathed.
“Yes shit. All sorts of crazy shit. Hence me, in my pj’s, eating your lasagna. Which, by the way, sucked. You should buy a different brand.”
“It’s better when you cook it in the oven,” he said through a mouthful of chips. Crunching loudly, he stared at me as if I had something poignant to say. I stared back, our eye contact stretched out until he finished chewing. “Sorry.”
“About the lasagna, or about Broward?”
“Broward is, or, sorry, was, your boss?”
God, I really needed to have better lines of communication with these two. “Yes.”
“Then I’m sorry about him. Are you gonna start crying or something?” He looked terrified, as if my tears might cause him physical harm.
I fought a smile. “No. Not right now, at least. Though you do seem so adept at comforting.”
There was a soft cough behind me, and I turned to see a tall redhead, clad in pink panties and a white tank top. “I can’t find my pants,” she whispered, as if there were someone else in the house who might hear her. “I think they’re in your car...?” She looked to Zach for help.
I turned back to him, fighting a grin.
“Oh—right. Let me go get those for you.” He hopped off the counter, tossing the Doritos bag down and bending down to give me a hug. “Find out her name,” he whispered in my ear, then bounded out the front door, leaving me and the girl alone. She looked out of place and blushed, covering up as best she could with her hands.
I stepped forward, smiling brightly, and held out my hand. “I’m Julia—Zach’s roommate.”
“Jen,” she offered shyly, shaking my hand. “I met Zach last night, at a party.”
“Can I get you anything to eat?” I offered, gesturing toward the kitchen. “There’s some really shitty lasagna if that rings your bell.”
“No—I’ve got to run, but thank you,” she said, smiling politely.
Zach saved us then, stepping back inside with a pair of white jeans in his hand. Skinny jeans, from the look of them. I had newfound respect for her flexibility if she was able to get out of those in his coupe. I squeezed past them, headed for the hall. “Zach, I’ll give you and Jen some privacy. I’ve got to get some stuff done on the computer.”
I closed my door to his grateful look, fighting the urge not to flick him and his slutty ways off.
Ten minutes later, I was snuggled under a heavy down blanket with an eye mask on. I had set the alarm for two hours, closed the blinds in my room and turned my television to the History Channel. I closed my eyes and tried not to think of Broward’s intelligent face, or the grace in which he had handled the clumsiness of my first day. I remembered Brad’s eyes, finding mine in the crowded lobby, his face calm and in control while Broward’s body lay in a body bag somewhere. Broward. My mentor, my slave driver. A tyrant that I now, suddenly, missed.
I was in the middle of one of those incredible dreams, the kind where you win the lottery, then find out your yard boy is Channing Tatum, and he has just decided to prune your hedges naked, when my cell rang. I reached out blindly, knocking over half of the items on my bedside table before I hit the silence button. I drifted back, seeing his gorgeous profile, his muscular arms reaching up, up—and my damn phone rang again. I reached out, this time connecting with it the first time, silencing it so quickly that dream redemption should have been easy pickings.
I floated down, down, into absolute nothing. My subconscious searched wildly, searching for a fragment, a tendril, anything. I would have been happy with Channing Tatum’s chest hair at that point, not that the man had any. But...zilch. It was gone.
I opened my eyes to dark silk and reached up, yanking the eye mask from my face. Shit. I groaned, reaching over and grabbing my phone, grumbling as I unlocked it to display my call history.
Brad. Two missed calls. I traded one imaginary hunk for a real one. It should be a good thing. Channing Tatum never brought me to my first orgasm, though I had certainly tried hard enough before chucking my first vibrator into the trash. But seeing Brad’s name brought back reality, and reality brought back Broward’s dead body and the Magianos’ probable involvement. An involvement that Detective Parks had dismissed without a second thought. No matter what he said, I knew what I had heard. And despite Broward’s strong words, there had been fear in his voice. And then he had been killed. The circumstances were too strong to ignore.
The phone rang again, startling me.