“I don’t understand you,” she said, surprising him with her mild tone. “I could take you for, what, half a gazillion dollars?”
“A gazillion’s not a real number.”
“And you’re sitting there making jokes.”
“Are you going to take me for half a gazillion dollars?” he asked, knowing the answer.
“I’d never do that.”
She shook her head, and she gave a crooked smile. She was so beautiful in the moonlight. From a purely objective point of view, she was one of the most uniquely beautiful women in the world. Her green eyes twinkled when she was happy. Her auburn hair shone in any kind of light. And the hint of freckles made what would have been a too classically beautiful face more relatable.
“You don’t know,” she said. She looked through the windshield at the house in front of them. “Neither of us knows what’s going to happen next.”
She was right about that.
She reached for the door handle. “This is going to be weird.”
Weird was one way to put it. He caught the flash of her wedding band as she moved and felt an unexpected jolt of loyalty and dedication. Weird or not, he now had a family. And he had a new purpose.
* * *
Sage felt like a guest in TJ’s house. No, more than that, she felt like she was living in the show home in a glossy magazine.
A housekeeper, Verena Hofstead, arrived every morning. She was perfectly friendly and perfectly professional. She dusted surfaces that had no dust and vacuumed carpets that nobody had walked on.
TJ had told Sage there was a cook available whenever they needed one. He ate out a lot and didn’t usually make himself complex meals, so he didn’t use the cook often. But he’d left the number for Sage just in case.
Sage couldn’t imagine calling up a cook to toast her a bagel in the morning or bake her some chicken for dinner. It all seemed surreal.
TJ had given her the keys to the SUV and told her to go into Olympia and buy herself a car. He’d also told her to pick out furniture for the upstairs, suggesting she might want to turn one of the bedrooms into a sitting room. She was trying, but she couldn’t wrap her head around so much high-priced shopping.
For now, she was wandering through the enormous kitchen, opening cupboards, trying to familiarize herself with where everything was kept. Verena was down the hall in a main-floor laundry. Sage tried to forget that someone else was washing her underwear.
There was a knock on the front door.
“Hello?” It was a woman’s voice.
Sage closed a top cupboard containing rows of glasses.
“Hello?” she called back, cutting through the living room to the front foyer.
TJ left his doors unlocked during the day, and his neighbors seemed to have a habit of dropping by and walking in. It was a strange thing to get used to.
“Oh, hi.” Sage had met Jules’s sister Melissa three days ago at the Neo dinner.
“Is this a bad time?” Melissa asked.
Sage had visited Eli this morning, and she’d go back later in the day when TJ got home. For now, she was simply hanging around, trying to find a way to fit into her new life. The only alternative was shopping for the empty upstairs. And she couldn’t bring herself to break the ice on that.
Melissa gazed around the high-ceilinged, brightly lit living room. “I love this place.”
Sunshine streamed in from the wall of glass that opened onto the deck and overlooked the ocean. Thanks to Verena, the cherrywood furniture gleamed. The leather sofas and armchairs were comfortable and strategically placed.
There was a grouping near the glass wall, another clustered around the fireplace and an intimate setting of two recliners in an alcove.
“I feel like I’m living in a magazine,” Sage said.
Melissa laughed. “I hear you. I grew up in a condo in Portland. It was nothing like this.”
“Did you go through culture shock when you moved here?” Sage had seen Caleb and Jules’s gorgeous home.
“Noah’s rebuilt my grandfather’s old house. It’s nothing like this. You’ve seen Jules and Caleb’s place, and Matt’s is impressive too. But TJ wins the prize for grandeur and opulence.”
“Lucky me.” Sage wasn’t feeling lucky. She was feeling disoriented. “Do you want to sit down? A soda or iced tea? Or, really, pretty much anything on the planet.”
TJ had three refrigerators, and all were well stocked.
“Love to sit down. And anything to drink would be great.”
Melissa chose a big leather armchair near the glass wall while Sage went to the butler’s pantry on one side of the living room.