Hate Notes(6)

By: Vi Keeland & Penelope Ward


My heart beat faster, only to slow down again upon the sight of the hostess walking a wealthy-looking couple through the foyer and to the exit. No Reed Eastwood.

The woman, holding a tiny white dog, smiled at me before the three of them disappeared into the elevator.

Where is he?

For a moment, I wondered if he’d forgotten about me completely. It was so quiet. Was there a back exit? Even though I probably should have just stayed in the foyer, I decided to wander a bit and made my way into a grand library.

Dark, masculine wood lined the space. Open bookshelves covered every wall from floor to ceiling. Under my feet lay a Persian rug that likely cost more than I could make in an entire year.

The smell of old books was intoxicating. Meandering over to one of the shelves, I picked up the first one that caught my eye—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I remembered hearing about this book in school years ago but couldn’t recall for the life of me what it was about.

“The first great American novel, depending on who you ask.”

My body shook at the sound of his deep, penetrating voice. It was the kind of voice that sliced right through you.

My hand over my chest, I turned around. “You scared me.”

“Did you think you were alone?”

I froze—absolutely froze—as I took him in. Reed Eastwood was as dark and intimidating as this room. One look, and my knees were shaking. He was even taller than I’d imagined, and he wore what I was certain had to be a dress shirt custom-tailored for him. It fit the curves of his chest like a glove. He also wore a bow tie and suspenders, which on anyone else might have been deemed nerdy. But on this man—on that muscular chest—they were incredibly sexy.

He just stood in the doorway, observing me and holding a folder. I thought that was kind of rude, but honestly, I had no experience in this scenario. Doesn’t a Realtor normally extend his hand to a client? Apologize for being late?

“Have you read it?” His voice once again vibrated through me.

“What?”

“The book you’re holding. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

“Oh. Um . . . I have. I think . . . yes, in school, years ago.”

Shivers ran through me as he approached, giving me a skeptical look as if he could see through my answer. That made me very uneasy. His eyes were like dark chocolate—the deepest shade of brown. As they scrolled once down the length of my body, my nipples hardened.

“What made you pick out that book in particular?”

Answering honestly, I said, “The spine.”

“The spine?”

“Yes. It’s black and red and coordinates very well with the room. It popped . . . stood out to me.”

His mouth curved into a slight, cynical smile, although he didn’t laugh. He seemed to be studying me. His intensity made me want to just run. Forget this whole crazy endeavor. He was nothing like I’d pictured, based on the sweetness of that blue note.

This was not what I’d signed up for.

“At least you’re honest, I suppose.” He tilted his head. “Right?”

I was sweating. “What?”

“Honest.”

He said it like he was challenging me.

I cleared my throat. “Yes.”

He inched closer and took the book from my grasp, his fingers brushing against mine. The slight touch felt electrifying. I couldn’t help checking his left hand for a wedding band; there was none.

“This was a controversial book in its time,” he said.

“Why was that, again?” Again. Like I ever knew the answer in the first place.

As I waited for his answer, I breathed in the rustic scent of his musk.

Reed ran his long fingers along the other books on the shelf, not looking at me as he spoke. “It’s a satirical account of the social atmosphere in the South just before the turn of the century, but the author’s take on racism and slavery is interpreted differently by many. Thus the controversy.” He finally faced me. “You were probably taught that in school when you weren’t paying attention.”

I swallowed.

First discovery about Reed Eastwood: condescending asshole.

Condescending asshole—who’s right. I hadn’t been paying attention.

He placed the book back on the shelf and looked at me. “Do you read?”