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Title and Copyright Page

Chasing You

Billionaire Stepbrother Romance

Author: Kerri Carr


© Copyright 2018 by Kerri Carr

All rights reserved.

In no way is it legal to reproduce, duplicate, or transmit any part of this document in either electronic means or in printed format. Recording of this publication is strictly prohibited and any storage of this document is not allowed unless with written permission from the publisher. All rights reserved.Respective authors own all copyrights not held by the publisher.


This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person,

living or dead, is purely coincidental.


From the Author:

2 Special Bonus Stories INSIDE!

Thank you for purchasing this book.



Table of Contents


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Chasing You

Description

Violet Weber is leading a new life in Orlando. Her life is going nowhere until she gets a message from Chase Pollard, her rich step-brother whom she acquired from her mother’s post-menopausal second marriage. They’ve maintained a close friendship over the years, but it never materialized into anything more.

However, when a robber tries to mug Violet while her family is visiting, Chase springs to the rescue. Violet realizes that Chase is kind at heart and falls for him. But, the presence of an old flame make the prospect of continuing a romance seems unlikely.

Stuck between a geographical distance, a family secret and a former lover, Violet and Chase have to reconcile their feelings for one another. Can they make this work long term?

Chapter 1: Morning, Thursday, April 15

Tinkle-ting-ting! Tinkle-ting-ting! Tinkle-ting-ting!

Rolling over in her bed, Violet Weber reached for her cell phone on her bedside table. Although the tan curtains over her windows were advertised as blackout shades, the blistering Florida sunshine filtered through. Violet touched the screen of her phone to silent the alarm bell and extended her arms above her head for the first stretch of the day. She sat up and set her feet on the ground, unable to think about anything at this moment but using the toilet and bringing a cup of piping hot coffee to her lips. A warm, furry pressure touched her ankle, and she looked down to see her cat giving the signal that it was time for breakfast. If her alarm had failed to go off on time, she would have been awakened in minutes by the sound of dramatic mews and her belongings crashing to the floor. She had shattered one too many water glasses this way and opted to get up when the alarm went off now.

Once she had relieved herself, Violet pulled a mug out of a high cabinet in her kitchen. She pulled a bag of coffee grounds out of another cupboard and scooped out carefully measured portions into the brewer, then poured in water. As the water percolated through the beans, she checked her phone for the first of many times that day.

Morning, sweetie! Hope you have a good day! Love Mom, it read, a kissing face emoji tacked on at the end. Violet mused about the fact that even though her mom knew she had her number programmed into her phone, she still felt the need to sign her name at the end. It would have made her cringe as a teenager, but now, she was enjoying the little quirks that came with her mother. She punched out a message in return.

Good morning. Love you too, she wrote. She started to write that she missed her, then decided against it and deleted the words. She believed that if she chose not to acknowledge her loneliness out loud or in writing, it would cease to exist. The only thing she had really done to combat the feeling of being alone was adopting her cat, Pixie. However, no matter how much Pixie gave her love and attention, she knew there was more that she craved.

The coffee brewer beeped to signal the end of the brewing cycle. With somewhat mechanical movements, Violet grasped the handle of the coffee pot and tilted it above the lip of her mug, watching the steaming liquid fall to the bottom of the cup. She replaced the container on the brewer, spooned in a scoop or two of sugar, and splashed creamer into the coffee. While she stirred the concoction together, she saw her phone light up again. Assuming it was her mother again, she picked it up and unlocked the screen with her thumbprint. However, she was surprised to see a message from her step-brother, Chase.

Gonna be in ORL this weekend. You free? he had sent. She had gained Chase as a stepbrother when her mother had remarried after the death of her father a few years ago. Sorry, it’s early in the AM. Had to be @ work early and I’m bored lol, he had appended to his first greeting.

No worries! I haven’t planned anything yet, she sent back. What did you have in mind? She put the phone down and continued her morning routine.

One hot shower and a second cup of coffee later, Violet had dressed for the day ahead. She was glad it was Thursday, and for once, she had the weekend off from work. Two more days and she would have some time away from screaming children, hungover young adults, and whatever other nonsense the hospitality industry had in store that day.

Or, at least, this was what she thought. She gave Pixie a quick pat on the head, slipped out of the front door, and turned the key in the deadbolt. Another day, another dollar, she mused to herself. It was time to put on her customer service face.


Chapter 2: Midday, Thursday, April 15

Upon her arrival at work, Violet was greeted with chaos.

“I am SO glad you’re here!” gasped Judy, the hotel manager and Violet’s boss. “I have NO housekeepers right now, and there have been tons of checkouts. I need you cleaning rooms!” Shoving a roll of trash can liners into her hand, Judy pointed down the hall to the elevators that led upstairs to the guest rooms. Violet scampered off and mashed the up button, preparing herself for a morning of hard labor.

After hours of changing sheets and scouring bathrooms, lunchtime welcomed Violet into its arms. She left the hotel to grab a bite to eat, and decided on a local hole-in-the-wall burrito restaurant for a quick fix. She had spent the whole morning being active; she deserved a treat, right?

While she waited for her wrap to be made, she decided to check her phone. She was so busy throughout the morning that she had ignored its presence, and now that she had some time to catch up on her own life, she took advantage. Seeing that her mother had called twice, Violet opted to ring her up first.

“Did you see the news today?” shrieked the voice of Lynnette Weber-Pollard, Violet’s mother.

“No, I didn’t,” Violet replied. “What’s up?”

“Huge wildfire here! We have to evacuate! Trying to decide between NYC and Orlando, but Jeff is leaving it up to me.” Jeff was Violet’s step-father. “Two people are dead so far. Another ten are missing. It’s so awful!” Lynnette cried, her voice trembling with anguish. A buzzing noise prompted Violet to pull the phone away from her ear, and she saw another message from her step-brother had arrived.

Have you heard from Lynnette or dad? He won’t answer me, Chase had written.

Yeah, I’m on the phone with Mom right now, she sent. I’ll call you when we hang up.

“What is that noise? Are you texting?” Lynnette barked. Violet felt her face redden.

“Sorry, yeah, it was Chase. He wanted to make sure you were okay. What were you saying?”

“Oh.” Lynnette took a breath. “Since we have to leave town, would it be okay if we came to you? We didn’t want to barge in on you unannounced,” she clarified. “Jeff called Chase to see if he could put us up for a bit, but he said he’s actually going to be down in Orlando this weekend! Did you know that?”

Violet considered how to answer the question.

“Um…”

“Number 44, your order is ready!” called a boy in his late teens from behind the counter.

“Sorry, Mom, I’m in the middle of a restaurant. Can I call you right back?” Violet stammered. This would buy her some time! They said quick goodbyes and Violet grabbed her food from the cashier, thanking him on her way out.

After taking a seat in her and turning her key in the ignition, Violet plugged her phone into her car charger before cruising back along the highway to work. She pulled up her mother’s name in her contacts and redialed her.

“Sorry about that,” Violet said. “What were we saying? Was it Chase?”

“Yes, Chase is coming down! Did you know?” Lynnette pressed, almost in a way that was inappropriate.

“He sent me something today about it, but I’ve been really busy at work,” she responded.

“Oh, okay! Well, what do you say? I hate to intrude but we would love to see you!” Her mother’s suddenly saccharine sweetness appeared to be polite, but Violet knew better.

“Yeah, I can put you guys up,” Violet acquiesced. It was a sacrifice. Ideally, she would have had nothing planned for the weekend besides some quality time with Pixie. She tried to ignore the tension building in her neck and shoulders at the thought of spending a weekend entertaining family without much time to prepare. Evidently, Lynnette believed otherwise.

“Oh, excellent! We can stay in a motel tonight because it’s a long drive to do in one day, but I’ll call you tomorrow when we’re close,” she gushed. “Love you much!” Violet returned the sentiment and pressed the end call button. She pulled back into the parking lot at the hotel, put the car in park, and dialed Chase.

He answered on the first ring. “Well hello, lovely,” he sang, making Violet recoil a bit from her phone.

“Chase, I love you but that tone isn’t really one you should use on your stepsister.” She unwrapped her burrito and shoved part of it in her mouth.

“Never bothered you before,” he smoldered. “So what’s up this weekend?”

Violet tried to answer, but the mouthful of burrito got in the way. “‘Om ‘n’ Jeff er gum-ing.”

“Sorry, what?”

She chewed her food and swallowed. “Mom and Jeff are coming. Too dangerous for them to stay back home, so I get to entertain them. At least with you here, it won’t be too bad.” As she chomped down again on her lunch, Violet noticed Judy exiting the building and walking toward the parking lot. “I gotta go. Talk to you soon?”

“Sure,” Chase replied. “Love ya.” The call disconnected.


Chapter 3: Evening, Thursday, April 15

At half past five, Violet finished her shift and clocked out. Judy kept her on her feet the rest of day, cleaning rooms and working on guest affairs. After clocking out and getting into her car, Violet noticed missed calls from Lynnette and Chase. There were two voice messages in the queue.

Hey sweetie, sorry we missed you, but just wanted to check in! rang out that familiar bright and singsong voice. We’re stopping for the night in Georgia and wanted to let you know we made it safely to the motel. Call me when you can, love you! The message from her mother concluded. Deleting it, Violet played the second message.

Hey Vi, it’s me, said Chase’s recorded voice. Change of plans. Call me.

What an intriguing message! Violet decided she would call Chase back first.

“Well, there she is,” sounded Chase. “You got a moment?”

“Sure.”

“So I have to fly down tonight instead of tomorrow. You want to hang out?”

Violet turned this over in her mind. Was she ready to see Chase tonight instead of just looping him in with the visit from the parents tomorrow? To be fair, she had no other plans for this evening, and it would be nice to get out of the house. As much as she enjoyed crocheting on the couch while drinking wine and streaming television shows, the routine was making her a bit restless.

“I mean, I had a busy day at work but I’m off now. When do you think you’ll get in?”

She heard shuffling on the other end of the line before Chase gave her a response.

“I dunno. Late. So you want to hang out?”

“Sure. Call me when you get in. Fly safely,” she advised, then hung up.

After pulling into her parking spot at home, she walked up the stairs to the second floor of her apartment building. Pixie appeared in the doorway with a friendly “meow!” and immediately rubbed her face against Violet’s ankles. After placing her pocketbook on the ground, Violet stooped down to scratch Pixie behind the ears, hearing her purrs escalate in volume. “You are such a good kitty,” she cooed. “I missed you so much! Yes, I did!”

She changed out of her work clothes and hopped into the shower to rinse off. The morning’s labor had caused her to work up a sweat, and she would be unable to sleep in such a state. After she toweled off, she noticed she had a text from Chase.

Boarding now. Hoping to be in by 10. Is that too late? he had sent. She thought for a moment before replying.

I could make it out for a drink, she responded. Let me know when you land. She then went into the telephone app to return her mother’s call.

“Hey, sweetie!” called her mother. “Did you get my message?”

“Hey, yeah, I did,” Violet replied. “Where did you guys end up stopping?”

“Macon,” her mother said. “Atlanta was awful. I don’t know why anyone would ever live there. The traffic is a nightmare on a good day, and today was not one,” she continued. “Jeff took the wheel from there, but we were so tired that we decided to just take a night here.”

“That makes sense,” Violet agreed. “I talked to Chase today. Apparently he’s headed down tonight instead of tomorrow but is probably getting in late. I told him to let me know once he has landed.”

“Oh?” Violet’s mother sounded surprised. “Interesting. I wonder why they decided to change. Must have something to do with work; you know how busy he always is. Jeff says he has a really big deal he’s trying to close while he’s in town, so I’ll be shocked if he’s able to spend much time with the three of us while he’s there.” Jeff commented something in the background, but it was inaudible to Violet. “I’m not trying to be negative, Jeff, but you know how it is with him sometimes.” The curtness of her mother’s remark made her uncomfortable.

“What’s happening back home?,” Violet piped up to change the subject. “Any news on the wildfires?”

“Not yet. Fortunately, our neighborhood still seems to be safe, but your aunt and uncle’s house has burned. They left a few days ago, but everything is gone. I don’t know what they’re going to do.” The last few words were soft; the relatives she referred to were on Violet’s father’s side of the family. They owned an estate with sizable acreage, and they had hosted all sorts of events over the years from holiday parties to the wedding ceremony of Violet’s biological parents. “They took their dogs and went up to their daughter’s house in Virginia. I haven’t heard much else but I’ll keep you updated.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Violet remarked, casting her gaze to the floor. “I loved that place. It was like a member of our family.”

“I know. It’s awful. I’m glad they’re all alive and unharmed but it just kills me.”

There was a pause as they both considered what to say next. Since her mother wasn’t physically there to chide her for doing so, Violet pulled the phone away from her ear, put it on speaker, and decided to check her messages. Nothing yet from Chase.

“Well, I think we’re going to grab a quick bite and then hit the hay. Been a long day of driving. Give your Pixie a kiss for me and I’ll see you tomorrow. Love you!”

“I love you too,” Violet replied, then disconnected the call. She grabbed her remote, turned on her television, and channel surfed before settling on a true crime mystery show.

Without realizing it, she dozed off on the sofa. She awoke to the sound of her phone buzzing and the screen lighting up. She was receiving a call, and was too tired to check the caller ID before answering. The light practically blinded her in the dark living room.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Violet, just got off the plane and I’m waiting on my bags,” came Chase’s voice. “You still up for that drink?”

Oh, shoot! What time was it? Violet pulled the phone away and saw it was about quarter past ten. “I suppose I could,” she responded, trying not to sound extraordinarily groggy.

“You sound like you just woke up,” he laughed. “I can get Carl to bring me to your house. What’s your address?” Carl was Chase’s personal driver who would accompany him on trips out of town and carry out boring tasks like driving, running errands, and making himself scarce when social opportunities arose.

“Can I text it to you?” she suggested.

“Sure! Thanks!” They hung up and she sent him her address. She got up off of the couch and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, reaching for the light switch on the wall behind her sofa. After flipping it on, she squinted as the light flooded the room, and she lowered the dimmer switch to a more acceptable level. She gently moved Pixie out of her way, earning herself a sideways glance from the cat as she did so.

After a quick wipe down of the hard surfaces in the kitchen, swirling a cleaning brush in the toilet and taking out the trash, Violet took a seat on the couch. Not a second afterward, she heard a knock at the door. Pixie bolted off the couch and into the bedroom; most likely, she was headed underneath the bed where she always went when company came over. She peered through the peephole and saw a tall brunette man out in the hall, a black carry-on slung over his shoulder and a rolling suitcase on the floor. He was here after all!

Opening the door, Violet greeted her step-brother. “Hey, Chase,” she said, a yawn sneaking its way out of her mouth. She felt oddly under-dressed compared to him; he had evidently flown in a suit he must have worn to work that day, and his hair was neatly combed. Her yoga pants, tee shirt, lack of bra and messy ponytail were comfortable, but definitely gave off the vibe that she had been ready to go to sleep.

“’Sup, sis,” he smirked. “May I come in?”

“Oh, sure, yeah, sorry,” she mumbled, stepping back so he could cross the threshold. “Come on in.” Chase took a step into her living room and towered over her. He was easily seven to eight inches taller than her when they were barefoot; today, Violet was barefoot and he was wearing dress shoes that added even more height. She felt her breath catch in her chest. What was wrong with her?

“Can I get you something?” she asked, not really sure what she was supposed to do. “I have wine, and um…water, and wine,” she ejected, suddenly forgetting that any other beverages existed in the world.

“I think I’ll have some wine, thanks,” he said, the corners of his mouth turning up ever so slightly. “Where can I put these?” he asked, gesturing to his bags.

“Oh! Um, I have a second bedroom,” she said. “You’re not staying in a hotel for work? That seems surprising. If you go down the hall, it’s the first door on your right,” she instructed, fumbling through a kitchen drawer for a corkscrew. She grabbed a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and two glasses.

“I’ll have one for tomorrow. Since I was originally flying down tomorrow, my assistant booked my stay beginning Friday night. However, I had to change plans and come down tonight instead because of a deal I’m trying to close first thing in the morning, and she couldn’t get the reservations changed in time. My other colleagues should be here tomorrow afternoon, but since I have the best relationship with this client, I wanted to make sure I got here as soon as I possibly could.” He emerged from the bedroom without his bags, and he had taken off his suit jacket and tie. Violet noticed he had also unbuttoned the very top button on his shirt. “If it’s okay, I thought I’d crash here tonight,” he suggested.

“I mean, I’m not going to throw you out. That’s just mean,” she responded. She held out a glass of wine to him. “Are you a cabernet fan?”

“Usually,” he responded. They clinked their glasses and took their first sips. She studied his face: thick eyebrows that knitted together when he was deep in thought, dark eyes, thin lips that were now slightly stained purple with the beverage. “Good wine. Should we sit?”

“Sure,” she agreed. They walked over and sat down on her sofa. He took one end with an arm and she chose the other end, leaving a full cushion of space between them. “How was your flight? Anything fun happen?”

He made that half smirk again. “Oh, it’s always an adventure when you take an evening flight out of New York,” he chuckled. “I don’t fly coach a lot, but I had to tonight so I could get here in time. A couple of older women had evidently hit the airport bars for quite a bit before boarding. They were listening to the same satellite radio station on the plane’s headphones, and when Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ came on, they started loudly singing along while enjoying in-air cocktails. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hum along myself.”

Violet laughed. “I can’t imagine you singing Def Leppard.”

“You didn’t know me in high school. I grew my hair out, played bass guitar, thought I was hot shit,” he confessed. “Planned on making it big, touring around the world, you know, living my best life. Ended up studying econ and well, here I am…,” He paused to sip his wine, “Still have the bass at home, but it doesn’t get played as much. They don’t really encourage a lot of hair metal playing in the office. Plus, I think Julie would kill me.”

“Julie?” Violet asked. “One of your many New York girlfriends?” she teased.

“No, my assistant,” he corrected. “She’s about twenty years older than me, somewhat happily married, and acts like my office mother. She’s a good lady, though. Always keeps me on my feet.”

“Ah, I see,” Violet said. “I’ve always enjoyed music, but I never really did anything with it as a hobby.” She was quiet for a moment and didn’t know what to follow that statement with, so she filled her mouth with the cabernet. The tannins pricked at her taste buds and she winced.

“What did you study?” he asked.

“I have a Master’s in fine arts,” she said. “I love to paint. Doesn’t pay my bills, though.” She cast her eyes down toward the ground after making this statement. “I worked a part-time job at a hotel during my undergrad and graduate programs, and once I graduated, I got offered an assistant manager job. It was the best I could do so that I could start paying back my loans.” Instantly, Violet started to feel self-conscious. She knew that Chase easily made a lot more than she did, and money was a conversational taboo. It wasn’t the sort of taboo that made sexy small talk, either.

“Did you paint that?” he asked, gesturing toward a painting opposite them on her wall. Its subject was a lavish white country home nestled on a farm surrounded by flora and some wildlife.

“Yeah, it’s my aunt and uncle’s house in Tennessee,” she said. “Or, at least, it was. I painted it one summer between semesters when I had gone to visit them. We used to have so many family parties there. Mom actually married my dad there. It’s gone now; it burned down in the fires this week,” she continued, her throat tightening. “I’m sorry; I just haven’t had a lot of time to process that yet.”

Chase looked at her with concern in his eyes. “You don’t have to be sorry. I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. As soon as the words had left his mouth, she felt her shoulders heave involuntarily and a sob escaped from her.

“Oh my God, I’m so embarrassed. Excuse me,” she said, running to the bathroom to collect herself. She slapped the light switch upward to illuminate the room and shut the door. She pulled a few squares of toilet paper off the roll and dabbed at her eyes, then blew her nose. Just a few deep breaths, a few deep breaths, in, out, in, out…

After a few minutes, Violet rinsed her face with cool water and toweled off. Her breathing had returned to normal, so she went back out to the living room. The sight she saw nearly knocked her off of her feet.

“Pixie!” she exclaimed. Her cat, who was normally too shy to come out until at least an hour after guests had left, was sitting in Chase’s lap while he stroked her. “What are you doing, you silly girl!” Chase turned his head and looked at Violet.

“Is this not what she normally does?” he inquired.

“No, not at all! Well, not with anyone besides me. She’s usually very shy,” Violet replied. “I got her from one of the animal shelters here as an adult. Her previous owner was an elderly lady who passed away, and her children surrendered her. She needed to be placed in a quiet home, and her story was so tragic that I had to take her in. I don’t have a lot of people over, but whenever I do, she ghosts them. Must be something about you that she likes.”

“Probably my black pants,” Chase suggested. Pixie was a calico cat with a white belly, and her fur was collecting all over Chase’s lap. “I could probably make a second cat out of the fur if she stays here a while.” Violet laughed. “Are you okay?” he asked her, looking at her puffy eyes.

“Yeah, I’m better now. Thanks,” she responded. “So, do you want to watch something? I’ve been re-watching The Office recently. If you’d rather watch something hot, the fires are all over the news.”

“Did…did you really just say that?” he stuttered.

Violet blushed. “Too soon?” Chase nodded. “Maybe The Office is a better choice.” She sat down again on the sofa, this time choosing to sit closer to him than before.

“How far into it are you right now?”

“Season three. It’s where it really starts to get good. Did you want to go change before I start it?” she asked, gesturing to his suit.

“Oh, yeah, I guess I could,” he said. “Not sure what I’m going to do about this girl, though,” he continued, looking down at Pixie.

“Come here, baby girl,” Violet called, scratching the couch cushion beside her with her fingernails. Pixie instantly leapt off of Chase’s lap and butted her head against Violet’s hand, closing her eyes as she blissfully received pets.

“I guess that works,” Chase snickered. “I’ll be right back. You can go ahead and start it.” He stood up and strode away into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Violet powered on the television set and queued up The Office, then waited for Chase to come back before she started it. While he changed in the other room, she realized that she was enjoying his company more than she usually did. Then again, this was a novel occurrence: he had not yet come to Florida since she had moved.

Chase came back into the room, donning a heather gray t-shirt and basketball shorts with “Columbia University” printed along the hem of the left leg. Out of his suit, she could see how his muscles were defined; although he worked a lot, he evidently worked out a lot, too. She spotted a tattoo on his right bicep but couldn’t quite see what it was.

“You have a tattoo?” she asked. “What is it?”

“A direwolf,” he replied, turning so she could see it. “It’s the sigil of House Stark from Game of Thrones. Got it the day after the Red Wedding episode aired.”

“Shut. Up!” Violet cried. “I love that show! The books are pretty good, too. I have them all in hardback.” She pointed at the bookshelf to her left against the wall.

“We have a lot in common,” Chase remarked, smirking at her again. “Still, I think it’s time we visited Jim in Stamford and Pam in Scranton,” he suggested, pointing at the television. “Would you do the honors?”

Violet pressed play, and the show began. They laughed at the same moments and commented on the parts that made them laugh, cry, and cringe throughout the years. One glass of wine turned into two, and before she knew it, she had fallen asleep on the couch, her head on Chase’s shoulder.


Chapter 4: Morning, Friday, April 16

They awoke the next morning on the sofa, both lying on their sides. Violet felt Chase’s body pressed against her from behind, his left arm draped across her stomach. Morning sunlight was peeking around the edges of the curtains, and although her alarm had yet to sound, she knew she would need to be up shortly to go to work. Violet turned slightly to try and look Chase in the face, and he stirred from the movement. Without warning, his hand slid up across her right breast and neck, settled on her chin, and turned her face to his. He kissed her.

Taken aback, Violet pulled her head away. “Chase? You know it’s me, right? Violet? Your step-sister?”

Opening his eyes, he looked at her and realized what he had done. He sat up and scooted down the couch. “Um. Good morning. I should — I should go get dressed.” He bolted off the couch and into the spare room. Seeing a dark rectangle on the ground, Violet leaned over to see if it was her phone or his. The screen lit up with a text from a contact named Kylie.

Good morning handsome. Have a good day in Orlando.” Violet felt her stomach turn.

Chase reentered the room, dressed in a new clean suit. He patted his pockets and looked around. After spotting his lit up phone on the ground, he looked at Violet’s expression. She knew that her thoughts would betray her, but she chose not to express them.

“Carl should be here in a few minutes,” he said. There was a heavy silence between them. Violet was unsure what to do to break the awkwardness.

“Do you…do you want a cup of coffee?” she asked.

“I’m good, thanks,” he answered. She breathed a sigh of relief, then decided to make herself a cup. As she measured the grounds and water, she could feel his eyes on her.

“Can I help you with something?” she inquired.

“No, sorry,” he mumbled, then started messing with his phone. Her mind immediately flashed back to this Kylie person. Did she know that he had kissed someone else while he was out of town, and that that person was his step-sister? Hell, was there more than one woman back in New York besides Kylie? Did they all know about each other? Gritting her teeth, Violet poured a bag of instant oatmeal into a bowl and added water to it before sticking it in her microwave. It was not the most nutritious breakfast, but she just wanted something on her stomach for the moment. She felt a twinge of pain radiating between her eyes; a telltale sign of having too much wine and too little water the night before. The headache did not help her mood.

“Carl’s here,” Chase said. “I uh…I guess I’ll see you later.” He put his phone into the pocket of his slacks and picked up his bags.

“Bye,” she answered, walking him to the door. He placed one hand on her cheek, then dropped it to her shoulder.

“See you later,” he murmured.

“Yeah.” Violet closed the door behind him and returned to the kitchen. She pulled her oatmeal out of the microwave, stirred it, and spooned a bite into her mouth. Almost instantaneously, she felt her stomach convulse and rushed to the bathroom. Within seconds, all of the contents of her stomach were out. She felt wretched; absolutely wretched. She felt her eyes welling with tears and coughed, expelling fluid that made her gag even more upon seeing it. She needed to make a quick decision; was she going to go to work today throwing up, or should she use a sick day and take the time to be home alone with her thoughts?

Several minutes later after continuing to dry heave over the toilet bowl, Violet decided she was indeed going to take the day off. She wiped her mouth, went into her bedroom and grabbed the phone to call Judy.

“Hey, Judy. I hate to do this, but—” She was unable to finish her sentence as she gagged.

“Don’t come in,” Judy advised. “Feel better soon.”

After hanging up and feeling nothing but dry heaves, Violet brushed her teeth and climbed into her bed, joined soon after by Pixie. She tried to put the memories of last night out of her mind as she relaxed into her pillows, but she could not deny feeling utterly alone today. Tears streamed down her face until they no longer could, and she fell asleep, trying to deny the fact that she wished Chase was still in the apartment.


Chapter 5: Midday, Friday, April 16

Around eleven in the morning, Violet’s phone rang with a call from her mother.

“Morning, my love!” sang out Lynnette. “We’re on the road again! Hope to be there by dinner time. Maybe we could go out!”

“Yeah, maybe.” Violet coughed. “I’m not feeling the best today; I’m home with some stomach thing.”

“Oh, that’s too bad! Jeff, Violet is sick! Maybe we’ll just have to go out with Chase and leave her home?” At the mention of his name, Violet’s stomach turned. She was unsure of how to tell her mother how she was feeling about him, but the appropriate way to phrase that escaped her. They hung up, and Violet decided to try to start her day for the second time.

Judy had left her a voicemail around ten. She wanted to know was if Violet could make up her time by coming in that weekend and asked to be called back soon. As she started to dial the hotel, a text message came through from Chase.

Hey, it said. That was all he had to say? She started to close out of her messages but saw he was typing.

I’m still sorry about last night. I don’t know what else to say, he sent. Violet saw he was still writing another message. Dad called me and wants us all to meet for dinner. Can I see you before?

I don’t know that I’ll have time, she lied. He did not need to know that she was home sick; she simply did not want to see him.

Oh, okay. Dad said your mom had talked to you and you had taken the day because you weren’t feeling well. I hope the wine didn’t get to you, he wrote. Shit, he knew and he was calling her out!

Thanks. I’ll survive. Need to rest some more before the parents get here. Ending the text there, she called her boss to see what was happening back at work.

“Hey, Violet,” Judy’s voice shouted, evidently on speaker phone. “How are you feeling, kiddo?”

“A little better, thanks,” she said, trying to sound a bit worse than she really felt. She knew Judy did not mean to be condescending, but she was bothered by the fact that she referred to her as “kiddo.” Judy was younger than her own mother, but she had children close to Violet’s age.

“I’m glad to hear. Listen, did you find a cell phone when you cleaned room 229 yesterday? The guests checked out but think they may have left it. I know you’re pretty honest and would have turned it in but I figured I would verify with you anyway,” she yelled. Violet could hear her acrylic nails clacking away on her keyboard while she spoke and cringed at the sound.

“No, don’t remember seeing one,” she responded. Room 229 had been particularly nasty; the guests had evidently made the most of their night in the hotel and left condoms, beer bottles, and napkins all over the room. Violet did not understand how or why some people felt the need to trash hotel rooms just because they would not be the ones responsible for cleaning them.

“Yeah, figured as much,” Judy answered. “One other thing: any chance I could use you this weekend?”

“No, my parents are in town, sorry,” she said. Not really sorry, she thought.

“Oh, okay,” Judy responded, her tone changing. She had probably suspected the sick day was a ruse, but she did not say as much. “Well, rest up and have a good visit. Bye.” Judy hung up before Violet did. Having put out the Chase and Judy fires for the time being, Violet decided to clean up the apartment in preparation for her parents. She had a feeling that she had a long weekend ahead of her.


Chapter 6: Evening, Friday, April 16

About half past three, a knock came at the door. Her mother’s voice called, “Housekeeping!” She and Jeff laughed; they always thought this was particularly clever given Violet’s profession. She answered the door to find the two of them standing there, clad like any other Florida-bound tourists. Jeff was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, aviator-style sunglasses, and flip flops; he resembled nearly every other elderly white man in the state, she thought to herself. Her mother was wearing a white cotton dress with a floral print and sandals as well as a visor.

“Claiming to be room service would get you in the door faster,” Violet joke, ushering them into her home and shutting the door behind them. “You guys can put your stuff in the spare room.”

They spent some time in her living room chatting and deciding on a plan for the evening. The final verdict was to go to a seafood restaurant nearby called Pearly White, and Jeff would call Chase to see when he would be available to join them. They settled on a six o’clock time, and Violet’s mother called the restaurant to reserve a table for four. As she did so, Violet saw she had another text from Chase.

I haven’t said anything to Dad about last night. I won’t say anything if you don’t want me to. She felt her stomach churning again.

Thanks, she said. See you later. Her mother hung up with the restaurant and was delighted to see that Pixie had made an appearance.

“What a sweet cat!” she cooed, giving Pixie gentle pets on her head and neck. As if on cue, Jeff sneezed. “I know we can’t have any kitties of our own with Jeff’s allergies, but boy, do I miss ours.” A second sneeze emerged from Jeff that was so loud, Violet wondered how her windows had not shattered.

“Do you need some medicine? I have some allergy pills if you need them,” Violet offered to Jeff. He politely refused, saying he could pick some up while they were out. They left for dinner about half an hour before they needed to so that they could stop by a drug store. Jeff went in alone, leaving Violet and her mother in the car.

“He’s having a tough time,” her mother confided in her. “I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. You know he isn’t really one to leave home much, and we don’t know if our house is going to outlast the fires. It was such a dry winter, and there’s no rain in the forecast back home until next week.” She took a breath. “Also, he seems to be worried about Chase, but when I ask him about it, he won’t tell me much.”

Although the subject of Chase piqued her interest, Violet decided it would be more polite to ask about the fires first. “How close are they to containing the fires? Do you know?”

“No.” She hesitated before continuing. “Jeff thinks Chase has some kind of drug problem. He works so much and seems to never take any time off, and they almost never speak anymore. They’re not like you and me, on the phone almost every day. It’s so weird to me, and I know it’s killing him. He says that Chase just seems to be acting strange, especially in the last few weeks. Maybe we’ll see something tonight when he’s at dinner.”

Violet’s stomach dropped. She thought the other girl was a problem, but she did not know how she would deal with the possibility of a drug problem with her step-brother. They had gotten closer as their parents’ marriage went on, but what if he had been hiding this from her?

Jeff returned from the store with a plastic shopping bag, and they headed to the restaurant. Although she had offered to drive them, Jeff had insisted on taking the wheel and going to the restaurant in his SUV. Violet suspected that if he was feeling like he had little control in other areas, he could at least drive them around.

After parking the car, they entered the building.

“Reservation for four under Pollard,” Jeff rattled off to the hostess. The restaurant was bustling with the Friday night crowd, and the three of them opted to go to their table instead of waiting for Chase to arrive. Once they had ordered drinks and sent their waitress away, Violet recognized his tall frame striding into the dining room. Her heart skipped a beat and she inhaled sharply.

“There he is!” Jeff called. He waved his hand so that Chase would see them, and he walked over to them. He took the only empty seat at the table which happened to be between Jeff and Violet. He was in the same suit he was wearing when he left her apartment this morning. She picked up a hint of a pleasant cologne, but was not well versed enough with fragrances to recognize it. She kept her eyes focused intently on her menu, worried that she may reveal her feelings if she interacted openly tonight.

“Lynnette, you look wonderful,” Chase praised her mother. “Violet, I hope you’re feeling better.” She felt his eyes looking at her, but she chose not to return the gaze.

“Thanks.” She did not elaborate further, but continued staring at the entree she wanted. The waitress returned with their cocktails: a pilsner for Jeff, a white wine spritzer for her mother, a whiskey and ginger ale for herself. Knowing that her parents were footing the bill for dinner, she was not going to settle for something less expensive like a wine or beer. Chase ordered a whiskey sour, and Jeff requested a calamari appetizer for the table.

“Two whiskey drinkers!” Violet’s mother cooed. “You two may be more alike than you realize.”

Mortified, Violet felt blood rush into her cheeks. “I mean, Dad was a whiskey man. I think I inherited his love for it.”

“To dad!” Chase quipped. The parents raised their glasses, and Violet did the same. She clinked glasses and took a swig. This was going to be a long evening.

When the calamari arrived, Jeff clapped. Lynnette smiled politely, and Violet felt secondhand embarrassment at Jeff’s behavior. “Ah, the squid!” he mused. “You know in Korea, they eat it when it’s still alive?”

Violet cringed, much to Chase’s amusement. “If you want me to keep anything down, please don’t talk about eating live animals.”

The conversation changed to questions about Violet’s job. Jeff asked what exactly it was that she did at the hotel.

“Honestly, I do a little of everything,” she said. “Yesterday, one of our housekeepers didn’t show up, so I had to clean rooms. The day before, I had to cover the bar at night because our dinnertime bartender was home with a sick child. Before that, I had a business-as-usual day, meaning I was at the front desk dealing with all that,” she explained.

“Never a dull moment,” Chase remarked.

“No, not really,” she agreed. For the first time since he had sat down, she chose to look at him. He was forcing eye contact and doing that same half smile from the night before. In the presence of their parents, she felt as though she could expire right here, right now. She shot him a tiny smile back before spearing a piece of salmon with her fork.

“I don’t know how you do it, dear,” her mother sighed. “All that time and energy spent in art school, and you’re changing trash bags and scrubbing toilets. It’s sad, really.”

Violet was stung by this remark. “I have bills to pay,” she retorted. “If I had it my way, I would paint every goddamn day, but I don’t have it my way.” Whiskey often did this to Violet: she would be more outgoing, but she also had an angry streak that the spirit aroused in her. She noticed Jeff and Chase sharing a look, but chose to ignore it.

“I didn’t mean to offend,” her mother replied quietly. Evidently, she had not expected such a response. “I just hope you’re happy is all I meant.” Violet felt the guilt rising up.

“No, I know you didn’t. This isn’t the life I envisioned, but things could always be worse.” The table mulled this over, and it was Chase who broke the silence again.

“Do you ever get to paint now?” he asked.

“I haven’t touched my paints since I moved to Orlando.” It was true, but Violet had not expressed such a thing out loud yet. She was quiet for a moment. “I just haven’t wanted to. I don’t know why.”

“What about that one of the house that you did in college? It’s so beautiful. Maybe you just need to see something beautiful and you’ll want to paint it,” Lynnette suggested.

“Or you could paint a copy of that one?” Chase suggested. “Maybe you just need to do something to get your feet wet, and then you can keep going with it.”

Damn it, Violet thought. I am not going to melt for him in front of our parents. She instantly recalled Kylie and the warmth she was feeling for him immediately ceased. “Yeah, maybe. I don’t know.”

“You know President Bush paints now that he’s retired?” Jeff interjected. Just like that, he had steered the conversation away toward something he liked, and Violet had little to nothing to say back. She had not spent much time with Jeff since he had married her mother, but Violet failed to see the appeal.

“If we’re going to talk about President Bush, I’m going to need another,” Violet asserted, pointing at her whiskey. “Or maybe two more, just to be safe.” Chase and Jeff laughed, but chose to talk politics anyway. As the meal went on, Violet ordered her two additional whiskeys and drained them one after the other.

When everyone finished their entrees and politely refused dessert, the check arrived. Chase surprised everyone by stealing it.

“My treat,” he insisted. Violet felt strange that he was now the one footing the bill for her and their parents, but she decided not to dwell on it. The four of them walked out to the parking lot together and prepared to part ways.

“Well, Chase, if it’s okay with Violet, would you be joining us back at her place?” her mother asked. Violet tried not to visibly sway on her feet, but she doubted her steadiness.

“Actually, some of my colleagues have invited me out,” Chase said. “Thank you, though.”

“Well, let’s get going,” Jeff said. Violet noticed he had no physical contact with his son throughout the evening, and even now, he was not even offering so much as a handshake. What an odd relationship they had.

“Violet, do you mind if I talk to you for a moment?” Chase asked. A puzzled look crossed the faces of the parents, and they looked at Violet for a response.

“Um, yeah, sure,” she answered. “You guys can go. Chase, you can drive me home.” Her parents left, and she and Chase walked down the sidewalk to a different part of the lot.

“Gotta call Carl,” Chase said, pulling out his phone.

“You and your ‘kuh’ names,” Violet slurred. “Carl! Kylie!”

“Kylie?” He looked puzzled. “How do you know about Kylie?”

“HA! So there IS a KYLIE!” Violet felt her volume increase. “YOU just think you can SHOW UP to MY house and KISS me and also have your SIDE CHICK back in New York! Or —” She swayed a bit on her feet. “— Am I the SIDE CHICK? Are you — are you an addict, Chase? Are you on drugs?”

“Drugs?” Chase laughed. “No, no, I am definitely not on any drugs. I mean, I drink a cup or two of coffee each morning, but I wouldn’t check into rehab for that.” That half smirk was resurfacing.

“Don’t make that face at me!” squawked Violet. “You can’t be HANDSOME when I’m ASKING you IMPORTANT QUESTIONS!” Chase was visibly trying not to laugh, and this just made her blood boil.

“Well, I’ll try not to be handsome,” he joked. “Carl’s here. Let’s get you home.” She play-scowled at him as a gray sedan pulled up to the curb. He opened the door to the backseat for her and she clambered into the back seat. He opted for the passenger seat up front. She said not a word the entire way home even though the men up front had a jovial conversation about the Orlando weather for the coming weekend.

Once they reached her neighborhood, Chase instructed Carl to stop in front of her building. The light that normally illuminated the steps had burnt out, but Violet recognized the familiar walk up to her home. She thanked the men and muttered a quick “bye” to Chase, then shut the door to the car. As she approached the steps, she felt someone grab her arm. Expecting it to be Chase, she immediately turned around and shouted, “So you didn’t get enou—”

It wasn’t Chase. A male figure in a skull cap with a bandana tied across his mouth held a knife to her throat. “You shut your damn mouth,” he growled. “Bag. Now.”

Suddenly jolted out of her drunken stupor by adrenaline, Violet handed her purse to the assailant. She was being mugged right outside of her own apartment! Had he gotten her parents? Were they lying nearby, throats slashed? What was she going to do?

“Get the hell away from her!” she heard a man’s voice shout. Two sets of heavy footsteps ran toward her, but she was too scared to take her eyes off of the robber. He pulled the knife from her throat and took off down the sidewalk. She saw Chase and Carl bolt after him, the sedan parked and still running nearby. She was too shocked to follow them. What on earth had just happened?

She did not know whether ten seconds or ten minutes had passed, but she stayed glued to the spot. Chase and the driver returned, but the mugger was gone.

“He got your purse. We couldn’t catch him, but he got into a getaway car. We snapped a photo,” Chase breathed. The driver was too winded to talk. “Are you okay?”

Violet collapsed into a heap on the sidewalk, bursting into tears. Chase pulled out his phone and called the police, then called his dad’s cell phone. He and Violet sat down on the curb waiting for the police to arrive, his arm around her as she sobbed.


Chapter 7: Late night, Friday, April 16

The remainder of the evening passed in a blur. Blue flashing lights arrived in the neighborhood shortly after Chase’s phone call, and multiple police officers arrived on scene to question Violet, Chase, and the driver.

“Did you see anyone?” a tall male officer asked her parents.

“No! We got home, we had a spare key to the house, and we decided to go in and get ready for bed while we waited for Violet to come home. We didn’t know anything had happened until Chase called us.” Lynnette was pallid, the lines on her forehead and between her eyebrows especially visible.

The rounds of questioning took over an hour. By the end, Violet hovered somewhere between a hangover, exhaustion, and a fear so intense that she could not bring herself to reenter her apartment.

“You could stay with me,” Chase suggested. “Julie booked me a suite with two bedrooms. It’s comfy.”

“We’ll take care of Pixie for you, Vi,” Lynnette offered. “I can pack you a bag!”

“I guess that’s all fine,” Violet mumbled. “Thanks.”

Having stayed for the questioning, Carl was still present when Lynnette came down the stairs with a freshly packed overnight bag. He took them to the hotel, wished them a good night and drove off, leaving the pair alone again.

“I don’t know what to say,” Violet said. Her voice was hoarse from the tears and questions.

“Don’t want to be presumptuous but a thank you would work fine for me,” Chase said, smiling. “Let’s go in.”

Chase’s assistant had fortunately not chosen Violet’s hotel for his stay, but booked one that was near the Orange County Convention Center. She recalled him saying that he had a suite; it must have been nice to be able to book a luxurious room for a business trip as if it were nothing. They took the elevator to the twelfth floor, and Chase gently led her to his room by taking her arm. He carried her bag in his other hand for her, then placed it on the ground when they reached his door. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket, produced a plastic key card, and slid it into the lock. The door opened, and they walked together into a furnished living room.

“It’s not quite home, but it’s comfy,” he said to her, his voice lowered.

“I’m so tired, I could fall asleep right here,” she yawned, barely out of the doorway.

“I don’t recommend that. The beds are far more comfortable,” he replied, taking her hand and bag. “Would you rather see the convention center or the parking lot tomorrow? You have a choice of views.”

“Surprise me,” she mumbled. He took her into the spare room where he had not placed his own luggage and set her bag at the foot of the bed. He walked across the room and closed the drapes for her. She sat down on the edge of the bed and yawned.

“Chase?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you for — ” Violet began. “For tonight. And for staying with me last night. Been lonely lately. I just…I don’t know. I don’t know what to say,” she rambled, the alcohol and adrenaline rattling her brain.

“Thanks,” he answered. “I wish I could have done more for you tonight. I’m sorry.” He turned to go. “The bathroom is immediately to your left when you come out of this room. Sleep well.”

“Chase?” she repeated.

“Yep?”

She considered carefully how to phrase this question. “Would you…would you stay here? Just for tonight?” He stopped dead and looked back at her. “Oh God, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I asked that.”

“Sure, you don’t,” he smiled. “Are you sure you’re okay with me staying here?”

She hesitated a moment. “Yes. Yes, I want you to stay in here with me.”

“Okay. Let me go change.” He walked away. She felt the metaphorical butterflies in her stomach. Was this a wise decision? She did not know. She turned to look for her phone to text a friend, but realized it had gotten away with the thief earlier in the evening. She would deal with that tomorrow after some shut eye. Grabbing the bag that her mother had packed, she looked for something comfortable to sleep in.

When Chase returned, he found Violet wearing an oversized men’s shirt with the Tennessee Titans logo and bicycle shorts. She saw he was trying not to laugh at her outfit.

“Please don’t let my mom pack my bag again,” she pleaded.

“I didn’t know you were such a Titans fan,” he laughed. “Or that you owned a t-shirt large enough to fit the whole team into.”


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