Strict Confidence (Rochester Trilogy #2) by Skye Warren

She shakes her head. “No, thank you.”

The small, polite tone makes my heart squeeze. Where is the wild, defiant girl I learned to care for in the house? She’s hiding somewhere in those blue eyes. “I’ll ask if she can make oatmeal tomorrow. Like you usually have for breakfast.”

A shrug. I’ve never seen her this quiet. This withdrawn.

I almost prefer the screaming tantrum to this quiet version.

Of course she looks different, too, wearing a ruffled sky blue shirt with botanical drawings of flowers on it and a pair of skinny jeans. New clothes stock our wardrobes, but there is nothing in black tulle, nothing with Monopoly figures on it.

Beau left an envelope with my name scrawled across it. Jane. I’ve never seen his handwriting before. It’s strong and messy, much like the man who wrote it. My cheeks turn warm. Inside there’s a black AMEX with my name on it and a Post-it telling me to get whatever we need.

So I sit down at the small business corner with its fancy MacBook and start shopping. Cute T-shirts that say I own the block and Go directly to jail, do not pass go will not really fix her shock and trauma from the fire, but it’s all I can do right now. I spend $500 on cute Monopoly-themed clothes from Etsy that are definitely not licensed.

Of course it’s not only the clothes she loves. It’s the game itself.

That becomes a problem, because there are many kinds of Monopoly. That’s something I figure out pretty quickly. Paige doesn’t want Maine-opoly or Ultimate Banking Edition or even a solid wood luxury version that costs $500.

“It’s not the same,” she says, her expression horrified that I’d even suggest such a thing.

She doesn’t want the digital Nintendo version for Switch, either.

Unfortunately they don’t make the very specific version of Monopoly anymore. It’s one of the classic lines, the regular Monopoly, basically, but not the Updated and Improved version that retails at Target and toy stores right now.

So I browse eBay trying to find the right combination of keywords that will give me the exact board game Paige loves to replace the one that burned.

Though nothing will really fix the fact that her Vermont Avenue had a bent corner. Or that her Chance card deck had been chewed by the kitten. Or that this was the same set passed down from her father, Rhys Rochester, who had played the game as a child.

It’s an heirloom, and it’s gone.

Beau walks into the room while I’m busy scrolling through eBay and a million Facebook Shopping posts. I tense, because I’m not sure who he is to me now. I’m not sure what he expects from me now. Not sex, that much is clear.

But I don’t know how to go from lover to stranger.

Is he Beau or is he Mr. Rochester?

Whatever I call him, he’s a man I care about far more than I should.

He said he loved me when the house was burning, but maybe he didn’t mean it. Maybe it’s something he said in the heat of the moment. Men say I love you during sex. It could be that believing you’re going to die is the same way—temporary emotion powered by adrenaline. But I know the truth. He did mean it.

You said you love me, I told him.

He hadn’t denied it. It doesn’t matter. My love is dangerous.

He looks windblown and severe, though considerably less intimidating when Kitten trails in after him, looking windblown as well. “Kitten,” I whisper, and she does a hopping jump over to me. I press my face into her supersoft fur and breathe in her scent. Though it’s tinged with something medicinal. “Did the vet give her a clean bill of health?”

“Yes,” he says softly, his dark eyes stormy.

“Then what’s wrong?”

He glances where Paige sleeps on the window seat across from me.

There’s no slip in his expression. A stranger might not see the worry, the fear, the deep hope he has for her emotional recovery, but I can. A stranger might not see the pain that pulls at him, stabs at him, the pain in his leg that he seems determined to hide. He didn’t hide it after the fall. He used his crutches even as he cursed at them. It’s only now, after the fire, as if he thinks he brought the disaster down on us with his own fragile humanity.

Paige has been napping most of the afternoon. That’s normal, according to my preliminary Google searches about recovering from trauma. The body needs sleep to heal. So does the brain, it says. But I wonder if we need to do something for her. A therapist, maybe. I’m not sure what Beau will think about that.