Strict Confidence (Rochester Trilogy #2) by Skye Warren

I roll my bag over the threadbare carpet to the second door on the left. It’s an old, old habit to stop outside the door and listen. Best not to walk inside if two of my roommates are having an argument. Or having makeup sex. If that’s happening now, I’ll find another time to go in.

No voices filter out into the hall. No creaking floors underneath someone’s chair. No footsteps coming across the living room. Nothing.

My second key fits in the lock. Each of the bedrooms has its own lock separate from the deadbolt. When you share an apartment with six other people, things are bound to go missing. The keys are a way to minimize that.

I shoulder the door open and roll my bag inside. The hallway here is so narrow it feels like the walls are pressing into my shoulders from both sides, but they’re not.

I close the door behind me.

And freeze.

There’s something expectant about the air.

Like someone’s just stepped out. Or just stepped in?

I know better than to let myself dwell in regret about Maine. The past is the past. When it’s time to go, you pack up your clothes and go to the next place. But it’s not regret, exactly, that makes my heart feel bruised. It’s how different this place is from when I left.

Or maybe it’s how different I am here from the woman I was there.

I’ve survived places that didn’t fit before.

I’ll survive again.

A few minutes alone. That’s all I need. After that, I’ll be okay.

There’s a woman sitting at my small desk chair, the one with the broken arm. It always slides down when I’m in the middle of concentrating.

Of course, this woman isn’t studying.

She’s not a roommate.

No. She doesn’t even belong in Houston.

She turns her head and smiles at me.

Emily Rochester smiles at me.

My heart slams into my throat, cold adrenaline raking down my spine. I recognize her from a photo I found in a diary. I know her face. I left Maine because we thought Detective Joe Causey was after me. Does he know his sister is alive?

She’s beautiful, and very much not a ghost.

Her smile is perfectly pleasant. Perfectly poised. “Hello, Jane.”

* * *

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* * *

Wind whips around my ankles, flapping the bottom of my black trench coat. Beads of moisture form on my eyelashes. In the short walk from the cab to the stoop, my skin has slicked with humidity left by the rain.

Carved vines and ivy leaves decorate the ornate wooden door.

I have some knowledge of antique pieces, but I can’t imagine the price tag on this one—especially exposed to the elements and the whims of vandals. I suppose even criminals know enough to leave the Den alone.

Officially the Den is a gentlemen’s club, the old-world kind with cigars and private invitations. Unofficially it’s a collection of the most powerful men in Tanglewood. Dangerous men. Criminals, even if they wear a suit while breaking the law.

A heavy brass knocker in the shape of a fierce lion warns away any visitors. I’m desperate enough to ignore that warning. My heart thuds in my chest and expands out, pulsing in my fingers, my toes. Blood rushes through my ears, drowning out the whoosh of traffic behind me.

I grasp the thick ring and knock—once, twice.

Part of me fears what will happen to me behind that door. A bigger part of me is afraid the door won’t open at all. I can’t see any cameras set into the concrete enclave, but they have to be watching. Will they recognize me? I’m not sure it would help if they did. Probably best that they see only a desperate girl, because that’s all I am now.