CHAPTER ONE

"Reality is that which refuses to go away when I stop believing in it." –Phillip K. Dick

August 2011

Nattie Rosen quietly lifted the double-hung window, her eyes shooting from one end of the living room to the next. Her gaze followed the flow of gorgeous reddish-brown carpet until it disappeared down the hallway, leading to the master and guest bedrooms. Shoved between the rooms were a full bath and a miniscule closet filled with untouched hunting equipment: two rifles and a dusty bottle of Brandy.

A disobedient sienna-brown strand fell in front of her face and she swatted at it like a cat, losing what little balance she had. She landed in an awkward crouch, her hands taking most of the impact. Blinking back tears, Nattie willed herself to keep quiet. Warily, she stayed where she was for a few more seconds, trying to determine if anyone had heard her abrupt entrance. He might not even be home. The garage door had been down so she had no way of knowing if his white Bronco was safely tucked inside or not. When no one approached from the hallway, she figured she must have lucked out. He might not catch her. She might be able to avoid a fight altogether.

Her slender, high-heeled boots were noiseless against the plush carpet as she hobbled back to the window and leaned out to collect her empty cardboard box. Tossing it behind her, she slid out of the window and tried, in vain, to return it to its original closed position. In her haste, she had managed to render it crooked. She knew there wasn't enough time for her to stand there and mess with the window. She would have to come back and fix it in a minute.

She was immediately struck by how nothing had really changed in her absence. The dark green couch still sat at the edge of the room with two cream loveseats flanking it. A wall-mounted forty-two inch television stretched out lazily in front of them. The only impressive thing about its accompanying entertainment center was the variety of movies he kept. Western, Sci-Fi, Horror, Film Noir, Comedy, Documentary: his taste was eclectic, to put it mildly. Sometimes, he would see a movie for sale and buy it without ever having seen a preview for it. That, he had always said, was how he had gotten some of his favorite movies. He was the same way with music. With names like Under the Influence of Giants, OK GO, Scissor Sisters, and Dirty Pretty Things, she hadn't even pretended to recognize the artists. After they broke up, she had clung to those songs, pathetically wondering if he might have done the same.

Nattie shook her head furiously, trying to clear her mind of such self-deprecating thoughts. Now wasn't the time to start reminiscing. She had come here for one reason and one reason only. Making her way toward the movie stand, she plucked her movies out and carefully placed them in the waiting box. Putting her thoughts into action, she quietly set each movie inside the box until only one remained. Her hand reached for it, but then stopped, hovering for seemingly no reason at all. She could feel the little hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention. Slowly, she turned to see what had spooked her. At first, she thought maybe she was just being paranoid, but then, of course, the window released itself with a pop and slammed shut, causing the glass to tremble but, luckily, not break. Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, Nattie was frozen in place. A light flickered on and she braced her back against the entertainment center, wishing she were invisible.

As Raleigh emerged from the corridor, she feared her luck had run out. Every step he took was one more second she didn't allow herself to breathe. Her heart was beating so loud, she could feel it in her fingertips. More strands fell out of her loose ponytail, but she ignored the urge to tuck them behind her ears. If she stayed still long enough, he might miss her completely.

Even from a distance, it was impossible not to recognize his familiar 6'2" frame. Petty as it was, she had hoped he would be barely resemble the man she had dated for the better part of two years. If anything, he looked better. His coal-black hair was in desperate need of a cut. Even now, she watched him shove it out of his emerald eyes, giving him a rebellious appearance. She felt her traitorous heart skip a beat. Sometimes, life just sucked.

He extinguished the light and she felt her breath gush out. Her heart continued to gallop and her throat felt hoarse. Oh well. It could have been worse, she thought. He could have caught her. That was what counted, right? She never should have come here, she realized. How easy it would have been to replace her movies! Live and learn, she reminded herself, as she grabbed the now-heavy box and took a single step toward the window. The toe of her boot connected with an invisible crease in the carpet and she flew forward; each and every VHS tape hopped out of the box and she landed on her face.

"Nattie?" Raleigh's voice hung over her like thick fog. With her back to him, she couldn't see his face, but she could guess his expression. Her body screamed when she started to roll over, so she decided to stay put. Her mouth was filled with grainy carpet and blood. Somehow, she managed not to gag.

"Are you alright?" The question came out sounding like an accusation and she inwardly groaned. Or maybe the groan came from her own mouth as she struggled to lift her body off the ground: her hands were too weak to stand such brutal treatment for more than a second or two. Maybe she shouldn't have taken it as a criticism when her aunt had suggested she take out more accident and injury insurance. She was obviously a walking calamity. Her elbows seemed relatively unscathed so she braced her body on them, pulling her knees to her chest, the process slow and painful.

"Here." She tried to shove his hands away when they settled on either side of her waist, but he was stronger than her, and he didn't mind proving it. She was on her feet in no time at all, but at least his expression was free of the arrogance she had been expecting. His eyebrows hung low and his lips formed a tight frown. In a word, he was angry. Angry at her for trespassing? For having to deal with her? For any number of reasons.

"I could have done it myself." She could almost hear a match being struck.

"I have no doubt." She tried not to react to his distant tone, but it hurt all the same. How could this have happened to them? She knew a lot of it was her fault, but she refused to take all the blame. "What are you doing here?" He sounded so dispassionate, so removed. Almost as if she had never meant anything to him at all.

"I wanted my movies back." If he could sound put-off, then so could she. It was childish, but she couldn't seem to help it. Something about his personality had always gotten under her skin. It was what made him such a brilliant attorney. He didn't beat around the bush: he asked directly. Such honesty in a sea of deception usually left his counterpart at a great disadvantage. It galled her to realize he was handling her the same way. Had she really become just one more annoyance? Great.

"And you figured the best way to accomplish this was to break into my house." It brought her great comfort to see his jaw clench and unclench, because it meant he wasn't as unaffected as he wanted to be. "Not like you could have replaced them or anything."

Nattie frowned at his condescension. "I shouldn't have to replace them. They're mine." The words were barely discernible through her gritted teeth. "And with things being so uncomfortable between us—" She really should have stopped while she was ahead. The last thing either of them needed was to hear her reasons for doing something that now seemed like a huge waste of effort.

"And whose fault is that?" She ignored his outburst. She wondered if he knew just how telling his eyes were, how expressive. Even as they sniped at each other, he wore his every emotion in his eyes. He always had. He seemed to be spoiling for a fight; she simply wouldn't give him one. As if to show her indifference to his anger, she reached for the box and began scooping her tapes inside.

"I don't want to fight."

"And what? You thought I would have stopped you if you had showed up at the door like a normal person?" It baffled her to no end how easily he could hurt her with just a carefully placed word. She had never pretended to be a "normal person." He used to say her spontaneity was one of her most endearing qualities. But then, he used to say a lot of things.

"Maybe I didn't want to see you. Ever consider that?" The words were ugly, but so was her mood.

He let out a long sigh. "At least that sounds like the truth."

She didn't hesitate. "It is the truth. But hell Raleigh, if you don't believe me, fine."

"You about done?" His anger had burned itself out and now he just sounded tired.

"Yeah. I'm done." She carried the heavy box to the window.

From behind her, she heard him say, "You can use the front door, you know."

"I prefer the window," she replied, never looking back.

"Of course you do."