The Roommate Page 1

Author: Rosie Danan

Series: The Roommate #1

Genres: Romance

 Chapter one

WHEN THE MAN of her dreams ran a hand across his devastatingly handsome face and said, “I have to tell you something, and I don’t want you to freak out,” Clara Wheaton considered, for the first time, the alarming possibility that she could get dumped by someone she’d never managed to date.

She cursed her wicked ancestors as she glared at the pineapple-scented air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror of Everett Bloom’s Jeep Wrangler.

No matter how many lines she’d fed her mother’s friends back in Greenwich about “pursuing fresh career opportunities,” she’d moved across the country because part of her believed she stood a chance at winning Everett’s heart after fourteen years of pining.

“I rented my room out for the summer,” he said, the words both gentle and firm, the way someone might confess to a child that Santa wasn’t real.

“You . . . rented your room?” Clara’s response came slowly, comprehension dawning with each syllable. “The one you offered me two weeks ago?” If he hadn’t been driving, and her mother hadn’t made her memorize the etiquette of Emily Post in her adolescence, she might have lunged at him.

She’d broken the lease on her apartment in Manhattan, left behind her friends and family, and turned down a curatorial internship at the Guggenheim. All for . . . nothing?

Even compared to generations of storied Wheaton family scandals, surely this nosedive into misadventure could claim a land speed record.

The palm trees they passed along the freeway mocked her, a hallmark of the Hollywood happy ending slipping between her fingers.

She hadn’t even unpacked her suitcases . . . an undigested airport pretzel still floated somewhere below her diaphragm. How could Everett already be saying good-bye?

“No, hey wait, no. I didn’t rent your room.” His signature lazy smile—the same one she’d fallen for the moment his family moved in next door all those years ago—dropped back into place. “I rented the master. The band got an offer to go on tour last minute. Nothing too wild, but we’re opening for a blues band outside Santa Fe with this crazy cool sound, and Trent bought a sick van to haul the equipment . . .”

His careless words sent her straight back to high school. How many times after his social standing skyrocketed in tenth grade had Everett canceled plans with her in favor of band practice? How many times since then had he looked over her shoulder instead of into her eyes when she tried to talk to him?

No one would believe she’d earned two advanced degrees from Ivy League institutions only to end up this stupid.

“Who rented the room?” Clara interrupted his detailed description of the tour van’s vintage fenders.

“What? Oh, the room. Don’t worry. He’s this super nice guy. Josh something. Found him on the Internet a few days ago. Very chill.” He waved a hand in her general direction. “You’re gonna love him.”

She closed her eyes so he wouldn’t see them roll toward the sunroof. No matter how many times she considered the lengths she would go to in her quest to finally win Everett Bloom’s affection, she’d never imagined this.

He turned the car onto a street proudly sporting a rainbow crosswalk. “Listen, I’ll drop you off and give you my keys and stuff, but then I gotta head right out. We’re supposed to be in New Mexico by Friday.” The last traces of apology ebbed with his words.

Clara watched his fingers, the ones she’d often imagined running through her hair in a tender caress, resume their furious beat on the steering wheel. She searched for any trace of her childhood best friend underneath his aloof veneer and came up short.

Pain burned beneath her breastbone. Somewhere in her bloodline, a Wheaton had crossed Fate, cursing his descendants to pay the price. That was the only explanation for why, the one and only time Clara had taken a leap of faith, she’d landed with a spectacular belly flop.

She dragged a deep breath into her lungs. There had to be a way to salvage this whole thing.

“How long will you be gone?” If there was one thing she’d learned from her ne’er-do-well family, it was damage control.

“Hard to say.” Everett pulled the Jeep up to a Spanish-style rancher in desperate need of a new coat of paint. “At least three months. We’ve got tour dates through August.”

“Are you sure you can’t wait a few days to leave?” She hated the note of pleading that bled into her question. “I don’t know anyone else in Los Angeles.”

A face from the past, blurry through the lens of adolescent memory, flashed through her mind before she pushed it away. “I don’t have a job here yet. Hell, I don’t even have a car.” She tried to laugh, to lighten the mood, but what came out sounded more like a grunt.

Everett frowned. “I’m sorry, Cee. I know I promised to help you get settled, but this is a huge break for the band. You get that, right?” He reached over and squeezed her hand. “Look, this doesn’t have to change the plan we made. Everything I said over the phone is still true. This move, California, getting out from under your mother’s thumb . . . It’ll all be good for you.”

He held his palm out for a high five in a long-familiar gesture. They might as well have been back in homeroom cramming for the SATs. Reluctantly, she completed the unspoken request.

“L.A. is summer vacation from real life. Relax and have fun. I’ll be back before you know it.”

Fun? She wanted to scream. Fun was a luxury for people with less to lose, but like generations of Wheaton women before her, Clara resigned herself to silent fuming instead of confrontation.

If a friend had told her a week ago that they planned to move across the country and give up a better life than most people could lay claim to for a shot with a guy—even a particularly handsome guy—Clara would have invested significant energy into trying to stop them. That’s insane, she might have said. It’s always easy when the shoe is on the other foot. No one from Greenwich knew the consequences of an ill-conceived impulse better than a Wheaton. Unfortunately, like grain alcohol, unrequited love grows more potent with time.

Everett unloaded her bags from the back of the Wrangler and hugged her—too tight and too fast to provide much comfort. “I’ll call you from the road in a couple of days to make sure you’re settled.” He fumbled with his key ring.

Clara stared at her own hand with detachment as he pressed the small piece of metal into her palm. The urge to run, primal and nonsensical, sang under her skin.

She had two choices. She could call a cab, book a seat on the next flight back to JFK, and try to rebuild her old life, piece by piece.

Or she could stay.

Stay in this city she didn’t know, live with a man she’d never met, without a job or friends, without the clout her family name commanded on the East Coast.

The Greenwich gossip hounds would salivate over her disgrace. She could already picture the headline. No Longer “In Bloom,” Careful Clara Shacks Up with Stranger.

Not this time. She straightened her shoulders, smoothed her shirt, and ran her tongue over her teeth to ward off rogue lipstick. You only got one chance to make a first impression.

The heavy thump of Everett’s car stereo pounded in her ears as he pulled out, but Clara didn’t turn to watch him drive away.

Paint peeled back from the faded door when she pressed her palm against it. Damn. The society pages were going to have a field day with this one.

Bracing herself, Clara entered her new home the way soldiers enter enemy territory: with light footsteps, eyes mapping the terrain, and elbows tucked tight against her body.

Plush carpet muted her heeled sandals as she surveyed the living room. Without rose-colored glasses crafted by over a decade of repressed lust, the space left much to be desired.

She ran a fingertip through the blanket of dust coating a bookcase in the corner. An odor of decay wafted from abandoned take-out containers littering the coffee table. Clara tried to inhale through her mouth.

Underneath her foot, something crunched. Kicking up her heel, she identified the remains of a potato chip.

Despite the stench and the mess, the little house radiated a retro coziness that stood in direct contrast to both her family’s sprawling colonial in Connecticut and the cramped Morningside Heights walk-up she’d rented near campus.

The faded wallpaper exuded kitschy charm, fighting for her affection, but she couldn’t shake the crushing weight of her disappointment. Clara wiped off the seat of the sofa before sitting down.

“So this is how it feels to be well and truly fucked.”

“I get that a lot,” said a low voice behind her.

Clara sprang to her feet so fast she stumbled. “Oh . . . um . . . Hello.” She scrambled to stand behind her massive wheeled suitcase, creating a fifty-pound shield between her and the man standing in the doorway separating the kitchen and the living room.

He leaned against the door frame. “I don’t suppose you’re robbing me?”

When Clara frowned in confusion, he gestured to her ensemble.

She lowered her chin and scrutinized the sleeveless black turtleneck and matching skinny jeans she’d picked out that morning. Some time in her midtwenties, she’d traded the Argyle and houndstooth of her youth for a closet full of well-tailored monotone basics. Unfortunately, it seemed black clothing, while widely considered slimming and chic in New York City, was the preferred attire of home intruders in Los Angeles.