She would make them late. Greg paced between moving boxes, fighting the urge to call Jade a second time and remind her of Friday traffic into the city. He didn’t want to nag his new fiancée about the importance of their presence at a cocktail hour, in which she couldn’t partake, for an event that neither of them wished to attend. They both knew what awaited them at the building’s unveiling, the critical assessments they’d face from his colleagues and, worse, their spouses. Over the years, several of the wives had become friends with his ex. And even those with whom Leah had never ingratiated herself were unlikely to welcome a two-decades-younger replacement.
Late midlife crisis. That’s what they’d all hiss after seeing his beautiful thirty-two-year-old betrothed with her lineless brown skin and cascade of thick black curls. Greg didn’t want to consider what they might whisper about Jade herself.
The time on Greg’s cell added another minute. His Pac-Man imitation in the narrow living room wasn’t making her arrive any faster. He perched on the couch’s arm and peered over a stack of boxes partially blocking the front windows. Jade’s SUV wasn’t parking outside.
She had to be on her way though. He’d explained that social events were obligations at his level. If he didn’t show, Marcel would make it seem like a deliberate snub, evidence that Greg was still bitter about losing the Hudson Yards project to an up-and-comer, despite the firm tapping Greg for the Brooklyn building, for which Marcel had also campaigned. Greg needed to ooh and aah with the rest of the architects, if only to pretend no hard feelings.
Sitting wasn’t calming his anxiety. Greg walked to the stair-case, leaned on the banister, and tried to distract himself by picking at the rental’s poor design. The builder had failed to install a front door with windows or place any in the above hallway. As a result, no natural light fell on the landing. The second floor appeared as a black hole, swallowing everything beyond the last step.
Greg had corrected such mistakes in his current project. The renovated house would be a new beginning for him, just as he’d hoped when he’d purchased the fixer-upper a few towns over from the shingle-style he’d called home for eighteen years. Leah had gotten that creation. After twenty-five years of marriage and raising two children inside it, he figured she’d earned it.
His future home would have fifteen windows in the front alone. He’d considered more but had, ultimately, restrained himself. Destroying the original Tudor exterior wouldn’t have made him many friends in a neighborhood defined by old-world facades.
The sound of a car barreling up the driveway snapped Greg’s attention to the front door. He opened it, a gentle-manly gesture that would also emphasize to Jade that he’d been waiting. She seemed to catch the hint, changing her stroll up the walk into a sprint.
“Fastest shower ever. Promise.”
Before she entered the house, he might have said something snippy like I should hope so. But the sight of her brown eyes, red-tinged like an iron-rich soil, smothered his annoyance. Suddenly, all he wanted was to gaze into those dark irises and slip his hands around the slight swell of her belly.
He grabbed Jade’s left palm, restraining her from racing up the stairs. The five-carat diamond fit between his interlaced knuckles, advertising his claim. He was glad that she wore it around town and not simply for special occasions.
“How are you feeling?”
Jade’s full lips pinched into a not-impressed smirk. “Belchy. Bloated. But the books say it should be getting better.” She smiled. “Honeymoon trimester.”
Greg planted a kiss on the corner of her uncertain mouth. If she actually felt sick, she didn’t show it. He suspected that Jade complained about the pregnancy as a way of reminding him that a baby hid beneath her near-flat stomach. Either that or she was giving him an excuse to skip the event altogether. He supposed he could blame the baby for their absence. Jade wasn’t feeling well. She’s barely entered the second trimester. People would believe him. Though his colleagues would also mutter about the ridiculousness of a fifty-two-year-old man having a newborn. A thirty-something struggling to raise young kids while keeping up with the office’s relentless pace was entitled to sympathy and leeway. He was supposed to be past such concessions.
Blaming anything on an unborn baby was bad luck anyway. He released her hand. “We should get out of here soon.”
Jade started upstairs. “I need to make myself pretty.”
“You’re the prettiest woman in any room.”
She turned and draped an arm over her head, striking a pose on the staircase before sniffing toward her exposed armpit. Her nose scrunched, transforming her striking appearance into something cute and cartoonish. “Well, I don’t want a reputation as the ripest.”
She hurried to the second floor, swearing to break speed records with her beauty routine. Greg settled on a step, knowing that she wouldn’t simply wash and throw on a dress as she had pledged. Jade was her own biggest critic. She believed her bronze skin was tarnished above her cheekbones, even though he couldn’t see any so-called dark circles, and she had a habit, particularly around his peers, of smoothing down invisible flyaway strands. It was all so silly. Jade didn’t need to be self-conscious.
He checked the time on his phone: 5:20. Marcel had planned the cocktail hour for six to ensure that the whole firm could appreciate the brightening of Jersey City’s gap-toothed skyline from the new building’s omnipresent windows. If they were more than forty-five minutes late, they’d miss the show.
“Jade,” he shouted up the stairs. “Twenty minutes tops. Okay, babe? It could take an hour to get into the city.”
He listened for a response. Water ran through the wall pipes. Greg also heard footsteps. Heavy, yet fast. They approached the house, stomping up to the front door.
He rose from the stairs, continuing to listen. Jade had begun shopping for the baby online. Several times a week, packages landed on the stoop. What dubious necessity had the mommy blogs demanded she buy this time, he wondered. A bottle warmer? (A cup of hot water worked fine.) Teething rings painted with edible, organic vegetable dyes that, somehow, didn’t break down from saliva? He waited for the familiar thud of a box landing on the outside doormat.
“You sure this is the address?” The muffled voice was gruff. Male. A new deliveryman in training. Greg braced him-self for the squawk of some radio dispatcher, reaffirming coordinates.
“Yeah . . . what . . . said,” answered a second voice, higher and more jittery than the first, the speech broken and even less intelligible. Two new guys, Greg decided, with a package either for him or for a neighbor that he’d end up delivering himself if they dropped it at his door.
Carting something heavy enough to require two delivery-men did not appeal to him. Greg flicked back the top lock and turned the knob. “You can leave it if—”
Wood struck his left cheekbone. Instinct drove him from the source of the blow, forcing him toward the wall when he should have thrown his entire body weight behind the opening door. Two men stormed into the foyer. Ski masks hid all but slivers of pale skin around their eyes. Their hands were covered in black leather gloves.
Greg assessed their sizes. One was skinny. He could tell by the folds in the man’s bulky black sweatshirt. A drug addict, perhaps, seeking cash for his next fix. The other man was larger, nearly Greg’s height and significantly broader.
Greg rushed the bigger guy, not allowing himself time to consider the stranger’s hulking physique. He thought only of Jade upstairs. Her subtle smile. Her delicate frame. The baby nestled inside her belly.
He rammed the man into the wall, recoiled his right arm, and brought it as hard as he could into the guy’s stomach. The intruder absorbed the hit like a body of water, barely shuddering as Greg’s fist connected with the soft flesh beneath his shirt. The ski mask muted an epithet. Greg bent his elbow, aiming again at the man’s torso.
Footsteps on the stairs distracted him. The thin man was headed toward Jade.
Greg turned to give chase. Before his foot hit the second step, the larger intruder rammed a fist into Greg’s kidney. Lights exploded in his head. He struggled to catch his breath.
“What do you want?” he panted. “Money? I can get money.”
The larger man reached into his back pocket. Gun, Greg thought. I’m going to die. A silver cylinder flashed in the air. The masked man held the weapon above his head. Greg thought the stance wrong for a gun. For a fraction of a second, he wondered whether real people held firearms one-handed. He’d never shot one.
As the weapon swung down, he realized his mistake. Not a gun, a crowbar. The thought resounded as the tool connected with the top of his head. He heard the amplified crack of a breaking eggshell. Jade. Her name reared in Greg’s mind, a sound wave cresting and crashing in his brain. Jade. Jade. Jade. It deafened him before he plunged into darkness.
Jade Thompson has it all. She’s an up-and-coming social media influencer, and she has a beautiful new home and a successful architect for a fiancé. But there’s trouble behind the scenes. To Greg’s children, his divorce from their mother and his new life can only mean a big mid-life crisis. To Jade, his suburban Connecticut upbringing isn’t an easy match with her Caribbean roots.
A savage home invasion leaves Greg house-bound with a traumatic brain injury and glued to the live feeds from his ubiquitous security cameras. As the police investigate the crime and Greg’s frustration and rage grows, Jade begins to wonder what he may know about their attackers. And whether they are coming back.
As Greg watches Jade’s comings and goings, he becomes convinced that her behavior is suspicious and that she’s hiding a big secret. The more he sees, the more he wonders whether the break-in was really a random burglary. And whether he’s worth more to Jade if he were dead than alive.