One Good Reason Online - Sarah Mayberry

PROLOGUE

January

JON ADAMSON WOKE WITH A START. Someone was in his room. A heartbeat later, he was on his feet, fists raised, every muscle tense as he squared up to the intruder.

“Mate.” His brother held up his hands, took a step backward. “It’s just me.”

Jon dropped his fists. “You should have knocked.”

“I did.” Tyler’s gaze flicked to the half-empty bottle of bourbon beside the bed. “Several times.”

The light was hazy in the room. Jon tried to guess the time. Nine in the morning? Ten? He reached for the jeans he’d dumped at the end of the bed when he’d finally crashed last night.

“I was up pretty late.”

He wasn’t about to offer explanations for the bourbon or anything else. A man could have a few drinks at the end of the day. Besides, Tyler was the younger brother—it was Jon’s job to be the heavy, not the other way around.

“What are you doing up this way?” he asked as he stepped into his jeans.

Jon had been back in Australia, living in their late father’s house in the rural Victorian town of Woodend for eleven months now. Tyler lived an hour and a half away in Melbourne, so the two of them didn’t cross paths very often. Not that that would have changed even if they were geographically closer. They’d never been the kind of brothers who lived in each other’s pockets—witness the ten years Jon had spent in Canada.

“I hadn’t heard from you for a while. Thought I’d better check in.”

Jon pulled his T-shirt over his head, aware of the unspoken questions behind his brother’s words.

Why didn’t you return my phone messages? What’s going on?

“I’ve been busy.”

“Yeah, I saw that. When did you knock down the wall between the kitchen and living room?”

“Figured both rooms would benefit from the light. It’s all about open plan these days.”

“What happened to tidying up the yard and giving the place a lick of paint before we listed it?”

“If you’re that desperate for the money, I can get a valuation done. Pay out your half.”

“It’s not about the money.”

Jon walked toward the door. “Yeah? What’s it about, then?”

Tyler followed him to the kitchen. Jon had pulled up the old linoleum tiles and the boards were rough beneath his feet. He sidestepped the hole where he’d removed a rotten plank and crossed to the sink. Turning on the tap, he sluiced handfuls of cold water onto his face.

Tyler was looking around, inspecting the gaping holes in the plaster where the kitchen cabinets had once hung. The only remaining features of the original kitchen was the sink unit, the freestanding stove and the fridge. And they’d be gone any day now, too.

“I suppose you’ve gutted the bathroom, too?”

“Everything except the toilet and shower recess.”

Tyler’s gaze was knowing. “Wouldn’t it have been easier to knock the place down?”

“I’m fixing it up for resale. We both agreed it needed work before we put it on the market.”

“Mate, you’re demolishing it from the inside out.”

“The kitchen needed updating. The bloody thing hadn’t been touched since the fifties. And the bathroom was leaking into the subfloor. You can see the joists I had to replace if you want to.”

Tyler didn’t say anything, but he didn’t look away, either.

Jon could feel his hackles rising. Tyler was making a big deal out of this, reading things into Jon’s actions. Whatever Tyler thought was going on, he was wrong. Way wrong.

Jon crossed his arms over his chest, widened his stance. “I’m doing you and Ally a favor. You’ll make a lot more with this place fixed up than you would have if we’d put it on the market as it was.”

“Will you quit it with the money? I don’t give a damn how much we make. I’m here because of you.”

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah? You looked in a mirror lately? When was the last time you shaved or had a haircut?”

Jon brushed a hand over his bristly jaw. “I’ve been busy.”

“Too busy to eat? Because you look like a bag of bones.”

“I’m fine.”

“Which is why Ally got a call from Wendy in the middle of the night on Monday, telling her it sounded like you were holding a demolition derby.”

Wendy was the next-door neighbor. Until this moment, Jon had thought she was all right. He’d even tried to talk her into bed a few times, but she was seeing some computer guy.

“I was taking the wall out,” Jon said.

“At two in the morning?”

“If I woke her, I’ll apologize.”

“And what about all the bottles in the recycling bin?”

Jon’s eyes