“Where’s Keane?” Pru asked. “You invited him, yeah?”
She nodded. “I left him a text.”
“Does that mean you’ve decided to stop fighting yourself and your heart and go for it?” Pru asked.
Willa never thought the admission would be difficult but she was still surprised when her eyes filled as she nodded.
“Alcohol!” Elle called out. “Stat! Another one of us is about to go down the rabbit hole.”
Finn and Pru, the first ones “down the rabbit hole,” grinned wide.
Then Finn and Sean served them a feast that—no surprise given the fearless and competitive nature of the guys—turned into a chicken-wing-eating contest.
Spence won, though Willa had no idea how he did it. He was as tall as a tree with the lean muscled build of a runner, not a single ounce of extra meat on him.
And yet he put away twenty-five wings.
“Twenty-fucking-five,” Archer said in awe as he counted the pile of bones on Spence’s plate. “Ten more than your closest competitor.” He looked at Finn. “That’s you, man. You going to keep going, or forfeit so we can crown him?”
Finn looked down at his place and inhaled as if he was fortifying himself.
“Forfeit,” Pru said for her man. “What,” she asked at Finn’s look. “None of them have to sleep with you tonight. As the lone person who does, I vote you’re done, before you explode.”
“Yes!” Spence thrust a fist in the air triumphantly and then let out an impressive burp. “ ’Scuse me.”
Willa had been sneaking covert glances at the door, hoping to see Keane, but he was still MIA.
They moved on to their annual Christmas Karaoke Championship, first fortified by another round of heavenly spiked eggnog. And if Willa kept looking to the door every few minutes, no one called her on it—although she caught Elle and Archer exchanging more than one worried look, which she ignored.
The prize for karaoke was the same as for the wings—bragging rights for the entire next year.
And everyone wanted those bragging rights. Bad.
The girls got up and did “Moulin Rouge.”
Spence and Finn did “Purple Rain.”
But then Archer, seeming unaffected by the alcohol they’d consumed—although the Santa hat sitting askance on his head was clear evidence that he was very relaxed—sang “Man in the Mirror” and brought down the house.
Afterward, he came back to his seat, tipped back his chair, and gave them all a rare grin.
Elle was staring at him oddly. “How much have you had to drink?”
“He’s drinking virgin,” Finn said. “He said he’s our DD tonight.”
Elle’s eyes widened. “So you’re completely sober,” she said to Archer. “And you can sing like that? How did I not know you can sing like that?”
“You don’t know a lot about me.”
He said this mildly but Elle blinked like he’d slapped her.
Ignoring this reaction, Archer reached past her to grab a handful of cookies that Haley had baked herself. “Are these as good as they look?”
“Better,” Haley said while Willa rubbed the kink in her neck, the one she’d gotten by taking too many peeks at the damn door.
“We do karaoke all the time,” Elle said to Archer, apparently unable to let it go. “You’ve never sang like that before.”
“Sure I have.”
“Never,” she said adamantly. “You could go on any singing show in this country and win.”
“No shit,” he said easily. “But I don’t want to sing for a living. I want to catch the idiots and asshats of the world for a living.”
“Why would you choose such a dangerous job when you could literally stand there and look pretty and sing?” Haley asked.
Archer shrugged. “Because I’m good at catching the idiots and asshats of the world,” he said. “I’m not all that good at looking pretty.”
“You just like wearing at least three weapons at all times,” Elle accused.
“That too,” he agreed and went for more cookies. “Isn’t it time for gifts yet?”
He was referring to their annual White Elephant/ Secret Santa gift exchange. The rule was simple—the gifts had to be under twenty bucks, not that this stopped them from competing like it was for a pot of gold.
It all started out very polite, with each of them setting their wrapped present in a pile. Then, like calm, civilized adults, they took turns choosing and unwrapping one.
But in ten minutes flat—a new record for them—it turned into a wrestling match when Haley jumped on Archer’s back and bit his ear to keep him from getting the Star Wars shower curtain that she wanted so badly.
“Okay,” she said ten minutes later, the shower curtain safe in her hands. “That didn’t happen.”
“Spence already put it on Instagram,” Elle said.
There was another scuffle over some bacon toothpaste and then they all shared another round of eggnog.
Willa drank her third and took yet another glance at the pub doors.
“You okay?” Pru asked her.
“Yes.” She shook her head. “Actually, no, I’m some distance from okay. I mean I thought I was fine, you know? I was alone and I was good at that. I’d given up men and that was working for me—until, of course, the sexiest of all the men in all the world named Keane made me forget my no-man decree, and now . . .” She shook her head. “And now I’m not good at alone anymore.”
“You could switch things up and come to bat for my team,” Haley suggested. “But you should know, women are even harder to deal with than men, trust me.”
“I don’t want a team,” Willa said. “No more sexy times, which really sucks because me and Keane were good at it, really good. Okay, so he is the one who’s really, really, really, really good—”
“Uh, honey,” Elle said and drew her finger across her throat signaling Willa that she should stop talking now.
But she wasn’t done. “You know what? I think I’ll be my own team. I’ve got a good shower massager, I’ll take care of my own business.”
Normally this would’ve gotten her a big laugh, but instead each of her dearest friends in the world was looking at her with varying winces and grimaces on her face. Oh shit. “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” she whispered.