“Oh, stop being such a stuck-up asshole and deal with it.” Whitney races down the stairs that lead into the station and I follow her, not surprised at all by the amount of bustling, harried people crowding the place. The stench of sweat combined with too much perfume and a hint of burning rubber fills my nostrils and I wrinkle my nose.
Welcome to London.
I grab hold of the back of Whitney’s sweater as she leads me through the crowds, going through the turnstile after her when she scans her Oyster transportation card and pays for the both of us. A beautiful woman in a blue dress smiles at me as I pass by her and I smile back.
“Stop flirting,” Whitney chastises me.
“Do you have eyes in the back of your head?” I ask her. I’m amused that she even caught me.
“No, more like every woman you walk by is staring at you.”
“Now, now, don’t be jealous,” I tease, and she swats my hand off of her sweater.
We find our route and get on the packed train a few minutes later. When the doors shut and the train goes into motion, I rock back into the woman standing behind me. I offer her an apology and she shakes her head, murmuring an apology as well.
Hmm. This would be the perfect place to pickpocket the shit out of people.
The thought comes to me unbidden as I glance around. Not that I do that sort of thing, not anymore. I used to, when I was first starting out and feeling my way through my newfound so-called career. But what started me on the path of high-end jewelry was none other than the girl whose diamond earrings I stole one night at a party.
Thanks, Lily Fowler, for the inspiration.
“When’s our stop?” I ask Whitney when I hear the automated voice make an announcement.
“Covent Garden. Don’t worry about it—I’ll let you know when it’s coming up.”
The trip is quick, our stop announced less than ten minutes after I asked Whitney about it. I follow her out of the train and through the under-construction station, up the endless stairs until we pop up onto the street, miles away from Whitney’s flat.
“Who are we meeting tonight anyway?” I ask as we walk down the sidewalk, passing all sorts of shops and restaurants. The area is crowded, filled with the young and old, families and couples and a group of teens that go running past us, yelling at each other and laughing.
I remember when I was young like that, without a fucking care in the world. Wasn’t that long ago, either. Until everything went to hell and I was left having to pick up the pieces.
“A small group of people, mostly transplanted Americans. It’s so weird, how we all seem drawn to each other,” Whitney explains. “I can spot an American a mile away, I swear.”
“Like seeks like, I guess, right?” When she nods, I continue. “So where are we going?”
“Oh, it’s a really cool pub—you’ll like it. The White Swan. They have amazing beer and a great dinner menu. One of the better places to eat in this city,” she says with a cheeky smile.
Ha. I hope she’s not shitting me. I’m starving. “Will I know any of your friends?”
“Maybe? I’m not sure. Two of them—they’re a couple—I just recently met. They’re here in London temporarily and we were introduced through a mutual friend. But normally they live in New York.”
It may be a huge city but I swear Manhattan feels like a small town, especially with our exclusive circle. That I’m still allowed to be a part of it is some sort of miracle. Though I’ve worked damn hard to seem like I still belong. “What are their names?”
“Violet Fowler and her fiancé, Ryder McKay. You’ve heard of the Fowler sisters, right? She’s an heiress to Fleur Cosmetics. Anyway, she and her boyfriend are here working at the London office.” Whitney stops when she realizes I’m frozen on the sidewalk. “Caden?” She frowns as she turns to face me. “What’s wrong? We need to hurry so we can grab a good table.”
Fucking fuck. We’re meeting Violet Fowler and her boyfriend? Fiancé? Whatever the hell he is? I saw Violet when we were in Cannes, but I never spoke to her. I don’t know her, our paths have never crossed, and I sure as hell don’t know Ryder McKay.
I know her sisters, though. Lily is back in the States. Rose … I’m not sure where she is. Did she go back to New York? Or is she still in Europe somewhere, traveling? She can do whatever she wants. She definitely doesn’t need to work.
“Caden.” I glance up when I hear Whitney’s impatient voice. She’s already resumed walking toward the pub, waving her hand at me, the universal sign of “hurry up.” I go into motion, my stride easy, my smile firmly in place. No reaction, no anything. I’m my usual smooth self.
“Sorry, thought I saw someone I knew,” I lie when I reach her, curling my arm around hers. “Let’s hurry so we can go grab that table.”
“Come with us,” Violet pleads. “You’ll love Whitney. I met her a few months ago and we became instant friends.”
I shake my head, clutching my cell tight to my ear. I’m not about to be the third wheel at some couples-only dinner at a quaint pub. No, thank you. “I think I’ll stay in tonight.” I’ve already been in London a week, doing a fabulous job of avoiding my dad, Pilar, and even Violet, to an extent. We told our father I was staying on to work at the London office, which he’d reluctantly agreed was a good thing to do. I was off the hook for most of the summer, he said. Not that I’m needed at the moment. He made sure and added that last little bit during our conference call.