“I don’t even drink beer. Neither do you,” I say as I stare at the ceiling.
“I do now. Ryder’s taught me how to appreciate a good beer,” she says, sounding haughty, all while talking about freaking beer.
“I’m sure,” I say dryly, making her laugh. “Tell me what time and I’ll be there.”
We hang up after she gives me the details and I realize I have maybe two hours to get ready. I hop into the shower—first one I’ve taken in two days; yes, maybe Violet is right, I am disgustingly pitiful—and I soak under the hot spray of water for far too long, finally shutting it off before I turn into a complete prune.
I slather on lotion and do my hair. Apply makeup—the latest from Fleur, of course—and thumb through the clothes I brought with me that are hanging in the closet. I haven’t even gone shopping since I arrived in London, so it’s all old stuff. Boring.
With the exception of a sweet little summer dress I brought with me. Late spring in London has been warm and I know I can get away with the thin cotton dress, especially if I bring a sweater with me.
But I don’t want to bring a sweater. I slip the dress on, not bothering with a bra or even panties. It fits loose, the top a blue-and-white stripe with a button-up bodice, and the floral print skirt falls just above my knees, swinging about my legs in an almost flirtatious way. The mix of patterns shouldn’t work but somehow it does, and when I stop in front of the mirror on the back of the bathroom door I stare at myself.
I look young. Carefree. I’d curled my hair after drying it, just the ends, and it falls past my shoulders in free-flowing waves. The makeup is subtle since I always apply it with a light hand, and I have pearl studs in my ears. My mom’s earrings—we were all given a different pair from her jewelry collection when we turned sixteen.
Life has been so harried lately that I haven’t done much relaxing. Maybe my down-in-the-dumps wallowing in my hotel room has done me wonders.
I know I definitely feel good. The perk in my step as I make my way down the sidewalk toward the pub is a good sign too. The sun shines upon my skin, warming me, and I smile at a cute guy in a crisp suit as we pass each other by, thrilled by the light of awareness I see in his gaze.
When was the last time I was with a guy? I’ve been on a few dates since I broke up with my last boyfriend. That breakup messed with my head, but I’m over him now. I fooled around with a few of those dates, but nothing serious. I’ve been far more intimate with my vibrator lately—a gift I received at a bridal shower when I won one of those stupid games we’re always required to play. It had been a bit of a gag when they handed it over, much giggling and tossing around of innuendo-filled comments when I pulled the silver bullet out of the gift bag.
But that little silver bullet has come in handy over the last few months. It’s almost embarrassing to admit. I’m a girl in my early twenties. The world is my oyster and all that crap. I should be having the sexual time of my life with a hot guy, not a discreet vibrator I hide in my bedside drawer.
I immediately think of the guy I met in Cannes and I slow my steps, allow myself to daydream a little bit. He’d been hot. Tall and broad, with that gorgeous face and the sun-kissed hair. The perfect lips and that long, slightly rough index finger circling around my nipple …
The man’s voice startles me and I leap out of the way of the bicyclist riding past, who sends me a menacing glare. I return the glower, pissed that I almost ran into him, pissed even more that he had to yell at me like that.
I guess that’s what I get for daydreaming about sexy strangers who kiss me and abandon me, all in a matter of five minutes. Was the entirely too brief incident in Cannes a sign of things to come? Is that what I have to look forward to? Becoming consumed with work, having missed opportunities, and going home alone every night?
Stopping short, I realize I’m in front of the White Swan. It’s a beautiful pub, the exterior painted black with white-framed windows, the name painted in gold. Flowers spill out of boxes set just above the pub, and a giant lantern flickers as it swings gently to and fro with the breeze.
Nerves assail me out of nowhere and I bite my lower lip, unsure if I should enter or not. Why am I cautious now? It’s no big deal. If I hate hanging out with Violet’s friends, I can leave.
I glance up to see Violet standing in the doorway of the pub, looking adorable in a flippy black skirt and a plain white T-shirt, a bold, chunky silver necklace dressing up the outfit. Slowly I approach her, pleased at the smile on her face, the way she glances down at her left hand and twists the diamond ring Ryder just gave her into place.
My sister looks so happy. And I’m filled with the sudden need to keep on making her happy, too.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Violet says as she pulls me into a hug.
I cling to her for probably a little too long, but she doesn’t protest. “I’m glad I came too,” I admit as I pull away from her.
She sends me a look, one I recognize and that I’ve received many times. It’s the stern, I’m-going-into-mother-mode look she’s so fond of giving me. I step back and she holds out my arms, examining me before she nods her approval. “Cute dress.”
“Love your outfit too,” I return.
Violet takes my hand and pulls me into the pub. “It’s casual Friday at the office. You’d know this if you came in once in a while.”