Beautiful: Chapter 1


I’ve tried not to be too bitter about the close friendship between clarity and hindsight.

Such as, only once you’re sitting for your final exams do you register that you might have studied a bit more.

Or perhaps, staring down the barrel of a gun held in your face, you think, Gosh, I really was quite a wanker.

Or maybe you’ve just happened upon the white, thrusting bum of your idiot boyfriend as he shags another woman in your bed, and you muse with a touch of sarcasm, Ah, so that’s why he never fixed the squeaky stair. It was the Pippa alarm.

I threw my purse at him mid-thrust, hitting him squarely in the back. It sounded like a hundred tubes of lipstick hitting a brick wall.

For a cheating, lying, dickhead forty-year-old man, Mark really was quite fit.

“You asshole,” I hissed as he attempted—rather gracelessly—to climb off her. The sheets were stripped from the bed—add lazy to his list of attributes, obviously he didn’t want to have to carry the bedding to the laundrette on the corner before I got home—and his cock bounced against his stomach.

He covered it with his hand. “Pippa!”

To her credit, the woman hid her face behind her hands in mortification. “Mark,” she choked out, “you didn’t tell me you had a girlfriend.”

“Funny,” I answered for him. “He didn’t tell me he had two of them.”

Mark let out a few abbreviated sounds of terror.

“Go on, then,” I said to him, lifting my chin. “Get your things. Get out.”

“Pippa,” he managed. “I didn’t know—”

“That I’d be coming by at lunchtime?” I asked. “Yeah, I figured that out, love.”

The woman stood, scrambling in humiliation for her clothes. I suppose the decent thing to do would have been to turn away and let them dress in their shameful silence. But actually, if I was being fair, the decent thing to do would not be to claim she didn’t know that Mark had a girlfriend when everything in the bloody bedroom was a delicate turquoise hue and the bedside lamps had lace-covered shades.

Did she think she was visiting his mum’s flat? Give me a fucking break.

Mark pulled on his pants, coming at me with his hands up as if approaching a lion.

I laughed. Right then, I was much more dangerous than a lion.

“Pippa, dearest, I’m so sorry.” He let the words sit in the space between us, as if they might actually be enough to diffuse my anger.

An entire speech filled my head in an instant, fully formed and articulate. It was about how I worked fifteen-hour days to support his start-up, it was about how he lived and worked in my flat but hadn’t washed a dish in four months, it was about how he seemed to be putting a lot more focus into giving this woman a bit of fun than he’d put into making me happy in the past six months. But I didn’t think he deserved even that much of my energy, glorious as the speech would have been.

Besides, his discomfort—increasing with every second that passed without a word from me—was too delicious. It didn’t hurt to look at him. You’d have thought it would, in this type of situation. But instead, it set something inside me on fire. I imagined it was my love for him, maybe, igniting like newspaper held over a match.

He took one step closer. “I can’t imagine how this feels right now for you, but—”

Tilting my head and feeling the anger boil up inside, I cut him off: “Can’t you? Shannon left you for another man. In fact, I imagine you know exactly how this feels right now for me.”

Once I said it, memories of those early days bubbled up, when we’d met at the pub, when it was just friends between us and we’d enjoy long conversations about my dating adventures and his relationship failures. I remembered how I could tell that he’d truly loved his wife from how devastated he was without her. I tried to keep from falling for him—with his dry sense of humor, curly dark hair, and luminous brown eyes—but failed. And then, to my utter glee, one night it turned into more.

Three months later he’d moved in.

Six months after that, I’d asked him to fix the squeaky board on the stairs.

Two months after that, I’d given up and fixed it myself.

That was yesterday.

“Get your things out of the closet and leave.”

The woman scurried past us without looking up. Would I even remember her face? Or would I forever remember only the thrusting of Mark’s backside over her and the way his cock bobbed wildly as he flipped over in a panic?

I heard the front door slam a few seconds later, but Mark still hadn’t moved.

“Pippa, she’s only a friend. She’s a sister of Arnold’s, from football, her name—”

“Don’t give me her bleeding name,” I said, laughing incredulously. “I don’t give a fuck what her name is!”


“What if it’s a beautiful name?” I cut in. “What if, someday in the future, I’m married to a really nice bloke, and we have a baby, and my husband suggests that name, and I say, ‘Oh, lovely one, that. Unfortunately, Mark shagged a girl with that name in my bed, with the sheets pulled off because he’s a lazy wanker, so no, we can’t use that for our daughter.’ ” I glared at him. “You’ve already ruined my day. Maybe my week.” I tilted my head, considering. “Definitely haven’t ruined my month, because that new Prada bag I got last week is bloody amazing—and not even you or your unfaithful pale arse can hamper that.”

He smiled, trying not to laugh. “Even now,” he said quietly, with adoration, “even after I’ve betrayed you like this, you’re such a funny girl, Pippa.”

I set my jaw. “Mark. Get the hell out of my flat.”

He winced apologetically. “It’s only that I’ve got a telecon at four with the Italians, you see, and I was hoping to be able to make it from the—”

This time it was my hand across his cheek that interrupted him.
Coco set down a mug of tea in front of me and ran a soothing hand through my hair.

“Fuck him.” She whispered this, for Lele’s benefit.

Lele loved motorcycles, women, rugby, and Martin Scorsese. But she did not, we’d learned, like her wife to swear in the house.

I buried my face in my folded arms. “Why are men such wankers, Mum?”

The Mum was for both of them, because it’s the one name they’d both answer to. It was confusing at first—shouting for one and having both turn to answer—and why, as soon as I could really speak, Colleen and Leslie let me call them Coco and Lele instead of Mum.

“They’re wankers because . . .” Coco began, and then trailed off, floundering. “Well, they aren’t all wankers, are they?”

I assumed she looked to Lele for confirmation, because her voice returned, stronger when she said, “And women can be wankers, too, for that matter.”

Lele came to her rescue. “What we can tell you is that Mark is definitely a wanker, and we all feel a bit blindsided by that, now don’t we?”

I was sad for the Mums, too. They liked Mark. They appreciated that he was halfway between my age and theirs. They enjoyed his sophisticated taste in wine, and his appreciation for Bob Dylan and Sam Cooke. When he was with me, he liked to pretend he was still in his twenties. When he was with them, he easily transformed into the best friend of fiftysomething lesbians. I wondered which version of himself he was with the faceless tramp.

“I do, and I don’t,” I admitted, sitting up and wiping my face. “In hindsight, I wonder if maybe Mark was so gutted about Shannon because it had never occurred to him to cheat.”

I looked up at their wide, worried eyes. “I mean, he didn’t even know it was an option until she cheated. Maybe it became a terrible option if you’re unhappy, but an option anyway.” I felt the blood drain from my face. “Maybe it became the quickest and easiest way to break it off with me?”

They stared at me, speechless as they witnessed my dawning horror.

“Is that it?” I asked, looking back and forth between the two of them. “Was he trying to end things, and I was just too thick to see it? Did he sleep with a woman in my bed to push me away?” I swiped my hand over my mouth. “Is Mark just a giant coward with a great knob?”

Coco covered her own mouth to keep from laughing. Lele seemed to give this question its fair consideration. “I can’t speak to the knob, love, but I would say without a doubt that that man is a coward.”

Lele cupped my elbow, guiding me with her solid grip to stand and follow her to the overstuffed sofa. She pulled me down beside her long, hard form, and within a breath, Coco’s soft curves were there, too, pressing her warmth into my other side.

How many times had we sat like this? How many times had we done this very thing, sitting huddled together on the couch as we considered the mystery of boyfriend behavior? We’d muddled through it, together. We didn’t always come up with answers, but we usually felt better after a good cuddle on the couch.

This time, they didn’t put much effort into hypotheses. When your twenty-six-year-old daughter comes home with man troubles, and you’re a lesbian couple married to your first love going on thirty years, there’s only so much to say other than Fuck him.

“You’re working too much,” Lele murmured, kissing my hair.

“You hate your job.” Coco massaged my fingers, humming in agreement.

“You know that’s why I came home for lunch that day to begin with? I’d felt like shredding my stack of spreadsheets and dumping Tony’s coffee over his head, and decided a good brew and some biscuits might set me right. The irony.”

“You could quit and move home?” Coco said.

“Aw, Mum, I don’t want to,” I said quietly, ignoring the way the suggestion of quitting sparked a tiny thrill inside me. “I couldn’t.”

I stared ahead of us at the tidy sitting room: the small television that was used more as a stand for Coco’s vases full of flowers than it was for its intended purpose; the nubby blue rug that used to be a minefield of hidden Barbie shoes; the meticulously stained hardwood floor peeking out beneath.

I did hate my job. I hated my boss, Tony. I hated the dull tedium of the interminable number crunching. I hated my commute, hated not having any good friends in the office anymore now that Ruby had left nearly a year and a half ago.

Hated how each day seemed to bleed into the next.

But maybe I’m lucky, I remembered. At least I have a job, yeah? And friends, even if most of them spend more time gossiping in the pub than anything else. I’ve got two mums who love me beyond measure, and a wardrobe that would make most women drool. Really, Mark was lovely sometimes but a bit of a slob if I’m being fair. Great cock, lazy tongue. Fit, but rather dull, now that I think about it. Who needs a man? Not me.

I had all that—a good life, really. So why did I feel like broiled shit?

“You need a holiday.” Lele sighed.

I felt something inside me pop: a tiny burst of relief.

“Yes! A holiday!”
Heathrow was fucking nutters on a Friday morning.

Fly Friday, Coco said.

It will be quiet, she said.

Apparently I should not take advice from a woman who hadn’t been on an airplane in four years. But she seemed like a wizened sage compared to me: it had been six years since I’d flown; I never traveled for work. I took the train northwest to Oxford to see Ruby, and I took the train southeast to Paris—or had—with Mark, when we wanted a mini-holiday and to gorge ourselves on food and wine, a wild sexual excursion with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Sex. Goodness, would I miss that.

But there were more pressing things on my mind, and I had to wonder whether there were more people in Heathrow right then, at nine on a Friday, than there were in the entire city of London.

Don’t people go to work anymore? I thought. Clearly I’m not the only one out here who’s flying off before the end of the workweek, on a random non-holiday in October, escaping the boring tedium of my job and the cheating, thrusting—

“Get on, then,” a woman snarled behind me.

I startled, having been caught lost in my thoughts in the security line.

I took three steps forward and looked at her over my shoulder. “Better?” I asked flatly now that we were standing in the exact same order and only a few feet closer to the agent checking passports.

Thirty minutes later, I was at my gate. And I needed . . . an activity. Nerves gnawed at my stomach, the kind of anxiety I wasn’t sure whether to feed or starve. It wasn’t as though I’d never flown before . . . I just hadn’t flown much. To be clear, I felt worldly in my everyday life. I had a favorite shop in Mallorca I would visit for new skirts. I had a list of cafés in Rome I could offer to anyone traveling there for the first time. Of course I was a seasoned Tube traveler—routinely managing the mass of aggresively impatient commuters—but somehow I assumed the airport would be more welcoming: a gateway to adventure.

Apparently not. It seemed enormous, and even so, the crowds were surprisingly thick. Our gate attendant was calling out information at the same time that another gate attendant across the way was making similar announcements. People were boarding, and it felt like chaos, but when I glanced around, no one but me seemed to find this at all jarring. I looked down at my ticket, clutched in my fist. Mums had bought me a first-class fare—a treat, they said—and I knew how much it had cost them. Surely the plane wouldn’t leave without me?

A man stepped up to my side, dressed smartly in a navy suit with polished shoes. He looked far more sure of himself than I felt.

Stick by this one, I thought. If he’s not on the plane, surely it’s not time for me, either.

I let my eyes travel up his smooth neck to his face and felt just the slightest bit dizzy. Obviously, I was viewing the world through rebound-colored glasses, but he was gorgeous. A head of thick, sunny hair; deep green eyes focused on the mobile in his hand; and a lovely jawline ripe for nibbling.

“Excuse me,” I said, putting my hand on his arm. “Could you help me?”

He looked down at where I touched him, and then slowly over to me, and smiled.

His eyes crinkled at the corners, and a single dimple dug into his left cheek. He had perfect, American teeth. And I was sweaty and breathless.

“Could you tell me how this works?” I asked. “I’ve not flown in many years. Do I board now?”

He followed my attention to the ticket clutched in my hand and tilted it slightly so he could see.

Clean, short nails. Long fingers.

“Oh,” he said, laughing a little. “You’re right next to me.” Glancing up at the boarding door, he added, “They’re pre-boarding now—that’s for parents with small children or people who need a little extra time—first class comes next. Want to follow me on?”

I’d follow you past the gates of hell, sir.

“That’d be smashing,” I said. “Thank you.”

He nodded and turned back to face the gate attendant.

“The last time I flew was to India, six years ago,” I told him, and he looked back at me. “I was twenty, and visiting Bangalore with my friend Molly, whose cousin works at a hospital there. Molly is lovely, but we are both quite daft when we travel, and we nearly boarded a plane to Hong Kong by mistake.”

He laughed a little. I knew I was babbling nervously and he was just being polite, but I couldn’t stop myself from finishing the pointless story anyway.

“A sweet woman at the gate redirected us, and we sprinted to the next terminal, where our plane had been moved—we’d missed the announcements because we’d been fetching beers at the restaurant—and we made it onto the flight just before it pulled back from the gate.”

“Lucky,” he murmured. Lifting his chin to the jetway when our attendant announced first class could board, he told me, “That’s us. Let’s go.”

He was tall, and as he walked his ass made me nostalgic for Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. Looking down his body, I wondered how long it took a man to get shoes that perfectly polished. If I searched for a stray thread on his suit, a bit of lint, surely I would come back empty-handed. He was meticulous, yet not stiff.

What does he do? I wondered as we finally stepped aboard the plane. Businessman. Probably here for work, has a mistress in some fancy Chelsea apartment. He left her this morning, pouting on the bed in the lingerie he got her yesterday in apology after his meeting went late. She fed him takeaway on satin sheets, and then loved him all night long until he rose from the bed at four in the morning to begin polishing his shoes—

“Miss?” he said, as if he’d had to repeat it at least once.

I jumped, wincing in apology up at him. “Sorry, I was . . .”

He gestured for me to slide into the window seat, and I stowed my purse beneath the seat in front of me.

“Sorry,” I said again. “I forget how organized boarding can be.”

Waving this off mildly, he said, “I just fly a lot. I get on autopilot, so to speak.”

I watched as he meticulously unpacked an iPad, noise-canceling headphones, and a pack of antiseptic wipes. He used a wipe to clean the armrest, the tray, and the back of the seat in front of him before pulling out a fresh one to clean his hands.

“You came prepared,” I murmured, grinning.

He laughed un-self-consciously. “Like I said . . .”

“You fly a lot,” I finished for him, laughing outright. “Are you always so . . . vigilant?”

He glanced at me, amused. “In a word: yes.”

“Do you get teased for it?”

His smile was a rare combination of guarded and roguish, and tripped a tiny, thrilled reaction in my chest. “Yes.”

“Well, good. It’s adorable, but deserves a fair bit of teasing.”

He laughed, turning back to his task of stowing the wipes in a small trash bag. “Noted.”

The flight attendant came over, handing us each a napkin. “I’m Amelia; I’ll be taking care of you today. Can I get you something to drink before we lift off?”

“Tonic water and lime, please,” my seatmate ordered quietly.

Amelia looked to me.

“Um . . .” I began, wincing a little. “What are the choices?”

She laughed, but not unkindly. “Anything you want. Coffee, tea, juice, sodas, cocktails, beer, wine, champagne . . .”

“Oh, champagne!” I said, clapping. “That seems a fitting way to begin a holiday!”

I bent, digging into my purse. “How much?”

The man stopped me with a hand on my arm and a bemused smile. “It’s free.”

Looking at him over my shoulder, I realized Amelia had already left to get our drinks.

“Free?” I repeated lamely.

He nodded. “International flights serve alcohol for free. And in first class, well, it’s always free.”

“Well, shit,” I blurted, straightening. “I’m an idiot.” I used my toe to push my purse back under the seat. “This is my first trip in premium class.”

He leaned a little closer, whispering, “I won’t tell.”

I couldn’t read his tone, and looked over at him. He winked playfully.

“But you will tell me if I’m doing it all wrong?” I asked with a grin. With him leaning so close and smelling like man and clean linen and shoe polish, my heartbeat was a pounding drum in my throat.

“There’s no wrong way.”

What did he just say? I smiled more widely at him. “You won’t let me accidentally leave all my tiny, free alcohol bottles everywhere?” I whispered.

He held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

Straightening, he put the small trash bag in his briefcase and stowed the case away near his feet.

“Are you flying home, or flying away?” I asked.

“Home,” he told me. “I’m a Boston native. I was in London on business for the last week. You said holiday, so I assume you’re beginning a vacation?”

“I am.” I lifted my shoulders in a giddy rush, taking a deep breath. “I’m flying away. I needed a break from home for a bit.”

“A break is never a bad thing,” he murmured, looking directly at me. His calm focus was a little unnerving, honestly. He was clearly Scandinavian; his eyes were so green, his features so defined. It was almost as if a spotlight had been directed at me when he turned his attention my way. It made me both giddy and mildly self-conscious. “What brings you to Boston specifically?”

“My grandfather lives there, for one,” I answered. “And a whole host of friends, apparently.” I laughed. “I’m meeting them all there for a winery tour up the coast. Literally meeting a whole group of them for the first time, but I’ve heard so much about them for the past two years from another friend that I feel I know them already.”

“Sounds like an adventure.” He glanced, for just a breath, down to my lips before looking back at my eyes. “Jensen,” he said, introducing himself.

I reached forward, shivering at the cool slide of my metal bangles down my arm, and shook his offered hand. “Pippa.”

Amelia returned with our drinks, and we thanked her before lifting our glass tumblers in a toast.

“To flying home, and flying away,” Jensen said with a little smile. I clinked his glass, and he continued, “What is Pippa short for? Is it a nickname?”

“It can be,” I said. “It’s often short for Phillipa, but in my case, I’m just Pippa. Pippa Bay Cox. My mum Coco is American—Colleen Bay, where I get my middle name—and she always loved the name Pippa, just like that. When my mum Lele got pregnant from Coco’s brother, Coco made her promise if it was a girl, they would name her Pippa.”

He laughed. “Sorry. Your mother was impregnated by your other mother’s brother?”

Oh, dear. I always forget how to delicately lead into this story . . .

“No, no, not directly. They used an actual turkey baster,” I explained, laughing, too. What a mental picture I was painting. “People weren’t always as open to two women having a baby together back then as they are now.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, “probably not. Are you their only child?”

. . . because this is where the story always turned.

“I am, yes,” I confirmed, nodding. “Do you have siblings?”

Jensen smiled. “I have four.”

“Oh, Lele would have loved to have more,” I said, shaking my head. “But while she was still pregnant with me, Uncle Robert met Aunt Natasha, found a very judgmental God, and decided what he had done was a sin. He sees me as a bit of an abomination.” Searching for levity, I added, “Let’s hope I never need bone marrow or a kidney, right?”

Jensen looked mildly horrified. “Right.”

I registered with faint guilt that we’d been seated barely five minutes and already I’d launched into my life history. “Anyway,” I said, moving on. “They had to make do with just me. Good thing I kept them busy.”

His expression softened. “I’ll bet.”

Lifting my champagne, I took a long swallow, wincing a little at the bubbles. “Now they want grandbabies, but thanks to the Wanker, they’re going to have to wait for that.” I finished my drink in a final gulp.

Catching Amelia’s eye, I held my glass aloft. “Time for one more before we take off?”

With a smile, she took the tumbler to refill it.
“Look how huge London is,” I murmured, gazing out the window as we ascended. The city swam below us and was slowly swallowed by clouds. “Beautiful.”

When I looked at Jensen, he quickly pulled out an earbud and held it delicately in his hand. “Sorry, what?”

“Oh, nothing.” I felt my cheeks heat, and wasn’t sure whether it was from embarrassment over being the chatty, oversharing seatmate, or from the champagne. “I didn’t realize you’d put those on. I was just saying London looks so enormous.”

“It is enormous,” he said, leaning over a little to get a view. “Have you always lived there?”

“I went to uni in Bristol,” I told him. “Then moved back when I got a job at the firm.”

“Firm?” he asked, pulling both earbuds fully away.

“Sorry, yes. Engineering.”

His brows rose, impressed, and I quickly spoke to redirect the level of his esteem. “I’m a lowly associate,” I assured him. “My degree is in mathematics, so I just crunch the numbers and make sure we aren’t pouring the wrong amount of concrete anywhere.”

“My sister is a biomedical engineer,” he said proudly.

“Quite different things,” I said, smiling. “She makes very tiny things, and we make very big things.”

“Still. It’s impressive, what you do.”

I smiled at this. “What about you?”

He took a deliberately deep breath, and I suspected the last thing he wanted to think about was work. “I’m an attorney. I practice business law and primarily handle the steps that must be taken when two companies merge.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“I’m good with details.” He shrugged. “There are a lot of details in my work.”

I looked him over again: neat crease down the center of each leg, those shiny brown shoes, and hair combed without a single strand out of place. His skin looked well cared for, nails groomed. Yes . . . I could see he was a man of particulars.

I glanced down at my own outfit: a black shift dress, striped purple-and-black tights, scuffed-up knee-high black boots, and a forearm full of bracelets. My hair was shoved in a messy bun and I hadn’t bothered to put on any makeup before sprinting to the Tube.

We were quite a pair.

“Sometimes I wish we had just a bit more flair around,” he said, having followed my attention. He fell quiet for a breath, and then added, “Too bad we don’t need a mathematician.”

I let myself bask in this compliment as he quickly—nearly awkwardly—returned to his music and his reading. Only once he’d said it did I realize I really had started to feel rather dull overall. Couldn’t keep my boyfriend’s attention. Couldn’t muster the energy to do more with my career. Hadn’t been on holiday in months, hadn’t gone out and gotten pissed with friends in even longer. Hadn’t even bothered to dye my rather reddish-blond hair any fun color lately. I was in a holding pattern.


No longer.

Amelia leaned in, smiling. “Get you another?”

I held my glass out to her, the giddy rush of holiday, and adventure, and escape thick in my blood. “Yes, please.”
Champagne cut a sharp, bubbly path through my chest and into my limbs. I could practically feel my body relaxing in tiny increments, fingers to arm to shoulder, and stared at my hands—shit, chipped polish—as the warmth traveled up the tattoo of the bird on my shoulder . . .

I leaned my head back, sighing happily. “This is so much better than going through my flat to figure out what the Wanker left when he moved out.”

Jensen startled beside me. “Sorry, what?” he asked, pulling out an earbud.

“Mark,” I clarified. “The Wanker. Didn’t I tell you?”

Looking amused as he let his eyes scan my face—deciding I was drunk, no doubt, but I didn’t bloody care—he said gently, “You hadn’t mentioned it, no.”

“Last week,” I told him, “I came home to find my boyfriend shagging an unnameable twat.”

I hiccuped.

Jensen bit his lip to keep from laughing.

Was I that drunk already? I’d only had . . . I counted on my fingers. Oh shit. I’d had four glasses of champagne on a very empty stomach.

“So I kicked him out,” I said, straightening and working to sound more sober. “But as it turns out, it’s not that easy. He said you can’t live with someone for eight months and just pack it all up in a day. I told him to give it a go, and I would burn whatever was left.”

“You were pretty angry, of course,” Jensen said quietly, pulling the other earbud out.

“I was angry, and then hurt—bloody hell, I’m twenty-six and he’s over forty, he shouldn’t have to go elsewhere for a shag! Don’t you agree? I bet your London mistress with the lingerie and takeaway on the bed is younger and fit and perfect, right?”

His smile curled half of his mouth. “My London mistress?”

“Not that I’m perfect, and I sure as fuck don’t eat takeaway on the bed, but I would—if he insisted, or wanted to stay in bed all day. But he has the lunchtime shag friend, so why would he want to do that with me? So then I got angry again.” I rubbed my face. I was pretty sure I wasn’t making any sense at all.

Jensen was silent at this, but when I looked up, he seemed to be listening still.

It was like being with Mums on the couch, except here I had distance, and I didn’t have to worry about them worrying about me. Here, I could pretend that my dull job and my wanker ex were something I could leave behind forever.

I turned in my seat to face Jensen and let it all out.

“I’d maybe been a bit of a trollop before him, yeah?” I said, nodding absently when Amelia asked if I’d like another champagne. “But when I met Mark, I thought he was it for me. You know how it is at the beginning?”

Jensen nodded vaguely.

“Sex on every flat surface, right?” I clarified. “I’d come home from work and it felt like bein’ a kid runnin’ downstairs on Christmas morning.”

At this, he laughed. “Comparing sex to childhood . . . give me a second to catch up.”

“But every day was like that,” I mumbled. “His wife had cheated and left him, and I saw him go through all of that and just . . . hoped for so long that he would come back to life. And then he did—he came back to life with me—and we were together for so long—I mean, like eleven months, which is an eternity for me—and it was so good at first . . . until it wasn’t, all of a sudden. He didn’t clean, and he didn’t fix anything I asked him to fix, and it was always my paychecks paying for the groceries and the takeaway and the bills, and then before I knew it I was footing the bill for his new business.” I looked at Jensen, whose face seemed to swim a little before me. “And I was fine with it. I was! I loved him, right, so I would have given him whatever he wanted. But I guess giving him a lover to shag on my bed with the sheets torn off so he wouldn’t have to wash them before I got home was maybe a step too far for me?”

Jensen put his hand over mine. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I want to put my boot up his arse, but otherwise I—”

“Sometimes, when I fly,” he said, gently cutting me off, “I have a drink, and maybe another, and I forget, occasionally, how it affects me when I land. The altitude will make it . . . worse.” He leaned forward a little, so I could focus on his face, I suppose. “I don’t say this to judge you for wanting some champagne, because this Mark guy sounds like a real asshole, but just to maybe tell you that flying and drinking is a different experience . . .”

“I should have some water instead?” I hiccuped, and then

to my horror

I belched.

Oh God.

Oh, bloody hell.

“Fuuuck,” I managed, slapping a hand over my mouth.

I bet a man like Jensen didn’t go around belching like a hobo in public.

Or date a girl who did.

Or curse.

Or pass gas.

Or even have a speck of lint on his suit.

With a mumbled apology, I climbed over him and headed to the loo, where I could splash some water on my face, take a few calming breaths, and give myself a lecture in the mirror.

After some minutes, when I returned to my seat, Jensen was asleep.
The landing was bumpy, and jerked Jensen upright in his seat beside me. He’d slept for nearly four hours, but I’d been unable to close my eyes. Alcohol made my friends sleepy; it woke me up. It was unfortunate, on this flight in particular, because I would have rather slept than mentally cataloged all the ways I’d remained oblivious to Mark’s infidelity and then gone on to make an arse of myself with a stranger.

Logan International stretched out, gray and dull ahead of us, and Amelia made what I assumed were all the regular announcements about staying seated, and removing luggage carefully, and please fly with us again.

I chanced a quick glance over at Jensen, and the movement banged a metallic gong in my head.

“Ohh,” I groaned, clutching my forehead. “I bloody hate champagne.”

He smiled politely at me.

Lord, he was pretty. I hoped he had someone to go home to and tell all about the insane, disheveled Brit on the plane.

But once we were allowed to stand, he pulled his phone from his laptop case and gazed, frowning, at the long scroll of notifications.

“Back at it, then?” I asked with a smile.

He didn’t look up at me. “Have a nice trip.”

“Thank you.” I literally bit my lips to keep from adding a rambling explanation for why I’d babbled incessantly at him and belched in his direction, and instead I followed his perfect ass into the terminal, ten steps behind him.

Crossing the terminal and going down toward baggage claim, I found Grandpa waiting at the bottom of the escalator in his Red Sox T-shirt, faded khakis, and suspenders.

His hug reminded me of Coco’s: firm grip, warm softness, not a lot of words in greeting.

“How was the flight?” he asked, guiding me along beside him with an arm around my shoulders.

My legs felt weak and wobbly. What I wouldn’t give for a hot shower.

“I had too much champagne and talked that poor guy’s ear off.” I lifted my chin, indicating the tall businessman walking a few paces ahead of us, already speaking to someone in clipped words on his phone.

“Ah, well,” Grandpa said.

I glanced at him, marveling again that I could come from such gentle, soft-spoken stock. It had been two years since he’d visited London, and before then I’d seen him at every major holiday. Grandpa didn’t ever gush over anything, but was steadfast in his quiet support of Lele and Coco.

“It’s good to see you,” I said. “I missed your face and suspenders.”

“How long are you here before your road trip?” Grandpa asked in response.

“I have the party tomorrow,” I told him, “and then we’re heading on the winery tour Sunday morning. But I’ll be back at the end of the trip to be at the house for a bit.”


“Famished,” I said. “But no booze.” I quickly retied my messy hair and then scrubbed my face with my hands. “Ugh, I’m such a mess.”

Grandpa looked over, and when our eyes met I could tell he saw only the best of me. “You look beautiful, Pippa girl.”


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