“Sophie Love's ability to impart magic to her readers is exquisitely wrought in powerfully evocative phrases and descriptions….[This is] the perfect romance or beach read, with a difference: its enthusiasm and beautiful descriptions offer an unexpected attention to the complexity of not just evolving love, but evolving psyches. It's a delightful recommendation for romance readers looking for a touch more complexity from their romance reads.”--Midwest Book Review (Diane Donovan re: For Now and Forever) “A very well written novel, describing the struggle of a woman to find her true identity. The author did an amazing job with the creation of the characters and her description of the environment. The romance is there, but not overdosed. Kudos to the author for this amazing start of a series that promises to be very entertaining.”--Books and Movies Reviews, Roberto Mattos (re: For Now and Forever)LOVE LIKE THAT (The Romance Chronicles—Book #2) is book #2 in a new romance series by #1 bestselling author Sophie Love.Keira Swanson, 28, returns to New York, her head spinning from her Ireland trip and still madly in love with Shane. But when a surprise event comes between them, their relationship may have to end.Keira is a star at her magazine, though, and they give her their next plum assignment: to travel to Italy for 30 days and discover what the Italian secret is to love.Keira, still reeling from her Ireland trip, finds her high expectations for Italy dashed, as nothing at first goes as was planned. In her whirlwind trip through Italy, spanning Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Rome, Verona, Venice and Florence, Keira begins to wonder if the Italians really do hold a secret to love.That is, until she meets her new tour guide—and everything she thought she knew is turned on its head.A whirlwind romantic comedy that is as profound as it is funny, LOVE LIKE THAT is book #2 in a dazzling new romance series that will make you laugh, cry, and will keep you turning pages late into the night—and will make you fall in love with romance all over again.Book #3 will be published soon!
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L O V E L I K E T H A T
(THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES—BOOK 2)
S O P H I E L O V E
#1 bestselling author Sophie Love is author of the romantic comedy series, THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR, which includes six books (and counting), and which begins with FOR NOW AND FOREVER (THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR—BOOK 1).
Sophie Love is also the author of the debut romantic comedy series, THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES, which begins with LOVE LIKE THIS (THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES—BOOK 1).
Sophie would love to hear from you, so please visit www.sophieloveauthor.com to email her, to join the mailing list, to receive free ebooks, to hear the latest news, and to stay in touch!
Copyright © 2017 by Sophie Love. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright solominviktor, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
BOOKS BY SOPHIE LOVE
THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR
FOR NOW AND FOREVER (Book #1)
FOREVER AND FOR ALWAYS (Book #2)
FOREVER, WITH YOU (Book #3)
IF ONLY FOREVER (Book #4)
FOREVER AND A DAY (Book #5)
FOREVER, PLUS ONE (Book #6)
FOR YOU, FOREVER (Book #7)
THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES
LOVE LIKE THIS (Book #1)
LOVE LIKE THAT (Book #2)
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
Keira awoke on Bryn’s lumpy couch with a crick in her neck and freezing feet. The temperature in New York City was growing chilly, with fall in the air. But despite the lumpy couch and the shivers, Keira woke in the best mood ever.
Today, October 22nd, Keira was going back to work in her new, more senior and better paid role at Viatorum magazine. She was looking forward to seeing Nina, her friend and editor at the magazine, and was itching to get back to her passion of writing again. What her next assignment would be she did not yet know, but she was certain it wouldn’t be quite as exhilarating as her last month in Ireland.
Elliot was bound to give her something a little more low-key this time and Keira was absolutely fine with that. She’d barely had time to readjust to life back in New York City, to catch up with her friends and mom. And besides, Shane was coming to visit in a week and that was something Keira was far more excited about than jet-setting.
Just then, her older sister, Bryn, rushed into the living room, her hair a mess, hopping with one shoe on, one shoe off.
“I’m late for work,” Bryn stammered. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
Keira checked the clock.
“Because it’s seven. You don’t have to leave for an hour.” She laughed at her perpetually scatterbrained sister.
Bryn stopped and squinted at the clock, then did a double take. “Oh yeah.” She kicked off her one shoe and came and sat next to Keira on the couch. “I really thought I’d be better at life by the time I hit thirty,” she mused.
Keira smiled. “Never.”
Growing up was not something either of the Swanson sisters were in a rush to do.
Bryn leaned over then and nudged Keira. “So… first day back at work after your break. How are you feeling?”
“I feel good,” Keira said. “It’s going to be different without Joshua there to ruin everyone’s mood. Mainly I’m looking forward to seeing Nina again. And of course, I’m excited to find out what Elliot’s planning for me to write next.”
“Will it be another trip abroad?” Bryn asked.
“I doubt it,” Keira replied. “Although I could certainly do with some sun!” She laughed and cast her gaze out the window at New York City’s gray October clouds.
“And your own bed again,” Bryn joked, patting the couch.
“About that…” Keira began. “You know I’m not planning on being here forever. It’s just taking a little longer than I thought it would to find an apartment. And I kind of need the deposit back from the place with Zach before I can. You know how much he’s been dragging his feet.”
“It’s fine,” Bryn said, waving away Keira’s explanation. “Stay as long as you need. Just don’t judge me for the men I bring home.” She gave Keira a withering look. “I’ve seen the way you look at me sometimes.”
Keira laughed. “I just think if you could really see how beautiful you are you wouldn’t waste so much time with ugly men.”
Bryn rolled her eyes. “Enough of that. So, why don’t you think you’ll be going abroad again?”
“I don’t know.” Keira shrugged. “Because it wouldn’t be fair to the other writers, for starters. It would look like favoritism.”
“Don’t forget you’re in a senior position now,” Bryn told her. “And favoritism is a very schoolyard word to use. It’s business. If you’re better than the others, you’re better than the others. Learn to accept it.”
Keira didn’t share her sister’s confidence. She squirmed uneasily. “Well anyway, even if it was abroad I wouldn’t be able to go.” She thought of Shane and smiled dreamily. “I have plans here.”
“Ah yes,” Bryn said, smirking. “The boyfriend. How long until he arrives?”
Keira’s mind conjured up the image of Shane’s gorgeous face—the stubble on his chiseled jaw, those amazing Irish blue eyes—and flitted through a myriad of wonderful memories from the month they’d spent falling in love.
“A week,” she said through a dreamy exhalation, thinking of the sensation of his lips on hers, the touch of his fingers against her skin. “Which reminds me, I should call him.”
It would be approaching midnight in Ireland where Shane lived, and so it would be her last chance to speak to him before he went to bed. Then she’d have to endure an eight-hour-long Shane absence while he was sleeping. No texts, no cheeky messages or funny quips. Those eight hours were almost unbearable for her at the moment, so strong was her craving for him.
“You call him every morning?” Bryn asked, surprised.
Keira picked up the hint of disdain in her sister’s voice. She was a perpetual singleton and serial dater, which made her suspicious of anyone who claimed to have found love.
“Yup,” Keira replied. “You’re usually snoring so you don’t notice.”
“Well, I think that’s unhealthy,” Bryn began. “You’re already too reliant on him.”
Keira rolled her eyes as she stood. Bryn liked nothing more than to be a know-it-all, despite being a rather dismal role model. And if she only knew, Kyra thought, if she could only witness what she and Shane had together, she wouldn’t be so sure of herself.
Keira took her phone into the bathroom, knowing it would be the only place where she could get any privacy in Bryn’s pokey apartment, then dialed Shane’s number. The usual thrill of excitement ran through her body as she waited, listening to the dial tone, in anticipation of hearing Shane’s beautiful voice again. She couldn’t wait to tell him about all the exciting things she had planned for his visit, all the sights of New York she was planning on showing him, from sampling food along Restaurant Row to river walks in Tribeca, the Tenement Museum, the gardens in Battery Park, the apple farm upstate and art galleries in Chelsea. Her itinerary was packed to the brim and she knew Shane would be just as excited to experience the city as she was to show it off.
Finally the call connected and Keira felt her heart soar. But rather than his usual chirpy voice, Shane sounded strained. And rather than answering the call with a silly over-the-top pet name like bunny or petal, he used her actual name.
“Keira, hey,” he said, sounding weary, like he’d had the worst day imaginable.
Keira’s elation immediately turned to anguish. In the background she could hear unfamiliar noises, lots of conversations, and ringing telephones.
“What’s happened?” she asked, starting to feel panicked. “Where are you?”
“Oh my God, why?” Keira’s heart began to race with terror, her mind going into overdrive. “Are you hurt? Sick?”
“It’s not me,” Shane said. “I’m fine. It’s my dad.”
Keira brought a picture of Shane’s father, Calum Lawder, to the forefront of her mind. He was one of the kindest, sweetest people she’d ever had the privilege of meeting. To think something had happened to him was awful.
“Is he okay? Tell me what’s going on.”
Shane sighed deeply. “He’ll be fine now they’ve operated.”
Keira felt her bones turn to ice. “Operated?” she cried.
“I’ve been in Accident and Emergency all day. He had a heart attack. They had to put a stent in. It’s a miracle he’s alive. If it hadn’t have been for the fact there was a heart surgeon in the hospital this morning for a scheduled appointment he wouldn’t have made it.”
“Oh, Shane, I’m so sorry,” Keira replied, feeling her chest clenching with anguish. She wished she could reach inside the phone and pluck Shane through it, smother him in care and affection. “How is your mom? Your sisters?”
“We’re okay,” Shane replied. “Still all in shock, to be honest. Especially Hannah.”
Keira thought of Shane’s youngest sister, the golden-haired sixteen-year-old she’d bonded with in particular. “Poor kid,” she replied. Suddenly now didn’t seem like the time to discuss Shane’s upcoming visit. It didn’t feel right to talk about all their exciting plans after the scare Shane had just experienced. “How is Calum now?”
“He’s awake and joking around, but I can tell he’s just trying to put on a brave face for the rest of us.”
“I’m so sorry, babe,” Keira said. “I wish I could be with you to support you, but I guess I’ll just have to store up all my hugs for the next week until you arrive.”
On the other end of the phone, Shane was silent. All Keira could hear were the ringing telephones of the busy hospital, bleeping machines, the faint sound of sirens, and the general hustle and bustle of medical staff completing their duties.
“It sounds chaotic there,” she added when Shane still remained mute.
“Keira,” he said, cutting off the end of her sentence.
Keira didn’t like the sound of his tone. She got the distinct impression that Shane was about to break bad news.
“What…?” she asked, drawing the sound of the word out like it was a wince.
“I’m going to have to cancel the trip,” Shane stated.
Keira could tell he was devastated just by the sound of his voice. Her own voice dropped into a pained whisper. “Really?”
“I’m sorry,” Shane responded. “But I have to be here. For Mum and the girls. They’re in pieces right now. I would feel like a jerk if I swanned off to New York City and left them all.”
“But it’s not for a week,” Keira replied. “Won’t things have calmed down by then? Calum will be back on his feet. And you won’t be away for that long anyway. Only a week. It’s not like you’re staying for a month or anything crazy like that. They’ll be fine without you for a few days. I mean, they cope without you once a year when you’re doing your tour guide thing in Lisdoonvarna.”
She could tell she was rambling now, and coming across as more than a little desperate. But she’d been so looking forward to seeing Shane again, to bringing him into her world like he’d had the chance to do for her in his. Waiting was so difficult, the absence so painful to endure. Not to mention all the money she’d put toward his flights, everything she’d splurged on—all those prebooked activities that didn’t have cancellation policies. She could have used her bonus from Elliot toward her accommodations instead of staying on Bryn’s couch ruining her back. Could she even afford to reschedule the trip? It wasn’t like Shane had much money that he could contribute.
“My dad almost died, Keira,” Shane told her bluntly. “It’s not the same thing as me spending a month away from home once a year.”
“I know,” she said, meekly. “I don’t mean to be selfish. It’s just that I miss you so much.”
“I miss you too,” Shane replied, sighing deeply.
Keira’s throat felt thick with unhappiness. But she didn’t want to dwell, especially when it hadn’t been her relative in the ER. She made the decision to brighten up.
“I suppose there’s nothing to be done,” she said, sounding calmer than she really felt. “Let’s just sort out a date now so we don’t leave the trip in limbo. I don’t know how well I’ll cope not being able to count down the days.” She chuckled, trying to give the impression that she was way more okay than she really felt.
Once again, there was no reply from Shane. In the space where his voice should be, Keira could instead only hear the sound of a receptionist giving someone directions to the kidney dialysis ward.
“Shane?” she asked, timidly, when she’d had just about enough of the silence as she could stand.
Finally he spoke.
“I don’t think I can book another date,” Shane told her.
“Because of your dad? Shane, he’ll be better before you know it. Back on his feet, back to running the farm. I promise you, by November everything will be back to normal. Or if you prefer we could aim for December. That gives him ages to get back to work.”
“Keira,” Shane interrupted.
She snapped her lips shut, stopping the stream of consciousness that she knew she was engaging in as an avoidance tactic, to delay what she feared was coming next, a way of pausing the terrible inevitability of what Shane was about to say.
“I can’t come,” he stated. “Ever.”
Keira felt her hands begin to shake. Her phone felt suddenly clammy in her hand, like she didn’t have a proper grip on it.
“Then I’ll come to Ireland,” she said, meekly. “I don’t mind being the one to travel if you don’t feel able to. I loved Ireland. I can come to you again.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
Keira knew what he meant, but she didn’t want to believe it. She wasn’t about to let Shane give up at the first hurdle. Their love was greater than that, more important and special. She’d have to convince him otherwise, even if it meant sounding desperate or becoming, in Bryn’s words, too reliant.
She listened to the sound of Shane take a deep, sad inhalation. “I’m needed on the farm, with my family. Ireland is my home. I can’t move anywhere else.”
“No one’s talking about moving,” Keira replied.
“But we will be, soon enough,” Shane said. “If we want our relationship to work, at some point we’re going to have to live in the same country. I can’t move there. You won’t move here.”
“I could,” Keira stammered. “I’m sure I could. At some point.”
She thought of the beautiful country she’d fallen in love with. She could certainly live there if it was necessary to be with Shane.
“On a farm?”
The cute farmhouse filled with love and family was a wonderful draw for Keira. Her own family was fragmented, with Bryn always busy, her mom living miles away, and her father completely absent from her life. What wasn’t there to love about the instant family Shane could provide her with?
“With my family? My sisters? My parents?” Shane questioned her. “And all those sheep?”
Keira remembered the sheep dung she’d found herself knee deep in. She thought of Shane’s six sisters, who were all lovely but all still living at home. It would be a squeeze. Hardly the life she’d expected for herself. But neither was sleeping on Bryn’s couch. If she could put up with living with her own sister then she could definitely put up with living with all six of Shane’s! And wasn’t life supposed to be about overcoming the challenges it threw at you? Wasn’t it about embracing the crazy?
“Shane,” Keira replied, trying to sound soothing. “We don’t need to work this stuff out right now. Life changes. Who knows, all your sisters might get married and move out. Your parents might decide to sell the farm and sail around the world on a yacht. You can’t predict the future so let’s just stop worrying about it.”
“Please listen,” Shane replied, his voice cracking with emotion. “I’m trying to end it now so that it doesn’t become even more painful than it already is, later down the road.”
The word end repeated in Keira’s mind, like a hammer on steel. She winced, the painful lump in her throat growing even bigger and harder than it already was.
It dawned on her then for the first time that Shane’s mind was made up. He wasn’t backing down. Nothing she said would change his mind.
“Don’t do this,” Keira replied. Suddenly she was crying, sobbing loudly, uncontrollably, as it finally sunk in that Shane wasn’t going to back down. That he really was breaking up with her. Her One. The love of her life.
“I’m sorry,” he replied, crying too. “I have to. Please understand. If we didn’t have this ocean between us I would want to be with you all the time. I may even want to marry you.”
“Don’t say that!” Keira wailed. “You’re just making it worse.”
Shane exhaled loudly. “I need you to know how much you mean to me, Keira. I don’t want you to think that I just got cold feet or something. If we weren’t at this impasse I wouldn’t be doing it at all. It’s not what I want. Not even slightly. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Keira replied, her tears falling bitterly from her eyes. She understood loud and clear. The man of her dreams, a man who loved her and made her laugh every single day, was giving up on her just because things were a little complicated. The man she’d fallen so deeply in love with during the most transformative month of her life was giving up at the first hurdle. He wasn’t going to put the hard work into their relationship after all. The thoughts swirled bitterly in Keira’s mind.
“So I guess this is goodbye?” she said, coolly.
Shane must have picked up on her sudden dejected tone. “Don’t be like that,” he said. “We can stay in touch. We can be friends. There’s always social media. It’s not like I’m cutting you out of my life entirely.”
“Of course,” Keira replied, heavyhearted, knowing that even with the best of intentions, once-loving relationships rarely if ever successfully turned into platonic friendships. It just didn’t work that way. Once love was lost, it was gone, at least in Keira’s experience.
“Are you mad at me?” Shane asked, his voice sounding small and fragile.
“No,” Keira replied, realizing it to be true. Shane’s reasons for ending it were noble. He was putting his family first. They were exactly the type of qualities she needed from a partner, so it would be a bit unfair of her to begrudge him it. “I think you should go and be with your family now,” she added. “Give everyone a hug from me, will you?”
“Okay,” Shane replied.
Keira wasn’t sure, but she got the distinct impression from the way he said it that he knew she wasn’t expecting to ever speak to him again. He sounded crushed.
There was a long moment of silence.
“Goodbye, Keira,” Shane said finally.
Before she had a chance to reply, the call went dead. She removed her phone from her ear and stared at it in her hand. How could such a small chunk of metal and computer chips cause her to feel like the entire world had fallen away beneath her feet? How could one conversation turn her life upside down? She felt like every ounce of happiness she’d ever felt had been sucked through the phone’s speakers and spat out into some black abyss, never to be seen again.
And worst of all, Keira couldn’t even be angry. Shane hadn’t been a jerk like every other boyfriend she’d broken up with had. There was no cheating, no lying, no screaming matches or deliberate below the belt punches. Perhaps that was why it hurt so much more. Perhaps it was because she’d let herself get carried away thinking Shane could be the One, that anyone could be the One.
Her tears still falling, Keira left the bathroom and threw her phone onto the couch. Bryn, who was standing at the breakfast bar brewing coffee, flinched with surprise.
“What’s wrong?” Bryn asked. “Are you crying?”
Ignoring Bryn’s questioning, Keira grabbed her fall itinerary off the side table—glancing briefly at the list of events she’d planned for her and Shane, places where they were supposed to make precious memories to tell the grandchildren—and ripped it clean in half.
Bryn scooped her arm around Keira’s shoulder as the younger of the two sisters wept bitterly.
“You’ve done the right thing,” Bryn soothed. “I know it won’t seem that way right now, but trust me. You were getting in way too deep. You’re twenty-eight, Keira, it’s not time to settle down.”
Her words did little to comfort Keira. Who exactly was Bryn to talk? Her life had been a series of disastrous relationships. She had no idea what kind of love Keira and Shane had found, and now lost. Sobs made her whole body shake.
“Come on,” Bryn added, “Let’s go get a coffee. I’ll call Mom. You know how great she is with all this stuff.”
Keira couldn’t disagree more. Her mom, unlike Bryn, seemed to be in a rush to get her to settle down and have babies. She’d gone so far as to say that there was little point in Keira putting so much energy into her career when she’d be giving it all up in a couple of years anyway to have kids.
She shook her head. “I can’t, I have to get to work.”
Bryn pulled a face. “Babe, you are a wreck. They won’t want you there in this state. You’re no good to anyone.”
“Thanks,” Keira muttered. “But I can’t not go in. First day back after a break. New senior position. Elliot’s going to be in the office. He’ll be expecting me to step up my game.”
While she was speaking, Bryn reached over and plucked Keira’s phone from her hands.
“Hey!” Keira protested.
Bryn tapped some buttons and then triumphantly placed the cell on the coffee table. “Done.”
“What?” Keira cried, horrified, snatching it up. “Did you just request a sick day for me? I’ve never taken a sick day! You’re so unprofessional. I can’t believe you’d do that.”
But when she scrolled through the most recent actions on her phone, she saw that it wasn’t work whom Bryn had contacted, but instead Nina, Keira’s friend and editor at the magazine. She read through the message that Bryn had sent her.
Shane dumped me. My life is over. Help.
Keira rolled her eyes, unimpressed, and fixed a death-glare at her sister. Bryn just shrugged cheekily. A second later, Keira’s phone buzzed with an incoming message from Nina.
It’s going to be okay. I’ll tell Elliot we’re having a meeting outside the office. Coffee in ten?
Keira’s expression softened. Maybe Bryn had some uses after all.
“Nina’s going to come and meet me,” she said, stowing the phone away. “Happy now?”
“Yes,” Bryn replied. “Now I just have to quickly tell my boss I’m not coming in today.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Oh please, any excuse,” Bryn said.
Keira gave in. There was no arguing with Bryn sometimes. Even though her sister wasn’t always the most comforting shoulder to cry on, she was good at putting herself first and that practice occasionally worked in Keira’s favor.
Several minutes later, the sisters left the apartment together, wrapped in their warmer fall clothes, and headed down the street to the coffee shop they’d agreed to meet Nina in. It was still very early. When they arrived, the coffee shop had only just opened up for the day. They were the first inside.
Bryn ordered flat whites and skinny muffins for them both and led Keira to the squishy leather couch. A moment later, Nina walked in.
“Keira,” she said, her expression pained.
She sat down and hugged Keira tightly, which made her feel instantly comforted. Maybe skipping work had been a good idea after all, though she reminded herself not to make a habit of it. It was beyond unprofessional, even if Bryn and Nina didn’t seem to think so. Keira probably didn’t have too much to worry about; she was on the verge of committing herself to a life of celibacy anyway so there was very little chance of her taking a heartbreak day ever again...
“God, I can’t believe Shane has been such a jerk,” Nina began.
Keira shook her head. “It’s not like that.”
Nina shot her a deadpan expression. “How is it not like that? He manipulated you into thinking you’d fallen in love with him and then a week before you’re supposed to reunite he dumps you?”
“Well, if you put it like that,” Keira said. “But trust me, that’s not what happened. His dad got sick. It made him, I don’t know, reevaluate things.” She felt tears threatening to choke her again. “But can we please not do this? I don’t want to be put in a position where I have to defend the guy who’s just broken my heart.”
Nina paused, seemingly deliberating over her request. “Maybe this is all for the best,” she said. “Elliot will probably be sending you abroad for a new assignment soon anyway. Maybe you’ll meet a new guy. An ever better guy.”
“That’s the last thing I want right now,” Keira replied glumly, sinking her chin onto her fist. “I don’t know how much more my heart can handle. Straight from Zach to Shane to someone else who’ll just treat me like crap? I don’t think so. I was right before to put all my focus on my career. It’s not like my job will tell me that if things were different it might have married me.”
Nina winced. “Shane said that?”
Keira nodded, feeling sadder and more dejected than ever.
Nina gave her another squeeze around the shoulders. “You’re young. Too young to settle. There’s a big world out there and you’ve only seen a fraction of it.”
“Thank you,” Bryn agreed. “That’s what I’ve been telling her. She’s still in her twenties, for God’s sake. Wait until you hit three-oh at least.”
Nina raised an eyebrow. “Make that four-oh,” she said, witheringly. “Plus a few more for luck. I’m in no hurry to settle down. Despite what the media might be telling me about my biological clock.”
“The media?” Keira quipped. “You mean like us? We are journalists after all. It’s our job to make people think they want things. Like love,” she added bitterly.
Nina laughed and Keira felt a little better. She glanced out the window at the busy New York City streets, filled with people on their way to work, people on their way home from all-night raves, people dressed in expensive suits, others in witty slogan T-shirts. She could see so many races and nationalities, and every conceivable hairstyle. They hurried along, battling against the cold winds that fall had brought in.
As she studied them, Keira realized just how much she loved her city. She’d never have been happy living in Ireland. Shane had been right about that. Moving away just wasn’t an option for her. She was New York through and through. The city practically ran through her blood.
She turned her attention back to Nina and Bryn.
“So, how did Elliot take my absence from the office today?” she asked Nina, more than ready to change the topic of conversation.
Nina stirred her coffee. “Honestly, he seems a little distracted today. I overheard him having a heated conversation on the phone the other night when I was working late. I think there might be someone trying to buy out the magazine.”
Keira raised her eyebrows in surprise. “That wouldn’t happen, though. Elliot wouldn’t sell. He loves Viatorum. Too much sometimes.”
Nina just shrugged and took a sip of her coffee. “Sometimes it’s not about how much you love something. If one of the big companies is going to start up a rival magazine, copy our model but use all their financial assets and connections to push themselves and bury us, he won’t have any other option but to sell. Sometimes the only way an independent like Viatorum can stay viable is for the boss like Elliot to make compromises over ownership.”
“But it would be like taking a demotion for him, wouldn’t it?” Keira asked. “He’d go from owning it outright to just, what, managing it?”
Nina tilted her head to the side. “It’s not all bad. He could make more money this way. He’d just have higher-ups to answer to. He’d probably lose some creative freedom.” She shrugged again. “Actually, he’d definitely lose some creative freedom.”
Keira chewed her lip, considering Nina’s premonition. Why did things always have to change so quickly? This morning she’d woken up with a loving partner and an awesome job. Now she was sitting tear-stained and depressed in a coffee shop, back on the market and worrying about her employment situation.
“Well, that’s one way to take my mind off Shane,” Keira said wryly to Nina.
“Oh God, sorry,” Nina said. “I didn’t mean to worry you. I’m sure nothing will change for you, or me, or anyone else for that matter. Just Elliot really. I’ve been through buy-outs before, countless times, in fact. It’s usually pretty unnoticeable for most of the staff.”
Keira pursed her lips. “We’ll see,” she replied.
Nina looked a little panicked, Keira thought, and she watched as her friend made eye contact with Bryn as if trying to prompt her to take over. Bryn suddenly lit up as though she’d been struck with a thought.
“I have an amazing idea,” she said, her eyes widening.
“Why do I get the feeling I am not going to like this one bit?” Keira replied, narrowing her own.
“There’s this awesome party thing at Gino’s tonight, you know, that authentic Italian restaurant in the city,” Bryn said. “It’s Halloween themed. Actually, it’s All Souls’ Day themed, which is an Italian holiday I’ve never heard of but it sounds super creepy and they’re taking it really seriously at Gino’s. It’s going to be half masquerade ball, half gothic meal. It sounds crazy but in a super cool way.”
Keira squinted her eyes further. Bryn was blabbering. “Go on…” she urged her sister.
“Here’s the thing,” Bryn said. “I was invited there for a date by this guy I met the other night, Malcolm. He wanted to see what it was all about, you know, something different to try. I obviously said sure, you know me, I’ll try anything once. Anyway, so he mentioned today that he has a friend who’s single and wondered if I knew anyone to double date with. I was going to invite Tasha, but why don’t you and I go instead? Now you’re back on the market.”
Keira didn’t even need a second to consider Bryn’s proposition. She shook her head with an emphatic no. “Absolutely not,” she said.
Nina leaned forward, seemingly on board. “I know this amazing costume store,” she said. “You could get a full-on ball gown, gloves, mask, the lot.”
Keira shot her a withering glance. “Why don’t you go on the double date if you’re so into the idea?”
Nina closed her mouth. Bryn took over as lead cajoler again.
“Just come for the food at least,” Bryn said. “Free meal. Fancy food. Dancing. Just think of it as a night out for the two of us, with just a couple of guys tagging along footing the bill. You don’t even have to tell them your real name if you don’t want to, or even take off your mask. It could be a night of anonymity. You could invent a whole new persona.”
Keira laughed. “Let me guess, you’ve done that before?”
Nina jumped in then. “Please, darling, everyone’s done that before. If you haven’t been on a date and pretended you work for the FBI or that you’re an heir to a billion-dollar inheritance then you haven’t really lived.”
Shaking her head, Keira glanced out the window again. She looked at the people milling through the streets. Some of the stores already had Halloween decorations in their windows. She spotted a goth couple walking down the street—the woman in a black lace dress carrying a parasol, the man on a leather lead. Only in New York City, she thought to herself, amused.
Life was supposed to be about embracing the crazy, she reminded herself. Hadn’t she told herself that exact thing just this morning?
“Fine,” she said, turning back to Bryn with a sigh of resignation. “I’ll come to your ball.”
Bryn was right about one thing, Keira discovered later that evening; Gino’s looked amazing. The whole restaurant had been decorated to look like a gothic castle, the tables pushed to the perimeter so that the middle part was a dance floor. There was an incredibly creepy vibe, with old Italian folk music, waiters in velvet suits, and of course, everyone in masquerade masks.
If it had just been the two of them, Keira would have had a great night. But unfortunately, they were sharing their evening with Malcolm, Bryn’s date, and Glen, Keira’s date. They must have been two of the most boring men in the world.
Keira forked her pasta, barely able to keep herself awake, as Glen explained more details about his career in accounting. Work chat annoyed Keira at the best of times, but when it involved math the boringness was stepped up another notch. Not to mention he hadn’t actually asked her a single question about her job.
There was a sudden lull in the conversation and Keira sat up as though startled awake.
“So, what do you do in your spare time?” she asked Glen, desperate to steer the conversation elsewhere.
Glen took a long time to answer, another thing Keira took as a bad sign. Who didn’t know what hobbies they had? Or what they enjoyed doing other than their jobs?
“I watch sports,” he said, finally.
“Watch,” Keira repeated. “Not play?”
Glen laughed. “Hell no. I don’t want an injury. I prefer to be a spectator.”
“That’s…” Keira struggled for a word. The one she landed on was probably the opposite of what she meant. “...interesting.”
“What about you?” Glen asked.
It was the first time he’d asked her about herself, and Keira was almost surprised. “Oh, well, I’m in journalism so I spend a lot of my spare time reading,” she began.
Glen cut her off immediately. “I read, too. The Wall Street Journal mainly.”
Realizing her time to speak had been snatched from her, Keira felt her chest sink. She prodded her pasta again. “Cool.”
Bryn leaned across the table then. “We were just talking about plans,” she said. “What we want to achieve in five years. Keira, what about you?”
If Bryn had asked her yesterday Keira would have been certain that what she wanted in the next five years was to spend as much time as possible with Shane. Buy their dream house together. Maybe even marry and have some kids. But that dream was dashed now.
Keira just shrugged. “I’d like to travel. See the world. In five years’ time I want to have set foot on every continent at least once.”
Bryn clapped. “That’s a great one, sis.”
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