Love Like Theirs (The Romance Chronicles—Book #4) - Sophie Love - ebook
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“LOVE LIKE THIS creates a world of emotions and turmoil, describing superbly the mind of a young lady (Keira) and her struggles to balance her social life and her career. Sophie Love is a natural storyteller. LOVE LIKE THIS is very well written and edited, and I highly recommend it to the permanent library of all readers that appreciate a romance that can be savored during a weekend.”--Books and Movie Reviews (Roberto Mattos) LOVE LIKE THEIRS (The Romance Chronicles—Book #4) is book #4 in a new, sweet romance series by #1 bestselling author Sophie Love. The series begins with LOVE LIKE THIS (Book #1), a free download!Keira Swanson, 28, has sworn off of love. With her heart still hurting from her breakups with Cristiano and Shane, she will not allow her magazine to use her for another love experiment.Which is fine by them, because they want to send her off on a different kind of trip: to prove that someone suffering from a breakup can avoid a knee-jerk rebound affair and manage NOT to fall in love. To emphasize the point, they will NOT assign her a new tour guide. Instead, Keira will take a cruise to the Scandinavian countries and have to navigate herself.Keira is thrilled to accept the assignment. There is nothing she wants more than to be alone, and go to the Northern climes, where she can cool her head, and where surely she will not find love.But Keira does not anticipate the beauty of Copenhagen and of Stockholm (“the Paris of the North”) or the stunning hospitality of the Scandinavians.With Christmas on the way, resisting a new love may be harder than she thinks….A wholesome romantic comedy that is as profound as it is funny, LOVE LIKE THEIRS is book #4 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 #5 will be published soon!“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)

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L O V E   L I K E   T H E I R S

(THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES—BOOK 4)

S O P H I E   L O V E

Sophie Love

#1 bestselling author Sophie Love is author of the romantic comedy series, THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR, which includes eight books, 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 includes 5 books (and counting), and 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 © 2018  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  vvita, 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)

CHRISTMAS FOREVER (Book #8)

THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES

LOVE LIKE THIS (Book #1)

LOVE LIKE THAT (Book #2)

LOVE LIKE OURS (Book #3)

LOVE LIKE THEIRS (Book #4)

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

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

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER ONE

Keira opened one eye. As her mind transitioned from sleep to consciousness, it dawned on her where she was. Bryn’s couch. Again. Just like yesterday and the day before and the day before that.

She groaned, squeezing her eyes shut again, willing herself to go back to sleep. When she was asleep all that stuff with Cristiano disappeared. She could pretend she’d never broken his heart, that she’d never walked away from possibly the best love of her life. In her dreams, she could also pretend she’d sorted herself out, that she wasn’t still sleeping on Bryn’s couch, wasting her days watching reality TV, avoiding all her friends’ calls, and constantly delaying her boss Elliot’s request for her to choose a location for her next overseas assignment.

The room was dark in the weak early December light. As she lay on the couch, staring up at the shadows on the ceiling, Keira became aware of the sound of running water. The shower. Bryn must already be awake, which was unusual considering it was a Saturday morning and Bryn had been hungover every Saturday morning of her adult life.

Confused, Keira sat up, the old couch creaking beneath her, and heard the gurgle of the coffee machine. She sniffed and the aroma filled her nostrils. Bryn was up and making coffee? That wasn’t like her sister at all! Something was up. Bryn was the slob of the pair, but these days it was Keira who lay around all day getting nothing done. But she couldn’t help it. After everything that had happened with Cristiano, she just wasn’t ready to face the world.

Keira heard the click of the bathroom lock, then the sound of Bryn’s heavy footsteps as she bounded down the corridor. Keira could hear her whistling a toneless tune. She came into view, wrapped in a yellow towel, with another wrapped around her head.

“Oh, you’re awake,” Bryn said, stopping in her tracks and smiling broadly. “I made coffee. Want some?”

Keira frowned suspiciously. “Why are you in such a good mood? It’s Saturday morning. Come to mention it, why are you even up?”

Bryn laughed. “I had a quiet night in. Turns out when your liver isn’t busy trying to filter poison out of your body, you feel kinda good.”

“I’ve been trying to tell you that for years,” Keira mumbled. She sunk back onto the couch, resuming her position looking up at the ceiling. A second later, Bryn’s face appeared over her. Water dripped from stray tendrils of hair onto Keira’s face.

“You do a very convincing impression of a corpse,” Bryn told her.

Keira scoffed and folded her arms across her chest, looking away from her sister.

“That’s even better!” Bryn joked.

Keira just ignored her. She heard Bryn move away, heading back to her bedroom to get ready for the day. Keira felt bad for being so snappy with her sister, especially considering the huge favor Bryn was doing her by allowing her to live in her apartment rent free. But then she remembered the myriad times Bryn had been snappy and ungrateful with her and decided that a little bit of role reversal wasn’t so bad.

She heard Bryn pad back into the living area. “I’m pouring you coffee,” she announced.

Keira sighed and sat up. “I don’t want coffee,” she said. “I don’t want anything that will interrupt my sleep. I just want to sleep forever.”

She looked over as Bryn ignored her request, pouring her a coffee into the biggest mug in the house. She came over and handed it to Keira.

“I’m not letting you waste another day on that couch watching Netflix and feeling sorry for yourself,” she said, handing her the cup. “Drink this. Wake up. When was the last time you showered?”

Keira frowned as she took the steaming mug. “Thursday evening.”

Bryn rolled her eyes. She whirled back to the kitchen counter and poured herself a mug.

“Why are you up so early anyway?” Keira muttered, taking a little sip of the coffee. It was scalding hot. She placed it down on the side table.

“Because…” Bryn sung, reaching onto her tiptoes to fetch a new bottle of her favorite caramel syrup. “Felix and I have plans.” She landed back on her heels, syrup in hand, and grinned at Keira triumphantly.

Felix. Felix. Felix. That was all Bryn ever talked about these days. She’d gone from being a serial man-eater to a committed girlfriend. In any usual circumstances, Keira would have been thrilled for her sister finally settling into a steady relationship, but Felix was the same age as their mother and Keira couldn’t help getting a bit creeped out. It felt a bit too Daddy-Issues for her liking. The fact their own father had abandoned them when they were infants only added credence to her theory.

“What kind of plans?” Keira asked.

She saw a distinct blush creep up Bryn’s neck. She shrugged in what Keira instantly recognized as an attempt to look nonchalant. “Oh, just a bit of home decor shopping.”

Keira narrowed her eyes. Why would that be making Bryn blush? Perhaps because it was the kind of thing an adult did, and that was something Bryn, much like Peter Pan, had sworn against ever becoming. Or perhaps because her party-loving sister was embarrassed to admit she could have as much fun choosing lamps with her lover as she once did raving all night in a New York City nightclub. Or…

“When you say home decor you don’t mean an ornamental cat for the mantel, do you?” Keira asked, swiveling to get a better look at Bryn’s face.

“No,” Bryn replied in her same sing-songy voice. “I mean more like furniture.”

Keira gasped. “Why are you picking out furniture with Felix?”

Bryn instantly flushed a deeper shade of red. “He has a new apartment, that’s all. It doesn’t mean anything. Stop looking at me like that!”

“Are you moving in with him?” Keira demanded, firing another quick question at her floundering sister.

“I don’t know,” Bryn laughed. “Who knows?” She buried her head in her coffee mug, attempting to hide her grin with it but failing miserably. There wasn’t a coffee cup in the world wide enough to conceal the wideness of Bryn’s smile.

Keira was stunned. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her sister had finally been tamed. The drama was worthy of one of her articles!

“Anyway, stop trying to change the subject,” Bryn said, suddenly. “We were talking about you and how you’re turning into a couch potato. You can’t spend another weekend at home. Please, get out and do something. It’s really not good for you to sit around inside all day.”

“It’s cold out,” Keira moaned.

“So?” Bryn replied. “Wear a hat! You’re born and bred New York City, you can handle the cold!”

Keira chewed her lip. She remembered a text that had come through from Shelby last night. She hadn’t responded yet, but her friend had invited her to a party Saturday evening, which was tonight.

“Actually, I’m going out this evening,” Keira told Bryn, sounding smug.

“You are?” Bryn asked, arching an eyebrow in obvious disbelief.

“Yes,” Keira replied bluntly. “I’m going to a party. I was going to ask you to come along.”

“I’m glad to hear it. But I can’t. Felix and I are having an early night.”

Keira laughed loudly. “Who are you?”

Bryn laughed. With a little shrug she said, “People change.”

When Keira gave little more than a grunt in response, Bryn sat down beside her and rubbed her back. It was very unusual for Bryn to be so caring.

“I know you’re hurting,” she said in a soothing, maternal voice. “But dwelling on the pain does not help you heal. You need to get up and face the day. A shower would be good for you.”

“Fine,” Keira grumbled. “I can take the hint.”

She got up from the couch, her muscles aching as she did. The crick in her neck was becoming a permanent feature now.

“I’ll be gone by the time you’re done,” Bryn said.

“Okay, have a nice time,” Keira replied. “Send my hellos to Felix.”

Bryn blushed immediately.

Keira went into the bathroom, shaking her head at the complete transformation of Bryn. It was amazing how much the love of a man had changed her sister, she thought, as she peeled off her grubby pajamas and turned on the water. She stepped inside the cubicle, closing it behind her.

As the water ran over her hair and skin, Keira marveled at the role reversal she and Bryn were going through. As much as Bryn had changed for the better, Keira felt that she herself had changed for the worst. The end of her relationship with Cristiano had hit her like a freight train. It was even affecting her work. Elliot was eager to send her abroad again for another assignment, but they’d had three meetings about it now and each time Keira had found an excuse not to commit to a location. When he pushed, she’d remind him of how he’d promised her more creative freedom after the last assignment, and that would shut him up temporarily. But it couldn’t last forever, she knew that. Just like how living in Bryn’s apartment and sleeping on her couch couldn’t. Keira would have to pull herself together sooner or later.

She washed the lather from her hair, realizing as she did so that Bryn had been right. A shower was just what she needed to rejuvenate her mind. Perhaps going to a party this evening would be good for her, even if she didn’t feel like it. Sometimes what you want and what you need are different things, Keira reminded herself. Those words had become her personal catch phrase whenever she found herself beating herself up over what happened with Cristiano. Just because she’d wanted him, didn’t mean he was right for her. Still, sometimes it was easier to believe her own words than those of others.

She stepped out of the shower, wrapping herself up in fresh towels, and went back to the living room to find some clean clothes for the day. All her stuff was still in boxes and suitcases, but she’d become so accustomed to this way of life now she knew where to find most things. The top she was after would be in the shoe box under the coffee table. She crouched down to reach it. As she did, her gaze fell to her cell phone. She fought the familiar compulsion to check and see whether Cristiano had been in touch, instead grabbing the box and rummaging through it for the top she wanted. As she pulled it out, she remembered the last time she’d worn it: Paris, during one of their romantic strolls through the rain-soaked city. Her heart ached immediately, and she dropped the top, grasping instead for her phone, her willpower suddenly gone.

She had no notifications but checked every app individually just in case he’d decided to get in touch through some slightly more obtuse means than text or email; a “like” on one of her photos, for example, or posting a link to a relevant news story on her wall. But with a sad sigh, Keira realized there was nothing. Cristiano had made no attempt to reach out to her, even subtly, since she’d ended things in Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The uncomfortable sensation in Keira’s chest made her realize how much she needed to see her friends tonight. A party might not be the best environment for her right now, but being with Maxine and Shelby would be. For the first time in a long time, she found herself looking forward to human company.

*

Keira hurried up the steps of Shelby and David’s house. It was freezing, and she was dressed in a barely there black dress. She shivered on the step as she pressed the bell over and over, impatient for the door to be opened.

At last it swung open, letting light, music, and chatter pour out at Keira. She rubbed her arms and looked up to see Rob, David’s brother, at the door.

“Hey,” he said, looking her up and down. Then an amused frown appeared between his eyebrows. “Keira Swanson? Is that really you?”

“Yup,” Keira replied. “Can I come in? I’m freezing!”

“Of course!” Rob replied, moving out of the way. Keira hurried past him, out of the darkness and into the brightly lit corridor. He closed the door behind her. “I didn’t recognize you. You’ve changed.”

“I’m not twenty-one anymore, if that’s what you mean,” Keira replied, shirking off her jacket.

Rob took it from her, hanging it on a spare peg. “Was that the last time I saw you?”

Keira nodded. “Yup. Graduation from college.” The heat from the apartment began to warm her and she stopped rubbing her arms quite so vigorously. “So, how are you?” she asked Rob, attempting to make polite small talk.

“I’m great,” he replied, beaming. “Yeah. All good.” He scratched his head, looking lost for words. “Um, why don’t you come in?”

“Sure,” Keira replied.

He gestured for her to go further inside the apartment. Keira did, following the noises toward the kitchen. David and Shelby had a nice house, considering no one else Keira’s age had been able to afford to buy their own home yet. Hell, Keira couldn’t even get together the money for a deposit on an apartment to rent!

She found everyone in the kitchen, Shelby perching beside the large kitchen island chatting with some people Keira didn’t know. Work colleagues, she presumed. They looked pretty put together, with neat hair, trendy outfits, and confident smiles. Keira felt suddenly very uncomfortable in the presence of these apparently calm, collected other friends of Shelby’s.

“Keira!” Shelby exclaimed, noticing her then. “You came!” She placed her glass heavily onto the counter and wobbled toward her friend, clearly already a little tipsy. “Oh my God, I never thought I’d see you again,” she wailed, throwing her arms around Keira’s neck and squeezing.

Keira patted the arm that choked her. “Don’t be silly,” she squeaked. “I’ve just been taking a bit of off time.”

Shelby moved out of the vise-like embrace and looked her up and down. “Wow, you look gorgeous!” She plucked the fabric of Keira’s dress in her fingertips, making it spring back against Keira’s hips. Then she turned her head to address the room. “Look how gorgeous my friend Keira is!” she cried. “AND she’s SINGLE!”

Keira blushed immediately. “Please, Shelby,” she muttered out the corner of her mouth. She felt less than attractive, no thanks to the extra pounds she’d gained recently.

“What?” Shelby giggled. “You’re back on the market and I have some very handsome friends. And girl, your ass is looking fine.”

“There’s a difference between fine and fat,” Keira muttered. “And I’m not ready to date yet. This is literally my first evening out of Mope Mood in two weeks.”

“Okay, okay,” Shelby replied, rolling her eyes. “I won’t push it. But I will give you some wine.” She grinned devilishly.

“No!” Keira protested. She knew far too well what a sloppy drunk she could be, and how easily she drank too much when she was feeling emotional. Alcohol was the last thing she needed right now.

But it was too late. An overfilled glass of white wine was thrust through the crowd toward her. She took it from the extended, bodyless hand, peering through the crack between people’s heads to see who was offering it.

“MAX!” Keira cried, when she realized, finally, it was her other best friend.

Max wedged herself through a small gap between two tall, immovable-looking guys, and hugged Keira.

“Hi, stranger,” she said. “It’s so good to see you.” They drew apart and Maxine smiled at her, her dark eyes glittering with kindness. “I was so worried about you I even texted your sister.”

Keira’s eyebrows shot up. Maxine and Bryn hated each other. Some inexplicable feud neither could remember the origins of made their relationship frosty at best.

“She didn’t tell me,” Keira said.

“Of course she didn’t,” Maxine replied, rolling her eyes. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re here now. Now I can tell you face to face that you’re a strong, powerful, wonderful woman who’s not defined by a man.”

Keira laughed. It felt like the first genuine smile she’d cracked in days.

“Thanks, Max,” she said, nudging her friend.

Feeling a little happier, Keira took a sip of the wine. It was nice, with a delicate, light flavor. Instantly she could imagine Cristiano’s voice in her head, telling her it would pair wonderfully with seafood. She felt a pang of loss.

“Have you noticed that Rob is staring at you?” Maxine asked suddenly, breaking into her thoughts.

“No,” Keira said, looking over to where he was leaning against the fridge. He looked away immediately.

“You should talk to him,” Maxine urged. “He clearly likes you.”

Keira shook her head. “I’m not in the right place to be liked right now. Cristiano was a rebound from Shane, remember. And look how badly that went.”

“Shane was a rebound from Zach,” Maxine reminded her. “And it was the best decision you’d made for yourself in a long time.”

Keira shook her head again. She lowered her voice. “Please can I just have one night without thinking about relationships?”

Maxine let out a reluctant sigh. “Fine. But on one condition.” She grabbed Keira’s hand. “You dance with me all night!”

Keira exhaled loudly but didn’t put up much resistance as Maxine tugged her into the middle of the living room. The couches had been pushed back, the coffee table moved to the side, and there were a few other people already dancing in the space. Standing right in the middle of the room like that certainly wasn’t Keira’s first idea of fun, but anything was better than being forced into flirting.

Shelby bounded over then, throwing her arms around both Keira and Maxine.

“My faves!” she cried. “Have I told you two recently how much I love you?”

Keira laughed.

“Someone’s drunk,” Maxine commented.

“Yup!” Shelby confirmed. Then she raised her voice and yelled over the music. “And it feels awesome!”

They began dancing together to the track, pulling silly, overly enthusiastic dance moves. Keira let herself relax into the moment. She drank more from her glass of wine, giving herself permission to enjoy herself and let her hair down just a little bit. With her best girlfriends she could loosen the reins a bit.

Her glass was empty when Shelby suddenly exclaimed loudly, “Oh my God! When was the last time we did shots together?”

She grabbed both their hands, looking from one to the other with expectant excitement, like she’d had the best idea in the world.

“No way,” Keira said, shaking her head. She was already one extremely large glass of wine down. Adding a shot to the mix would be dangerous.

“Come on!” Shelby said, pouting. She bounced up and down, her expression and tiny frame making her look like a petulant pixie. “We have tequila!”

Keira recalled how the three of them had always had tequila shots back at college parties, almost ritualistically on a night out, and just how much fun it had been.

“For old times’ sake?” Maxine said, nudging her.

Maybe one wouldn’t hurt, Keira thought.

“Okay, okay,” she said finally, giving in to peer pressure for the umpteenth time that night.

Taking Keira by the shoulders, Shelby steered her over to the kitchen counter, Maxine following behind like a conga line. David was there talking to a group of his male friends, Rob included.

“Babe, we’re doing tequila,” Shelby slurred, reaching an arm around his shoulders and planting a sloppy kiss on his cheek. Her engagement ring sparkled under the bright lights.

David gave her one of his adoring looks and Keira looked away, feeling a pang of jealousy deep in the pit of her stomach. As she averted her gaze, she inadvertently looked straight into Rob’s. He seemed to have a matching expression to her own, like he was holding back envy. She wondered whether he was currently riding the wave of a breakup like she was.

“Of course, my darling,” David told Shelby, kissing her nose.

She unslung her arms from around his neck, and he went over to the cupboards, collecting the things they’d need—tequila bottle, salt, and shot glasses.

“Rob, can you get the limes?” Shelby instructed, pointing at the fridge his back was against.

Keira watched him fish a bag of limes out from inside the refrigerator. He came over to the counter and placed them down.

“I’ll have one of those, too,” he said, nodding to the row of shot glasses David was lining up.

“HELL YEAH!” Shelby cried.

She reached for a knife to begin cutting limes and promptly had it removed from her hand by Maxine.

“Let me do that, okay, hon?” Max said with a giggle.

Shelby nodded.

Once everything was ready and the shot glasses filled, David, Rob, Keira, Maxine, and Shelby took their positions in front of them. They salted their hands and each picked up a shot glass, readying themselves for the countdown.

“Three, two, one!” Shelby cried.

Keira necked the shot back. The liquor burned her throat immediately. The taste was intense and she swallowed quickly, feeling heat race down her gullet. Wincing, she licked the salt quickly, then grabbed a lime wedge and sucked on it.

With watering eyes, she looked over at her friends. Shelby pulled her own lime out of her mouth and threw it onto the countertop, before suddenly retching. Then she turned and threw up violently in the sink.

David burst out laughing, and hurried over to comfort her. Maxine followed suit, discarding her lime and giggling loudly.

Keira was left just with Rob. She looked over at him. He was laughing, his lime still wedged in his mouth.

“Shelby is such a lightweight,” he said, taking it out finally.

Keira took her own lime out of her mouth. The tequila reached her stomach, and warmth spread all through her.

“It’s not her fault,” she said, smiling. “There aren’t many five-foot-nothing, hundred-pound women who can hold their liquor.”

“You’re doing okay,” he commented.

Keira patted her newly rounded stomach as if it were an explanation.

“So, anyway,” she said. “What did you think of your shot?”

“It was all right,” Rob replied, shrugging nonchalantly. “But I’ve gotta admit, I’m more of a beer guy. Thought I’d give it a try.”

“I commend you,” Keira replied.

She could feel her cheeks getting warm from the mixture of wine and liquor. For the first time in days, she felt willing and able to have a conversation.

“So Rob, what have you been up to for the last…” She counted in her head. “…seven years?”

“Regenerating every cell in my body,” he said.

Keira frowned with confusion. “Huh?”

“Seven years. That’s how long it takes for every cell in your body to have regenerated,” he explained. “There’s a theory that it’s why people get a seven-year itch in relationships.”

“Oh,” Keira said. “I don’t think I’ll ever reach seven years in a relationship.”

Rob laughed. “No. Me neither. I can do one. Sometimes two. But anything beyond that is unknown territory.”

“Same,” Keira replied. She could tell the alcohol had already loosened her tongue somewhat. It felt nice to enjoy communicating again. She reached for the tequila. “Another?”

Rob raised his eyebrows. “Sure.”

Keira poured them each another shot. They took it in turn to salt their hands, and then this time, she counted them in. “Three, two, one!”

They took the shot in unison, slamming their glasses down at the same time, licking their salted hands and reaching for the lime slices. They both went for the same piece, and Keira playfully batted Rob’s hand away, snatching it up from him. She sucked it, laughing, then took it from her lips.

“That was funn—” she began, but her words were cut off when Rob suddenly lunged in and kissed her. Keira pushed him away, horrified. “HEY!” she shouted. “What the hell was that?”

Rob looked stunned. “What do you mean?” he demanded. “You were flirting with me.”

“NO I wasn’t!” Keira said back. Worse than having someone’s lips on hers without consent was the accusation that she’d given him some kind of green light to do it when she most definitely hadn’t.

“Oh, please,” Rob replied, looking incensed. “Why did you keep looking at me then? Why did you offer me another drink?”

“Since when was looking akin to flirting?” Keira replied.

“Um, ever since our species evolved distinct male and female parts?” Rob shot back.

He looked furious. Keira realized then that he was actually inebriated. He’d been holding it well before, but with those two shots of tequila in quick succession, he’d clearly crossed over the line of what his body could handle, and he was suddenly looking very disheveled.

Keira turned away, not prepared to have a discussion with a drunken idiot over the nuances of flirting. But as she walked away she was stunned by Rob grabbing her arm, attempting to hold her back.

“Hey,” he said. “You should apologize.”

“What?” she demanded, the tequila swilling in her stomach giving her confidence. “YOU should apologize. I haven’t done anything.”

“You led me on!”

Keira felt rage take over. “You’re a pig!” she cried out, reaching for the closest glass of alcohol. She found a discarded, full wine glass and threw its contents into Rob’s face.

She hurried away, grabbing her coat and scurrying from the house before anyone had a chance to stop her. She didn’t want Maxine or Shelby tailing her, trying to comfort her. She just wanted to go home.

Luckily, as she rushed down the street, a cab was coming her way, its light on. She hailed it.

It slowed at the curb and she leapt inside, telling the driver Bryn’s address. As she sped away, she saw Maxine and Shelby hurrying onto the doorstep, looking for her. She waved meekly at them from the back of the cab as it passed, then hunkered down in her seat. Humiliation made her cheeks burn. She rummaged in her purse, grabbing her cell phone to text Shelby an apology. But instead of messaging her friend, she found herself sending a message to Cristiano instead. Three simple words.

I miss you.

CHAPTER TWO

When Keira woke the next day, a feeling of mortification struck her. Memories of the party came flooding back, of the tequila shots with her friends and the whole unpleasant experience with Rob kissing her, and her throwing a drink in his face. But that wasn’t the worst thing. The worst thing that had happened was that she’d texted Cristiano.

She heaved back the covers, getting tangled in them in her haste to find her cell phone and falling flat on her ass. From the hard floor, she groaned and reached up to the coffee table, getting hold of it.

Once the phone was in her hands, Keira became too terrified to look. She hesitated, her thumb hovering over the button, before finally swallowing her anguish and pressing down.

Immediately, she saw she’d received several text notifications. Her heart leapt into her throat. Could one be from Cristiano? She clicked on the icon.

The first was Maxine asking if she was okay. The next; Maxine, again, asking her to let her know she got home okay. Then several from Shelby writing a stream of unconnected words spelled incorrectly, another from Maxine from earlier this morning stating that if Keira didn’t get in touch by midday she’d call the police, and finally one from her mom asking if she’d ever tried coconut milk in her latte. But nothing from Cristiano.

Her stomach sank. Disappointment settled deeply in her chest. But it was quickly replaced by a new sensation: relief. She’d taken the first step, broken the wall of silence between them, and Cristiano had chosen not to communicate in return. At least now she knew where she stood. She didn’t need to wonder anymore. As difficult as it was to know things were truly over, she was glad at least for some certainty.

She looked back at Maxine’s messages, no longer distracted by thoughts of Cristiano and able to pay them the attention they deserved.

Are you okay, hon? So sorry about Rob! What a jerk. I know you well enough to know you’re probably embarrassed about it, but you’re literally my hero right now.

She smiled to herself, her mortification of having made a spectacle of herself dissipating slightly. She typed a response.

Sorry for being silent. I must’ve fallen asleep as soon as I got home. Of course I’m embarrassed, but at least you’re proud of me.

She sent the message and went to put her phone away, then on second thought sent a text to her mom, Mallory. Yes. And it’s yummy.

She heard the sound of a key in the door then and jumped with surprise. As she turned to look over her shoulder, she saw Bryn enter the apartment, dressed in workout gear, her cheeks pink, hairline sweaty, and face grinning widely. Keira realized then that she was not alone. Felix was in tow. For an older gentleman he certainly looked all right in workout gear. He reminded her a little of the before model from an ad for male hair dye.

“You’re up,” Bryn said to Keira with a smile. “How was the party?”

“Could’ve been better,” Keira murmured in reply. “Where have you two been?”

Bryn went over to the sink to fill up her empty water bottle. It was Felix who answered Keira’s question.

“We just went for a jog,” he said.

Keira had to stop herself from exclaiming, “At your age?” Instead, she managed to censor herself and instead asked, “At this time of the morning?”

“Best time for it,” Felix replied. He raised one of his legs, resting it on a kitchen stool and stretching to touch his toes.

He was fitter than Keira, that much was evident. She’d let everything deteriorate in that department and her waistline was starting to suffer for it. It was all well and good eating and drinking to her heart’s content when she was hiking up Italian mountainsides, but now that her evenings consisted of binge-watching TV and eating pretzels, it wasn’t so great. She poked her stomach. It was definitely squishier than it used to be. She’d have to do something about that soon.

Bryn turned back from the sink and took a long swig from her bottle. “Have you heard from Mom?”

“Just some random text about coconut milk latte,” Keira replied.

Bryn laughed. “She’s losing her mind. She was supposed to let you know about dinner tonight.”

“Oh,” Keira replied.

“Well?” Bryn probed. “What do you say? Swanson ladies dinner date?”

“Isn’t Felix invited?” Keira asked, curiously. Mallory seemed to love Felix; either that or she was just very relieved that Bryn had finally started a stable relationship.

Felix switched to stretching his other leg. He glanced at Keira, his hands outstretched clasping the toe of his sneaker. “I’ve got plans with my own family tonight. It’s my parents’ wedding anniversary.”

Once again, Keira had to bite her tongue to stop from blurting out something rude. But she really was surprised that Felix’s parents were alive and kicking. They must be well into their eighties, the age Keira’s grandparents would have been had either still been alive.

“That’s lovely,” she managed to say.

“What shall I tell Mom?” Bryn asked.

“Tell her okay,” Keira replied.

Maybe some mollycoddling could help kick-start her out of her funk. There really was nothing like Mallory’s maternal cloying to remind Keira how important her independence was.

Bryn and Felix exchanged a nod and then headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Keira asked.

“Second five K,” Bryn replied.

“Ten before breakfast has always been my motto,” Felix added.

They waved and swirled out the door. Keira blinked at it. It was hard to believe that anyone could be that physically active, let alone a sixty-something man. She wondered how long it took someone to train to run 10k and realized it wouldn’t take that long at all. Certainly less than a year. Felix could have started his fitness regime on his sixtieth birthday for all she knew. It was never too late to make a change.

She realized, suddenly, that she needed to stop sitting around feeling sorry for herself. Overcome by a surge of motivation, Keira grasped her work bag and pulled out her notebook. She quickly wrote a list of all the things she needed to change in her life, including losing a couple of extra pounds and getting her roots touched up. She scanned the list and realized there was one very important change she needed to make to get her life back on track, and that was getting herself into her own apartment. The longer she stayed sleeping on Bryn’s couch, the harder it was becoming to ever imagine herself being independent, standing on her own two feet again.

She fetched her laptop and went onto a real estate website. She hadn’t checked apartment prices for at least a couple of years, having been settled with Zach for so long, and the prices made her eyes water. But if she added up her work bonuses and the several grand she’d saved just from not having to pay rent or for any of her food for the last few months, she might just be able to scrape together enough to put down a deposit. On paper she looked like a safe bet, since she had a steady job with a decent income. She started to feel the first glimmer of hope in days.

She scrolled through all the apartments, looking for one to rent within her price range. Most of them looked a little worse for wear, but she liked DIY and didn’t mind having a fixer-upper. She just wanted something that was her own, somewhere she could call home after spending weeks on end in hotel rooms.

At last, an apartment caught her eye. A one-bed, one-bath condo farther west from Manhattan than she usually went. From the photos it looked like it had been a sad divorcé’s downsizer, but Keira could see past the drab, unloved decor. The windows were huge, the ceilings high. Without the graying carpet it would look even more spacious. The building had laundry facilities in the basement, and it was less than a mile from a subway station.

It felt like fate.

Keira grabbed her phone and punched in the agent’s number. After a few rings, a croaky voice answered, an older woman with a decades-developed smoker’s rasp.

“I’m inquiring about the apartment on your website,” she said, explaining which specific one she was interested in.

“Oh yeah, that one’s a beaut,” the woman replied. “Great location. How tall are you?”

Keira was taken aback by the question. “Why?”

“’Cause the last two guys I showed it to were the size of basketball players and wanted more space. Waste of everyone’s time. And time is money, kiddo. So? How tall?”

“Five two,” Keira said.

“Perfect,” the woman rasped. “When d’ya wanna look?”

Keira thought of her job, of the long hours she often had to work at Viatorum. “A weekend would be better.”

“Whatcha doin’ today?” came the woman’s response. “I had a cancellation so could fit you in.”

“Today?” Keira repeated, surprised. It wasn’t like she had anything else to do. “Okay, yes. Today is fine!”

They made the necessary arrangements and Keira hung up the call, feeling a little dazed from the speed with which it had all happened. It really did feel like fate.

*

Keira left the subway, finding herself in an unfamiliar but rather pleasant part of New York. It was one of the things about the city she loved so much, how it changed, evolved, and developed so constantly it was always reinventing itself. Not that long ago this area must have been a bit rundown and the public hadn’t yet caught on, because there was no way she’d be able to afford to rent a place here otherwise!

She hurried along the sidewalk, scanning the door numbers as she went, searching for the correct building. As she drew closer to the correct number, she noticed a woman standing ahead in a fuchsia pink two-piece and matching heels, smoking a cigarette. That must be the real estate agent she spoke to on the phone.