HELLO FAVORITES! It’s almost time! Beautiful will be here in just over a week and we are so excited for you to see what everyone is up to. That’s right, EVERYONE. Bennett ✔ Chloe ✔ Max ✔ Sara ✔ Will ✔ Hanna ✔ Niall ✔ Ruby ✔ Pippa ✔ Jensen ✔ and George. YES GEORGE ✔. And if you’ve preordered your copy–but of course you have because preordering is like magic–fill out this form here and we’ll send you a free Beautiful series digital sampler with never-before-seen notes. That’s right, a chapter from each book with our notes, comments and penis doodles. You can also be entered to win one of 2 Beautiful themed baskets from our awesome publisher, Gallery Books.
Now about chapter 2… We want you to read chapter 2, but also want to warn you that there’s a bit of a spoiler in here. IT’S AN AWESOME SPOILER, but a big one. So if you don’t like that kind of thing, feel free to wait until Oct 4 when you can read Beautiful in full. We think that’s about it! Have an awesome weekend, if you’ve preordered be sure to fill out this form here, and happy reading. Love you guys and we’ll have some fun stuff to talk about soon!
- Simon & Schuster
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- Hudson Booksellers
I could remember exactly one flight more awkward than that
It was the June after my freshman year in college, and
about ten months after I’d met Will Sumner. He’d blown into
Baltimore, the guy with the smile, swagger, and certainty
that he and I were going to be partners in crime. For someone
like me whose life had been, up to that point, quiet and
sheltered, Will Sumner was the best kind of wrecking ball.
That summer, we went to Niagara Falls with his extended
family and . . . let’s say we happened upon a VHS tape of
some badly shot porn. There was no music, no faces, and it
was all done by one stationary camera, but nonetheless we
watched it over and over until we were blurry and desensitized,
reciting the dirty talk in unison and shoveling Pringles
into our mouths.
It was the first time I’d ever seen someone having real
sex, and I thought it was fucking stellar . . . until Will’s
pretty aunt Jessica panicked at the airport, unable to find
her “home movie” in her carry-on.
I sat next to Aunt Jessica the entire flight, and it’s safe to
say I did not play it very cool. At all. I was sweaty palms and
monosyllables and constant awareness that I knew what she
looked like naked. I knew what she looked like having sex. My
sheltered brain could barely handle that kind of information.
Will was about as sympathetic as expected, pelting me
with tiny balls of his napkins and peanuts across the aisle.
“What’s got you all tied up, Jens?” he’d called. “You look
like someone saw you naked.”
Pippa was a different kind of awkward entirely. She was
the kind of awkward where pretty and engaging turns into
smeary makeup and incessant rambling from the miracle of
alcohol. The kind where you feign sleep for more than three
hours when your brain is panic-scrolling through the list of
ways the time on the plane might be better spent.
As we made the trek to baggage claim, the low hum of
airport noise drifted over me. It was nearly as familiar as
the sound of my heater switching on at night, or my own
goddamn breathing. I could sense Pippa behind me, chatting
idly with her grandfather. Her voice was nice—accent
thick with the polish of London and the streets of Bristol.
Her face was great, eyes bright and mischievous; they were
actually what drew me in right away because they were such
a startling blue, and so expressive. But I was afraid to make
eye contact and begin the talking all over again. I’d felt her
apology practically bubbling up as I nearly sprinted from the
plane, and worried that if I gave her an opening, she would
take it without question.
I rubbed my eyes and then spotted my suitcase sliding
down onto the carousel. There was something almost comically
intense about the message I felt I was receiving. Just
when I began to consider whether I was looking for women
in the wrong places, whether I was wrong about my type,
whether I should be more adventurous in dating, the universe
trapped me on a flight with a woman who was gorgeous,
eccentric, and completely insane.
So let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Jens. Stick with what
Maybe Softball Emily wasn’t so bad after all.
My driver stood with a placard bearing my name, and I
nodded, wordlessly following her out of the airport. The car
was dark and cool, and I immediately pulled my phone back
out, letting my brain slip into that familiar space where work
lived and breathed.
I would call Jacob on Monday to set up a time to review
the Petersen Pharma files.
I should email Eleanor in HR about getting someone to
replace Melissa in the San Francisco office.
I would need to get in early next week to tackle this inbox.
The car pulled up at the curb in front of my brownstone,
and it felt like a gentle tug, unwinding me.
Fall was upon us, spiraling through the trees that canopied
the streets, turning everything somehow brighter before
it all dimmed for the interminable months of winter. The
air outside was biting after the warmth of the car, and I met
the driver at the back, handing her a hefty tip for getting us
here so efficiently in Boston rush hour.
This London trip had been only a week, but it felt like
an eternity. Mergers were one thing. International mergers
were another. But international mergers gone wrong? Brutal.
Endless paperwork. Endless depositions. Endless details
to scrounge up and record. Endless travel.
Staring up at my house—a simple two-story, two lights
on in the bay window, front door framed by potted plants—I
let the unwinding work its way through me. As much as I
traveled, I was a homebody at heart, and fuck if it didn’t
feel good to be so close to my own bed. I didn’t even feel
privately embarrassed that the call of takeout delivery and
Netflix made me feel a little drunk.
The house lit up with the flick of a single switch, and before
I did anything else, I unpacked—if for no other reason
than to hide the evidence that I’d been traveling and would
no doubt have to fly again soon. Denial, you are my favorite
Suitcase unpacked, dinner ordered, Netflix loaded and
ready, and, as if on cue, my youngest sister, Ziggy—Hanna
to anyone outside our family—opened the door with her set
“Hey,” she called out.
Like she had no reason to knock.
Like she knew I’d be sitting right here, in sweats and
“Hey,” I said, watching as she threw her keys toward the
bowl on the table near the door and missed by at least two
feet. “Nice shot, loser.”
She smacked my head as she walked by. “Did you just
“Yeah. Sorry. I was going to call you after I ate.”
She stopped, turning to look at me quizzically. “Why? Am
I your ‘Honey, I’m home’ call?”
She turned away and I stared at her back as she retrieved
a beer for me and a glass of water for herself.
When she returned, I grumbled, “That’s a terrible thing
“Is it inaccurate?” She flopped down next to me on the
“Why are you even here?”
Ziggy was married to my best friend of more than fifteen
years, Will—of Aunt Jessica fame—and the two of them
lived not five minutes down the road in a house much bigger
and much more lived-in than this one.
She pulled her hair over her shoulder and grinned at me.
“It has been suggested that I ‘stomp around the house,’
thereby ‘making it difficult to have work calls at night.’ ”
Ziggs shrugged and sipped her water. “Will has some big
conference call with someone in Australia, so I figured I’d
hang here until I get the all-clear.”
“Hungry? I ordered Thai.”
She nodded. “You must be tired.”
I shrugged. “My clock is a little off.”
“I’m sure a quiet night sounds good. I’m sure there’s no
one you’re dying to see now that you’re home.”
With my beer tilted toward my lips, I froze, sliding my
eyes to her. “Stop it.”
To be fair, my entire family tended to be overly concerned
with the goings-on in each other’s lives, and I would admit
to playing the protective older brother on more than one occasion.
But I didn’t like having my youngest sibling stepping
into my game.
“How’s Emily?” she asked, and faked a yawn.
Knowing exactly how big a brat she was being, she turned
and looked at me. “She scrapbooks, Jensen. And she offered
to help me organize the garage.”
“That sounds pretty friendly to me,” I said, scrolling through
“This is her before marriage, Jens. These are her zany
I ignored this, trying not to laugh and encourage her.
“Emily and I aren’t really a thing.”
Thankfully, she decided not to push or make some sex
joke. “Are you coming over tomorrow?”
Ziggy glared at me. “Seriously? How many times have
we talked about this?”
I groaned, standing up and trying to think of a reason I
needed to leave the room. “Why are you laying into me? I
just got home!”
“Jens, we’re hosting Annabel’s third birthday tomorrow!
Sara is ready to pop with their seventieth child, so she and
Max couldn’t handle throwing it at their place. Everyone is
coming up from New York. You knew about this! You said
you’d be home in time.”
“Right. Right. Yeah, I guess I’ll stop by.”
She stared at me. “There’s no stopping by. Come hang
out, Jensen—how wonderfully ironic that I’m the one telling
you this. When was the last time you went out with friends?
When was the last time you were social, or went on a date
with someone other than Softball Emily?”
I didn’t answer this. I dated more than my sister knew,
but she was right that I wasn’t all that invested. I’d been
married once. To sweet, playful Becky Henley. We’d met my
sophomore year in college, dated for nine years, and then
been married for four months before I came home to find
her packing her things through a haze of tears.
It didn’t feel right, she’d said. It never really felt right.
And that was all the explanation I ever got.
Okay, so at twenty-eight I’d had my law degree and was
newly divorced—turns out there’s not a lot of that going
around—so I’d focused on my career. Full steam. For six
years, I made nice with the partners, climbed the ladder,
grew my team, became indispensable to the firm.
Only to find myself spending my Friday nights with my
baby sister, being lectured about being more social.
And she was right: it was ironic that she was the one
having this conversation with me. Three years ago I’d said
the exact same thing to her.
“Jensen,” she said, pulling me back down onto the couch.
“You’re the worst.”
I was. I was absolutely the worst at taking advice. I knew
I needed to get out of this work rut. I knew I needed to
infuse some fun into my life. And as averse as I was to discussing
it with my sister, I knew I would probably enjoy being
in a committed relationship. The problem was, I almost
didn’t know where to start. The prospect always felt so
overwhelming. The longer I was single, the harder it seemed
to compromise with someone.
“You didn’t go out in London at all, did you?” Ziggs said,
turning to face me. “Not once?”
I thought back to the lead attorney on the London side
of our team, Vera Eatherton. She’d come over to me just
as we’d wrapped up for the day. We’d talked for a few
minutes and then I’d known the second her expression
shifted, eyes turned down to the floor with an air of shyness
I had yet to see from her, that she was going to ask
“Care to grab a bite later?” she’d asked.
I’d smiled at her. She was very pretty. A few years older
than I was, she was in great shape, tall and slender with
great curves. I should want to grab a bite later. I should
want to grab a lot more than that.
But putting aside the complications from a workplace
standpoint, the idea of dating—even of a simple night of
“No,” I told Ziggy. “I didn’t go out. Not the way you mean.”
“Where’s my player brother?” she asked, giving me a goofy
“I think you have me confused with your husband.”
She ignored this. “You were in London for a week and
spent all your free time in your hotel. Alone.”
“That’s not entirely accurate.” I hadn’t been in my room,
actually. I’d been all over, visiting landmarks and taking in
the city, but she was right about one thing: I’d done it alone.
She raised a brow, daring me to prove her wrong. “Will said
last night you need to get a bit of the college Jensen back.”
I glared at her. “Don’t talk to Will about how we were in
college anymore. He was an idiot.”
“You were both idiots.”
“Will was head idiot,” I said. “I just followed him around.”
“That’s not the way he tells it,” she said with a grin.
“You’re weird,” I told her.
“I’m weird? You have lights on a timer, a Roomba to keep
your floor clean even when you’re out of town, you unpack
within minutes of entering your house—and I’m the weird
I opened my mouth to answer and then shut it, holding
up a finger so she wouldn’t let loose another playful tirade.
“I loathe you,” I said finally, and a giggle burst free from
The doorbell rang, and I went to grab the takeout, then
brought it into the kitchen. I loved Ziggy. Since she’d moved
back to Boston, seeing her a few times a week had admittedly
been good for both of us. But I hated to think she worried
And it wasn’t just Ziggy.
My entire family thought I didn’t know they bought extra
gifts for me at Christmas because I didn’t have a girlfriend
putting presents under the tree. They always left the plusone
question hanging when they invited me over for dinner.
If I brought a random stranger into my parents’ house for
Sunday dinner and announced I was going to marry her, my
entire family would lose their minds celebrating.
There was nothing worse than being the oldest of five
children and also being the one everyone had to worry
about. Making sure they always knew I was fine, totally, completely
fine was exhausting.
But it didn’t stop me from trying. Especially because
when I’d pushed Ziggs to get out into the world more she’d
met up with Will, of all people, and their story was a happily
ever after I couldn’t begrudge either of them.
“Okay,” I said, bringing her a plate of food and sitting
back down beside her on the couch. “Remind me about the
party. What time?”
“Eleven,” she said. “I wrote it on your calendar on the
fridge. Do you even look at that, or did you immediately
throw out the Post-it note because it marred the perfectly
stoic surface of your lonely refrigerator?”
I quickly swallowed a sip of beer. “Can you put the lecture
on pause for a second? Come on, honey, I’m tired. I
don’t want to do this tonight. Just tell me what I need to
She gave me an apologetic smile before shoving a forkful
of rice and green curry in her mouth. Swallowing, she
said, “Nothing. Just come over. I got a piñata and a bunch
of little-girl stuff, like tiaras and . . . pony things.”
“ ‘Pony things’?”
She shrugged, laughing. “Kid stuff! I’m lame! I don’t
even know what they’re called.”
“ ‘Party favors’?” I offered with dramatic finger quotes.
She smacked my arm. “Whatever. Yes. Oh! And Will is
“Aw, yes!” I fist-pumped. My best friend had recently discovered
a love for all things culinary, and to say we were all
benefitting from it would be understating the extra hour I
had to put in at the gym every night to compensate. “How
is our little chef? Catching up on episodes of Barefoot Contessa?
He does fill out an apron quite nicely, I’ll admit that.”
She looked at me sidelong. “You better hope I don’t tell
him you said that, or you’ll be cut off from dinners. I swear
I’ve put on five pounds since he got into this pastry obsession.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you.”
“Pastry? I thought he was on a Mediterranean kick.”
She waved me off. “That was last week. This week he’s
mastering desserts for Annabel.”
I felt my brows furrow. “Is she an especially picky eater?”
“No, my husband is just insane for his goddaughter.”
Ziggy slid another bite of food into her mouth.
“So if everyone’s in town, I’m guessing you’ll have a full
house tomorrow night,” I said. Between our sister Liv’s two
kids and our friends Max and Sara in New York about to
have their fourth, the adult contingent would soon be outnumbered
by adorable rug rats. Ziggs loved having the kids
over, and I was willing to bet money that Will would have at
least one of them attached to his leg for the majority of the
“Actually, no,” she said with a laugh. “Max and the family
are staying at a hotel. Bennett and Chloe are staying with us.”
“Bennett and Chloe?” I asked, grinning. “You’re not afraid?”
“No, that’s the best part.” She leaned in, eyes wide. “It’s
like Chloe and Sara have traded personalities during their
pregnancies. You seriously have to see it to believe it.”
As predicted, when Ziggy opened the door Saturday morning,
the only thing I could see behind her was a flash of
color and silk and tiny sprinting bodies. A small child ran
into her legs, hugging them fiercely and propelling her forward
into my arms.
“Hey,” my sister said, grinning up at me. “I bet you’re
already glad you came.”
I glanced over her shoulder at the entryway beyond. A
pile of assorted children’s shoes lay near the front door,
and I could see a mountain of birthday presents stacked
on the dining room table through a wide, Craftsman-style
“I’m always up for some of Will’s cooking,” I said, setting
her upright and stepping past her into the melee. In the
distance, over the sound of Will’s deep laugh in the kitchen,
was a chorus of squeals and shrieks and what I imagined
to be Annabel’s clear cry of “It’s my birthday! I get to be
I needed more coffee.
I wasn’t really a very deep sleeper and had spent a majority
of the middle of last night awake, sitting in my living
room and trying to remember each of the times I’d done
something purely social—for myself—in the past five years.
The problem was, other than the gym, my softball games
on Thursdays, and drinks or coffee with one of my friends
afterward, I didn’t feel like I had all that much going on. My
social calendar was packed, sure, but it was nearly always
a work dinner, a visiting client, some milestone the partners
wanted to mark with a lavish meal. Two years ago I’d
come to the depressing realization that too much time on
the road and the couch had left me out of shape. I’d started
running and weightlifting again, dropping thirty pounds and
putting on some muscle. I rediscovered my love for fitness
only to realize that I hadn’t actually done it to look better or
catch someone’s eye. I’d done it to feel better. Aside from
that, nothing significant in my life had changed since then.
My failed marriage was something I tried not to think
about, but late into last night I had registered that Becky’s
leaving me had set off a chain reaction: heartbreak led me
to dive into work, which brought me success, which grew
into its own sort of obsessive reward. And at some point
I knew I had to commit either to work, or to a life outside
of it. Six years ago, with bitterness fueling most of my
thoughts about romantic relationships, the decision had
Now I was happy, wasn’t I? Not entirely fulfilled, maybe,
but content, at the very least. But my sister’s mild needling
last night had sent me into a cold panic. Was I going to die
an old man in my neat-as-a-pin not-so-bachelor pad while
color-coding a closet full of cardigans? Should I give up now
and take up gardening?
I slipped down the hall and out the back into the yard.
Dozens of balloons were tied to the fence and the trees,
anchored with ribbons to white folding chairs, and arranged
along a series of small round tables. A white cake with ruffled
frosting topped with a little plastic giraffe, elephant, and
zebra sat in the center of the largest table near the patio.
A handful of small children in sweaters and scarves
raced across the lawn and I stepped carefully out of their
way and toward the cluster of grown-up-size humans near
“Jens!” Will’s familiar voice called to me, and I maneuvered
my way over to him. More balloons hung from a
vine-covered pergola, along with a safari-themed birthday
“I have never had a birthday party this cool,” I said, star-
ing behind me at the color explosion in the backyard. “Annabel
doesn’t even live here. Who are all these kids?”
“Well, Liv’s kids are . . . somewhere,” he said, glancing
around. “The rest belong to Max and Sara, or people Hanna
I blinked at him before looking back out at the yard. “This
is your future.”
I said it with a joking bleakness, but Will beamed. “Yep.”
“Okay, okay. I think I’m past the opportunity for more coffee.
Where’s the beer?”
He pointed to a cooler beneath their large oak tree. “But
there’s some scotch inside you might want to try.”
I turned just as Max Stella stepped out onto the patio,
grinning over at the gaggle of kids sprinting around the lawn.
Max and Will had started a venture capital firm together
years ago in New York, and seemed to be the exalted odd
couple of arts and sciences: their expertise and keen eyes
for their respective fields had made them both very rich
men. Though, I’ll admit, at six foot six and a genuine wall of
muscle, Max looked more rugby brute than art fanatic.
“If only we all made friends so easily,” Max said, watching
the kids run amok.
His wife, Sara, followed him out, holding her heavy pregnant
belly and sitting in the chair Max held steady for her.
I shook his hand in greeting before turning to Sara.
“Please don’t get up,” I told her, bending to place a kiss on
“I’m trying to be in a bad mood,” she said, a hint of a
smile tugging at her mouth. “Your chivalry is melting my
“I promise to work harder on being a jerk,” I said solemnly.
“Though congratulations are in order—I haven’t seen you
since this one started cooking. What is this? Number four?”
“Four in what is it now, Max? Four years?” Will said, grinning
over the top of his beer. “Maybe take a nap or something.
Find a hobby.”
The door opened again and Bennett Ryan stepped out,
followed by Ziggy and a very pregnant Chloe.
“I’d say he’s already got a hobby,” Bennett said.
Bennett and Max had been friends since they’d attended
school together in Europe. And while Max was all friendly
smiles and charm, Bennett was the personification of stony.
He rarely joked—or smiled much, that I had seen—so when
he did, you noticed. His mouth went a little lopsided, the
line of his shoulders softened. He got that way when he
looked at his wife, too.
He was practically beaming now.
It was . . . disorienting.
“Jensen!” The sound of my name jerked my attention
around behind me again. Chloe crossed the patio and
pulled me down into a hug.
I blinked for a moment, glancing curiously over to Will
before finally wrapping my arms around her. I had, without a
doubt, never hugged Chloe before.
“H-Hey there! How are you?” I said, pulling back to look
at her. Both pregnant women were small-boned, but where
Sara was willowy and delicate, there was a fierceness about
Chloe you couldn’t overlook. The Chloe I knew was not exactly
what you’d call touchy-feely, and I was at a bit of a loss
for words. “You look—”
“Happy!” she finished for me, and reached down to
place a hand on her round stomach. “Ecstatic and just . . .
blissed the fuck out?”
I laughed. “Well . . . yes?”
She winced, looking down at the kids on the lawn. “Shit,
I’d better work on not swearing.” Realizing what she’d just
said, she groaned, laughing. “I am hopeless!”
Bennett slid a gentle hand around her shoulders and she
leaned into him . . . and then giggled.
We all stared on in bewildered silence.
Finally Max spoke: “They haven’t tried to kill each other
in at least four months. It’s confusing the hell out of everyone.”
“I’m worrying everyone with how agreeable I’ve been,”
Chloe said with a nod. “Meanwhile sweet Sara couldn’t
open a jar of peanut butter last week and lost it so completely
she launched it out the window and onto the sidewalk
of Madison Avenue.”
Sara laughed. “No one was injured. Just my pride, and
my long-running streak of good behavior.”
“George has threatened to leave Sara and go work for
Chloe,” Bennett said, referring to Sara’s assistant, who had
a famous snark-hate relationship with Chloe. “Armageddon
is clearly upon us.”
“Okay, okay, quit hogging my brother.” Ziggy stepped
around Chloe and threw her arms around my neck. “You’re
I gazed again in confusion at Will. “Of course I’m still
here. I haven’t been given cake yet.”
As if I’d uttered the magic word, a handful of children
appeared, bouncing excitedly and asking if it was time to
blow out the candles. Ziggy excused herself and led them to
where another group was playing Red Rover.
“When are you both due?” I asked.
“Sara is due at the end of December,” Chloe said. “I’m
At that, we all seemed to take a moment to look around
us, sitting in the mild October chill with leaves falling sporadically.
“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” she said, noting everyone’s motherhen
expressions. “This is my last trip and then I’m back in
New York until this little thing arrives.”
“Do you know if you’re having a boy or girl?” I asked.
Bennett shook his head. “Chloe’s DNA has definitely
been handed down, because the baby was too stubborn to
let the technician get a good enough look to tell.”
Max snorted, glancing expectantly at Chloe for her sharp
comeback, but Chloe just shrugged and smiled.
“So true!” she sang, stretching to kiss Bennett’s jaw.
Given that Bennett and Chloe’s unique brand of flirtation
looked strongly like verbal sparring matches, watching her
brush aside his attempt to rile her up was . . . well, kind of
disconcerting in a way. For all its normalcy, it was a bit like
watching an alien courtship ritual.
Ziggy returned from the yard with the birthday girl in tow.
“The kiddos are getting restless,” she said, and everyone
took that as a sign that it was time to get the party started.
I made small talk with Sara, Will, Bennett, and Chloe
while Max, my sister, and a few of the other parents handed
out ingredients to make some sort of dirt cup, complete
with crushed Oreos, pudding, and gummy worms.
Max’s brother Niall and his wife, Ruby, were the last to arrive,
but I missed it in the chaos of sugar-fueled preschoolers.
It was slightly jarring meeting Niall Stella for the first time.
I’d grown used to being near Max, whose height was easy
to forget because he seemed so comfortable in his skin, so
eye-level emotionally with everyone. But Niall’s posture was
textbook perfect—nearly rigid—and although I came in at a
respectable six foot two myself, Niall had several inches on me.
I stood to greet them both.
“Jensen,” he said. “It’s so good to finally meet you.”
Even their accents were different. I remembered Max
telling me of the time he’d spent in Leeds, and how that
had shaped the way he spoke, his words much looser and
more common. But like everything else about Niall, even his
accent was proper. “It’s a shame we couldn’t meet while we
were all in London.”
“Next trip,” I said, and waved him off. “I was slammed
this time around. I wouldn’t have been much company. But
it’s really great to be able to meet you both now.”
Ruby pushed past him, stepping toward me and opting
for a hug. In my arms, she felt like a willowy puppy: vibrating
the slightest bit, bouncing on her toes. “I feel like I already
know you,” she said, pulling back to smile widely up at me.
“Everyone was at our wedding in London last year, and they
all had stories about ‘the elusive Jensen.’ Finally, we meet!”
I wondered at that as we all took our seats. I didn’t feel
like the most interesting person these days. Helpful? Yes.
Resourceful? Sure. But elusive has some mystery to it that
I just wasn’t feeling. It was strange to be thirty-four and
sense that my life was slowing down, that my best years
were somehow behind me, especially when I seemed to be
the only one who felt that way.
“Ziggy didn’t stop talking about you for about a month
after the wedding,” I told Ruby. “It looked like an amazing
Niall smiled down at her. “It was.”
“So what brings you to the States?” I asked. I knew Ruby
had moved to London for an internship that eventually led
to a graduate program, and that the couple currently called
“We’re taking a trip to celebrate our first anniversary, just
going a little later than planned,” he explained. “We started
here, to pick up Will and Hanna.”
Ruby bounced on her feet. “We’re doing a tour of breweries
and wineries up the coast!”
Her enthusiasm was infectious.
“What places are you hitting?” I asked.
“Hanna rented a van,” Niall said. “We’re starting down
in Long Island and over two weeks are working our way to
Connecticut, and then to Vermont. Your sister organized the
“I used to work out there at a winery on North Fork,”
I told them. “Every summer in college, I worked at Laurel
Ruby’s palm playfully smacked my shoulder. “Shut up!
You’re an expert at all of this!”
“I can’t shut up,” I said, grinning at her. “It’s true.”
“You should come along,” she said, nodding as if it were
already decided. Glancing at Niall, she gave him a winning
smile, and he laughed quietly. She turned toward Bennett,
Chloe, and Will. “Tell him he should come.”
“Innocent bystander here,” Will said, holding up his
hands. “Keep me out of this.” He paused, taking a drink
from his bottle. “Even though it sounds like a pretty great
idea . . .”
I stared blankly at him.
“Just consider it, Jensen,” Ruby continued. “Will and
Hanna and another friend are coming—and thank God
Hanna doesn’t drink much, because at least one of us will
be able to drive. It will be a fantastic group.”
I had to admit, a local trip would be perfect. Although
I had what felt like a million airline miles, the idea of flying
somewhere for vacation sounded awful. A road trip,
though . . . Maybe?
But I couldn’t do it. I’d already been away from the office
for more than a week, and I couldn’t fathom how I would
tackle everything in time. “I’ll think about it,” I told them.
“Think about what?” Ziggy said, joining us again.
“They’re trying to convince your brother to join you on
your trip,” Bennett told her.
Ziggy nodded slowly at Ruby, as if digesting this. “Right.
Jensen, would you help me get everything for the cake?”
I followed my sister into the kitchen and moved to the
cabinet, reaching for a stack of plates.
“Do you remember what you told me at that party all
those years ago?” she asked.
I wondered if playing dumb would work.
“Vaguely,” I lied.
“Well let me clarify for you.” She opened a box and
pulled out a handful of plastic forks. “We were looking at a
bunch of hideous paintings, and you decided to lecture me
“I didn’t lecture you,” I said with a sigh. Her only response
was a sharp laugh. “I didn’t. I only wanted you to get out
more, live more. You were twenty-four and barely saw the outside
of your lab.”
“And you’re thirty-four and barely see the outside of your
office and/or house.”
“It’s entirely different, Ziggs. You were just starting life. I
didn’t want you to let it pass you by while you had your nose
stuck in a test tube.”
“Okay, first, I never actually had my nose in a test tube—”
“Second,” she said, staring me down, “I might have just
been starting life, but you’re the one letting everything pass
you by. You’re thirty-four, Jens, not eighty. I go over to your
house and keep waiting to find an AARP membership on your
coffee table or those sock suspender things in your laundry.”
I blinked at her. “Be serious.”
“I am serious. You never go out—”
“I go out every week.”
“With who? The partners? Your softball friend?”
“Ziggs,” I chastised, “you know her name is Emily.”
“Emily doesn’t count,” she said.
“What’s your deal with Emily, for fuck’s sake?” I asked,
frustrated. Emily and I were friends . . . with benefits. The
sex was good—really good, actually—but it was never
more, for either of us. Three years into it, and it had never
gone beyond that.
“Because she’s not a step forward for you, she’s a step
to the side. Or maybe even backward, because as long as
you have accessible sex, you won’t ever bother looking for
something more fulfilling.”
“You think I’m pretty deep, then?”
Ignoring this, she continued, “You were in London for a
week and didn’t do anything but work. Last time you spent
a weekend in Vegas and didn’t even see the Strip. You’re
wearing a cashmere sweater, Jensen, when you should be
in a tight T-shirt showing off your muscles.”
I stared at her blankly. I couldn’t decide which of these
was worse: that my sister was saying this, or that she was
saying it at a three-year-old’s birthday party.
“Okay, gross, you’re right.” She shivered dramatically.
“Let’s strike what I just said from the record.”
“Make your point, Ziggs. This is getting tedious.”
She sighed. “You’re not an old man. Why do you insist
on acting like one?”
“I . . .” My thoughts hit the brakes.
“Just do something fun with us. Let loose, get drunk,
maybe find a nice girl and get your freak on—”
“Okay, strike that last part,” she said. “Again.”
“I’m not crashing their anniversary trip and being the
third . . .” I did the math. “Fifth wheel. That’s not going to
add any sort of boost to my social life.”
“You wouldn’t be any wheel. You heard them, they have
another friend coming along,” she said. “Come on, Jens.
It’s a group of good people. It could be so much fun.”
I laughed. Fun. I hated to admit it, but my sister had a
point. I’d come straight home from a solid, nonstop workweek
in London—with many, many consecutive nonstop
workweeks before that—with every intention of heading back
into work on Monday. I hadn’t planned for any downtime.
A couple of weeks off wouldn’t hurt, would they? I’d left
the London office in good shape for the upcoming trial, and
my colleague Natalie could handle everything else for a lit-
tle while. I had more than six weeks of accrued vacation,
and the only reason it wasn’t more than that was because
I’d cashed out on ten weeks four months ago, knowing I’d
never use them.
I tried to imagine two weeks with Will and Ziggy, two
weeks of wineries, breweries, sleeping in . . . I nearly
wanted to weep, it sounded so good.
“Fine,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t regret this.
Ziggy’s eyes went wide. “Fine . . . what?”
She gasped, genuinely shocked, and then threw her
arms around my neck. “Seriously?” she yelled, and I pushed
away to put a hand over my ear.
“Sorry!” she yelled again, not really any farther from my
ear than before. “I’m just so excited!”
A tiny ball of unease wormed its way into my chest.
“Where did you say we’re going again?” I asked.
Her expression became even more animated. “I’ve made
an awesome itinerary. We’re hitting breweries, and wineries,
and a few awesome resorts—with a final week at this
unreal cabin in Vermont.”
I exhaled, nodding. “Okay. Okay.”
But Ziggy caught my hesitation. “You’re not thinking of
changing your mind already, are you? Jensen, I swear to—”
“No,” I interrupted, laughing. “I just had this really insane
person next to me on the plane yesterday and she
mentioned going on a winery tour. I had a panicked moment
thinking, in some freakish joke the universe is playing, she
would be the friend coming along. Let me be honest: I’d
rather slam my hand in a door, or eat a brick.”
Ziggy laughed. “She was on the flight from London?”
“At first she was okay, but then she got drunk and
wouldn’t stop talking,” I said. “It would have been a more
pleasant flight if I’d been crammed into a middle coach
seat. God, imagine a week with such a woman.”
My sister winced, sympathetically.
“I feigned sleep for four hours,” I admitted. “Do you have
any idea how hard that is?”
“Sorry to interrupt.” A small voice rose up from behind me.
“But, Hanna, look: my Pippa is here!”
I turned and froze.
Playful blue eyes met mine, and her smile was delighted
. . . and, this time, sober.
How long had they been standing there?