She’d just had sex with another woman’s boyfriend.
Jess ran her hand down Scott’s bare shoulder, across his sternum, tracing her fingers down his ribs, like she was testing his permanence, making sure he was real. Making sure this was real.
Scott laughed and caught her hands, kissing each finger. She stretched out her legs, trying to stop herself from wrapping them around him and initiating round two.
“Not making it to the bedroom was the real highpoint of the night,” Scott said, his arms encircling Jess’s waist, his blue eyes star-bright in the candlelight.
Jess laughed, but she could hear the nervousness in it. She glanced at the diamond ring, nestled in its ring box on the windowsill, and closed her eyes, resting her forehead on Scott’s chest. She could feel the beat of his heart. “I just didn’t see this coming.”
“Really?” Scott asked, twisting Jess’s blonde curls around his finger. “I think we were heading for this port from the minute I saw you.” He tipped up her head. “Do you remember that? The first time we met?”
“I remember,” Jess said, feeling heat rush into her cheeks.
There was a muffled sound, a soft click, and the door swung open.
“Hey, babe, are you here? I wanted to—"
Jess looked over to see a woman, silhouetted in the doorway of the apartment, the light from the hall spilling around her, illuminating the couch.
Jess closed her eyes again.
“Someone please tell me I’m not seeing what I’m seeing,” the woman said, her voice so low and guttural Jess didn’t recognize it.
There was a rush of sound. Scott was pushing up off the couch, moving toward the woman. “Oh my God. Baby, please, let me explain—”
There was a gasp, a strangled sob.
Scott was reaching for something, his clothes, probably.
“Someone please tell me I do not see you, Jessica, wrapped up in the arms of my very naked boyfriend! Please, please tell me I’m not seeing this!”
Because she knew she had to, Jess opened her eyes, and looked at the woman in the doorway.
Moments before he first walked in, Jess was looking irritably around the gallery. Who would do a book signing at an art gallery?
The art was annoying—political pop-art that would lose all relevance in six months—but that wasn’t what irritated her. She felt stupid, and out of place, and wished with all her might she hadn’t let Kiki talk her into coming.
But that was Kiki. The younger sister, but a force of nature. Growing up, Jess—two years older—had done well in school, played flute in the band, and never missed curfew. People called her “the good one” and “the responsible one.” Jess knew she was more than that but she was too polite to correct them. She was too scared.
Not Kiki. Katherine “Kiki” Butler was afraid of nothing. She never did what anyone expected of her, and mysteriously, this seemed to please their parents as much as Jess’s responsibility.
Jess usually didn’t mind. She loved Kiki as much as everyone else did—more. Kiki was the keeper of her secrets, the keeper of her memories. Kiki was her sister.
But, Jess cast the party another irritated glance, sometimes Kiki forgot that not everyone wanted what she wanted.
“You have to get out of the house more,” Kiki had whined over the phone two nights before. “You never go anywhere.”
Jess had huffed. “I just went out for dinner. There’s a new Italian place I wanted to try.”
“Oh?” Kiki had asked, innocently. “How’d you get home? Doesn’t Westchester roll up the sidewalks at 8 pm.”
Jess had rolled her eyes, but, in the end, let Kiki talk her into coming to Chelsea on a Tuesday night for a book Kiki’s literary agency represented. It was Kiki’s book, but she wasn’t even there, and Jess was looking for an exit when he entered the room.
New York was full of handsome men, and this guy was no exception, but that wasn’t what caught Jess’s attention. He was tall, with strong shoulders and a sharp jaw. He was wearing the hell out of a suit that fit him so well she gave a silent prayer of thanks to his tailor. It was all that, but it was more. His eyes scanned the room—cerulean blue, Jess was mentally mixing paints to create the color—when they stopped on her. He smiled, and Jess realized what it was that made it impossible to tear her eyes away—he glowed, like he was lit from within.
She took a deep breath and managed to look away.
Jess looked over. Now that she could see his eyes closer, she mentally added a drop more yellow to achieve their startling blue.
“Hi,” she managed.
He raised his eyebrows at the painting closest to them—an upside-down potato chip bag, glued to the canvas, out of which the artist had painted rats with the faces of New York government officials. “Do you think he got the idea before or after eating the family-sized bag of chips?”
Jess was surprised into a laugh. “After. Definitely after.” She looked at the piece. “I’ll bet that lucky bastard gets to expense them, too.”
The man laughed, a sound that made Jess fell like her stomach was full of popping corn.
“Have you read the book?” the man asked, then closed his eyes, embarrassed. “Don’t answer that.”
“Why?” Jess laughed.
“It’s such a pretentious question.” He opened his eyes. “I haven’t read it, if you’re wondering.”
Jess smiled. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
She looked around, feeling a sudden stab of insecurity. The room was filled with beautiful, sophisticated women, each and every one of them clad in a chic black cocktail dress. Jess’s face had burned the moment she’d walked in—wearing pink. If she had put her hair in pigtails and stuck a piece of straw in her mouth she couldn’t have better communicated that she was not a New Yorker.
But, here was this beautiful man, smiling at her. She had been out of the game for a while, but she knew what that smile meant.
“So,” he started, his eyes hooding in a way that Jess recognized, “are you here alone?”
“Um—” she started.
“Jess, I got you a lime seltzer. They ran out of tequila, and I thought maybe you should skip the cocktail anyway—” Tyler stopped speaking as he reached Jess. “Hello?” he said, glancing between the man and Jess.
Jess felt heat flood her face, her chest—her whole body felt like it was about to go up in flames. “This is my husband, Tyler. Tyler, this is—”
“Scott,” the man said, his gaze unreadable.
“I’m Jess, by the way—”
Her voice was lost in the sound that rose suddenly from the party, moving across the room like a wave.
The author had arrived, and with her, Kiki, who looked like a beautifully feathered macaw next to her mouse of an author. As the crowd surged forward, the author shrunk back. Kiki whispered in her ear, making her smile, then stood tall, looking like a breath of fresh air in her short white cocktail dress, her golden hair swept up, and gestured to the crowd. “Drinks first, everyone. More colorful inscriptions that way.”
As the crowd laughed and settled back into party chatter, Kiki spotted Jess across the room and bee-lined over.
“I’m so glad you came,” Kiki said, throwing her arms around Jess. “I was half-afraid you were going to show up wearing jeans,” she joked, and Jess started to really envy the rats coming out of that chip bag.
“Tyler,” Kiki was saying, smiling and giving him a hug that brought a blush to his deep brown complexion. “And—” she looked up at Scott, eyes bright, then glanced at Jess.
Jess looked between them for a moment, taking in the way they were looking at each other. A small weight settled into her stomach, but she smiled. “Scott, this is my sister, Kiki. Kiki, this is Scott. We just met. He’s an art lover,” she added, half-hoping Scott would catch her eye.
“I don’t need a colorful inscription, but can I get you a drink?” Scott asked, and he led Kiki to the bar.
They stayed close until eleven, when Tyler appeared at Jess’s elbow. “The Uber’s here. I’ve got an early morning.”
“Yeah,” Jess said, nodding, “let’s get going.”
“Besides,” Tyler said, nodding at Kiki and Scott, who were crowded in a corner, laughing, “we should let them get to know each other, without big sister keeping an eye out.”
Jess laughed, hollowly. She managed to catch Kiki’s eye and waved goodbye. Kiki waved back and blew a kiss, then turned back to the painting.
Scott, following Kiki’s eyes, looked over, and Jess gave him a small wave, feeling about a hundred years old.
Scott smiled and waved back.
Then, when Kiki’s back was turned, he winked.
Jess knew she was doomed.