Ruby laughed. “Oh, he’s not. He was just married those years. I always maintain that if Niall had never met Portia, some sexually liberated woman would have found him first and turned him into the most adorable slut.”
“Oh, boo, I missed the ogling,” Hanna said, following our attention and plopping down beside me.
“No, you’re right on time,” I told her, resting my chin in my hand. “Lord, but that’s a lovely wall of men right there.”
As if they could feel the weight of our attention, the three men turned in unison, catching us all resting our jaws on our palms, staring hungrily at them.
This was fantastic for everyone except me and Jensen, who both immediately turned our attention elsewhere as the three of them wound their way through the crowd to reach us.
“You look good,” Hanna growled when Will sidled up to her.
“Hey,” Ruby said with a breathless smile when Niall hugged her from behind.
Jensen waved, being playfully awkward with me. “Have you tried the house-made pickles?”
“Are they?” I asked, laughing as the other two couples beside us kissed, crowding us closer together.
He hummed, nodding. “The spicy one is great, if you like spice.”
“Well,” he said, biting back a laugh and taking a step to his right as Will pressed Hanna into the bar with a deeply intimate kiss, “they’re very good.”
“I’ll have to try them.”
Jensen looked at me, eyes dancing. He shook his head, holding my gaze.
It was good to acknowledge the premise of this openly, wordlessly. The expectation that we would eventually pair off was thick in the air. And while I was open to a holiday affair, and he didn’t seem entirely repulsed by it, he covered his deeper feelings with a confusing mix of humor and formality. I wanted us, at the very least, to be partners in crime here.
Niall, of course, seemed to pick up on our pointed banter and pried himself out of Ruby’s tipsy embrace. “Shall we change for dinner? I know I’d love a shower.”
I appreciated that the three women on this trip were nearly more efficient at the shower-and-change routine than the men were.
Ruby and Hanna were in the hall—hair wet, makeup minimal—when I emerged from my own room in a similar state.
“High fives to low-maintenance women.” Hanna lifted her hand, meeting my palm with hers in a quiet smack.
Niall and Will were standing together a few paces down the hall, conversing quietly.
“Are we just waiting on Jens?” Ruby asked.
Hanna nodded. “He’s probably ironing. No one loves to iron as much as my brother. He would iron his socks if he thought no one would ever find out about it.”
“That’s precious,” I said, and then glanced down at my own outfit: tall boots, red tights, my favorite twirly black-and-white striped skirt—a bit rumpled from the suitcase—and a white tank top beneath a fitted aqua cardigan with a parrot embroidered over the breast. “I look like a box of markers exploded in the hallway.”
“I love the way you put outfits together,” Ruby said. “You’re so brave.”
“Thanks . . . I think?” I murmured, smoothing my sweater. Honestly, I just liked these colors.
Jensen stepped out into the hallway and did a slight double take to find the three women huddled practically in front of his door. “Sorry,” he said, looking at each of us in mild confusion. “I . . . didn’t realize you were all waiting on me.”
“It’s all right, princess,” Hanna said, smooching his cheek loudly.
“I had to iron,” he said quietly, and Hanna threw me a called it! smile of victory.
Ruby took Niall’s arm. Hanna took Will’s. And Jensen turned to me with an easy smile that belied the tension in his eyes and said, “You look lovely.”
It made me suddenly uneasy. I knew that the setup aspect of this entire trip was written in the brightest invisible text just above our heads and followed us around wherever we went, but I wanted us to both be able to ignore it. I could enjoy the safety of a crush on Jensen—knowing he would be cautious in all the ways I might be impulsive—and he could enjoy the work-free time, and together we could pretend it didn’t exist.
But in reality, attention from him was only truly flattering if it was genuine.
Once we’d arrived at the restaurant-winery and checked in at the hostess stand, I carefully pulled Hanna aside.
“I don’t want . . .” I trailed off. I had begun to speak before determining what, exactly, it was that I wanted to say.
“Good,” I answered, nodding. “It’s only that”—I glanced over at Jensen and quickly back—“I don’t want him to feel any . . . undue pressure.”
Hanna blinked, scrunching her nose as she worked to understand my meaning. “With you?”
Her confusion melted into amusement. “You’re worried my brother feels pressure to hook up with a bombshell on vacation?”