Will picked up a blue ball and tossed it lightly in his hand as he stepped forward to take his turn. “You guys are adorable.”
He said it absently, but I could see the effects of the words roll over Pippa, and she glanced over her shoulder at me, concerned, before stepping out of my arms.
The timing was all wrong. Just as Pippa turned back to me, she looked over my shoulder, toward the inn, and deflated slightly. “Becky.”
Tilting her chin to indicate behind me, she repeated, “Becky. She’s coming over here.”
I turned around with a smile on my face. “Hey, Becks.”
Becky startled. “You haven’t called me that in forever.”
“I haven’t seen you in forever.”
This seemed to hit her somewhere tender, and she winced. “I was just coming to see if you guys wanted to leave a little early for the tour. The van is here.”
“I haven’t showered,” Pippa said. “I can be quick, though.”
“Okay,” Becky said, studying me still. “Sure.”
Pippa retreated, watching as she moved around Becky and began walking toward the inn.
“Do you need to shower?” Becky asked, looking me over from head to toe before her eyes came to linger on my stubbly jaw.
“Yeah, probably. I might head up with her.”
“I was wondering if we could talk real quick first?”
I glanced behind Becky to where Pippa had already disappeared into the building. “Becky,” I said gently, sensing my sister and Will pretending not to listen a few feet away, “now isn’t the time.”
“What did she want to talk about?” Pippa asked, buttoning a shirt up her stomach and over her chest.
I blinked up to her face. “Hmm?”
“I asked what Becky wanted to talk about,” she said, laughing at me.
“Oh.” I shrugged and rubbed a towel over my wet hair. We’d showered separately, much to my chagrin. “No idea. Maybe about Cam selling us our dream house.”
Pippa grunted skeptically as she stepped into a pair of black pants, shimmying them up her hips. They were tight, and her shirt was practically sheer. “Beacon Hill must be fancy for how excited he seems to get this fake commission.”
“Is that what you’re wearing?” I asked, lifting my chin.
She looked down at herself. “Well. Yeah. And some shoes. Why?”
Because I can see your breasts? “No reason.”
She smoothed her hands over her stomach, regarding me with uncertainty. And then her jaw set. “If you think you get an opinion on what I’m wearing, you don’t understand how this works.”
I stood, laughing. “I like it. I can just see your bra.”
“So,” I repeated, “it makes me think of your boobs.”
Pippa bent, slipping on her boots. “You are far less evolved than I initially believed.”
We were the last to join the group at the van, and climbed into the first row of seats, tangling ourselves in the seat belts. I’m not sure how we managed it: Pippa ended up with a strap around her neck and nearly popped a button off her shirt. The buckle snagged on my pocket.
As I worked to disentangle us, she gazed at me, bemused. “This makes me wary of ever dabbling in bondage with you.”
Silence greeted us, and I unlooped the belt from her neck before looking up and around us at the other passengers.
“We’re not alone, are we?” she playfully stage-hissed.
“There are others,” I confirmed. “They’re regarding you with curiosity.”
Pippa looked up and grinned winningly at the driver gazing at her in the rearview mirror. “And this is me sober. Best of luck.”
Will turned and looked at us from the front seat. “Are you two going to be trouble today?”
“How late were you guys out?” Becky asked from the very back.
Cam leaned forward in his seat. “Where did you go?”
“We were just at the wine bar at the B&B,” Niall told him.
The van went silent for a few heavy seconds.
“We didn’t see you leave,” Becky said. Beside me Pippa tensed, and I put a hand on her thigh, urging her to not feel obligated to answer.
“Karaoke was loud,” Ziggy said, and I heard the smile in her voice. “And beer makes me sleepy.”
Ellen piped up. “We found a lovely quilting show just down the highway. They have some truly amazing crafts there if anyone is interested in joining us later today.”
The silence that followed was painful. I looked over to Pippa and could see the effort it was taking her to not accept the invitation, knowing her own sense of obligation would require her to follow through. My hand curled tighter around her thigh, and she met my eyes and smiled weakly.
“I’ve got another Bennett dispatch,” Will called out, quickly explaining the situation to the rest of the group in the van before reading aloud, “ ‘Chloe ironed my shirt this morning. It was already pressed from the dry cleaner, mind you, but she said they hadn’t done a very good job. Did you read that? She ironed. My shirt.’ ”