I miss her. “What are you wearing?”

“Do you want the truth, or shall I describe some terribly sexy lingerie so you can fantasize?”

I can’t help it. I want to know what she’s wearing while Ben Donavon is sleeping only a few feet from her. I need to know what he’ll see if they run into each other on the way to the bathroom. “The truth.”

I’ve seen her definition of unsexy and I couldn’t agree less. One of her sexiest moments was when she was wearing jogging pants and had her hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head. “Baby, you couldn’t be unsexy if you tried.”

“Lachlan. You’re wrong, but I thank you anyway.”

“You’ve felt all right today? No more headaches or vomiting?”

She scared the shit out of me. “I was worried yesterday.”

“I’m sorry I worried you, but really … I’m fine.”

Is she really okay? “You’d tell me if you weren’t?”

“It’s late and I should probably let you get to sleep. It’s not a bad idea for me to catch up on my slumber since someone has been keeping me up late at night.”

“Well, you might find it easier to get a little sleep if you weren’t instigating late-night activities.”

“Very much, Mr. Henry. I like your late-night instigations. And your morning ones. And your midday ones. Hell, I like all of your instigating.”

“I’ll remember that next time I see you.”

“Yes, be sure you do. Now, get some sleep, Mr. Henry. You have a lot of instigating to do when you return.”

I’m applying my makeup to go out for New Year’s Eve and I’m totally bummed. I thought bringing in the new year in Australia would be some kind of spectacular experience, but it won’t be because Lachlan isn’t here to celebrate with me. And he won’t be here to kiss me at midnight.

I’m smoking up my eyes with black liner while Addison is in the shower talking nonstop about Zac. I really want to tell her to shut up. I know I’m being completely selfish, but if I can’t be with Lachlan, I don’t want to hear about all the things she’s going to do to rock Zac’s world tonight.

Enough is enough. “I’m going to the bedroom to get dressed.”

“Okay. I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Take your time.” I’m wrapped in a towel as I peek out the door to be sure Ben isn’t around before I streak to the bedroom. After I see that the coast is clear, I make a break for it. I’m not four steps down the hall when I run right smack into him. Literally.

I look up as I grasp my towel tightly. Being so close to him while wearing so little feels wrong. Really wrong. “Excuse me.”

He doesn’t make a move or say a word as his eyes roam my body. I dart around him and run for the bedroom door, slamming it behind me. Shit. That was more than just a little unpleasant.

I stand in front of the closet searching through what has now become community property. There’s no mine or yours. I pull out a black strapless with a wide red waist sash and hold it up to myself as I look in the mirror. It’s Addison’s so of course it’s going to be short on me, but I like it. It’s sexy as hell. I don’t know why I care. I have no one to impress.

I’m standing in front of the mirror with the dress when Addison comes into the bedroom. “Nice choice.”

“You weren’t going to wear it, were you?”

I put on the dress and Addison zips it for me. It’s tight but it squeezes me in all the right places. It’s a sexy dress and I’m hot in it, but instead of being proud of the way I look, I’m disappointed Lachlan isn’t here to see me. Maybe I’ll text pictures of myself to show him what he’s missing.

When we’re finished getting ready, we go into the living room where Zac and Ben are ready and waiting. Zac is up and at Addison’s side immediately, telling her how beautiful she is. Ben is staring at me and I begin to feel really uncomfortable. Even more so than I did when we met in the hallway. Somehow I feel more naked than I did when I was wearing only a towel.

I wish things weren’t like this between Ben and me. I wish we could talk and laugh like friends instead of constantly being swallowed up by all of this uneasiness.

The four of us leave the apartment building and catch a cab to the club so everyone can drink. I’m sure to take the seat in the front so I’m not stuck sitting with Ben in the back. Maybe it’s childish, but I don’t care. He doesn’t need the least bit of encouragement.

Ben holds the door for me as we walk into the club. As I walk past him, he leans close to me. “You’re exceptionally beautiful tonight, Laurelyn.”

It’s sweet the way he says it. I don’t know. Maybe I would’ve been interested in him if there had been no Lachlan. But there is a Lachlan. And he’s the only one I want. “Thank you, Ben. You’re very handsome tonight. Every girl in the place is going to swoon over you.”

Shit. Why’d he have to call out the pink elephant in the room?

I say nothing and walk to the table Zac and Addison have chosen close to the stage. Of course, they’re sitting together so that means Ben and I must sit together.

Since it’s New Year’s Eve, I’m guessing there’s going to be some real entertainment. Open mic has already started and there’s a woman doing an Adele song on the karaoke machine. She’s mimicking every note like Adele—I imagine she’s been singing in the mirror all week to get ready for her big performance.

“There’s a sign-up sheet if you want to sing. You might want to go ahead and put your name down. I’m sure the list is long since it’s a big night.”

I grab Addison by the hand and pull her from her chair. “Come on. You didn’t sing last time and you were the one chanting the loudest for me to get up on stage.”

Ben is right—the list is very long. Addison and I sign up, but I’ll be surprised if we’re called before midnight. I’ll probably be too drunk to remember how to sing.

Our waitress places a Sauvignon Blanc in front of me. I ordered it because it’s one of the wines I’ve come to enjoy since meeting Lachlan. I take a drink and I’m surprised how a glass of wine can make me feel closer to him, even when he’s seven hours away.

One after another, people take the stage. Some are decent while many are a disaster, but it’s all for fun and I think everyone in the club claps louder for the ones who suck. It’s called a pity clap.

About fifteen minutes before midnight, Addison is called to the stage, which means I’m next. She’s pretty drunk and I’m just hoping for her sake that she doesn’t screw this up.

She takes the guitar from its stand and sits on the stool before she puts the strap over her neck. She strums several times and I get a glimpse of how I must’ve looked on stage, minus the drunk part.

She begins to sing “You Were Meant for Me” by Jewel, and I’m not sure if it’s because she’s trying to send a not-so-subtle message to Zac or because it’s a song she felt certain she could pull off drunk. Regardless, Zac doesn’t take his eyes off her and I’m envious.

She finishes and the crowd claps wildly. As they should. She gave a great performance.

I’m called to the stage next and I take my place at the piano this time. There’s no damn way I’d sing this song if Lachlan were here, but he’s not and it’s my own little private joke with myself.

I lean into the mic and address the crowd because I can’t help it. I’m an entertainer. It’s in my blood. It’s what I do.

“Everybody ready to bring in the New Year?” The crowd responds loudly, letting me know they’re having a right nice time. “I toyed with this song on a piano the other day and decided I’d do my own rendition. I sort of liked the way it sounded.” I play a few notes as I speak to the crowd. “Hell, I loved the way it sounded, but I’m going to let you guys tell me what you think. This is ‘Private Dancer’ by the lovely Tina Turner.”

Chills come over me as I begin to sing. I lean toward the mic. “‘Well, the men come in these places … And the men are all the same … You don’t look at their faces … And you don’t ask their names.’”

I close my eyes as I sing because I don’t want to see the crowd. I want to think of the private dance I did for Lachlan. “‘I’m your private dancer … A dancer for money … I’ll do what you want me to do … I’m your private dancer … A dancer for money … And any old music will do.’”

I forget I’m in front of a crowd and become lost in the lyrics. “‘Let me loosen up your collar … Tell me … Do you want to see me do the shimmy again?’”

When I’m finished singing, I return from the place I’ve been. I come off stage and they announce that the countdown is only three minutes away.

Geez, I hope Ben doesn’t try to lay one on me. What would I do about that?

I prop my chin in my hand and wish for the millionth time I were with Lachlan when my phone vibrates on the table and lights up with a new text message. I smile when I see it’s from Lachlan. He’s probably wishing me a Happy New Year.

*Yes. I’d like 2 CU do the shimmy again.*

He’s here. My head pops up and I begin my search in the sea of faces. When I don’t find him in the crowd, I text him. I’m afraid I won’t find him in time for the countdown.