Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Exclusive sample from 'Love You Better'!
Ten minutes later, having made it to the other end of the hall, Effie stepped outside. It was like an obstacle course, being stopped at every turn to receive a hug or boozy cry of congratulations. It had been a perfect day, and she tilted her head up to the obsidian sky, taking in a gulp of the cool, bonfire-scented air. Guy Fawkes’s night was one of her favourite holidays – second only to Christmas. Choosing the fifth of November as their wedding day couldn’t have been any more romantic. The moon shimmered over the River Thames at the far end of the gardens and over on the south side of London, the red sparkles of a firework sprang out in the sky.
She walked down the steps and onto the perfectly manicured grass, her heels sinking into the soft ground. She wriggled her toes in her ridiculously high Saint Laurent shoes. She practically lived in trainers, and her feet were aching from being in heels all day. How did Lou do it? And where was she anyway? Effie scanned the gardens, but there was no sign of her. It had taken so long for her to get outside that Lou had probably already been and gone. Grateful for a few minutes alone, she lifted the hem of her dress and slipped her feet out of her shoes, almost purring as she closed her eyes, letting the cold grass send relief to her feet.
‘Looks like congratulations are in order.’
The deep voice cut right through to Effie’s core, and she impulsively shivered at the sound of it. She’d recognise it anywhere, but she kept her eyes firmly shut. There was no way it was him – it simply wasn’t possible. Maybe she was hallucinating. Or maybe she was drunk.
You’ve had six glasses of champagne over the course of the whole
day, and you’re as sober as a judge.
It was true. Despite her glass never being empty, the alcohol had taken no effect on her whatsoever, which meant that it really was him standing so close she could practically hear him breathing. She swallowed and opened her eyes. Slowly, she tracked her gaze up from the black Converse on his feet, over his trouser-covered legs and his close-fitted, sky-blue shirt. Her heart skipped as she looked at the tattoos etched into his arms, exposed by his rolled-up shirtsleeves, the cold air apparently having no effect on him at all. The breath was knocked out of her when she looked past his coat of stubble and up into the pair of grey eyes staring back at her.
‘Lace always did suit you.’
He looked her up and down, his eyes trailing a blaze over the intricate dress hugging her body, and then stuffed his hands in his pockets. The only lace he’d ever seen her in before had always been hidden under her clothes. It was all she could do not to run away. Or reach out and touch him – she wasn’t sure which. She gripped her tiny clutch bag, just in case.
‘What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be on the other side of the world.’
He looked out at the river and shrugged. ‘Money ran out.’
She’d forgotten what a great profile he had, with his beautifully straight nose and strong jaw. His top shirt button was undone, and she looked at the strand of brown leather around his neck, tapering off to hold a horn-shaped pendant. She looked back at the doors she’d just come through and prayed nobody would come outside. She didn’t want anyone to see him standing there. In fact, she wanted him to disappear altogether, like he had five months ago, because now that he was standing in front of her, her stomach was fluttering and her pulse was racing, the way it always had with him – the way it hadn’t for a long time. Before, it would have been a pleasurable feeling, but now all she felt was sick. His leaving had made her life a whole lot easier and happier, and she didn’t need him to come back and wreck it all over again.
‘So, who’s the lucky guy?’
Why did the sound of his voice make her skin bloom with goosebumps? She rubbed her arms, demanding they go away, and squared her shoulders as she jutted out her chin.
‘Why does it matter?’
He smirked, and she had to restrain herself from wiping it off his face. ‘The old crowd in there?’
‘Mixing with Hoorah Henries . . . I guess things really have changed.’
Effie sighed with irritation and shook her head. Oliver wasn’t a Hoorah Henry, and Smith had no right to call him that.
‘You don’t look pleased to see me.’
‘That’s because I’m not. You attract trouble like shit attracts flies.’
‘Ouch. What, are you worried I’ll screw up your happy day?’
‘Why else would you be here? You always screw things up.’
He shrugged. ‘I was curious. I wanted to see what was so great about whoever he is that had you skipping up the aisle so quickly.’
She scowled. ‘It wasn’t that quick.’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Less than a month after I leave, I hear you’ve got with someone else, and now you’re married. Hardly taking your time, is it?’
‘So? Why do you care? What do you want me to say? That I’m sorry?’
‘Only if you mean it.’
She studied the trees behind him, lit up with fairy lights, fighting to keep her breath steady as anger pulsed through her. She’d been euphoric all day, but just a few moments with Smith were enough to bring it all crashing down. Causing problems was one of the few things Smith could be counted on for, and she didn’t need it. She’d had enough to last her a lifetime. It was her wedding
day, and they were surrounded by influential, respectable people. Thanks to Oliver, she was one of them now. She wasn’t sorry for the turn her life had taken. She finally had everything she had ever
wanted, and she wasn’t about to let Smith ruin it all.
‘You mean like you apologised for all the stuff you did? It’s funny, because I don’t remember you ever saying sorry for shagging around behind my back.’
‘Come on, Eff – it wasn’t as simple as that.’
‘Do you know what, Smith? I don’t care anymore. Really, I don’t. And if you’re seriously waiting to hear me say sorry for moving on, then I suggest you go and hold your breath.’
She bent down to pick her shoes up and stalked away from him. Why was he here, ruining everything? Her life was so much simpler now. It was easy, stable and reliable, and she could trust Oliver in a way she never could Smith. She never had to analyse with Oliver. She always knew where she stood, without question. Smith, on the other hand, was a walking enigma, and she’d failed to solve it.
‘I hope it’s worth it,’ he called after her.
‘It is,’ Effie replied without turning back. ‘He is.’
‘Well then, I wish you nothing but happiness.’ His voice dripped with sarcasm, and she stopped, gripping the shoes in her hand. She turned and walked back over to him.
‘Why did you really come back?’
His excuse about money was balls. Travelling was one of the things he always used to talk about, and a year around the world was his dream come true. It had come about after a dire chain of events, but even still, he’d used the money left to him by his grandpa, and there was no way he could’ve spent twenty grand already.
He stared back at her with his grey eyes. ‘I had to see if it was true.’
‘If what was true?’
‘You. Getting married to someone you barely even know, for no good reason.’
Behind him, Lou came through the doors, holding two glasses of champagne, and her jaw dropped, her mouth forming a perfect O when she saw the two of them standing inches apart. Effie looked over Smith’s shoulder at her as Lou discreetly jerked her head to one side, and Oliver followed her through the doors.
Oliver smiled when he saw her. ‘There you are.’
Effie froze with panic at the sound of Oliver’s voice, and Lou scarpered, closing the door behind her in a vain attempt to protect the wedding guests from the impending drama about to be
‘I thought you might need this – it’s cold out here,’ Oliver said, holding the faux fur shrug to match her dress. He looked at Smith, and Effie opened her mouth. Why weren’t the words coming out to explain who Smith was?
‘I’m Smith.’ He outstretched a hand, breaking the silence. ‘I take it you’re the husband.’
‘Guilty as charged. Oliver Barton-Cole.’ Oliver laughed, his perfectly pronounced words sounding woefully out of place as he shook Smith’s hand.
She looked at the two of them. Oliver stood a couple of inches taller than Smith, and in his smart tux, he looked devastatingly handsome and every bit the charming, thirty-year-old man with the world at his feet. Smith’s naturally rugged edge stripped away any kind of respectability the suit should have given him and left him looking like the brooding, dangerous kind of guy that any woman
in her right mind would do her best to avoid. Effie couldn’t take her eyes off him.
Smith looked from Effie to Oliver and back again. ‘I’d better leave you to it.’
‘You’re not staying?’ Oliver asked, and Smith shook his head.
‘Nah, I’ve got places to be. I just wanted to give my congrats.’ He looked at Effie and nodded. ‘Nice seeing you again, Eff.’
She looked away from him as he left. It hadn’t been nice seeing him – it was the complete opposite in fact. It had made her head fight for control over the natural impulses of her body, the impulses that Smith had always elicited in her.
Oliver put the shrug around her shoulders, and her body sighed under its warmth. After Smith’s unexpected appearance, the shrug was almost as comforting as Oliver’s reassuring presence.
‘Who was that?’ Oliver asked, stroking the back of her neck as he watched Smith leave.
‘Smith. He used to hang out with us.’
‘Did we invite him?’
She shook her head, trembling. ‘Definitely not. He’s nothing but trouble.’
‘Speaking of trouble, if I don’t get you out of this dress soon, I’m going to end up getting arrested for harassment.’
He nuzzled her neck, but all Effie could think about were the grey eyes that had stared back at her and rocked her world.