- Published: 25 April 2023
- ISBN: 9780241997932
- Imprint: Viking
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 400
- RRP: $32.99
A shimmering new novel from #1 Sunday Times bestselling author Emily Henry
He looks up. A square jaw, narrow waist, messy golden hair pushed up off his forehead, except for one lock which falls across his brow the second our eyes meet.
“Harriet?” His voice is velvety. It sends a zing of surprise down my spine, like a zipper undone.
I’ve seen him in pictures of my friends over the last semester, and before that, on campus, but always from a distance, always on the move. This close, something about him seems different. Less handsome, maybe, but more striking. His eyes look paler, in the cell phone’s glow. There are premature crows’ feet forming at their corners. He looks like he’s mostly made out of granite, except for his mouth, which is pure quicksand. Soft, full, one side of his cupid’s bow noticeably higher.
“Hey.” I shiver as a breeze slips down the collar of my shirt. “Sorry you got stuck with pick-up duty. I could’ve scheduled a cab.”
He shrugs. “I didn’t mind. Been dying to see if the famous Harriet Kilpatrick lives up to the hype.”
Being the object of his full focus makes me feel like a deer in headlights.
Or maybe like I’m a deer being stalked by a coyote. If he were an animal, that’s what he’d be, with those strange flashing eyes and that physical ease. The kind of confidence reserved for those who skipped their awkward phases entirely.
Whereas any confidence I have is the hard-won spoils from spending the bulk of my childhood with braces and the haircut of an unfortunate poodle.
“Sabrina,” I say, “tends to embellish.” Weirdly, though, her descriptions of him didn’t come close to capturing him. Or maybe it was that, because I knew she had a crush on him, I’d expected something different. Someone more polished, suave. Someone more like Parth, his best friend.
The corners of his mouth tick as he ambles forward. My heart whirs as he reaches out, as if planning to catch my chin and turn it side to side for his inspection, to prove that I’ve been oversold.
But he’s only taking my bag from my shoulder. “They said you were a brunette.”
My own snort-laugh surprises me. “I’m glad they spoke so highly of me.”
“They did,” he says, “but the only thing I can corroborate so far is whether you’re a brunette. Which you’re not.”
“I am definitely a brunette.”
He tosses my bag into the backseat then faces me again, his hips sinking against the door. His head tilts thoughtfully. “Your hair’s almost black. In the moonlight it looks blue.”
“Blue?” I say. “You think my hair is blue?”
“Not, like, Smurf blue,” he says. “Blue-black. You can’t tell in pictures. You look different.”
“It’s true,” I say. “In real life, I’m three-dimensional.”
“The painting,” he says thoughtfully. “That looks like you.”
I instantly know which painting he must be referring to. The one of me and Sabrina strewn out like God and Adam, Cleo’s old figure drawing final. It hung in Mattingly’s art building for weeks, dozens of strangers passing it daily, and I never felt so naked then as I do now.
“Very discreet way of letting me know you’ve seen my boobs,” I say.
“Shit.” He glances away, rubbing the back of his neck. “I sort of forgot it was a nude.”
“Words most women only ever dream of hearing,” I say.
“I in no way forgot you were naked in the painting,” he clarifies. “I just forgot it might be weird to tell someone they look exactly the same as they do in a painting, where they’re not wearing clothes.”
“This is going really well,” I say.
He groans and drags a hand down his face. “I swear I’m normally better at this.”
And normally, I do my best to put people at ease, but there’s something rewarding about throwing him off-balance. Rewarding and charming.
“Better at what?” I say through laughter.
He rakes one hand through his hair. “First impressions.”
“You should try sending a big-ass nude painting of yourself ahead when you’re going to meet someone new,” I say. “It’s always worked for me.”
“I’ll take that into consideration,” he says.
“You don’t look like a Wyndham Connor.”
His brow arches. “How am I supposed to look?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Navy blue jacket with gold buttons. Captain’s hat. A big white beard and a huge cigar?”
“So Santa, on a yacht,” he says.
“Mr. Monopoly, on vacation,” I say.
“For what it’s worth, you’re not the stereotypical image of a Harry Kilpatrick either.”
“I know,” I say. “I’m not a Dickensian street orphan in a newsboy hat.”
His laugh makes his eyes flash again. They look more pale green than gray now, like water under fog rather than the fog itself.
He rounds the front of the car and pulls the passenger door open.
“So Harriet.” He looks up, and my heart stutters from the surprise of his full attention, back on me. “You ready?”
For some reason, it feels like a lie when I say, “yes.”
Wyn makes driving the Jaguar along those dark, curving roads seem like a sport or an art form. One corded arm drapes over the wheel and his right hand sits loose atop the gearshift, his knee bobbing in a restless rhythm that never disrupts his control over the gas pedal.
He glances at me as a bar of moonlight passes over him. “So I hear you’re some kind of genius, Harriet Kilpatrick.”
“What did I tell you about Sabrina and embellishment?”
“So you’re not an aspiring brain surgeon?”
“Aspiring’s the operative word,” I said. “What about you? What’s your major?”
He ignores my question. “I would’ve assumed surgeon was the operative word.”
This coaxes another snort of laughter out me. Eyes back on the road, he smiles to himself, and my bones seem to fill up with helium.
I look out the window. “What about you?”
After several seconds of silence, he says, “What about me?” He sounds vaguely displeased by the question.
“Is what I’ve been told about you accurate?” I ask.
He checks the mirror again, teeth scraping over his full bottom lip. “Depends what you’ve been told.”
“What do you think I’ve been told,” I say.
“I’d rather not guess, Harriet.”
He uses my name a lot. Every time, it’s like his voice plucks a too-tight string in a piano deep in my stomach.
What’s actually happening is, my sympathetic nervous system has decided to reroute the path of my blood to my muscles. There are no butterflies fluttering through my gut. Just blood vessels constricting and contracting around my organs.
“Why not?” I ask. “Do you think they said something bad?”
His jaw squares, eyes back on the headlights slicing through the dark. “Never mind. I don’t want to know.”
He’s gone back to bouncing his knee, like there’s too much energy in his body and he’s siphoning it out.
“They told me it would be impossible to tell whether you were flirting or not.”
He laughs. “Now you’re trying to embarrass me.”
“Maybe.” Definitely. I’m not sure what’s come over me. “But they did say that.” In actuality, Sabrina had bemoaned not being able to tell, even while adamantly proclaiming that she liked him too much to make any kind of move anyway. It would’ve disrupted their living situation too much.
“Either way,” Wyn says. “I’m much better at flirting than that makes me sound.”
“Have you ever considered,” I say, leaning over to insert myself into his frame of view, “that that might be the problem?”
He smiles. “Flirting never killed anybody, Harriet.”
“Clearly you’re unfamiliar with the concept of the Regency-era duel,” I say.
“Oh, I’m familiar, but since I rarely find myself flirting with the unwed daughters of powerful dukes, I figure I’m okay.”
“You think we’re just going to skate over you being well-versed in Regency customs?”
“Harriet, I don’t get the feeling you skate over anything,” he says.
I give another involuntary snort of laughter, and his dimples deepen. “Speaking of high-born ladies,” he says, “they teach you how to laugh like that at etiquette school?”
“No,” I say, “that has to be bred into you across centuries.”
“I’m sure,” he says. “I’m not like that, by the way.”
“Gently bred to laugh through your nose?”
His chin tips, his gaze knowing. “The impression you have of me. I don’t play with people’s feelings. I have rules.”
“Rules?” I say. “Such as?”
“Such as, never tell the rules to someone you’ve just met.”
“Oh, come on,” I say. “We’re step-friends now. You might as well tell me.”
“Well, for one thing Parth and I made a pact to never date our friends. Or each other’s friends.” He casts me a sidelong glance. “As for step-friends, I’m not sure what the policy is.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I say. “You don’t date your friends? Who do you date, Wyn? Enemies? Strangers? Malevolent spirits who died in your apartment building?”
“It’s a good policy,” he says. “It keeps things from getting messy.”
“It’s dating, not an all-you-can-eat barbecue buffet,” I say. “Although, from what I’ve heard, maybe for you, they’re the same thing.”
He looks at me through his lashes and tuts. “Are you slut-shaming me, Harriet?”
“Not at all,” I say. “I love sluts! Some of my best friends are sluts. I’ve dabbled in sluttery in myself.”
Another bar of moonlight briefly lights his eyes, paling them to smoky silver.
“Didn’t suit you?” he guesses.
“Never got the chance to find out,” I say.
“Because you fell in love,” he says.
“Because men never really picked me up.”
He laughs. “Okay.”
“I’m not being self-deprecating,” I say. “Once men get to know me, they’re sometimes interested, but I’m not the one their eyes go to first. I’ve made peace with it.”
His gaze slides down me and back up. “So you’re saying you’re slow-release hot.”
I nod. “That’s right. I’m slow-release hot.”
He considers me for a moment. “You’re not what I expected.”
“Three-dimensional and blue-haired,” I say.
“Among other things,” he says.
“I expected you to be Parth 2.0,” I admit.
His eyes narrow. “You thought I’d be better dressed.”
“Than a torn sweatshirt and jeans?” I say. “No such thing.”
He doesn’t seem to hear me, instead studying me with a furrowed brow. “You’re not slow-release hot.”
I look away, fumble the radio on as heat scintillates across my chest. “Yeah, well,” I say, “most people don’t start by seeing me naked before we’ve spoken.”
“It’s not about that,” he says.
I feel the moment his gaze lifts off me and returns to the windshield, but he’s left a mark: From now on, dark cliffs, wind racing through hair, cinnamon paired with clove and pine—all of it will only mean Wyn Connor to me. A door has opened, and I know I’ll never get it shut again.
Regency era or not, in a lot of ways, he ruins me.
When books are your life – or in my case, your job – you get pretty good at guessing where a story is going.
‘Eighteen starlit nights with you.’ Joshua Bouvier’s big brown eyes were determined.
It wasn’t the happiest of beginnings. Tilly tried to pretend it would be okay . . .
Six twangy notes of guitar were all it took for every man in a hundred-metre radius to unbuckle his belt, drop his pants and do a dumb dance in his undies.
My fifteenth birthday is stinging with a blistering heatwave. Balloons and streamers are dangling off the clothesline, motionless.
There aren’t many rules of singlehood, but I have made a few for myself in the two (if anyone asks, but really it’s four) years in which I’ve been single.
The October wind twirled coffee-coloured willy-willies south across the Queensland border.
Carra Finlay stood under the clothesline and watched in dismay as all her dreams blew away in the wind.