Home > Loose Ends, Volume One (Loose Ends #1)(8)

Loose Ends, Volume One (Loose Ends #1)(8)
Author: Kristen Ashley

She was trying to find her new groove.

But once she found it, with someone else, that man—no matter how decent he was, how rich, how good-looking, how smart or funny . . . no matter what he was.

He would always come second best to a dead man.

The Code

Luci

LUCI WALKED INTO Cipriani and the place was its usual crush.

She’d always loved it there. The gold glow of the room. The warm wood. The scribble of the bartender shaking a cocktail shaker with glasses in front of him—the Cipriani symbol, subtle and chic and everywhere, even etched into the cutlery.

The tables were close together, scores of servers rushing about as best they could, squeezing through the non-existent space.

But even with that, she saw Pearl right away, and this was mostly because she was in what Luci suspected was head-to-toe gold lamé. And Luci suspected this was head to toe even though she couldn’t see her lower half, but she was wearing a gold lamé turban.

Pearl was also not alone.

Henry Gagnon was with her.

This did not alarm Luci. She knew Henry well. He was one of the best photographers working in fashion, or anywhere. She’d done dozens of shoots with him over the years and immensely enjoyed working with him.

He didn’t only do fashion and celebrity layouts, or portraits of Nobel prize winners and Secretaries of State, but also the results of drought-stricken nations, starving children, or war-torn urban landscapes.

He was not only talented, he was wealthy, in demand, outrageously handsome, charming, intelligent and witty.

Further, he was “officially” single, but even so, everyone in the life knew he was head over heels in love with Josephine, his personal assistant, who returned that affection with quiet dignity. Although none of their set fully understood why those two, together for years, didn’t make it official. However, it might have something to do with the fact that they both were known to stray (Henry especially).

Even so, they always came back home.

As Pearl gestured to her with a lavishly adorned hand to join them, Henry twisted in his seat to smile his impeccable smile at her.

Luci felt her face get soft.

She also felt relief.

With Henry there, perhaps (and that was a big perhaps), Pearl would not do whatever she was going to do to set Luci straight, something Luci was certain she intended to try to do.

She made her way to their table and bent to Pearl to touch each cheek in turn and give her greeting before she turned to Henry, who’d stood and was now smiling down at her from close proximity.

And looking into his handsome face, she not only wished he wasn’t in love with Josephine, she wished that she was one of those women who liked the kind of men who made up their part of that circle of her life.

That would be so much easier.

But no.

She liked them no-nonsense. Even rough. Frank to the point of blunt. Honest. Also assertive, almost aggressive.

Alpha.

And if they could talk about a good beer like other men talked about good wine, wore baseball hats—forward or backward, she didn’t care—and loved their trucks more than anything (outside their women), all the better.

Like Travis.

Like Hap.

Henry put a hand to her waist and bent to her.

She put both her hands to his biceps, tipped her head back, and he kissed her cheek before he murmured into her ear, “Luci. Always a masterpiece.”

She pulled away to catch his gaze, but didn’t drop her hands when she replied, “Henry, always a charmer.”

His eyes twinkled and he gave her waist a squeeze. She took that cue and moved away. He held her chair out for her (she wondered if Hap was the kind of man who would do that, and then she forced herself to stop wondering). She sat, he helped her toward the table and only then resumed his seat.

Luci had barely gotten her napkin on her lap before Pearl announced, “You two make a gorgeous couple. Normally I don’t like a man and a woman together who have the same color hair. But you two are delicious together.”

Luci turned big eyes to Pearl at the same time she heard Henry sigh.

Everyone knew about Josephine. Everyone. And if they were on a break, or whatever it was that meant they turned to others (Luci could not understand it, if you loved someone, the operative part of that word was one), Henry or Josephine made their selections. No one set them up.

Pearl ignored Luci’s big eyes and carried on.

“Then again, I learned the hard way that everyone’s hair turns the same shade in the end,” she flipped out both hands, “so it’s no big whoop.”

Luci shot her a look then turned to Henry and asked pointedly, “How’s Josephine? I haven’t seen her in ages.”

Henry reached to his lowball glass, and if her memory was correct, in it was an old fashioned.

He did this speaking.

And what he said shocked her.

It also made the relief she’d felt earlier march right out the door.

“I presume she’s perfectly fine, even happy, as she’s married to a former boxer and living in the tiny Maine town where she grew up.”

Now Luci was blinking at Henry.

Josephine lived in a tiny Maine town and was not as she always was: wherever Henry was.

She was married to someone else.

Henry was now officially, and in all other ways, single?

“I’m . . . sorry?” she queried.

Henry took a sip and turned his eyes toward her as he replaced his glass on the table. “Josephine married a man named Jake Spear, quit her job with me, and they live in the house her grandmother left her in Maine. I believe she also officially adopted his youngest son.”

Josephine had quit Henry.

How could that be?

He was the talent, the eye behind the lens.

But she was the woman behind the man, and as far as Luci knew, it had been that way for decades.

She was also his muse. Everyone knew that as well. If he wasn’t taking pictures of a model or an orphan, his lens was trained on her.

And now she was married to a . . . a . . .

Boxer?

That was so not Josephine.

“Oh Henry,” she whispered, “I had no idea. I—”

He shook his head and interrupted her. “I do believe, sweetheart, that you know even better than me that you don’t waste life, you absolutely don’t waste love, but most of all, you don’t waste time. I did all of that with Josephine. And now she’s happy, married to another man, and raising a son.”

Oh yes.

Very much yes.

She’d learned all of that.

Luci reached out a hand to capture and squeeze his just as Pearl ordered, “She’ll have a Bellini and she’ll be selecting her food soon so don’t waste time coming back.”

Luci turned her head to watch a waiter scurry away then watch Pearl wave toward the menu sitting on her plate to urge her to peruse.

“Speaking of not wasting time,” she continued, “I have a lot less of it than you do and although I’d rather not sleep it away, my body has other ideas. So if I’m not in bed by ten, I’ll be no good to anyone and Henry is shooting me tomorrow for . . .” She looked to Henry. “What’s it for?”

Henry opened his mouth to answer but Pearl kept talking.

“Whatever it’s for, so the train has left the station on anything resembling beauty sleep for me. I still don’t want to be dragging my behind around all day tomorrow when I need to be even more fabulous than my normal fabulous and emote that for a camera. So, let’s order. Then we can focus on catching up.”

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