So in LoveBy: Darcy Burke
Ribbon Ridge, Oregon, New Year’s Eve
“Three, two, one! Happy New Year!” The Archers’ massive living room erupted in a chorus of cheers quickly followed by everyone finding their significant other and kissing. Everyone but Crystal Donovan. She acknowledged there were a handful of other people who were singles, but the majority of the room was filled with married couples, or those about to be married, and a few in very solid, monogamous relationships. Crystal simultaneously wondered what that felt like and was grateful she had no idea. Events like this always made her lean toward the former, but she had to remind herself that she preferred the latter—independence was everything.
As she scanned the room over her glass of champagne, her gaze connected with one of the other few singles—at least she thought he was here as a single—Jamie Westcott. He wasn’t an Archer, but what she called “Archer-adjacent” since his half-brother was married to one. Crystal supposed she was technically “Archer-adjacent” since her oldest, best friend, Alaina, was married to one too.
The Archers were the first family of Ribbon Ridge, a sprawling family of kind, generous, hardworking people who knew how to party. And take care of their own. Yeah, Archer-adjacent wasn’t a bad thing.
Crystal’s gaze strayed to Alaina, who was snuggled in the arms of her adoring husband, Evan. Alaina was expecting their second child in the spring, so she sipped sparkling cider, as did a few other guests. Crystal counted and thought there were at least three, maybe four, pregnant women in the room.
Shit, she should skip out before it was catching.
She laughed into her glass, thinking, You kind of have to do something to make that happen, dumbass. And she hadn’t had sex in months.
Tossing back the rest of her champagne, she went into the kitchen, where a full bar was set up. The Archer patriarch, Rob, was pouring his special New Year’s Eve brew at the tap. Crystal wondered if it was maybe time to switch to beer. She’d had a few cocktails earlier in the night and now two glasses of champagne. She was comfortably warm and happy, so yeah, probably beer time.
She deposited her empty flute on the counter with the dirty dishes, then went to the other bar where Rob was standing chatting with George, who was actually a bartender at the family’s pub in downtown Ribbon Ridge.
“Happy New Year, Crystal!” Rob said. “Fancy a pint?”
“I do, thank you.”
“Dad, are you making fun of Sean?” Tori asked from the other end of the bar. Tori Archer-Hennessey was one of the famous Archer sextuplets—along with Evan—and her husband Sean was a Brit.
“Because I said ‘fancy’?” Rob asked as he finished filling a glass for Crystal.
“He could be making fun of me.” The comment came from over Crystal’s right shoulder. She turned and saw that Jamie Westcott had come into the kitchen.
“You’re not British,” Crystal said.
“No, but I lived in London for a few years. I admit when I hang around Sean too much, I revert back to some of their phrases.”
Crystal thanked Rob as she picked up her pint and pivoted toward Jamie. He was cute, with warm hazel eyes and brown hair that was just a bit on the long side. He was also young—too young—probably five years her junior. She now recalled that he’d gone to the London School of Economics. And was crazy smart. Crystal preferred men with street smarts.
“So, you like to say things like ‘cheerio’ and ‘down the pub’?” she asked.
Jamie nodded toward Rob, who pulled him a pint. “Sure. And wanker. I love wanker.”
Crystal had taken a drink of beer, and it went directly up her nose as she laughed. She immediately began sputtering and brought her hand to her face as her eyes watered.
Jamie took her glass and set it on the counter. “I’m a wanker, sorry.”
She shook her head and managed to find words. “Stop saying that.”
The other people around the bar—Rob, Tori, and someone else whose name Crystal couldn’t remember—laughed. They held their glasses up in a toast. Jamie grinned and took his pint from Rob. “Cheers!”
He sounded quintessentially British. And that was a bit of a turn-on.