21: A wolf in sheep's clothing.

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The gang wasn’t hard to miss. Their rowdiness reverberated across the room. I waved at them and turned to Connor, but he’d vanished. Typical Lovell man.

“I heard you’re back on the market,” Jack said.

I shot him a shut up look and sat down. “You heard wrong.”

“So, have I got a chance or not?” he persisted.

“Not.”

“Aww, don’t be like that. You know we’d be good together. Beth, help me out here.”

She nodded. “Sure, which way did you come in?”

Half an hour before midnight, I was still sober. If I were going to decide which of the misfits, who’d been trying it on all evening, would get my New Year kiss, I was going to need more fuel. I glanced around the table. “Anyone need a top up? I’m buying.”

“Cheers, Soph. Mine’s a tequila,” Carmen said, holding out her empty glass.

“A wine spritzer would be great, thanks,” Marie added.

Jack didn’t look up from the poor girl whose mouth he was welded to, but he pushed the dregs of his pint in my direction.

Still pondering over quite how Jack had ended up in our circle of friends, I glanced over at the dance floor, where the heads of Beth, Justin, and his other half, were just about discernible, bobbing around in a sea of bodies and arms. I managed to catch their eyes, getting a nod and thumbs-up, when I pointed to an empty glass.

Upstairs, the atmosphere was slightly less frantic.

Paired-off couples lounged amidst scattered beanbags, and those still searching for company draped over the railings in a futile attempt to attract attention from someone, anyone, on the dance floor below. Over at the bar, I squeezed through the loiterers to the counter, and perched upon a rare free stool. I didn’t have to wait too long before the barman spotted me.

“Hey, Martin,” I shouted, as he strolled over. “Can I have a quick shot before I pass on the shipping order, please?” Martin passed me a miniature glass, and I threw the fiery liquid down my throat, feeling its tingling heat as it trickled down towards my stomach. “Another, please.”

Martin studied me intently as he poured the top-up. “It won’t work, you know.”

“Sorry?”

“Drowning your sorrows. The answer never lies at the bottom of a glass.”

“Barman or part-time psychologist?” I asked.

The corner of his mouth curved into a crooked smile. “Just a little friendly advice. Now, what was that order?”

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