Chapter Sixteen

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Dedicated to Defend because even though she's already had a dedication, she is ridiculously in love with Collette (for some strange reason) and she might kill me if this wasn't dedicated to her. Stay calm, Mariam. Don't do yourself an injury reading this.


"Have any of you seen my parents?"

Reluctantly, I dragged my attention away from the foursome they'd been fixated on for the past hour, refocusing it on the tall blonde who'd just strode over. In fact, for the first time since we'd met, the sight of Beth standing before me was actually a minor improvement its preceding scenery. Then again, it was what had been torturing me all evening: seeing Daniel, paired with the girl who seemed to have been permanently stitched to his side.

It was enough to make my stomach twist into an unpleasantly intricate knot.

I had no idea why he and Collette had turned into conjoined twins overnight, but it wasn't as if I'd got the chance to ask him. The moment she'd hooked her arm through his, he'd barely spared in a glance in our direction, let alone made an attempt to come over and say hi. I guessed it had something to do with the fact he was sort of preoccupied, listening intently to the end of the conversation Collette was holding up as the pair stood opposite her parents.

My heart lurched uncomfortably each time, but I just couldn't stop my eyes from wandering back over there every few seconds. These were classic symptoms of jealousy, I knew, but didn't I have a right to feel that way? I thought last night had meant something to Daniel - something bigger than unnecessary physical contact and false, simpering laughter. Maybe I was wrong.

Swallowing my distaste, I forced myself to tune into Collette's older sister. Wearing stilettos I was sure could function as stilts, Beth towered over most of us; her height was only matched by a gangly Scott. Tagging behind, and looking like he was under the influence of some kind of hypnotic charm, was a slightly greasy-looking guy with long, dark hair and a half-buttoned shirt. A fleeting thought had me wondering if he was just a hardcore admirer of Beth's, but her lack of concern with his proximity suggested it was something more than that.

Jay's awe was badly concealed; he'd taken to staring almost open-mouthed at her, and I didn't fully trust him not to start drooling. "Hi," he breathed, smiling giddily.

Beth threw him a look of what could only be described as utter disgust, before averting her precious attention to the group as a whole. "So, are any of you actually going to answer my question?"

Since Jay didn't appear to be in a position to speak coherently, let alone provide her with a rational answer, Erin stepped in. However, with her arms folded defensively over her chest, a frown creasing her brow, she didn't exactly look happy to oblige. "They're over there," she said, nodding across the garden. "Just past the marquee."

"Right. Come on, Angelo."

Without bothering to offer so much as a thanks in return, she pivoted on her sharp heel and stalked off in the opposite direction, 'Angelo' at her heels like a lost puppy. Whoever he was, she clearly had him wrapped around her little finger, willing to obey any command that slipped from her pouty lips. Then again, this seemed the case for almost every male on the planet when it came to Collette's sister.

Sure, she was attractive, but did that really overshadow the fact she had the worst attitude I'd ever had the displeasure to deal with? Stuck up, conceited and completely self-absorbed, I couldn't help but feel a brief pang of sympathy for Collette; she had to suffer being related to her, after all. I tried to imagine how I would've coped over the last three years with someone like Beth instead of Nora, but the concept was unthinkable.

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