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Whiskey Sharp: Torn by Dane, Lauren (1)

Pointed west home beckons.

Waits for you like a lover.

NOT TOO MANY hours after getting off an airplane, Cora approached Whiskey Sharp—a barbershop, and in the evenings, a bar. The lazily swirling red-and-white candy cane sign out front was illuminated and the interior lights cast a shine against the gold-toned flourish of the shop’s title on the front glass doors.

Inside, it smelled of sandalwood and amber, two of the more popular scents of the products used in hair and beards. Music played loud enough to feel like an embrace but it didn’t drown out the low hum of conversation from the people knotted around the bar area.

Alexsei Petrov, Maybe’s husband, but also Cora’s friend, owned and ran the place that had become another home for Cora. He saw her come in and smiled, tipping his chin to where Maybe stood, working at her station. Giving someone a shave by the looks of it.

Three months before, her friend’s hair had been platinum blonde, but currently the tips were a brilliant teal blue that bled into a wash of purple.

It would have looked absurd on most people, but Maybe managed to make it seem retro and futuristic at the same time when she coupled it with high-waisted gray pinstripe pants and a crisp white button-down shirt.

Rachel stood, her hip resting against the table, a smile on her face reserved for the client who Cora now recognized as Rachel’s man, Vic, sitting in Maybe’s chair getting that shave.

The weight of the familiar was lovely and bloomed through her belly. This was another one of her places. Full of her people.

“You bitches are still the hottest chicks I know,” she said as she approached.

Rachel looked over, her eyes widening in pleasure and recognition. “You’re here!”

“I told you I’d come by,” Cora said, swallowed up into a hug.

“I know but you’re here now. Yay!” Maybe took over the next hug, smacking a kiss right onto her lips before stepping back.

Laughing, she got hugs from the wild bearded Russians, as Rachel and Maybe referred to their dudes.

“Everyone missed you. Not more than us, naturally, but still,” Rachel said after Cora had been loved up on by all her friends. “Three months is way too long to go without seeing you.”

“It’s nice to be missed.” She was pretty sure she’d just finished her last extended trip with her mother. Yes, it was travel for work and she liked to go to new places. But these long stints meant she had avoided getting a dog or a cat. It wasn’t fair to have to leave them with someone for weeks and weeks. It also meant that aside from one long-distance relationship that had ended two years before, Cora hadn’t really seen anyone seriously.

She wanted more roots. And a dog. And maybe someone to go on dates with.

She’d settle for a drink and some food as she hung out with her crew to start.

“Wren said she already invited you to dinner,” Maybe called out as she began to clean her station up.

“She informed me one of their friends is cooking and that there’d be cake. So naturally I’m in.”

Gregori—another wild bearded Russian—was Vic and Alexsei’s cousin. He also happened to be a hugely successful artist Cora had known for years through the local art scene. He and his wife, Wren—an artist in her own right—lived in a loft space above Whiskey Sharp.

“There’s always cake at their place. It’s like a little bit of heaven right upstairs,” Maybe said.

“It’s like what I imagine heaven to be, that’s for sure,” Cora answered.

“If there’s no cake, how can it be heaven?” Rachel said it like a sacred prayer and Cora agreed utterly.

“I can’t wait to hear all about your time in London but Wren said she wanted to hear it too and so not to visit too much without her.” Maybe hooked her arm through Cora’s. “I want to hear it now, so let’s get going. I’m also hungry.”

“You know how she gets when she’s hungry,” Alexsei said with a smirk at the corners of his mouth. Maybe rolled her eyes, but smiled as she did it, so Cora knew she wasn’t offended.

And he was right because Maybe was lovely and sweet, but not when she was hungry.

They all headed out and down the sidewalk half a block to the doors leading to the small lobby, where the residents of the lofts had their mailboxes and the elevator.

The scent of garlic and onions swirled around her senses as they got out on the right floor. Gregori and Wren’s door was painted bright, shiny red and flew open before they were able to use the doorbell.

Wren, wearing a huge grin, rushed at Cora and hugged her tight. “Hi! Come have champagne and eat yummy food while you tell us all how the last three months were.”

“I can do that. You look fantastic,” Cora told her as they headed toward the kitchen area. “Marriage agrees with you.”

Her friends had come back from an impromptu trip right before Cora had left for London only to announce they’d gotten married along the way. After several years of living together, it had been the right choice for their relationship.

“I look exactly the same except for the ring part and the way his mom gives me, and then my belly, a pointed look every time I see her,” Wren said.

“Welcome to my world,” Maybe said. “Irena has now taken to telling me about all the baby clothes she saw but didn’t buy because she had no grandchildren to wear them. I tried to get her obsessing about Rachel’s womb, but she’s too wily.”

“Mind your own womb. You’ve been with Alexsei longer than I’ve been with Vic. It’s your time to shine, bitch,” Rachel said with a laugh.

“I’m so messed up. I missed you all so much.” Cora hugged each one tightly.

“You’re the perfect kind of messed up,” Rachel said, linking her arm through Cora’s.

This was good. The best, happiest part of her life.

Her stomach growled as she sucked in the scents all around. “I need food.”

“We’ve got that covered,” Gregori called out to them. “Come, I’m pouring champagne.”

“No need to call me twice when there’s booze involved,” Cora murmured to Rachel, who snickered.

Fairy lights and candles made the loft glow. Plus it was the perfect light and her skin would look way better than the jet lag currently responsible for dark circles under her eyes.

“It’s all romantical in here and shit,” Cora said, and then nearly swallowed all her spit when she caught sight of who was standing at the stove.

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