Dean huffs, but he’s not mad. I let go of his face and spin around right as someone taps on my shoulder.
It’s Emma. Smiling and a little out of breath.
“Where were you?” I ask, relieved.
She points to the ticket counter for the riverboat cruise. “I was just returning my ticket.”
I blink. “What? I thought you wanted to do this?”
She shakes her head. “No. I want you two to do this. You don’t need me.”
She looks to Dean then waves. “Hi. Good to see you again.” She points at me. “He likes you a lot.”
I groan because she is such a devil. “He knows I do.”
Dean shoots Emma a smile. “Good to see you again too, Emma. And the feeling is quite mutual.”
Emma squeals, nearly jumping for joy. I want to drop her in a headlock. Instead, I give her a noogie. “You are a troublemaker.”
“No. I’m a matchmaker, like I’ve been from the start.” She squirms away. “And listen, thanks for inviting me. Thanks for getting me the ticket. Under other circumstances, I’d hang out with you two, but you really should enjoy the day together.”
I sigh, but I’m not unhappy. I’m incredibly, ridiculously happy. I love my sister, but I’ll see her for the rest of my life. Time with Dean is finite, and once I get on that plane, I won’t see him again.
“I love you, Ems,” I say, wrapping her in a bear hug.
“I love you, James.”
I haul her in tighter, then let her go. She immediately gives Dean a huge hug too, and it’s insanely endearing to see them embrace as if they’ve done this many times before.
When she lets go, she waves goodbye. “Enjoy your riverboat cruise,” she says, then, like the smart-ass she is, she adds, “lovebirds.”
“We are so not lovebirds,” I say when she’s gone.
“So not at all,” he says. To prove it, I don’t hold his hand as we walk onto the boat. Instead, I drape my arm around his shoulders.
Well, that does give me more real estate of Dean to get close to.
Dean leans against the railing, gazing out at the water as the boat glides along the Thames. “So, on a scale of one to ten, how touristy, cheesy, or eye-rolling is a riverboat cruise to a Londoner such as yourself?” I ask.
He strokes his chin as if deep in thought. “Let’s see. Let me think back on all the riverboat cruises I’ve done.” He casts me a side-eye stare. “One.”
“You’ve done one cruise?”
He laughs lightly, holding up his thumb and forefinger in a circle. “I’ve done zero. I was rating it a one on the touristy cheesy scale you mentioned. Not cheesy at all.”
“Whoa.” I stumble back dramatically like I’m shocked, then I move closer again. “For real? You’ve never done a riverboat cruise here?”
“Never have I ever.”
“Is that because it’s touristy and cheesy?”
“Have you been to the top of the Empire State Building?”
I shake my head.
“Statue of Liberty?”
I shake my head again, then raise a finger. “But I have been to the Museum of Natural History countless times. Because . . . dinosaurs.”
“Well, sure. Dinosaurs are cool. And I would probably go there too. But see, if I visited New York, I’d see those other places as well. Empire State Building and all. It’s just what you do when you visit.”
“I’d take you there.” I bump his shoulder, savoring the notion of showing Dean around New York, taking him to wherever he wanted to go and to my favorite places too.
“Yes, I’d expect you to return the tour-guide favor,” he says, and I’m tempted to float the trial balloon, to see if he’d ever come see me, maybe spend a weekend together in my city.
But that would be true insanity.
No way am I going to try to have a long-distance relationship with this guy. Hell, a relationship isn’t in the cards for me at all, for all the reasons I laid out last night.
Plus, there’s the pact, the damn pact that kicks in soon. I won’t be the one to break it. I made it with my guys, and I’ll keep it.
I swipe away the dangerous thoughts. “So, are you enjoying the cruise?” I ask as the tour operator warbles into the mic about the landmarks we pass, historical structures alongside modern skyscrapers.
Dean meets my gaze. “Yes. I feel like I’m seeing London in a new light. It’s a great view.”
And my stomach fucking flips. Because he’s not looking at the city. He’s looking at me.
The way he stares feels different than before.
There’s more connection, more closeness, and it’s doing a number on my head.
Thank fuck for the pact. Thank fuck for training camp. If I didn’t have those natural stops, I’d be falling so damn hard on my ass.
But I do have those, and they’ll cushion the blow. Make it easier to get on that plane on Thursday.