She is a beautiful, affluent, self-involved, and mildly neurotic London socialite. He is Britain’s most photographed bad boy who broke her heart.
Magnolia Parks and BJ Ballentine are meant to be, and everyone knows it.
She dates other people to keep him at bay; he sleeps with other girls to get back at her for it. But at the end of every sad endeavor to get over one another, it’s still each other they crawl back to.
But now their dysfunction is catching up with them, pulling at their seams and fraying the world they’ve built; a world where neither has ever let the other go completely.
As the cracks start to show and secrets begin to surface, Magnolia and BJ are finally forced to face the formidable question they’ve been avoiding all their lives: How many loves do you really get in a lifetime?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"I like this." He tugs on my dress, coming up behind me. Black, Amiri Thrasher jeans (extra-torn knees, obviously), black Vans and the black and white raglan tee from Givenchy.
I stare at my reflection in his bedroom mirror. Tilt my head, squint my eyes and pretend like I'm the only girl who's been in here lately. I make sure the necklace with his ring on it is tucked under and away where no one but me and probably he, later, can see it, then flatten the Peter Pan collar of the red, blue and white floral, satin jacquard dress.
"Miu Miu," I tell him, catching his eye in the mirror.
I love his eyes.
He nods coolly. "Slept with a Miu Miu model last week."
I hate his eyes. I glare over at him for a second, swallow heavy to compose myself before smiling carefree. "I don't care." Our eyes lock and hold and I don't just hate his eyes but all of him for a second-for knowing me how he knows me, for seeing through everything I say, for doing that with anyone but me. He shrugs indifferently.
He, being BJ Ballentine, my first . . . everything, really. Love, time, heartbreak. He's the boy with the golden hair and the golden eyes even though his hair is brown, and his eyes are green, the most beautiful boy in all of London they say-and probably I agree. On his good days. But why am I explaining him to you? You already know who he is.
"I know you don't care." He runs his tongue over his teeth absentmindedly. He does that when he's annoyed and I can tell he's annoyed, but it's just for a second because then his eyes soften like they always do for me.
"You had a boyfriend at the time, Parks-" He looks for my eyes but I don't let him find them because I like to make him think he has to work for my attention.
"Right." I blink as I tell him again: "I don't care."
"Yeah," he sighs, fake-bored. "Shields up, right?" he says, under his breath. That's a thing that the boys say to each other when they see my heart switch gears.
He gives me another look because he knows that I'm lying, and our hearts have a Mexican stand-off with our eyes.
I miss you, I blink in Morse code.
I still love you, say the turned-down edges of his perfect mouth.
Fairly top heavy, like somehow it always manages to get stung by bees. Once upon a time, he balanced my whole heart atop that lip.
"When, anyway?" I ask as I turn on my heel and face him, grabbing his wrist to cuff the sleeves of his black denim patch scarves trucker jacket, also from Amiri, without his permission. I can feel his eyes on me, watching me, waiting for me to look up and when I do, it hurts in the centre of me like it always does when our eyes catch. A fish back in water. A sore relief.
"What?" Beej asks, brows low, watching me closely.
I tug on the centre of his jacket, trying to work out if it'd look better buttoned or not. I do the buttons up. He shifts his head, still looking for my eyes and when I don't offer them, he lifts my chin up to face him, holding it between his thumb and his index finger.
The physical distance between us is meagre, but somehow still a forest grows between. Pine trees of mistakes so tall we can't see over them and rivers of things we didn't say so wide we can't get around. We're nowhere near where we thought we'd be, we're completely off grid, and I feel lost and alone for a minute, but I'm lost and alone with him. "I was just wondering when, is all." I blink a lot. It helps keep the memories at bay. I undo the buttons. "Because you were with me almost all of last week so I just don't really know when you had the time to fornicate with some very, very white girl whose eyeballs are undoubtedly too far apart."
He smirks down at me, amused. Tall, that BJ Ballentine. Six feet, two inches.
"What?" I shrug innocently. "Ghoulishly white with googly alien eyes is undeniably Fabio Zambernardi's aesthetic."
BJ squashes a smile. "You had a boyfriend, Parks," he tells me again, and I ignore him because that's beside the point.
I jerk his jacket back together, rebuttoning. "But I was with you almost the entire time, so I just don't understand like, literally when-"
"Do you want me to share my calendar with you?"
"Your sex calendar?" I ask sharply, but I wonder if I should say yes either way, because it'd probably be handy to have for organising what nights of the week I'd plan to wash my hair, and also knowing his general whereabouts, which I like to know at all times but cannot-under any circumstance-admit to, so I just give him a look.
His eyes pinch. "I don't have a sex calendar."
'I give him another look' "Well, you certainly don't have a work calendar-"
"I have a job." He rolls his eyes.
"What, taking your shirt off for your Instagram fan club?"
He scratches the back of his neck as he grins sheepishly. "I'm just trying to pay the bills." He shrugs playfully. "Not all of us are sitting on a cool $800M, Parks."
"Quite right, quite right," I concede. "Say, how is that small island your family owns off the coast of Grenada-"
He licks his bottom lip, grinning. "You had to say small . . ."
"Smaller than mine," I cut in and he laughs.
He looks me up and down, his eyes dragging over me like his hands used to-he takes a sharp breath in and breathes loving me out-he looks past me at himself in the mirror. He shoves his hands through his hair. "Where'd we land with the buttons?"
I undo them again and he peers down at me, a grin playing about his lips.
"Always trying to undress me . . ."
I roll my eyes, but my cheeks go pink. "You wish."
I pluck the sky-blue Le Chiquito Noeud nubuck shoulder bag from Jacquemus from the fourth level of my handbag shelf.
"I do wish," he concedes, then peers around my body. "Got any buttons that need undoing?"
I smack him away, laughing. "Fuck off."
"Come on." He hooks his arm around my neck, pulling me to the door. "We're going to be late."
"So, Parks," BJ asks, small smile, eyes pinched, "what's your number-one pet peeve this week?"
"This week?" I frown. We're sitting at a table with the Full Box Set, our closest friends but even still, sometimes a thing will happen and then all the world falls to black and all we can see is each other.
"Well -" he shrugs - "I know what it is of all time."
I arch my eyebrows. "Do you now?" He nods and I drum my fingers on the table, waiting. "Enlighten me."
We're at Annabel's, and next time you're there I highly recommend getting a bottle of the 1995 Dom Pérignon Rosé.
That's not what BJ's drinking though. He's drinking a Negroni. Always a Negroni, unless the night's heading south and then it's 1942 Don Julio.
"Your number-one pet peeve of all time . . . when other girls pay attention to me. Obviously." He does a little shrug with his mouth, as if to say, "so there."
I scoff and shake my head vehemently. "No. That's . . . not even remotely close."
Though it definitely is, and is absolutely, one hundred per cent correct.
He rolls his eyes, ignoring the lie. "This week then, go on-"
"Girls who announce they're not wearing makeup on Instagram who are obviously not wearing makeup on Instagram-"
"Oh," chimes in my best friend, Paili Blythe. "I hate that!" She tucks a piece of her platinum-blonde hair behind her ear and her little button nose pinches in frustration. "What do they want from us, a Purple Heart?"
I give her a "thank you very much" gesture before continuing on.
"I don't really understand why being intentionally unkept is a bragging point."
"Some concealer, perhaps?" Paili offers. "A nice creme blush."
"Oh, what's that, Charlotte? You're not wearing any make up today?" I ask no one. "Yes, I know-it's terribly obvious when you have the gift of sight."
BJ runs his tongue along his back molars, smiling. Sniffs a laugh, shakes his head.
"Not everyone rolls out of bed looking like a cartoon deer, Parks."
"I-" My face falters. "Is that-is that supposed to be a compliment?"
"Absolutely." He nods.
"Come on now," says Henry Ballentine, my oldest friend in the world. Looks-wise he's much like his older brother with the brown hair and the smile that might make you pregnant, but with blue eyes instead of BJ's green, and occasionally in glasses none of us are entirely sure he needs to be wearing. He pokes his head into the conversation, "We all know Bambi was BJ's sexual awakening."
"Ey, Bambi's a boy," Christian Hemmes announces, his Mancunian accent coming through, as it always does when he's amused. We dated once, Christian and I. Sort of. We wouldn't say that now, but we did, I think. And it was bad. Bad for me, bad for him (especially bad for him), bad for Beej (especially, especially bad for Beej)-bad for everyone, really.
But he is beautiful, Christian. Golden-y hair, hazel eyes, heavy mouth. Angelic almost-in appearance, not action. He's terrifying in action, actually. I try not to think about it, what he and his brother do . . . They think I don't know. But I know. I know everything about these boys of mine.
Henry and BJ both look confused and perturbed by Christian's revelation.
I give him a glib look and turn back to Beej. "So if I'm a deer, what are you?"
"A wolf," he tells me without missing a beat.
I roll my eyes. "The lone kind?"
He shakes his head, eyes going the kind of soft they shouldn't at a table full of people we know in a room full of people we don't. "The kind who finds a deer in the forest who can't reach the top of her medicine cabinet by herself, or change her engine oil, or-"
"She sounds like a very advanced deer," Henry whispers to his brother.
"Well, she's definitely a complicated deer," BJ tells him and I frown. He grins.
"Without the wolf the deer probably couldn't have done up that dress she's wearing." BJ nods at me. "Wouldn't have fed herself since 2004-so the wolf sticks around out of the goodness of his heart."
"I think wolves eat deer,"Henry interjects un-ceremoniously.
BJ rolls his eyes, but I'm worried Henry is right.
Perry Lorcan-slicked back brown hair, big brown eyes, bigger smile, dug-out cheekbones and completely gorgeous, completely fabulous, shakes his head from the other side of the table. "Henry's confused. Bambi was my sexual awakening. BJ's was Ariel-" He gestures to his chest. "The shell bra. He's a sucker for boobs."
I don't mean to, but I glance down at my chest and when I look back up, BJ's watching me. He throws me a subtle wink and smirks.
I do my best not to combust into flames on the spot.
"So," Beej leans in towards me, brushing off a rogue eyelash that isn't on my face . . . just any old reason to touch me, really. "We both know what your real one is"-I try not to smile at him-"but what's your fake all-time pet peeve, then?"
I try not to smile at him. "You know this one too."
"Too?" He beams and I roll my eyes. He pauses for a second to think. "Roses and ranunculus in the same bouquet?"
I nod once. "Fucking disgusting. Completely distasteful."
He laughs from the back of his throat and I love it when he laughs at the things I say, I want to make him laugh forever but I can't because he broke forever and still I fight the urge to kiss him anyway. Jonah Hemmes, Christian's older brother, stretches his arms up from the other side of the table-always in all black. Black denim jacket, black T-shirt, black jeans, black Cons but he's very shiny on the inside though-precarious nature of his job aside. His hair could be blonde, but I think it's brown, and his eyes could be green, but I think they're maybe a brown or a hazel? All his angles are sharp: sharp jaw, sharp nose, sharp tongue. Except not with me, because I'm his favourite.
Jo cocks his head at me. "She talking about Monty Python again?"
BJ shakes his head at his best friend as I put my nose in the air, indignant about it all.
"It's a scar on the face of British cinema and I won't hear another word about it."
"I know what we're watching tonight, then." Beej winks.
"Yeah." I give him a look. "Me too. We left Jack Bauer in a very precarious position last night."
Jonah swats his hand as he reaches over and picks up my drink. "That poor bastard's always in precarious positions . . ."
He samples the cocktail, then pulls a face of disgust. Too sweet.
Henry elbows his brother. "Last night?" he probes in a quiet voice-they don't think I can hear them. "How many nights this week, then?"
"Every?" BJ's eyes pinch. "What's it to you?"
Henry cocks an eyebrow. "Taking that break-up of hers well . . ."
BJ's jaw sets, defensive. "She is."
Henry gives him a look. "Because you're staying over every night this week?"
BJ's defiant. "I stayed over every night the week before when they weren't broken up, so-"
"Not every night," I butt in. "Just three out of seven."
They both look over at me, a bit surprised, as though they forgot they were having the conversation right in front of me.
"Four," BJ whispers so only I can hear him and our faces are so close I'm dizzy and my breath catches on a shard of my broken heart.
Four? No wonder Brooks Calloway dumped me.
I don't know why that pierces me, but it does. Like an arrow.
The four nights thing?
He's the only man I've ever grieved the loss of, the only love I've ever loved.