Her Best Worst Mistake (Elizabeth and Violet #2) by Sarah Mayberry

Chapter One

How do I dislike thee, let me count the ways.

Violet Sutcliffe took a healthy swig from her champagne glass as she watched the tall, dark-haired man across the London Hilton’s ballroom. He was wearing a classic black tuxedo, but he somehow managed to look stuffy rather than suave. But that was his gift—taking anything stylish, fun or frivolous and stifling the life out of it.

Martin St Clair glanced away from the elderly man he was talking to and caught her eye. Even from a distance she could see his upper lip curl ever so slightly. She arched an eyebrow in unspoken challenge.

The feeling is entirely mutual, my friend.

In fact, their antipathy had been entirely mutual from the moment her best friend Elizabeth began dating him six years ago, and familiarity hadn’t done a damned thing to ease or ameliorate it. Sometimes, when she was suffering a rare bout of introspection, Violet wondered if she and Martin didn’t both secretly enjoy disapproving of each other. Certainly she enjoyed taking pot shots at him most of the time—anything to rattle his ridiculously staid cage—and judging by how quickly he usually jumped into the fray, he wasn’t averse to trading jabs with her, either.

“Sorry about that. I got caught up with one of the Jones-Smythe girls,” Elizabeth said as she rejoined Violet.

Violet focussed on her friend, turning her back on the prig across the room. “Can we go yet?”

Elizabeth’s lips twitched. “You know we can’t. They haven’t given the speeches yet.”

“So? No one will notice if we slip out. We paid for our tickets, they have our money. That’s the bit they’re really interested in.”

“Behave. It’s not that bad.”

“E, be real. These people are the walking dead.” Violet’s gaze swept over the well-dressed crowd attending the Heart Foundation’s annual fundraiser. “Older than Moses, richer than God and more boring than a truckload of accountants.”

Elizabeth laughed, then immediately lifted a hand to her mouth to hide her smile, almost as though she was afraid someone would take her to task for being amused by Violet’s irreverence.

Violet eyed her friend with fond frustration. In all the years she’d known Elizabeth she’d only seen her really let her hair down a handful of times. She was always on her guard, always careful, always elegant and considerate and good—more so now than ever with her wedding to Mr. Stuffed Shirt looming on the horizon.

“You look really beautiful tonight, in case I didn’t say so before,” Violet said impulsively, reaching out to touch the silk of Elizabeth’s slate blue sheath dress.

With her deep blue eyes, pale blonde hair and delicate bone structure, Elizabeth was the epitome of a cool, reserved English rose. So many people were fooled into believing her coolness ran more than skin deep, but she was hands down the most passionate, big-hearted person Violet knew.

Pity Elizabeth felt the need to hide all that passion from most of the important people in her life.

Elizabeth waved a dismissive hand. “You’re the stand out, Vi. You always are. That dress is amazing.”

Violet smoothed a hand down the side of her red velvet Flamenco-style dress and struck a pose so that she showed plenty of fishnet-clad leg through the slit in the skirt. Convention had it that redheads shouldn’t wear red—too much of a good thing and all that—but Violet had never been big on adhering to convention. She’d worn her deep red hair in a cascading up-do tonight, and matched her lipstick to her dress.

“Thought I’d give the Heart Foundation some bang for their buck,” she said. “Test out a few pacemakers.”

They both laughed.

“I have a party we can crash once we get out of here,” Violet said. “Canary Wharf loft, great music, open bar... It’s going to be a good one.”

For a moment Elizabeth’s face lit up. Then her gaze found someone over Violet’s shoulder and she shook her head, the light dimming from her eyes.

“Not really Martin’s scene, I’m afraid.”

The hairs on the back of Violet’s neck stood on end. She didn’t need to turn around to know that Elizabeth’s fiancé was approaching. She took a big gulp of her champagne as Martin joined their twosome.

“Sorry,” he said, his gaze on Elizabeth. “I was talking with Lord Burrows and lost track of time.”

“No need to apologize. We wouldn’t want you to miss an opportunity to let him know how much you admire his good work,” Violet said, her face poker straight.

Martin’s grey eyes were coolly disapproving as they met hers.