"Barely lukewarm." Serena shimmied out of her pencil skirt and peeled off the body shaper she'd worn to make the old garment fit, then kicked it halfway across the room. The date had been a waste of Lycra too. "He was nice, but—"
"Not even a flicker. I'm beginning to think I'm asking too much." She yanked on her flannel pajama bottoms over her cotton knickers and grimaced at the marks the stiletto heels had made on her feet. "Maybe at my age, I should be looking for someone stable and boring."
"Oh, please. You're not even forty yet, so I don't want to hear 'at my age.' Besides, you're just going through what we all went through."
Serena put her mobile on speaker so she could slide off her jacket and wrestle out of her silk blouse. "Which is?"
"Dating the boring, safe guys while you're waiting for the one who curls your toes and sweeps you off your feet."
"Please stop right there. I don't need any more evidence of how you and my brother can't keep your hands off each other."
"I already apologized for that, and you really need to learn to knock." Andrea laughed. "It's not as if I came to Scotland intending to fall in love with a client, you know. Sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone."
"I'll keep that in mind. What time are we supposed to be at your house tomorrow for supper?"
"That's why I was calling. Can we push it to seven? Jamie got delayed in London and missed his flight home, so he won't be back until tomorrow afternoon."
"That's fine. I thought I would take Em and Max to that new bakery that just opened in Old Town."
"Thank you. I offered to do Jamie's shopping to save him time, but for some reason he didn't take me up on the offer."
Now it was Serena's turn to laugh. Her brother the chef had managed to marry a woman who couldn't even boil water without ruining it, although Serena thought Andrea might be playing up the helpless routine to benefit from Jamie's amazing cooking. Then again, she'd once suffered through a lunch that her sister-in-law had prepared, so maybe not.
"Seven o'clock. We'll be there. Em is anxious to show you how much progress she's made on Für Elise
"I can't wait. Tell her to practice hard, because as soon as she finishes this one, I have something really fun for her to try."
"I will. See you tomorrow." Serena ended the call and set her phone on the charger on the nightstand by her bed. What Andrea lacked in cooking ability, she made up for in musical talent, considering she had once been a concert pianist and now gave lessons to Em every Sunday before supper. And that was just something she did for fun while she ran her own hospitality consulting firm. By comparison, Serena filled her days with volunteering and teaching art at Em's school—the very program her date tonight was trying to eliminate.
How could Daniel have even asked her out, knowing that he was essentially lobbying against the one thing Serena really loved?
He didn't know, she realized. Because to men like him, art was something you dabbled in, not something you were passionate about or made a living from. Not something that had any real, tangible value. Serena removed her makeup and tied her hair up into a ponytail before heading downstairs to the kitchen to make some tea. She paused in the reception room to admire the collection of contemporary art on the white plaster walls. Unlike the rest of the modern interior, which had been selected by Edward's designer, these pieces held special meaning. She'd discovered and cultivated each of the artists, some of whom had gone on to be internationally recognized. The pride never failed to come with a pang of regret, a reminder that part of her life was long past. The regret deepened a degree when she moved down the hallway to a partially open door.
The space remained exactly as she'd left it: a blank canvas set up on an easel, plastic bins corralling paints and brushes on the small table next to it. She reached for the light, and her hand made a trail through the dust on the finger plate. Maybe she should turn this back into a storage room, as it had been when she and Edward moved in. She'd not used it for much else in the past several years. She clicked the light off and shut the door firmly.
Daniel and his ilk were going to win the argument, she knew, not because they were right but because she lacked the energy to convince the school otherwise. And she really couldn't blame them. How could she convince them of the value of art when she could barely convince herself?
* * *