I do as I'm told, and read aloud:
You've listened for months. We can't let it be years.
If he's the one, it'll bring us to tears.
You have to find out, so don't make a fuss
Just pack your bags to get on the bus.
It feels like the temperature in the room's suddenly increased fifty degrees. The back of my neck starts to sweat and my heart pounds in my throat as I re-read the poem. Have my eyes betrayed me? When I get to the end will I realize I completely misread the entire poem?
No one knows about the bus except Dory.
No one knows about Zane except Dory.
I take a deep breath and try to act cool. "Is this an XO singles bus tour?" I joke, staring at Dory. A few months ago I agreed to an XO singles boat tour, so I wouldn't put it past her to surprise me with a bus tour. Except... would she really do that when she knows all about the bus tour?
Dory waves a finger at me. "No, but a singles bus tour is a great idea. You're not that far off." A smile slowly spreads across her face.
My throat constricts. Talking is no longer possible.
"Who has Part Two?" Dory looks to Emily, who musses the roots of her dirty-blond hair and pulls a slip of paper from the back pocket of her jeans. It's been folded in thirds and as I unfold it I can see that it's a confirmation email that's been sent to Dory.
The confirmation is in my name, for a ten-day bus tour, leaving next Saturday, from Victoria Coach Station. "We don't have a Victoria Coach Station," I say slowly, my heart pounding. But I know what city does.
London, England. The setting of some of my favorite romances: Bridget Jones's Diary, One Day in December and the Bridgerton series.
More importantly, I know which tour company departs from this bus station: Wilkenson Tours.
* * *
For a long time after first listening to Zane read Their Finest Hour—OK, six days, total—I resisted looking him up online. If he turned out to be ninety years old or worse—dead—what would that say about my intuition?
Then I broke the seal. After I'd binged all twelve hours of the book—twice. After another doomed XO date where I put in zero effort. After a few too many glasses of wine. After doom-scrolling my ex David's photos on Instagram of him and the woman who appeared in the last seven of nine pics. After all of that, I typed Zane's name into the Instagram search bar.
It turned out, based on Zane's Instagram account (updated three days earlier), that he was neither ninety nor dead. And that sexy, gravelly voice that wrapped every word in an embrace was attached to quite possibly one of the most good-looking men I'd ever set eyes upon: shiny, perfectly styled hair—short on the sides, just slightly longer on top—clean-shaven, impeccable skin, broad shoulders, green, almond-shaped eyes, thick lashes, good teeth, full lips...
Not that looks matter. But of course they do. It's the whole reason nobody wanted to marry poor Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Or Albion Finch in the Bridgerton books.
Still, what really made my heart feel like it was filling my entire chest was discovering Zane's story. His bio linked to the Wilkenson Tours website and when I clicked over there I discovered that his job wasn't reading audiobooks at all. In fact, Their Finest Hour was the only audiobook he'd ever narrated, which made the whole coincidence even more incredible because what were the odds that the one book he'd narrated was the book that brought my parents together?
Zane's real story was published in fine detail on the About page of his parents' British tour company website: years ago, when his father was just a teenager, he booked a seat on a bus tour to get himself from Cornwall to Manchester because it was cheaper than booking a train ticket. Zane's mother was the tour guide on that bus, working for the summer between years at university because her parents owned the tour company. A few days later, they were in love. A few months after that Zane's father started working at the tour company, too. And a few years after that they were married and Zane was born. He grew up on the tour buses and now, having worked alongside his parents for years, he's pretty much taken over the business himself.
I read all this sitting on the edge of my yellow sofa, lightheaded. Swap buses for books and Zane's origin story is almost identical to mine; his parents' love story is really similar to my parents' own. There has to be something to that. But, now that I know who Zane really is, and now that I know his story, anyone else I meet, by coincidence or on dating apps, doesn't even come close to him. He's like finding a first edition among a stack of mass-market paperbacks—and he happens to live 3,777 miles away from me. And even though, more than once while listening to him read, I'd pictured myself in England, with him, I never indulged the thought of making a concrete plan to meet him.
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book Hotel of Secrets by Diana Biller.