A few figures lurked near the bar, yelling at the television, but the only other people there for a meal at five in the evening were a couple of guys seated near the window.
When Nana spoke—strong voice, clear American accent saying, “A table for two, please. Near the window.”—the older of the two men stood abruptly, sending the table screeching toward his companion.
“Across the pond as well?” he called out. He was around Nana’s age, tall and broad, black with a shock of salt-and-pepper hair and a thick mustache. “We just ordered. Please, come join us.”
Nana’s dread was apparent; it settled across her shoulders in a gentle curve.
She waved away the host, taking the menus from his hand and leading us both to their table by the window.
“Luther Hill.” The older man stretched out his hand to Nana. “This is my grandson, Sam Brandis.”
Nana gingerly shook his hand. “I’m Jude. This is my granddaughter, Tate.”
Luther moved to shake my hand next, but I was hardly paying attention. Sam stood at his side, and just looking at him sent an earthquake rattling down my spine, the way the chimes of Big Ben had reverberated along my bones earlier. If Luther was tall, Sam was a redwood, a skyscraper, wide as a road.
He ducked a little to pull my attention from the expanse of his chest, giving me a smile that I imagined must be cultivated to reassure people that he wasn’t going to break their hand when he shook it.
He pressed his palm to mine and squeezed, carefully. “Hi, Tate.”
He was gorgeous, but just imperfect enough to seem . . . perfect. His nose had been broken at some point, and healed with a small bump near the bridge. He had a scar through one of his eyebrows and one on his chin—a tiny, indented comma below his lip. But there was something about the shadow he cast, the solid weight of him, and the way he came together—his soft brown hair, wide-set green-brown eyes, and full, smooth mouth—that made my pulse seem to echo in my throat. I felt like I could stare and stare at his face for the rest of the night and still find something new in the morning.
Nana’s chair screeched dissonantly across the wooden floor, and I snapped my gaze to where Luther was helping her into her seat. Only two weeks prior, I ended a three-year relationship with Jesse—the only boy in Guerneville I’d ever considered worthy of affection. Boys were the last thing on my mind.
London wasn’t supposed to be about boys. It was about being in a place with museums, and history, and people who were raised in a city rather than in a tiny, damp, redwood-lined river town. It was meant to be about doing every last thing Nana has ever dreamed of doing here. It was about having one fancy adventure before I ducked back into the shadows and began college in Sonoma.
But it seemed Sam didn’t get the mental memo that London wasn’t about him, because although I’d looked away, I could feel the way he was still watching me. And was still holding my hand. In unison, we looked down. His hand felt heavy, like a rock, around mine. Slowly he let go.
We sat together at the cramped table—Nana across from me, Sam to my right. Nana smoothed the linen tablecloth with an inspecting hand, pursing her lips; I could tell she was still mad about the view and barely containing the need to voice it to someone else, to hear them confirm that she was right to be up in arms over this injustice.
In my peripheral vision, I caught Sam’s long fingers as they reached out and engulfed his water glass.
“Well now.” Luther leaned in, pulling a whistling breath in through his nose. “How long have you been in town?”
“We just landed, actually,” I said.
He looked at me, smiling beneath his bushy, old-man-pornstache. “Where you all from?”
“Guerneville,” I said, clarifying, “about an hour north of San Francisco.”
He dropped a hand on the table so heavily that Nana startled and his water rippled inside the glass. “San Francisco!” Luther’s smile grew wider, flashing a collection of uneven teeth. “I’ve got a friend out there. Ever met a Doug Gilbert?”
Nana hesitated, brows tucking down before saying, “We . . . no. We’ve not met him.”
“Unless he drives up north for the best blackberry pie in California, we probably haven’t crossed paths.” I said it proudly, but Nana frowned at me like I’d just given them some scandalously identifying information.
Sam’s eyes gleamed with amusement. “I hear San Francisco is a pretty big city, Grandpa.”
“True, true.” Luther laughed at this, at himself. “We have a small farm in Eden, Vermont, just north of Montpelier. Everyone knows everyone there, I suppose.”
“We sure know how that is,” Nana said politely before surreptitiously peeking down at the dinner menu.
I struggled to find something to say, to make us seem as friendly as they were. “What do you farm?”
“Dairy,” Luther told me, his smile encouraging and bright. “And since everyone does it, we also do a bit of sweet corn and apples. We’re here celebrating Sam’s twenty-first birthday, just three days ago.” Luther reached across the table, clutching Sam’s hand. “Time is flying by, I tell you that.”
Nana finally looked back up. “My Tate just graduated from high school.” A tight cringe worked its way down my spine at the way she emphasized my age, glancing pointedly at Sam. He might have been twice my size, but twenty-one is only three years older than eighteen. Going by her expression, you’d think he’d been practically middle-aged. “She’s starting college in the fall.”