Luther coughed wetly into his napkin. “Whereabouts?”
“Sonoma State,” I said.
He seemed to be working on a follow-up question, but Nana impatiently flagged down the waiter. “I’ll have the fish and chips,” she ordered, without waiting for him to come to a full stop at the table. “But if you could put them on separate plates, I’d appreciate it. And a side salad, no tomatoes. Carrots only if they aren’t shredded.”
I caught Sam’s eye and registered the sympathetic amusement there. I wanted to explain that she owns a restaurant but hates eating out. She’s picky enough to make her food perfect, but never trusts anyone else to do the same. After he gave me a small smile, we both looked away.
Nana held up a hand to keep the waiter’s attention from turning to me yet. “And dressing on the side. Also, I’ll have a glass of chardonnay and an ice water. With ice.” She lowered her voice to explain to me—but not so quietly that everyone didn’t hear it too: “Europeans have a thing about ice. I’ll never understand it.”
With a tiny grimace, the waiter turned to me. “Miss?”
“Fish and chips.” I grinned and handed him my menu.
The waiter left, and a tense, aware silence filled his wake before Luther leaned back in his chair, letting out a roaring laugh. “Well now. I guess we know who the princess is!”
Nana became a prune again. Great.
Sam leaned forward, planting two solid arms on the table. “How long you here for?”
“Two weeks,” Nana told him, pulling her hand sanitizer out of her purse.
“We’re doing a month,” Luther said, and beside him, Sam picked up a piece of bread from the basket at the center of the table and wolfed it down in a single, clean bite. I worried they’d ordered a while ago, and our appearance had really delayed the delivery of their meal. “Here for a couple weeks as well,” Luther continued, “then up to the Lake District. Where are you staying in London?”
“The Marriott.” My voice carried the same reverence I’d use to tell him we were staying in a castle. “Right on the river.”
“Really?” Sam’s eyes darted to my mouth and back up. “So are we.”
Nana’s voice cut in like a razor: “Yes, but we’ll be moving as soon as we can.”
My jaw dropped, and irritation rose in a salty tide in my throat. “Nana, we don’t—”
“Moving hotels?” Luther asked. “Why on earth would you leave that place? It’s beautiful, historic—It’s got a view of everything you could possibly want.”
“Our room doesn’t. In my book, it’s unacceptable to pay what we’re paying for two weeks, just to look at a row of parked cars.” She immediately handed the water glass back to the waiter when he put it in front of her. “Ice, please.”
She’s tired, I reminded myself, and drew in a deep, calming breath. She’s stressed because this is expensive and we’re far away from home and Mom is alone there.
I watched the waiter turn and walk back toward the bar; I was mortified by her demands and her mood. A tight, leaden ball pinballed around inside my gut, but Sam laughed into another sip of his own water, and when I looked at him, he grinned. He had my favorite kind of eyes: mossy green backlit by a knowing gleam.
“This is Tate’s first trip to London,” Nana continued, apparently ignoring the fact that it was her first trip here, too. “I’ve been planning this for years. She should have a view of the river.”
“You’re right,” Sam said quietly, and didn’t even hesitate when he added: “You should take our room. Twelfth floor. We have a view of the river, the London Eye, and Big Ben.”
Twelfth floor. Same as us.
Nana blanched. “We couldn’t possibly.”
“Why not?” Luther asked. “We’re barely ever there. The better views are outside, when you’re out and about.”
“Well of course we won’t be sitting in the room the entire time,” Nana protested defensively, “but I assumed if we’re paying—”
“I insist,” Luther broke in. “After dinner, we’ll trade rooms. It’s settled.”
“I don’t like it.” Nana sat by the window while I shoved all my clothes back in my suitcase. Her purse on her lap and the packed suitcase at her feet told me she’d already decided to trade rooms, she just needed to make a show of protest. “Who offers to give up a view of the river and Big Ben for a view of the street?”
“They seem nice.”
“First, we don’t even know them. Second, even with nice men you don’t want to be obligated.”
“Obligated? Nana, they’re trading hotel rooms with us, not paying us for sex.”
Nana turned her face toward the window. “Don’t be crude, Tate.” She fingered the organza curtain for a few quiet beats. “What if they find out who you are?”
There it was. Reason number one I’d never traveled east of Colorado before today. “I’m eighteen. Does it even matter anymore?”
She started to argue but I held up a hand, giving in. It mattered so much to Nana that I stayed hidden; it wasn’t worth pushing back.
“I’m just saying,” I said, zipping up my bag and rolling it toward the door. “They’re being nice. We’re here for two weeks, and glaring at that street will drive you crazy. Which means it will drive me crazy. Let’s take the room.” She didn’t move, and I returned a few steps closer to her. “Nana, you know you want the view. Come on.”