“Maybe . . .” I start, my inner cynic holding me back, the hopeful daughter urging me forward. “Maybe we could do Christmas this year? Or Thanksgiving.”
He looks almost as surprised by my question as I do. “Oh, that sounds nice, Tate. Let me check with Althea and I’ll let you know, okay?”
“Of course.” I’m out of my depth and don’t want to push. “I’ll be home for a few weeks, so give me a call. Or a text, or—whatever.”
We round a corner in the trail and the Community House comes into view, light from the wide porch spilling out onto the ground below.
“I wanted to talk to Gwen before I left, did you—?” he starts, motioning toward the party.
“No,” I insist. “Go ahead. I need to find Nick anyway.”
He smiles and ruffles my hair before heading toward the house. Not ready to go inside just yet, I follow a trail of stone pavers set into the ground, moving from each one until I reach a greenhouse near the back.
I’m just about to look inside when I hear voices around the corner.
“Was it surreal seeing all of this? Hearing actors say lines you wrote?” someone says, and I recognize one of the boom operators and a few others from the crew, and Sam.
“Yeah,” Sam says, and then pauses. “I never thought we’d get this far, so I’ve just tried to enjoy every second. The casting was perfect.”
“But didn’t I hear you had a problem with Tate at first?”
I step closer, still in the shadows but able to see them now illuminated in a small cone of yellow light.
Sam waves him away, his movements a little exaggerated, and I wonder how many of those pink cocktails he’s had. “No. She was perfect. I wrote it with her in mind.”
I stop, feeling my pulse drop in my throat. He what?
“I’ve got a couple of films with her in mind,” one of the crew jokes.
Someone adds, “Date with Tate,” and everyone but Sam laughs knowingly.
I see Sam stand to his full height, chest forward as if he’s going to address this with fists. I step fully out of the shadows, clearing my throat.
They all startle, straightening and tucking their beers behind their backs as if I’m their mom and just walked in on them watching porn.
“Hey,” I say quickly, looking up at Sam, trying to communicate for him to Be cool. After a few mumbled words of greeting—and it’s awkward because it’s very clear I’ve overheard what they were saying—they quickly make excuses and head back toward the party.
When it’s just the two of us, I pull Sam into the greenhouse. It’s quiet inside, and the air is damp and scented with soil. The open panels let in just enough light for me to make out his expression. He’s trimmed his beard, but even with it still there, I can see how tight his jaw is. I stand across from him in one of the narrow aisles.
“Hey you. Everything okay?”
“I think you stopped me from punching Kevin.”
I laugh. “I think I did.”
He bends, wiping a hand over his face. “Holy shit. That would have been bad.”
“You can’t do that,” I say quietly. “If you want to do this with me, you can’t get riled up about stupid shit like that.”
He steps forward, crowding me against one of the metal tables. “I do. I won’t.”
I start to say more but he cups my face in his hand and bends, not kissing me yet, just breathing, sharing the same air. He smells like the cherries from his drink, warm and sweet, lips stained slightly pink. When he presses forward, he tastes like cherries, too. His hand goes around the back of my neck as he opens his mouth, soft and sucking.
There’s no place to go, and he lifts me, setting me on the table and stepping between my open legs. I’m surrounded by flowers; the air is sweet and bordering on too warm, a contrast to the bite of cold coming in through the open door. He kisses me again, harder now with tongue and teeth, dragging over my lip and pulling me deeper.
Something is happening beneath the surface of my skin, bubbles of carbonation rising to the surface, electricity moving along a wire and threatening to short out.
“Do you want to try doing this?” he asks quietly.
“I do.” My fingers twist in the fabric of his shirt. “But you can’t get riled up when people talk about me—because they will.” I look up at him, looking back and forth between those mossy-green eyes. “But also, Sam, we can never speak publicly about London. If we’re really doing this, we have to start over, completely. A clean slate. If it ever gets out that you sold the story to the Guardian, it will be all anyone talks about. Even years from now, every mention of our names will include a footnote about London and what you did. We’ll never be able to move past it. They’ll never let us move past it.”
His eyes are wide, and he nods once. “No, that totally makes sense. I would never betray you again.”
I press a kiss to the sides of his mouth. “We’re almost done here, and then we can figure out what we’re going to do next.”
He growls, grinning into a kiss before dragging me to the edge of the table, and along his body. With my feet safely on the ground, he takes my hand, bringing it to his mouth to press another kiss to my palm. It turns into a bite, and he moves his mouth up my arm.
“Stay with me tonight?” I ask.