“Mmm-hmm?” He lifts up on one elbow, his face barely visible in the twilight.

“You have to kiss me,” I find myself saying.

“Yeah.” He leans closer. “I do.”

His lips, warm and soft, touch my forehead, then slide down my cheek, moving sideways to my mouth. His hand comes up to press the nape of my neck beneath my wet hair, just as mine slips to his back. His skin’s warm beneath the cool sheen of water, his muscles tight as he lies there, still balanced on one elbow. I curl in closer.

I’m not new to kissing. Or I thought I wasn’t, but it’s never been anything like this. I can’t get close enough. When Jase gently deepens the kiss, it feels right, no moment of startled hesitation like I’ve had before.

After a long time, we swim back to shore and stretch out for a while on our towels, kissing again. Jase’s lips smiling under mine as I kiss all over his face. My hands tightening on his shoulders as he nuzzles my neck and softly nibbles my collarbone. It is as if everything else in the world stops as we lie here in the summer night.

“We should go home,” Jase whispers, his hands stroking my waist.

“No. Not yet. Not yet,” I say back, sliding my lips along the willing curve of his.

Chapter Fourteen

Punctual to a fault, I’ve never understood the expression “I lost track of time.” I’ve never lost track of anything, not my cell phone, not my homework, not my work schedule, certainly not time. But this night, I do. When we climb into the car it’s five of eleven. I try to quell the panic in my tone as I remind Jase of my curfew. He speeds up a little, but stays within the limit, reaching out a calming hand to touch my knee.

“I’ll come in with you,” he offers as we pull into the circular drive. “Explain that it was my fault.”

“No.” The headlights of the VW illuminate a Lexus parked in our driveway. Clay? One of those donors? As I fumble with the door latch, my hand is sticky with sweat. I’m scrambling for a plan, a Mom-acceptable excuse. She was not in the best of moods this morning. Unless the donors showered her with money, and probably even if they did, I’m in big trouble. I have to just go in the front door, because chances are my mother has already checked my bed.

“Good night, Jase,” I call hurriedly, and run without looking back. I start to open the door, but then it opens swiftly from inside and I practically fall in. Mom’s standing there, her face taut with fury.

“Samantha Christina Reed!” she begins. “Do you know what time it is?”

“After curfew. I know. I—”

She shakes the wineglass in her hand at me as if it’s a wand that will render me mute. “I’m not going through this with you too—do you hear me? I’ve done all the troubled-teenager parenting I have time for with your sister. I don’t need this, do you understand?”

“Mom, I’m only ten minutes late.”

“That’s not the point.” Her voice rises. “The point is that you don’t get to do it! I expect better from you. This summer, especially. You know I’m under a lot of pressure. This is not the time for your adolescent drama.”

I cannot help but wonder if any parents ever actually schedule in adolescent drama on their day planners. Looks like a slow week, Sarah. I guess I can pencil in your eating disorder.

“This isn’t drama,” I tell her, which rings so true to my ears. Mom is drama. Tim is drama. Sometimes even Nan is drama. Jase and the Garretts…they’re whatever the opposite of drama is. The tidal pool warm in the summer sun, full of exotic life, but no danger.

“Don’t contradict me, Samantha,” Mom snaps. “You’re grounded.”


“What’s goin’ on, Grace?” asks a softly accented Southern voice, and Clay wanders out of the living room, sleeves rolled up, tie loose around his neck.

“I’m handling it,” Mom tells him sharply.

I half expect him to pull back as though she’s slapped him, which I want to do when she gets that tone, but his posture relaxes even more. He leans back against the doorway, flicks something off his shoulder, and says simply, “Seems like you could use my help.”

Mom’s so tightly wound, she’s practically vibrating. She’s always been private—would never yell at Tracy and me if we were even remotely in public—then we’d just get a terse whisper—“We will discuss this later.” But it’s Clay, and her hand shoots up to pat her hair in that silly, coy gesture I’ve only seen her use with him.

“Samantha’s late for curfew. She has no excuse for that.”

Well, she hasn’t exactly given me a chance to offer one, but, true, I don’t know what I’d say in my own defense.

Clay looks at his Rolex. “Curfew’s when, Gracie?”

“Eleven,” Mom says, her voice smaller now.

Clay lets out a rich, low laugh. “Eleven o’clock on a summer night? And she’s seventeen? Honey, that’s when we all miss curfew.” He walks over, reaches to squeeze the back of her neck lightly. “I know I did. I’m sure you did.” His hand moves to her chin, edging it so she’s looking right at him. “Give a little here, sugar.”

Mom stares at his face. I’m holding my breath. I shoot a glance at my unlikely rescuer. He winks at me, giving Mom’s chin a nudge with his knuckles. In his eyes, there’s not a trace of guilt or—and I’m surprised at how relieved I feel—complicity about what he knows I saw.

“Maybe I overreacted,” she says finally, to him, not to me.

But I’m beginning to wonder the same thing. Maybe there’s an easy explanation for the brunette?

“We all do it, Gracie. Why don’t I get you some more wine?” He scoops the glass out of her unresisting fingers and heads off to the kitchen as though it’s his own.

Mom and I both stand there.

“Your hair’s wet,” she says at last. “You’d better shower with conditioner or it’ll dry tangly.”

I nod, and turn to go up the stairs. Before I’ve gone far, I hear her behind me. But I act as though I don’t, proceeding into my room and flopping facedown on my bed, still wearing my wet bathing suit and damp sundress. The mattress dips as Mom sits down.

“Samantha…why would you provoke me like this?”