“It’s a completely different and a separate situation,” Mom says stiffly. “We’re adults who know how to be answerable for consequences. You’re a child. Involved with someone I don’t know and have no reason to trust.”

“I trust him.” My voice is rising. “Shouldn’t that be enough? Me being the responsible one who makes smart choices and all?”

Mom pours soap into the blender I’d left in the sink, sprays water into it, then scrubs furiously. “I don’t like your tone, Samantha. When you talk like this I don’t know who you are.”

This makes me furious. And then in the next second, exhausted. Whoever I am scares me a little. I’ve never talked to my mother like this, and it’s not the chill of the central air-conditioning that prickles the skin of my arms. But as I see Mom cast yet another of a decade’s worth of critical looks over at the Garretts in their yard, I know where I’m going.

I walk to the side door and bend to put on my flip-flops.

Mom’s right behind me.

“You’re walking away? We haven’t resolved this! You can’t leave.”

“I’ll be right back,” I toss over my shoulder. Then I march across the porch, around the fence, and up the driveway to put my hand on the warm skin of Jase’s back, bent over the innards of the Mustang.

He turns his head to smile at me, quickly wiping his forehead with his wrist. “Sam!”

“You look hot,” I say.

He shoots a quick glance over at his mother, still reading to George and feeding Patsy. Duff and Harry have evidently taken their fight elsewhere.

“Um, thanks.” He sounds bemused.

“Come with me. To my house.”

“I’m kind of—I should probably take a shower. Or get a shirt.”

I’m pulling at his hand now, slippery with sweat and grease. “You’re fine the way you are. Come on.”

Jase looks at me for a moment, then follows. “Should I have gotten my tool kit?” he asks mildly as I tow him up the steps.

“Nothing needs fixing. Not like that.”

I can hear from outside that Mom’s got the vacuum cleaner back on. I open the door and gesture inside. Jase, eyebrows raised, steps in.

“Mom!” I call.

She straightens up from vacuuming one of the sofa cushions, then just stands there, looking back and forth between us. I walk over and flip the vacuum off.

“This is Jase Garrett, Mom. One of your constituents. He’s thirsty and he’d love some of your lemonade.”

Chapter Thirty-one

“So now you’ve met my mother,” I say to Jase that night, leaning back on the roof.

“I sure have. That was awesome. And completely uncomfortable.”

“The lemonade made it all worthwhile, though, right?”

“The lemonade was fine,” Jase says. “It was the girl who made it awesome.”

I sit up, edge over close to my window, and push it open, slipping one leg in, then the next, turning back to Jase. “Come on.”

His smile flashes in the gathering dark as his eyebrows lift, but he climbs carefully in as I lock my bedroom door.

“Be still,” I tell him. “Now I’m going to learn all about you.”

A while later, Jase is lying on his back on my bed, wearing shorts but nothing else, and I’m kneeling beside him.

“I think you already know me pretty well.” He reaches out to tug the elastic out of my hair so it falls free, draping over his chest.

“Nope. Lots to learn. Do you have freckles? A birthmark? Scars? I’m gonna find ’em all.” I lean down to touch my lips to his belly button. “There, you have an innie. I’m filing this information away.”

Jase sucks in a breath. “I’m not sure I can be still. Jesus, Samantha.”

“Look, and over here…” I lick in a line down from his navel. “You do have a scar. Do you remember where you got this one?”

“Samantha. I can’t even remember my name when you’re doing this. But don’t stop. I love the way your hair feels like that.”

I shake my head, making my hair fan out more. I am wondering where this take-charge confidence is coming from, but at the moment, who cares? Watching what it does to him takes away any hesitation, any embarrassment.

“I don’t think I’m going to get the whole picture with these here.” I reach for the top of his shorts.

His lashes flutter closed as he takes another deep rough breath. I slowly slide them down, tugging over his lean hips.

“Boxers. Plain. No cartoon characters. I figured.”

“Samantha. Let me look at you too. Please.”

“What is it you want to see?” I’m preoccupied by edging the shorts all the way off. And a little bit using this as an excuse because my bravado has wavered after seeing Jase in only boxers. And not exactly immune to me.

Okay, I know about arousal, I do. It was pretty much Charley’s perpetual state. Michael suffered over his, but that never stopped him from pulling my hand to his crotch. But this is Jase, and that I can do that to him, with him, makes my mouth go dry, and other parts of me ache in a completely unaccustomed way.

He reaches up, brushing my hair away from the back of my dress so he can find the zipper. His eyes are still closed but, as the zipper slides down, he opens them and they’re brilliant green, like leaves when they first show up in the spring. He smoothes the tips of his fingers around my shoulders and then eases the dress down, taking my hands to pull them out of the armholes. I shiver. I’m not cold, though.

I wish I had some exotic underwear. It’s an ordinary tan bra I’m wearing, the kind with that little meaningless bow in the center. But just as I find Jase’s plain boxers perfectly compelling, he seems mesmerized by my utilitarian bra. His thumbs brush over the front of it, tracing the outline, circling. My turn to take a deep breath now. Except that I can’t seem to, as his hands return to my back, searching for the clasp.

I look down. “Ah. You do have a birthmark.” I touch his thigh. “Right up here. It looks like a fingerprint, almost.” The tip of my index finger covers it completely.

Jase slides my bra off, whispering, “You have the softest skin. Come close.”

I lie on top of him, skin to skin. He’s tall, I’m not, but when we lie like this, we fit together. All the curves of my body relax into the strength of his.