When people talk about sex, it sounds so technical…or scarily out of control. Nothing like this sense of rightness, of being made to fit together.

But we don’t carry it any further than lying together. I can feel Jase’s heart thudding beneath me, and the way he curves away a little, embarrassed, probably, that his need shows more clearly than mine. So I just stroke his cheek and say—yes I say, the girl who has always guarded her heart—I say, for the first time, “I love you. It’s okay.”

Jase looks straight into my eyes. “Yeah,” he whispers. “It is, isn’t it? I love you too, my Sam.”

For the next few days after our blowup over Jase, Mom works her way through a) the silent treatment, with its accompaniment of sighs, frosty glances, and hostile muttering under her breath; then b) interrogating me about my plans for every hour of the day; and c) laying down rules: “That boy is not to be coming in here while I’m at work, young lady. I know what happens when two teenagers are alone, and that’s not happening under my roof.”

I manage not to snap back that, in that case, we’ll find a handy backseat or a cheap motel. Jase and I are getting closer and closer. I’m hooked on the smell of his skin. I’m interested in every detail of his day, the way he analyzes customers and suppliers, summing them up so concisely, but empathetically. I’m captivated by the way he looks at me with a bemused smile while I talk, as though he’s both listening to my voice and absorbing the rest of me. I’m pleased by all the parts of him I know, and each new part I discover is like a present.

Is this how Mom feels? Does every bit of Clay feel like it was designed specifically to make her happy? The idea kind of grosses me out. But if she feels that way, what kind of person am I that I just don’t like him being around?

“You’re gonna have to handle this one for me, kid,” Tim says, coming into the kitchen, where I am easing warmed focaccia squares out of the oven, sprinkling them with pre-grated Parmesan. “They need more wine out there and it’s not a real great idea to ask me to be the sommelier. Gracie said two bottles of the pinot grigio.” His voice is teasing, but he’s sweating a little, and probably not from the heat.

“Why did they ask you? I thought you were here to be office support, not waitstaff.” Mom is having twelve donors over for dinner. It’s catered, but she’s concealing the fact from the donors, having me carry out the precooked, reheated food.

“The lines get kinda blurred sometimes. You have no idea how many coffee and donut runs I’ve made since I signed on to your ma’s campaign. Do you know how to open those?” He nods at the two bottles I’ve extracted from the lower rack of the fridge.

“I think I can figure it out.”

“I hate wine,” Tim says meditatively. “Never liked the smell of it, if you can believe that. Now I could just chug both of those in two seconds flat.” He shuts his eyes.

I’ve peeled off the metal coating on top and am inserting the corkscrew, a fancy new one that looks more like a pepper grinder. “Sorry, Tim. If you want to go back out there, I’ll bring these out.”

“Nah. The pretentiousness is getting a little thick. Not to mention the bigotry. That Lamont guy is a supersized douche bag.”

I agree. Steve Lamont is a tax attorney from town and the poster child for political incorrectness. Mom’s never liked him, since he’s also sexist and fond of joking about wearing black every year on the anniversary of the day when women got the vote.

“I don’t understand why he’s even here,” I say. “Clay’s from the South but he’s not a bigot, I don’t think. But Mr. Lamont…”

“Is f**kin’ rich, babe. Or as Clay would put it, ‘He’s so loaded he buys a new boat every time the old one gets wet.’ That’s all that matters. They’d put up with a hell of a lot worse to get some of that.”

I shudder, jerking the cork, which breaks. “Oh, damn.”

Tim reaches for the bottle, but I move it away from him. “It’s okay, I’ll just try to get the broken bit.”

“Timothy? What’s taking so long?” Mom marches through the swinging kitchen door, glancing between us.

I hold out the bottle. “Oh, honestly!” she says. “That’s going to ruin the whole bottle if any cork gets in.” She pulls it from my hands, frowns at it, then drops it into the trash and opens the refrigerator to get another. I start to take it from her hands, but she picks up the opener and twists it herself, deftly. Then does the same to the second bottle.

Then she hands one to Tim. “Just go around the table and top off people’s glasses.”

He sighs. “Okay, Gracie.”

She removes a wineglass from the dish rack and fills it, then takes a deep swallow. “Remember that you are not to call me that in public, Tim.”

“Right. Senator.” Tim’s holding the bottle out in front of him, as though it might explode.

Mom takes another sip. “This is very good,” she tells us absently. “I think it’s going really well out there, don’t you?” She directs this question at Tim, who nods.

“You can practically hear the purse strings loosening,” he says. If his voice is slightly sardonic, Mom doesn’t pick up on that.

“Well, we won’t know until the checks come in.” She finishes the glass of wine in one last swallow, then looks over at me. “Do I have any lipstick left?”

“Just a rim,” I say. Most of it is on the glass.

She blows an impatient breath. “I’ll run upstairs and reapply. Tim, get out there and fill ’em up. Samantha, the foccacia’s getting cold. Bring it out with some more olive oil for dipping.”

Whirling, she heads up the stairs. I take the wine out of Tim’s hand, replacing it with the bottle of oil.

“Thanks, kid. This isn’t nearly as tempting.”

I look over at the glass with its blush-pink stain. “She kind of knocked that back.”

He shrugs. “Your ma doesn’t like asking folks for shit. Not really her style. Dutch courage, I guess.”

Chapter Thirty-two

“You’re not gonna believe what just happened to me,” Jase says the minute I flip my cell open, taking advantage of break at the B&T. I turn away from the picture window just in case Mr. Lennox, disregarding the break sign, will come dashing out to slap me with my first-ever demerit.