“I thought you would hate me. And Clay was going to ruin the hardware store. I’d already ruined everything else. I thought it was better to leave than to have you hate me.”

His forehead crinkles. “I’d hate you because of something your mother did? Or that scumbag threatened? Why? What sense would that make?”

“Nothing made sense. I was stupid and just…just lost. Everything was wonderful and then everything was awful. You have this happy family and it all works. I come into it and something from my world messes it all up.”

Jase turns to look out the window, out over our ledge to his house.

“It’s all the same world, Sam.”

“Not entirely, Jase. I’ve got—meet-and-greets and the griffins at the B and T and pretending everything’s okay when it’s not and just junk. And you’ve got—”

“Debt and diapers and messy rooms and more junk,” he concedes. “Why didn’t you think that if it was your world, if you had to deal with it, I might care enough to want it to be mine too?”

I close my eyes, take a deep slow breath, open them to find him looking at me with so much love and trust.

“I lost faith,” I say.

“And now?” he asks quietly.

I extend my hand flat, palm open, and Jase’s hand closes around it. He gives a little tug, and then I am in his arms, holding on. There is no soaring music, but there is the sound of his heart, and my own.

Then my bedroom door snaps open and my mother is standing there, staring at us.

Chapter Forty-nine

“You’re both here,” Mom says. “Perfect.”

Not what I would have imagined her saying when she caught us together in my bedroom. The astonishment on Jase’s face must mirror mine.

“Clay’s on his way,” she continues breathlessly. “He’ll be here in a few minutes. Come down to the kitchen.”

Jase glances at me. I shrug. Mom heads downstairs.

Once we reach the kitchen, she turns and smiles, her social we’re-all-good-friends-here smile. “Why don’t we have something to drink while we’re waiting? You hungry, Jase?” Her voice has that tinge of a Southern drawl that has rubbed off from Clay.

“Uh…not really.” Jase is looking at her warily, like she’s an animal whose temperament he’s unsure of. She’s wearing a bright lemon-yellow dress, her hair neat, her makeup flawless. A far cry from the stunned woman in her robe with the mask of skin cream I left behind just a while ago.

“Well, when Clay gets here, we’ll all go in the office. Maybe I should make tea.” She surveys Jase. “You don’t look like a tea drinker, though. A beer?”

“I’m underage, so no, thanks, Senator Reed.” Jase’s voice is flat.

“You can call me Grace,” Mom says, missing any sarcasm. Ooo-kay. Not even Nan and Tim, who have known her nearly a lifetime, are on a first-name basis with Mom. Publically, anyway.

She walks a little closer to Jase, who’s standing very still, maybe in case she turns out to be one of those animals who strike without warning. “My, what broad shoulders you have.”

My, what a creepy Blanche DuBois vibe you have, Mom

“What’s going on here—” I start, but she cuts in.

“It’s mighty hot today. Why don’t I get you two some lemonade? I think we might even have cookies!”

Has she lost her mind? What’s she expecting Jase to say: Are they chocolate chip? With nuts? Because if so, all’s forgiven! What’s a little hit and run compared to this awesome treat?

I take his hand, squeezing mine, stepping closer as we hear the front door bang open.


“In the kitchen, honey,” Mom calls warmly. Clay strides in, hands in his pockets, sleeves of his button-down rolled up.

“Hi there, Jason, is it?”

“I go by Jase.” Now Jase is dividing his attention between two creatures of unknown temperament. I edge closer to him and he moves forward, blocking me behind his back. I circle around, stand beside him.

“Jase it is, then,” Clay says easily. “How tall are you, son?”

What’s up with this sudden obsession with Jase’s physique? He shoots me a look that asks: Is he measuring me for a coffin? But still responds politely, “Six two…sir.”

“Basketball your game?”

“Football. I’m a cornerback.”

“Ah—a key position. I was quarterback myself,” Clay says. “I remember one time I—”

“That’s great,” Jase interrupts. “Could you please tell us what’s going on here? I know what happened, with my dad. Sam told me.”

Clay’s calm, genial expression doesn’t change. “Yes, so I hear. Why don’t we all go into Grace’s office. Gracie, sugar, you lead the way.”

Mom’s home office is more feminine than her work one, with pale blue walls and white linen upholstery on the couch and the chairs. Instead of an office chair, she has an ivory silk brocade armchair. She settles into this, behind the desk, while Clay sprawls back in one of the other chairs, slanting it onto its hind legs the way he always does.

Jase and I move close together on the long couch.

“So, Jase, hoping to keep on playing football in college, are you?”

“I’m not clear on why we’re talking about this,” Jase says. “My college career doesn’t have much to do with the senator and what she did to my dad. Sir.”

Clay’s expression is still blandly pleasant. “I admire blunt speaking, Jase.” He chuckles. “When your career’s in politics, you don’t hear nearly enough of it.” He smiles at Jase, who returns his look stonily.

“All right, then,” Clay says. “Let’s be honest with one another. Jase, Samantha, Grace…What we have here is a situation. Something’s happened, and we need to deal with it. Am I right?”

Since this generic summation could cover everything from the dog peeing on the new rug to inadvertently launching nuclear warheads, Jase and I nod.

“A wrong’s been done, am I right about that too?”

I glance over at Mom, whose tongue flicks out to lick her upper lip nervously.

“Yes,” I say, since Jase has returned to his wary he-could-strike-at-any-moment watching of Clay.