I hesitate.

If I don’t go to the party, there is a definite chance I’ll just be sitting around my hotel room, waiting for the next tweet. Maybe if I hang out with a bunch of Starfield geeks, I could ask around to see if anyone’s heard rumors of someone leaking the script.

Yeah, that’s a good reason.

It’s a lot better than the other one in my head: that it feels nice to talk with someone who doesn’t see me as Jessica Stone, who doesn’t want anything from me, who is nice and honest and very pretty. And I don’t even want to think about the way she puts her hands into her dress pockets, leaning back as if to get a better look at me, or how she didn’t have to come with me to herd the cat but she did anyway. And how, even though I was kinda dreadful to her in the beginning, she’s still sticking around.

It’s because to her you’re Imogen, her friend. She’s being nice to you because you aren’t Jess.

That makes my stomach twist further. I clear my throat and cross my arms over my chest. “Well, as long as you don’t make me sing.”

She crosses a pinky over her heart. “Hope to die,” she says with that same smile, and for the first time I realize why it’s so enthralling. Because there’s adventure tucked into the corner of her mouth.

The kind of adventure I want to go on.

“Okay,” I say, “count me in.”

WE ENDED UP STEALING SANDWICHES FROM the Green Room and eating in a vacant stairwell. The tuna melts weren’t that bad, actually, and Ethan had mints to cover up our dreaded fish breath. He also had a pen in his pocket, and a small notepad, so I could practice Jessica’s signature.

“Are your pockets bigger on the inside?” I tried to joke, but he just rolled his eyes.

“I don’t have that much in my pockets.”

“Maybe you’re a magician—Merlin, is that you, old man?”

“Shut up and practice the J again. Loop it more—no, like this,” he instructed, scooting close to me. He took my writing hand into his much larger one. He guided the pen into the perfect loopy J. “There, see?”

His hand was very warm, and he was very close, leaning against my shoulder. Much closer than he’d ever been to me before. Too close, really, for someone who hated me. He noticed a moment later, and quickly let go of my hand and scooted to the other side of the step. “We should go back,” he said gruffly, standing, and even though I hadn’t perfected my loopy J, we returned to the showroom. He didn’t know where the meet-and-greet area was, but I did, so I led him to the bottom of the Marriott and into one of the bigger ballrooms, and that’s where we find ourselves now. My head’s beginning to itch under my fake hair. “My wig’s hot and I hate it,” I say.


“And the hair’s sticking to my neck,” I whine.

Ethan rolls his eyes. He’s worriedly twisting a silver ring on his left middle finger and peeks out from behind the curtain. After a moment he pulls his head back in and curses. “There’s a long line.”

“Well, it is for Jessica Stone.”

“What if someone realizes you’re a fake? Your contacts slip? Someone pulls on your wig—”

I put a hand on his shoulder. “Relax, old man. I’m a professional.”

He closes the curtain and levels a glare down at me. And I’m reminded of the moment in the stairwell when we were this close before, and alone, and it is bad. Because beneath his thick glasses, his eyelashes are dark, and underneath those eyelashes are his eyes, which remind me of puddles of black ink, the kind that gets on a writer’s fingers. His hair is now messy from being run through too many times, and I detest that thin set of his mouth, how it makes him look so self-righteous and—

How can someone so infuriating be so handsome?

The thought repulses me, and I quickly avert my eyes. The volunteer operating the camera hurries into the photo booth, pulling back her dark hair. “Sorry, sorry! Hi, I’m your volunteer, Savvy. Are you ready to start?”

“Yes,” I quietly reply, relieved that there’s someone else in the booth with us.

Ethan shoves his hands into his pockets and leans on a stool in the corner, looking down to his…superhero shoes. No, like, literally. They have the Captain America shield in little dots all over them. And then I’m just thinking of Ethan punching Nazis, and that’s kinda hot, actually.

Nope, don’t go down that road. He and Jess are probably a thing, which is why he’s so mean to me. Because he’d rather be with her and—


“Just remember,” he tells me quietly, so the photographer can’t hear, “sandbag any questions you don’t know. Be polite. Do not talk about yourself. Say only ’Oh, thank you for coming! It was so nice to meet you! Have fun at the con!’” he says in a terrible falsetto, and I grimace. “That’s it.”

“You know, I—I mean, Jess—don’t sound like that, right?”

“I’m making a point.”

“I get it, don’t worry.”

Then the volunteer handling my line lets the first person into the booth, and I pull a smile over my cherry-gloss lips—and clam up. I don’t know how to pose with fans, and I’m not sure which side Jess favors—

“Left,” Ethan reminds gently after the first fan. “Always left.”

“Like Captain America.”

“Dork,” he murmurs, but I catch him fighting a smile before the next fan comes in.


So I pose to the left, and smile, and after the twentieth fan my cheeks are beginning to hurt. But I become a little more confident. And with each photo it gets a little easier. The hour is a whirlwind of dudes leaning too close, fangirls flipping out over meeting their princess, and cosplayers asking me to strike ridiculous poses and laughing over Starfield jokes. It’s both wonderful and terrifying. I don’t want to slip up. I don’t want to make a mess of things.

I soak in every moment.

There are girls wearing my #SaveAmara pins and guys flashing me the Starfield salute and begging me to Nox-conscript them and duh, you know I will. I meet fan after fan just like me, and I want to reach out and tell them that I’m just like them. That we are more alike than they think. I try to tell them in my smile, in the way I pose, in the handshakes and the hugs…

How can Jess not like this? How could she want to trade this—this feeling—for anything else in the world?

After the last fan leaves, Ethan ducks into the booth and hands me a water bottle, but my head is still buzzing. I drink half before I say, “That was amazing. Did you see the cute little girl in Carmindor cosplay?”

“Mm, she was cute, yeah,” he replies.

“And the guy who proposed to me! I tried so hard not to laugh, but starflame! does he need to work on his delivery.”


“And the Disney Princess Noxians and the Jedi Amara and—it was all so cool! I’ve never done anything like that before in my life!” I laugh and twirl around. “I haven’t been this happy since season six of Voltron! What?” I realize that he’s watching me with a strange look in his eyes. Not, like, a bad strange, but definitely not Old Man Ethan, either. It almost looks like…“What’s that look for?”

He doesn’t realize he’s staring at me until I speak, and then he clears his throat and turns away. “Nothing. I was—nothing. You look like a fool twirling around. Jess doesn’t do that.”

“Oh, right.” I pass my hand in front of my face; one moment I’m smiling and the next I’m wearing Jess’s nothing-makes-me-smile look. “Is this better?”

“Much.” When we get to the end of the hallway, he says, “May I request a favor?”

“Why yes, old man, you may.”

He glares at the nickname but then sighs in concession. “There’s a panel starting in ten minutes over on the main stage. I’d like to go to it.”

“Oh, you mean the D&D live podcast?”

His eyes widen. “You…know what the panel is?”

“Oh come on, I’m like the queen of ExcelsiCon over here. I know everything happening in my domain.” I throw my hand out across the hallway, indicating the rest of the con. “Everything the nerd funk touches is my kingdom—”

“That’s gross.”

“But true,” I point out, and he agrees. I sigh and shrug, unwittingly crossing my fingers behind my back. “Fine. Just leave me to go back to the hotel alone. Have fun with the tres horny bois.”

He brightens so much that he almost looks charming—almost—before whirling around and shouting “Thank you!” as he runs down the hallway. “And please don’t stop for the paparazzi!”

And then he’s gone.

I uncross my fingers.

And I smile.

Because without any sort of supervision, I can finally break a rule, and if Vance Reigns is gonna take me out tonight, I have to look pretty for it. No, I have to look Jessica Stone pretty.

And he wants to talk about the Save Amara initiative.

With him on my side, I’ll have double the star power.