d’you want to head out to the beach? Take a walk?”

The beach. Okay. That was good. The beach was my home, my safe place, evened the playing field. Which I desperately needed leveled, because as we walked through the house again,

I kept, despite how pointless it was, cataloging all the differ-ences between Cass Somers’s life and my own. At our house, we have stacked blue plastic milk crates to hold Mom’s love books and Nic’s training manuals and Em’s brightly colored children’s books and my . . . whatever. This house had glass-fronted cases with low lights and leather-bound editions. Our paint is dinged, and where we have wallpaper, it’s faded and peeling. They’d had an interior decorator and a “theme.”

But the beach, with the sand and the familiar sigh of the ocean, the beach was an equalizer.

It was a full moon shining across the water. Freezing. Hardly any stars. Cass exhaled a puff of white, chuckling silently as we crunched over leftover snow. When I looked back, I could see several intertwined silhouettes on the porch. Evidently the music hadn’t completely killed the vibe.

Cass was walking purposefully. It suddenly made me falter.

Maybe there was a guest house. Maybe that’s where this had been intended to go all along. He was silent and the sound of nothing but our footsteps clomping along was making me nervous. Each step seemed to say a different thing, like when you pull the petals of a daisy. “He really likes me, No he doesn’t, This isn’t about a hookup, Yes it is.”

“Do you know,” he said softly, “did you know the first maps were all of the sky, not earth? The ones on cave walls? I always thought that was cool.”

“Why were they?” I ask. “Do you know?”

“Not for sure. I’ve made up explanations—like that back then they thought the earth was too big to map, but they thought they could see the whole sky—didn’t know it was reversed.”

It isn’t about a hookup, I thought. It can’t be. That’s not a line. That’s nothing like something Alex would say. Or Jim Oberman.

“Sorry about that back there. Like I said, I underestimated the party thing. I just had one . . . so you would . . . um, come.”

I stopped dead. “You did not!”

He shrugged, smiled, his ears going pink. Or maybe that was just the cold.

“You couldn’t have just asked me on a date?”

“I didn’t think you did those.”

What was that supposed to mean? I’d landed hard on the “He likes me not” foot. “What? You think I just put out? Is that what the kiss in the car was about?”

Cass took a step backward. “No! I mean, yes, I do like you, but I didn’t just . . . that is, yeah, I’ve thought about that, I mean you . . .”

My temper was now rising fast enough to banish the cold.

“Do you have any idea what you’re saying? ’Cause I have none.

You’ve thought about what?”

“Oh for God’s sake!” Cass said, kicking away a piece of ice with his foot. “What do you want me to say? You. I’ve thought about you.”

Me? Or sex with me? Or both? “Why don’t we just go back to the party? Since I don’t do dates.”

He huffed out a breath of exasperation, white in the dark air.

“Because whatever you want to believe—or hear—I really like you. You. Come on, Gwen. Let’s just keep walking.” He reached out his hand, palm up, holding it steady, letting me measure the sincerity in his eyes.

I took his hand. His fingers curled around mine and he tucked both our hands into his parka pocket. We walked for a while in silence. After a few minutes, Cass said, “You’re shaking again. I seem to keep leading you into hypothermia.”

By this point, what with all the high emotion, I had absolutely no idea where we were. When I looked around, I saw to my surprise that we’d walked a full circle around the house, and wound up standing right near my truck. Was it a sign?

Should I leave now?

“Gwen . . . I just want everyone to go away. Except you. I don’t know why I thought all this was a good idea. Safety in numbers or something. Do you think we could just get in your car, get away for a bit before we have to face the keg-heads again?”

It seemed like a simple question.

The house was throbbing with loud people and even louder music. The night air was still, breeze soft and salty from the ocean, peaceful. I couldn’t read Cass’s expression, but I wanted to. I wanted to stay outside with him and talk the way we had in his room. “We could just warm up a little,” I said, nodding my head at the Bronco.

He opened the door for me. The front driver’s one, not the backseat door, waving his hand to gesture me in, in a gentle-manly way. Then he came around to the passenger side, sliding himself in. I flipped the key in the ignition, turned on the heat, swiftly muted Raffi talking about his Bananaphone.

“So . . .” I started, wondering where to go from here, whether I should tell him some private and personal thing about myself in exchange for knowing about his maps. I went

for: “Does this ability to map things mean you never get lost?”

“I get lost,” he said firmly. “Like now. I can’t tell what you’re thinking. About me.”

But then maybe he could, because his eyes widened and he bent toward me, so slowly I almost didn’t realize he was moving. Or was it me?

Then his lips were on mine. One cold hand rubbed the back of my neck and the other slid slowly down the curve of my side, coming to rest just above the waistband of my jeans. I made a sound, which should have been shock, or protest, not a hum of pleasure.

But that’s what it was, because Cass Somers was the virtuoso of kissing, the master, compelling and accepting in equal measure. Like before, he didn’t rush immediately into deep kissing, just a soft firm pressure, then sliding to kiss my cheek, slipping back, hovering, waiting for me to fall into him.

And I did.

Before I knew it, I was running my hands all over his back, and his fingertips were slipping up my sides to my bra. It had a front clasp and his hands went right there, unerring. Then he moved them aside, muttered, “Sorry,” against the side of my mouth. “I . . . I . . . God, Gwen.”

“Mmf,” I responded logically, slanting his chin to angle his jaw toward me, pulling his lips to mine again.