When she nods, it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to pump a fist in the air and say hell yeah. “Okay,” she says, eyeing me. “Just dinner.”

“Dinner. Tuesday. Good.” I pul my phone from my pocket and get her number and address before she changes her mind, and then I tap the lid of my cup against hers before I go outside. “Later, boss.”


What. Have. I. Done.

Chapter 28


In the interest of giving Dori less opportunity to back out on tonight, I’ve kept my distance for the past few days. I ate lunch with Frank on Friday and Gabriel e yesterday, while continuing the morning latte delivery, timed for when Dori was occupied with something or someone that distracted her from speaking to me alone.

Now it’s Tuesday morning, and it’s clear she’s confused.

This is a perfect execution of my usual game plan: a shifting pattern of advance and retreat, sidestepping any resistance until I get what I want. That’s the problem, though

—I stil don’t know what I want beyond a repeat of that kiss, and I seriously doubt any more than that would be possible.

Maybe Tadd was right, and the mere chal enge of her is the thing that’s messing with my head. There’s something uncontaminated about her, and I don’t even mean sexual y or whatever. I mean the way she is, at her core. Like when you wake up and the world has been blanketed by snow overnight, and not a single footstep or tire track has spoiled the untouched perfection of it.


Do I want to be that bastard kid who clomps al over the Do I want to be that bastard kid who clomps al over the yard, just because?

When I arrive, I find Dori easily by her familiar very-patient voice as she demonstrates to Gabriel e how to apply stenciled patterns to her pink wal . “Once you have the stencil secure, dab this domed brush into the paint, and then onto the wal . But make sure you don’t get too much, or it’l drip.”

“Like this?” Gabriel e asks, and Dori nods, watching her.


I haven’t spoken or made a sound, but Dori turns slowly, as though I whispered her name. A smal crease appears between her brows as she watches me cross the room.

Gabriel e turns then, too, skipping up to meet me halfway and bouncing as she pul s up in front of me, hands clasped.

“Oooh, is the one with whipped cream for me?”

“Of course. Maybe al that sugar wil make you sweeter.” She rol s her eyes and giggles, forever unoffended by anything I say to her.

Dori seems so reserved in contrast, and I smile down at her as she murmurs her thanks and takes her cup. She forgets to avoid the slide of my fingers against hers… or she chooses not to avoid it. “You’re welcome,” I say in return.

I’m halfway down the hal when I hear Dori say my name.

As I turn, I’m scrambling for a rational argument for why she can’t cancel on me.

“Are we stil —?” she begins, stopping mid-sentence when I face her.

“Yeah. Of course.” The tone of my voice says I’d maybe

“Yeah. Of course.” The tone of my voice says I’d maybe forgotten the whole thing, when in actuality I’m relieved and switching gears. “Seven okay?” I step closer, look down into her upturned face. The day outside is overcast, darkening the hal way, so I can barely distinguish her pupils from the deep brown of her irises. She glances at the cup in her hand, and I note the thickness of her lashes, long and straight as they feather across the tops of her cheeks, framing her eyes as she looks back up at me.

“Seven’s good. How… should I dress?”

I consider her experience with church and school functions, the strict views of proper and inappropriate, dressing up or dressing down. With the exceptions of filming and my recent court appearance, I wear whatever I want, because I just don’t give a shit. Respect should be reserved for the person, not the outfit.

For my last photo shoot, they put me on a float in a chlorinated pool wearing a Gucci suit, reclining, one pant leg dangling into the water. The suit, worth thousands, was thoroughly ruined by the half-an-hour soak in pool chemicals. Contrast this with the fact that I regularly walk into jacket-and-tie-only restaurants wearing jeans and a tshirt. No one ever says anything other than Right this way, Mr. Alexander. I suspect this is one aspect of celebrity Dori would appreciate.

“Dress however you want,” I tel her. “Just be comfortable.”


Dress however I want? What does that mean?

I’ve never been too caught up in fashion beyond fol owing whatever social constraints were in place—a modest dress or skirt at church, modest jeans and t-shirts for school. Modest is the adjective most likely to describe any piece of clothing I own, unless blah can be used as an adjective. Not that I want to wear anything provocative to go to dinner with Reid. But I don’t particularly want to look like a street person, either. Photographers fol ow him everywhere. I shouldn’t care, but I do, a little. So on Sunday night, when I surveyed the garments hanging in my closet and stuffed into the armoire I inherited from my grandmother, I felt genuine fear. If I knew his phone number, I’d have texted him right then and canceled.

Now he’s tel ing me to dress comfortably—however I want. And I seriously have no idea what he means by that.

What was I thinking, agreeing to this? When I told Deb, she sighed heavily. “Be careful, baby girl. Forget comfortable—

wear something with a padlock. And leave the key at home.”

I laughed half-heartedly. No one could see through me like Deb, even from hundreds of miles away. “Yeah. I know.” I could cal Aimee and Kayla, but they would hyperventilate at the thought of Reid Alexander taking me to dinner. They would also insist on performing an emergency head-to-toe makeover, and that is not happening. This is not a date. This is just dinner.

Just. Dinner.

I’m staring into my closet again, and predictably, nothing has magical y appeared since I looked two nights ago. I’m obsessing and I know it. I tel myself to choose something already and put it on. He doesn’t care what I wear.

I yank a dress off of a hanger and pul it over my head, and then search through unlabeled shoe boxes for the heeled sandals I wore to graduation. I usual y wear flats with dresses, because if I’m wearing a dress, there’s a 99%

chance I’m at church, and if I’m at church, I’m helping with anything from nursery duty to passing out Sunday service bul etins. Plus heels aren’t the most comfortable footwear ever invented. After my interminable graduation ceremony, I whined to Mom that enduring a few hours in those things gave me newfound sympathy for those unfortunate Chinese girls with the bound feet. She laughed, said, “Welcome to womanhood,” and gave me a foot massage. I haven’t worn them since, which means they’re stil new and are going to pinch the fudge out of my toes.

I move to the mirror and check my reflection.

Unsurprisingly, the plain black sleeveless sheath hasn’t turned me into a hottie, even with the strappy black heels.

The most praise I could give myself is that this is an improvement over my usual grungy construction worker look. I hope.

I stuff my cel , lip gloss, and my license into the tiny designer knockoff wal et-on-a-strap that Aimee and Kayla brought me from their trip to New York last summer. I usual y carry an enormous canvas bag that holds everything from ibuprofen to a smal pack of crayons, and if necessary, a change of clothes. Dad cal s it my Mary Poppins satchel and amuses himself by asking me if I happen to have a hat rack handy. A guy at school once told people I kept a sleeping bag in there, which is idiotic and I can’t fathom why anyone believed him, but a few people actual y did.

I haven’t told Mom and Dad what I’m doing tonight yet.

I’m not sure why I haven’t told them. I’m not afraid they’l forbid me from going—as far as they know, there are no irresponsible deeds in my past, so why would there be any in my future? Not that going to dinner with Reid is irresponsible. Odd, maybe. I look in the mirror one last time before I go downstairs. This is far from the partying outfit some starlet or society girl would wear out, but it’s equal y far from anything I’d typical y wear.

When my heels strike the worn wood floor at the foot of the stairs, Esther trots around the corner and stops feet from me, ears pricked up, head tilted. Great. My outfit confuses my dog. This doesn’t bode wel for my parents’


I walk into the kitchen where they’re making dinner, and Dad pauses in his account of a parishioner whose eleven-year-old son was caught sel ing amphetamines at school.

“Not having dinner with us tonight, pumpkin?” he asks, probably noticing no more about my attire than the fact that I’m wearing shoes.

Mom isn’t as clueless. Her eyes go a little wide when she turns around. “Dori in a dress? And heels? What’s happened? Doug, quick, check the window. Are pigs flying by?” She laughs at her own joke and I rol my eyes at her.

“Seeing Nick tonight?” she asks slyly.

I purse my lips. I should have expected that assumption.

“Er, no, actual y. I’m just, uh, going to dinner with Reid.” They both blink, puzzled.

“Reid? As in Reid Alexander, the movie star?” Mom recovers first.

“That’s the one.” My voice is overly bright. I shrug. “He sort of wanted to apologize—wel , you know, as much as he ever apologizes—for being such a pain the past few weeks.”

Her left eyebrow crooks up. “Reid Alexander, the spoiled movie star, is taking you to dinner to apologize for acting like a spoiled movie star,” she reiterates.

I nod.

“And there’s no other reason he wants to take you on a date…”

“It’s not a date,” I say, too quickly, and her right eyebrow rises to the level of the left one, her eyes scanning me head to toe. “Mom, honestly, this outfit is so… so…”

“So unlike something my daughter, Dori, normal y wears?”

My cheeks warm, and I hope the light is low enough to mask it. Dad’s eyes dart between us. He’s trying to determine whether or not he should be alarmed.

“I just don’t want to embarrass myself in front of the spoiled movie star, that’s al .”

Mom looks at Dad pointedly and he clears his throat.

“Um, I don’t think your mother is questioning your motives, pumpkin, just his.”

Oh my gosh. “We aren’t exactly celebrity watchers, but you guys must know the type of girl Reid would be interested in that way—and I’m so not like that. It would be humiliating if I even wanted him to feel that way. Trust me, I don’t and he doesn’t. He’s just being…nice.” I struggle not to think of that kiss, certain it wil show on my face.

“Humph,” Mom says.

“I don’t know, Dori,” Dad says.

Their belief that I could be some sort of celebrity-tempting siren is almost humorous. But since I just twisted the truth claiming I’ve never wanted Reid to want me—even if that desire only existed for a few seconds—this line of questioning is anything but funny. “Trust me.”

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