Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

  She looked up at him with wide eyes. “You would do that for me?”

  Sam smiled. “I’d get something out of it too. Starting with the sight of you in a bikini. Tell me where you want to go. Los Cabos? Baja? Or maybe Belize or Costa Rica—”

  “Sam.” Lucy patted his chest in an anxious little flutter. “Thank you. I appreciate the offer more than I can say. But there wouldn’t be enough mojitos to blank out the fact that it’s their wedding day. I’m going to have to go. I don’t suppose you—” She broke off, unable to bring herself to ask him.

  “You’ve agreed to be my plus one at Mark and Maggie’s wedding,” Sam said. “It’s only fair if I go with you to your sister’s.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Don’t mention it.”

  “No … really,” she said earnestly. “I already feel better, knowing you’ll be with me.” As soon as the words left her lips, she wanted to take them back, fearing she had revealed too much. Any indication that she needed Sam, depended on him emotionally, would drive him away.

  But he took her head in his hands and kissed her. His palm traveled along her spine before settling low on her hips, pressing her against him. Her eyes widened as she felt the pressure of his arousal thickening against her. By now Sam knew far too much about her, where she was most sensitive, what excited her. He kissed her until her eyes closed and she leaned heavily against him, her heart racing. Slow, searing kisses, draining her strength and filling her with sensation.

  Lucy turned her face away just enough to breathe, “Upstairs.” And he lifted her in his arms.

  * * *

  The following weekend Mark and Maggie were married on the retired ferry in Seattle. The day was warm and beautiful, the waters of Lake Union a glittering shade of sapphire blue. A feeling of serenity pervaded the wedding. There were no signs of nerves or uncertainty, no tension or fuss, nothing but a wholehearted happiness that emanated from both the bride and groom.

  Maggie was beautiful in a knee-length slip dress made of textured ivory silk, the V-neck and the straps edged with delicately translucent cream chiffon. She wore her hair in a simple updo adorned with a cluster of white roses. Holly was dressed in a similar cream-colored dress, the skirt puffed out with a tulle underlay. It touched Lucy when, as Mark and Maggie stood with the justice of the peace for the vows, they gestured for Holly to stand with them. After Mark kissed the bride, he bent to kiss Holly as well.

  A spectacular buffet was served inside the ferry: a cornucopia of fruit, a selection of brightly colored salads and pasta and rice, fresh Pacific seafood, brioche loaded with cheese, bacon, and chutney, and rows of tarts and vegetable roulades. Instead of the traditional wedding cake, a tower of tiny individual cakes was arranged on Plexiglas tiers. A live jazz quartet played “Embraceable You.”

  “I’m sorry this wedding didn’t happen after Alice’s instead of before,” Lucy told Sam.


  “Because everyone is so happy, and Mark and Maggie are so obviously in love. It’s going to make my sister’s wedding look even worse by comparison.”

  Sam laughed and gave her a glass of champagne. He was breathtakingly handsome in a dark suit and a patterned tie, although he wore the clothes with the collar-tugging impatience of a man who didn’t like to be bound up in formal clothing. “Offer of a Mexican getaway still stands,” he told her.

  “Don’t tempt me.”

  After the guests had loaded their plates at the buffet and the tables were filled, Sam stepped forward to make the toast. Mark stood with his arms around both Maggie and Holly.

  “If it weren’t for public transportation,” Sam said, “my brother wouldn’t be getting married today. He and Maggie fell in love along the ferry route from Bellingham to Anacortes … which brings to mind the old saying that life is a journey. Some people have a natural sense of direction. You could put them in the middle of a foreign country and they could find their way around. My brother is not one of those people.” Sam paused as some of the guests started laughing, and his older brother gave him a mock-warning glance. “So when Mark by some miracle manages to end up where he was supposed to be, it’s a nice surprise for everyone, including Mark.” More laughter from the crowd. “Somehow, even with all the roadblocks and detours and one-way streets, Mark managed to find his way to Maggie.” Sam raised his glass. “To Mark and Maggie’s journey together. And to Holly, who is loved more than any girl in the whole wide world.”

  Everyone clapped and hooted, and the band started playing a slow, romantic version of “Fly Me to the Moon.” Mark took Maggie in his arms, and the two of them took a turn around the dance floor.

  “That was perfect,” Lucy whispered to Sam.

  “Thanks.” He smiled at her. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”

  Giving his empty champagne glass to a passing waitress, Sam went to Holly and led her to the dance floor, twirling her, dancing with her feet standing on his, then catching her up in his arms and turning a slow circle.

  Lucy’s smile turned pensive and distracted as she watched them. In the back of her mind, she was worrying over an e-mail she had received from Alan Spellman, her former professor, that very morning. She hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, feeling troubled and conflicted when she should have been nothing but thrilled.

  Alan had written that the committee at the Mitchell Art Center had elected to offer her the year-long artist-in-residence grant. He had congratulated her effusively. All she needed to do was sign a document agreeing to the terms and conditions of the grant, and then the official public announcement would be made. “I couldn’t be more pleased,” he had written. “You and Mitchell Art Center are a perfect match.”

  Lucy had been mildly amused by that phrase. It wasn’t lost on her that after all her failed relationships, her perfect match had turned out to be an art program. She was going to spend a year in New York. She would have national recognition. Working with other artists, experimenting with new techniques, giving occasional “design performances” in the art center’s public glass lab. She would have her own featured exhibition at the end of the residency. It was the kind of opportunity Lucy had always dreamed of. And nothing stood in her way.

  Except Sam.

  She had made no promises. Neither had he. The entire point of the arrangement was that either of them could break it off and leave without a backward glance. An offer like the one from Mitchell Art Center wouldn’t come her way often, if ever again. And she knew that Sam would never want her to make such a sacrifice on his behalf.

  Why, then, was she filled with such melancholy?

  Because she wanted more time with Sam. Because their relationship, even with its limitations, had meant a lot to her.

  Too much.

  Lucy’s thoughts returned to the present as she watched Maggie’s father claim a dance with his daughter, while Mark went to cut in on Sam and Holly. More couples joined them, dancing to the sweetly yearning music.

  Sam returned to Lucy and wordlessly extended his hand.

  “I can’t dance,” Lucy protested with a laugh, gesturing to the Aircast brace on her leg.

  A slow smile curved his lips. “We’ll fake it.”

  She went into Sam’s arms. She breathed in the scent of him, tanned male skin and cedary sweetness, mingled with the hints of summer wool and starched cotton. Since Lucy couldn’t dance in the brace, they merely swayed from side to side, their heads close together.

  A tumult gathered inside her, longing tangled with low-level panic. Once she left him, she realized, she could never come back. It would hurt too much, seeing him with other women, watching the path of his future diverge from hers … and remembering the summer when they had been lovers. They had come so close to making a rare and wondrous connection, something beyond the physical. But ultimately all their inner defenses had remained intractable. They had remained separate, never reaching the true intimacy that Lucy had always craved. And yet this might be the closest she would ever get.
  “Better not to know,” her father had said. God help her, she was beginning to understand what he meant.

  “What is it?” Sam whispered.

  She summoned a quick smile. “Nothing.”

  But Sam wasn’t deceived. “What are you worrying about?”

  “My … my leg’s a little sore,” she lied.

  His arms tightened around her. “Let’s go sit somewhere for a while,” he said, and led her from the dance floor.

  * * *

  The next morning, Lucy woke up later than usual, rich sunlight pouring through the bedroom of her condo. With a long, shivering stretch and a yawn, she turned onto her side, and blinked with surprise at the sight of Sam sleeping beside her.

  Combing through her recollections of the previous night, she remembered Sam bringing her back home. She had been cheerfully tipsy after one too many glasses of champagne. He had undressed her and put her to bed, and had laughed quietly as she had tried to seduce him.

  “It’s late, Lucy. You need to sleep.”

  “You want me,” she had crooned. “You do. I can tell.” She had loosened the knot of his silk tie, and had used it to pull his head down to hers. After a smoldering kiss, she had succeeded in drawing the tie free of his collar, and she had given it to him triumphantly. “Do something wicked,” she said. “Tie me up with this. I dare you.” She lifted her good leg and wrapped it around him. “Unless you’re too tired.”

  “I would be dead before I was too tired for that,” Sam had informed her, and he’d kept her busy well into the night.

  Apparently after those pleasurable exertions, the temptation of sleep had overridden Sam’s rule about never staying all night with a woman.

  Lucy let her gaze travel over the long, powerful limbs, the sleek expanse of his back and shoulders, the tempting disarray of his hair. His face looked younger in sleep, his mouth relaxed, the thick crescents of his lashes flickering infinitesimally as dream images chased through his mind. Seeing the faint notch gather between his brows, Lucy couldn’t stop herself from reaching out to smooth it with a gentle fingertip.

  Sam awakened with a quiet sound, disoriented and drowsy. “Lucy,” he said in a sleep-roughened voice, reflexively reaching out to gather her close. She snuggled against him, nuzzling into the light mat of hair on his chest.

  But in the next moment, she felt the jolt of alarm that went through him.

  “What … where…” Sam’s head shot up, and his breath stopped as he recognized his surroundings. “Jesus,” she heard him mutter. He sprang out of bed as if it had just burst into flames.

  “What’s the matter?” Lucy asked, startled by his reaction.

  Sam stared at her with an expression of near-horror that she found distinctly unflattering. “I never went home last night. I slept here.”

  “It’s okay. Renfield’s at the kennel. Holly is with Mark and Maggie. Nothing to worry about.”

  But Sam had started to snatch up his discarded clothes. “Why did you let me fall asleep?”

  “I fell asleep too,” Lucy said defensively. “And I wouldn’t have woken you up anyway—you were exhausted, and I didn’t mind sharing the bed, so—”

  “I mind,” Sam said forcefully. “I don’t do this. I don’t stay until morning.”

  “What are you, a vampire? It’s no big deal, Sam. It means nothing.”

  But he wasn’t listening to her. He took his clothes into the bathroom, and in a minute she heard the shower running.

  * * *

  “… and then he just took off,” Lucy said to Justine and Zoë later that morning, “like a scalded dog. He barely said a word to me on the way out. I couldn’t tell whether he was pissed off or scared shitless, or both. Probably both.”

  After Sam had left, Lucy had gone to the inn to see her friends. The three of them sat in the kitchen with mugs of coffee. Lucy wasn’t the only one with problems. Zoë’s usual sunny disposition was dampened with worry about her grandmother, who was having health problems. Justine had just broken up with Duane, and although she was trying to be nonchalant, it was clear that the situation was difficult for her.

  When Lucy had asked what had caused the rift between them, Justine had said evasively, “I, er … accidentally scared him.”

  “How? Did you have to take a pregnancy test or something?”

  “God, no.” Justine waved her hand in an impatient gesture. “I don’t want to talk about my problems. Your problems are way more interesting.”

  After telling them about Sam’s behavior, Lucy leaned her chin in her hand and asked with a scowl, “Why would someone freak out over spending one night in a bed? Why is it that Sam has no problem having sex with me, but the idea of literally sleeping with me sends him into a tailspin?”

  “Think about what a bed is,” Justine said. “The place where you sleep is where you are most vulnerable. You’re helpless. You’re unconscious. So when two people sleep in one bed in that ultimate state of vulnerability, it’s an enormous act of trust. It’s a different kind of closeness than sex—but just as powerful.”

  “And Sam won’t let himself be close to anyone,” Lucy said, swallowing against the needling pain in her throat. “It’s too dangerous for him. Because he and his brothers and sister were hurt repeatedly by the people who were supposed to love them the most.”

  Justine nodded. “Our parents teach us how to have relationships. They show us how it’s done. Kind of hard to rewire yourself after that.”

  “Maybe you could talk to Sam,” Zoë suggested, laying her hand on Lucy’s tense arm. “Sometimes if you bring something out into the open—”

  “No. I promised myself I wouldn’t try to change him or fix him. Sam’s responsible for his own problems. And I’m responsible for mine.” Lucy wasn’t aware of the tears that had slid down her cheeks until Justine handed her a napkin. Sniffling, sighing, she blew her nose and told them about having been awarded the art center grant.

  “You’re going to take it, right?” Justine asked.

  “Yes. I’m leaving a few days after Alice’s wedding.”

  “When are you going to tell Sam?”

  “Not until the last minute. I want to make the most of the time we have left. And when I tell him, he’ll say I should go, and that he’ll miss me … but inside he’ll be incredibly relieved. Because he can feel it too, this … thing that’s happening to our relationship. We’re becoming involved. And it has to stop before it goes too far.”

  “Why?” Zoë asked softly.

  “Because Sam and I both know that he’ll hurt me. He’ll never be able to say ‘I love you’ and surrender his heart to someone.” She blew her nose again. “That last step is a doozy. It leads to a place he has no intention of going.”

  “I’m sorry, Lucy,” Justine muttered. “I never would have encouraged you to get together with Sam if I’d known it would make you unhappy. I thought you needed some fun.”

  “It has been fun,” Lucy said earnestly, wiping her eyes.

  “I can see that,” Justine said, and Lucy gave a watery giggle.

  As Lucy worked in her studio later that afternoon, she was interrupted by a knock at the door. Setting aside her glass-cutting tools, she reached up to tighten her ponytail as she went to see the visitor.

  Sam stood there with a mixed bouquet of flowers, including orange roses, yellow lilies, pink asters, and gerbera daisies.

  Lucy’s gaze went from his inscrutable face to the vivid bouquet. “Guilt flowers?” she asked, trying to bite back a smile.

  “Also guilt candy.” Sam gave her a rectangular satin box, weighted with what had to be at least two pounds of premium chocolate. “Along with a sincere apology.” Encouraged by her expression, he continued. “It wasn’t your fault that I slept with you. And after thinking about it, I’ve realized I wasn’t actually harmed by the experience. I’m actually glad it happened, because it was the only way I could ever have found out how beautiful you are in the morning.”

  Lucy laughed, a ti
de of pink rising over her face. “You give great apologies, Sam.”

  “Can I take you out to dinner?”

  “I would like that. But…”


  “I’ve been doing some thinking. And I was wondering if we could just have the friendship without the ‘benefits.’ At least for a few days.”

  “Of course,” Sam said, his gaze searching. Quietly he added, “Can I ask why?”

  Lucy went to set the flowers and chocolate on a table. “I just have a few things I’m trying to work out. I need a little personal space. If that changes your mind about dinner, I understand.”

  For some reason that seemed to annoy him. “No, it does not change my mind about dinner. I”—he paused, casting about for the right words—“want you for more than just sex.”

  Lucy smiled as she returned to him, a warm and unforced smile that seemed to bemuse him. “Thank you.”

  They stood facing each other, not quite touching. Lucy suspected they were both grappling with the puzzling contradiction that something was wrong between them, and something was equally right.

  Sam stared down at her intently, his gaze causing the hairs on the back of her neck to lift. His features were austere, still, except for the twitch of a muscle in his cheek. The silence became acute, and Lucy fidgeted as she tried to think of a way to break it.

  “I want to hold you,” Sam said, his voice low.

  Flustered, aware of her light blush deepening to crimson, Lucy gave a nervous catch of laughter. But Sam wasn’t smiling.

  They had shared the most intimate sexual acts possible, had seen each other in every possible stage of dress and undress … but at this moment, the simple matter of a casual embrace was positively unnerving. She stepped forward. His arms went around her slowly, as if any sudden move might frighten her. They drew together in cautious increments, curves molding against hard places, limbs fitting just so, her head finding its natural resting spot on his shoulder.

  Relaxing fully, Lucy felt every breath, thought, heartbeat adjust to his, a current opening between them. If it was possible for love to be expressed purely between bodies, not in a sexual union but in something equally true and whole, then it was this. Here. Now.

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