“Stacey,” Sam said softly, breaking into her dreamy haze.
“Hmm?” she murmured, tilting her head on his shoulder so that she could look up at him. The two had been dancing with each other for most of the evening, and even now, they still swayed together in a slow, music-less rhythm.
“I think they’re ready for us to go,” he replied with a smile.
She furrowed her brow as she pulled away slightly, surprise washing through her as her eyes swept over the now-empty lodge. “Where did everybody go?” she wondered out loud.
“The dance is over,” he informed her gently, his hands rising from her waist to clasp her shoulders. “I think everyone went back to the cabin already.”
“Oh.” Stacey glanced down as they came to a halt, her heart heavy in her chest as she reluctantly loosened her hold on him. “I can’t believe it’s over already.”
His hands shifted over her shoulders, brushing through her hair, causing prickles of electric heat to score her spine. She chanced to glance up at him, finding herself arrested by the intensity of his gaze. For a moment, they simply stared at each other wordlessly, before he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Come on,” he said softly. “We should head back.”
Stacey relented as he steered them towards the door, the two of them carefully picking their way across the dance floor, stepping over fallen streamers, downed balloons, and misplaced, half-empty plates. She didn’t see the mess, however, too busy trying to sort out just exactly what had happened in the last couple of hours. Everything had been so simple and clear out there on the dance floor, when she’d taken Claudia’s advice and just gone for it, curious to see where he would take her.
She hadn’t expected this, however. He’d spent the last two weeks embarrassing her and cooking up new ways to make her life patently miserable – so why did it feel perfectly natural to circle her arm around his waist now, to fall into step with him as they descended the stairs from the lodge, to feel a tiny thrill of pleasure every time their hips brushed together?
Their pace was leisurely as they wound their way back to Watson’s cabin. The moon served as their main source of light, complemented by the lamplights that lined the main trail into town. Stacey looked over at Sam, studying his features in profile, and wondered – was this really the same boy who’d followed her around, calling her ‘dahling’ and hurling Cheerios onto her toast every morning? It was hard to believe that goofy pest existed in the same attractive package as that plain-spoken guy who’d confronted her that evening by the lake, confessing his feelings for her after admiring the sunset.
She sighed, a happy smile drifting to her lips as she tightened her hold on his waist. She liked this side of him – and she liked the way he responded to her touch, drawing her closer into his side and resting his head lightly on top of hers.
He slowed to a stop when the cabin came into view, tightening the brace of his arm around her shoulders. “Thanks for giving me a chance tonight, Stacey,” he said softly.
She smiled. “Thanks for not acting like a total goof,” she replied, leaning against him for a long moment. She closed her eyes, debating whether or not to continue, to reciprocate the confession he’d made to her nearly a week ago.
“I really like you, Sam,” she blurted out, the words forming on her tongue before she could stop them. She looked up at him. “This you, when you’re being serious and straightforward. It’s much more appealing than being wolf-whistled at, or being told that I look ‘ravishing, dahling.’”
He chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he mused, his arm falling away from her shoulders as he turned to face her. She let him go as well, but not completely, slipping her hand into his and enjoying the warmth that curled up the length of her arm at his touch. “Do you think I could call you sometime? After we get back to Stoneybrook?”
She nodded as she gazed up at him. How had she never noticed how good-looking he was? “I’d like that,” she replied, a smile rising to her lips.
He smiled back, giving her hand a squeeze, causing her heart to flutter in her chest.
“Do you think we could have breakfast together in the morning?” she asked, finding her gaze drifting downward as she awaited his response.
He nodded slowly. “I’d like that,” he said. He reached for her with his free hand, brushing her hair over her shoulder before his fingers rose to her cheek in a feathery light caress. “And Stacey?”
“Yes?” she whispered, lifting her gaze from his mouth to his eyes, knowing what was about to happen and yet, anticipating it all the same. She tightened her grip on his hand as he leaned into her, his mouth finding hers in the darkness, warm and gentle and intense and everything she’d ever dreamed of – only better.
In that moment, the world became crystal clear once more, just as it had on the dance floor in the ballroom of the lodge: she’d never stopped liking him. Not really. Not like this.
And she’d never been so satisfied in knowing that the object of her affection liked her back, maybe just as much.
All too soon, he pulled away, his fingers trailing through her hair as he took a step back. “Goodnight, Stacey,” he said a moment later, though he made no move to let go of her hand, to break away completely.
She smiled softly. “Goodnight, Sam,” she returned, closing the gap between them and kissing him again.