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AMELIA SPRINTED ACROSS THE VAST GREEN LAWN, a giggle bursting from behind her lips. She skidded to a stop at the treehouse on the Goodhew Estate, flinging her arms around Leo. He held up the phone, snapping a picture of their cheesy grins.
“Quick,” Amelia urged him, breathless. “Upload it.”
“Done. Okay, next is the back gate. This way.”
Her feet pounded on the beaten dirt pathways through the forest until they reached a small cast-iron gate set in the estate’s tall boundary walls. They took another selfie, and while Leo posted it online, Amelia scanned the list.
“That’s everything outside,” she said, panting, then paused. “Hold on. Look.”
Leo glanced at where she pointed, frowning. “What does that say?”
There was small print on the second page of the scavenger hunt list. It was printed in a pale color, so it was easy to miss on the white paper. “‘Bonus Points: Get Fishy,’” Amelia read.
“What does that mean?”
Amelia snapped her head up, eyes on the distant horizon. “The fountain!”
She laughed, tearing off through the trees again. They ran around the house, skidding to a stop on the circular drive. Leo took a photo of her sitting on the lip of the fountain, almost exactly the spot where he had dived in after Nadia’s ring a year before. She grinned, then jumped up to keep hunting.
They tore through the house, finding specific sculptures, stained glass, old books. They took pictures with them all, breathless and red-faced, until time ran out. When the siren sounded, Amelia threw her arms around Leo and hugged him tight.
“Much better than last year,” he murmured in her hair.
“I don’t know,” she hedged. “Last year was pretty fun too. Especially the part where you picked me up and shoved me against the wall.”
Leo growled, and a bolt of lightning went straight down Amelia’s spine. She pulled back, feeling frisky and flirty and adventurous. “Maybe we should visit our favorite shoe closet before we join the others.”
“Please don’t,” Vanessa’s deadpan voice sounded behind them. She rolled her eyes and strutted past them, her boyfriend Mark trotting behind her, a big dopey smile on his face. He waved at them both, his grin widening.
“Guess we’ve been caught now,” Leo said in Amelia’s ear. “But we can visit the closet later.”
Amelia flushed, then took Leo’s hand and headed for the back patio. Waiters milled with cool drinks as the scavenger hunt’s participants arrived in twos and fours. Amelia took a seat on a gliding wicker rocking chair, feeling utterly content.
“How’d you do?” Fred asked, coming to sit beside her.
She showed her list, all items crossed off save two. “Pretty good. Better than last year.”
“You were busy with other things last year,” Fred said, smiling. There was still an edge to his eyes, though, and Amelia wondered if he was still hurting from his employees’ betrayal. “Hopefully the retreat will be less eventful this year.”
“Agreed,” Amelia said with a nod. She dropped her glass on a passing waiter’s tray, then leaned back on the plush cushions. “Thank you for having us again. Despite everything that happened last year, I loved the time we spent here.”
“I think that has more to do with St. James than any activities my team planned,” Fred replied with a grin.
Amelia laughed, conceding the point.
Fred glanced down at his left hand, where a gold band sat snugly behind his knuckle. He and Nadia had been married at the beginning of December in a beautiful, lavish ceremony.
“So,” Fred said, his tone changing ever so slightly. He turned to look at Amelia with steely eyes. “Your business has grown in the last year.”
How did he know that, and where was he going with this? She nodded. “Yes.”
“I’ve been keeping an eye on your progress, and I’ve heard lots of good things from your clients.”
“Okay…” Amelia frowned. “Thanks?”
“With Cora—Meredith—gone, I’ve had to hire new administrators, and it’s become painfully obvious that our systems are out of date. I hadn’t realized C—Meredith did a lot of our payroll manually. I was thinking with your skillset, you might be willing to consult on how we could best organize some of our data.”
He’d said the magic word. Data! Amelia perked up. “Really?”
“We need a complete overhaul of our processes from onboarding new clients to the final reckoning of the financials, and I need someone with a good head for numbers. I’d like to know if anniversaries are more lucrative than corporate events. Or if bachelor parties are worth the insurance risk. Or if we should be focusing on the older crowd or really leaning into the corporate side of the business. Is that something you’d be interested in doing?”
Amelia had to reel in her immediate response, which was omg yes, yes, yes, yes!! to something more sedate. She gave him a slow nod. “I think I could help you with that. You mentioned I’d be working as a consultant?”
Fred’s eyes gleamed. “Let’s discuss the particulars after the retreat. I’m glad you’re interested.” He got up off the chair, and Amelia did a little wiggle. Fred Goodhew was going to hire her as a consultant! How fabulous! If she did a good job, she’d be able to get a testimonial from him and hopefully tap into his network.
“What’s that look about?” Leo asked, coming to sit beside her. He put his arm around her shoulders and tugged her close.
“Fred wants to hire me on as a consultant. He wants me to help set up all new systems for his company.” Her eyes shone. “This is huge!”
Leo’s smile was bright and proud. He curled his arm to bring her close, then slid his free hand over her cheek. “My beautiful, smart, amazing wife,” he murmured, and then he kissed her.
Kissing Leo felt like tumbling headlong into love all over again. She clung to his shirt and kissed him back, not caring where they were or who might see. He lit her body up, teasing the embers of her desire to a full blaze from one heartbeat to the next.
Distantly, she heard wolf whistles, and when she came up for air, the teasing intensified.
“Young love,” Trudy said, hands clasped at her chest. “Why don’t you kiss me like that anymore, Rob?”
Rob put his drink down, grabbed his wife by the waist, and dipped her like they were in a ballroom dance competition. Then he kissed her, and her arms came up to wrap around his neck. When they straightened, Trudy’s face was flushed and laughing, and Rob looked smug.
Leo laughed. “Think that’ll be us in a decade or two?”
Amelia smiled at him. “I hope so.”
Before too long, Percival appeared. He had a few extra grays in his hair this year compared to last, but he was his same unflappable, gracious self. He nodded to Fred, and everyone gathered to hear if they’d won the prize.
Amelia found Leo and vibrated next to him. She curled into his side, loving the way he slung his arm around her shoulders. He did it automatically, without hesitation. It made her feel like in his arms was exactly where she belonged. Being beside him still made her head feel loopy, like his touch disconnected a few wires in her head. Or maybe that was just a symptom of their earlier kiss.
Either way, when Fred announced her and Leo’s names as the scavenger hunt winners, it took her a few seconds to understand. It was when Leo laughed, hugged her tight, and lifted her feet up off the ground that she finally let out a loud whoop and began to laugh.
They’d won! They’d won!
When the gilded envelope appeared, Amelia’s stomach was aflutter. She hopped from one foot to the other, bursting with excitement.
“Vienna, here we come!” Amelia exclaimed, waving the envelope around.
“Hell, yeah!” Leo laughed, leaning over to kiss her temple. “Open it up, babe.”
With trembling fingers, she broke the seal. The paper inside was thick and luxurious, slightly rough to the touch. Her heart thumped. Before she unfolded it, she glanced up at Leo, who was smiling down at her.
“Love you,” he said.
“Right back atcha,” she whispered in response, then she unfolded the sheet of paper to claim their prize.
Leo read over her shoulder and began to laugh. He took the paper from her clenched fingers and spun it around to show the other scavenger hunt participants. “Pizza party tonight, anyone?”