1 Chapter 1

Simone had thought that, after twenty-three summers enduring the oppressively wet heat of Washington, DC, she would be resigned to it by now. However, she hadn’t considered three very important points: cotton suits, dreadlocks, and errands. Right now, those three points were conspiring to kill her.

“Run and check the reception prep,” she muttered under her breath, mimicking the rather unfortunately insipid way that Anna, the Business Outreach Director for the City Council, liked to hand out her orders. “Oh, but I forgot my portfolio at the office, and since you aren’t doing anything important, be a dear and run back for it?”

And so it went—and Simone found herself having run, literally run, across almost the entire northwest quarter of DC.

Now, she had succumbed to a brisk walk down 21stStreet, program binder clenched in one sweaty fist, suit jacket tied around her waist in a way she hoped didn’t wrinkle it, most of her thick locks tied up in half a bun because anyair on the back of her neck would be a godsend right now. It was the worst sin of Washington, to be effectively built on a swamp. The air sat thick and heavy like a recalcitrant toad across her chest.

“Six blocks,” she promised herself out loud, clutching the binder tightly, “and the reception will have water andair conditioning.”

Her first real job out of college, first time she wasn’t a congressional intern or an “unpaid summer temp,” and here she was still running errands.

Damien, her upperclassman friend from Georgetown and the city PR director that had gotten Simone the job in the first place, promised that it wouldn’t be forever.

“Councilman King is just about ready to run for mayor, Sima,” Damien had sworn when Simone had dragged herself over to his office, complaining that she had been sent on anothercoffee run. “I’m on as PR manager for the campaign, and I can hire my own team. You’re in, if you can stick this summer out and prove to King you’re trustworthy and dedicated.”

Just three more months. She could do that, if she didn’t die of thirst first.

At least these last few blocks were scenic—and shaded. She was coming down the historical lanes of Dupont Circle, with its brick row houses and lines of huge trees. Some of the houses had been there since the Victorian Era. They retained stained glass windows or original ironworks fences. Every single one of them had beautiful front gardens, and between the carefully trimmed trees and the houses drawing ranks, shoulder to shoulder with no sky between, the narrow sidewalks and narrower street had turned into a shaded tunnel of green.

Simone walked a little slower, taking in the feeling of notbeing on death’s door from heat stroke and peering at all the buildings. They all looked as if they had personalities—one tall and neat like some Victorian romance heroine, one blunt and squat like it should be an old man smoking a cigar. The one on the corner of the block was riotous with color, the fence high and delicate, and the garden within absolutely bursting, trailing vines and flowers into the yards of its neighbors. Inside the screen of green things, Simone thought she could make out a small porch with a rocking bench, and a rope swing hung from the huge tree in the front yard. Simone wasn’t a fan of the bees that hovered about, but she was suddenly curious about what the rest of the garden looked like. She found herself crossing the street to peer inside.

In front of the front gate, a rickety wooden tray table was set up, crowding part of the narrow walk. There was a sign in front written in precise but cheerful letters on a pad of legal paper—an entire pad, duct taped to the tray.







On the tray was a mesh dome, and inside were clustered a half dozen mason jars, sweating condensation and full of what was most definitely lemonade. A bee crawled lazily across the top of the mesh, but flew off when Simone leaned closer.

“Are you serious?” she asked no one in particular, looking around to see if the lemonade benefactor was anywhere to be found.

There was no one else on the street, though, because who in their right mind would be wandering about at three P.M. in the middle of July?

Simone, very carefully, poked at the mesh cover. It shifted a little. Nothing else moved, except the subtle buzz of insects in the air.

Lemonade—sweating and iced—sounded basically like heaven right now. Simone felt a little like Alice with her “Drink Me” bottles. She couldn’t remember if that was good or not.

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