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“Oh my gosh, this is so amazing,” Whitney squealed from the ledge of the circular deck that surrounded their lodgings for the evening.

Adam had to admit that the view was riveting with shades of gold and green coloring a view of rolling hills leading to mountain peaks. Nature was incredible. 

Happily, Whitney felt the same way about enjoying sunsets as he did. He could feel it in the way her hand gripped his as she leaned into his arm as she took in the view. Her casual affection felt strange and Adam's first instinct had been to retreat from it.

It was new. And new was uncertain, which often felt the same as wrong. Both formed a nearly identical twist in Adam's stomach that he had yet to figure out how to differentiate. All he knew was that his stomach felt weird a lot around Whitney. 

Spending time with Whitney took some getting used to but Adam liked to think he was adjusting quickly.

“Oh my gosh, look at that cute little walking trail down there,” she said, pointing to a path at the bottom of the hill below their accommodations.

The narrow path led along the tree line of the property before looping around and leading toward the dome, and Adam couldn’t tell if she really thought the trail was cute, was hinting she was in the mood for a walk, or wanted to lure him to check out the dome before it closed down for the night.

Without asking, his guess was all three and he promised himself that he'd, at least, escort her to the dome after the sun dipped below the horizon. He might not be able to stay long himself, but he could at least connect her with the other so she wasn't alone.

Because Whitney did not like being alone in public. They were opposites in that way and he could respect that.

“I wonder why they call this the Birdhouse,” she wondered, looking around at the meticulous deck space and flowering plants. “I don’t see any birds.”

Adam had the same question until he saw the view—because they definitely had a bird’s view of the world at the moment. It was the view people lived in penthouses for. Not a single eyesore in view.

“Whatever,” Whitney continued. “It’s beautiful and we can basically go anywhere tonight, right? The nearest boundary is, like, a mile away, right?”

“Further,” Adam agreed. “It’s basically the opposite of last night. We can pretty much go anywhere we want because Dr. Gia has friends everywhere here and they’ll all have their eyes on us anytime we’re not where we’re supposed to be.”

“Which means,” she said, snuggling in. “No one is watching us now. Because we're right where we're supposed to be.”

Adam grew tense as he processed the coyness in her tone. She sounded like someone who wanted to be kissed and he wasn’t sure what to do about it.

It felt way too soon to kiss Whitney. Plus, they would miss the sunset if they made out, which would kind of defeat the point.

Not knowing what to do, Adam simply kept holding Whitney’s hand while keeping his eyes trained on the horizon.

For a moment, it felt like Whitney might press him to make this the moment of their first kiss, but he wasn’t there yet. Sitting was enough. Holding hands had his head buzzing and the way she was leaning against him had Adam waiting for some adult to burst out of nowhere and break things up.

Yet he could feel she wanted more. So Adam offered her the only olive branch he could think of.

“Hey, do you want to check out the shops in the dome after this?”

“Are you serious?” she said, bolting upright with enthusiasm before dropping a quick peck on Adam’s cheek and cuddling in again. “Totally! Tonight is going to be so fun!”

He was glad she thought so because entering the dome would be a gauntlet of anxieties to him. But maybe Whitney would make it easier.

Maybe she should show him how it was fun.

In the meantime, he held her hand and watched the play of colors across the landscape as the sun went down.


“I can’t get over this fabric,” Bella said, dragging the rich, purple threads across the back of her hand. They were softer than velvet and smoother than silk, and the vendor simply called them: royal threads. “How come I’ve never come across this before?”

“Ah,” the mustached merchant said with a mysterious glint in his eye. “You have simply never been to my country. We are known for our fabrics, cheeses, and wines.”

“Then I should have heard of you,” Bella said, meaning to pair the challenge with an arched brow and a searching look. But the truth was she was in too good of a mood to anything but sigh as she accepted the fact that she was about to spend more money in his booth than she usually budgeted for a month.

Yes, she had money now. But as a girl who had been raised as the servant's daughter, she knew better than to flaunt it. She was frugal and often still shopped at second-hand stores and flea markets.

But not today. Bella was in shopping heaven and the handstitched finery that filled this place totally fit her current mood. She didn’t know how or why this dome housed exotic vendors from around the world, only that it was much busier than its remote location merited.

Yet after a day of feeling like she might go crazy on the slow bus from hell, Bella was ready to not think too hard about the logistics of a dome market and focus on overspending like she’d been saving up for this moment all her life. Because she was pretty sure she had. This was once-in-a-lifetime stuff.

When Gia had pulled up and announced that this was the first place on their trip where they had access to their bank accounts, Bella had mostly just wanted to get out of the van. She would have gone anywhere for some fresh air. The fact that Chad had skipped the dome entrance entirely and headed toward the trees beyond had only solidified Bella’s choice to head inside to see if there was anything worth buying. 

Bella’s mom was totally going to freak when her shopping bags were delivered. The one catch about shopping in this place was that she wouldn't be able to see any of it again until she got back home. Gia had a delivery guy who was going to deliver it all the next day which was exactly the kind of celebrity treatment she aspired to, but her mom would see things differently. And those differences might involve trying to save Bella by stopping the delivery.

Somehow, Bella needed to get a note in with the delivery for her mom to look inside one of the packages before pretending not to know English and sending the delivery guy away.

One look inside any of the boxes and her mom would start guarding them like a dragon for when Bella got home so they started designing looks and making alterations.

That’s when the real fun would begin.

Bella’s mom could sew anything, but she'd never worked with fabrics like these. The moment she touched them, she'd fight for them.

“How many yards shall I pack up for you?” the merchant asked, offering to take the purple fabric from her.

He already knew she was sold on it. Bella was being far too transparent with him and not really bartering at all.

How could she when his wares were one-of-a -kind? It felt like an insult and Bella hated insulting artisans charging what they were worth.

“Six yards, please,” she said, feeling a little drunk as she smiled at the merchant and checked to see if Kei was still browsing the paper booth like it was the only shop in the building.  

When it took her a moment to spot the quiet little weirdo, it struck her that Kei wasn’t the weirdest person in the dome at that moment. Not by a long shot. There had to be at least 50 vendors and over 100 customers -- even though Bella only remembered seeing three cars in the parking lot -- and nearly everyone had a look going that was singular enough to make the samurai robes Kei was wearing that day look normal.

In fact, it was quite possible that Bella was the least-fashionable person in the dome, which was a little unsettling. Bella had lacked many things in her lifetime, but a sense of style had never been one of them.

Style and Bella coexisted. Usually. Yet the t-shirt and jeans she'd selected that morning felt a bit like she was wearing a Nickelback t-shirt to a fashion show.

Somehow, she was the least-fashionable person in the dome.

Before she could stress about that, however, a vendor brought by samples of roasted almonds that had her forgetting everything but buying herself an A+ dinner and telling herself it felt nice to eat alone for once before going back to shopping like Heidi Klum on a bender. 

And when the shops closed down and she returned to the “birdhouse” to sleep, she felt only relief when she saw Chad's bed empty.

Good, was all she thought before nestling in for the night.


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