Since Last Summer


By Joanna Philbin

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Rory McShane should be excited to spend the summer in East Hampton with Connor Rule, her generous, smart, cute boyfriend. After all, Rory’s no longer a summer employee at the Rules’ beach estate, and she and Connor have made it through a year of long-distance dating. But now, in the months leading up to college, Rory can’t help but wonder whether she really belongs in Connor’s world.

Isabel Rule is still trying to get over Mike, the devastatingly sexy surfer who broke her heart last summer. Enter Evan, an aspiring filmmaker who’s kind, funny, and crushing on Isabel. He’d be the perfect summer fling–so why can’t she seem to forget about Mike?

Set against a backdrop buzzing with the rich, the famous, and the wannabe rich and famous, Since Last Summer, a companion novel to Rules of Summer, is the perfect beach read.


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She almost missed the sign, but Rory McShane made the turn at the very last second, guiding her uncle's sputtering Honda onto the smooth blacktop of Lily Pond Lane. The street was just as quiet and still as she remembered it. The midday sun filtered in through the canopy of tree branches overhead. A jogger ran gracefully on the other side of the street. She turned down the radio and lifted her hands from the steering wheel. Her palms were slick with sweat.

Relax, she thought. Everything is going to be great.

But there was no getting around it: Eleven weeks was a very long time. A record for them, in fact. They'd talked on the phone almost every day, and Skyped and texted and IM'd countless times, but she and Connor Rule hadn't been face-to-face since her last trip to LA in March, and from the moment she'd crossed out of New Jersey, doubts had begun to overwhelm her. What if they didn't know what to say to each other? What if things were awkward? What if she got to the house and realized that she was actually still the errand girl?

That's not going to happen, she reminded herself. For ten months, she and Connor Rule had managed to be in a happy, healthy, drama-free relationship, all while living on opposite sides of the country. Eleven weeks apart wasn't going to change anything. All those years of being single had screwed up her hold on reality, she thought. They'd been looking forward to this all year. East Hampton was where they'd met and fallen in love, after all. Everything was going to be just fine.

She turned into the break in the hedges and pulled up in front of the iron gates. After she typed the code Connor had given her into the silver intercom box, the gates swung open. She pressed the gas, rounded the turn, and began driving down the gravel path, past the Rules' immense front lawn.

The house, perched on a slight hill above the lawn, was still intimidating from a distance. But as she got closer and the faded silvery-gray shingles and bright white paint of the windows came into view, she remembered how familiar the Rules' mansion had become to her last summer. She pulled up to the bank of garages. She left her purse on the passenger seat and got out of the car. The sea air was bracing. In the distance, she could hear the roll of waves and the squawk of seagulls. The breeze whipped up her dark curls, unsticking them from the nape of her neck. She was finally here.

You're still coming out for the summer, right?? Isabel had texted Rory a few months ago. Yes? I hope? My bro hasn't done anything to piss you off?

Wouldn't matter if he had, Rory had texted back. You're the one who invited me, remember?

She walked around to the trunk of the car and unlocked it. She heard the back door of the house open with a creak.

"Finally," a voice said. "I almost sent a helicopter to come get you."

Connor stepped out of the house and walked through the rose garden, sunlight glinting off his blond hair.

"I didn't want to speed," she said, her heart pounding rapidly.

"I would have paid the ticket," he said, coming toward her.

She walked into his arms and tilted up her head to kiss him. As their lips touched, a jolt of electricity bounced around her rib cage, shot through her stomach, and made the backs of her knees loose and light. Instant bliss.

"So that was a long time," he said, looking down at her when they were done.

"Eleven weeks," she said. "And three days."

"And every one of them sucked," he said with a smile.

"Tell me about it." She leaned in to kiss him one more time.

Despite her nerves, it felt good to be back on familiar ground. The first time she'd visited Connor at USC had been a little bit of a shock. Up until then, she'd only known him as Connor Rule, Isabel's sweet, self-effacing, gorgeous brother. But at USC, he was CONNOR RULE. They couldn't walk around for five minutes before some guy passed and gave him a silent bro-shake, or some girl smiled shyly and said "Hey, Connor" under her breath. His years on the swim team had made him a bit of a celebrity. And his friendliness and golden-boy looks didn't hurt, either. Even his professors seemed to adore him. "Mr. Rule, would you like to comment on this?" was a common question whenever Rory sat in on one of his classes.

Around his friends, Connor was even more in demand. And his friends were, well, interesting. The girls were all skinny and tan and wore blousy silk tops with extrawide armholes so that people could see their lacy bras underneath. The guys drove sleek black BMWs with tinted windows and flashed gold credit cards at the campus snack bar. Sitting with them at a meal could send her self-esteem into a tailspin, as they discussed their White House internships or their summer jobs at Goldman Sachs or their plans to teach English in Uganda. What is he doing with me? she'd asked herself, more than a few times. Me, a high school senior who doesn't even have her own car?

Fortunately, Connor didn't seem to be thinking that. He always introduced her as his "ultra-high-achieving girlfriend" who made him "feel like a slacker." When she'd gotten in to Stanford early, he bragged about it to everyone they came across. But it was never enough to put her at ease. Going home to New Jersey was always a relief. Back in Stillwater, she could still be Connor's girlfriend without having to fit into his college world. It was kind of the ideal situation, when she thought about it.

"It's good to see you," she said, pressing her face against his neck and breathing in his smell of soap, laundry detergent, and shaving foam.

"How'd the speech go?" he asked. "Did you do that line at the end about the promise of a new generation?"

"No. It was corny."

"Come on! That was the best part!" he said.

"You thought it was the best part," she said. "Everyone else told me to cut it."

"Okay, fine, I'll take your word for it. I wish you'd let me come."

"To sit in my school gym with my mom and her tattooed boyfriend?" She took his hand. "I don't think so. It was just a graduation."

"And you were just the valedictorian," he said with a smile. He kissed her again.

"So," she asked when they'd finished kissing, "how does it feel to be home?"

"Oh, you know," he said, looking at the house over his shoulder. "This place never changes." He stepped in front of her and grabbed her suitcase out of the trunk. "Come on," he said. "Let's go inside."

After hoisting her duffel over her shoulder, she followed Connor over the paving stones and through the rose garden, with its abundant red, pink, and fuchsia blooms. She lifted her wrist to look at the gold charm bracelet, the one Isabel had given her at the end of last summer. The I and R charms shone in the sun. "Isabel isn't here yet, is she?" Rory asked.

"Nah, she's coming tomorrow with Fee," Connor said over his shoulder. "She's flying back from California today."

Inside the house, a ball of barking white fluff charged toward her down the hall.

"Trixie!" Rory said.

Trixie circled Rory's legs, trying to stand on her tiny back feet.

"Hi, sweetie pie! I've missed you!" Rory put down her bag and crouched to pet Trixie on the head.

The dog responded with a few sharp, happy barks. When Rory stood back up, Trixie trotted behind them down the hall.

"I think she wants you to take her to the beach," he said.

"Only if Bianca isn't here."

"I told you," he said over his shoulder. "My mom fired her."

"I know. But you didn't tell me why." Bianca, Mrs. Rule's house manager, had been horrible to Rory last summer, but Rory had assumed Mrs. Rule was happy with how she ran things.

"No clue," Connor said. "I try not to get involved with any of that domestic stuff." He stopped in front of the door to her old room. "Okay. The sleeping arrangements. You can have your old room again. Or"—he gave her a sly look—"you can be in my room."

"Are you kidding? What about your mom?"

Connor shrugged. "She likes you now."

"I'll just be in here again, if that's okay," she said, opening the door.

She walked into the cream-and-blue-colored guest room and looked around with a smile. She'd longed for the quiet luxury of this room so many times over the past year. The king-sized bed with its downy soft mattress, the comfy club chairs, the elegant writing desk, the nautical map of Long Island hanging over the headboard—it all looked exactly the same. The only changes were the more current hardcover novels stacked on the nightstands and a vase of white-and-pink peonies on the desk.

"It's so pretty in here," Rory said. "And I love peonies." She dropped her bag on the rug and walked over to the flowers. Trixie was circling her feet, eager to be petted. "They're beautiful," she said, bending down. "But not as beautiful as this little dog right here."

"You're beautiful," Connor said, crouching behind her and kissing her on the neck.

She turned toward him and kissed him on the lips. He pressed her close to him and slowly pulled her down to the floor.

"Wait," she murmured. "Are we alone?"

"Pretty much," he replied, still kissing her.

The sound of approaching footsteps down the hall made them both shoot to their feet.

"Rory, is that you?" said a familiar voice. "May I come in?"

"Uh, sure, Mom," Connor muttered, and Mrs. Rule strode into the room.

Once again Rory was struck by how such a tiny, slim woman could exert the presence of a person twice her size. Especially because Mrs. Rule seemed to have gotten even tinier and slimmer since last summer. Her roomy boatneck sweater hinted at a significantly narrower chest, and her skinny jeans showed off legs that looked like toothpicks. Rory wondered if she'd been sick. But Mrs. Rule's hair was fuller and lusher than ever. It fell in loose, beachy waves past her shoulders.

"Rory," she said, coming straight toward her. "You're here." She grasped Rory's hand and leaned in to give her an air-kiss on the cheek. "You didn't need to bring your own car. We could have found one for you here. I think the Mercedes is probably free—"

"Oh, that's okay," Rory said. "I didn't mind driving. And thanks for having me again. It's really good to be back."

Mrs. Rule smiled. "Well, we're all very happy you chose to come back. Especially Connor." She looked approvingly at her son. "Steve didn't come back. He's decided to teach tennis down in Palm Beach. As if anyone would want to be there for the summer." Mrs. Rule gave a dismissive shrug. "And if there's anything you need—more hangers, a shoe tree—just let me know." Mrs. Rule's gaze lingered on Rory's duffel bag on the floor. "When do you start your job?"

"You mean my internship? I start Monday."

"What is it called?" Mrs. Rule asked. "The East End Festival?"

"That's right," Rory said. "It's sort of a film festival slash music festival. Like South by Southwest."

"South by South… what?" Mrs. Rule asked.

"Hey, Mom," Connor broke in. "Rory also got into Princeton. But she decided on Stanford."

"Really?" Mrs. Rule took a slight step backward. "That's wonderful."

"Thank you," said Rory.

"Stanford is an excellent school," said Mrs. Rule. "But I know the tuition is pretty steep."

"They gave me a really nice package," Rory said.

"Rory was class valedictorian," Connor added.

"Oh," said Mrs. Rule. Her steel-blue eyes seemed to peer right into Rory's soul. "How nice."

She knows, Rory thought. She knows that I know.

The secret about Mrs. Rule and Isabel's real father had gnawed at Rory all year. It felt a little unethical—and icky—to know something so shocking about Connor's family that even he didn't know. How did you tell your boyfriend that his mom had been in love with another man eighteen years ago and that his younger sister was actually his half sister? Was that even something you did tell your boyfriend? The easy solution had been to push it to the back of her mind and spend the school year making sure it stayed there. After all, she reasoned, it wasn't her place to say anything. Especially since Isabel had sworn her to secrecy. But now, being back under the Rules' roof, it seemed inevitable that Connor would find out. And when he did, Rory was going to have to pretend she didn't know. Just thinking about that gave her a stomachache.

Mrs. Rule continued to give Rory a penetrating stare for a few more seconds, and then she turned to Connor.

"So, we're having some people over for dinner tonight," she said. "I hope you two can join us? Sloane and Gregory will be there, too."

Phew, Rory thought. She was in the clear.

"Sure," Connor said.

"Do you need any help?" Rory asked before she could stop herself. "I mean, not with serving or anything but—"

Mrs. Rule smiled and gave Rory's arm a little pat. "Don't be silly. You're our guest now. You relax and have fun." She turned back to Connor. "How about some Ping-Pong before dinner? Six thirty?"

"Great," Connor said.

"Wonderful." She turned to Rory. "Once you're all unpacked, you should go down to the pool. It's a lovely day. Best not to let it go to waste." Mrs. Rule eyed Rory's bag one more time. "Come on, Trixie. Let's go."

Trixie gave Rory one last hungry glance and then followed Mrs. Rule out of the room.

"That was the longest conversation I've had with your mom since last summer," Rory said.

"What about Christmas?" Connor asked.

"Asking me to pass the sweet potatoes doesn't count," she said. She reached into her suitcase and pulled out a small wrapped box. "So I know I'm a little bit late with this, but I wanted to give it to you in person."

"Ror," Connor said gently. "I told you no birthday gifts."

"But you got me something in March," she said.

"That's different. You're my girlfriend." He kissed her again on the cheek.

"Oh, just take it," she said, handing him the present.

She held her breath as he ripped open the paper and then opened the small box. "Wow." He removed the silver Swiss Army knife and held it up to the light. "This is cool."

"Here, look," she said with relief, turning it so he could see the inscription on the underside. RM+CR.

"Very old school," he teased. "I like it."

"Do you really?"

"No. I love it." He kissed her. "I'm coming up north every single weekend next year."

"Oh, really," she said. "Is that a threat?"

"It's a fact," he said, wrapping his arms around her. "I may even have to get a little place up there. Palo Alto, here I come."

His lips met hers again, and this time Rory felt a surge of need for him. Normally she had to be around Connor for at least a couple of days before she could be this unselfconscious. Now she didn't care. She ran her hands over his shoulders and down his back. He pulled away from her and turned to close the open door.

"But what if your mom comes back?" Rory asked.

"You're a guest here," he said, shutting the door with a grin. "You're going to have to get used to having a little privacy."

The door shut with a click.

Isabel drummed her nails on the arm rest and stared out the plastic window at the empty blue sky. Somewhere below the cloud cover was the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Isabel grabbed hold of her white wine and took another long sip. The only good thing right now about going home was flying first class, even if the seats on this plane weren't as big and roomy as she would have liked.

"Do you mind?" asked the man next to her. He was a businessman in his forties. Up until this moment he had been hard at work, pounding the keys of a tiny laptop. The screen was filled with numbers.

"Sorry," she said.

He eyed her wine.

"I'm a nervous flier," she explained. "I'm twenty-one," she added.

The man shrugged and went back to pounding his keyboard.

Isabel turned back to the window and constructed another sentence in the e-mail she planned to write to Mr. Knox. Flight was uneventful. Got kind of buzzed on plane. Thought a lot about what you said at dinner. Determined to be positive.

Maybe it was a lame idea to write so soon, and about such trivial stuff. But Mr. Knox—Peter, he always kept telling her to call him Peter—had insisted.

"I know you're going to be far away from now on, but I still want to be in touch," he had said to her the night before in the crowded Beverly Hills restaurant. "Send me an e-mail when you get home. Let me know how it's going."

"I can tell you right now how it's going," Isabel said, poking at her penne pomodoro. "Terribly. You sure there's no way I can just stay with you for the summer?"

Peter gave her a pained smile. "I would love that, but Michelle wouldn't be comfortable, and Holly and Krista, well…"

"That's okay," Isabel broke in. "I get it. Your family doesn't know—my family doesn't know."

"I'm just waiting for your parents to take the lead with this, Isabel," he said, giving her a gentle smile. "Out of respect for your mom."

A waiter came by to clear their plates.

"So, what do you have planned for the summer?" he asked, changing the subject. "Anything fun?"

"Rory will be there," Isabel answered. "But she's dating Connor, so…"

"So what?" Mr. Knox asked, sipping from his glass of red wine.

"So I don't know. It's different. I mean, we're still friends totally separate from that. And I'm happy for them. I really am. But when your friend is dating your brother…" She let her voice trail off. She was pretty sure Mr. Knox wouldn't know what she was talking about if she'd finished the sentence. "Anyway, I have no interest in hanging out at the Georgica. So I'm not sure. I think I'll try to go into the city as much as possible. Get ready for NYU in the fall."

"That's exactly right. It's your last summer before college. Have fun. Do something you'll never forget. If I could tell you how many times I wish I'd had more fun when I was your age—"

"Dessert?" the waiter asked. His face was Hollywood actor–handsome, with the requisite chiseled features and light blue eyes, but there was a streak of edge to him. A definite bad boy. Last year he would have been exactly Isabel's type: hot, older, dangerous.

"Sure," said Mr. Knox. "What do you recommend?"

"Well, the tiramisu is very good."

"I'll have some," Isabel said, smiling at him.

"Wonderful," the waiter said, grinning at her. He took their menus away and gave her a pointed, but discreet, smile.

"If I can ask you one favor," Mr. Knox said, folding his hands on the table, the candlelight flickering across his face. "Go easy on your mom this summer."

Isabel snorted.

"I know how much she loves you."

"Please," Isabel muttered. "If she loved me, she would have told me the truth herself. And she'd let my brother and sister in on this. Instead of making me the lucky one."

"We all come to things in our own time," Mr. Knox said as he leaned back in his chair and patted his stomach. "Be patient with her. And if you have to, vent to me. I won't say a word."

"Thanks for being so cool this year," Isabel said. "Coming up to school to visit me, taking me out to dinner down here, the e-mails… It's all been really nice of you."

"I'm your father," he said. "Better late than never, right?" He stood up. "I'll be right back." He left to go to the men's room, and a moment later the waiter returned with the tiramisu.

"Here you go," he said. "Will there be anything else?"

"I think just the check," she said.

The waiter cocked his head and smiled at her. "I get off in an hour if you want to hang out," he said. "We could go get a drink."

It was tempting. The past nine months had been extremely quiet. All by choice, of course. Nobody at school had seemed that appealing. And her last relationship had been a disaster.

But as she looked at this guy now, something told her to stay away from him. Too dangerous. And too good-looking. If she'd learned anything last summer, it was to stay away from both of those things. "Maybe some other time," she said.

The waiter had seemed surprised. "Enjoy," he'd said, giving her a smile that promised a rain check on his invitation, if she wanted it.

"Excuse me?" she said to the flight attendant walking by with bottles of wine. "I'll have another, please," she said, holding up her cup.

The attendant tipped more white wine into it.

Beside her, the businessman subtly shook his head with disapproval.

"If you were going home to my house for the summer," Isabel said, "you'd get hammered, too."

"Sparkling or flat?" asked the young man in a polo shirt and khakis, displaying the two different European water bottles he held in his fists.

"Um, flat," Rory said. "Please."

He poured her glass to the brim and moved on. Rory wished she could follow him. Attending one of these dinners had turned out to be much more stressful than serving at one of them. She'd learned that during Christmas with the Rules, when she'd eaten her salad with the wrong fork and then used the wrong bread plate. Luckily nobody had said anything—she'd felt like more of a ghost than a guest that day—but the sheer possibility of someone noticing had made her a nervous wreck. She took a sip of water and turned to smile at Connor next to her. He reached for her hand under the table. Feeling him squeeze her palm reminded her of their hookup in her room, and she almost blushed.

"So what happened to that plot of land you were trying to buy last year?" asked the silver-haired magazine mogul sitting next to Mr. Rule. Mrs. Rule had introduced him as Jay Davenport. "Not that I think you two should move, but it sounded like a helluva property."

"That fell through," Mr. Rule said quietly. "One of those crotchety old farmers; you know what sticklers they can be. Covenants, and all the rest."

"That's a shame," Mr. Davenport said. "Though it's hard to believe it was more spectacular than this place."

"I, for one, am very happy about it," said Mrs. Rule from the head of the table. "I love this house. I grew up in it."

"So, Rory," said Mr. Rule.

Rory let go of Connor's hand and sat up.

"I heard you're going to Stanford," he said. "Congratulations. That's an excellent school."

"Thank you," she said, trying to make eye contact with him.

"What are you going to study?" Mr. Rule went on, sipping his glass of bourbon on the rocks.

Rory debated what to say. She still felt odd talking about her hopes for a film career around the Rules. She got the feeling that she wasn't interesting or mysterious enough to qualify as an artist in their eyes. "Probably a double major in poli-sci and film," she said.

"Ah," he said, and took another sip. "Poli-sci. I was almost poli-sci."

"You were?" Mrs. Rule asked. "I thought you were always a business major."

"I was, but I thought about doing poli-sci," Mr. Rule answered, a ribbon of tension threading his voice. "It was just a thought." Maybe it was a trick of the candlelight, but Mr. Rule also seemed thinner and younger-looking than he had last summer. Gone was the pinched, somewhat painful expression he'd worn most of the time. Now he looked content and rested, as if he'd spent the past few months at a spa.

"Rory is Connor's girlfriend, everybody," announced Mrs. Rule at the opposite end of the dining table. "She's from New Jersey."

"Oh," said Mr. Davenport. "What part? Morristown? Basking Ridge?"

"Stillwater," she answered. "It's near the Pennsylvania border."

"Never heard of it," said Mr. Davenport, picking up the tiny artichoke soufflé in the center of his plate and putting it in his mouth. "Stillwater. Hmmm."

Rory glanced at Sloane and Gregory Rule on the far side of the table. They watched her eagerly, waiting for her to speak. Connor's older brother and sister had finally warmed up to her this past year, but they could still go quiet and ultrapolite when she was in their presence, as if she were a foreign exchange student they might offend. At Ping-Pong they'd played her and Connor quietly, refraining from any of the whoops and hollers that she'd noticed when the family played one another.

"There are some beautiful parts of New Jersey," said Sloane.

"There certainly are," exclaimed the Rules' other dinner guest, Beatrice Lank. She was a famous interior decorator whom Sloane was assisting this summer during the week. "Just beautiful. I don't know why it gets such a bad rap."

Connor cleared his throat.

"How did the two of you meet?" asked Mr. Davenport.

"I worked here last summer," said Rory.

"You did?" Beatrice asked. "As what?"

"I was the errand girl."

Mrs. Lank looked at Mrs. Rule. Mr. Davenport coughed.

"But now she's part of the family," Mrs. Rule said with an iron smile. "Does anyone know if the McAndrews are having a Fourth of July party?"

And… done, Rory thought. She could now relax. She felt Connor take her hand under the table again and gave him a quick smile that she hoped said Everything's cool; I'm not embarrassed.

After dessert, which was a panna cotta with berries and caramel sauce, Rory felt her eyelids start to droop. The air in the dining room had turned close and warm, and she felt herself dangerously close to a yawn.

"Sloane is such a quick study," the decorator was saying. "All my clients love her. And she has such a good eye."

Sloane took another tiny bite of panna cotta and put down her fork. "I still have a lot to learn."

"She could be another Bunny Williams one day, if she keeps at it," said the woman.

"That would be nice," said Mrs. Rule. "It's always handy to have a decorator in the family. But what I could really use is a dress designer. We have so many events coming up in the fall it's hard to keep track."

"You both are chairing the Alzheimer's benefit at the Waldorf this year?" asked the mogul.

"No, I don't think so, not this year," Mrs. Rule said. There was an awkward pause as Mr. and Mrs. Rule regarded each other with alarm, as if they'd messed up their lines.

"Then let's hope whoever does keeps the price of the tables down," the mogul said. "Ten grand is as much as I go for food at the Waldorf." He laughed.


  • Praise for Rules of Summer:
"Even if you never plant a Jack Roger-ed foot in the Hamptons, Philbin takes you there."—USA Today
  • "Rules of Summer is a delicious read about two girls from very different worlds sharing one unforgettable summer."—Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, authors of Spoiled and Messy
  • "Friendship, first love, and an unforgettable setting -- Rulesof Summer is the perfect summer read. Read it at the beach (or if you just want to feel like you're at the beach). I loved it!"—Morgan Matson, author of Second Chance Summer and Amy & Roger's Epic Detour
  • On Sale
    Jun 7, 2016
    Page Count
    304 pages

    Joanna Philbin

    About the Author

    Joanna Philbin was born in Los Angeles and raised in New York City. She holds a BA from Brown University and a JD and an MFA from the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Rules of Summer and the Daughters series, and lives and writes in Los Angeles.

    Learn more about this author