Sneak Peek: The Rules of Engagement

Max and Ruby have fallen hard for each other after a bitter grad school rivalry turned first into lust, and then into love. When the school year comes to an end, they’re faced with a new challenge: a summer apart. My latest novel, THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, is available now on Amazon.

Read the first chapter below.

Ruby was sitting on the end of her boxy, university-issued couch, her girlfriend Max nestled against her.

The only light in the room was the bluish glow from the television and they were snuggled beneath Max’s heavy blanket despite the warm weather, the air conditioning blasting just like Max liked it.

It was a routine that had become comfortable for them both in the last six months, and the odds were good that on any given evening, they could be found in this exact position, checking movies off Ruby’s list of all-time favorites, which they’d taken to calling the Greatest Hits in Cinema According to Ruby Satterwhite. They had compiled the list together in their first semester at library school during a trip to the public library, and they’d been working their way through the list in reverse alphabetical order. Now that the summer was rapidly approaching, they were also nearing the end of the list.

Tonight’s feature was Blue is the Warmest Color, an indie flick with subtitles and artfully erotic scenes.

Ruby had her arms wrapped around Max, holding her against her chest, and every now and then she leaned down to kiss the top of Max’s head, her short, undercut hair flying off in a dozen directions.

Max periodically ran her hand along Ruby’s thigh, rubbing her palm absently over the slick fabric of Ruby’s leggings. When the closing credits rolled, Max began inching her hand higher. Ruby let out a contented little moan as Max’s fingers found the inside of her thigh, and as Max teased her with the slowness of her movements, Ruby let her own hand explore the ridge of Max’s shoulder, then slip over her collar bone and slide beneath the collar of Max’s t-shirt to find the softness of her breasts.

They touched each other silently for a minute or two, enjoying the comfort and routine of the moment – intimate and peaceful. Ruby felt her body beginning to awaken to Max’s touch as she leaned forward and filled her nose with the familiar scent of Max’s hair. Then the light from the television faded as the credits ended, and Max announced abruptly, “That was a terrible movie.”

“What?” Ruby asked, stunned into forgetting her hand on Max’s breast. “No it wasn’t.”

“Adele is miserable at the end,” Max said. “I thought you were showing me a love story.”

Most of the time Max liked the movies Ruby chose, and when she didn’t, they would debate the merits and flaws of them in arguments that could last hours. In the last six months they’d discussed everything from the fact that the real tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was their families’ senseless war on each other, to Clark Griswold’s unbridled hatred of Cousin Eddie, to the psychosis of Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping. Max was great in a debate, and ruthless, but Ruby rarely backed down either.

She hadn’t expected Max to hate this one, though.

“It is a love story,” she said, sitting up on the couch and forgetting the foreplay completely.

“They broke up,” Max said. “Adele tries to drown herself in the ocean.”

“No she doesn’t,” Ruby responded with a laugh. “She was just floating. The scene is meant to symbolize her rebirth, surviving the breakup and finding peace again.”

“What peace can she find?” Max asked. “Emma was the love of her life and Adele lost her.”

“We don’t know that,” Ruby said. “Maybe Emma was just her first love.”

“Well, in any case, calling it a love story was misleading,” Max said, “unless your goal for tonight was to rip my heart out.”

“That was not my intent,” Ruby said, leaning over and giving Max a quick peck on the cheek, then tunneling out from beneath the weighted blanket. If they were gearing up for another in-depth movie analysis, she would need a glass of water. As she went into the kitchenette behind the living room, she called, “You pick the next one, then.”

“I will,” Max answered. “I’ll pick a real love story, where they’re actually happy at the end.”

Ruby got a glass and as she filled it from the tap, she heard Max call from the couch, “Are you sure you don’t want to stay with me and my parents for the summer?”

This was surprising – Max didn’t usually end a movie debate so quickly or so easily – but the new subject that she brought up was one they’d discussed many times in the last few months. Ruby sighed and turned off the faucet.

She stood at the sink and drank her water, pondering all the possible answers she could give and all the ones she’d already given when the subject came up in the past, and then she set the glass down on the counter and went back into the living room. She gave Max a stern look, hoping this would be enough of an answer – a look that said she was all talked out on the subject – but she also knew that Max wasn’t a fan of non-verbal communication. Sooner or later, Ruby would need to be explicit.

“Babe, I would love nothing more than to spend the entire summer with you,” she said. Despite a rocky start in the fall, she and Max had become inseparable in the last six months, and she had to admit that the two weeks they were apart during the winter break hadn’t gone very smoothly. Max hated the telephone and it had been hard on them both to go from being unable to keep their hands off each other to essentially incommunicado for half a month. They would have to find a way to make it work this summer, though, because there was just no way to be together that whole time. “The idea of being separated for three months is just as unbearable to me as I know it is to you, but I miss my family and I have a sneaking suspicion that they miss me, too.”

In fact, Granville was the farthest Ruby had ever lived from home, and with the exception of those two weeks around Christmas, she hadn’t been back to Chicago since the previous summer. If she didn’t have a full course load, and her duties as Granville Library Science Student Organization president – and Max, of course – she might have found the time to go home for a long weekend now and then. When she was an undergrad at Northwestern, it was just a thirty-minute drive to see her parents and kid sister. After a year in Granville, she still wasn’t quite used to the distance, and as much of a welcome distraction as

Max was, she still felt homesick now and then.

Ruby really did hate the idea of being away from Max all summer, but Max was just as needed here in Granville as she was in Chicago – perhaps more, because she had obligations to help her father with his landscaping business every summer. Ruby was just having a little bit of trouble convincing Max that the compromise they’d come to was going to work.

“It’s not like you wouldn’t see them,” Max said. “We’ll be in Chicago the first week of summer.”

Ruby gave Max a wry smile. “Are you saying a week is enough? Would you be happy only seeing your family for a week all summer?”

“No,” Max said. “But that’s different. You know I have to work for my dad. Summers are the busiest part of his year. He needs me in Granville, but you don’t have obligations in Chicago.”

“Not like you have, no,” Ruby conceded, coming over to the couch.

They had been having this argument ever since they got back from winter break and felt the acute absence of each other, and Ruby knew from experience that there was no winning it – only tiring Max out. She was beginning to think she wouldn’t stop asking Ruby to stay until the summer was over and they were back on campus for the fall semester.

She had learned a trick or two to shift the topic of conversation, however.

Ruby slid down to the floor in front of Max, her back facing the couch, and she pulled Max’s hands onto her shoulders. Max took the hint and began massaging her. Ruby said, “Thank you, babe. Tracy had us doing handstands this morning and my shoulders are really sore.”

“Tracy?”

“She teaches the power flow yoga class that I like,” Ruby said, leaning back as Max kneaded her shoulders. Yoga was Ruby’s escape, a much-needed place to turn off her mind and relax for an hour whenever she felt stressed or overloaded. With the demands of her schedule, that happened a lot. Max kept massaging and Ruby added, “Remember, the summer’s not going to last forever, and I’m coming to visit you at the beginning of July. Besides, there are all these neat inventions now – phones, computers, Skype – that help people talk to each other across great distances. We’ll get through it, babe.”

“Couldn’t you just–”

“Mm, that feels nice,” Ruby said, tilting her head back to smile encouragement at Max. She’d made all of the arguments she could on the subject but Max was tireless, and sometimes she had to resort to blatant distraction tactics when she ran out of steam.

Ruby reached back and wrapped her arms around Max’s hips, laying her head back in Max’s lap. She closed her eyes as Max took the hint about her desires, her hands sliding down from Ruby’s shoulders and finding her breasts. They lingered there for a moment, and Ruby could feel Max’s breath warm on her skin, and then her hands ventured lower over her stomach. She hooked her fingers beneath the hem of Ruby’s tank top, pulling it up as her hands went back to Ruby’s bare breasts, squeezing and caressing her.

These were the moments when everything was perfect between them, when it was easiest to lose herself completely in Max and when she felt her chest swelling with love and wholeness. Ruby wanted to skip all the rest – the classes and the responsibilities and the arguments – and just live in these moments.

Max nudged her forward, lifting Ruby’s head out of her lap, and then she slid onto the floor, straddling Ruby’s hips. She circled her arms around Ruby’s waist, squeezing her possessively as her mouth found the curve of Ruby’s neck, and then she slid her hand back down the center of Ruby’s stomach. Max’s fingers danced over the silky fabric of Ruby’s leggings and then down between her thighs. Ruby turned her head, seeking Max’s lips, and put her hand on the back of Max’s head to guide their kiss as her hips

moved against Max’s hand.

Her thumb was rolling in slow strokes over the dampening fabric between Ruby’s thighs, arousal radiating outward from Max’s touch in waves. Her breathing intensified with every stroke and her hips moved of their own accord. As Max brought her hand up to Ruby’s waistband, though, hooking her fingers beneath it, Ruby grabbed her hand to stop her. She wanted to stay in this moment for as long as possible. She didn’t want the anticipation to end.

Ruby swiveled around to face Max, sliding her hands up Max’s thighs and beneath the fabric of her shorts. She found wetness there, moving her fingers over Max as she watched her face intently for a reaction.

It only took a few calculated strokes before Max had to break her gaze, falling back on the couch and letting out a moan that was equal parts satisfaction and craving. Ruby grinned. She loved watching Max because her expressions were always so raw and unfiltered, unreserved in a way that she rarely achieved in other areas of her life. It was like cutting through all the normal relationship bullshit and looking straight through her.

Ruby plunged one finger into the depths of Max’s wetness, leaning in to kiss her. Max shivered as Ruby moved her finger slowly in and out of her, delighting in every noise and every movement of her hips.

Max put her hand on Ruby’s thigh, squeezing her tight and curling her toes as she tried to resist the desire that was growing in her, until finally it was her turn to pump the breaks. She didn’t want the moment to end any more than Ruby did, and if their arguments were long-winded, their lovemaking was often a marathon. She swam up from the depths of her pleasure, with great effort if the fluttering of her eyelids was any indication, and she leaned in to kiss her again. Max’s tongue sent another wave of desire into Ruby’s core, and then Max pulled her to her feet, growling, “Bedroom, now.”

She practically pushed Ruby into the small bedroom, pulling her onto the bed the moment they arrived.

Ruby landed on her back and Max peeled away her leggings, struggling with them in her haste as they caught on her heels, her mouth following her hands over the ridge of Ruby’s hip and down over her pubic bone to the inside of her thighs.

Ruby closed her eyes as she felt Max’s tongue making tight circles over her, torturously avoiding her most sensitive places. She licked the inside of Ruby’s thigh as she dragged her panties down and Ruby kicked them off eagerly. Then Max looked up at her from the foot of the bed and Ruby raised her head to watch her.

Max was crawling back up to her, hands gliding up Ruby’s legs. Just as her fingers reached the crease of Ruby’s hip, Max grinned wickedly and pulled away, flopping down on the bed at Ruby’s side in feigned disinterest.

“That was evil,” Ruby said, growing impatient.

She grabbed Max by the hips and yanked her shorts off, then pulled her t-shirt over her head and pushed her onto her back. She brought her lips to Max’s breasts, taking the fullness of them in her hands as she swirled her tongue over Max’s skin, causing her to let out a groan and press the length of her body urgently against Ruby. She was moving her hips against Ruby’s thighs and Ruby couldn’t take it any longer.

She gave Max a quick but sensual kiss, teeth sinking into her bottom lip for just a moment. Then she laid down with her head toward the foot of the bed, looping her arms around Max’s legs and burying her face between her thighs, tasting her and feeling her belly quiver with every stroke of her tongue.

Max threw one hand over her face as she gave in to the sensation, letting out a loud moan as Ruby’s mouth explored her, and then she was reaching for Ruby. She wrapped her arms around Ruby’s hips and pulled her body closer until there was no space between them any longer.

They laid together in a tangle of limbs and gyrating hips, licking and sucking at each other desperately until they teased out a mutual climax, Max’s shaking thighs tightening around Ruby’s head as she tried in vain to keep her tongue in place, and her own pleasure ripped through her body in waves.

Eventually, they both fell back panting, their bodies throbbing and convulsing together. Then after a moment or two to catch her breath, Max crawled to the foot of the bed to join Ruby. She threw her arm across Ruby’s chest and pulled her close, and Ruby brushed the wild hair off Max’s forehead and planted a tender kiss there. Ruby kissed her deeply as her hand slid down Max’s stomach and between her legs again.

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