Bonus Scenes: Fixer Upper

My latest novel, FIXER UPPER, is available now on Amazon. City girl Hannah lost herself gradually, in pieces. It takes moving to the country – and meeting rough, seductive Avery – to find herself again.

Read the bonus scene below.

Avery’s last visit to Nora

The drive to Nora’s nursing home was an arduous one. Avery went as often as she could, although she usually only managed on her precious Sundays off. She would get an early start and head over to Hansen’s to pick up all of Nora’s favorite items from the bakery and produce sections, plus whatever treats Nora wanted to bring to Minnie that week. Then she would turn the truck around and head in the opposite direction, settling in for the hour-long drive to Cincinnati where Nora’s grandkids lived.

It would be another thirty minutes in the opposite direction once she picked Nora up, before they finally arrived at their destination, Minnie’s nursing home. Angela and Junior did their best to convince Nora the reason they brought her to Cincinnati was that it would be easier for them to visit her, but in the four months Avery had been making the drive out to pick her up, she had never run into a single member of Nora’s family at the home.

“Do they come during the week?” Avery asked her one time. It was an indelicate question to ask, especially because she already knew it was bullshit, but she couldn’t hold her tongue. “They’re keeping you company, right?”

“Oh, sweetie,” Nora had said, shaking her head, and her own expression was perhaps more pitying than Avery’s. She never came out and said what she thought of her grandchildren, but what she didn’t say spoke volumes.

Avery did what she could to help out. Nora and Minnie were good neighbors and they made the soybean fields surrounding Avery’s house feel more like home when she’d get back after a long day of work to find a basket of fresh green beans on her porch, or an invitation to dinner. Avery didn’t have much family left, and none at all in the area, but it wasn’t long before Nora and Minnie started to feel like family.

That’s why it didn’t feel like a chore to make the drive to Cincinnati, or pick up the groceries, or help reunite Nora and Minnie once a week. It was the least she could do and she even began to look forward to it.

That is, until the day she arrived find Angela and Carl standing in the hallway like sentinels outside of Nora’s room. Carl looked a little uncomfortable, or perhaps just inconvenienced, but Angela stood there with her arms crossed over her chest and a sour expression on her face. As Avery walked up the hallway, she got a sinking feeling in her gut and she knew exactly where this was going, but she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of backing down.

“Angela,” She said curtly, “Carl. What brings you here?”

“It’s come to our attention that you and our mother have been making road trips on the weekends,” she said with a scowl. Nora’s door was closed and Avery wished that she could just push past this shrew of a woman and go about her day, but she knew that Angela and Carl were family, and she was not.

She couldn’t act like she was in this moment. “You’ve been taking her to see that woman.”

“Her girlfriend, Minnie,” Avery said. She could tell already, by the way Angela was looking at her, that she was not going to win this battle. She at least wanted them to acknowledge what Minnie meant to Nora and why she was spending every Sunday morning driving back and fourth across the county for them. “Yes I have.”

“Well, you’ve made your last trip,” Angela said with a snarl. “Our mother would like to thank you for the groceries and inform you that your chauffeur services are no longer necessary. We took the liberty of removing you from the approved guests list this morning.”

“You can’t do that,” Avery said, her mouth dropping open. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she had no better rebuttal than this weak objection. She figured Angela was probably here to do her level best at keeping Nora and Minnie apart–Jennifer had been able to cope with the fact that her mother didn’t actually love her father–but Avery never expected to be banned from the nursing home.

“You were just her neighbor,” Carl said. “What do you care?”

“Maybe she’s in love with her too,” Angela spat. “You’re all sick. Get out of here–there’ll be no use coming back because you won’t get past the desk.”

“Let me at least say goodbye to her–“

“You’ve done enough damage for one lifetime ,” Angela said, turning Avery around and pushing her back towards the door she came in.

She was seeing red and it was all she could do not to whirl around on her heel and slap the smug, righteous look right off her face. Instead, Avery marched outside and threw the sack of groceries she bought for Nora violently into the bed, then slammed the door and just sat there for ten minutes, unsure of how to proceed if at all.

In the end, she decided that in a round-about screwed up way Angela was right–Avery really didn’t have any right to Nora or Minnie, and if they wouldn’t allow her to see Nora, then what was there to do?

She only ever tried to go to the nursing home one more time–two months later, on the morning of Minnie’s funeral, when she snuck Nora out of the place–and that day had been one of the hardest of her life. Throughout the whole funeral service, she couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility that Minnie died of a broken heart. Maybe if Avery had fought harder or challenged Nora’s kids more, they wouldn’t have been able to restrict her visitors and she could have seeing many. Avery was convinced that Minnie’s sudden death had to do with Nora’s absence, and the certainty of it ate away at her stomach

with guilt.

By the time she dropped Nora off again at the nursing home, her absence had been noted and the kids have been called. They were waiting and Angelo started screaming at Avery the minute she pulled up to the door in her truck. Her words were muffled through the window glass and it gave Avery just enough time to say goodbye to Nora.

“I don’t think they’re going to let me come anymore,” she said, reaching out to pat the back of Nora’s papery thin hand. “ It was enough of a trick just to get you out of here today.”

“I understand,” North said, seeming impossibly frail after a long morning of tears. “Thank you for today, dear. I’ll never forget your kindness.”

And then Angela was wrenching open the passenger door, screaming at Avery about her audacity and her moral decrepitude as she pulled her mother out of the truck and into a waiting wheelchair. Avery watched them wheel her inside and then she drove away, and part of her was grateful that she could pass off the burden. Watching Nora breakdown at the gravesite was more than she could handle.

Knowing that she always could’ve done more to try to help Minnie and Nora stay together made it impossible for her to come back to Westbrook and confront her own guilt ever again. She wasn’t strong enough to stand up for Minnie and Nora, and she sure as hell wasn’t strong enough to go through something so gut-wrenching herself.

Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.

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.

Sneak Peek: Fixer Upper

My latest novel, FIXER UPPER, is available now on Amazon. City girl Hannah lost herself gradually, in pieces. It takes moving to the country – and meeting rough, seductive Avery – to find herself again.

Read the first chapter below.

Avery Blake realized too late that her pickup truck wasn’t the best-equipped vehicle to transport fragile, old Nora Grayson. First of all, the cab was about two feet higher than Nora could even lift her leg at the age of eighty-four. Avery had to take her by the arm to steady her and then more or less heft her into the seat, noting the papery quality of Nora’s skin and worrying that she would hurt her with this motion.

Secondly, there was no good way to secure Nora’s oxygen tank and keep it from rolling across the bench seat, so Avery had to keep one hand on the steering wheel and one on the portable oxygen. This task was made all the harder by the fact that Avery hadn’t thought to clear out the tools that were always banging around in the foot wells – she really should have planned this outing better, but who plans for a funeral?

She was just thinking that she should have forked over the cash to have Nora transported in some kind of medical van when they pulled into the driveway of Nora’s old house. The trip from the nursing home back to Nora’s place – right across the street from Avery’s house – had been mercifully short, but the journey to the funeral home would be a longer one and Avery wasn’t looking forward to juggling the oxygen tank and her octogenarian neighbor – along with her meds and the packrat purse she’d brought along with her – thirty more miles down the road.

“We’re home,” she said to Nora as she parked the truck and jumped out. Avery walked around to help Nora down, glancing at the house as she went.

It was an old Victorian house with peeling yellow clapboard and lots of ornate details that had been succumbing to dry rot in the years that the house stood empty. Avery spent a lot of time on her porch in the summers, and therefore a lot of time watching the gradual decay of the house across the street. She wasn’t sure she wanted to bring Nora back here and let her see what had become of it, but Nora insisted. She wanted to find something of Minnie’s to remember her by, and Avery knew Nora’s good-for-nothing kids couldn’t be bothered to bring her here. They weren’t even going to the funeral.

Avery helped Nora down, leaving the oxygen tank momentarily behind and letting Nora lean heavily on her arm as they made the short walk from the truck to the house.

“It’s not very pretty anymore, is it?” Nora asked, sounding a little winded as they reached the top of the three creaky steps onto the porch. “Just like me, old and decrepit.”

“Stop,” Avery scolded, patting Nora on the back of her hand. “It just needs a little love.”

The foyer was dark and Avery could see the dust stirring in the air as their steps disturbed it from the floor. It was hard to believe that Nora had only been gone two years – the house felt ancient and forgotten, and the sheets that had been draped over the furniture had a thick layer of dust on them.

“Do you know what you’re looking for?” Avery asked.

There were a lot of dusty sheets in the living room alone – Nora lived here almost fifty years, first with her husband and then with Minnie, and that was a lot of years to fill a house with the kinds of knickknacks and tchotchkes that she figured Nora would be looking for now. The funeral was in two hours, and Avery was starting to wonder if they had enough time for this detour after all.

“I think there’s something in our bedroom,” Nora said, and her voice was so frail that Avery had no idea how she could possibly make it up the stairs, let alone endure the next few hours. Minnie had been everything to her and they spent the last fifteen years inseparable until Nora’s kids split them up. Nora made a move for the stairs and Avery took her elbow.

“If you tell me what it is I can go up and get it,” she offered.

“Thank you, dear,” Nora said, “but I’m afraid I’ll only know it when I see it.”

“Let me help you up the stairs, then,” Avery said, walking beside her as they took them one riser at a time.

With Nora’s limited strength, it felt like climbing Mount Everest and Avery thought it might be easier to carry her on the way back down. She couldn’t weigh more than ninety pounds dripping wet. When they finally reached the landing, Nora gestured for Avery to wait in the hall.

“Do you want me to hold your bag?” Avery asked, reaching for the large purse slung over Nora’s shoulder that she hadn’t stopped clutching since Avery picked her up from the nursing home.

“No,” Nora said. “It’s not a burden.”

“Okay,” Avery said, watching Nora shuffle over to a closed door near the end of the hall. “Holler if you need me.”

Nora disappeared into her bedroom, the door swinging almost shut behind her, and Avery stood around in the hall. There was an antique oak credenza opposite the bannister, covered in a thick layer of dust just like everything else, and a mirror that was starting to lose its silver hung above it.

To kill the time, Avery walked over to it and blew a cloud of dust off the glass, stepping out of the way while it settled. Then she stepped back in front of the mirror, inspecting her short, nearly black hair, normally untamed and falling across her forehead, to make sure it was still neatly slicked back. She straightened the tie around her neck and brushed away the wrinkles that had worked their way into her jacket and pants on the ride over.

***

Nora went into her bedroom, putting her hand on the dresser by the door for support. Walking through the house and seeing everything covered in sheets had been hard enough, but looking at the bed was something different entirely. She walked over to Minnie’s side – always on the right – and ran her hand over the blanket, smoothing it out.

Minnie always made the bed as soon as they got out of it in the mornings, and turned it down meticulously each night. It even used to irritate Nora the way she tucked the sheets so tightly under the mattress. Nora preferred to give her feet a little more freedom to roam in the night… but oh, what she wouldn’t give to feel the tightness of the sheets around her toes now.

A plume of dust rose into the air as she tidied the bed, reminding her that it had been two full years since she last slept in it, and three since she shared it with Minnie.

Nora turned away from the bed before the tears had a chance to come. She went back to the dresser by the door. It was covered with a sheet like most everything else in the house, and the top of it was lumpy since whoever closed up the house hadn’t taken the time to pack away the knickknacks before covering the furniture. Nora carefully lifted the front of the sheet, more dust flying into the air, and revealed a collection of figurines on top of the dresser, exactly the way she remembered them.

They were Florence ceramics and most of them belonged to Minnie. She started collecting the little ceramic women during the war, while she and Nora were raising their families and their husbands were fighting. The figurines had been an occasional splurge to balance the pressures of working and homemaking and child rearing, and they always lit up Minnie’s face whenever she showed off her latest acquisition.

A few of them belonged to Nora, though. Minnie had gifted them to her at a time when symbolic gestures were all they could share, and they continued to mean a lot to Nora. She wanted to bring them with her to the nursing home, but she couldn’t bear to separate them from the rest of the collection.

Now, she picked up a figurine in a full-length pink dress and a bonnet decorated with gold foil accents – her name was Clarissa, according to collectors – and wrapped it carefully in a kerchief she brought with her. This was the very first figurine Minnie ever gave her, and it always held a special place in Nora’s heart. She tucked it into the bottom of her purse, and then she pulled a small leather journal out of her bag, tucking it into the top drawer of the dresser beneath a pile of neatly folded slacks where she hoped it would be safe.

Then Nora opened the bedroom door and announced into the hall, “Okay, dear, I’m ready. I appreciate your patience with an old woman.”

***

The funeral was small, primarily attended by Minnie’s children and grandchildren. They all thanked Nora for coming out to pay her respects to an old friend, and Avery watched her face carefully for a reaction.

She didn’t think she could stand it if she lost someone as close as Minnie had been to Nora and no one even acknowledged her grief, but Nora seemed to take it in stride. They’d hidden their relationship for so many years, Avery figured she was just used to playing the role of the best friend. It was more than

Avery would have been able to do.

Nora held it together like a real trooper through the entire funeral service, watching solemnly as the casket was wheeled down the aisle toward the altar and dabbing delicately at the corner of her eyes while the priest spoke. Avery was standing by with tissues and the oxygen tank and a supportive hand if need be, but Nora turned out to be a lot stronger than she looked.

She didn’t really break down until they lowered poor Minnie into the ground.

The cemetery was wet with last night’s rain and Nora clung to Avery’s arm as they walked to the grave site. She thought it was just that the terrain was rough going and Nora’s modest one-inch heels were sinking into the earth with every step. It wasn’t until the priest said his final prayer over the casket that she realized Nora was clinging to her because Avery was the only thing keeping her from collapsing.

A small yelp, something like a wounded animal would make, came from Nora’s lips while everyone else crossed themselves and muttered an amen, and then Avery felt Nora’s weight pulling on her arm as her legs went to jelly.

She dropped the oxygen tank to the wet grass and held onto Nora, keeping her on her feet and holding her tight for support as she sobbed. Most everyone headed back to their cars after the casket was lowered, a few of them looking at Nora with a mixture of pity and confusion, and Avery felt the urge to lash out at them rising up in her throat.

Who the hell were they to stare at her grief?

Move it along, asshole, she wanted to growl when their eyes lingered on Nora, and Avery held her tighter to keep her from the realization that she’d become a spectacle for them.

When they got back to the truck, Avery practically carrying Nora across the grounds, she carefully looped the oxygen cannula over Nora’s ears and brought it to her nose. Avery gave her a few minutes to settle down before starting the journey back to the nursing home, and the way Nora’s face was twisted into a physical manifestation of the pain of losing Minnie really ate at Avery.

In a million years, she couldn’t be as strong as Nora had been that day, or as tenacious as she’d been in her love for Minnie all her life. If this was the heartache people signed up for when they fell in love, she didn’t want any part of it.

Bonus Scenes: Falling Gracefully

My latest novel, FALLING GRACEFULLY, is available now on Amazon.

What do you do when your life is over before it even really began? For Melody Bledsoe, the answer is to go home and lick your wounds. For Jessie Cartwright, the answer is to survive.

Read the bonus scenes below.

Melody and Jessie smoke a joint

The only thing she could think of as she looked at it pinched between her thumb and forefinger was that this was so very unlike her.

“How long will it last?”

“About an hour,” Melody said. “It’s not very good weed.”

“Will Ellie notice?”

“Not unless you’re planning to smoke the whole thing,” Melody said with a smile.

She was amused at Jessie’s complete lack of experience as a drug user, and rather than finding it annoying, Jessie couldn’t help thinking it was a bit charming the way Melody’s dimples became more pronounced when she smirked at her.

Melody turned to face Jessie, her shoulder still leaning against the brick wall, and it seemed like the space between them was shrinking every minute. Their eyes met, and Jessie allowed herself to linger openly over Melody’s face for the first time. Her tongue flicked briefly over her lips, her teeth biting into her fleshy lower lip as a smile played over her face, and then she said, “You want to take a small hit just to see what it’s all about.”

Jessie followed along with Melody’s instructions.

“Suck the smoke into your mouth, and then inhale it into your lungs. You might cough,” she said, watching Jessie intently the whole time. The smoke was acrid but she managed not to choke on it like a complete idiot. Melody grinned and said, “But probably not because this is some pretty weak shit.

Okay, now exhale.”

Jessie tilted her head up the same way Melody had, blowing her first hit of weed skyward, then she handed the joint back to Melody, who was still looking at her expectantly.

They were silent for a moment, and then she said, “I don’t feel anything.”

Melody took a second hit, then brushed the burning tip of the joint against the brick until the cherry fell to the pavement. “Give it a minute.”

Jessie watched her pinch the tip of the joint, checking to make sure it had gone out, and then pull the plastic baggie back out of her pocket to carefully roll it up and put it away. Melody’s fingers were so slender and yet they moved so adeptly at her task. Jessie found herself blushing as she wondered what else those fingers could do, and then Melody was laughing.

“What?”

“Don’t look now, but you’re stoned.”

“I am?”

“You were watching my hands as if I was performing brain surgery,” Melody said. “Yeah, I’m pretty confident. How does it feel?”

Jessie tore her eyes away from Melody’s fingers as she stuffed the joint back into her wallet. She looked around, at the motionless parking lot and the expanse of asphalt, and then at the way the sun glittered through the leaves of a nearby oak tree, and the feeling of the breeze on her skin. It was all exactly the same as it had been when she came out here, but slightly different in a way she couldn’t really put into words.

Steve tells Jessie to go for it with Melody

There was only one problem. Now that she was free to do anything, Jessie couldn’t chase away the lingering fear that Melody didn’t have the same kind of intentions. They’d spent a year exchanging micro-flirtations, glances here and there that clearly hinted at desire but maybe nothing more than that.

And when the dance school was on break for the summer, Jessie found her fears growing with each passing day.

What if it was nothing but a flirtation to Melody?

One muggy hot Saturday at the end of summer, Ellie was playing in the yard a few doors down with a new friend she’d made, and Jessie was sitting on the stoop in her blue smock after she got home from work. Ellie was old enough to play by herself without being watched now, but it was too humid to sit in the house, at least not until the sun started to go down and it cooled off a bit. Steve came outside after a little while and sat down next to Jessie.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“Just watching our fearless daughter try to find garter snakes in the weeds over there,” she said with a laugh. “God, sometimes I’d think she’s not my kid if I wasn’t there for the birth.”

“You’d better encourage that behavior,” Steve said, jabbing Jessie playfully with his elbow. “You’re going to need her to take care of spiders at three a.m. now that I’m not around.”

“Oh, you think divorce gets you out of spider duty?” Jessie asked. “You, sir, are mistaken.”

Steve laughed, and then he said, “Seriously, though, what are you doing with regards to… life?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Jessie said.

“I’m talking about Melody,” he said. “We separated amicably, we both decided this was for the best, so what the hell are you waiting for? You gonna give it another five years?”

“No,” Jessie said defensively. “I don’t know. It didn’t seem fair to just go out and immediately start seeing someone else.”

“Jess, you know I’m okay with it,” Steve said. “Did it hurt like hell when I found out? Yeah. But once I was honest with myself about our relationship it just made sense. I have absolutely no reservations about the two of us moving on, and neither should you. Go get her!”

Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.

Sneak Peek: Falling Gracefully

My latest novel, FALLING GRACEFULLY, is available now on Amazon.

What do you do when your life is over before it even really began? For Melody Bledsoe, the answer is to go home and lick your wounds. For Jessie Cartwright, the answer is to survive.

Read the first chapter below.

The cramped lobby of Mary Beth’s School of Dance was packed with young ballerinas and their parents when Melody Bledsoe walked in. She was holding a newspaper in her hand, folded to the classified section with a big red circle traced around an ad. It seemed like a terribly archaic way to find a job, but Melody’s mother laid the newspaper in front of her this morning along with her breakfast, and Melody knew she had to at least ask for an application.

The job was for a front desk receptionist, and by the utter chaos happening here, it was clear that Mary Beth needed to fill this position desperately. The waiting area was only about ten feet square, and in that space there were at least eight adults and, well, Melody gave up trying to count the kids because they all pinballed around the room in constant motion. Most of the girls were wearing pink leotards and ballet skirts, a few colorful tutus took up even more of the tight space, and they were all waiting for class to begin.

Melody couldn’t have chosen a more chaotic time to arrive.

When she finally made her way to the desk, weaving past a dozen parents all trying to wrangle their kids into ballet slippers, the woman behind the counter looked just as frayed as Melody’s nerves felt. Her wispy gray hair stuck out of her bun in a dozen odd angles and she was frantically trying to do three things at once.

Who’s here for the one p.m. beginner ballet class?” She asked, her large voice booming into the room above the ruckus. “Don’t forget to sign in on the clipboard before you go into the room. Anyone need to make a payment? Who’s here to pick up their costume for the recital? Dressing room is down the hall – please try on your costume before you leave. The time to make alterations is running out!”

Melody watched wide-eyed as the diminutive woman rattled all these things off, moving from task to task and knocking things over as she tried to move behind the small reception desk and was thwarted at every turn by a mound of costumes in plastic bags, parents clambering for the sign-in sheet, and kids running underfoot.

It was dizzying, and Melody was just about to elbow her way back out of the room when the woman barked, “Whatcha need, kiddo?”

It took a moment before Melody realized that the woman was talking to her, and then she felt tongue-tied. What did she need in this anarchy?

“Umm, you’re hiring?” Melody said meekly, her voice barely audible above the commotion in the room.

She lifted the newspaper and pointed to the ad.

“Oh, great!” The woman exclaimed. “You’ve got good timing. As you can see, I could use all the help I can get, especially with this recital coming up fast. Would you mind stepping behind the desk for a few minutes? I gotta pee like a racehorse.”

“Uh-” Melody started to object, but the woman was already squeezing out from behind the desk.

“Consider it a working interview,” she called as she headed down the hall at one end of the lobby. Then she added with a laugh, “Or a trial by fire, if you prefer. You don’t have to do anything – just get people to sign in if they’re here for ballet and if they need anything else, tell them Mary Beth will be back in a few minutes.”

“But-”

“Thank you!” the woman called, and then she darted into a small bathroom halfway down the hall and slammed the door.

“Oh boy,” Melody muttered under her breath.

If this was how Mary Beth’s School of Dance functioned, she wasn’t sure her nerves could handle a job here. She thought about heading for the door – she could be halfway back to her parents’ house before Mary Beth even flushed the toilet – but then a velvety voice behind her asked, “Is this where we’re supposed to be?”

“I was just wondering the exact same thing,” Melody said, turning to find the owner of the voice. It turned out to be a stunningly pretty woman with pin-straight, carrot-red hair and vibrant green eyes. Her teeth grazed briefly across her lower lip as their eyes locked, and then she looked away, squeezing the hand of a little girl in a black leotard.

“I’m looking for the beginner ballet class,” the woman said. “I spoke to Mary Beth on the phone and she said we could try the first class for free since it’s the end of the year.”

Melody couldn’t stop staring into those mossy green eyes. She thought the woman didn’t look nearly old enough to have a kid that age.

“Yeah,” she found herself saying, “the clipboard’s right here.”

Bonus Scenes: The Rules of Love

Max has never been in love. She knows what it looks like after years of studying the phenomenon but her autism keeps love at bay… until she meets Ruby. My latest novel, THE RULES OF LOVE, is available now on Amazon.

Read the bonus scenes below.

Ruby talks to Megan

They had started out as friendly exchanges, two girls who used to date catching up and asking each other about their respective grad school experiences. Megan was always the brainier of the two of them, and she was going to medical school to pursue her dream of becoming a forensic pathologist just like Temperance Brennan in Bones – or at least, that’s how Ruby always thought of it.

Megan said that school was going well and she was acing all her classes, and then she said Northwestern was a little emptier without Ruby. That tugged at her heartstrings, and opened the wound left by their breakup all over again.

The text messages kept pouring in all week, and every time Megan found a way to show Ruby how lonely she felt without her. Ruby wondered if she regretted her decision not to make an honest go of their long-distance relationship, and her heart hurt more in this past week than it had all summer since she moved back to Chicago to live with her parents.

That ridiculous nickname, given to her in jest while they were pledging the sorority together freshman year, had stuck and become a term of endearment when they finally admitted their feelings for each other at the beginning of their third year at Northwestern. I miss you – what did that mean? As a friend? A sister? A lover?

Ruby had no idea whether all of this was genuine, or a mind game Megan invented to pass the time now that she didn’t have sorority duties eating up her extracurricular hours, or simple loneliness after an intense two-year relationship that felt a whole lot more like a lifetime.

Call me.

Ruby reflects after slapping Max

“I fucked you because I thought we wanted the same thing,” Ruby said, her voice having gone steady and severe while she glared at Max. “And we were having a good time until you decided that wasn’t good enough and you had to get all clingy and weird.”

Max opened her mouth to object but Ruby cut her off.

“Having Asperger’s is no excuse to become a level five clinger until the other person doesn’t even have enough room to breathe,” she said, feeling at that very moment as if her throat was closing up. She knew the moment she said it that it was a mistake, that was something that Mira had told her in confidence, but in the heat of the moment it was hard to control her words. It was also hard to separate the things she was mad at Max about from the things she had residual anger toward Megan for, and she knew some of the things she just said weren’t fair. She’d said them now, though, so she had no choice but to stand by them.

So she put her hands on her hips and defied Max to challenge her.

Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.

Sneak Peek: The Rules of Love

Max has never been in love. She knows what it looks like after years of studying the phenomenon but her autism keeps love at bay… until she meets Ruby. My latest novel, THE RULES OF LOVE, is available now on Amazon.

Read the first chapter below.

Social functions weren’t really Max Saddler’s thing. In truth, she would have rather spent the next hour in a dentist’s chair, or riding public transportation, or better yet, she’d rather stay in her dorm and watch Netflix. But she promised her best friend, Mira, that she would try to be more social and make a few additional friends in grad school, and so here she was.

Tonight was her first official night of the program, not counting orientation and the day she came to the library just to wander around and familiarize herself with all of the classrooms, and her first class was scheduled to start in an hour and a half. First, though, there was the meeting that she swore to Mira she would attend.

Mira was the acting president for the Granville Library Science Student Organization, or GLiSS, a professional organization meant to help librarians-in-training begin building a professional network for their career – at least, that’s what the organization’s webpage said. Max had read it many times in the past couple of weeks, trying to convince herself to attend one of its meetings despite the near certainty that socializing would occurring there. What finally convinced her was Mira’s promise that Max could throw her hat into the ring for president when Mira’s term was over at the end of the semester.

In her entire four years of undergrad, and in high school before that, Max had never backed down from an opportunity to excel academically and to cement her position at the top of her class. Given that library school appeared to be something that was carried out mainly at night and on weekends and no one hung around the school much outside of classes, there were precious few opportunities for this, so

Max was determined to be the best damn president GLiSS ever saw – even if it did include some social function responsibilities.

So about ten minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start, Max left her apartment in the graduate dorms and walked across campus. Granville State University was bustling with activity on a Monday evening in early September – all the underclassmen looked so impossibly young and starry-eyed, coming back from their last classes of the day and heading toward the dining hall in big groups full of budding friendships. Max found it a little more palatable to observe this as a grad student than it was when she’d been in their place four years ago. She might have been their age, but she’d never been one of them – no matter how hard she tried, she could never escape the feeling that she didn’t really fit

in.

Now at least she had the luxury of being a graduate student, mildly irritated by the boundless energy of the undergrads rushing past her on the quad, like an old dog putting up with playful puppies. She didn’t fit in because she really wasn’t one of them anymore, and that was okay.

Max headed straight for the library, a five-story brick cube that loomed taller than all the other academic buildings on campus, dwarfed only by the skyscraping undergraduate dorms. The first three floors were dedicated to the books – which Max had grown quite familiar with in the last four years – as well as the computer labs and reference librarians. The top two floors would be her home for the next two years – that’s where the library science department was housed, and where all of her classes would be held.

She walked through the lobby and waved at one of the librarians sitting at the reference desk. She hadn’t managed to make a single friend except for Mira in her entire four years of undergraduate study, but she knew every librarian in the building by name and favorite book – it was a bit like making friends with the lunch lady, but Max always felt at home in any library she entered.

“First night of classes?” The reference librarian asked, her voice echoing slightly through the tile-floored lobby.

Tonight it was Maureen on duty (favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird), and when she found out that Max had decided to become a librarian, Maureen had quite possibly been even more excited than Max herself. It made sense – she’d seen Max come to the library almost daily for four years.

“Yep,” Max called back, enjoying the way her voice reverberated off the tiles until Maureen put a finger to her lips and gave Max a warning look. She reduced the volume of her voice by a few decibels and added, “I’m going to the GLiSS meeting first, and then I have Information Theory with Wilson McDermott.”

“Have fun,” Maureen said with a smile as Max walked over to the bank of elevators. “Let me know how it goes.”

“Okay, I will,” Max said as the elevator doors opened.

She went up to the fourth floor, where there was a conference room for things like GLiSS meetings.

Checking her watch during the ride up, she saw that there were only four minutes left before it was supposed to begin – she’d timed her walk across campus perfectly to avoid the need to stand around awkwardly with her fellow grad students and attempt the anxiety-inducing act of small talk.

There were about a dozen people standing around the room when Max arrived, acting like they enjoyed asking each other about their hometowns and undergraduate degrees and the weather for god’s sake.

No one particularly noticed her – which was exactly the way she liked it – and she looked quickly around for Mira. She wasn’t here, which Max was slightly irritated by but not surprised about. Mira was always busy and running in at the last possible second, so Max went over to the large oak conference table in the middle of the room and found a seat two chairs from the end. In her past observations, this particular spot was the best one for seeming like she was a part of whatever conversations were going on around her without actually drawing attention to the fact that she was on the outside looking in.

She set her ragged old backpack – the same one she’d been carrying since high school – on the floor at her feet, then pulled out a brand-new notebook and a pen. Snippets of conversation floated through the room (I just got back from a summer abroad… My fiancée and I are trying to buy a house but it’s crazy timing right now… My undergraduate capstone was on gender studies and popular culture…).

Max knew that Mira would have wanted her to insert herself into one of them – pick a subject she knew about and go introduce herself. But every time she’d ever attempted this in the past, people seemed to think she was bragging or being a show-off. She didn’t understand the difference between I just got back from a summer abroad and I was at the top of my class in undergrad and now I’m getting a dual master’s degree in library science and user experience design. Everyone else seemed pretty clear on why one was categorized as ‘sharing’ while the other was ‘gloating,’ and Max found it was almost always best to just keep her mouth shut.

She flipped open her notebook and wrote the date and ‘GLiSS – First Meeting’ at the top of the first page, and then checked the time again. The meeting was overdue to start by two minutes, but Mira still wasn’t here to call it to order. Max put her pen to the page, falling back on one of her oldest hobbies to fill the time until this limbo of waiting was over.

Max looked around the room, observing the little pockets of conversation taking place, and she scribbled down every example of non-verbal communication she could find. It was like a scavenger hunt, searching for eye rolls and sighs and body language to decode the subtext running underneath all that small talk.

There was the summer abroad conversation, taking place between two girls whose postures hinted at adversarial attitudes beneath their benign conversation. There was the guy trying to buy a house, who seemed not to notice the fact that the people standing with him were beginning to divert their attention elsewhere, looking around the room.

And there was the gender studies talk.

Wow.

The girl at the core of that conversation – the largest group in the room by far – was strikingly beautiful, so much so that Max’s hand involuntarily scribbled the word onto the page along with all of her other notes. Wow. She was tall and lean, built like an athlete but with womanly curves that Max had a hard time not lingering on. Her skin was smooth and her dark hair stood out in delicate ringlets framing her face. Something inside Max stirred, urging, Go talk to her.

Bonus Scenes: Love in the Stacks

My latest novel, LOVE IN THE STACKS, is available now on Amazon.

Mira Lockhart is married to her work. One of the youngest library directors in the state, she has been climbing ladders for so long she’s forgotten what life is like outside the library. Not that she has time for love and all that mushy stuff – Westbrook Public Library is the most challenging place she’s ever worked, and every day there’s a new crisis to avert. Her new library page, for one.

Read the bonus scene below.

JACK ACCUSES MIRA

Jack was really starting to get under Mira’s skin. He had cornered her at the bar and spent the last five minutes dancing around an accusation about her and Chelle. It was obvious that the alcohol had gone straight to his blood and he was more than a little tipsy – something that Mira hoped would stand in her favor by the time he sobered up tomorrow morning – and what had begun as an anxious flush in her cheeks was quickly boiling into anger.

“Why don’t you just come out and say it?” She hissed at him through clenched teeth. He may be about six months overdue for a verbal lashing, but Mira had just enough presence of mind about her to keep from doling it out in a room filled with her colleagues.

“Fine,” Jack said, straightening up and preparing to deliver his final blow. “You’re giving that girl preferential treatment, you’re letting her walk all over the union contract, and I believe the reason is that there’s a professionally inappropriate relationship going on between the two of you.”

Mira shook her head dismissively at him. “It’s really sad that you still haven’t gotten over the fact that I got the director position instead of you. The fact that you would fixate on Chelle and take your anger out on her-”

“We’ll see about that director position after the board hears about your relationship,” he growled back at her, cutting her off. “They’re coming next week. You better watch your back.”

“Is that a threat?” Mira asked, incredulous. “Jack, you better go back to your room and sleep it off before you say something you regret.”

Then, taking her own advice, Mira set down her water goblet on the edge of the bar and walked away from Jack. If she’d stayed there much longer, she would have really gotten into it with him and all the things she’d been holding in about his slack work ethic, his questionable commitment to the patrons, and his absurd vendettas would have come streaming out of her mouth. So, huffing angrily as she pushed her way through the crowded room, she did the managerial thing and walked away.

Did you enjoy this book? Please take a moment to leave a review – they mean a lot to me and to fellow lesfic readers who are looking for their next read.

Sneak Peek: Love in the Stacks

My latest novel, LOVE IN THE STACKS, is available now on Amazon.

Mira Lockhart is married to her work. One of the youngest library directors in the state, she has been climbing ladders for so long she’s forgotten what life is like outside the library. Not that she has time for love and all that mushy stuff – Westbrook Public Library is the most challenging place she’s ever worked, and every day there’s a new crisis to avert. Her new library page, for one.

Read the first chapter below.

Chelle Tate sat in one of the worn-down chairs that lined the lobby of the Westbrook Public Library, clutching her resume and waiting for a job interview. It was mid-morning on a weekday, so there were not many people in the library – just her, the slightly mean-looking man at the reference desk, and a couple of patrons who looked like they might be homeless and just looking for an air-conditioned place to cool off for a few hours.

It certainly would not be the most glamorous job in the world if she got it, nor the most suited to the degree she’d just earned in exercise science. It was only a page position – a part time job putting books back on the shelves – and it really didn’t require anything more than a basic competency with the Dewey Decimal System. A high school kid could do it.

But here she was, dressed in a black blazer while the August sun beat down through the skylights, waiting for the library director and trying not to look too desperate whenever the reference librarian glanced over at her. Chelle needed this job – the only one in Westbrook that she was even remotely qualified for – because her parents had been threatening to cut her off ever since she declared her “useless major” (their words, not hers). Now that she’d graduated, the job search was getting dire and she had to cede the point that there weren’t a lot of places clamoring for exercise scientists.

“I don’t know why you couldn’t have gone into accounting like me. I make good money and work decent hours, and there will always be a need for accountants.”

Chelle could hear her mother’s objections running through the back of her mind like a nagging playlist.

And of course, there was her father’s more blunt criticisms.

Why do you need a degree to be a personal trainer? Michelle, I never did understand where your head was.”

The general consensus around the Tate household had always been that Chelle was a bit of a screw-up, a fact that was amplified the closer she stood to the golden child, her older brother Daniel. So while being a library page wasn’t exactly Chelle’s dream job, she hoped that it was enough of a step in the right (responsible, adult, bill-paying) direction that her parents would acknowledge the effort and back off a little while so she could figure out her next move.

Perhaps it would be a literal one, to a place where people really did want to hire exercise science majors. That, of course, would take a bit of capital, and Chelle was hoping that this library job could help with that goal, too.

The reference librarian looked over at her again and narrowed his eyes – sizing her up, Chelle thought – so she straightened her blazer and ran a hand over her long red hair to tame any fly-aways that the summer heat might have caused on the drive over here. She was determined not to mess this up.

A door opened just behind the reference desk and Chelle straightened up.

“Michelle Tate?”

The girl who called her name was petite, dressed in a very conservative black pant suit and pointed heels with her chestnut hair done up in the stereotypical librarian bun, and the wispy strands of her bangs were the only thing about her appearance that didn’t scream ‘formal’. These were the first things Chelle noticed about her, but as soon as she stood up to greet her, she noticed what was actually the girl’s most prominent feature.

Her large eyes were a stunning, icy blue that drew Chelle into them and awoke something wanton in her core. She had to make a conscious effort not to bite her lip or turn on the charm like she most definitely would have done if she’d been doing almost anything except waiting on her job interview. The girl was gorgeous, and all the stuffy business-woman suits in the world couldn’t conceal the curve of her hips.

A bit of a rake at heart, Chelle tucked the thought into the back of her mind that perhaps this girl would still be around after her interview was over as she said, “I’m Michelle.”

She went across the small lobby, past the reference desk where the librarian still hadn’t found anything better to do than openly watch the exchange between them. Then the girl held out her hand and said,

“I’m Mira Lockhart. I’m the director.”

Chelle slid her hand into Mira’s waiting palm, trying to disguise her surprise at this announcement. Mira was so young, she’d been expecting her to be the director’s assistant. The handshake lasted only a couple of seconds – Mira’s palm was warm and soft and she gave Chelle’s hand a firm, almost aggressive shake – but it made Chelle’s heart rate jump a little.

She had a long history of reading into handshakes, smiles, and the language of the eyes, and however brief it had been, there was something flirtatious about the way Mira’s hand lingered in Chelle’s just an instant too long.

“We’ll go to my office for the interview,” Mira said, then turned to the reference librarian and asked,

“Holding down the fort okay, Jack?”

“Have been long before you got here, my dear,” he replied with a somewhat tense smile that did a

pretty half-hearted job of making his comment into a joke.

“And we’ve only had one trash can fire this week,” Mira shot back, completely unfazed by this apparent effort at insubordination. “Keep up the good work.”

Then she opened the door and gestured for Chelle to follow.

Once she was at Mira’s back, trailing her down a narrow hallway with office doors lining one side and a large, window-lined conference room on the other, Chelle felt free to smirk. She was liking Mira more and more with every passing minute, a woman who didn’t take shit and managed to look damn fine even in a shapeless pant suit.

Chelle let her eyes fall down from the tight bun of Mira’s, over her small frame, to her cinched little waist, and finally down her slender legs swimming in formless black fabric. She was just trying to keep herself from imagining Mira in a stereotypical librarian’s outfit – skin-tight pencil skirt that hugged every curve, blouse billowing open just beyond decency, horn-rimmed glasses, and a pair of sheer stockings with a seam running up the back of her legs and disappearing under her skirt – when Mira opened a door at the end of the hall.

“Home sweet home,” she said, stepping aside to let Chelle enter.

The office was on the smaller side, not cramped exactly but not what one would expect for the director of an organization – then again, Westbrook was not the most metropolitan of towns. The room was cozily decorated and it was obvious that Mira spent a lot of time here – from the extra blazer hanging on the back of her door, to the mini fridge along one wall, to the small pile of well-worn books on the arm of a comfy-looking plush chair by the window.

Chelle went to one of the less inviting straight-backed chairs in front of a large oak desk while Mira closed the door and walked behind the desk.

“So,” Mira said, settling into her chair. “Tell me about yourself, Michelle.”

“Chelle,” she corrected automatically, having adamantly resisted her full name for her entire life. Then she bit her lip, wondering if it was appropriate to ask this steely-eyed goddess to call her by her nickname. “Sorry. I just always thought Michelle sounded… uptight.”

The space between her words and Mira’s response seemed to stretch out for a beat too long, during which Chelle wondered how bad a breach of interview etiquette she’d just made, but then Mira smiled. It lit her whole face up, erasing any lingering formality she’d worn in the lobby. Chelle hadn’t thought it was possible for her to be any more breathtaking, but clearly she’d been wrong.

“My name is Miranda, so trust me, Chelle, I understand,” she said with a slightly self-conscious laugh, and the craving stirring in Chelle’s core made itself known again as her name passed over Mira’s delicate lips.

“Oof,” Chelle answered with a playful wince. Even as the logical part of her mind was screaming at her to take this interview seriously, the more primal parts of her couldn’t help turning on the charm. “You’re right. Mira suits you much better – it’s soft and beautiful, like you.”

“Umm,” Mira paused, looking away as a faint blush formed on her porcelain cheeks.

Chelle was thoroughly enjoying her front row seat to watch Mira’s reactions. It was pretty obvious that she wore her heart on her sleeve and by the flush of her cheeks she probably wasn’t much good at poker. Chelle could see the effect she was having from halfway across the room, and she wondered how much closer Mira would allow her to get.

But Mira cleared her throat and composed herself, sitting a little straighter in her chair and looking Chelle sternly in the eyes as she said, “You never answered my question.”

“You’re right,” Chelle said, smiling back at her. “I’m a new graduate. I majored in exercise science, which my parents thought was a dumb idea and which I’m starting to agree with them on since no one in Westbrook except my exercise science professors has ever heard of that term. I spent the last four years in the circulation department of the university library as a work study student. I’m a runner, I like long walks on the beach, and I forgot to give you my resume when we sat down.”

As a job interview, this was one of the worst ones Chelle had ever been on. There was something about Mira that just made her want to sweep everything off the desk between them and lay her down on it, regardless of what it meant for her bank account, her parents’ support, or even her reputation in their small community as an unprofessional person who doesn’t know how to act in an interview.

As a study in flirtation, though, it was a master class.

She’d only been in Mira’s presence for around ten minutes, but she couldn’t imagine making it through the rest of the hour giving straight answers and ignoring the heat building between them. Chelle looked down at the neatly printed resume that she’d all but forgotten was in her hands, and she decided to go for broke.

***

Mira Lockhart reached across her desk to take the resume that Chelle had offered. It would be a welcome distraction from her plump, cherry-stained lips to look down at a piece of paper while they talked, but Chelle didn’t actually give her the resume that she held in her hand.

Instead, she fixed Mira with the same sultry stare that she’d been wearing since they sat down, a somewhat cocky expression that seemed to say I know exactly what you’re thinking. It was more than a little unsettling to be so emotionally undressed in the middle of a job interview that Mira was, quite frankly, failing to conduct in a professional manner.

Chelle was at least ten years younger than her, and filled with the youthful abandon to prove it. Her fiery red hair fell to her shoulders in a way that was just this side of messy thanks to the August heat, and her cheeks were rosy and slightly dewy. All of it together gave her the look of a woman who’s just been fucked, and it woke something in Mira that she had spent years ignoring.

Maybe that’s why it was so hard to stop playing into Chelle’s seductive looks. Or maybe it was how confident and brazen she was, two words that had never defined Mira’s personal style of flirtation. Her comments were patently inappropriate for a job interview, but every time Chelle smiled at her, Mira forgot she was even conducting one.

And now…

Rather than reaching across the desk to place her resume in Mira’s outstretched hand, Chelle stood up and walked slowly around it. Mira opened her mouth to object, to take control of the situation and tell her to sit down and tell her why she wanted to work at Westbrook Public Library. But the words caught in her throat as her eyes locked on Chelle’s, and she watched her sway her hips seductively back and forth with every step. She had a slightly plump figure and Mira could see the curve of her breasts and the dip of her waist through the tight blazer she wore.

As Chelle rounded the corner of Mira’s desk, stepping into the narrow space between the desk and the window behind it, Mira stood. They were nearly eye to eye, Chelle a few inches taller than Mira, and the space between them was rapidly closing. Mira felt her heart beginning to thump against her chest, and some small part of her brain that was still functioning in a work capacity was demanding that she take the resume and send Chelle back to her seat.

So she reached for the document again, but Chelle didn’t let it go. She was looking at Mira with stunning turquoise eyes that sparkled in the sunlight and invited her to get lost in them. Chelle tugged the resume, bringing Mira’s arm closer to her body, and the next thing she knew, Chelle’s arm was around her waist and she was pulling Mira into her.

She closed her eyes and felt Chelle’s body against hers, soft and supple, their hips connecting as Chelle held her close. Then Mira felt her lips, big and plump and tasting ever so faintly like cherries as they closed over hers. Mira gave in to the kiss, melting into Chelle as her tongue glided over Mira’s lips and her arms wrapped around her waist.

Everything about the moment felt right… until Mira’s brain caught up to her, screaming, What are you doing? You’re the library director for crying out loud!

“No,” she murmured, breaking away from Chelle. “I can’t.”

“I’m sorry,” Chelle said, taking a step back. By the way she was looking at Mira, though, with that same sultry stare, it didn’t seem like she was sorry about any of it.

“I think you should go,” Mira said, squeezing past Chelle and going to the door. She couldn’t be alone with her any longer or she might do something truly regrettable.

“Wait,” Chelle said, a hint of pleading coming into her voice. “Please don’t end the interview.”

“I don’t know if I would call it that,” Mira said, opening the door and turning on her professional demeanor once again as she stepped aside for Chelle to leave. Chelle opened her mouth to voice an objection, but Mira cut her off. “Thank you for coming in, Ms. Tate.”

This curt dismissal, delivered in the most managerial and disparaging tone she could muster, was enough to make Chelle realize that she would not budge and the interview was over. Chelle picked up her resume from where it had fallen to the floor when she grabbed Mira, then kept her eyes down as she walked through the door.

“Do you remember your way out?” Mira asked, pointing down the hall. Chelle nodded, and before she had the chance to offer any final words that might lure Mira back into a dangerous situation, Mira closed the door behind her.

Alone in her office, she sighed and leaned against the door. Never in her entire career had she conducted such an unprofessional interview, and she was just as shocked at her own complicity in that kiss as she had been at Chelle’s brazen behavior.

She found that she was a bit irritated by it, if she was being honest. What about her made Chelle think that she could interrupt a job interview to kiss her?

Mira straightened her jacket and brushed a few wrinkles out of her pants, then went back around her desk to sit down. There was a copy of Chelle’s job application sitting there, which she’d printed to refer to during the interview, and now she swept it into the trash.

With the taste of Chelle still on her lips, no closer to filling the library page position, Mira was feeling rather impotent as a library director. It was very close to the feeling she got every time something disastrous happened in the library and Jack was never far away, eager to point out how he would have handled the situation if he’d been chosen as the library director.

Mira had only been in the position for six months, and in that time it seemed like the library had more catastrophes than books – today’s adventure adding to her never-ending list of problems.

She grimaced at the mere thought of Jack getting wind of her unorthodox interview. He was always looking for ways to undermine her authority or bring evidence that she was unfit for her position to the library’s Board of Trustees. Kissing the candidate during a job interview – particularly when said candidate was a woman – would be a scandal big enough to rock the conservative old men of the Board to their core.

How could she let the interview stray so far off course?

She should have shut down Chelle’s flirtations the moment she called her beautiful. But the truth was, Mira was lonely. She enjoyed Chelle’s silver tongue and she allowed herself to get carried away with the feeling of being seduced.

It was something she hadn’t had time for in a long while. Even before she’d taken the job at Westbrook, Mira had been steadily and determinedly working her way up the ranks in the library world, and she allowed herself to become entirely immersed in her work. It was so hard to climb the management ladder, especially as a woman, that Mira decided she would do whatever it took to land her dream job as a director. When the Westbrook position opened up, she moved across the state to take it.

She hadn’t even noticed that she’d sacrificed her social life – and any romantic interests along with it – until one day she woke up to an empty bed in a nearly unfurnished apartment, living out of the boxes she hadn’t had the time or the energy to unpack. That’s when she realized how solitary her life had become. She started spending as little time as possible in the sad, sparsely furnished apartment, and because she was finally getting what she wanted professionally, she focused on pouring her heart and soul into the library and pushing away any errant desires for companionship.

Mira had come this far, and she couldn’t possibly jeopardize all of that progress by getting mixed up in Chelle’s whirlwind of smoldering looks and passionate kisses. Besides, Mira thought as she shoved her job application further into the trash and covered it with a few scraps of paper, the girl was overqualified for a page position anyway.

Bonus Scenes: Awakened

My first novel, AWAKENED, is available now on Amazon. In the sequel to Sleepwalking, Leah McAllister is starting a new job in a bland maze of tan cubicles where she hopes to blend in with her surroundings – she’s had enough attention for one lifetime. What she never expects is to find herself working under Morgan, a mesmerizing woman who turned her world upside down when they met one year before.

Read a bonus scene below.

LEAH TALKS ABOUT HER TRAUMATIC PAST

“Oh! Did I just hear you say it? You like girls?” Chelle teased, grabbing onto Leah’s arm and taking an excited little skip down the sidewalk. “I wish I’d recorded it.”

“Shut up,” Leah said, giving her a snarky little smile.

“Seriously, though? Love is fucking hard no matter who you’re with.”

“I know,” Leah said. “I just think it would be better if I didn’t make things even harder on myself.”

“You don’t get to choose who you love – man or woman,” Chelle said.

“That’s the truth, or else my mom wouldn’t have stayed with my dad for so long,” Leah said with another long sigh. She’d had just enough alcohol to make her pensive, and now that the adrenaline rush of being with Christy was wearing off, all she had left of the beer in her system was a propensity to run at the mouth.

“He was an alcoholic, right?” Chelle asked delicately.

Leah almost never talked about her father, and in the three years she’d known Chelle, he’d come up in conversation only a handful of times – one of which was during the week when she had to miss all her classes to help her mother make funeral arrangements.

She hadn’t found the news of her father’s death surprising, or even particularly emotional. When you spend your childhood turning in your dad’s empty Budweiser cans for the meager change the recycling center offered – which was the only way Leah ever got luxuries like chocolate milk or an extra cookie with her state-sponsored school lunch – you learned to temper your expectations. Leah had been waiting years for her father’s addiction to kill him, when the news came she accepted it with stoicism.

“Yeah,” Leah said to Chelle, “and a mean drunk, just like the stereotype.”

Leah remembered many weekends spent at the neighborhood branch of the library, or the dollar movie theater – anywhere that wasn’t home. When she could get away, she did, and when it wasn’t possible, she retreated to her room and clicked the flimsy lock on the hollow door that would prove no challenge at all if her father got it in his head to beat down the door.

Most of the time, though, the illusion of privacy was enough, and Leah felt safe in her room. She’d lay on her bed and stare at the plastic, glow-in-the-dark stars taped to the ceiling while music from her Walkman streamed through a pair of chunky, noise-cancelling headphones. Or else she’d curl up in the ratty old wingback chair that just barely fit under the window, reading whole novels in a single sitting, her physical reality fading away until she disappeared into better worlds.

Disappearing became an important skill. The more Leah could fade away at home, the less her father’s drunken tirades were aimed at her. The more she could disappear inside her books, the less she needed to acknowledge the world around her – the deteriorating condition of the house, the slurring, staggering way her father moved around it, and the purplish-yellow bruises that her mother was always trying to conceal with a thick layer of foundation, but which always peeked through her fair skin.

When they lost the house, Leah started disappearing at school, too.

Her mother worked long hours but without her father’s income, it wasn’t enough. They downgraded from a ranch house in the suburbs to a trailer in the worst part of town, and overnight Leah became untouchable at school.

It was surreal, that first day after the move. It felt like walking around with a giant sandwich board over her chest, screaming in red, angry letters, OUTCAST! POOR! DRUNK DAD! Leah never did find out how the whole school managed to come to a unanimous decision about her overnight, but somehow they all seemed to know exactly how her status changed, and they didn’t want anything to do with it, like the breakdown of the family unit was contagious.

One by one, all her friends distanced themselves from her. They made new friends, had parties she wasn’t invited to, stopped having her over for dinner, and slowly slipped away. No matter what she did to try and shed the screaming label on her chest, it was indelible. So she became invisible, relying on those old tricks to fade into the background, unremarkable and unnoticed, in order to survive the rest of high school.

It wasn’t until college that Leah finally saw a fresh start waiting for her.

She jumped at the chance to live on campus, out of the cramped trailer and away from the stench of poverty and undesirability that seemed to linger on her. And as long as she kept working hard to conceal the real Leah McAllister – the one who lived in a grimy trailer and had no friends and an alcoholic father – people seemed to buy it when she made a new sandwich board that read NORMAL.

That was why she couldn’t risk taking on any other adjectives that would make her stand out from the crowd. Any crack in the mortar might make people look deeper, and then they would start to see those real descriptors that she tried so hard to conceal.

Leah had tears forming in her eyes by the time she explained all of this to Chelle, and she scooped Leah up in a bear hug as soon as she finished. “You’re not an outcast. Your shitty childhood doesn’t define you.”

Leah opened her mouth to object, but Chelle took her head in her hands and looked sternly into her eyes.

“Listen to me,” she insisted. “No one worth knowing is going to judge you for being yourself. No matter who that is.”

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