Sneak Peek: The Rules of Parenthood

Despite challenges and struggles, these newlyweds almost have it all. There’s just one thing Max can’t give Ruby – a family. My latest novel, THE RULES OF PARENTHOOD, is available now on Amazon.

Read the first chapter below.

Max put her arm around her new wife and pulled her closer. They were sitting on a porch swing overlooking the lake and she and Ruby had been married for less than forty-eight hours. Max was already certain that her life could not be more perfect.

The ceremony had been intimate, just their families and a few friends watching as they bound their lives together in the beautiful flower garden behind Max’s parents’ house. Ruby had worn an antique lace dress that trailed gracefully on the ground behind her and Max had never seen her so beautiful. Her cheeks were rosy pink and her deep brown eyes turned the color of honey as they walked up the makeshift aisle together in the afternoon sun.

Max had worn a soft white linen vest that complimented Ruby’s lace and as they stood together amid the colorful flowers, their hands linked together while Max’s best friend, Mira, performed the ceremony, she never felt more certain that she and Ruby belonged together. Their vows were emotional and peppered with inside jokes – Ruby’s were full of anecdotes about the two of them and Max’s were full of quotes from movies they’d watched when they first started dating. And the kiss at the end of the ceremony… well, Max had been waiting two long years for that moment, and it lived up to every dream she had of it.

After the ceremony, there had been a feast prepared by Ruby’s mom, Lorna, and while everyone else danced, ate and made merry, Max and Ruby snuck away to make love for the first time as a married couple. Max didn’t mind the noise and chaos of the party so much after that because Ruby didn’t take her hand out of Max’s all night.

Max had everything she needed in the palm of her hand.

Now, she kissed Ruby’s fingers, giving her an amorous look. The sun was just beginning to set over the mountains on the other side of the lake and the sky was streaked with pink and purple. Ruby settled her head against Max’s shoulder and said, “I understand why you wanted to come here now. It’s beautiful.”

“It’s just you and me,” Max said, kissing the top of her head.

They could have gone anywhere for their honeymoon. Ruby’s parents had offered to pay for it as their wedding gift and Ruby had immediately begun dreaming of romantic places like Paris and Rome, but Max talked her into the Smoky Mountains. It wasn’t easy to convince her that solitude was better than busy streets and crowded tourist destinations, but she came around eventually.

“I want to crawl into bed with you and not leave for the next six days,” Max had said the moment they arrived in their secluded cabin in the mountains just twenty-four hours ago. She had dropped their bags just inside the door and wrapped her arms around Ruby’s slender waist, lifting her off her feet and carrying her the few steps to the king-sized bed waiting for them in the bedroom. She’d pounced on top of Ruby, pushing her thigh between her legs, and said, “I don’t want to see another person until we check out on Monday.”

Ruby had laughed and pulled Max’s shirt over her head, and despite their determination to stay in bed all week, they’d already ventured out a couple of times in search of food and adventure. This morning they drove into town to stock up on food and then spent most of the afternoon hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Then they came back to the cabin, took a shower together that ended in hot, soapy passion and a thoroughly fogged mirror, and Ruby promised to make her mother’s famous shepherd’s pie recipe for dinner.

First, though, they wanted to watch the sunset.

They didn’t even need to leave the cabin to do it – the porch swing that overlooked the lake provided the perfect vantage point. There were about a dozen other cabins lining the edge of the water, some visible and others obscured by trees or bends in the shoreline. As Max and Ruby sat together and watched the fiery orange sun dipping below the peak of the mountain, a few kids ran out and jumped into the water from a dock on the other side of the lake. They were barely visible from this far away, but their whoops and laughter carried across the water and Ruby snuggled tighter into Max’s side.

It was almost fully dark, the first stars beginning to shine in the night sky, when Ruby asked, “Have you ever thought about having kids, babe?”

The question startled Max. She’d been thinking of nothing more than shepherd’s pie and the peaceful sound of crickets, and of taking Ruby back to bed as soon as possible after dinner.

“No,” she said. “I never have.”

“Oh,” Ruby said, and then fell silent.

They watched the kids scramble back onto the dock – it was getting too dark to swim – and Max could tell that something more was required of her. She really hadn’t thought about kids before, in any context, and it was becoming clear to her that the same was not true for Ruby.

“Have you?” Max asked.

“Yeah,” Ruby said. She sat up and Max felt her absence immediately. Why hadn’t it ever occurred to her that Ruby might want kids? She was a children’s librarian after all, and family was a thing that most people wanted.

“I just never really thought about it,” Max tried to explain. “I’m an only child and I didn’t grow up around many kids-”

“It’s not a big deal,” Ruby said and Max had trouble reading the tone of her voice in the dark. Light from the living room came through a nearby window, but it only served to throw Ruby’s figure into silhouette and obscure her facial expressions. She put her hand in Max’s and said, “You don’t have to explain it to me, but do me a favor and think about it, okay?”

“You want kids,” Max said, rolling the idea over in her mind. “When?”

Ruby laughed and leaned forward, kissing Max as the swing moved gently beneath them, then said, “I don’t know. Not tomorrow or anything like that, but maybe in a few years after we’ve had time to enjoy being married, we might want to enjoy being parents, too.”

“I just-” Max started to object.

Her pulse was racing and she didn’t expect her body to react this way, but now that Ruby had opened the subject for discussion, a million different questions and concerns were racing through her mind. The foremost one was how she would stack up as a mom. After all, it had taken her more than twenty years to figure out how to love someone and she knew the only reason she’d been successful at that was because she’d found her soul mate. What if she couldn’t do the same for a child[js1] , or if she could but the kid never knew it because Max didn’t communicate her feelings in the same way as everyone else?

“Max,” Ruby said, a little louder this time to snap her out of the thoughts whirling in her head. Ruby

climbed into her lap, a feat easier said than done on a swaying porch swing. She put her hands on Max’s face and kissed her long and hard. Then she said, “Please don’t worry about this – I didn’t mean to freak you out. It was just an idea, okay?”

“Okay.” Max put her hands on Ruby’s hips and pulled her close. Now the light from the cabin was on her face, making her skin glow and her eyes sparkle, and Max tucked a strand of Ruby’s hair behind her ear. She whispered, “You’re perfect.”

“So are you,” Ruby said, her thumb brushing Max’s cheek.

Max snorted and said, “Yeah, right.”

“You are,” Ruby said. She leaned down and with her lips just grazing Max’s, she murmured, “Perfect for me.”

They kissed again, Max enjoying the feel of Ruby’s curves beneath her hands, but just as she was hooking her fingers under the hem of Ruby’s sun dress, she climbed off the swing. Ruby grabbed Max’s hand and pulled her toward the door.

“Come on,” she said. “I’m starving.”

“Me too,” Max said, although she had something other than the shepherd’s pie in mind as she followed Ruby into the cabin.

Sneak Peek: That Old Emerald Mountain Magic

A Scrooge meets her match in the Colorado mountains when their worlds collide, quite literally, on the slopes in this heartwarming holiday romance. My latest novel, THAT OLD EMERALD MOUNTAIN MAGIC, is available now on Amazon.

Read the first chapter below.

Joy Turner could feel tears forming in the back of her throat. She wasn’t the crying type, though, so she swallowed hard and pressed her lips into a thin smile as she pulled her best friend, Danny, into a hug.

“You’re going to do great,” she said over his shoulder as she made sure the tears would stay at bay before releasing the embrace. “They’re gonna love you.”

“Yeah?” he asked with a nervous smile. “What makes you so sure?”

“You’ve been playing the guitar since you were twelve years old,” she said, then she rolled her eyes and teased him with, “and you make me listen to you practice every damn night so I know how good you are. Anyway, they wouldn’t have called you if they didn’t know exactly how awesome you are.”

Two nights ago, Joy had been in the middle of brushing her teeth for bed when Danny appeared in the bathroom doorway with the biggest grin on his face, telling her that the front man for The Hero’s Journey had just called and told him to get his butt to Memphis to fill an emergency vacancy. He’d auditioned to join the band six months earlier and been passed over, but they’d just had to fire a guitarist mid-tour and now they wanted Danny.

He hadn’t hesitated to quit his restaurant serving job in town and start packing his bags, and Joy knew that this could be Danny’s big break. Still, she felt a certain amount of foreboding as she saw him off.

Danny was her oldest friend, and one of the few that had remained in their little resort town of Emerald Hill after high school was over. Denver was less than an hour away and it had enough of a music scene to keep him satisfied for a while, but deep down, Joy always knew this moment was coming. If the holiday tour went well, The Hero’s Journey would probably offer Danny full membership in the band, and then the chances of him returning to Emerald Hill would be pretty slim.

She felt like she was saying goodbye to him forever.

“I better get in there,” he said, pulling a hastily-packed duffel bag and his guitar case out of the trunk of Joy’s car. “They’ll kill me if I miss my flight.”

“Yeah, that wouldn’t be a good first impression,” Joy agreed, her voice a little shaky. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t be emotional in this moment, and in fact she’d been subconsciously steeling herself for it for quite some time, but it was hard not to think about how much she’d miss her best friend while he was touring the south central United States and living his dream.

“Hey,” he said, picking up on her emotion. “I’ll be back in a few weeks.”

“Sure you will,” she said with a wry smile. She knew that The Hero’s Journey was based in Tennessee, and if he became a member he’d have to move there, too.

For now, Danny shrugged and said, “Hey, all my crap’s still in the apartment so you know I have to come back for it.”

“Yeah, you wouldn’t want to be separated from your framed Die Hard poster for too long,” Joy said with a snort. She’d teased him relentlessly about his choice of décor ever since they moved in together after high school, and in the intervening five years she started to think that he kept that particular relic of his teen years hanging over the living room couch just to spite her.

“That is an American classic,” Danny answered firmly, but he couldn’t keep a straight face. He pulled Joy in for one last hug, his guitar case thumping against her shin, and then he pulled away and said,

“Hey, I want the Emerald Hill gossip. Keep me posted on your resort guests’ crazy antics.”

“Of course,” Joy promised.

She’d been working at the Emerald Mountain Ski Resort ever since high school and Christmas time on the picturesque, snowy mountainside was always the busiest time of year. With a fully booked resort always came a few crazies, and Joy would come home from work at night and regale Danny with stories of the strange and extravagant requests they came up with. It wouldn’t be the same this year without him, but she’d find a way to get through it.

“And find yourself a girlfriend,” he said with a wink. “You work too hard.”

“Yeah, right,” Joy said with a roll of her eyes. She’d had a couple of short flings with resort guests over the years, but Danny himself knew how hard it was to find something permanent in a town built around seasonal tourism.

Then Danny turned and walked into the airport, and Joy climbed quickly back into her car. She didn’t want to linger on the sidewalk where her tears would begin to threaten again, and it was too cold to stand outside for long anyway. She could see her breath as she turned her keys in the ignition, rubbing her hands together and trying to get warm again. There were only ten days til Christmas, and that was good news – it meant that Joy would have plenty of work to do at the resort to keep her mind off the very real possibility of losing her best friend.

Her manager had told her at the beginning of the winter season that he saw management potential in her, and that he would have time to mentor her after the holiday rush died down. Of course, Danny’s response when she told him had been to snort and say, “Who wants that? We both need to get out of Emerald Hill and start living our lives.”

He was probably right, and if Joy needed any further kick in the pants to start looking for jobs in places that had a more permanent air then his departure provided that motivation. But change was hard, and she had the holiday rush to get through first.

Bonus Scenes: The Origins of Heartbreak

Alex’s world stood still the day her father passed. After more than a year of living frozen in that moment, she decides to take the first steps out of her grief by enrolling in a paramedic program. It’s in one of her first classes that she meets Megan, a pretty but aloof medical student who has a few skeletons of her own in the proverbial closet. Can they work together to mend their broken hearts?

My latest novel, THE ORIGINS OF HEARTBREAK, is available now on Amazon. Read the bonus scenes below.

CHLOE AND MEGAN KISS

She flopped down on the couch, intending to find something inane on television to distract her from her awful choices, but Chloe sat down next to her. Megan rolled her eyes – Chloe always took the seat directly next to her, never leaving an empty cushion, which everyone else on the planet realized was common courtesy.

“Well, study group wasn’t really a thrill a minute, either,” Chloe said, finishing her granola bar and setting the wrapper neatly on the coffee table. It would be less than five minutes before its presence there drove her to distraction and she had to get up and throw it away.

“No way,” Megan said, looking conspiratorially at her roommate. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you admit that you weren’t having the most amazing time ever all the time. Especially when it comes to studying.”

She was teasing Chloe, but it was true. She was so relentlessly optimistic all the time, this comment was truly out of character for her.

“Well, to be perfectly honest, Ivy gets under my skin sometimes too,” Chloe said, actually lowering her voice so that Ivy – who lived several blocks away in on-campus housing – wouldn’t hear this admission.

“Get out of town,” Megan said, shoving Chloe’s shoulder and sending her off balance for a moment.

“Tell me more!”

It was nice to focus on this instead of navel-gazing, and Megan wanted to stay in this moment for as long as possible to avoid thinking about Alex.

“She’s just a very negative person,” Chloe said, and then with a blush in her cheeks, she added, “Like you sometimes.”

“Sometimes?”

“A lot of the time,” Chloe said. “But at least you’re usually negative in a joking way. Ivy can be sort of draining sometimes with her relentless pursuit of knowledge and good grades.”

“Oh, so you noticed,” Megan said, rolling her eyes.

“Yeah,” Chloe said, and it was fun to watch her get going after holding in these criticisms for almost a year and a half. “Like, did you notice that sometimes she contradicts the professors in the middle of lecture? It’s like, okay, we all get that you’re smart, but you don’t have to be an asshole, too.”

Megan let her mouth drop open and she said, “Chloe Peterson, did you just cuss?”

“I got carried away,” Chloe said, putting a hand over her mouth.

Megan pulled it away, her eyes lighting up as she joked with her. “You did. Say it again. Say asshole, because I need to commit this moment to memory.”

“You know who’s an… asshole?”

“Who?”

“You,” Chloe said, moving to punch Megan’s shoulder. Megan caught her by the wrist and Chloe leaned in and kissed her. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth, her tongue just grazing Megan’s lips, and then Megan jerked away.

“Whoa,” she said, dropping Chloe’s wrist and jumping off the couch.

Chloe looked up at her with her brow knit together, confusion clouding her expression. “I’m sorry. Is it because I called you… that? I was joking.”

Megan sighed and just said, “No, it’s not that. I’m sorry, Chloe, I shouldn’t have let that happen.”

Then she turned and went back into her room, forced once again to be alone with her thoughts. She was really on a roll tonight – first Alex, and then Chloe. She knew that Chloe had a crush on her – it was obvious from their first semester together – and if she’d been more aware of her surroundings instead of being so absorbed in avoiding her feelings, she would have seen that kiss coming from a mile away.

Megan kicked off her jeans again and climbed into bed, pulling the sheets all the way up to her ears. She probably shouldn’t leave her bed for the rest of the night, lest she find a third person to torment.

ALEX AND MEGAN KISS IN THE SNOW

She couldn’t keep up the ruse any longer, and she thought if she tried to hold in her emotions any more she’d burst. She stepped forward and put her hand on the back of Megan’s neck, pulling her into a deep kiss.

She was relieved to find Megan’s body sinking into hers, her hands coming out of her pocket and her arms wrapping around Alex’s waist. The snowflakes continued to coat them both and Alex shivered unconsciously at the cold, all of her awareness focused on the way that Megan’s lips felt like home.

“Yeah,” Megan said, and Alex was surprised to see that tears had begun to form in her eyes. They were glossy and filled with emotion. “I know.”

“I want you,” Alex said.

Megan laughed, and Alex wiped one errant tear off of her cheek before the cold had a chance to freeze it there. Megan smiled and said, “Do you want to come inside? It’s too cold to keep talking out here.”

“Yeah,” Alex said. “I would like that very much.”

IVY TELLS CHLOE ABOUT ALEX

Megan’s next lecture class with Dr. Morrow, still working their way through the respiratory system, was a particularly painful one. Chloe arrived early as usual, and she was sitting in the front row with her laptop on one desk and her textbook opened on the one adjacent. What wasn’t usual was the look that she shot Megan when she came into the room.

Usually she smiled and tried to wave her over to take the empty desk on the other side of her two-desk setup. Sometimes Megan did, and sometimes she preferred to slip into an inconspicuous spot at the back of the room. It all depended on how annoyingly cheerful Chloe had been that morning in the apartment and how far away Megan could get from her nemesis, Ivy. Today, though, Chloe was already gone by the time Megan got up and she didn’t acknowledge her when she came into the lecture hall.

Megan sighed and found an open seat in the middle of the room. They hadn’t spoken since their kiss and Megan wasn’t sure if Chloe was upset with her or just hurt, but either way Megan couldn’t shake the annoying feeling of guilt that had been hanging over her ever since.

She had no reason to feel bad about what happened—she kept telling herself that nothing had happened—but she also hadn’t spoken to Alex since the kiss. She pulled out her laptop and brought up her notes for this module, determined to push all of those thoughts out of her head for the next few hours and focus on medicine.

That was something she hadn’t been doing nearly enough of this semester, and it was beginning to take a toll on her. She’d barely even touched her research paper in the last few weeks, although she had spoken to Krys a few more times and knew that all of the swabs from the high school had come back clean. The kids completed their antibiotic courses and Paul Goulding remained the only casualty in what turned out to be a rather small and uneventful meningitis outbreak. Megan had to find time to write all of that up before the winter break, but every time she sat down to try, Alex popped into her mind. She had to stop thinking about her, even if seducing Chloe wasn’t the answer.

Ivy came into the room a few minutes later, giving a death stare to Megan and anyone else dumb enough to make eye contact with her. She always walked into class like she owned the place, her posture impossibly tall for her small stature as she sauntered to the front row. Megan had never seen Ivy sit anywhere else, and she’d also never gotten through a lecture without raising her hand to ask questions about ten times an hour.

Most of the time it was cocky stuff like, “According to my independent research, I found that lesions in the apneustic center are a frequent cause of apnea. Can you comment further?” and Megan was sure that in those moments, Dr. Morrow hated the little show-off just as much as Megan did.

Other times, though, her questions came in the form of fun little personal attacks that always caught her victim off-guard. Ivy would throw out things like, “Last week in her literature review, Megan said that alveolar ventilation is the volume of gas leaving the lungs, but actually she failed to account for the anatomic dead space, which does not encompass the alveoli.” Then Dr. Morrow would confirm that Ivy was correct—again—and Megan would roll her eyes and plot her takedown of the Witch of the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Fortunately, today Ivy couldn’t find any holes to poke in Megan’s previous statements and focused instead on Dr. Morrow’s incomplete coverage of the lecture material. It wasn’t until she released them for a twenty-minute break about halfway through the lecture that Ivy launched her daily personal attack.

Megan had gone outside and was sitting on a bench in the courtyard, sipping hot coffee from a cart nearby and enjoying the last few nice days before the fall really began to bluster onto campus. She was surprised when Chloe came over and asked to join her.

“Yeah,” Megan said, patting the bench seat beside her. Chloe sat down and Megan said, “Hey, are we okay?”

“Of course,” Chloe said, although her chipper tone was a little more forced than usual.

“I’m sorry about last night,” Megan said. “It’s just that we’re roommates and–”

“It’s fine,” Chloe said, cutting her off. “I get it. We see each other every day, and it would just be too awkward if it didn’t work out. Plus, you think I’m annoying.”

“Uh oh, incoming,” she said, watching Ivy come across the courtyard toward the coffee cart.

“Oh, she’s not that bad,” Chloe said, shrugging off Megan’s incredulous look. “She works really hard to be where she is, you know.”

“Sure,” Megan said. “Hard at work climbing up Dr. Morrow’s butt.”

Chloe laughed, but she gave Megan a disapproving look. Then to Megan’s chagrin, they watched Ivy walk over to their bench with her coffee in hand.

“What do you want?” Megan asked, and Chloe elbowed her hard in the ribs.

“Do you want to join us?” she asked, preparing to make room on the narrow bench.

“Hardly,” Ivy said. “I’m just doing a little observational research on how someone who has obviously cheated her way up to the head of the class spends her break time. When do you find time to study, Megan? Do you have someone who just slips you all the answers?”

“I can’t believe you have such great mobility despite that giant stick in your ass,” Megan said, not wanting to dignify her accusation with a response.

Ivy sneered and asked, “Does your little paramedic girlfriend help you study?”

Megan felt her heart in her throat as she glanced over at Chloe. Of course Ivy would have to bring out her knowledge of Megan’s relationship with Alex in this exact moment, right after she’d gotten done convincing Chloe that the reason they couldn’t be together was because she didn’t date. Great. Chloe looked like she’d just been kicked in the gut, and she looked at Megan with confusion.

“What does that mean?”

“You know the girl,” Ivy said. “She was the one Megan collapsed on when the autopsy was just too much for her.”

Chloe’s lower lip quivered for a moment, then she got up and marched back into the building. Megan stood up, clenching her jaw and not sure if she was angrier about the way that Ivy had just turned Chloe into collateral damage on her quest to destroy Megan, or at the presumption that she knew anything about Megan and Alex’s relationship.

“Asshole,” she said, then threw her half-drunk coffee in the trash and went back into the building. She tried to explain to Chloe that Alex was just a fling and Ivy had it all wrong, but she just kept saying that it was fine and Megan could do whatever she wanted. She didn’t seem to believe 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 Origins of Heartbreak

Alex’s world stood still the day her father passed. After more than a year of living frozen in that moment, she decides to take the first steps out of her grief by enrolling in a paramedic program. It’s in one of her first classes that she meets Megan, a pretty but aloof medical student who has a few skeletons of her own in the proverbial closet. Can they work together to mend their broken hearts?

My latest novel, THE ORIGINS OF HEARTBREAK, is available now on Amazon. Read the first chapter below.

Megan Callahan stood nervously on the side of a small stage at the front of an ornately decorated church, waiting for her name to be called. It was late September and she was standing in line with a hundred and fifty other people, all waiting to receive their white coats as they began their second year of medical school.

She had spent the morning going through all of the technical details of starting a new school year — figuring out her class schedule and purchasing her textbooks in the college store — and it had all seemed pretty anti-climactic. She’d been working toward becoming a doctor for as long as she could remember, and this felt like nothing more than a new semester at the same school she’d been attending for the past five years.

She’d already completed her first year of medical school, and now she was known as an M2 — one more year of classes and then she would finally be doing the hospital rotations that she’d been waiting so long for. It felt so far away still, and yet with a set of spotlights beating down on the stage and making Megan’s brow moist, the significance of the white coat ceremony felt more real than ever.

She was two people away from the front of the line now, and very soon she would be walking across the stage. One of her professors would be putting a white coat on her shoulders, and by the end of this year she would be one step closer to becoming a real doctor, seeing patients and holding lives in her hands.

Megan was doing her best to pretend she wasn’t having a small panic attack about that, particularly because the student standing directly behind her—Ivy Chan—was an alpha dog through and through and she’d love any opportunity to observe weakness in Megan.

They had met in line at the bookstore on their very first day of medical school, and Megan made the mistake of trying to talk to her once she noticed that they were buying a lot of the same books.

“Are you a first-year med student, too?” Megan had asked.

“No, I’m just a really dumb third year,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Looks like someone’s going to have trouble with evidence-based practice.”

Megan had opened her mouth to rebut, meaning to throw something out about her biology degree and how Northwestern had given her a solid understanding of the scientific method, thank you very much, but then the line moved forward and the girl marched away with her books. Megan had hoped that in a class of a hundred and fifty, their paths wouldn’t have to intersect again, but of course the universe couldn’t be that kind. Ivy had been a constant thorn in her side ever since.

“Megan Callahan.”

Hearing her name called into a microphone made Megan’s heart give a little jump in her chest, and she ascended the stairs onto the stage. One of her favorite professors, Dr. Morrow, was holding out a white coat for her. As Megan turned around to put her arms through the sleeves, she scanned the audience, looking for her parents. They were out there, along with her younger brother, but the bright lights obscured them.

The twirling process of putting on the coat was a little awkward and disorienting, and then Dr. Morrow was guiding Megan on her way across the stage to shake hands with the dean.

“Ivy Chan,” the announcer called. Megan spared a glance backward and saw Ivy slipping gracefully into her coat.

Megan exited on the other side of the stage and went back to her place in the pews to wait for the rest of the class to finish getting their coats. Her nerves had dissipated the moment she felt the coat settling on her shoulders, and she couldn’t wait to go back to her apartment and check it out in the mirror, complete with a stethoscope looped around her neck. It was worth every bit of the last five years of work, staying up late and studying after everyone else went to sleep, burning the midnight oil to keep up on social events at her undergraduate sorority and still get her work done. There was still a lot of hard work left to do, but a little bit of recognition and a crisp white coat was nice, too.

After the ceremony finally drew to a close with Megan’s class reciting the Declaration of Geneva (I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity…), they were all released to greet their parents and take them over to the student union for a reception. Megan found her family lingering outside of the doors of the church, and her folks immediately made a huge deal out of the coat, hugging her and inspecting the material. Her mother straightened her collar while Megan blushed and tried to lead them across the courtyard.

“You look like such a grown woman,” her mother said, her eyes tearful from the ceremony.

“You look like a marshmallow,” Megan’s teenaged brother, Finn, said.

“A marshmallow that has the power to save—or end—your life,” Megan shot back, but he paid no attention to her reply. He was looking longingly toward the student union, where a lot of people were headed.

“There’s food at this thing, right?” he asked.

Megan watched Ivy come out of the church alone and march across the courtyard with the same pompous posture she’d had when she walked across the stage. She wondered if Ivy had anyone in the audience watching her, but it was impossible to feel too sorry for her when she wore that perpetual scowl on her face that said she had the world’s most uncomfortable stick up her butt. Megan stopped watching her and said, “Yeah, let’s go—I’m starving.”

The four of them headed over to the reception, where there were hors d’oeuvres galore, from finger sandwiches to mini quiches to a chocolate fountain surrounded by fresh fruit. Finn split off from the rest of the family instantly, making a bee line for the dessert table, and Megan picked up three champagne glasses for herself and her parents.

Before she’d even taken a sip, though, her roommate, Chloe, came bounding over, practically skipping across the room and throwing her arm around Megan’s shoulder.

“Hi Mr. and Mrs. Callahan,” she exclaimed, then turned to Megan and did a little impromptu fashion show with her white jacket, twirling around and then bumping her shoulder against Megan’s. “How excited are you? I don’t think I’m ever going to take my white coat off.”

“I’ll probably take mine off to go to the grocery store and stuff like that,” Megan said with a small laugh.

Chloe was the most enthusiastic, bubbly person Megan had ever met. Half the time, she felt compelled to put her hands on Chloe’s shoulders just to keep her from floating away, and the other half of the time she wanted to install a zipper on her mouth.

“Oh, I won’t,” Chloe said with a half-serious grin. “I want everyone to know I’m a doctor.”

Then she threw her arms around Megan again, giving her a quick peck on the cheek, and dashed off to mingle with more people. Megan watched Chloe go over to Ivy, who was stacking a plate high with finger sandwiches, and Chloe greeted her with the same enthusiastic energy. Megan always expected Ivy to sprout quills like a porcupine whenever people approached her, but for some reason she didn’t have the same prickly response to bubbly Chloe that she had to everyone else.

My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers, Megan thought, remembering another line from the Declaration of Geneva. Then she thought, This is medical school.

Bonus Scenes: 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 bonus scene below.

Pot luck

Even though Max had become a member of the user experience design student organization after losing the presidency to Ruby, Max could still be cajoled into attending certain networking functions hosted by GLiSS.

One of these was the end-of-year pot luck that the organization hosted every November before the winter break. The event served two purposes – it was a time for socializing and commiserating over final exams, and it was also the time when Ruby would pass the torch to the next president. She knew Max wouldn’t be interested in the socializing aspect, even if she did try to convince her it was also networking, but Ruby thought that Max might like to be there for her last official act as GLiSS president.

On the afternoon of the event, Ruby stood in her tiny kitchenette mixing canned pineapple chunks and cranberries in a bowl to imitate her mother’s famous and secretly dead simple cranberry sauce. Max stood in the doorway watching her and trying to find reasons not to go.

“I don’t know any of these people,” Max objected. “This is your student organization, not mine.”

“You do too,” Ruby argued. “You see them in half of your classes.”

“But I don’t talk to them.”

“That’s exactly why this is an excellent networking opportunity,” Ruby said. “Who knows who will end up being the director of a library you want to work at ten years from now? It pays to be friendly and get your name out there.”

“That sounds like brown-nosing,” Max said, then she wrinkled her nose at the mixture in the bowl. “Are you sure that’s going to taste good?”

Ruby laughed and dipped a spoon into the mixture, holding it up for Max to taste. “It’s basically like chunky applesauce, but with a kick from the cranberries.”

Max took the bite and Ruby could tell from the look on her face that she was preparing to hate it. Her lip curled a little as she said, “Interesting.”

“Shut up,” Ruby said, making as if she was going to crack Max on the back of the hand with the spoon.

“Please come to the party. We only need to stay long enough for me to announce the new president – thirty minutes, maximum.”

So Max relented. She usually did – it was a task to convince her of anything, but most of the time she did what would make Ruby happy.

Max carried the bowl of cranberry sauce and they went into the snowy afternoon. This time instead of heading for the library, they walked across campus to the student union, where Ruby had reserved the ballroom for the party. It was a large room on the second floor above the dining hall, and it had tall windows with regal, floor-length curtains hanging from them. It was much fancier than necessary for a pot luck, but it gave an air of importance to the event.

Some of the group had already arrived by the time Ruby and Max climbed the stairs, and a few people came over to greet Ruby.

“Babe, could you put the cranberry sauce on the buffet with the rest of the food?” Ruby asked, pointing Max toward a long table full of crock pots, bowls and casserole dishes.

“Sure,” Max answered, walking away.

Ruby knew Max did better when she had a specific task to set her sights on, and even though this was a small one, it would give Ruby enough time to disperse the crowd before she came back. Then she could walk Max around the room and introduce her to everyone individually, and she’d be more comfortable that way. In the meantime, she turned on the charm and greeted everyone who came up to her.

Most of the early birds were GLiSS officers, the ones that had helped Ruby plan the event, and people who would be graduating alongside Max and Ruby. Then there was the new guard – students from the graduating class below them.

Some of them were nice, and some had been thorns in Ruby’s side since the beginning of the year, particularly the suck-ups who thought that getting close to her would help them win the presidency.

The president-elect – a guy named Craig – loved to corner Ruby and pick her brain about the position, as if it were something prestigious and not just a one-year term coordinating social events and running weekly meetings.

Ruby glanced around when Max didn’t return immediately, and she spotted her lingering near the buffet. She probably didn’t want to deal with the people that just kept coming up to Ruby, so she decided to make her way over to Max instead.

This was a task easier said than done, though. Getting through the crowd was like swimming through molasses. Every time she looked for Max, though, Max was in exactly the same spot. She didn’t budge from the end of the table, and she didn’t talk to anyone walking down the buffet line, filling their plates.

Ruby watched this with dismay, hoping that one of them would talk to her. She felt Mira’s absence more strongly than ever now, and Ruby figured that whatever loss she was feeling, Max must be experiencing it tenfold. Ruby just needed one person to take a chance and be friendly to Max.

That person ended up being none other than Craig.

Ruby had just managed to break away from a group of first-year grad students when she noticed that Max was talking to him, or rather, Craig was talking to her. A man after Ruby’s heart, it was clear that he couldn’t turn off the urge to campaign even after he had the presidency locked down, and he must have mistaken Max for a new member.

Ruby wasn’t about to interrupt Max while she was in the middle of making a new friend, so she ducked behind the coffee station and occupied herself with slowly pouring herself a cup. She didn’t want Max to notice her and lose interest in her new companion.

She didn’t intend to overhear their conversation – Ruby wasn’t the eavesdropping type – but the coffee station just so happened to be within earshot of the end of the buffet line where they were standing. Craig was trying to win Max over with conversation about the food.

“I brought that impressive bag of chips over there,” he said self-deprecatingly. “I’m not sure how I managed to get through twenty-three years of my life without learning how to cook, but there you have it. What about you?”

“I didn’t bring anything,” Max said. “My girlfriend made the cranberry sauce and I guess my contribution is that I carried it here.”

“The organization thanks you for your service,” Craig said, laughing heartily at his own joke before Max had a chance to respond.

“Don’t thank me before you taste it,” Max answered.

Ruby had to repress a little bit of irritation over this wise crack – her mother’s cranberry sauce was devoured enthusiastically by the whole family every year. But it was a small price to pay to see Max making a new connection, so she picked up her coffee cup and wandered back into the crowd to talk to some new people. Max would be okay for a little while on her own, and Ruby wanted to give her the space to make a new friend, even if it was Craig.

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.

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.”