“This is Amy Kline.” Amy answered her phone while opening the garage door, blowing on her coffee, and adjusting the heel of her shoe. Multitasking was something she prided herself on, not only because she felt it was something akin to a sport, but also because it was an attribute she found most other people truly lacked the ability to do well. She liked being able to set herself apart from the rest of the crowd, in whatever ways she could.
“Amy! This is Charlie Turner over at the Miners.”
Charlie was in the unfortunate predicament of needing Amy’s assistance on a nearly monthly basis. Being the general manager for the Miners, a professional football team, probably had its perks, but needing a public relations firm on retainer, a very large retainer, probably wasn’t one of them.
“Charlie! I was expecting a call from you. Please grab Frank and meet me down at my office in thirty minutes.” There was silence on the other end of her phone. Amy smiled to herself. Charlie never had much of a stomach for the situations his players seemed to get themselves into. It was an endearing quality. “It’s okay, Charlie. I’ve already been informed of the little incident this morning, and let me remind you, it’s why you keep me on your payroll. Just grab Frank and get down to the office.”
“See you in a bit then, Amy. Thank you.”
She pushed the unlock button to her metallic gray Audi A6 and got in the driver’s seat. This sleek, sexy machine was definitely not something she would have paid for herself. She hadn’t read every page of the owner’s manual, but she was almost convinced this car would fly if she could figure out the correct numeric combination on the touch screen monitor. It had been a payment for services from a client a few months prior. A payment Amy still believed was absolutely excessive, but he had insisted, and the senior partners told her to accept.
She pushed the button on the dash, and the car purred with a low subtlety Amy was growing to truly love. The phone rang through the speakers, and Amy pushed the talk button as she pulled out of her parking garage.
“Good morning, Ms. Kline.”
Amy shook her head. “Sarah, how many times do I have to remind you to call me Amy? I feel like I’m either on the verge of my fiftieth birthday, or I’m going to morph into my mother every time you say that.”
“Right, sorry about that. Force of habit when we’re working. Anyway, I was calling with the updates for Peter Reynolds.” Sarah was the best administrative assistant Amy had ever worked with. In fact, she was tossing around the idea of giving her a new title, something more in line with being an information superhero of some sort.
“Okay, great, let’s go through what you’ve been able to find out so far.” She heard a few clicks of the keyboard on the other end of the line.
“Well, as you already know, Peter was picked up outside a nightclub early this morning. He was intoxicated, getting ready to drive his vehicle, and had three girls with him.”
Amy sipped her coffee and continued to maneuver through traffic while thinking that this would be a much easier day than she had anticipated. Football players managed to get themselves into a variety of deplorable situations, but this definitely didn’t top the “most heinous” list. “This isn’t a major emergency. We can spin the drunk in public part. He wasn’t driving, and the girls are a non-issue since the pictures at the scene didn’t divulge any compromising positions.” Sarah didn’t answer, an indication Amy had learned meant she was uneasy. “What is it?”
Sarah said, “All three girls were under seventeen.”
Amy shook her head. So much for an easy fix. “Fantastic. I’ll be there in fifteen.” She clicked off the phone and continued with the rest of her drive. How people continued to get themselves into these situations was beyond her. It was good for business, sure, but she hated having to deal with these really messy circumstances, where it was nearly impossible to determine who needed the actual protection.
It had been five years since Amy had graduated top of her class at Brown, with a degree in English. Much to her parents’ disappointment, she decided not to go to graduate school and instead took a job with a top tier public relations firm, Morgan & Morgan. She’d risen to the top quickly, and the rumor mill started spilling tidbits regarding her possible promotion to partner. This was something that had never been achieved by anyone working at the firm for less than ten years, much less a woman. Of course, along with these rumors came assumptions of sleeping her way to the top and other vulgar sexual favors. It always baffled her that people ignored the fact she was the first one into the office, last to leave, and never took a vacation. Her work was her life and she was happy with her success. Having a family or a significant other was never on her radar, and it wasn’t something she felt was missing from her life. Despite her mother’s incessant nagging that she wanted grandchildren.
The parking garage at the office was virtually empty, which was no big surprise for a Saturday morning. Most people were out enjoying their weekend with friends or family, or indulging in the endless variety of activities that San Francisco offered. Amy loved the location of her office building. As she rode the elevator to the twenty-ninth floor, she looked out over the beautiful San Francisco Bay. It was a rare morning without the ever-present fog, and she could see the Bay Bridge. The early morning colors of red and orange coming off the water in shimmers gave her a moment of relaxation before her soon to be chaotic day pushed its way into her mind. The ding of the elevator signaled the end of solitude, and she turned around to find Sarah waiting as the doors slid open.
“Charlie and Frank actually beat you here. They’re waiting in the conference room.” Sarah took the empty travel mug from Amy’s hand and replaced it with another cup of coffee, then took her briefcase and replaced it with her tablet.
Amy pushed the heavy glass door of the conference room open, and the two men stood up. “Good morning, gentlemen.” The two nodded as they took their seats. Charlie pulled at his tie, a habit Amy had been trying to break him of, especially when he made television appearances. It wasn’t often she needed to deal with both the general manager and the head coach, but in this situation, she wasn’t surprised Frank had decided to come along. Having your star receiver in any type of trouble was never a good thing, but Amy assumed Frank was sweating even more because of the timing. She flipped through the images a passerby at this morning’s scene had taken with his phone. He’d been in the process of trying to sell them to newspapers, but Sarah had been able to stall the process. But five hundred dollars only bought twenty-four hours these days. Enough time to figure out the best approach for damage control or worst-case scenario to try to buy the pictures back and silence the involved parties.
“These girls are young.” Amy glanced at them and noted their pinched expressions. “The drunk in public predicament is an easy fix, except you have a game tomorrow and it could cause a distraction to Peter and the rest of the team.” The men continued to stare, seemingly anxious to hear the rest of her analysis. “The age of these girls is an entirely different issue. We need to find out how serious this is. We need to determine if this is a habit or an anomaly. So we need to find out who these girls are.”
Charlie rocked back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. “This job becomes more like being a babysitter every year.”
Frank leaned across the table, the circles under his eyes and the gray in his hair that wasn’t there two years ago, proof this job as head coach was taking its toll. “We have to fix this. We’re two weeks from the playoffs, and we can’t go into the post season without our number one wide receiver.”
Amy sighed inwardly, ignoring the slight knot in her stomach. She wouldn’t show the disgust she really felt. She was too professional for that. Her ability to compartmentalize was one of the things that set her apart from her peers. “Let me see what I can find out.” Both men looked relieved. “Keep him at the training facility or at home. No going out, no social media, nothing until I can get this situation under control. Please advise his wife to follow the same restrictions. The last thing we need is for her to fly off the handle and exponentially increase the possibility of early media coverage.”
Both men stood to leave, shook Amy’s hand, and left for their respective missions. Amy followed, passing Wonder Assistant’s desk. No, too cliché. Sarah followed Amy into her office and shut the door behind her.
Amy pinched the bridge of her nose and started thinking. “We have a lot of work to do and we only have twenty-four hours to do it.”
Lena’s anger had reached a level she had yet to experience in her twenty-seven years. Her heart was palpitating, her vision seemed slightly blurred, and her hands were tingling. She was pacing up and down her living room. Her younger sister was sitting on the couch, arms folded, watching her unravel. “What the hell were you thinking?” It wasn’t a rhetorical question. Lena really wanted to know the answer, but it wasn’t coming fast enough. “You told me you were spending the night at Marcy’s house, and then I get a phone call at five in the morning from the police department saying you were not only at a nightclub, but with a guy twelve years older than you, AND you were ready to get in his car, drunk!”
Her sister shook her head and looked away. “You don’t even want to hear my side of the story!”
Lena stopped pacing and put her hands on her hips. “That’s where you’re wrong, Laura. Out with it.”
Laura looked as if she was going to start crying, and her obvious distress pulled at Lena, but she forced herself to not give in.
“I don’t know why you’re so mad anyway. You did way worse when you were my age.”
Damn it. “How would you know? You were only five years old when I was your age! What were you doing at that nightclub with that guy?”
Laura turned her head, shooting daggers at her with her glare. “That guy happens to be the number one wide receiver for the San Francisco Miners, and someone I’m casually dating.”
Lena needed a mirror just to make sure there wasn’t actually smoke coming out of her ears like a cartoon character. “Laura! You’re sixteen years old! Every single one of your relationships needs to be casual, unless that guy is in his late twenties, in which case, it’s illegal!”
“I’m not a child!” Laura stood up, mimicking Lena’s stance.
Lena’s voice was raised. She hated yelling at her sister, but this teenage specimen was a far cry from the sweet little sister she had once known. “You’re most definitely still a child, and you’re not going to keep seeing this guy.”
Laura ran up the stairs. “Try and stop me!”
Before she heard the door slam shut, Lena yelled back, “You’re grounded, by the way.” The house shook with the force of the door being heaved with all her sister’s might. Lena flopped onto the couch and put her head in her hands. “God, Mom, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I miss you so much. I think sometimes I do far more damage than good.” There was no response. There never was. Just the simple act of talking out loud to the silence made her feel better at moments like this. Being her little sister’s guardian was never something she had planned on, or could have anticipated. But this was her reality, the only existence she had known for years. The pain had subsided some as the days, then years, ticked off the calendar, but it was always there, twinging right beneath the surface.
Lena shook off the memory. She was far from perfect, but she had made a promise that night, and was hell-bent on keeping it. She would keep Laura safe, no matter the cost or the circumstances, and she wasn’t going to start making exceptions now. She grabbed her phone and walked out to her back patio.
A sleepy voice answered her call. “Why are you calling me at eight on a Saturday morning?”
Lena smiled. Her best friend Chloe tried to sound agitated, but Lena knew she wasn’t. “Is there a specific law against keeping a minor locked in her room until she’s of legal age?” She could hear Chloe adjusting her sitting position on the other end of the phone.
“I think I might be able to plead a case of self-defense or temporary insanity.”
Lena leaned back in her chair. “Perfect.”
Chloe, who didn’t need further explanation as to whom they were speaking about, continued. “What did your Mini-Me do this time?”
Sarah tapped against the glass door that led into Amy’s office. “I have the names and contact information of the three girls who were with Peter Reynolds.”
Amy swiveled her chair back and forth, tapping a pen against the side of her face. “Just the phone call every parent wants to get the week before Christmas.”
Sarah gave her a confused look. “This type of thing normally doesn’t bother you.”
Amy shook her head. “Sexual promiscuity can’t bother you in this business. It’s the age of the girls that’s gotten under my skin.”
Sarah walked over and placed the folder on Amy’s desk. “It’s a thin line you straddle. I don’t envy your position.”
Amy cocked her head. “And here I thought you had aspirations to take my job one day.”
Sarah let out a loud dramatic laugh. “No, thank you. I’m perfectly happy doing what I do. It pays the bills very nicely, and I never have to take my work home.”
Amy smiled at her. “Thank you.” Sarah nodded and closed the door behind her.
The first two phone calls went relatively well. The parents were willing to settle for a hefty sum of money in order to not press charges, with the understanding Peter Reynolds would go nowhere near their daughters again. They, in turn, would have to sign a confidentiality agreement. From the information she was able to gather through the phone conversations, Reynolds hadn’t taken his relationship with these girls to a physical level. It seemed to be strictly to bolster his ego. Although she couldn’t quite wrap her head around why a grown, married man, would need teenagers for that. Amy was about to make her last phone call when her phone beeped in, and Sarah’s voice came through the speaker. “There’s a Lena Michaels here to see you, the sister of Laura Michaels.”
Amy closed her eyes. She knew this wasn’t going to be an easy encounter. She didn’t like being unprepared, and that was exactly what this Lena woman was doing, putting her in a situation where she didn’t have an immediate upper hand. “Please show her into the conference room. I’ll be in there in a moment.”
Amy walked over to the small closet and pulled the door open to study herself in the full-length mirror. Authority is ascertained in the first two minutes of every conversation. She often repeated this phrase to herself before walking into an intense situation. She had learned very quickly in the all-boys club that was her work life, the upper hand was the only position you ever wanted to have, and first impressions often made the difference in the power differential. Amy checked for wrinkles in her black pinstriped suit, running her hands down each of her arms, then checked the clip that held back her coffee-colored hair. She was naturally a blonde but had dyed her hair prior to interviewing at Morgan & Morgan, in an attempt to be taken more seriously. She had read an article stating blonde women in the workplace were often placed into a male “fantasy file,” regardless of how hard they worked or how good they were at their jobs. She brushed the hair away from her eyes, glad there weren’t dark circles under them, and gave herself a reassuring smile. She closed the door, grabbed her tablet, and went down the hall to the conference room.
Amy took a moment to inspect the woman waiting in the excessively large conference room before she went in. She leaned against the window and looked like her thoughts were a million miles away. She was tall, taller than Amy’s five-foot-four frame, and had the build of a runner, under her perfectly fitted jeans and plum sweater. Her dark chocolate hair was shoulder length and loose, and when she tucked it behind her ear, Amy was taken aback by her presence and the confidence she exuded. She shook it off and pushed into the room. “I’m Amy Kline.” There was a pause as Amy waited for the woman to face her, but she didn’t, so Amy continued. “I understand you wanted to meet with me.”
The woman continued to look out the window as Amy walked over and stood next to her. “No, I don’t want to meet with you, Ms. Kline. I wanted to meet with Peter Reynolds. They told me that wasn’t possible, so instead I’m forced to meet with you.”
Amy remained silent, still waiting for this woman to have the decency to face her.
“My sister, Laura, is only sixteen years old.” There was pain and worry in her voice.
“If you would like to take a seat, I’m sure we can work something out to your satisfaction, Ms. Michaels.”
Lena turned and stared at Amy. Her stunning blue eyes were fierce, bold, and a little hardened. Lena was beautiful.
“My satisfaction? I seriously doubt that.” Lena pulled out one of the impressive, large black leather chairs, and sat down.
She crossed her legs, and Amy felt her gaze as she took her seat and started flipping through the images on her tablet to distract herself for a moment. No one threw Amy off her game, but this woman’s stare was doing just that. The heat coming off her body was unmistakable. There was fury behind her posture, her glower, her presence. Amy wondered if her passion was as high in other areas. “What can I do to help you, Ms. Michaels?” Amy looked Lena in the eyes, her unbridled confidence pushing to the surface, intending to push back against the woman in front of her.
Lena shook her head and looked back down at the table, crossing her arms. “How can you cover up for people like this? How do you even sleep at night?”
The insult cut in a way that didn’t usually bother her. “You’re insinuating that I have some knowledge about this situation. All I know is Peter Reynolds was at a nightclub with three underage girls. As far as I know, that’s all that happened.” Amy willed her mouth to stay shut, but her defenses were on high alert. “I guess my question is, why was a minor in your care out with him in the first place?” Amy wished she could take it back as soon as the words left her mouth. A scowl washed over the woman’s face, and she knew she had wounded her. “Look, Ms. Michaels—”
“You can call me Lena.” She was still looking at the table, but her voice had softened. She looked defeated, in a way.
“Lena.” Amy wanted to reach for her hand, but she stopped herself. “Did something else happen that you need to tell me about?”
The anger reignited, sizzling white-hot at the surface. The heat again started to radiate off her body. “Why? So you can get the correct information to cover up?” Lena didn’t give her a chance to respond. “I want him to stay away from Laura. No contact whatsoever. If you can’t make this happen, I’ll file for a restraining order. The only thing stopping me from going to the police right now is the media circus that would immediately surround my sister, but I will if you force my hand.”
Lena stood to leave when Amy interrupted. “The team is willing to make restitution if you’ll sign a confidentiality agreement. Currently, there are no lawyers involved, as we don’t see the need, so the process can be streamlined.” Amy felt dirty even saying it. She shouldn’t. This was her job, it’s what she was good at, but for some reason she didn’t want Lena to have ill feelings about her.
Lena stopped and turned around. “The team wants to pay me to keep my mouth shut?”
“It would be unfortunate if you saw it that way. They merely want to compensate you for any trouble or heartache this occurrence has caused.”
Lena shook her head and continued toward the door. “Just keep him away from my sister and we shouldn’t have any more problems. According to her, they’re dating. Make sure that isn’t true.” The door didn’t slam shut, it wasn’t built to, but it was the loudest sound Amy had ever heard.
Sarah quickly came into the room. “Everything okay?”
Amy was still trying to put into perspective what exactly had just taken place. “I’m not sure okay is the right word for what just happened.”
Sarah frowned and shifted her weight. “While you were in your meeting, I did some digging on Lena and Laura Michaels.”
Amy raised her eyebrows, waiting for Sarah to continue.
“They’re the daughters of Bradley and Michelle Michaels.”
Amy didn’t give any indication she knew who Sarah was talking about, and Sarah rolled her eyes.
“I swear the only people you know in this city are the ones that need their images spit-shined. They owned Lands End, the beautiful restaurant out on the point. They were killed about seven years ago in a robbery gone bad, very bad. Lena was in college at the time at UC Davis, and Laura was only nine. Laura was in the restaurant when it happened. Lena moved home to become Laura’s guardian and took over Lands End.”
Amy leaned back again in her chair and looked out the window at the city below. She could barely make out the sparkling Pacific Ocean, as the buildings obstructed her view from this particular room, a fact she always found frustrating. Looking at the water cleared her mind, quieted her chaos, and brought warmth to her chest. She was trying to find her peace, her serenity, because suddenly protecting her client wasn’t at the forefront of her mind. Protecting this stranger was something she seemed to feel instinctually, and it was unsettling. Sarah’s voice pulled her from her internal reflection.
Amy let her weight shift the chair back to its normal position. “Well, we’ll have to handle this a bit more delicately. This family has a presence in the city, and the last thing we need is for a very sweet, young, orphaned Laura Michaels to end up on the front page with Peter Reynolds.” She felt goose bumps crawl along her unexposed arms all the way up to her neck. The ability to say the previous sentence out loud was what made her good at her job, but it didn’t make it any easier. How many underage girls would there be? How many cheating spouses? How many cover-ups?
Lands End could have been the setting in a romantic comedy, according to Chloe, who stated exactly that on a monthly basis. It was nestled on the farthest point of the San Francisco peninsula. Every seat in the restaurant had a perfect view of the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. This particular evening, the fog had wrapped itself around the exterior like a blanket. The warm lights coming from the inside brought a feeling of home, of family. Lena rolled down the window of her car, despite the cool night air, in order to hear the waves smashing into the rocks of the cove. She always felt closest to her parents here. At times, Lena could almost hear her mother’s laughter coming from the main dining area. For a moment, Lena let herself believe she was really there, about to come around the corner.
Lena was so caught up in her thoughts she didn’t hear Chloe calling her name until she was right beside the window.
Lena gasped, startled out of her reverie.
“Whoa! I didn’t mean to scare you. I was calling your name. I figured you heard me.”
Lena shook her head, rolled up the window, and got out of the car. “Sorry, I got a little lost there for a second.”
Chloe put her arm around Lena’s shoulders. “You okay, Lee?”
Lena smiled. The nickname had been hers since grade school, and although she wasn’t necessarily fond of it, she loved that it was something special between her and Chloe. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little preoccupied.”
Chloe bumped her side. “Well, I don’t know why. You have absolutely no reason to be. You run one of the most successful restaurants in the Bay Area, you’re raising a teenager that has a thing for professional football players, and you haven’t had sex in two years. You should really stop complaining and bask in the ease that is your everyday life.”
Chloe kissed her on the cheek, and Lena gasped playfully. “It has not been two years, for your information. It has only been eighteen months.” She paused briefly. “Give or take.”
Chloe got a few steps ahead turned around to walk backward. “That’s my point, Lee! If you don’t know the last time, it’s been way too long!”
She opened the door and Lena walked past her. “Let’s not talk about my sex life here.”
Chloe took off her jacket as they walked inside. “I’m a customer and I will talk about whatever I please.”
Lena rolled her eyes. “You haven’t paid for a meal here in your entire life.”
“That’s not the point.” Chloe sat at her favorite table in the corner.
“I have a few things to check on, and then I’ll come eat with you.”
Chloe flipped through the wine menu. “Don’t bother. I’m meeting a friend.”
Lena put her hands on her hips. “A friend huh? What’s his name?”
“Her name is Evelyn and she is a transfer from our New York office. I’m being friendly.”
“Friendly, or scoping the competition for single men?”
“Friendly. She bats for your team.”
Lena leaned down, so her voice wouldn’t carry across the restaurant. “Please don’t set me up. Whatever you’re doing, please don’t. Not right now.”
Chloe leaned back. “Easy, tiger. I meant it when I said I’m just being friendly. Not everything revolves around you.” She gave Lena a playful wink.
Lena sighed and walked toward the kitchen. She didn’t want to risk being there when Chloe’s friend arrived.
Amy opened a bottle of her favorite white wine, walked out onto her patio, and stretched out on one of her lounge chairs. The patio was the reason she had picked this apartment. Well, the patio, the closet, and the parking garage. Finding just one of these amenities in a San Francisco apartment was like striking gold. Finding all three was nothing short of a supernatural phenomenon. She sipped her wine and thought back to the woman she had met earlier that day. Lena Michaels. There was something about her that tugged at Amy. She swirled the wine in her glass and sipped it absently. Her phone rang, and she glanced down at the caller ID and smiled. “I thought you said you liked your job because you didn’t have to take your work home with you.”
“I’m not taking my work home with me. I actually wanted to see if you felt like having a drink. You looked like you needed one when you left the office today.”
“I actually already beat you to it. I’m having a glass of wine now. You’re welcome to join me.”
“Perfect, I’m just around the corner. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Amy walked toward her front door. When the buzzer rang, she pushed the button and then pulled out another glass.
Sarah came around the corner and into the kitchen. Amy watched her as she looked around the space. Sarah always seemed to be taking in details and a mental inventory of her surroundings. She’d been to Amy’s apartment several times, occasionally to work, and other times for nights like this.
Candles burned throughout the area, infusing the air with wonderful holiday aromas. Amy loved the serenity candles gave off, and she made a point to light them whenever she wanted to relax. Every cabinet and countertop was pure, polished white, with chrome finishing. It was a perfect contrast to the dark hardwood floors and wooden bar top. The track lighting matched the chrome fixtures perfectly, and when dimmed, brought a sense of warmth to what should have been a cold, modern space. Sarah placed the bottle of wine on the bar.
Amy grabbed it and smiled. “Good, one bottle for you and one for me.”
Sarah sat on the bar stool and shook her head with a smile. “This isn’t my first time here.”
Amy poured the wine and motioned to the living room. She flipped a switch on the wall, and the fireplace flickered on from the other side of the room. They sat on opposite ends of the couch, quiet for a moment, enjoying the warmth.
“Is Matt going home with you for Christmas?”
Sarah nodded. “He is. He should be back from Los Angeles tomorrow evening. We’ll be headed to my parents’ house in Marin on Christmas Eve morning.”
“What’s he doing in Los Angeles?”
Sarah sipped her wine, looking as though she was concentrating. “He went down there for training. He was promoted to detective, and they have a large training facility down there. He was taking a three-week course in investigation hosted by the FBI.”
Amy shifted, putting her legs and feet under her. “Have you given him an answer yet? About the proposal?”
Sarah grinned wryly. “Maybe this whole becoming friends thing wasn’t a great idea. It seems I’ve spilled my guts to you on more than one occasion while drinking.”
Amy laughed. “I think we do fantastically, separating our lives into personal and professional, and you, my friend, are evading the question.”
“I love him, I really do. I’ve never loved someone or something more, in fact. I just…I guess…ugh! Look at me stumbling over my words, so much for being Assistant Extraordinaire.”
Amy shook her head. “Your assistant skills aren’t in question, not now, and not since you walked into my office. I do like the name though. Maybe I can get you a cape of some kind.”
Sarah inclined her head to acknowledge the compliment. She continued. “I don’t want to end up a statistic, getting married at twenty-three, pregnant at twenty-four, and divorced at twenty-six.” Sarah sipped again as soon as the statement left her mouth, like the words were some type of filth she couldn’t wait to wash away.
“I don’t know if you want my opinion or not, especially since I have absolutely no foundation to give any type of love advice.” She paused to give Sarah another comforting smile. “But if it’s right, it’s right. It doesn’t matter if you’re twenty-two, twenty-nine, or fifty-five.”
Sarah seemed to be mulling over what Amy had said as she stared at the fire.
“What about you?” Sarah asked, snapping out of her trance.
“Ha! What about me?”
“Well, you’re a beautiful, successful, creative woman. Why isn’t there a ring on your finger?”
Amy shook her head and glanced down at her left hand. “I’ve never really made time for it, I guess.” She had never talked about Evie to anyone except Addison, especially anyone in her life in San Francisco. She had never even told Sarah she was attracted to women and not men.
“Well, not making time for it, and not wanting it, are two separate things, aren’t they?”
Amy nodded. “I guess they are.” Amy shifted in her seat, uncomfortable discussing her love life other than as a joke.
“If you’re trying to figure out whether or not to tell me you’re gay, I already know.”
Amy sighed. “That shouldn’t surprise me. I’ve never met anyone better at obtaining information.”
“It was nothing I obtained, just something I figured out.”
Amy looked up, from one side to the other with an intentional, overdramatic flare. “I thought for sure I had the glowing sign that hung over my head removed.”
Sarah laughed. “Hardly! I can just tell. I’m naturally observant. When we had lunch a few weeks ago and I asked who your last serious relationship was, you used non-descriptive pronouns about someone in college. All the pictures in your office, and in your home, are with other women, or your family. Plus, every company function we’ve ever had, you always come alone. Even single employees usually bring a date to enjoy the free booze and food.”
Amy finished the last of her wine in a big gulp. “Impressive. And here I thought I had to keep my Birkenstock collection hidden with you around.”
Sarah almost spit wine through her nose. “I seriously doubt you, Amy Kline, have ever let a pair of those near your feet.”
Amy laughed. “That would be a correct assumption. I don’t even know where to purchase them.”
“Well, since we’re in San Francisco, I’d assume Haight-Ashbury.”
Amy laughed. She loved Sarah’s sense of humor, and it was nice to be around someone she didn’t have to pretend with.
“I should really get going.” Sarah got up to leave. “I didn’t realize how late it was getting, and I’m meeting a friend of mine for breakfast and shopping in the morning.”
Amy got up and walked her to the door. “Thanks for stopping by.” Amy gave her a hug and realized it was the first time in a long while she’d touched another person. The thought made her sad, but she hid it. No sense in letting her see the cracks. “See you Monday morning.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Sarah gave her a salute before disappearing into the elevator.
Lena watched cautiously from the safety of the kitchen, waiting for Chloe’s dinner companion to come through the door. The clanging of the pots and pans, combined with the chatter of the kitchen staff, offered a supportive, soothing hum of background noise. Her mother had been an amazing chef, and even if Lands End had been placed at the top of a ridge people would have to climb a mountain to reach, there would still be a line outside the door. That exact statement was given by a very popular Bay Area food critic about a year before Michelle Michaels was killed. Lena, on the other hand, was lucky if she didn’t burn toast. She always found it a little ludicrous that she managed to pick up absolutely nothing from the hours she spent in this kitchen as a child watching her mother’s every move, and tasting every new recipe, giving the “Lena stamp of approval.”
She walked back over to the table. Chloe was flipping through her phone and looking pouty. “What’s up?” Lena casually asked.
“It seems I’ve been stood up. She’s decided to put in a few more hours at the office.”
Lena sat at the table, crossing her hands. “I don’t think you understand what being stood up means.”
Chloe sipped her wine. “I really wanted you to meet her.”
Lena chuckled. “I knew you were trying to set me up!”
Chloe shook her head and tried to look innocent. “No! I was simply trying to expand your friend base. I know I’m absolutely amazing, but there simply isn’t enough of me to go around.”
Lena smiled. “There is if you account for the size of your ego. We could always divide that up and there would be enough Chloe for the entire world.”
Chloe stuck her tongue out at Lena. “You’re funny. It’s good you remind me of that from time to time.”
Lena stood up and pushed her chair under the table. “Let me go grab us some dinner.”
Amy was back on her balcony, watching the city lights and listening to the noises that made San Francisco feel like a friend, and not just a city. With a blanket draped over her, and a glass of wine in her hand, she felt toasty and secure. Her thoughts slipped back to the day’s events. She was a little frustrated with herself, not being able to pinpoint why she was unable to get Lena Michaels out of her head. It wasn’t just the way she looked, although that didn’t hurt. Her loose hair, perfectly defined jawbone, and lean, muscular body certainty stimulated Amy’s libido, but it was more than that. Lena was fiercely protective of her younger sister, the way a mother would be. Amy guessed there was nothing Lena wouldn’t do for the teenager, no length she wouldn’t go to. Her love was apparent and deep. She not only respected that about Lena, she wanted that type of endless, fervent love in her life as well. The frightening part was, she never realized it was something she would consider wanting again. She grabbed the phone to call Addison and then thought better of it. It was late in New York, and she didn’t want to wake up her sister.
She glanced down at her watch. Nine thirty. Will Lena still be at the restaurant? She felt a bit like a stalker, as she considered going down to the famed restaurant, to try to get a glimpse into the woman she couldn’t get out of her mind. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take in local culture. She shook her head. I can’t believe I’m trying to justify this to myself. Regardless, she got out of her chair and went into her closet to change clothes. Amy opted for a pair of jeans, a green V-neck sweater, and a pair of plain black boots. She looked herself up and down in the mirror. Casual, but still interesting. She grabbed her coat and headed down to the street before she had time to talk herself out of it.
Lena and Chloe fell into their easy conversation as each ate a salad and shared the cheese bread that Chloe swore she would give up sex for, if the absurd ultimatum were ever to be given.
There was a break in the conversation, and Chloe said, “Penny for your thoughts?”
Lena shook her head. “A penny, huh?”
Chloe shrugged. “Okay, with inflation, how about a dollar?”
Lena smiled. Chloe always had that effect on her. No matter how bizarre her day was, Chloe was a happy space. “Just thinking about earlier today.” Lena knew her face often gave away her emotions. She typically tried to hide it, but it wouldn’t have mattered with Chloe anyway. Lena knew Chloe could see right through her.
“The PR rep you met with?”
Lena nodded. She let out a small huff to accentuate her annoyance.
“What was her name again? Maybe I can dig something up on her and make her life a little more difficult.”
Lena glanced at the door and almost choked on a piece of bread. “Amy Kline.”
“Do you know if that’s with a C or a K?”
Lena shook her head and pointed toward the door with her fork. “No. Amy Kline.” She was standing at the front door, looking somewhat shell-shocked, returning Lena’s gaze.
“Oh, wow,” Chloe muttered. “That explains why she has you all out of sorts.”
Amy was walking over, but Lena managed to shoot Chloe a dirty look before Amy was close enough to see it.
There was nothing Lena could do to escape. Amy’s stride was purposeful and seemed intent, but her expression looked a bit unsure. By the time she made it to the table, she seemed even more unsettled. Lena stood when Amy was within a foot. “Can I help you with something?”
Amy appeared to be at a loss for words, which was probably out of character, if Lena had to guess. A slight blush crossed her face and she looked away. “I was in the area, having dinner with a friend, and thought I would stop in for a drink.”
Lena was torn. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be near this woman, but for some reason, she didn’t want her to leave either.
Amy looked at Chloe, and a look of panic crossed her face. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.”
Chloe smiled. “Oh, you aren’t intruding on anything.”
Lena knew Chloe was watching her, probably trying to gauge her reaction to the gorgeous woman in front of her. Lena tried to focus on seeming unfazed. “Is there something I can help you with?” She was irritated, and her voice mimicked her feelings, but she couldn’t decide if she was irritated with Amy, Chloe, or herself.
Amy seemed worried by Lena’s reaction. “I didn’t mean to upset you, Lena. I wanted to apologize if I came off as brash earlier. I can’t begin to imagine—”
Lena cut her off before she could continue. “Did you come to snoop around? See if there was another way the Miners could exploit my sister?” Lena hated herself for the way her voice bristled with anger and accusation, but she wouldn’t show it. She crossed her arms to prove a point she wasn’t sure she wanted to make.
Amy pushed her hair out of her eyes, and Lena couldn’t tell if she was thinking of a response or trying to keep her emotions in check, but her perfect green eyes seemed to shimmer with regret. “Again, I’m sorry for upsetting you. I should get going.” Amy turned to leave.
Lena’s stomach clenched. She wanted to stop her and apologize, ask her to stay, but she didn’t move. Amy walked out without saying another word or looking back. Lena sat back down at the table and looked at Chloe, who was giving her a sideways stare.
“Was that necessary?”
Lena ran her hands over her face and tucked her hair behind her ears. “Not even eight hours ago, that woman tried to pay me off to protect some football player that’s going after Laura.”
“Isn’t that her job?”
“Yeah, I guess. I think it’s deplorable.”
Chloe raised her eyebrows. “You know I’m a lawyer, right?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“I’m just glad that you don’t judge me based on the people that I have to represent on a daily basis.”
“Yes, it is. You’re…well…you.” Chloe didn’t respond. “This is Laura we’re talking about, and I don’t want anything to happen to her. Who knows what lengths this woman will go to, to protect that guy.” Lena spun a fork in a quick circle on the clean, crisp tablecloth. “I mean, sure, she’s beautiful. She’s smart. She has this confidence about her that’s kind of hot.” She looked up at Chloe again. “But that doesn’t mean I would be interested in her.”
Lena rolled her eyes at Chloe’s predictable, sarcastic tone. “Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?”
“Don’t be all…I don’t know…you.” Lena got up and walked into the kitchen before Chloe could respond. She wasn’t mad at Chloe; that wouldn’t have been fair. She was irritated that Amy had such an effect on her. She was out of sorts and didn’t like it. She wanted to be steadfast, decisive, and stubborn. Chloe was making it difficult to be all of those things without issue.
Lena pulled into the garage at their house on Diamond Street, near the Castro. Her parents had the forethought to buy the house in the early eighties, and it was paid off before Lena left for college. Lena truly loved the house, just as much for the location as for the airy rooms and the natural lighting. The kitchen, of course, was a chef’s dream, but Lena felt the space was still her mother’s. Her parents had been good with their money, and neither Lena nor Laura would ever have to worry about much, if they continued to handle it appropriately. Lena grabbed a bottle of water out of the glass refrigerator and sat on the couch. Over the years, Lena had replaced all of the furniture in the house, because there were too many memories tied up with each inanimate object. She looked at the only other item she had kept, a beautiful painting of the tree of life. The grays and blacks matched her furniture, as well as the sharp contrast to her own personal misfortunes. The painting should have made her sad, but it always managed to do the opposite. Rather, it kept her calm, and even hopeful at moments when it felt like the world was too much to deal with. The large windows afforded an amazing view of the city blocks below.
Laura came down the stairs silently. She stopped momentarily in front of the Christmas tree and moved an ornament that was drooping. Lena watched her, trying to figure out if she was feeling guilty or stalling.
“Can I have my phone back?”
Lena leaned her head back against the sofa. “Work was fine, thank you for asking.”
Laura gave an irritated sigh. “How was work?”
“I just told you it was fine.” This awarded her a small laugh from Laura, something that wasn’t easy to come by. “Tell you what, you can have it back once I change your number and delete Peter Reynolds’s.”
Laura crossed her arms, and Lena knew she was already building a retort in her mind. “Before you say that isn’t fair, let me be very clear…I don’t care if it’s fair. I don’t care if you’re mad, and I don’t care if you think I’m the worst thing that has ever happened to you. I love you, and it’s my job to protect you, even when you don’t think you need protecting.”
Laura was wiping tears away from her eyes, but Lena knew they were from anger and not from her heartfelt explanation.
“Is that it?”
Lena hated this part of their relationship. She should be giving her clothing and makeup advice, relationship advice, filling her in about the dos and don’ts of her impending college adventures. Anything but this. “No, that’s not it. You’re still grounded, and I need help at the restaurant next week.”
“Perfect punishment, spending more time with you.”
Lena had to keep herself from wincing. “Believe it or not, I don’t like having to do this.”
“Then don’t!” Laura yelled.
“You didn’t leave me a choice. Make childish decisions and I’ll have no other choice than to treat you like a child.”
Laura huffed. “Whatever!” She disappeared back up the stairs.
At least she didn’t slam the door this time. Not a moment had passed before she heard the loud bang from her sister’s bedroom door. “Never mind.”