“She’s the one.”
Meg could barely keep her excitement in check as she gripped the back of a kitchen chair tightly with both hands and bounced on the balls of her feet. She gnawed on the inside of her cheek to keep a smile from busting out.
“Wait a second.” Her best friend Lexi held one hand in the air, effectively halting the conversation. “You’re sure?” She looked skeptically at Meg. “I thought this was something you were mildly considering,” Lexi said, turning her attention to the pot of sauce in front of her and giving it a quick stir. “You sound like your mind’s completely made up.”
“That is because my mind is completely made up.”
“Wow.” Lexi rested the wooden spoon across the edge of her pot. She blew out a long breath that wasn’t in line with the kind of approval Meg was hoping for. Chewing on her lower lip, she looked over at Meg. “Megan McTiernan, this is a big commitment. Are you sure you’re ready?”
“You’re right.” Meg nodded agreement. “But I think it’ll be good.”
“Your whole life is going to change.”
“Hey, don’t sound so disappointed. I’m excited about this. Be happy for me.”
“I am.” Lexi’s shoulders slumped. “I’m not disappointed. Honest. I just want to make sure this is really what you want.”
“Come here.” Meg motioned Lexi over and held up her phone. “Look at her.” She tilted the screen and felt a smile forming again. “Is there really even any question?”
“She is cute.”
“Cute, she’s adorable. I can’t wait to hold her and cuddle her, kiss her sweet little face.” She inched her phone up, forcing another peek on Lexi, and punched her arm playfully when she caught her friend rolling her eyes.
“Fine,” Lexi said through a grin. “You have my blessing.” She walked back to tend her vodka sauce. “When’s the big day? Wait.” She leaned against the granite countertop and folded her arms, nodding with her chin toward Meg’s house across the street. “What did Reina say?”
“About what?” Meg heard the defensiveness in her tone and wondered if Lexi would call her out on it.
“You didn’t tell her, did you?” Lexi asked. She furrowed her brow as she spoke. “You didn’t tell your girlfriend about this major life change. Huh,” she said under her breath continuing her inner analysis.
“You’re being kind of dramatic,” Meg said with a small laugh. “It’s not that big of a deal and I mentioned I was thinking about it,” she said with a wry smile. “She didn’t have an opinion one way or the other.” Meg put her phone down. “It’s not like she’s allergic or anything. And she doesn’t live with me, even if she was.”
“But she stays there a few nights a week. I thought maybe at some point…”
“Yeah, maybe,” she said addressing Lexi’s gentle press as to where things were headed in her love life. Meg walked to the cabinet and helped herself to a wineglass. “We’re light years away from that.” She poured herself a healthy serving of red. “Don’t take that the wrong way. Things with me and Reina are fine. Completely. But a lot of the time she stays over out of convenience. I mean, she lives forty-five minutes away. Her dental office is practically around the block from here. It makes sense.”
“But things are good?”
“They’re fine,” Meg said as she looked at the picture on her phone again. “And they will stay fine when I bring this furry baby home in three weeks.” She enlarged the photo, zooming in on the tiny paws first. Lexi came around her chair to peer over her shoulder.
“She is precious. Did you name her yet?”
“I have a few ideas I’m tossing around.”
The front door opened and Jesse came through, decked out in full attorney mode, complete with suit and briefcase.
“Ideas for what?” she asked, diving right in to the conversation.
“Meg’s getting a kitten.”
“No way. Good for you, kid.”
Lexi looked at her wife. “How was court?”
“Fine. Just opening arguments today. Nothing to report.” She walked over and kissed Lexi, before squeezing Meg’s shoulder. “Tell me about your cat, Meg. Where did you find her?”
“My sister’s neighbor’s cat had kittens.”
“Color?” Jesse asked dropping into the seat next to Meg.
“She’s a white calico mix.” Meg pulled up the picture for the third time. “Are you a cat person?” she said, openly admitting her surprise. “I didn’t even know you liked animals.”
“Who doesn’t like animals?” Jesse took a sip of the wine Lexi gave her. “I grew up with cats—Ginger, Fig Newton, Mr. Snuffles.”
“How did I not know this?” Meg laughed into her drink and watched Jesse-the-lawyer shuck her jacket and transform into her buddy as she inched her chair closer and snatched Meg’s phone to examine the rest of the kittens together. Lexi came up behind them and draped her arms over her wife’s chest as she scrolled.
“Get this, babe, Reina doesn’t get a vote.”
“Why would she?” Jesse bent her head to kiss Lexi’s forearm. “Reina doesn’t live there.”
“Thank you!” Meg held her glass in an appreciative air toast to Jesse’s vocal defense of her decision.
“I guess she’s not here?” Jesse asked, not even bothering to look up. “Since we’re having this conversation and all.”
“She’s working until eight tonight. Maybe she’ll come by later,” she said, but she wasn’t convinced. “Unless she goes home to Queens tonight,” Meg added under her breath. “She’ll text one way or the other.”
“Oh, babe,” Jesse said, twisting her wineglass, “I meant to tell you before. I talked to Betsy earlier—she and Tracy have plans tonight.”
Lexi nodded. “It’s probably better this way. Just us, you know. This way we get Sam all to ourselves.” She bounced back over to the stove. “I’m so excited she’s back.”
“Bummer it’s because of a breakup,” Meg said.
Lexi stirred her sauce. “Yeah, but she didn’t seem too busted up about it.” She shrugged. “You know, she told me it’s been over for a while. Now she’s just happy to be home. Ready to move on and all.”
Meg looked back and forth between her two besties and decided to go for the easy laugh, even though it was completely predictable. “Well, geez, I hope someone warned the locals.”
Sam pulled into the small strip mall parking lot, threw her Tahoe in park, and weighed her slim options as she glanced between the storefronts. It had only occurred to her after she’d driven past at least a half a dozen bakeries and as many liquor stores that she’d completely forgotten to pick up something to bring to Lexi’s. It was only day three at her parents’ house and she was already losing the ability to form rational thought. Less than a quarter mile from Bay West, she’d pulled into the lot, encouraged by the bright entrance of Angelo’s Pizzeria shining a light on the sign of the adjacent store—a florist. But on closer inspection, she was too late. The flower shop had its wrought-iron gate drawn and padlocked.
As far as dessert went, Sam was left with hoping that Angelo’s had something suitable to offer or checking out a new place called Lucy’s Coffee Bar that definitely wasn’t here last winter.
Last winter, when she’d left her friends and the community she loved to follow her girlfriend across country.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time. She’d been in a committed relationship and her job as a graphic designer allowed her to work from anywhere. Just a year later, and it was so obvious that she would have been better off staying put at Bay West. Decisions—she shook her head swallowing a chuckle at the thought—always crystal clear in retrospect. Regardless of the past, she took a step forward, smiling inwardly at the complete faith she had in her choice tonight.
Lucy’s Coffee Bar, it was.
Pulling the door open, she was surprised when a bell jingled to quaintly announce her arrival. The shop was empty except for an androgynous chick deep into her laptop in the corner. Light jazz drifted in from the speakers and the smell of fresh coffee and cookies wafted around her. Score. She rested one elbow against the counter as she waited for service. The space had a charm about it. Antiqued couches and worn-out Persian rugs, plus a few small tables and chairs. The walls were fitted with built-ins giving a homey quality. She studied the Old English style font on the glass storefront but her eyes were drawn to a series of decals bordering the large window—the American flag, an NYPD patch, the Human Rights Campaign logo, a rainbow flag, a Bay West emblem. Plus stick figures of two men, two women, and a man and woman. Finally the words All are welcome. She loved this place already.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“No worries,” Sam responded automatically, turning around and giving the woman a discreet once over. Whoa. Petite. Dirty-blond hair pulled up off her face. Flour, or maybe sugar, dusted across the middle of a tight V-neck tee that showcased small perky breasts. Hip-hugging yoga pants stretched over some really nice curves. Lucy? She dragged her eyes back up to the woman’s face.
“Can I get you something?”
“I bet you can,” Sam responded smoothly. She wasn’t subtle, that wasn’t her style. This technique had been her forte since college. At five ten, Sam was taller than most women and while she had feminine features—a tiny nose and high cheekbones—she was completely butch. She sported awesomely wavy hair that was cut into a tight fade on the sides. With no real curves, she looked better in men’s clothes than her brother. She was never, ever mistaken for being straight and she liked it that way. She found it an advantage when she was flirting, and even in situations like this, when she was working a sort of dude-in-distress act, she felt her straightforward appearance complemented her schtick.
She leaned forward onto the countertop and squinted one eye closed. “I have a teensy problem.”
The woman barely bit as she reached for a counter rag and wiped the surface between them clean. “I hope it’s something a coffee can fix.”
Sam furrowed her brow and ducked her head waiting for eye contact as she laid it on thick. “It may be a little more complicated than that.”
“So, tonight’s my first night back in town. I was away for a while.”
“Prison?” the woman deadpanned.
Sam laughed at her fast wit. “Funny. No. I just moved home. And my friend is making me, like, a welcome home dinner. But I forgot to bring something, like wine or dessert. She lives just up the street so I’m almost out of options.”
“So I’m your last resort?”
“Hey”—she let the word dangle between them—“I would never say that about you.”
“No, seriously, I pulled in here because I realized last minute that there’s nowhere left to go, and I was going to get flowers but they’re closed. So I could jump into Angelo’s pizzeria and maybe get some zeppole, but that’s pretty lame.”
The woman scrunched up her nose in obvious disapproval. “I mean Angelo makes fantastic everything, but zeppole to a dinner party…” Her voice trailed off leaving no question as to what she thought of that plan.
“Lucky for me I spotted this place and I thought maybe…” Sam tapped her finger on the counter before pointing to a plate of cookies near the end of the counter. “If my senses are correct, there’s a fresh batch baking up as we speak.” Sam drew her bottom lip in and raised her eyebrows. “I’m kinda hoping you’re about to tell me I got here just in time.”
“Does this typically work? This”—the woman waved her hand in a circle at Sam—“this, I’m so cute, I can just charm my way into getting whatever I want?”
Sam was about to answer, but the door to the back opened and a girl with jet-black hair peeked her head out. “Lucy, the timer just went off for your cookies. I took them out to cool. I’m gonna head out—” She cut herself off and licked her lips as she overtly checked Sam out. With a look that left very little to the imagination she added, “But I could definitely stay.”
“Good night, Raven.”
“Fine. Keep all the good ones for yourself. Like that’s fair.”
“Go,” Lucy ordered with a playful shake of her head. She turned back to Sam. “Sorry about that.”
“No worries. I think she just said something about fresh cookies, though.” She scratched her chin dramatically. “Did I hear that right?”
Lucy rolled her eyes but Sam gave a slo-mo fist pump anyway.
“Let me guess. This is the type of thing your girlfriend usually takes care of?”
“Ex-girlfriend. But yes. Only now I suspect she’s taking care of it for her new girlfriend.”
Lucy grimaced. “Ooh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s all good.” Sam held eye contact and her voice came out smooth, her confidence intact. She saw Lucy blush.
“Are you in a hurry?” Lucy asked. “Those cookies would do better if they cooled for another minute or two. I could get you a drink while you wait.”
“I’m fine. There’s no rush. I’m only going up the road to Bay West.”
“Are you familiar with it?” Sam already knew the answer was yes, but she was curious to see Lucy’s reaction at the mention of the all-lesbian condo development a quarter mile away.
Lucy’s smoky gray eyes twinkled. “I live there.”
Sweet. Sam had been hoping she and Lucy were on the same team and her residency at Bay West sealed the deal. Bay West was pretty big as far as condominium complexes were concerned, especially in the suburbs of New York. It was located right on the edge of Staten Island, under the bridge, and it boasted some pretty nice views of Lower Manhattan. But that was hardly its selling point. Bay West was all women, all lesbians to be precise, all the time. Sam still wasn’t over the fact that she’d given up her apartment there a year ago.
“I used to live there myself.”
“On Vista, in the rental section.”
Lucy nodded acknowledgment. “I’m on Vista now. In a one-bedroom, near the office.”
“Excellent. A one-bedroom. Hard to come by, those.”
“I’ve heard that. I was lucky, I guess.”
“How long have you been here? And there?” she added, referencing Bay West as she swallowed a grimace, annoyed that her genuine curiosity got the best of her game.
“About six months, for both.”
“You like it?”
“Mm-hmm. I’m here at the shop most of the time. It’s very convenient.”
Weird answer. Usually people went on about Bay West’s sense of community, the support, the constant lesbian parties. Maybe she was married. But no ring. What was she doing? She’d established her priorities before she came back—no relationships, no hookups, no girls, no exceptions. She’d decided that right off when she’d chosen to come home. The focus was work and finding a place to live. She would only last with her parents for so long before they all drove each other crazy. Less than a week and she was already chomping at the bit.
“When did you leave?”
Sam was so deep in her own head that she lost track of the conversation for a second. “Huh?”
“You said you used to live at Bay West.”
“Right. I moved a year ago.” She saw a question in Lucy’s eyes but got the sense she wouldn’t ask it. She volunteered the info anyway. “My girlfriend got a job in Oregon. I work from home when I’m not traveling. Either way I’m not tied to any one place.” She shrugged. “It seemed like the right move.”
“Tough that you broke up then.”
“Not meant to be.” She looked for hope in Lucy’s face but couldn’t read her expression at all. “The tough part is that I’m back home with my parents while I’m looking for a place, and let’s just say it’s not ideal.”
“I hear you.” Lucy nodded. “Let me get those cookies for you.”
Damn, that killed her chances. If she’d even had any. Note to self: don’t mention living with Mom and Dad. She laughed at herself internally. It didn’t matter anyway. She had her agenda, boring as it might be. Finding an apartment was paramount. The time for dating would come once everything else had fallen into place. But damn if Lucy wasn’t the cutest woman she’d seen in a good long time. And she had a fantastic body. Sam couldn’t help it if she fantasized a little on the spot. Even now as she slipped into the back, Sam watched Lucy’s tight ass bounce with each step and imagined what it would be like to come up behind her. Christ, she needed to get laid. While she had a steady piece of action with a coworker—the only exception to her no-fun rule—it was purely because they had a perfect no-strings deal. Even on that front it had been over a month since their paths crossed and there was no telling when they were slated to be assigned together again. And goddamn, was she ready.
“Here you go.” Lucy interrupted her X-rated thoughts holding a nondescript white box tied with thin red-and-white string. “There’s chocolate chip, oatmeal, and butter horns, which is like a cinnamon-raisin butter cookie. Nothing fancy. Hopefully your date will like them.”
“No date.” Sam’s voice was smooth as she corrected her. “Just hanging with my friends,” she added, not even trying to hide her smile. “I’m sure they’ll love them.” She handed Lucy her credit card and waited while she swiped it through her register. “This is a really nice place, Lucy.”
“It was nice talking to you”—Lucy looked at the front of the credit card—“Samantha Miller.”
“Sam.” Sam held out her hand and watched Lucy smile when she playfully gave her the receipt in lieu of shaking it.
“Have a nice night, Sam Miller. Come back anytime.”
Sam grinned into the thin night air as she opened the door, the bell sounding happily above her. “Count on it,” she called over her shoulder.
“What was Portland like?” Lexi’s question was clearly about the city itself, and if it was possible, Sam loved her best friend a little for not focusing on her failed relationship, which had been both the impetus for the move and the reason she’d come back.
“It was nice. Quirky. Lots of personality. Exactly like you’d expect.”
“Did you love it?”
“Yes and no. I think my experience was a little tainted.” She surprised herself with her own honesty. Being around her old friends had an immediate impact. She couldn’t lie to them. She didn’t even want to. She looked around the table at the faces she had missed in the last year and completely relaxed. “I’m glad to be back.”
“Well, you look awesome,” Meg said, eyeing her closely. “Your hair is on point, dude. And I liked it before, when you had that shaggy hipster thing working. But this is even better. Lean forward, I want to touch the back.” Sam indulged her and swallowed a smile when Meg whistled with envy as she rubbed her fingers against the short gradual slope of her hairline.
Jesse put a basket of Italian bread in the center of the table and began doling out pasta. “Lexi tells us that you did a lot of traveling, Sam.”
“Oh, yeah,” Meg agreed. “Where’d you go?”
“Europe, mostly.” Sam pierced a tube of penne with her fork. “I really had no say. It was all work, but I got to see some cool places. Copenhagen, Tokyo, Paris, London, Fiji. Prague. That was my favorite.” She heard nostalgia in her own voice. “It was great. Truly.”
“And now you’re stuck in Staten Island. Is that a buzzkill?” Meg asked.
“Not at all. Being abroad was great. I’m ready to be home, though. I mean, I wish home wasn’t my old bedroom at my parents’ house, but hey, you can’t have everything.”
“At least not right away,” Jesse offered. “Give it time. Did you see if there’s anything available here?” Sam saw Jesse look to her wife for an answer. Lexi’s parents were on the board of Bay West. She was always in the know, but tonight she shook her head in response, following Jesse’s question with one of her own.
“Would you be open to being in the rental section?”
“Sure, I guess.” She washed a mouthful of food down with a sip of wine. “I have no problem with renting in theory, but it will depend on the situation. If there’s a unit that’s completely vacant, I’m in. But at twenty-eight, I have to be honest, I’m not down with just taking a filler spot and having roommates I don’t know. Any chance there’s a one-bedroom available?”
Lexi clenched her teeth and looked skeptical. She exhaled. “Doubtful. There’s so few of them. I’ll find out though. Speaking of which”—she nodded at Meg across the table—“Kam Browne wants us to come by the office sometime this week. What day is good for you?”
“What, now?” Meg asked, choking down her drink. Sam wondered if her surprise resulted from excitement or fear. It sounded like it might be both.
“I told you this, I thought.”
“Um, am I in trouble?” Meg covered a grin with her napkin. “Cause it sounds like I’m getting called to the principal’s office.”
Happy not to be the center of attention, Sam got in on the action. “It kind of does sound like that. What gives?”
“It’s nothing.” Lexi shook them both off. “Marnie told me the other day that Kam was looking for some new ideas. Ways to make the community appeal to the younger crowd. Mom told her to pick my brain and I guess she decided it was worth a shot.”
“Did she ask for me specifically?” Meg asked. “Or did she just tell you to bring a friend?”
“Nope. She asked for you by name.” Lexi dimpled as she teased her friend. “You can stop pretending to be cool, Meg. Jess and I already know how obsessed you are with Kam. It’s only a matter of time before Sam’s in the loop too.”
“Stop. You’re into her?” Sam asked. “Isn’t she way older? And wait, don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“Not like that.” Meg waved her off. “I mean not at all,” she added trying to save her dignity. “I admire her business sense. She’s smart and savvy. That’s it. Trust me.”
“Meg idolizes her.” Jesse clapped Meg’s shoulder. “We think she wants to be her when she grows up. It’s really sweet.”
“I don’t, actually.”
“It’s pretty adorable,” Lexi added. “I bet she already has an outfit picked out and everything.”
Meg narrowed her eyes and shook her head as she played along. “Black button-down, dark jeans, and these awesome new boots I just bought. Casual but trendy, and you guys are jerks.”
They all laughed together and Sam watched Meg blush and beam at the same time. She had been around three years ago when Meg had been a complete newbie at Bay West and had witnessed her immersion into the community first hand. It was nice to see her obvious elation at being part of the inner circle now. If she had stayed, would she be part of the in-crowd too? Well, no regrets. Time to focus on the positive. Perhaps between Lexi and Meg she could get a line on an apartment here in the development. Sooner rather than later, with any luck.
Lexi and Jesse didn’t allow her to lift a finger during the cleanup, so she sat with Meg, observing the comfortable back and forth between her married friend and her wife. They doted on each other, even when it came to stacking the dishes in the sink and wrapping up the leftovers. It made her heart happy, and she found herself surprisingly envious of their connection. “So, Meg,” she said, redirecting her attention. “Tell me about your girlfriend. Reina, that’s her name, right?”
“How come she didn’t come to dinner? I was looking forward to meeting her.”
Meg swallowed the last of her wine. “She’s working. The dental office she works at has late hours some nights.”
“How long are you together now?”
“Seven months.” Meg nodded in affirmation of her own response.
“Nice. Well, next time, I hope.”
“Yeah, definitely.” It was silent for a second before Meg added, “Hey, Sam, I was sorry to hear about you and Julie.”
“Thanks.” Sam drummed the table with her fingers hoping to break the momentary tension. “It’s all good.” The moment passed on its own when Lexi placed the box of cookies Sam had brought in the center of the table, cutting the tie as she spoke.
“Do you guys care if I just leave these in the box?” she asked.
“Unacceptable. We’re very formal, as you know, Alexis,” Meg teased.
“Well, Megan…get over it.” Lexi reached for a chocolate chip, making a silly face at her friend before she took a bite. “Oh my God, where did you get these, Sam? They’re amazing.”
Sam peered into the box, eyeing up the cinnamon one Lucy had mentioned earlier. “Some store just down the block. A coffee place,” she added. “Lucy’s, I think it was called.” She saw Lexi’s eyes widen as she chewed.
“I should have known.” Lexi reached for one more. “Wait. Did you meet Lucy?” She sounded too excited and it made Sam skeptical, but she answered anyway.
Sam paused for a second, not really sure how she wanted to field this question.
“Stop.” Jesse came to her rescue. She stood behind Lexi and covered her mouth with her hand. “Don’t do it. Fight the urge.”
Lexi pulled her hand down but held on to it and leaned back. “What? All I said was she’s cute. That’s it.”
Meg chimed in, “Yes, but we all know where you’re headed with this. You love to play matchmaker. And it never works.”
“Who are you kidding?” Lexi challenged. “It worked for you.”
Meg tilted her head, obviously considering her friend’s words. “True…I guess. But it wasn’t even you who set me and Reina up.”
“Semantics,” Lexi quipped.
“Guys”—Sam stopped to laugh at both of them—“I just got back. Really, I don’t need a setup. I’m fine. Really.” She reached for another cookie and decided she could get away with one more question without sounding too eager. “You all know her? Lucy, I mean.”
“Sure, we know her.” Lexi rocked a little against Jesse who was still holding her from behind. “She’s sort of the reason we got together,” she continued sweetly as she laced her fingers with her wife’s. “Abstractly, anyway.”
“How do I not know this story?” Sam asked.
“You do,” Meg answered, before Lexi took over.
“Remember that case that I was working on when I was interning at Jesse’s law firm? Before we were together? The one with the cop and the shooting?”
Sam took a second to think back. “Vaguely?” Her tone was full of uncertainty and Lexi brushed her off with a wave of her hand.
“When I was interning for Jesse, there was this cop who was wrongly accused of firing her gun inside the precinct. It was a whole to-do, and Jesse pulled me in to work the case with her. We ended up spending all this time together.” She bit her lip, looking shy for a second. “That’s how we fell in love.” She paused and Jesse dropped a kiss on her head. “If it wasn’t for Lucy, we might not be here right now.”
“Wait, Lucy was the cop?” Sam let her confusion show. “Why is she working at a coffee shop?”
“It’s a long story. The case didn’t pan out.” Lexi shook her head, appearing mildly frustrated before moving past it. “But the point is, we owe her.” Sam was about to speak but Lexi wasn’t done. “So you’ll all forgive me if I want to repay the debt by introducing Lucy to one of the best people in the world”—she looked right at Sam—“and seeing if maybe you two can’t find just one ounce of the happiness that I have. Fucking sue me for wanting a little romance.”
Sam couldn’t help herself and she felt her smile reach all the way up to her eyes. “Thank you, Munchkin,” she said, pulling out a long forgotten childhood nickname. “She is pretty. Lucy, I mean. We talked a little.” There was no point in trying to hide it. Not now. “Let’s just not get ahead of ourselves.”
“Yes.” Lexi clapped once, in support or success, Sam wasn’t sure. The topic was dropped there for the night, but when she zipped by the closed coffee house on her way home, Sam couldn’t stop her mind from picturing Lucy’s sweet gray eyes, her tight body, her gravelly voice. What was that caveat about no girls? Tsk, tsk. Rules, made only to be broken, she reminded herself as she sped off into the night.
Meg flopped next to Reina and pulled the blanket up to cover her naked body from the draft that wafted through her bedroom window.
“You good?” Reina asked, reaching for her iPad before Meg answered.
“Good.” Meg let a long breath out, feeling her heart rate starting to regulate. “I came right before you did. You couldn’t tell?” She didn’t even try to hide her irritation that Reina hadn’t noticed, and when she looked over, it seemed her girlfriend was barely listening now. At least it made her feel less guilty that she hadn’t exactly been thinking about her when she came. She’d felt bad in the moment, but let herself off the hook with the rationalization that plenty of people fantasized during sex. Probably not about their exes, but thankfully no one could see inside her mind, so she would never have to own up to that particular detail.
The truth of the matter was she thought about Sasha all the time these days, not just during sex. Last week she broke into a full-on smile at her desk when she heard Jane’s Addiction pop up on her office mate’s music feed, remembering the time that she and Sasha had belted out the lyrics while they were photocopying. Totally random that they both knew all the words to such an old song. Just yesterday, she found herself getting nostalgic when she spotted a Game of Thrones ad plastered on the side of a city bus. The new season would be starting in a few weeks. Would Sasha be watching by herself? Did she even want to know the answer? One thing was certain, Meg would be viewing it solo. Reina had zero interest in anything remotely sci-fi.
But they were good together, she and Reina, Meg reminded herself. Sure, she had some concerns that they so quickly seemed beyond the honeymoon stage. That was probably normal. Maybe she was just being too idealistic. They had a nice time together, they respected one another, and those things were important. Sasha had fucking cheated on her and it would serve her well to remember that. Maybe it would also help with the mid-sex fantasizing. The problem was she did remember. But she reminisced the tender moments just as often. The way Sasha curled into her body and held her hand while she fell asleep. How she liked to wake her up with a string of baby kisses across her face. Time was tricky like that. It really wreaked havoc on her memories, allowing her to distort the facts so the past was all roses, no thorns.
If her girlfriend would pay a smidge of attention to her right now, she wouldn’t be thinking about Sasha at all. It annoyed her that Reina could downshift so easily from having sex one minute to playing on her phone or iPad the next. Not that Meg needed a whole cuddle session afterward, but a little intimacy would be a welcome change. God, she was such a girl sometimes. She laughed inwardly and shook off the thought as she glanced out the window, eyeing up a six-inch icicle dangling from the eaves.
Mid-March and still no end in sight to the frigid winter. She felt Reina move next to her. She brushed her side, knowing she needed to quit feeling sorry for herself and take stock of the good things in her life. Yes, there was still snow everywhere, but the sun was out in force this morning. It was Friday and she’d just had morning sex. It wasn’t mind-blowing, but it wasn’t half bad either. And she was working from home today. She could stay in pajamas all day if she chose to. A smile plastered across her face, she grabbed her phone to check the text that had pinged in the middle of her orgasm.
“Hey”—she ran her hand along Reina’s forearm—“Lexi wants to go to Roaring Twenties tonight,” she said, checking to gauge Reina’s interest. “That could be fun.”
“That’s that roving dance party thing?”
“Uh-huh. Tonight it’s in the East Village. Irving Plaza.”
“You don’t even dance.”
“That’s not the point.”
“I like hanging with my friends. And I like watching you dance. Doing your sexy little salsa moves.”
“And what am I supposed to do about my mother?”
“Bring her.” Meg nodded emphatically even though she was teasing. “She’s an attractive older woman, I bet she’d do okay there.”
Putting her phone aside, Meg turned to Reina. “How about this one Friday you skip the routine?” Seeing the outline of Reina’s full breasts under the covers was enough to ready Meg for a second round. Her voice was still husky. “Come on. Hang out with me today.” She smoothed her fingertips across Reina’s soft belly. “I have, like, two things to do for work. That’s it. We can stay in bed all day. Your mother will understand.”
Reina widened her eyes. “Not if I tell her like that, she won’t.”
“Well, maybe leave out this part.” Meg moved closer placing a small kiss by her ear hoping the advances would sway Reina. “It’s freezing out. Stay. We’ll play all day, then go out with our friends tonight. You haven’t even met Sam yet.”
She could sense Reina wavering. Meg kissed softly along her jawline and inched down her throat, licking and kissing along the way. “Mmm.” Reina moaned, fisting Meg’s short hair and pulling up. “I can’t. I’m sorry, babe. Fridays are important to my mom.”
“What about me?” Meg pouted playfully, and saw Reina register her mild disappointment.
She dropped a kiss on Meg’s nose and ran her finger along Meg’s cheek but didn’t change her mind. “Let me get moving. I’ll spend the day with Mom. We’ll do an early dinner and maybe even skip the movie if I can convince her that I’ll make it up to her during the week. I’ll meet you there. I’m sure that party doesn’t get going until later on anyway.”
Meg sighed at the defeat. She knew from experience that once Reina was with her mother, it was unlikely she would leave. It was sweet, their relationship, and she admired their standing Friday date, even joining them on occasion. But the odds that Reina would ditch her mom and trek into the city alone were slim and she knew it. “Promise me you’ll try?”
“I promise,” she said, but Meg wasn’t convinced.
The club music thumped in Meg’s ears. She’d been monitoring her phone all night but it was ten fifteen and there was no sign of Reina. She frowned at the blank screen even though she wasn’t overly surprised.
“No word from your girlfriend yet?” Sam squeezed in next to her and placed her drink on the bar.
“Nope.” Meg couldn’t care less that her aggravation showed.
“Well, it’s still early. She’s probably on the subway with no signal.”
Meg slipped her phone into her back pocket and put her empty beer bottle down. “I got this one.” She nodded at Sam’s empty glass while they waited for some attention from the bartender.
“How come you’re not out on the dance floor tearing it up with Lexi?” Meg asked over the bass.
“I was out there before. I’m kind of beat actually.” Sam laughed at her admission.
“I’m sure we won’t be out too late. Particularly since Lexi drove.” Meg was pretty sure she had her friend’s number on that move. Lexi had talked about wanting a big family even before she married Jesse last summer. Meg suspected they might already be pregnant.
She followed Sam’s stare to Lexi and Jesse talking across the way. “Hey, Meg, here’s a totally random question.” Meg froze for a second figuring Sam was onto them too and even though she didn’t know for sure, she wondered if she should lie.
Sam swallowed a healthy sip of her fresh drink. “Does that Lucy chick from the coffee shop ever come out with you guys?” She kept her eyes on the crowd and took another swig. Meg hid her smile at Sam’s failed attempt at casual.
“She hangs out with us sometimes. But more it’s us going to her store and chilling with her there. She practically lives at the coffee shop, but she came to dinner at Lexi and Jesse’s once or twice. I know Lexi invited her tonight, but I guess she was busy.”
“Is she, I mean, does she have a girlfriend?”
“Oh my God, you really are smitten. Where did this even come from?”
“Can you not be a dick about this?” Sam’s laugh was strained. “I’m just curious, that’s all,” she added.
Meg shook her head over the rim of her glass. “Dude, if you think I’m not going to break your balls over the fact that you, Sam Miller, self-proclaimed lady-killer, skirt chaser, flirt to end all flirts, are swooning over a girl you met one time, you are dead fucking wrong.” Meg reached up and tousled the back of Sam’s hair roughly. “What did they do to you out west? Or was it Europe that tamed the beast? Tell me. I have to know.”
“You’re an ass,” Sam said through a smile. Even in the dim lighting, Meg could see she was blushing. “Forget I asked.”
“No way, brother.” Meg hit her with a shoulder bump. “P.S., I’m pretty sure she’s single.” She was about to elaborate, give Sam the scant details she knew, but the sight of the familiar girl one foot in front of her stopped her cold.
Meg was almost too stunned for words and she felt Sam’s stare go back and forth between them trying to place the tension.
“Sasha. Hi.” Meg froze for a second, but forced herself to take a sip of her drink, hoping the pint glass hid her shock long enough for her to pull herself together.
“You look really great.” Sasha eyed her from head to toe and Meg could swear she saw emotion in her eyes, but before she could be sure, Sasha shifted her attention to Sam. “Hi, I’m Sasha,” she said, extending her hand. “Meg and I used to work together.” There was a full beat before Meg realized that Sasha thought she and Sam were together. Meg was moved by her discretion, but corrected her right away.
“Sash, this is Sam. Lexi’s friend. The one who moved out to Portland last year with her girlfriend. You remember the story.”
“Oh, right. I wasn’t sure, I mean, I didn’t know if…” Her voice drifted and she appeared slightly embarrassed but also relieved at Meg’s explanation. “Nice to meet you, Sam.”
Meg wanted to ask a thousand questions, starting with finding out what Sasha was doing at the gayest girl party in the city. What a joke. Less than a year ago Sasha had broken her heart when she couldn’t commit—not to Meg, not to being a lesbian, not to any of it. Meg swallowed a snide laugh at the irony. Of course anyone was welcome to partake in the awesome music and top shelf booze, but Sasha’s presence felt like fraud and she was tempted to call her out. She might have done exactly that if Sasha hadn’t looked so incredibly nervous. Her expression tugged at Meg’s heart unwittingly and she let herself feel it, reminding herself that she was better than stooping to such depths anyway. Truth be told, Meg knew, in spite of her anger over how things had played out between them, there was still a part of her heart that belonged to Sasha, as pathetic as that might be. She longed to use this opportunity to feed her curiosity over Sasha’s well-being. She couldn’t help it. She had loved her once upon a time.
Meg took another quick sip of her craft brew and opened her mouth to be civil, but out of nowhere Reina was next to her.
“Hey, Meg. Sorry we’re late.”
Meg looked from Reina to Sasha and back again, a deer in the fucking headlights of life.
“Reina, I’m Sam. I’ve heard so much about you.” Meg silently thanked Sam for the save.
“That better mean all good things,” Reina joked. She turned to Meg. “Babe, this is my friend Melinda.”
Meg hadn’t even noticed the pretty girl who’d come in with Reina. “Oh, hi.” Meg gave a chin nod and awkwardly offered her hand at the same time. The girl returned a limp handshake and paired it with a lame smile, barely making eye contact. Weird. Meg swallowed the lump in her throat. “Um, Reina this is Sasha.” It made no sense, but Meg knew she sounded nervous at the introduction. For a split second she saw a flash of something in Reina’s eyes at the recognition of Sasha’s identity. Jealousy or anger, she wondered. Either way, the fallout wasn’t going to be pretty.
Reina curved her mouth into a fake smile and tossed it at Sasha before giving her order to Meg. “Babe, get me a cosmo. You want one too, right, Mel?”
“I should get back to my friends. Nice meeting you all,” Sasha said. “See you, Meg.”
Meg wanted more time, even though she hated herself for it. And wait, did Sasha just say friends or friend? Damn the fucking loud music. There was a huge difference and she was dying for the answer. God, she hoped Sasha didn’t have a girlfriend. It made no sense, her jealousy, and she knew it. It didn’t matter, she reminded herself. She didn’t want to be with Sasha, despite her little fantasy this morning. Their relationship had been a disaster.
Meg took a deep breath, centering herself. She was simply curious about Sasha’s life. It was completely normal to wonder about your exes, particularly when you ran into them in a gay club after they’d denounced their lesbianism. Fuck, she needed to stop and get focused. She made eye contact with the bartender and put in Reina’s order, adding a quick shot of Jack for herself.
For the rest of the night she found herself searching for Sasha in the masses, but she didn’t see her again. What she couldn’t stop seeing was the bizarre dynamic between Reina and the friend she’d brought. Getting close on the dance floor was one thing, but they were inseparable off it too. Meg wasn’t sure if Reina was reciprocating or if she simply liked the attention, but Melinda was definitely crushing. She should care but she didn’t. Despite her internal lecture to the contrary she was more concerned with finding out if Sasha was with a crowd or on a date. She shook her head into her drink. This night was a mess.
“Hey, you ready to head out soon?” Lexi’s voice in her ear caught her off guard.
“Meg, I saw Sasha before. Sam told me you guys talked. How was it?”
Meg looked for Reina as she answered. “Fine. We just said hi, that was it.”
“Yeah, fine,” she said, even though she wasn’t. She hated that the brief conversation had such a lasting effect on her and she was positive Lexi read the truth behind her stock response. “Let me find Reina and see if she’s ready to go. Honestly, I don’t even know if she’s coming home with me or going back to Queens with her friend.” She emphasized the word dramatically and Lexi picked up on it.
“Who is that, by the way?”
“Some girl from her building. They’ve been hanging out a bunch. This is the first time I’ve met her.”
“Oh.” She heard doubt in Lexi’s voice but didn’t feel like dealing with it. She’d seen it too, the way Melinda stared at Reina, dancing just a little too close, following her around like a puppy dog.
Meg spotted Reina a few feet away and grabbed her arm. “The girls are ready to go. Are you coming with me?” Reina was tipsy—Meg could see it in her eyes and her body language.
“Can Mel come too?”
Meg raised her eyebrows at the question, momentarily unsure what Reina was asking.
“Not like that, Meg.” She reached for Meg’s hand. It was the first time they’d touched all night. “I just don’t want to send her home alone.”
“What?” Reina challenged.
“You know she’s into you, right?”
Reina looked right in Meg’s eyes. She was serious, even through her half-drunk haze. “You really want to have this conversation? Let’s not forget, I blew off my mother and came all the way in here because you asked me to. Then I get here and you’re hanging out with your ex-girlfriend, chatting away.”
“It’s not like that.”
“I’m sure.” Reina licked her lips. “The same way Mel’s baby-dyke crush on me doesn’t mean anything. She knows no lesbians, Meg. That’s why I brought her. So she could maybe meet someone. Or at least get out. But I’m not going to leave her here or tell her she’s on her own getting home. Plus”—she nodded over Meg’s shoulder—“you said Sam is always down to hook up with a cute girl. She’s single, right? Invite her back too.”
Meg swallowed hard. It was a lot of info to digest from such a short conversation. “Okay. Get Melinda and meet me in front in five.”
Less than an hour later Meg, Reina, Sam, and Melinda nursed drinks in Meg’s living room, talking easily about the music and the vibe at the dance party. Meg detected zero chemistry between Sam and Melinda, and she tried not to get annoyed every time she caught Melinda checking out Reina. It didn’t bother her the way it ought to, but still, she thought it rude that Melinda came back to her house just to ogle her girlfriend, and while Reina didn’t quite encourage it, she clearly loved the attention. Meg didn’t dare address it, not even when she and Reina were alone. She hoped her disinterest passed for understanding of Melinda’s plight, but the truth was she knew any conversation at all would lead right back to talking about Sasha, and Meg wasn’t ready to admit the effect that interaction had to anyone, including herself.
“Dude, wake up.”
Sam turned onto her back and registered Meg standing over her. Half a second passed before she remembered where she was.
“We’re meeting Lexi at the coffee shop in twenty minutes. I know you want in on that.”
“Fuck, my bag is at Lexi’s.” She sighed heavily, her hangover hitting her full force. “I left it there last night before we went out.”
“Nope. She dropped it off this morning before she went to the gym.”
“There is a God.” Sam rubbed the sleep from her eyes and sat up on Meg’s couch. “What time is it anyway?”
“Just after ten.”
“Wow. I was really out. I hope I wasn’t in your way down here.”
“Not at all. I got up when Reina and Melinda left about eight, then I went back to sleep. I only got out of bed like a half hour ago when Lexi texted me.” Meg pulled the blanket off her. “Hurry up and get in the shower. I know you’re going to need at least a few minutes to primp yourself for Lucy. I remember how you operate.”
“I hate you.”
“Correction.” Meg backed away as she started folding the blanket. “You love me for not letting you sleep through this golden opportunity and for waking you up in time to get yourself all jazzed up. Thank me later. Now, go. I can only hold out for so long. I need coffee.”
Twenty minutes later, Sam crunched the ice underfoot as they walked the short distance to Lucy’s Coffee Bar.
Meg broke the silence. “So I’m guessing since I found you on my couch fully clothed, there was no love connection with Melinda.”
“Nah, dude.” Sam shrugged. “She’s a nice girl but I wasn’t feeling it. I don’t think she was either, to be honest.”
Sam heard surprise in Meg’s voice and was flattered at the subtle compliment. She shook her head in response. They were quiet for a few more steps before Sam gambled on a dicey subject. “I think that Melinda might be into Reina.” She checked a look at Meg’s demeanor and was relieved that Meg wasn’t surprised at her well meaning heads-up. “You picked up on that, I gather.”
“Sure did.” Meg tapped at a chunk of ice with the tip of her boot, sending it skittering along the sidewalk ahead of them. “I actually said something to Reina about it,” she said. “She blew it off.” Meg shrugged. “I’m not even sure how I feel about it, which is the worst part.”
“Still hung up on your ex?”
“Not hung up,” Meg said.
Sam couldn’t help but notice that Meg’s tone, while not quite defensive, sounded more than a little uncertain.
“What happened with you two?”
“Me and Sasha?” Meg watched a car whiz past them. “It’s complicated,” she said, thrusting her hands in her pockets. “Actually, who am I kidding? It’s not. I was really into her. Her, not so much.”
“No, come on,” Sam countered, not quite believing Meg’s scarce summary. “She seemed interested last night.”
“That’s the thing with Sasha. You never know what you’re going to get. One minute she’s in love with you and the next she’s making out with your colleague in the middle of the hotel lobby.”
“Yeah, that’s putting it mildly.”
“Sorry, dude. How long did you guys date or whatever?”
Meg looked at the empty street as they waited at the crosswalk. “Almost a year, but on and off.”
“I’m sensing you guys don’t keep in touch.”
Meg harrumphed and her breath came out in a cloud against the cold air. “I haven’t seen her since we broke up. Until last night. You know, five seconds before my girlfriend showed up. I know that sounds bad and I don’t mean anything by it. Honestly. It just might have been nice, I mean…” Sam heard Meg struggling for the right words and felt her frustration. “I guess I would have liked to talk to her a little.”
“Fucking timing, though. Brutal.” Sam pushed open the door and smiled to herself when she heard the bell ring underneath the music coming through surround sound. The coffee house was warm and inviting, and unlike her last visit, it was packed. She spotted Lexi sitting at the end of a couch, her belongings strewn across several cushions, clearly trying to reserve the real estate for her friends.
“Jesus, I thought you guys were never going to get here.” She waved them over emphatically. “These college kids are vultures.” Lexi stood up and gave them both genuine hugs.
Shaking free of her winter jacket, Sam turned to put it over the arm of the couch, completely surprised to see Lucy right next to her. “Hi,” she said, cringing a little at the enthusiasm she heard in her own voice.
Lucy didn’t miss a beat. “Hey there, Sam Miller.” She touched Sam’s shoulder and gave it a little squeeze, throwing her off her game even more. “Morning, girls,” she added, tossing a nod at Meg and Lexi. “Sit down,” she said. “I’ll bring over some coffee.” She looked right at Sam. “Milk and sugar for you, hon?”
Lucy’s use of the endearment surprised her, even in light of their spirited conversation the other day. The level of attention was exciting and she knew it showed when she stumbled over her response. “Sure. Actually half-and-half, if you have it. And three sugars.”
“I should have guessed.” Lucy grinned, seeming to be on the inside of a private joke. Sam knew her confusion must have showed when Lucy clarified her comment. “It’s always the tough ones. Hard as nails on the outside, but give ’em a strong cup of java, and they curl up in fetal position.” She hung her head and frowned in mock disappointment.
Sam found her footing and got in the game. “I just like my coffee like I like my women.”
“Which is…ridiculously sweet?”
“Don’t forget creamy.”
Sam let her face relax into a smile at her friends’ laughter. Her comment was over-the-top and she knew it, but Lucy shook her head and smiled, promising to return with their drinks shortly. Sam didn’t even try to hide it as she let her gaze follow Lucy all the way back to the bar.
“I knew you guys would hit it off.”
“Settle down, Lex, it’s just flirting. Completely baseless. I’m sure it’s all just part of business.”
“She doesn’t flirt with me.”
“Meg, does she ever flirt with you?” Lexi challenged.
“No. But thanks for pointing that out. You know, just in case my confidence happened to be on the high side this morning.”
“Oh, stop.” Lexi dismissed her with a wave. “Like you don’t have enough women falling over you right now.”
Meg shook her head dramatically. “I’m not even going to pretend I know what that means.”
Sam loved the easy camaraderie her friends had. She wasted no time getting into the mix. “Oh, yes you fucking do.”
“Nobody was falling over me last night,” Meg countered. “Sasha said hello, that’s it. And Reina, Christ, I don’t know what the fuck is going on with us right now.”
“Well, you worked something out when you got home,” Sam added with a smirk. “I slept right underneath you, don’t forget.” She saw Meg’s cheeks redden and reached over to clap her shoulder. “I’m just teasing, buddy. But seriously, your mattress springs are shot.” She pulled away just in time to beat Meg’s playful punch, and in doing so bumped against Lucy’s leg just as she arrived with their drinks.
“Whoa, sorry,” Sam offered, awkwardly touching Lucy’s thigh as she tried to make up for her gaffe.
“It’s okay. It’ll take more than that to get me on the ground. Maybe after your coffee. Although for you”—she scrunched up her nose—“with coffee that wimpy, it might take two cups.” She placed a tray of muffins on the small table in front of them. “The scones are blueberry, the muffins are cranberry orange. They’re vegan. Just the muffins, the scones are regular. I’m curious what you think. Enjoy, ladies.”
“That was totally flirting,” Lexi said, reaching for a scone.
Sam didn’t bother to deny it. She loved the chase. Sure, she’d only seen Lucy two times and she still thought this might be part of her schtick with new customers, but there was an energy between them, she’d picked up on it right way. Whether it was just a game or something more remained to be seen. She was thoroughly looking forward to the play by play, but that part she kept to herself.
“Did you guys have your meeting with Kam Browne yet?” she asked, changing the subject.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe we didn’t tell you,” Lexi said as she shielded her full mouth with her hand. “Kam wants us to, like, run some of the socials.”
“What does that mean?” Sam asked, giving a muffin a try.
“You know the socials, the parties that are open to everyone. Even people who don’t live at Bay West.”
“Duh, Lex. I haven’t been gone that long. So she wants you guys to work the door and stuff?”
Meg fielded the question. “Kam wants us to be in charge of them. Maybe that includes working the door—I didn’t even think about that.” She shook her head, obviously considering the possibility, then continued. “We’re supposed to come up with themes. She’s hoping for some fresh ideas to bring in new blood. Then do the marketing, advertising, stuff like that. Holy shit, you should help us.”
“You totally should,” Lexi echoed. “You’re a graphics genius and Bay West’s website could use a serious makeover.” She did a tiny cheer with her hands. “Oh my God, would you do that for us? Put in links to different social media platforms and stuff? You are way more tech savvy than me and Meg.”
“We should maybe check with Kam before making any major changes,” Meg said, sounding a little nervous.
“Are you kidding, she’s going to love it.” Lexi rolled her eyes. “We’ll run everything by her, Nervous Nellie. But quit being a pussy. She’s looking for us to take charge here.”
Sam swallowed the last of her coffee. “Any news on a vacancy there, by the way?” She put her empty mug down. “I would hate to miss being part of all this because I’m in jail for murdering my parents.”
Lexi responded through her laughter. “No, I’m afraid. Bay West is at full capacity. My mom said she heard some rumors that there may be one or two units on the market soon. I know we talked about renting, but would you ever be able to buy if the opportunity came up?”
She took a second to consider. She’d been traveling on the company dime steadily for almost five months. Given her per diem stipend and not having to pay rent, she’d socked away a nice little nest egg.
“That would be ideal,” she said. “But isn’t there a waiting list for when units come up for sale?”
“Sam, you know the entire board. And you’re going to help revamp Bay West’s image. I’m fairly certain you’ll jump to the top of the list.”
“Politics and nepotism are alive and well at Bay West, I take it?”
“It’s not just for rich white men anymore,” Lexi quipped.
“To the new lesbian mafia,” Meg added, lifting her coffee cup in the air.
Sam felt her smile cover her face. “So I have a shot of getting back in?”
Lexi tilted her head to the side, a full grin emerging as she drawled out her coy response. “Oh, I’d say there’s a definite possibility.”
Three days later Sam stood at the end of the line that stretched from the coffee counter and curved along the interior of Lucy’s store. It amazed her that she’d held out this long before coming back, but she’d been bogged down with projects, and while working from home usually gave her the luxury to blaze along quickly, her newly retired parents’ constant interruptions were seriously slowing her down. Today she’d decided to set up shop at one of the local public libraries. She’d picked the South Beach branch, telling herself that she liked its proximity to the water, but she knew that the real reason was its location just around the corner from Lucy’s Coffee Bar, giving her a perfect excuse to stop in.
There were at least ten people in front of her, but with her height advantage Sam still had a great view of Lucy working the commuter rush. She zipped around in yoga pants, her hair pulled up, smiling from customer to customer. Sam couldn’t wait for her turn. Did she flirt with everyone? She told herself she didn’t care but felt a twinge of random jealousy anyway. Her phone vibrated in her pocket diverting her attention. Blynn Hughes, her project manager. Huh. It was a bit early for work still and Sam couldn’t help but wonder if the call was business or pleasure.
“Slow down, Blynn. I can hardly understand you.” Sam jumped off the line and reached for her tablet as she listened. She slid into a seat at a table in the corner, fiddled for a pen and a scrap of paper, signing on and jotting notes while her boss barked orders.
“How much time do I have?” Sam checked her watch as she listened and worked, her attention equally divided. “All right. Relax. I’m on it. I’ll text you when I have something ready.”
Her coffee sidelined, Sam slipped right into work mode scanning her files and locating the design she knew would work for the client’s ad campaign. The artwork she’d created used an image of a blue butterfly, crafted from a picture she’d taken years ago in her grandmother’s yard. She still remembered the day, early in the spring, the sky crisp and bright. Sam had been confident in this choice all along, but new clients always thought they knew better. Typical, but it was nothing new making changes in the eleventh hour. She shook her head but smiled to herself, kind of enjoying the rush of pressure as she made some last-minute tweaks before firing off the final version to Blynn.
Waiting for feedback, she opened the company calendar. Dalton Medical was in Connecticut. That meant a definite road trip in the next few weeks. She felt a surge at the thought. She and Blynn—F. Blynn Hughes, when she was being formal—had a fantastic working relationship. One that was outmatched only by their incredible sexual chemistry. Their fling began in Paris after her relationship with Julie had ended for good. In no rush to come home with her tail between her legs, Sam had put her name in the hat for every travel assignment available.
Projects in London, Dubai, Istanbul, and Prague followed, and the mutual attraction held up. The setup was perfect. Strictly business during the day, clandestine hookups after hours. Road trips were spent text-flirting until the sun went down, when they reconvened in Blynn’s hotel room for unbelievable, commitment-free sex. Sam never stayed over. Blynn never asked. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. The last thing Sam wanted was a relationship—she was still nursing her ego over her failed romance with Julie. Once or twice she felt a slight pang of guilt over the superficiality of their situation. It was never enough to stop her from coming back, and where the parameters of their arrangement were concerned, surely Blynn had her own reasons, whatever they might be. It hardly mattered. In her mind, they were both winning.
She shifted in her seat. Way overdue, she caught herself getting charged up just thinking about getting laid. With no warning, a vision of kissing Lucy against the coffee counter popped into her head. She blinked quickly, forcing the image out of her mind. She cracked her knuckles and pulled up a project to occupy herself while she waited for Blynn’s response.
Sam jumped at Lucy’s voice.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” Lucy rubbed Sam’s shoulder gently as she placed a lidded paper cup on the table. Sam noticed her checking a look at the line, which was still backed up to the front door. She nodded at Sam’s coffee. “I went with the to-go option because I wasn’t sure if you needed to be somewhere. Please don’t take it the wrong way. You just looked busy—I didn’t want to bother you. Stay as long as you like.” When Lucy looked at Sam, her eyes were sweet and sincere, and Sam knew she was staring back.
Quickly she pulled herself together and found her manners. “Thank you for the coffee,” she said, digging into her pocket for cash.
“Relax, hon. We’ll work it out later.”
Hon. Two times now Lucy had called her that. On both occasions, it had given her a rush. She was being ridiculous, thinking like a teenager. She probably calls everyone that, she thought, reminding herself to keep her libido in check and stop searching for things that were probably not there.
“You need the Wi-Fi?”
“I’m already on it.”
“Good.” Lucy took a step backward toward the counter. “Back to work,” she ordered, adding a quick wink before she turned around.
That was something. Right? She let herself revel in the possibility for a moment before diving back into work.
For the next three hours Sam made real progress on two assignments whose deadlines were still weeks away. She pushed her laptop forward, stretched her arms over her head, and looked around the coffee house. It was quieter now, no lines, the commuters already at work. Patrons still filtered in and out, and a few tables were occupied by people like herself—on their computers, doing work, or writing papers, Sam figured, based on their ages. With her work finished, she looked around but didn’t see Lucy anywhere. She played with some pet projects but there was still no sign of the owner, so she packed it in for the day. Putting away her belongings, she took stock of just how much she had accomplished in a short time frame. Working here beat her parents’ house by a mile. She acknowledged the thought internally as she set up a plan for tomorrow, as though she needed any convincing to come back.
At ten twenty Sam took a break from a very technical and detailed layout to quickly sketch out an idea in her notepad. She was completely in her own world.
“Hey stud.” One of Lucy’s workers appeared next to her, a plate in her hand. The dark-haired girl winked and gave her a salacious once-over. “The boss wanted me to bring this to you.” She placed the plate in an empty space on the table. “It’s her famous banana bread.” She rubbed the tattoos lining her forearm. “But, you know, if she’s not your type, I’m single. Just so you know.”
Sam tipped her head down but was spared a response when Lucy appeared. “That’s quite enough, Raven.” She dismissed the girl with a pat on her shoulder and took the seat across from Sam. “How’s work?” she asked nodding at Sam’s things.
“Fine. Good.” She reached in her pocket and took out her money clip, fishing through for small bills. “Thank you for breakfast.”
Lucy waved her off. “I don’t want your money.”
“I never even paid you for yesterday’s coffee.”
Lucy folded her arms and leaned forward. “Yes, you did. With the ridiculous tip you left. You more than paid for your coffee.”
“Look, I stayed here for hours, used your wireless, your bathroom, got a break from Mom and Dad. Believe me, I owed you something for your hospitality.”
Inching the plate closer to Sam she said, “Come on, eat.” She was staring at the sketch. “What’s that?”
“Something new I’m playing around with.”
“Is it a wolf?”
Sam laughed. “Yes, it is.”
“I’m intrigued,” Lucy said, clearly waiting for Sam to elaborate.
“I’m friends with these girls, sisters actually, who are just trying to break into the craft beer world. Their last name is Wolfe. I thought this could be a logo or a label or something.”
“You’re an artist?”
“For a beer company?”
“No.” She shook her head. “This is, these girls are my friends.” She broke off an edge of the bread. “In real life I work for a global corporation. Tekrant Industries. They’re the parent company for a million different businesses whose products you probably have all over your house or here.” Sam looked around the shop for emphasis. “But this”—she motioned toward her drawing—“this is just for fun. They’re just getting started. They have no money to spend on advertising and design.” She popped the piece of bread in her mouth. “I figured if I could help them out, why not?” She swallowed quickly, reaching for another bite right away. “Wow, that’s good.”
Lucy smiled. “I don’t want to keep you from your work. I just wanted to say hi.” She eyed Sam’s coffee mug. “Refill?”
It was the last thing she needed, more caffeine. She was high on adrenaline from this tiny conversation. “Absolutely.”
“I’ll bring some right over.” Lucy stood and squeezed Sam’s shoulder as she passed. It took every ounce of willpower in Sam’s entire body not to reach for her hand and beg her to stay.
On day three, Sam stood in front of her vanity for a full fifteen minutes to get her hair absolutely perfect. She smoothed the front of her button-down and tucked it loosely into her perfectly antiqued jeans. She was ahead on all her assignments and barely had any work to do, but she wasn’t about to let that keep her from Lucy’s.
The store had its regular morning rush, and after she picked up her coffee and settled into her favorite table, she let herself get entrenched in Bay West’s website. She did a thorough assessment, making mental notes the whole time. This was going to be a blast to play around with. At almost eleven, she found herself scanning the store in search of Lucy.
“She’s at Pilates,” Raven said from two tables away, clearing away the garbage of a particularly messy customer.
“Huh, what?” Sam tried to sound as though she hadn’t been caught looking.
Raven’s dramatic eye roll told her she didn’t buy it. “Settle down. She’ll be back in a little bit.”
Nearly an hour later, Sam was deep in code when the front door bell jingled loudly, grabbing her attention. She popped her head up as Lucy sauntered in. She had on new clothes—jeans and a navy tee—and her wet hair was pulled up in a tight bun. In her hand she carried a brown paper bag. Sam watched as she disappeared into the back momentarily before returning with two plates of food. She had a bottle of water under each arm. With her chin, she nodded at Sam’s setup. “Share the table with me?”
“What’s this?” Sam asked as she cleared away her laptop and tablet. She checked out the plate Lucy slid in front of her.
Lucy opened her water and took a sip. “Raven told me you haven’t eaten a thing all day. This wrap is too big for one person. We can share it.” Lucy gave a glance toward her employee currently manning the counter.
“Seriously, her name is Raven?” Sam stole a grape from the small cluster on her plate. “That can’t be real. I saw the tattoo on her arm,” she whispered. “That’s just what she chooses to call herself, right?”
“No. Real name.” Lucy lifted her eyebrows as she took the first bite of wrap. She swallowed quickly. “That’s who I make her check out to and everything.”
Sam watched Lucy’s delicate mouth as she chewed. She let her voice lilt showing her suspicion. “Her parents named her Raven? And she just happens to look like that, with the jet-black hair, heavy makeup, and goth style.” She shook her head. “I don’t believe it.”
“Well”—Lucy wiped her mouth gently with a paper napkin—“if you ask her, she says she named herself. In the womb.” She placed her wrap on the plate. “Her parents are very spiritual.”
Sam dropped her chin and looked right at Lucy. “You don’t believe that.”
“Eh, maybe. What do I know?” Lucy picked at a strand of arugula hanging out of her sandwich, tilted her head back, and dropped it in her mouth, shrugging playfully as she chewed. “All I can tell you is for twenty-three, she’s incredibly responsible. And she’s a fantastic baker. She teaches me stuff all the time.” She nodded at Sam’s plate. “Come on, eat.”
“I’m not eating your lunch.”
“Well, I don’t waste food. So if you’re not going to eat it, I’ll give it to someone else.”
“You eat it.”
“It’s too big.” Lucy looked marginally disappointed at her refusal. “I guess I could save half for tomorrow.” She looked up and her eyes were begging as she laid it on thick. “Come on, Sam, take pity on me. I just want to have a meal and some nice conversation with another adult for a change. Look around, it’s all college kids waiting for their next class.” She pouted playfully. “And if you think this is bad, wait until three o’clock. That’s when the high-schoolers take over.”
“Okay. Okay.” Sam reached for the wrap. “One condition. Let me take you for a drink later.”
There was an uncomfortable silence and Lucy scrunched up her nose. Swing and a miss. Sam was bummed, but she tried to play it off. “Please tell me it’s because you don’t drink,” she joked.
“You don’t what?” Sam asked.
“I don’t drink.”
Lucy confirmed with a nod as she sipped her water. As much as she wished it didn’t, Sam knew her surprise showed. The news shouldn’t be that shocking, but truthfully she didn’t know anyone who didn’t drink at all, even socially.
She tried to recover. “How about dinner then? I know you eat.” She peered at Lucy’s wrap playfully for emphasis.
Lucy put down her water and looked right at Sam, seriousness etched in every line on her face. “How about this. Lunch again, tomorrow. Here. You buy.”
It was not quite the date Sam was hoping for, but it wasn’t a total loss either.
“No meat,” Lucy added last minute.