by RJ Layer
Nearly ten years ago, after the sudden death of her sister, Kate Bellam didn’t hesitate to become surrogate mom to her niece Megan. Her life has become a treadmill of work, motherhood and celibacy.
Her long perfected calm, necessary in a surgical nurse, is tested the moment she meets Megan’s new mentor. Sportswriter “Tommie” Tommelson sets off all the alarms, both good and bad. Out as a lesbian, brash in her seductive powers and with a reputation for breaking hearts, Tommie is obviously looking for nothing more than a fling.
Kate knows she is finally ready for so much more, but she’s seen too much of life to believe that Tommie can ever change.
Newcomer RJ Layer delivers a story of tumultuous passion in her debut romance.
Kate Bellam deposited her mask, cap and gown in the bin before dropping with a thud into the hard plastic chair at the end of the locker room with its fading gray walls and blue metal lockers.
"God, I feel like I just ran a marathon." She rubbed at her tired eyes before closing them against the harsh overhead fluorescent lights and leaning her head back against the wall.
"For every long, tired hour you just spent in there, there's more than one grateful friend or family member out there," said Eric Morgan, Denton Memorial Hospital's general surgeon, nodding in the direction of the surgical waiting room. He pulled off his own cap and tossed it in the bin. For as commanding as Eric Morgan's presence always appeared in the OR, it never ceased to amaze Kate the quiet, low tone with which he spoke. "Your ability to remain so cool under pressure—and not bailing on doctors when it takes hours longer than scheduled—is why you're the most sought-after surgical nurse on staff."
Kate glanced at the clock over the door. "Crap!" She jumped to her feet, patting frantically at her pants' pockets.
He cocked his head. "You didn't lose something in that guy's abdomen, did you?" He flashed a playful smile.
Kate rushed to her locker and fumbled at the combination lock. "Damn it!" She spun the dial again. "I was supposed to pick Megan up and take her shopping hours ago." She jerked on the locker handle, and when it didn't open, she let out an exhausted sigh. "She's going to be furious with me." She took a calming breath and tried the lock again.
Eric straddled the scarred wooden bench in front of the lockers. "Tell that pretty little niece of yours it's my fault you missed your shopping date, but I am eternally grateful for your skills. I assume you also know that you were invaluable in saving that guy's life."
Kate pulled her phone out of her locker and started dialing. "She's hardly little anymore, you know. She's a seventeen-year-old now and I seriously doubt she cares what my excuse is this time."
He rubbed at the stiffness in his neck as he watched her. "Wow! Seems like she was just becoming a teenager last year." While Kate paced, he continued, "So—seventeen, you've about got her raised. Time to start thinking about a life for yourself."
He was well aware of Kate's dedication, not only to her job, but also to her niece. Kate liked and respected Eric. Of all the surgeons she'd worked with, he was the most compassionate and least egotistical. If things were different, a lot different, she would, without a doubt, pursue him.
Megan finally answered and Kate launched into her apology. "Megs, I'm so sorry I missed our shopping date, but there was a trauma surgery, they needed me." Eric poked her, then pointed to himself when she glanced at him. "Dr. Morgan said I should tell you it was his fault."
"Is he that hunky doctor with the soft, sexy voice?"
Her niece's description of the surgeon made Kate's cheeks grow warm. "Megan!"
"Well, is it him?"
Kate wandered to the corner and nearly whispered, "Yes, it's him."
Her niece laughed lightly before saying, "Okay, since you were busy with him, I'll excuse you blowing me off."
Kate shook her head in response to Megan's single-mindedness.
"Just tell me he's at least going to buy you dinner."
Kate watched as the subject of their conversation stripped off his scrub shirt. "Afraid not, sweetie. That's not on the schedule for this evening."
Megan sighed loudly. "That suc…" She coughed. "Sorry, I mean that really stinks. You two would make the cutest couple."
Kate glanced quickly at the handsome form across the locker room and let out a tired breath. "If you say so. Listen, I'll be home in about thirty minutes. Why don't you order us a pizza for dinner, and if you want, we can hit the mall tomorrow evening."
"Did you already forget? I have to be at the paper first thing tomorrow. I'll probably be wiped out by evening."
Kate slumped against her locker, the reminder making her feel worse than she already did at missing the time she had committed to Megan. Bracing for a typical teenage response, she asked, "I'm a pretty horrible excuse for a mom, aren't I?"
Megan snorted. "Nah—I got friends with moms a lot worse." She hesitated. "You do the best you can. Hey, you're buying me pizza, right?"
Slinging her purse over her shoulder, Kate pushed through the door and into the hall. "I'm heading toward the exit now. You call in the pizza and I'll pick up something yummy to go along with it and see you shortly. There's money on my dresser if it gets there before I do."
"Sure, drive carefully. I'll see you in a few."
Kate pulled out of the parking lot, lowering the car window. Although the humidity had started to climb in recent weeks and they were predicting record highs for the summer, the fresh air was welcome as it ruffled her blond hair. Feeling the weariness of her day, she thought about Megan. She hated that she'd forgotten tomorrow was her first day as a summer intern at the Denton Daily News. She'd been so focused on Megan beginning her senior year of high school next fall and how she would pay for college after that. Megan was a smart girl—no, she was a brilliant one, much as her mother had been at the same age. And Kate wanted to make sure she had every opportunity to achieve everything she hoped for her life. She deserved no less.
* * *
Kate hurried up the walk from the driveway of the cozy two-bedroom ranch they called home. She smiled, admiring the results of her and Megan's hard work weeks earlier. In the beds that fronted the house, the flowers burst with vibrant color and set their house apart from the others on the quiet residential street, like a cardinal outside the window on a gray winter day. She rushed through the door, handing Megan a white paper sack. "Please put our sundaes in the freezer."
Megan peered into the bag as she headed for the kitchen. "Mmm…what flavor?"
"What else but decadent chocolate?"
"So where's the beer?" Megan asked playfully as she slipped the bag in the freezer.
Kate's stomach roiled at the thought of Megan getting caught up in things like alcohol. She kept her voice light. "Much as I hate to sound like a mother, as long as you're living under my roof, there'll be no drinking until you're of age, young lady."
Megan laughed. "Relax, Auntie, I meant for you. You look beat." She guided Kate toward the kitchen table and the waiting pizza. "You're forgetting that I live outside the stereotypical box that most kids my age live in, like Mom did."
The day's long surgery had left her anxious and exhausted in the same breath. "I'm sorry, honey, I forget sometimes how grown up you are."
Megan snorted. "Not grown up, Aunt Kate, that makes me sound old. I'm just trying to be smart about my life."
"That you are, Megan, and I'm so proud of you for it." Kate dropped heavily into the chair.
"Guess you'll be having a soda like me." Megan returned to the fridge.
Kate rolled her shoulders and stretched her arms, stifling a yawn. As Megan set the soda in front of her, she asked, "Is there a reason you think I should ply myself with alcohol this evening?"
Megan flopped into her chair, flipping open the pizza box, plucking off a mushroom and popping it in her mouth. Placing a slice on a plate, she handed it to her aunt. "You work so hard all the time, I just thought you might like to kick back and relax for once."
Kate took the offered plate. "Honey, I'm sure after a few pieces of pizza, a chocolate sundae and a soak in the tub, I'll be as relaxed as I can get. I'll have no trouble falling into bed and sleeping like a baby." She took a bite, savoring the taste and realizing she'd not eaten anything since about eleven thirty and it was now going on eight. "Besides, Megs, when have you ever seen me drink beer?"
Megan swallowed her mouthful. "Okay, okay, I get it." They ate in silence for a few minutes before Megan broached a new subject. "You know, Aunt Kate, I still think you should let me ride the bus and you keep your car."
Kate swallowed her bite, washing it down with a drink of soda before responding. "Sweetie, we've already been through this. I don't want you riding a bus downtown every day. It's not a problem for me to take one to the hospital, and it will be a much shorter ride for me than it would be for you."
They had discussed it at length, and even though Megan had only been driving for a year, Kate felt the experience and responsibility of getting herself to and from the newspaper would be invaluable for her. Besides, her six-year-old Honda Accord was paid for. Surely it would survive a few door dings from being in a cramped parking garage.
Megan snatched up another piece of pizza. "I just feel bad taking your car away from you is all."
"I appreciate that you care so much, but it's only for a few months. I've suffered worse hardships in my life, believe me."
Megan rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I know, you had to walk like five miles to school in the snow or something. Right?"
Kate narrowed her eyes. "Very funny." She wadded up her napkin and tossed it at her niece, and they both laughed. Kate turned serious again. "We're clear on the rules? Only driving to and from the paper and no hauling any other kids around?"
Megan cocked her head. "By ‘we,' you mean me?"
Kate felt bad for feeling any need to remind Megan. She had proven in recent years to be responsible and mature beyond her years. "It's not you, sweetie, so much as your friends. I know how persuasive peers can be. I trust you, I hope you know that."
Megan rose from the table with her empty plate, then returned a minute later with the sack from the freezer and spoons. She dropped with a thud and a sigh back into her chair. "Yes, I know," she said, handing Kate a sundae and a spoon. "Can we not have one of those deep conversations now, though?"
"Shutting up now," Kate said, digging into her dessert.
* * *
Tommie rushed into her closet-sized office in the newsroom. She had the info she needed to quickly knock out a bio on the newly signed pitcher for Indiana's only pro ball team, the Carson Cougars. With his addition to the team, this just could be their year to go all the way. She was pleased. Her laptop came to life, beeping to let her know she had new emails. Of course she did. She'd been out most of the day and hadn't turned the computer on once. She preferred to do most of her writing the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. For her the computer was nothing more than a glorified typewriter, a voiceless phone and compact library. She knew, of course, there was more to the thing than that, but she limited her use to only what she absolutely needed it for. She'd met hundreds of people in the under-thirty crowd who lived by their computers. She was an aberration. She'd just as soon type out her stories and toss them in her boss's in-box on her way out the door.
She clicked on the mail icon, watched as her email in-box added one message after another, and then began weeding at the top, clicking delete as each "General Delivery" message was highlighted. After a dozen or so she stopped on one from her boss. It had a time stamp of nine fifteen that morning and was copied to her, the woman who wrote the local entertainment news and some guy listed as "typeset supervisor." Her genial mood dissolved as she read, "Starting three summer interns tomorrow morning from the local high schools." She groaned. "You each will be expected to teach these eager, aspiring young minds the ins and outs of the newspaper reporting business, which shall include all aspects of your individual jobs. Please keep in mind these young people are working for mere peanuts, their main focus being to learn, so do not use them for fetching coffee, lunch, picking up dry cleaning, etc. You get my drift." She read on, but all that registered was "blah, blah, blah…"
She mumbled to herself, "Great, you give us a day's notice that we're going to be babysitting for the summer." She punched hard on the delete button. "Well, we'll just see about that. I've got better things to do than drag around some know-it-all teenager looking for something to fill their summer and their class credits." She'd storm into her editor's office in the morning and have a loud, closed-door meeting with him. As a sixth grader, it had been a pain in the ass being more than a head taller than the rest of the kids her age. Now being tall had definite advantages, especially when it came to dealing with male athletes, coaches and managers—and her runt of a boss.
* * *
Two young gals clinging to each other stumbled into Tommie in the doorway as she entered Lili's Pad an hour later. Reminded of the email that had soured her mood earlier, she slid onto a stool and muttered, "Kids! Parents should lock them in the house until they're thirty." Even as she said it, she realized how ridiculous it sounded. After all, she herself was only twenty-eight.
Jamie slapped down a napkin in front of her. "Unusual seeing you in here during the week. What'll you have?"
"Just a beer. I'm waiting on a carry-out order from next door."
Jamie moved to the cooler. She was well suited for her job, Tommie thought, easy to talk to and definitely easy on the eyes. She always seemed to be wearing something sleeveless to show off her perfectly toned arms, even in the dead of winter when it was only twelve degrees outside.
"So you think the new pitcher is going to take the team all the way this year?"
Tommie took a long pull on the beer, the icy brew cooling her mood as well as her throat. "I think this is the best shot they've had in years. If his arm holds up, his win record speaks for itself. We just might be scrambling for Series tickets this season."
Tommie raised the bottle to her lips, pausing as a hand gripped her shoulder and a warm body pressed against hers.
"Hey, stranger. Did you miss me?"
A tingle flowed through Tommie at the sound of the low sultry voice. She turned to meet eyes dark as night, darker even than her own, and received a quick kiss on the lips.
"'Cause I sure missed you, Tommie Boy."
Tommie had last seen Carly Torres ten months earlier, two days before she left for a temporary assignment with her job in Colorado, and had last been with her a month prior to that. She was, hands down, the best-looking woman Tommie had ever had the pleasure of having. She was built exactly the way a woman should be, in Tommie's opinion—curvy in all the right places. She was sexy hot, doing things to Tommie's body she didn't know could be done.
Jumping off her stool to fully embrace her, Tommie felt pressure against her lower abdomen. Holding Carly at arm's length, she saw she was sporting a bit of a baby bump. "You're not thinking I'm responsible for that, I hope." She cocked her head.
"If you were, would you make an honest woman of me?" Carly batted her long lashes.
Tommie swallowed a big lump in her throat before she could answer. "Ah, you know me—love 'em and leave 'em," she shrugged. "Don't think I'm the settling-down kind, you know." She grabbed her beer, taking a big gulp. "Besides, I'd never sign on for kids," she said, shaking her head. "Just don't care for them much."
Carly squeezed her hand, winking. "Well, I had to give it a shot. Can I join you?"
Tommie glanced at the clock on the wall behind the bar. "Sure, but I've only got a few minutes. My dinner should be ready next door anytime." She offered Carly a hand as she pushed up on the barstool before seating herself again. "I'd offer to buy you a drink, but I'm guessing that's out of the question. Unless Jamie has some milk back there."
Carly patted Tommie's hand. "I'm fine. You're such a sweetheart. I just stopped in to see if there were any familiar faces in here…and here you are."
Carly wouldn't have thought she was so sweet if she'd run into her when she was raging about her idiot boss earlier, thought Tommie. Not that she needed Carly to be thinking kindly about her just now. When she charmed women it was purely for the possibility of sex and that was the last thing Carly's condition made her think of at the moment.
Tommie swigged the last of her beer. "I gotta go, good lookin'."
Carly caught her hand. "Maybe we can get together for dinner and…" She allowed her words to trail off as she gazed seductively at Tommie.
"Uh, sure, call me. I'm still at the paper." She pushed off her stool, but Carly kept hold of her hand.
"You know, just because I'm pregnant doesn't mean I can't still…you know…" She bit her bottom lip while trailing a lacquered nail up Tommie's arm. Tommie felt a warm surge between her thighs, fully aware what "you know" meant.
Knowing she was probably flushing because Jamie was listening intently to their exchange, Tommie leaned over and whispered, "Then call me, and we'll…you know…"
She kissed Carly's cheek lightly, then strolled toward the door, feeling in her underwear the sticky wetness that women like Carly so easily aroused in her. Out on the sidewalk, she cursed herself. "You're like a horny damn dog. I hate dykes with no self-control." She smiled, though, at the thought of the woman who had caused her that loss of control.
* * *
Kate took her cup of chamomile tea to the bathtub and, slipping out of her robe, slid into the steamy, scented water there, her tired muscles giving a silent "ah" as she submerged her body up to her chin. She got her mind to stop whirring for only a few minutes before thoughts of Megan and her impending adventures in the summer intern program crept back in. She was thrilled and proud beyond words that Megan was one of only a few seniors to be accepted in the program. But having grown up in suburbia she worried about her going downtown daily by herself. She told herself to stop worrying. Megan was a smart girl and if she didn't know how to handle herself now, she would quickly learn.
Kate inhaled the soothing scent of bath oils and smoothed her hands over her arms and down her thighs. "Relax," she muttered. "Just relax."
She moved her hands slowly up her stomach and lightly over her breasts, feeling the day's stresses leaving her body. When her fingers reached her pubic hair, she hesitated, but her body was screaming for release. It had been far too long…And far too long since a hand other than her own had pleasured her. She pushed two fingers into the wetness building there, her body twitching in response, even as she struggled with the guilt and embarrassment that giving herself this kind of release gave her.
Bodies shouldn't demand this unless you were with someone that could accommodate their need, she thought. But they did. So every now and then you just had to take matters into your own hands. She reached over the side of the tub, pulled a little submersible vibrator from the folds of the towel on the floor and within minutes achieved an orgasm. She closed her eyes, recalling the last time she had shared this with anyone. Remembering a rare evening out two years ago and a stranger.
* * *
She'd gone out for the evening with three of her fellow nurses after seeing Megan safely off to a sleepover at a girlfriend's house. After dinner at a nice restaurant, the others insisted on going to a strip club—where they promptly went overboard drinking and groping the club's handsome, hard-muscled male dancers. While the whole atmosphere was very arousing for Kate, a male body wasn't what she wanted to touch. When they'd had enough, she poured them into a cab, explaining that she wanted to hang around for another drink. The second their taxi was out of sight, she hailed one for herself and headed to The Underground, the gay bar on the perimeter of downtown. Located there at least since she'd been in college, it was known as the best dance spot for women in a hundred miles. Seating herself at the bar, Kate quickly downed a first drink and was getting started on a second when a woman sidled up and leaned close to be heard over the noise.
"I was going to buy you a drink, but I see you just got one."
Kate turned, appraising her. She was gorgeous and the closeness of her body to Kate's set every nerve in her on fire.
Kate moved until their shoulders touched and said, "You can buy the next one."
The woman's lips curved up in satisfaction. Setting her glass on the bar, she extended her hand to Kate. "It'd be my pleasure. I'm Carly. And you are?"
Feeling the pulse beating between her legs, Kate took the woman's hand. "Kate, and it's a pleasure to meet you."
The woman didn't release Kate's hand but slid her arm across the back of the bar stool Kate was sitting on, pressing herself closer still. In a sultry voice she said, "No, Kate, I'm sure the pleasure is all mine."
Something about the woman was so electrifying and hot, Kate wanted to take the hand that held hers and put it between her legs to relieve the ache. She couldn't believe she was in a bar entertaining the thought of sleeping with a stranger, and yet she was. They made the usual small talk, jobs, music, the current movies. Then they finally danced. One dance led to another, then another drink and more dancing. By the time they made last call, Kate's head was abuzz with alcohol, her body demanding sexual release. This Carly seemed normal enough…safe enough. Or was the alcohol clouding her judgment?
Outside on the sidewalk Carly asked, "So, do you live around here?"
Here comes the awkward part, Kate thought. "South of town, I was just going to get a cab." Somehow they'd never got around to discussing where either of them lived. "How about you?"
She hooked her thumb over her shoulder. "Just a few blocks from here actually. I have a loft on Washington." Kate didn't miss the sexy, inviting look illuminated by the faint glow of the nearby streetlight. "You want to join me for another drink, or do you have someone to rush home to?"
Kate's pulse quickened. "No one, and I'd enjoy another drink."
Carly hooked her arm through Kate's. "Wonderful, let's walk."
They walked mostly in silence, then entered a secure building, riding up six floors. After Carly dropped her keys and jacket on the table inside the door, she helped Kate off with hers in a way that made Kate want to wrestle her to the floor where they stood. She motioned Kate toward the kitchen.
"I'm sure I have beer and wine, but beyond that, I don't know for sure."
Nervously, Kate said, "Wine will be fine."
She yanked open the fridge and pulled out a bottle. "It's white."
Kate gave a nod and Carly poured two glasses. She looked around the open, airy space. The colorful wall art and throw pillows stood out starkly against the muted off-white carpet, furniture and walls. "Your loft is wonderful."
Before Kate knew it, Carly was standing close enough she could feel the heat from her body. "I really like it."
She put the glass in Kate's hand, which she quickly sipped. Then she placed the glass on the counter turning toward Carly.
Carly reached up, touching her painted nails to Kate's cheek. "You have the prettiest blue eyes I think I've ever seen."
Kate tried to suppress her nervousness. "I've…uh…never, uh…"
"You're a virgin?" Carly flashed Kate the same seductive look she'd given her at the bar.
Kate shook her head, feeling the flush creeping up her neck. "No, I've uh…been with women before."
Carly gave a knowing look. "But you've never picked up a woman before just to fuck." Kate's face felt hot, and she reached an all-time high on the nervousness scale. Then Carly said, "It's okay, honey."
Kate slowly brought her eyes up to meet Carly's. "I'm sorry, maybe this is a mistake."
Carly cocked her head. "Why? Because you don't want to?"
"No, I'm not looking for any kind of entanglement. I can't…" Kate lowered her head.
Carly laughed lightly before touching Kate's cheek again. "Oh, honey, don't worry. The word ‘relationship' isn't even in my vocabulary." Kate shuddered when Carly stroked her fingers down her arm. "So tense, like you're ready to pop. Why don't you let me make you scream with pleasure?"
Kate felt like a gangly teenager again trying to have her first sexual encounter. She was ready to scream.
Carly took her hand. "Come on now, I promise I'll be gentle."
Kate allowed herself to be pulled to the bedroom, where Carly slowly undressed her before seductively undressing herself. In the back of her mind, Kate knew how reckless it was, but her body wouldn't let her say "no." It was something extraordinary. When the orgasm hit, she'd never experienced one like it.
* * *
Kate had the vibrator deep inside as her fingers stroked her swollen flesh. She bit her lower lip to stay quiet as she shuddered through an orgasm bigger than the last, then slumped weakly in the cooling water. Tears brimmed in her eyes as she considered what her personal life had become—lonely nights and self-gratification. She wondered if she'd ever be happy and in love again. Feeling more drained than she had when she left the hospital earlier, she pushed herself out of the tub and dried off. Washing her "friend"—no one else took care of her the way it did—she placed it in its case, ready to be secreted in the box in the bottom of her bedroom closet.
When she pulled the door open, she found Megan standing there, fist poised to knock. Kate quickly put the case behind her back, hoping her niece hadn't seen it.
Megan eyed her sheepishly. "Sorry, you were in there so long I was worried you might have fallen asleep and drowned."
Kate reached with her free hand to push errant strands of hair off Megan's face. "I'm fine. I just got caught up in a daydream." She leaned in the doorway so her hidden hand wouldn't be so obvious.
Megan stepped away, then stopped. "You know, you should hook one of those eligible doctors at the hospital so you don't have to work so hard all the time to support us."
Her niece's concern for her own well-being was more than touching. "Sweetie, I promise you that I don't work any harder than anyone else to support us. But I'll put that on my list of things to do."
"Good." Megan turned. "I'm going to bed now, have a big day tomorrow."
"Goodnight, Meggie, sweet dreams." She winced internally at the slip of the childhood nickname she'd used to comfort Megan after her mother died. She should probably quit calling her that, but then again, if she didn't…maybe she'd never grow up.
With a yawn, Megan said, "'Night."