by Catherine Maiorisi
Having been abandoned on her wedding day, bestselling novelist Lily Alexander is understandably cautious about dating again. Wealthy tech entrepreneur and notorious playgirl Robin DiLuca, on the other hand, loves to date. She just doesn’t do commitment.
When beautiful blond Lily and handsome butch Robin lock eyes across a crowded bar, the current flowing between this unlikely pair is more electrifying than anything either has felt before. Thus begins a long and sultry dance that will lead them to the altar and the promise of the perfect future.
But when the premature birth of their baby awakens horrendous secrets from Robin’s long-repressed past, she believes the only way to protect Lily and their daughter is to leave. Her decision devastates both women and all those who love them.
Can Robin’s unexpected encounter with a stranger on a beach be the catalyst for healing these two shattered hearts?
Lily glanced at her phone. Still four o’clock. And she was still here in Micki’s city, in Micki’s church, waiting to become Micki’s wife. But still no Micki.
Her nearest and dearest had gone silent an hour ago. Now they studiously avoided looking at her, even though the incessant tapping of her foot like a metronome marking the minutes was probably driving them crazy. The tension in the room was palpable.
A Christmas wedding. Micki’s dream not hers. After two hours in the stifling room at the back of the church, her lovely white dress was stained with perspiration and dotted with black cinders from the crackling fire. Sickened by the smoke, the smell of pine, and escalating anxiety, her stomach gnawed at itself.
The muted rumble of the ninety-five guests who had been told two hours ago there would be a slight delay drifted in from the church along with Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.” The organist played it over and over as if she didn’t know any other music. Lily glanced at her phone again. She should have heard from Micki by now. Something was seriously wrong.
She jumped when the notes of the wedding march burst from the cell clutched in her hand. Micki’s ring tone. All eyes swiveled to her. She stared at the phone, not sure whether she would be happier to hear Micki had been in an accident or had just forgotten the time. She turned away, seeking a little privacy. “Are you all right?” She spoke softly. She could hear breathing, but Micki didn’t speak. “Micki?” There were voices in the background, but the only words she could make out were “Just do it.” “Is this Micki?”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Lily. I, uh, I can’t get married.”
A chill inched up her spine and splinters of ice cooled her blood. “What? Why?”
Micki plunged ahead. “Everything of mine is out of the apartment, and I left a check for half of the expenses in the kitchen. I’m planning to take the honeymoon trip, so I’ll pay for that. Please apologize for me, tell everyone I’m sorry.”
Not dead. Not injured. Not late. Jilting her. “You’re sorry? That’s it?” The rage bubbled. “Apologize for y’all?” She tried not to yell. “Why the fuck don’t y’all get y’all’s cowardly ass down to y’all’s church and apologize y’all’s self?”
She heard Micki’s sharp intake of breath. “Well, well, the Southern princess can get angry.” Micki hung up.
Stunned, Lily held the phone to her ear as if Micki was still talking. Her already heated face burned with shame. She forced herself to breathe. She would not cry. She would act with dignity. Then she would find Micki and murder her.
After a few minutes of deep breaths, she said “goodbye.” Lowering the phone, she swung around to face her mamas, her sister and brother, her two closest friends from Chicago, and her only New York friend, Annie, the girlfriend of Micki’s best friend Tina. “Micki changed her mind. She doesn’t want to get married.” Ignoring the burst of questions, she handed her veil to her sister Bella, stood, then smoothed the silk of her gown. “I’ll tell everyone.”
Del pulled her into a hug. “Oh, baby, y’all don’t need to face this right now. Let me or Cordy do it.”
“Yes, I do, Mama.” Lily pushed her shoulders back. “I need to face them now or I’ll never be able to.” She met the eyes of each person in the room. “But I intend to tell them and leave without answering any questions or hearing how sorry they are. So I would appreciate all y’all coming out there with me and staying to answer questions after I leave. Annie, I’d like your help getting a cab.” Dry-eyed, she led the angry group into the church.
When she appeared in her flowing white wedding dress with her troop of supporters, the church went silent. “I know everyone has been worried about Micki. So have I. But she’s fine. In fact, she just called to say she’s in good health—”
Lily put her hand up and silenced the outburst of relieved chatter. “But she really called to say she doesn’t want to get married. At least not to me.”
The crowd gasped. A rush of whispers followed. Lily waited stoically for the room to quiet again. “I’m sorry we put all y’all to so much trouble, especially those who flew in from other cities. The reception is paid for, so please go to the restaurant and enjoy dinner and dancing on me and Micki.” She started to leave, then stopped. “Oh, while we’ve been waiting for her, Micki cleared out our apartment. I don’t know what she took, but I’ll return any gifts she left behind. Thank you.”
She gathered her train. Head high, she strode up the aisle to a stunned silence rather than the glorious exit march they’d selected. Annie followed her out and hailed a cab. “How shitty of Micki to do this to you. And where the hell’s Tina been during all this, I’d like to know?” It was freezing, and since they’d expected to travel from place to place in a limousine neither had a coat. Annie wrapped her arms around Lily’s waist, trying to warm them both. “I don’t think you should be alone right now, so if my connection to Micki hasn’t tarnished me, I’d like to come with you.” A cab pulled up. Annie opened the door.
“You’re still shining bright, Annie. But I need to be alone right now. Please tell my mamas and the rest of the wedding party to go to the reception in my place. And I want you all to come to my apartment for breakfast at ten tomorrow morning.” She kissed Annie’s cheek, then slid into the cab, gave the driver her address, and asked him to raise the heat.
Twenty minutes later she arrived at her apartment building. Lewis, the doorman, opened the door of her cab. He’d been smiling and teasing this afternoon when he helped her into the limousine to go to the church. And then he’d probably helped Micki move out. While she was sitting in the rear of the church still thinking she was getting married, he knew Micki was jilting her. Her faced flamed again. Not meeting her eyes, he helped her out of the taxi and walked her to the elevator. It wasn’t until she stepped in that he whispered, “I’m so sorry, Ms. Alexander. What she did was wrong.” With her back to him, she nodded, but she didn’t turn until the doors had closed.
Lily wandered through the apartment. Except for the sound of the train of her wedding grown dragging behind and the heels of her white satin shoes echoing on the parquet floors, it was silent. It felt empty, hollow, like her. The office, her office, looked untouched, as did one of the extra bedrooms. Micki’s queen-size bed, dresser, night tables and lamps were missing from the second extra bedroom. The third bedroom, where the wedding gifts had been stored, was mostly empty except for the suitcase Lily had packed for the honeymoon she wouldn’t be taking. As she suspected, Micki had taken the wedding gifts sent by her friends and family. Good.
In the master bedroom, she touched the empty hangers in the closet as if needing confirmation that Micki’s clothes were gone, then peered into the bathroom. Her cosmetics, her bath gel, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, and powder looked pathetic on the spacious shelves without Micki’s many and various beauty products. Dammit. Micki didn’t even leave her the toothpaste.
A wave of exhaustion hit her without warning. She sat on the bed and struggled to unzip the dress. Thankfully she didn’t have a million tiny buttons to undo by herself. She kicked off her shoes, stood, and stepped out of the dress, then dragged her slips, pantyhose, and bra off. She started to hang the gown then noticed, the stained underarms, the black dots left by the cinders from that damned fireplace, and, ugh, it stank of her sweat, smoke, and pine. She let it fall to the floor. As far as she was concerned, it could go right in the garbage, but she was sure the mamas would want to give it to some needy bride. Feeling a sudden urge to get the stink of her non-wedding off her skin and out of her hair, she stepped into the shower. Under the streaming hot water, she scrubbed herself with her rosemary bath gel, massaged rosemary shampoo and conditioner into her hair, and let the tears come.
Done with washing and crying, she wrapped herself in one of the new large bath towels she’d bought and used a smaller towel to dry her hair. On her way to get something to put on, she pulled a drawer out of Micki’s dresser. Empty. What had she expected? She moved to her dresser and grabbed a pair of warm socks, her most comfy sweatpants and sweatshirt and pulled them on. She ran a comb through her hair, then leaving her wedding stuff in a pile on the floor, she went out to get a drink.
She reached for the brandy, then remembered the Christmas gift she’d bought for Micki, Miss-Only-The-Best-For-Me. A glance at the Christmas tree, dark and sad in the corner by the window, confirmed that her presents for Micki were still piled on the left side, but the right side, where Micki’s presents for her had been, was empty. She tore the wrapping paper off the bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle ‘Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve’ Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 15 years old but hesitated before opening it. Feeding into Micki’s grandiose idea of her worth, she’d spent almost fifteen hundred dollars on this bottle. If she didn’t open it, she could return it. But she’d already spent the money so why not use the best to drown her sorrows.
As she poured a hefty glass of bourbon, it occurred to her that Micki had moved a lot of furniture and other things in a few hours. Where had she taken it? Had she lied about giving up the lease on her apartment? Had she rented a new one? How long had she been planning this? It didn’t seem like a spur of the moment thing. And who was going on the honeymoon with her? She didn’t attempt to stop the tears or the sadness. Oh, Micki, how could you?
Alone in her new city, in her new apartment, on her new sofa facing the windows overlooking Central Park, Lily stared at the lights across the park on the East Side. Her wedding day. Micki was crazy for a Christmas wedding, so she’d sold her apartment in Chicago and at the beginning of December moved into this apartment on Central Park West. She’d loved the apartment the first time they’d seen it, but Micki had balked at buying, saying her money was tied up in the market, so she couldn’t contribute. Was that a clue? Maybe she should have been paying closer attention to Micki. Instead, she’d insisted on using her savings combined with the appreciation on her Chicago apartment to make a hefty down payment. She’d bought it thinking it would be theirs together. Now she would forever associate Christmas and this beautiful apartment with the shame of public rejection.
She sipped her bourbon and thought about the relationship. The friend who introduced them had said Micki was a player who loved the chase. Lily had initially been cool to the idea of dating her, but Micki had been persistent and she was flattered. Once they were seeing each other, she’d suspected Micki was also seeing women in New York, but she never confronted her. She chose, instead, to believe Micki’s professions of love and desire to commit for a lifetime. Her mamas’ coolness toward Micki should have alerted her.
Micki’s parting comment, about the Southern princess feeling anger, offended her. Of course she felt anger. She was angry at the church, wasn’t she? She sipped. And she was always angry when Micki called her “tubby,” then said she was only kidding. So what if she never expressed it? She hated the shouting and distorted faces and the threat of violence. Nothing wrong with keeping the peace. But her anger had passed. Now she felt sad and abandoned, but mostly she felt embarrassed. How could she ever leave the apartment? How could she ever face Lewis and the other doormen? It was probably a good thing that the only New Yorker in her life now was Annie. Annie wouldn’t judge her.
She glanced around. Micki had not only removed all of her furniture, but also some of the new pieces they’d purchased together. Lucky for her, Micki had deferred to her taste in decorating the apartment, or she’d probably be sitting on the floor, surrounded by echoes.
She sniffed and dried her tears. In the short time she’d been here, she’d grown to love this apartment and this vibrant city. She could write anywhere, and there was nothing to draw her back to Chicago. So she’d stay as planned. Being in the same city as her agent and editors was a plus. Speaking of agents, she wondered what Irene had thought of today’s fiasco. She giggled. Her agent believed pain and suffering was grist for the writing mill, so she was probably doing fist pumps right about now.
More to the point, what was she feeling? Was she in shock?
She dug deep, trying to get in touch with her feelings. Hurt. Sad. Teary. Sorry for herself. And mortified at having been so publicly rejected. But mostly she was upset that she’d ignored her doubts and hadn’t trusted her feeling of unease about Micki. She would have to think about why she’d let that happen. But she didn’t feel devastated about losing Micki. She felt…
She stared out the window puzzling over her feelings. Did she really feel relieved? She swirled the expensive bourbon in her glass. Relieved. That’s interesting.
Robin stared at the high-powered businesswoman in her sophisticated suit weeping across the table from her and wondered how they’d come to this point. She knew she’d been clear up front. She always was, but somehow it often ended this way with accusations, tears and pain. The very things she dreaded.
“I’m sorry, Gina. I told you on our first date that I’m into having a good time, not commitment. And you said that’s what you wanted as well.” She handed her handkerchief to Gina and signaled the waiter for the check. This was too intense. It took all her resolve to stay and deal with the woman.
Gina dabbed at her eyes, obviously trying to salvage her eye makeup. “I didn’t plan on falling in love.” Gina blew her nose and glanced at the nearby tables. “This is embarrassing. I’m not usually the one groveling, but won’t you give our relationship a chance?”
“I don’t do relationships. I’m sorry.” She hated this, hurting women, reducing them to begging. She hated feeling their pain. From now on, no more than three dates with anyone unless she sensed the woman was uninvolved. She gripped the table to keep from bolting, but she was desperate to get away. She pulled her phone out. “I’m texting Tanya to bring the car around. She’ll take you home.”
“What about the Christmas party?”
Robin signed the check. “I’m sorry, I’m not feeling very jolly at the moment.” Her phone vibrated. “Tanya is out front. Let’s go.”
She retrieved their coats and helped Gina into hers. She dried Gina’s tears, then handed her into the car. Her eyes met Tanya’s in the rearview mirror. “Please see Ms. Gordon home, Tanya.”
Gina grabbed her arm. “Aren’t you coming?”
“I need to walk. And it’s better if we don’t see each other again, Gina. I’m really sorry that I hurt you.” She pulled away and as she closed the door, Gina burst into tears again. Robin watched the car drive into traffic, then blew out her breath, tucked her hands in her coat pockets, and started walking.
Two hours later she found herself in front of Katie’s brownstone in Greenwich Village. She wasn’t surprised. Katie was her rock and she gravitated toward her whenever she felt needy. She rang the bell and smiled when Katie appeared looking like…oops, like she’d just had sex. “Sorry…am I interrupting anything?”
Katie yawned. “Just postcoital snuggling.” She eyed Robin. “What’s wrong?” She pulled her into the house. “Let me tell Michael you’re here, then we can talk.”
Robin could hear the murmur of voices from the bedroom as she paced in the living room. Not for the first time, she blessed Michael for understanding her relationship with Katie and accepting it. Most men would be jealous.
The television went on in the bedroom. Katie joined her, taking her hand and pulling her down on to the sofa. “Okay, spill. Why do you look like you just lost your last friend?”
Robin rubbed her hand over her face. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.”
Katie grabbed Robin’s other hand and pulled her so they were facing each other. “C’mon, Robin, you know you’re my priority.”
“He knows the score. I told him up front and he’s cool with it.”
“So how come you told him the rules, and he understands and plays by them, yet when I tell women I’m not interested in a relationship, that I’m not into commitment, that I only want to have fun, they nod and smile, then ignore me?”
“Yeah. We had a big scene at the restaurant tonight. God, Katie, I hate hurting people. I feel so bad.” She swiped at the tears. “I don’t know how I can be any clearer.”
Katie pulled her into a hug. “The problem, Rob, is that besides being beautiful inside and out, you are intelligent and witty and playful. Oh, and rich. And though they don’t know it, soon to be even richer. How can any woman resist falling for you?”
“Well, other than the fact that I’m a paragon of strength, I’m also straight, and though I love you, our relationship is different. Maybe if I met you today in all your splendid glory, I would succumb. But I’m not the issue, am I?”
Robin kissed her cheek. “No. But you are the most important woman in my life, and I need you to help me figure out how to deal with this stuff.”
“Do you ever think about settling down, Rob?”
“Occasionally. I sometimes fantasize about falling in love and having a relationship like you and Michael, but I haven’t met anyone I want to be with forever.”
“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong places, dating women who live off their looks like models and starlets, and business executives like Gina who are attracted to your power and money. You need someone with more depth, someone who could match your intelligence and humor and playfulness, someone not interested in your financial statements.”
“You’re the only one I know who fits that description.”
She patted Robin’s cheek. “As unique and wonderful as I am, I’ll bet there’s at least one other out there. Let’s keep our eyes open.”
“I’ve decided I’m not going out with anyone more than three times unless I’m sure they’re not interested in a relationship. What do you think?”
“It’ll solve your immediate problem, but it makes me sad. You deserve so much more, Robin. Do you believe you deserve to love and be loved in a forever way?”
Robin stood and pulled Katie up into a hug. “Thanks. Now go back and snuggle. Give Michael a kiss for me.” She hoped Katie didn’t notice she hadn’t answered the question.
Katie leaned back and glared at her. “Gee, and I thought I just asked whether you deserve a forever relationship?”
She should have known. Katie never missed a thing where she was concerned. She shrugged. “I’ll think about it.”
Katie squeezed her and kissed her temple. “You’re sad. What can I do?”
“What you’ve always done, O Paragon. Let me cry on your shoulder, give me some loving, show me there’s hope, and always be here for me.” She turned to the door. “See you in the office tomorrow.”
As she walked for another hour in the cold to reach her apartment in Battery Park City, Robin considered the question. Did she deserve to love and be loved forever? She wasn’t sure. She wasn’t even sure that was what she wanted. In fact, she spent a lot of time running from women who wanted that with her. Nearing her building, she was brought up short by a sudden realization that she was totally passive when it came to dating. She met the women she dated at various business or gay and lesbian events, and they sought her out. Never the other way around. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d met someone who interested her enough to make her want to pursue her. Maybe in graduate school?
She leaned on the railing and stared out at the Hudson River. If she’d been as passive in her business life as she was in her love life, she’d probably be working as a typist someplace rather than running a multibillion-dollar business. Maybe Katie was wrong about her looking in the wrong places. Maybe the problem was she wasn’t looking.
“I know it’s been three months, Mama, but I’m really not in the mood to date.” She listened. “Uh-huh. Yes, of course I have time to speak to Cordy.” She held a finger up, letting Annie know she would be another minute. “Hey, Mama. You didn’t call to gang up on me, did you?”
She rolled her eyes. “No, Mama. As I told Del, I’ll know when I feel like dating.” She listened again. “No, I’m not wasting time grieving for that fickle female fucker, and yes, I’m feeling better every day. In fact, Annie and I were just discussing going out for dinner and dancing later.” She held the phone away from her ear, laughing. “Tell Del I got the message, no need to yell in the background. I promise I’ll think about dating. Love and kisses to you both.”
She smiled at Annie. “Sorry, Annie, they call me at least once a week and, as you heard, Del is pushing me to start dating. They send their regards.”
“Your mamas are wonderful. And inspiring. I hope someday you and I will find relationships like theirs.” Annie meant it, Lily knew. She’d told Lily that she hadn’t liked Micki much but had tolerated her because she was the best friend of Tina, her girlfriend. Who became her ex-girlfriend after Tina had confessed she knew the night before the wedding that Micki wasn’t going to show and had even helped her move out. Annie had broken up with her in disgust, not wanting to have anything to do with someone who could be so cruel and casual about hurting another human being. Lily was the kind of person she wanted in her life, she’d declared, and they’d become best friends.
“Don’t we all.” Lily ran her fingers through her hair. “They complement each other. Del is all emotion and fire while Cordy is analytic and cool except for her passions—mathematics, music and her family. They believe love and marriage are forever, even though they weren’t legally married until last year.” Her gaze went inward.
Annie frowned. “Why do you suddenly look so pensive? Did talking about your mamas upset you?”
Lily pulled at the lock of hair that she couldn’t keep out of her eyes. “No. Yes, I guess. It just hit me. I never once thought Micki and I would have the kind of relationship they have. It’s what I want for myself yet…I need to think about that. Sorry for disappearing.”
“As long as you’re not avoiding going out. Shazarak, the new place on Third and Eighty-ninth, combines fine dining in the front room with an active bar and a big dance floor in the back. They bring in a DJ at eleven. We could eat, then hang out and dance for a while.” Annie held her eyes. “You do have to start to socialize sometime, Lily. If you’re not comfortable, we can leave.”
“Do you think Micki will be there?” She dreaded running into the woman who had publicly shamed her and had not made even a small gesture toward making amends. “It sounds like a perfect place for sexual conquest.”
Annie ran her fingers through her newly cropped hair. “What the hell, better you hear it from me. Actually, she’s spending a lot of time in Denver now. She just got engaged. Again.”
Lily’s face flamed. “She what? That bitch. I’ll bet she was dating her while we were making wedding plans.” She collapsed into a chair and bent over, her shoulders trembling. From under the cascade of her hair she saw the concern on Annie’s face and realized Annie thought she was crying. She looked up, her face contorted with the laughter now bubbling out from deep inside her, loud and raunchy. Annie stared, confused, and then she convulsed too. Belly laughter can be contagious after all. It seemed like they would never stop, but finally, gasping for air, they smiled at each other. “Are you okay, Lily?”
“Actually, I am. It suddenly struck me funny that I’m so happy she jilted me. Otherwise I’d have wasted years dealing with her sleeping around. Thanks for telling me. You think I should try to warn the new woman?”
Annie shook her head. “If I know Micki, her version of the story makes her the victim. The best way to get revenge is to forget her, get on with your life.”
“You are so right.” She thought about the discussion with her mamas and her last phone call with her agent, Irene. Everyone was pushing her to date. Well, she didn’t know about dating, but she was definitely in the mood for dancing and fun. She’d just be clear with anybody she met that she was looking for fun, not commitment. She no longer trusted herself to read the signals, her own or another woman’s, and she doubted she’d ever be able to commit again. Lily stood. “Let’s do it. But if you meet someone you want to hang out with, don’t worry about me. Depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll stay or come home.”
* * *
Shazarak had delicious food and attentive service. Best of all was the short stroll to the active bar and great dance music. Lily moved with the beat as they made their way through the crowd of mostly women to the bar. She leaned over to speak into Annie’s ear. “Do you want a sauvignon blanc? I’m buying the first round to reward you for bringing me to this wonderful place.” Annie nodded.
When Lily turned back from the bar with Annie’s white and her red, Annie was already dancing. A minute later, a short crew-cut butch wearing a black suit and a red and black plaid bow tie bowed and held her hand out. Lily put the two glasses of wine on the bar and allowed the woman to lead her onto the dance floor. Three dances later she excused herself and joined Annie at the bar. Miraculously their drinks were still there. As she sipped her cabernet, Lily eyed a shapely woman in a red dress, a good dancer who laughed a lot and danced every dance. Just what she was looking for tonight. Here goes. She downed her wine, put the empty glass on the bar, and went to claim her on the dance floor. The woman in red grinned, waved bye to her partner, and moved in concert with Lily. The next dance was a slow one, and they moved together. “Hi, I’m Lily. I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”
“Toni. And, no, she’s a friend. So what brings you here tonight?”
“Dinner and dancing. I’m looking to dance all night and go home alone.”
Toni nodded. “Not looking to get laid?”
“No. So I’ll understand if you want to move on.”
“Is there any chance I could change your mind? I have some pretty good moves.” She wriggled her rear and pulled Lily closer.
“That feels real nice, but I’m a recovering almost-bride. So I’m just looking to dance tonight.”
“I appreciate the heads up. How about we dance until I spot somebody who looks more amenable to what I have planned for later.”
Lily laughed. “Sounds good.”
They moved really well together, and Lily was sorry when Toni danced her to the bar and kissed her cheek. “Thanks, Lily. Maybe another time.”
She turned to order a drink and found herself face to face with a blond butch.
“Hey, lovely lady. Buy you a drink?”
“Sure. But, um, I’m just here to dance and have fun tonight. Nothing later.”
“Thanks for telling me up front, easier on the ego later.” The butch smiled. “Dancing and fun sounds good to me. I’m Frankie, by the way.”
“Well, Frankie, I’d love a drink.” As Frankie placed their order, Lily checked the dance floor. It looked like Annie had hooked up. She was going at it hot and heavy.
Lily and Frankie talked and flirted. It was her first experience with a fast-talking, sophisticated New York lesbian other than Micki, and she was pleased to find she was able to hold her own. They danced almost every dance, and it felt good to lose herself in the music. After a couple of hours, Annie left with the woman she’d met. Frankie claimed an early meeting and left soon after. Lily was not alone for long. An hour before closing, she leaned on the bar waiting for another glass of seltzer. She’d had two glasses of cabernet early in the evening, then switched. If she was sober when she got home in the wee hours, she could sleep late and still get in some work time, but if she got high, she’d be too fuzzy-minded tomorrow to write. She was thinking of leaving when a very warm body pressed her from behind and arms wrapped around her waist.
“I recognize that perfume. So, Ms. Red Dress, you couldn’t score tonight?”
Toni spoke softly in her ear. “No one was as sexy as you, so I waited hoping you missed me enough to change your mind about—”
“I appreciate your persistence and your tempting body, but I’m still only offering dancing and fun.” Lily turned so they were facing each other and gently pushed Toni so there was space between them. “Then I go home alone.”
Toni grabbed Lily’s seltzer, drank some and smiled up at her. “Will I least get a good-night kiss?”
“A friendly one.”
“You drive a hard bargain. Let’s dance.” Toni led Lily onto the floor. They didn’t sit out a single song. The last dance was another slow one. Toni pulled her close. “You sure?”
“Yes. And believe me, I’m doing you a favor because I’m such a mess.”
Toni’s hands moved over Lily’s body, stirring feelings she thought were dead. “Just tonight. No strings.”
The music ended and Lily stepped back. “Sorry, I don’t do no-strings. But thank you, I had a great time. Maybe some other time.” She kissed Toni lightly on the lips and pulled away fast before she could make it something more.
They retrieved their coats and put them on. “Can I give you a lift home?”
Lily put her hands on her hips and grinned. “So what don’t you understand about ‘alone’?”
Toni put her hands up and laughed. “Okay, okay. Got it. Thanks for a great time.”
Toni waited with her until she got into a cab, then kissed her lightly. Lily waved as the taxi pulled away. What a great night. She’d danced almost every dance, been honest with everyone, and, not for lack of invitations, was leaving alone as planned. She could do this. Moving to the music had put her in touch with her body and made her feel sexy again. She’d reclaimed her ability to laugh and play. And any doubts about her attractiveness had been wiped away by the number of women who had come on to her tonight. As the taxi whisked her across Central Park, she vowed to get out more.
Appalled at what she was hearing from two of her senior managers, Robin leaned on the podium in the small auditorium at DiLuca Cooper Technologies International.
“After all we’re the decision-makers, they’re just the workers. It’s logical to limit the number of shares they receive.” Simon scanned the conference room, expecting the other managers to jump on his bandwagon.
“Yes.” Frannie chimed in. “I mean they’re easily replaced, and if we give them too many shares, they’ll probably leave anyway once they cash out.” Frannie frowned and glanced over her shoulder, seeming uneasy with the continued silence.
Robin winced. How had she not noticed that they didn’t really believe in the company’s values? Happily, she, Katie, and Jan held all the stock in DCTI and would distribute stock options as they saw fit when their private company went public. “And how did you two get to be senior managers?”
Simon frowned. “We worked hard, and you thought we added value and could grow the business.”
She took a second to make eye contact with each of the senior managers in the room. “Uh-huh, and we have grown it, and we’ve all been paid extremely well for our work, haven’t we?”
There was a murmur of assent.
“We’ve earned it,” Frannie said.
“Every single employee in this company has earned their salary by working hard and contributing to that growth. Those who didn’t no longer work here. Our philosophy of sharing profits, fostering a team environment, and growing our people has resulted in the highest productivity and the lowest turnover rate in the industry. Right?”
Another murmur of assent. Frannie and Simon looked down.
“If we do what you two are proposing, the IPO will make us,” she waved an arm around the room, “the senior managers, multimillionaires, but the employees will hardly benefit. How fair is that? And what impact will it have on the corporate culture that’s made us so profitable?”
She moved to stand in front of them. “We’re still working out the details with our IPO advisors, but we intend to allocate a substantial number of shares to everyone, not just senior managers.” She looked around the room. “Thanks, everyone, have a good weekend.”
She lowered her voice so only Fran and Simon could hear. “I’m disgusted by your greed.”
“We’ll talk about this privately next week.” She left them open-mouthed and walked back to her office. Jan, her assistant, friend and minor partner, handed her a stack of message slips. “Katie’s meeting ran over, but she confirmed for dinner tonight at your place. Want me to order something sent up?”
Robin nodded. “Italian, please. Don’t forget to have one of your slavies pull all the employee records and the financials I requested.”
“Already in your briefcase, lovey. I confirmed Wanda for the LGBTQ Charity Ball tomorrow night. She expects you to pick her up at seven thirty. So is she a lesbian?”
“Nope. Tall, gorgeous models don’t do it for me. Why do I always have to remind you, men or women, I go for grunge and tats and muscle?”
“Really?” Robin raised her eyebrows. “Remind me again how you got through Human Resources? I distinctly remember telling them to hire lesbians, gays and straights, no bisexuals.”
“Yeah, yeah. Maybe because you never hired me, I just moved in with you and Katie and neither of you asked. This is your fifth date with Wanda. Do I hear wedding bells?”
“If you do, you need an ear doctor.” Robin laughed. “Happily, Wanda doesn’t do commitment.”
“Oh, that actress you met at the opening of her show last week called. Do you want me to set something up?”
“Lorna? Yes, dinner and dancing. There’s a new lesbian restaurant I hear is very good, and they have dancing later in the evening. Shazarak, I think it’s called.”
“I’ll find it. What about that other actress, Donna? Is she still on the roster for events or has she hit the three-date wall?”
“She’s reached her expiration date, and we’ve parted ways.” She grinned. “So if you’re thinking of switching teams, she’s available. You have her number?”
“Hahaha. I appreciate your interest in my love life, boss, but don’t you have work to do on this IPO?”
“I don’t understand why it’s all right for you to poke your nose into my love life, but I can’t do the same.”
Jan stuck her tongue out. “You need me to help you filter the hordes and keep the date tracking spreadsheet updated. But do you need me at this meeting tonight?”
“Yes. Your warped perspective is always helpful. Oh, oh.” Robin noticed Simon and Fran moving down the hall in her direction. “Could you also pull the files of the senior managers in Fran and Simon’s divisions? I’m going to work on the IPO now. Absolutely no interruptions, please.”
Jan’s eyes followed Robin’s glance. “Go. I’ve got this.”