by E. J. Noyes
Jana Fleischer loves her life—wonderful family, best sister in the world, awesome soon to be sister-in-law, fabulous job, and a never-ending stream of men to chew through and spit out. So what if everyone says she’s too picky and she’s never had a real relationship?
When a chance meeting with Brooke Donnelly leaves Jana literally and figuratively off-balance, it doesn’t take long for her initial annoyance to turn into the first sparks of friendship. Jana always thought she was happy with her life, but the more time she spends with Brooke, the more she realizes something is missing. And maybe not just in the friendship department.
But how do you make that leap when you’ve never even considered kissing a woman, and have spent your whole life avoiding romantic commitments? Being brave, taking the first step, and admitting she wants to try to make things work with Brooke is only the beginning. Whether it’s the beginning of a disaster—or everything Jana hadn’t realized she wanted—depends on if Brooke can also be brave enough…
GCLS Goldie Awards
If the Shoe Fits — Winner, Contemporary Romance: Long Novels.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"I have a very long list of books I’d like to write. Most of the list is just a few words of a plot idea: celesbians, fauxmance, enemies to lovers, detective and suspect, ice dancing, Freda Du Faur (Queer Australian mountaineer in early 1900’s—look her up!). There’s also a few gems like: People turn into people they sleep with looks-wise (don’t ask—it was a weird dream I had). On my to-write list was Adult having a lady love realization and now, I can tick that one off. Only 928 more stories to write.
If you’ve read my debut Ask, Tell or its sequel Ask Me Again then you’ll be familiar with one of my favourite supporting characters, Jana Fleischer. AKA queen of serial dating, she who picks apart every man she meets then chews up and spits them out, presumed heterosexual by all…yes, presumed. Record scratch. While I was writing some scenes for Ask Me Again in which Jana lays out (really over the top and laughably picky) reasons for dumping guys it occurred to me that maybe the reason she hasn’t found the right guy, or is so picky, is that…drumroll please…the right person for her isn’t a guy after all, but a gal.
When Jana first nudged me to say “Hey, you know, I might be into a woman” I knew immediately that Sabine and Rebecca, the main characters from Ask, Tell and Ask Me Again, would be in this book, and being able to tie up their story in the background of If the Shoe Fits in such a personally fulfilling way was utterly wonderful. So this one is really a two-for-one deal for me. And for you too." To read more about E. J.'s thoughts please visit Bella Media.
—E. J. Noyes
Pin’s Reviews - The third book in the Ask, Tell series is another great story by E. J. Noyes. The main character is Jana, Sabine's younger sister, and the whole narrative is from her point of view. She is both a really great character and a great person. Noyes did an excellent job with her. If the Shoe Fits is in a way the most entertaining book in the series because of her and her relations with other characters. Kudos to Noyes again and I can not wait to see what she will serve us next. Whatever will be served, I will consume.
Lex Kent’s Reviews - If you want to read a really good romance that will make you feel, don’t pass this book up. If you are a fan of Noyes or a fan of this series, I think you will be really happy after you read this. Although I’m sad to see it end, Noyes gave this fantastic series the ending it deserved.
Bugs Cheeky - If The Shoe Fits was a brilliantly written story about self-discovery, sexual awakening, truth and reconciliation, and living one's true self, ultimately.
This book is a MUST-READ. I'd HIGHLY recommend all fans of romance to read this book, especially if you're already a fan of the previous 2 books, Ask, Tell, and Ask Me Again. Noyes, once again, has hit this out of the park and given us a fully loaded, introspective love story about how love transcends gender, bias, prejudice, labels. Oh, the fun thrills! The laughter! All the emotions, all the feels! READ IT.
Cathie W. - I respect Jana and her unwavering resolution to never settle for less than The One and the ability to connect on a soul-deep level. When that connection becomes glaringly possible in the most unexpected person, it is the communication through superb dialogue and subliminal physical cues that builds a level of dramatic intrigue and burns into erotic moments between them even before their first kiss.
Best Lesfic Reviews - When we pick up an E. J. Noyes book we expect intensity, characters with issues (circumstantial and/or internal), and a romance that builds believably. Considering this is Ask, Tell #3 we expected all of the above layered with epic seriousness. We were pleasantly surprised and totally floored by the humor in addition to what was already expected!
Melina B. - I started this book not having read the rest of the series or any other work by this author. The straight-woman-meets-lesbian story line has been done a million times so my expectations weren't very high—this book completely took me by surprise as one of the best romances I've come across in a long, long time (and I read a lot of them!). The author's writing style is very engaging, dialogue is clearly one of her strongest suits. Despite being written in the first person with only one character's POV, we really get a feel for both of the main characters and their complexities. The leads are both very well developed and the supporting characters are equally multifaceted. I was absolutely blown away by the quality of this book—Brooke and Jana had sizzling chemistry and the slow burn romance was so well written and well-paced. Absolute perfection. I look forward to reading more from this author.
Diane W. - If the Shoe Fits is a remarkably delicious and compelling dramatic story. This story line is packed with seduction, sensuality, charming characters, snappy dialogue, and is bursting with vivid description of many sexually expressive scenes. Moreover, Ms. Noyes' mastery of complex emotions begets this well written story of impulse and the nature of love. The feelings this story evokes will stay with readers long after this book is put down. A highly recommended book to everyone!
Bethany’s K. Reviews - From the very first chapter, this book managed to pull me out of my romance reading rut and left me smiling! Noyes just has a wonderful way with words that feels so natural to me as a reader. I'm not sure why, but I'm always left with the feeling like I lived the book right alongside the characters, or that I could easily be friends with the characters off page. There's just something about her writing style that makes me feel like the characters are three-dimensional, climbing off the pages. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!
The Lesbian Review
…is the third book in the Ask, Tell series and it is a beautiful slow-burn romance with a couple of steamy interludes that will leave you hungry for another sequel with these delightful women. I adore the way this author has portrayed the realistic aspects of relationships and what makes them work because differences and flaws weren’t shown as stumbling blocks. Instead, they were shown as unique personality quirks that made Brooke and Jana all the more endearing to each other…
The picture of my sister and me had a huge smudge mark right across Sabine’s face, which made her look as warped as one of Picasso’s Cubist portraits. I kept a lid on my laughter and focused my attention back on Joseph Weisman who was still trying to make me see reason, as he kept putting it. Jamming the phone between cheek and shoulder, I stretched across the antique solid walnut desk I’d inherited from my mentor and plucked a tissue from the box kept there for clients.
As I wiped the smudge from the glass, I finally interrupted with my best take-no-shit-schoolmistress tone. “Joseph, let’s lose the bullshit. We both know your client won’t get sole custody, so for the hundredth time, whyyyy are you still pushing for it?”
“Jana,” he purred like the sleaze he was. We’d been out a few times before I realized that the arrogant prick attorney façade was no façade. The bastard still thought he could charm me, and he still mispronounced my name. “What can I do to help you see our point of view?”
I cut him off with a flat declaration. “Nothing. Frankly, you’re being sexist and insulting to both my client, and to me because as I’ve told you repeatedly, my name is pronounced Yah-nah. But back to the matter at hand. Aside from the fact he travels constantly for his job, Bradley Denham has anger management issues. He can’t provide a stable or safe environment for his daughters. Honestly, you should consider yourself lucky that visitation is even on the table.”
“And your client’s a lesbian,” Joseph fired back. “Do you really think she’s going to be awarded sole custody?”
A flash of anger heated my neck. Actually, and not that it mattered in the slightest, Michelle Denham was bisexual. But pointing that out wasn’t going to help my case at the moment, though I wanted nothing more than to rant and rave and tell Weisman where to shove his homophobic misogynist views—namely so far up his ass they’d wither and die. Instead, I tamped down my annoyance and smothered him with calm realism. “Oh, the alleged same-sex relationship? That’s flimsy and you know it. There’s been absolutely no proof. I wish you’d give up on this pointless avenue and stop trying to deflect from the facts.”
The word alleged had stuck in my throat. My client’s sexuality had absolutely nothing to do with her excellent parenting ability, but her soon-to-be-ex husband was an asshole and grabbing at anything he could to discredit her. Because that was pretty much the only card he had to play. Every time I cautioned Michelle that she should keep her sexual preferences quiet—at least until I’d wrung everything I could from her husband, and her kids were safely in her custody—I felt like an all-round horrible person. And a fraud.
I knew what keeping secrets like that did to people, having witnessed my sister spend a chunk of her Army career suffering under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, even as she was falling in love with her fiancée slash ex-commanding officer. I saw what hiding Sabine’s sexuality did to her, and there I was telling someone else to hide an essential part of themselves too.
Joseph answered with a grunted, “Whatever.” Such an ineloquent shithead.
Despite his rugged good looks, he had multiple unattractive traits and I mentally slapped my forehead for ever agreeing to go on a date with him. I consoled myself with the reminder that it’d been the nice thing to do because he’d been new in town, and if nothing else—I was a fucking nice person.
I set the now-clean photo back on my desk. “Let’s get back on track here. As outlined, we’re asking for sole custody with generous visitation for your client, providing he keeps up with his child support payments and attends anger management counseling. My client is not at fault here. Among other things, your client committed adultery.” With his twenty-year-old secretary of all things. What an unimaginative cliché. “If it wasn’t for Bradley’s…indiscretion I highly doubt my client would wish to have their marriage annulled.” A sidestep. On our second meeting Michelle had whispered, around her tears, that she was relieved and grateful he’d been caught in his latest affair, giving her an excuse to finally end sixteen years of emotionally abusive married non-bliss.
Joseph’s response was another grunt. Neanderthal. This time I gave myself a mental pat on the back to congratulate myself for never sleeping with or even kissing him. I swung side to side on my chair and executed a perfect slam dunk of tissue into wastebasket. “As I’ve stated numerous times, Michelle Denham wants to keep this out of court and would rather resolve it through mediation because she cares about the effects this divorce is having on her daughters. You’re just wasting everyone’s time and lining your pockets while doing so.” A text from Sabine drew my attention away from his response.
Dinner ordered for 7 under your name x
I glanced at my watch. Shit, almost six thirty. Time to get the hell out of the office for the night. One-handed, I closed my laptop and started packing files into my briefcase. Joseph picked up his droning, until eventually I had to cut him off. Again. “Look. You know I’m right. Think of what losing this case will do for your reputation, and convince your client that mediation is the best way to proceed.”
He sighed. “Fine. But he’s set on having his day in court and I still don’t know why. I’ll put it to him and get back to you.” Just as quickly he executed an about-face back to smarmy prick. “What are you doing now? Want to get a drink?”
“No. Even if it wasn’t a conflict because of our current clients, I really just don’t want to see you socially. Also, I have to help my sister plan her wedding. To another woman. Goodbye, Joseph.” I hung up without waiting for his response.
And if the bastard tried to use something from my personal life, like my sister’s sexuality, against my client? I’d hang him out to dry.
I used my key to unlock the front door of Sabine and Rebecca’s house, calling out their names as I made my way through to the kitchen. Sabine jogged down the stairs, jumped over the last two and landed lightly on the polished wooden floor. “Hey, Jannie.”
“Hey.” I unloaded my briefcase and laptop bag onto the kitchen table and set takeout bags on the counter. “Where’s Bec?”
“Texted twenty minutes ago to tell me she’d just left the hospital. Should be home any time now.” Even if I hadn’t been able to tell from the creases and dark smudges under her eyes, just by listening to her I’d have known she was tired. Her normally husky voice was an octave lower than usual and the wrong side of gravelly. “How was your day?” Before I answered, Sabine pulled me in for a hug. My big sister gave the best hugs, hugging hard with her whole body until she was satisfied, or felt I was, and then with a final extra squeeze she’d release me.
I wrapped my arms around her waist and let my forehead rest against her shoulder. In her embrace, as always, a little of my tension drained away. “Long and frustrating. Judge Lowan hates me and Joseph Weisman is being a complete prick. I’m considering billing Weisman Hours just to make up for the heartburn he gives me every time I have to speak to him. I need the money to pay for peppermints to get rid of the puke taste every time I think about him. Stupid misogynistic, homophobic asshole.”
Sabine released me from the hug but held on to my shoulders. Her eyebrows were raised, a look I knew well. It was the “Are you done?” expression. When I remained silent, the eyebrows dropped, as did the edges of her mouth. “Weisman… Didn’t you date him a few months ago?”
“Before I realized what a douchebag he was, and what a bad idea it was to socialize with someone who might be my opposing counsel, we went out twice because I was feeling charitable,” I clarified, toeing off my pumps. “It wasn’t dating. In fact I wouldn’t even call them dates. Just drinks and bad, boring conversation.”
“Mhmm.” It came out with a look. A look of yeah, right.
“Go away.” I tried to sound menacing, but Sabine’s face made me laugh after the first word was out of my mouth. “Joseph Weisman and I didn’t date because as you know, I don’t date. I go on dates. The distinction is important, Sabs.”
“Yeah yeah.” She grinned, twisting her engagement ring around and around on her finger. Sabine had always been a fidgeter, but I’d noticed that since Bec gave her that ring she’d amped up the fidgets, constantly spinning the ring and moving it along her finger as though reassuring herself it was there.
I shrugged out of my suit jacket and draped it over the back of a chair. “How’s work, Major Pain?” My overachieving Army-surgeon sister had just been promoted, and because it was required of me by sibling law, I used every opportunity to be facetious about it.
In less than eighteen months, Sabs would be done with her contracted seven-year stint in the armed forces and move into a civilian surgeon job, like Bec. Though I’d never say it to her, I was counting down the days until she was done. It was possible, but highly unlikely she’d be recalled to active duty from the Reserves, which meant I could stop spending my life worrying about her deploying again.
I quenched the memory of the weeks I spent with her in this house while she recovered from what we collectively referred to as The Incident. Sabine never shared the full details of what had happened, and probably never would. All I knew was that a vehicle she was in got hit by an exploding rocket-something, a man was killed and my sister was shot. Those details were more than enough for me.
Sabine nodded, still turning the ring. “Same same. I’ll grab you something to wear so you can get out of that suit.” She squeezed my shoulder and strode away, her posture Army-stiff straight.
The garage door began rolling up less than thirty seconds after Sabs went upstairs. She raced back down, tossed a bundle of clothes at me and rushed to meet Rebecca at the door connecting their laundry to the garage. I pulled on the clothes she’d thrown my way, turning up the pant legs. Though Sabine and I looked very much alike—dark eyes, darker hair—she was a good three inches taller.
I left my skirt and silk blouse draped neatly over the chair with my suit jacket. For the past couple of years, I’d been meaning to leave a few changes of clothes in their house but had never gotten around to it. I even had my own bedroom here, in case I ever drank too much to drive home, but something always stopped me from moving in clothing and other essentials. Though I knew neither of them thought it, sometimes I already felt like I imposed enough. The annoying little sister.
I busied myself with the important task of opening a bottle of white as the sound of Sabs and Bec in the laundry talking about their respective days carried through the house. They emerged with their hands brushing each other’s, then split off wordlessly. Bec smiled a warm greeting at me and headed upstairs to shower away her day of trauma surgeries. Yuck.
Sabine came back to the kitchen to pour the wine. “So you had court today?” She poured a full glass for me, then barely a half for herself. With the medication she took to help with the things that lived inside her head, she didn’t like drinking too much.
“Yep and again tomorrow at ten.”
“What’s up with Weisman?” She passed me the overfilled glass.
I drank a grateful mouthful and filled her in while we waited for Bec. Five minutes later, blond hair lying in wet curls against her neck, and still pulling her shirt down over her stomach, Bec brushed past Sabine with a quick cheek kiss and came for me. “Hello, lovely.” She hugged me tight then pulled back, smiling at me. I loved her smile, always bright and genuine, with mischievous dimples.
Rebecca Keane was one of the sweetest people I knew, but underneath lay a person with a steely core, fiercely loyal and very protective of Sabine. Bec was also the only person I’d known who could tame my sister. Not in the way someone tames a wild animal but the way someone knows how to calm an agitated beast, while still allowing them to be themselves. And for that, I would love her forever.
“I missed lunch and I’m dying for a drink,” Bec declared, stealing a sip of Sabine’s wine while she waited for her glass to be filled.
Down the street, a car backfired and Sabine jerked awkwardly, turning toward the window. When she was tired, she was extra jumpy around sudden loud noises. Rebecca subtly placed her hand on my sister’s back, steadying her with the contact. “Ready to eat, sweetheart?” she asked in a low voice.
Sabine closed her eyes and squared her shoulders. I could almost count along with her as she brought herself back to the present. After a few seconds, she rasped, “Mhmm, yeah.”
Bec stretched up to kiss her and gently pulled Sabs to the table. The three of us were quiet for a couple of minutes, sorting out who wanted what and passing containers around. “They lowered my PTSD meds again,” Sabine offered out of nowhere, her voice entirely steady. I knew she’d mentioned it because of what had happened minutes before. She wanted to tell me she was okay without coming out and saying as much.
I exchanged a look with Rebecca, whose expression was impassive, indicating she already knew. “Yeah? How’re you feeling about it?”
“Really good.” Lowering a dosage of meds was probably not a big deal for most, but was a huge one for my sister who set herself impossibly high standards. I often felt like I’d spent my life trying, and failing, to measure myself against her.
“That’s great, Sabbie.”
Bec drank a healthy gulp of wine and sighed, her lips curving into a smile of pure satisfaction before she looked to me. “What’s new, Jana? How’s work?”
“The usual, busy but good. Sometimes annoying. You?”
“Same.” She watched Sabine serve salad onto a plate for her, murmuring her thanks before turning her focus back to me. “How’d that date go last night? An artist wasn’t he?”
Hastily, I swallowed my mouthful and corrected her, “Stage actor. The artist was last month.”
“Are you seeing him again?”
“Nope. Among other things he chews with his mouth open. But I have a second date with the software guy on Friday.”
Sabine snorted, but hastily plastered an interested look on her face when Bec swatted her and told her to behave. I smiled beatifically at my soon-to-be sister-in-law. “Bec, I’m so glad you’re officially going to be my sister.” I jerked a thumb in Sabine’s direction. “I’m thinking of sending this one back for a refund, citing defective sistering.”
Sabs pointed her fork at me. “Hey, don’t blame me for putting the truth in your face. You’re the one who breaks out in hives at the thought of anything approaching double-digits for dating a guy.”
She was right. Almost. I never quite got to hives but I did get antsy after a couple of dates. Even if I liked the guy, there was always something that moved him from my maybe list to my no list. It hadn’t always been like this. Somewhere along the way, looking for Mr. Forever in a never-ending sea of Mr. No Thanks, I seemed to have become a bit commitment phobic. I’d been a champion of casual dating, and sex if the guy was right, for a number of years now. With my busy work life, it suited me just fine.
We chatted about nothing important over dinner, then settled in the den to run through some final details for their end-of-September wedding in just under seven weeks. Wedding wasn’t exactly correct but it was the term we all used. Though same-sex marriage was legal here in D.C., it wasn’t yet legal in Ohio where we’d grown up, and where the ceremony was to be held. Mind boggling that in 2012 we still didn’t have nationwide marriage equality.
Of course, Sabine being Sabine, couldn’t just do the easy thing of getting married here and being done with it. Our aging paternal grandparents weren’t up to traveling, so Sabs and Bec decided to have a garden ceremony at our parents’ place in Ohio so Oma and Opa could be involved, see dresses and all that shit. Then Sabine and Bec would make it legal with a quickie, courthouse marriage as soon as they got back from their not-wedding.
I settled myself on the floor, leaning against the easy chair so I could face them sitting on the couch. Sabine opened her planning notebook. Invites were out and RSVPs returned. All the furniture, marquees, canapés and booze were ordered after numerous back-and-forth with our parents. Flights to Ohio were booked. Everything was pretty much set. Except my dress and matching tie and pocket square for Mitch, Sabine’s best friend and their shared best man.
Sabs tapped her pen against the notebook. “Jannie, you need to go for a final fitting to make sure everything is right.”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll go in a few weeks when things settle at work.”
“We’re W minus forty-seven days. In a few weeks is too late. Especially if it needs altering.”
Bec wisely stayed quiet while my sister and I nitpicked back and forth. Sabine was so anally retentive that sometimes I just liked to antagonize her for the sake of it. In this case, it was harmless because I knew it wouldn’t take long to alter a dress, assuming it even needed it after the last fitting. Which it shouldn’t. I mentally sucked in my stomach. “I know how much time we have. A shitload. There is so much time I could have ten dresses organized by then. And it won’t need altering. It’ll be fine,” I said with affected nonchalance.
Her lips set firmly and I braced myself for an outburst. Instead, I got a quiet, “I’m sorry. I just want it to be perfect.” Sabine held my gaze and her dark eyes, exact copies of my own, were so sweet and earnest that my resolve to be annoying broke away.
“I know, Sabs, and it will be. I promise I’ll go ASAP and get a tie and pocket thing for Mitch too while I’m out.”
“That’d be great, thanks. Now that Mike’s bakery is established, he’s finally stopped working almost twenty-four-seven and Mitch has that goofy don’t want to leave my boyfriend look pretty much all the time.”
Bec laughed softly. “Ah, love.”
Sabine’s mouth lifted into an indolent grin as her eyes settled on me. “Speaking of—”
I cut her off with a sharp, “Nope.”
Rebecca patted Sabine’s knee then stood. “Bathroom,” she explained.
Sabs tilted her head onto the back of the couch to watch her fiancée walk away, a ridiculously happy smile on her lips. Once Bec was out of sight, Sabine moved to top up my wine but I placed my hand over my glass. “You’re not staying tonight?” she asked.
“No, I need to go home and make sure I’m on fire for court tomorrow.”
She filled Bec’s glass instead, then set the empty bottle down on the coffee table. “I don’t mean to be pushy. I just want you to be happy, Jannie. That’s all. I don’t want you to wither away under a pile of work.”
“You’re not pushy. Much.” I stretched out a leg and nudged her calf with my toes. “And I know you just want everyone to be as happy as you are, but I’m content with my harem of casual men.” Even as I said them, those words seemed hollow and I couldn’t quite figure out why.
Our office in one of D.C.’s older Second Empire-style buildings was a ten-minute walk to the courthouse, and unless it was hot enough to make me sweat, or raining enough to be annoying, I generally took advantage of the proximity and walked. After gathering my handbag and briefcase, I popped my head into the filing room. “Belinda! Are you ready to go?”
Belinda, a few months into her summer internship, jumped and spun quickly to face me. She grimaced. “Sorry, Ms. Fleischer, but I can’t. Mr. Weston needs me to find notes from a custody ruling on a case of his from ninety-eight. It’s, uh…urgent?”
I let out an exaggerated groan. “Next time, Gadget.”
“Sure.” Belinda’s return smile was uncertain, and her lack of understanding to my Inspector Gadget cartoon reference made my thirty-five suddenly feel very old. When had that happened?
“When I get back, we’ll do some prep for Denham versus Denham, okay? Try not to drown under boxes in the meantime.”
This time, she nodded vigorously, and I understood her apparent relief at getting a break from trawling through boxes of files. On my way out of the office, I stopped to knock on my associate’s open door. “Will! Can you please stop boring the intern? She’s supposed to sit in on my case and learn some actual court stuff today and you’ve got her digging through boxes of shit from fourteen years ago.”
Will Weston—a tall, salt-and-pepper-haired guy with a smile that could sway the surliest judge—raised both hands. “I know, I’m sorry but I have to get this done before I go away. Unless you want to step in and take it over for me?” Though teasing, his smile still had a touch of charm in it, as though he thought he might persuade me to work on a case for him while he spent a week on a beach in Belize with endless booze and bimbos keeping him company.
“Pass, but thanks,” I said, backing away. “I have more than enough work to keep me busy.” And to intrude into my feeble attempts to have some sort of social life.
“It was worth a shot,” he called after me.
Once the elevator doors closed I studied myself in the mirror. Everything appeared to be in order. Still, I smoothed my bangs, wiped the corner of my mouth with my thumb and pressed nonexistent wrinkles from my skirt and jacket. The small flutter of nerves I always experienced before court arrived right on schedule, and I banished them by reminding myself that not only was I impeccably attired, but also well-prepared and basically just an all-round kickass attorney.
Ego boost success! The nerves had abated by the time the elevator announced its arrival on the ground floor. Still early in the morning, the lobby was only half-filled with other professionals milling around with their coffees and conversations. Walking briskly to the front doors I mentally ran through the case I was about to win for my client, though as my mentor once said—nobody really wins in family law. Except the lawyers.
When I was midway across the marble lobby floor, a woman walking backward and waving at a young suit-clad guy in the coffee shop crossed my path, clearly with no idea that she was about to collide with me. And collide she did, despite my attempt to get out of her way. I scrabbled at her arm, squeaking as my right foot turned over and I almost went down.
The woman spun around, gained control of her about-to-spill coffee—an extra shot nonfat latte judging by the barista’s scrawl—and clasped my bicep to steady me. “Shit! I’m so sorry. Totally my fault.” Her grip tightened, holding me upright while I hopped and tried not to drop my briefcase and handbag.
Straightening, I realized right away that I’d, or rather she’d, just snapped the heel on one of my barely two-week-old shoes. “You broke my heel!” The accusation was louder and bitchier than I’d intended and more than a few people turned to us to see what the fuss was about.
Her face went blank for a moment before panic flashed across her features. Her posture was rigid, as though she wanted to flee and was forcibly holding herself in place. The woman released my arm, clearing her throat before she said, “I did? I’m very sorry.”
I brushed past her second apology with a fuming, “I have a court appearance this morning and now I don’t have any shoes.” Spare blouse and skirt suit in my office closet for those inevitable days when I spilled lunch on myself, but no shoes because who needs spare shoes? Sick of hopping and leaning lopsidedly, I bent down and tugged my heels off, letting them clatter to the floor. “Clearly you don’t have eyes in the back of your head. You should really watch where you’re walking,” I huffed.
“As I said, I’m very sorry,” she repeated. “It was an accident.” The widening of her milk-chocolate eyes enhanced the contriteness of her apology.
Sans three inches of Ferragamo heels, my eyes were level with the woman’s chin and it made me feel at a distinct disadvantage, adding to my discomfort and inability to really push my argument. No point in starting one anyway because as I’d just pointed out, I had to get to court.
I squared my shoulders and thought about the people in my office upstairs who could provide emergency footwear. One man and three women. I immediately ruled Will out, leaving me with Kelly our receptionist-slash-general errands person who was five-foot-nine and probably size ten; Erin our paralegal who was stylish as hell but with tastes leaning toward masculine and therefore not quite what I needed; and Belinda who barely scraped five-two with tiny foot size to match. And there weren’t any suitable shoe stores nearby. I was screwed.
After another quick mental trawl, I decided my only option was to snap the heel from the second shoe and hope for the best. A choked, sighing grunt escaped my mouth. “Absolutely fucking perfect.”
The woman took her time looking me up and down. “What size are you? Shoes,” she amended quickly.
She exhaled. “Great, me too.” The woman slipped out of her two-inch black satin heels and pushed them closer with stocking-clad toes. “Here.”
“I can’t wear your shoes, ” I spluttered. Wearing a stranger’s shoes was way too weird and more than a little gross. Still looking down, I noticed her toenails were a delicate shade of pink to match her fingernails. The color was quite pretty and at another time I might have commented on how nice it was.
The woman bent daintily at the knees and scooped up my heels, hooking her fingers in the backs to let them hang. The broken heel dangled mockingly. “Sure you can, unless you want to appear in court barefoot or hobbling. No athlete’s foot, I swear. I’ve got flats under my desk, so it’s all good.” She was already walking away, backward again. Obviously she wasn’t the type to learn from experience. “Just return those when you’re done…Cinderella.”
I glanced down at the shoes she’d discarded by my feet, then back to her. No choice really. “Where do you work?”
“Third floor. Office directly in front of the elevator. Ask for Brooke.” With that she slipped into the elevator, waving at me with my own shoes.
I stared at her until the elevator doors closed, then snapped into action, slipped into the borrowed heels and rushed out of the building. I’d never been late to court, and I wasn’t about to sully my record because of a ditzy latte-lover who couldn’t watch where she was going.
* * *
Midafternoon, after finishing with court and holding a post-appearance victory meeting with my client, Elise No-Longer-Using-Her-Now-Ex-Husband’s-Surname-of-Harris, I made my way to the third floor to return the admittedly very comfortable borrowed shoes. The office directly in front of the elevators appeared to be a property development firm by the name of Donnelly & Donnelly. The receptionist looked up expectantly at me when I stopped in front of the chest-high counter, resting my hands lightly on the surface.
“Hi, I’m here to see Brooke.”
“Of course, and who may I say is asking for her?”
Shit, she didn’t even know my name. I flashed a sheepish grin. “Cinderella.”
To her credit, the receptionist gave no indication that she was bothered by my cryptic response. She rose from behind the desk, professional smile fixed in place. “Of course, one moment please, and I’ll see where she is.”
I glanced around while she wandered off to find the rightful owner of my current footwear. Behind the reception area, the office was a modernly appointed open plan with offices or conference rooms around the outside. I quickly counted nine doors, three of them open to give me a view of the occupants all working hard, or pretending to.
After thirty seconds the receptionist returned, gesturing that I should follow her. Walking across the plush carpet I had a strange and irrational thought that the employees were all staring at me, like strangers weren’t a common occurrence here. As I stepped into the large corner office, Brooke rose from behind a glass and steel desk that sat at a right angle to a white drafting table and came around to meet me. The door closed behind me with a soft click.
In my annoyance this morning, I hadn’t noticed much aside from her painted toenails, but now she stood before me I took a moment to study her. She wore a dark gray pencil skirt showing off the kind of legs that suggested she was a runner. A long-sleeved pale green blouse complemented her coloring, which was lighter in hair and eyes than me, and whereas I was olive-skinned thanks to Mom’s genes, Brooke was darkly tanned. Apparently she spent time in the sun—the faint highlights in her slightly wavy, shoulder-length cinnamon-brown hair certainly seemed natural. That or she had a very skilled stylist.
Her ears stuck out ever so slightly, but it suited her, and for a moment I was reminded of an actress, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on which one. The pretty face with well-balanced features became even prettier when she smiled at me. It was an attractive smile, warm and genuine and any residual annoyance I’d had about the circumstances of our meeting melted away. She offered her hand. “I suppose I should introduce myself properly instead of with a tackle. I’m Brooke Donnelly.”
I took the outstretched hand, smiling at her joke. “Jana Fleischer.”
Brooke held my hand for a fraction longer than necessary, but instead of feeling like a power play, it felt a little like reluctance to let go. “It’s a pleasure to meet you for real.”