by Kat Jackson
Nicole Callahan is certain she has endured the worst heartbreak possible, and she’s in no hurry to dive back into the tumultuous waters of love. She insists that she’s absolutely fine being alone, but a part of her still wonders…
To Avery Pullman, owner of a flower shop filled with thorns less prickly than her exes, the idea of love is just a disaster waiting to happen. She sees no reason to invite pain in, especially when she’s still tending to fresh wounds on her heart.
Neither expects—nor wants—the tiny spark that ignites the moment their eyes lock. If they get too close to it, they might each have to face an uncomfortable truth—that they’ve never really known true love before. And that might be more terrifying than any heartbreak.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Some book ideas come to me as calm whispers, tendrils of characters and plot sweeping through my mind until they meld together into something I can bring to life.
Other ideas arrive like luminous flames, breaking and entering with a sparking cascade of tinder and urgency. They light fire after fire, igniting a path that refuses to be ignored.
In Bloom is a fire that, even after spilling out of my heart and onto paper, continues to blaze. It’s one, in some ways, I imagine I’ll never quite put out.
As I wrote, I broke my own heart repeatedly. I kept writing until I managed to put it back together.
And so, if you find your heart breaking as you read In Bloom, just keep going: I promise I’ll put it back together."
Women Using Words
In Bloom delves into profound themes with a level of artistry that deserves commendation. Jackson’s narrative skillfully unravels the intricacies of the heart, emphasizing its enduring capacity for hope and resilience. The thoughtful construction of this narrative is marked by compassionate grace. It is raw, tender and remarkable in every way.
Lily M. - In Bloom by Kat Jackson is an incredibly deep and poignant study on love, loss, and healing. The characters, Nicole Callahan and Avery Pullman, are beautifully crafted with depth and authenticity—you can't help but hurt deeply for the pain these two women are going through. Jackson's superb writing skillfully navigates through the complexities of the women's lives and slow burn birth of a deep connection.
Jackson weaves a story that is emotionally thoughtful and mature. The pacing, though deliberately slow, is expertly handled, drawing readers into the intricate web of emotions and experiences that shape Nicole and Avery's journey. …In Bloom is a perfect book for anyone who appreciates a well-written, medium stakes sapphic love story.
The Lesbian Review
All the emotions the author explores are very powerful, full of grief and regret, but I never felt overwhelmed. The author gives a reader two women who are finally beginning to feel a need for some kind of relationship after years of emotional pain, making the story about that and not the falling happily into bed as the end goal. There is understated complexity in the plot and an often gorgeously crafted prose that drew me in.
Shimere A. - …The author's raw and honest writing style adds depth to the story, making it a truly enjoyable read. If you're seeking a whirlwind spicy, instant love story, this isn't it. However, if you appreciate a heartfelt, slow-burning connection between two genuinely deserving individuals, then this is the story for you.
Sam D. - The cover, it’s stunning, I love it. The book is different from many others. It’s a story about grief and dealing with loss. The very physical loss of a loved one dying and the loss of a relationship, the end of a long period of uncertainty. I think this story is told beautifully and I like how each character navigates their loss in their own way. Grief is a weird beast and everyone moves through it in their own way, at their own pace. You can only hope to find some people who’ll support you on that journey. And I think this is exactly the story this book tells.
Reading with Caz - This is not your run of the mill, happy go lucky romance. This story is an intense exploration of grieving, hurting, letting go and trusting again. It’s so beautifully written, it should be front and center on your TBR!
Jessica P. - Wow! This is my first read by this author and I was so impressed. They really knew how to evoke some intense emotions in their writing. This was so much more than a romance. Highly recommend.
Andrea K. - This book was beautifully written. The development of these two characters and their stories, their past trauma, their emotions, their growth and development…it was just incredibly deep. It’s uncommon to read a romance novel and feel so much. This author is incredibly talented with her ability to evoke emotions in the reader as we read along and immerse ourselves in the beautiful connection and growth between these two characters. I’ll read anything this writer puts out there!
Dominique V. - Not a typical book when you're looking for a romance, but I would strongly urge you to read it and actually put it somewhere near the top of your list. Incredibly well written journey of 2 lovely women who have (or are) experiencing grief and who are able to help each other. Kat Jackson manages to really create two women that are written so well you feel they could be one of your friends and I felt for both of them during their journey.
Natalie A. - Such a great story! I loved the characters and the story! The characters were wonderful, and I loved the push and pull between them. I didn’t want to finish this book! It held my attention and my heart loved it so much!
Sam B. - This was my first Kat Jackson book, and it won't be my last. I was unprepared for the depth of story I was offered by Avery and Nicole's romance. If you are a fan of well written, medium stakes sapphic stories of love then this is right up your alley.
Laura G. - …For anyone who hasn't read a book by Kat Jackson, I would strongly encourage you to do so. Her books have a maturity and depth that you won't find in many books, sapphic, or otherwise. Her characters have flaws, they are damaged and realistic. Despite their occasional resistance, they strive for personal growth and do the work to get there. Jackson also has an uncanny ability to bring humor into situations where you wouldn't expect to find it.
Karen C. - These aren't your garden variety beach reads; her books are to be savored and remembered.
Late afternoon sunlight shifted across the pale-green walls in gentle waves. The scent of lavender hung like a perforated cloud, wisps of peppermint sneaking through with every lazy spin of the ceiling fan. A trickle of late winter air, the kind that wants to warm to the oncoming spring but is still tipped with a frost that won’t let go, wound itself around the room, sweeping into corners and swirling idle dust motes into flurries.
Nicole Callahan stood facing the closet doors. Despite the peaceful current dominating the bedroom, her internal tornado was as powerful as ever, yanking her senses one direction, then the next. She’d love nothing more than to take a deep inhale of that spa-like air, let it consume her until she drifted into a serene nap. Hell, she’d even let the window stay cracked even though she ran cold.
Her eyes, betraying her as always, darted over to the bed. The sheets were in total disarray, a cool contrast to the perfectly made bed she’d encountered upon walking into the bedroom. No, she wouldn’t become an icicle if she cocooned herself in that luxurious down comforter. She was familiar enough with that particular bed to know that regardless of how much February air whipped through the room, she’d be perfectly comfortable and warm. Too comfortable, maybe—yet never quite the right kind of comfortable.
Nicole focused her eyes on her shirt, resuming the task of buttoning up. It shouldn’t take that much concentration, but for some ridiculous reason, Nicole inevitably misbuttoned her flannels every damn time. She’d tried watching herself in the mirror, not watching at all, buttoning one and then letting her hands do the rest of the work while her eyes and brain went somewhere else—it all led to the same lopsided result. The only solution was to stare at her fingers as they fumbled their way down the line, one by one, the entire time.
The sound of a fitted sheet being yanked from its corner made Nicole jump the slightest bit. She inhaled deeply, willing the lavender and peppermint to do their soothing and energizing work. (“Soothe the brain enough to energize the will to live,” she’d joked once, and received an unamused eye roll in response; no one got her admittedly dark humor anymore.) She held the therapeutic air in her lungs, and on the exhale, pushed out a “Thanks.”
A snorted laugh bounced back to her. “You can thank me via Venmo.”
Shame rimmed with embarrassment flooded her as she turned to face the other woman in the room. “Excuse me? Since when is that a thing? I’m not—I’m not some kind of whore.”
Another laugh rang through the quiet room, this one less snorted and more amused. Brynn crossed the space between them and stood in front of her.
“Technically, if you’re paying me, that makes me the whore.” Brynn’s deep-brown eyes glittered. Nicole couldn’t help but stare at her smile, which was amused and bright as ever. It was easier than looking her in the eyes at moments like this. “But I was referring to lunch yesterday. You never paid me.”
“Oh,” Nicole breathed, shaking her head. She took a step backward. “Right. Sorry, I’ll do that.” She glanced down, realizing she hadn’t put on her pants yet. “When I find my phone.”
“Poor comedic timing?”
“The worst, Brynn, seriously. Please don’t do an open mic night anytime soon.” Nicole cracked a smile, not caring that it was as lopsided as her misbuttoned shirts. Awkward moment averted. She knew Brynn—she knew what they were doing—and she should have known that was a joke. That day, though, nothing felt funny. She swatted Brynn’s shoulder before grabbing her pants from the floor. “But I guess it was kind of funny, considering.”
“See, I knew you’d get it. You could put your clothes on the chair, you know.”
“You say that every time,” Nicole murmured, pulling her jeans up and zipping them.
“And you never listen.” Brynn laughed again, this one light and carefree.
Nicole sat on the aforementioned chair to put on her socks and shoes. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t get used to this, wouldn’t get complacent or expectant—and definitely wouldn’t get feelings—but after three months of sex-on-demand, she’d come to accept Brynn as part of her life. A needed part of her life. And, if she was being honest, a helpful part. A part she relied on.
“You might want to splash some water on your face before you go,” Brynn said casually as she finished stripping the bed.
Even though Brynn’s back was to her, Nicole nodded politely. Once she was confident the laces of her shoes were tied in such a way that they definitely would not untie themselves, she wordlessly left the bedroom and made her way down the hall to the bathroom. She could never bring herself to use the en suite; it felt too personal. Too real. Too intimate.
Nicole closed the bathroom door behind her. Avoiding her reflection in the too-large mirror, she glanced down to make sure her buttons were snug in their assigned holes. Her fingers drifted down the line slowly, prolonging the moment to avoid facing the music.
Or, more accurately, facing herself. In the mirror.
During the first few weeks, she’d gasped every time. By now, she was accustomed to the angry red blotches scattered across her cheeks. She was used to the paleness hovering beneath the colored spots. Her lips, colorless and bruised all at once.
But she could not get used to the swollen eyes that stared back at her, stripped of their usual lively cornflower blue color. It was like someone came in and suctioned out every bit of life from her eyes, leaving them an icy pale blue, a shade alarmingly close to white. No shield remained to hide the emptiness.
If there was a word that went beyond “empty,” that’s what Nicole felt. Plundered, perhaps. Devoid.
Like her dad once said: “Someone stole your flowers, leaving you an empty vase with legs.” Hank Callahan wasn’t the most philosophical guy, but the day he dropped that on her, she’d stared mutely at her phone for a full two minutes while her dad switched topics and rambled on about the new golf course in his town.
“Vase, vaz,” Nicole said to her reflection. One corner of her mouth lifted while the other seemed to drag down. Don’t think about that now.
The splash of cold water on her face snapped Nicole’s attention away from the enticing edge of a memory. She focused on scrubbing her face, letting the cold numb her.
A few minutes later, she paused outside the bathroom door, listening carefully to deduce Brynn’s location in the house. Running water followed by the snapping sounds of a dog’s ears shaking back and forth cued her to the kitchen, and she walked in that direction.
Brynn was waiting, holding out a glass of water. Nicole took it gratefully, draining it before handing the glass back. Bronx, Brynn’s goofy black Lab-pit bull mix, looked back and forth between them, probably wondering who was going to take him for a walk.
“That was a big one,” Brynn remarked. Her voice was casual, as always, giving Nicole the space to engage or run away.
“Anniversary.” It was one word, eleven letters, five simple syllables, but heavy and strewn with meaning.
Nicole shook her head. “Tomorrow.”
Brynn reached over and patted Nicole’s shoulder. Fifteen minutes ago, she was deep inside of Nicole, her teeth scraping Nicole’s hips as she nudged her into a powerful, limb-tingling orgasm. And now, the extent of their intimacy was a friendly pat on the shoulder—something a near stranger would do. Nicole fought back a giggle.
“What are your plans for tomorrow?”
With a shrug, Nicole picked up her keys from the kitchen counter. She still wanted to giggle. “I haven’t figured that out yet. I’m sure I’ll be okay.”
“Okay,” Brynn echoed, raising her eyebrows. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, try to keep yourself busy.”
“Sage advice.” Nicole grinned, tempering the mood back to light, where she preferred it.
“That’s not why you come here,” Brynn said, teasing. With Bronx trotting at her side, she walked Nicole to the door, opened it for her, and leveled her with a serious look. “I hope tomorrow is really okay for you.”
“Thanks.” Nicole hesitated, and couldn’t help herself. “And thanks.”
Brynn rolled her eyes and shook her head, but the movements were both tinged with amusement. “Stop thanking me. We’re both benefiting from this…arrangement.”
With a nod, Nicole left. There was really nothing more to say—there never was, and she meant that in the kindest way possible.
Once back in her apartment, Nicole headed straight for her bathroom and stripped. She turned the water on as hot as she could stand it and slid the glass door closed behind her.
Time lost meaning as she stood under the stream of steaming water. She glided her hands over her skin, reclaiming her body. Brynn never left any marks, an agreement they’d made after their first encounter left Nicole with pleasurable but ugly bruises on her inner thighs.
Nicole waited under the heady stream for more tears to come, but her eyes remained dry. She was surprised; this part of the ritual usually coaxed out any remaining tears. Brynn’s words filtered through her mind: “That was a big one.” Nicole sighed, resting her forehead against the cool, pristine white tile. Apparently so big that it had completely wrung her out.
As she toweled off, she dared another look in the mirror. Some of the swelling in her eyes had departed, allowing whispers of bright blue to ease back into her irises. They still looked vacant, though. Sad. Glossy, in a strangely pretty way. But sad.
Deciding it was pointless to get dressed, Nicole made her way to her bedroom and crawled under the blanket. Lying on her side, she hugged her knees to her chest. She waited for the pressure in her chest to dissipate, knowing it wouldn’t. Maybe someday, but not today. Grief had a way of digging its claws into the most tender parts of a person’s body, latching on and holding tight, and it had a grip on Nicole that felt everlasting.
Something internal, quiet and annoying as always, compelled her to poke an arm out of her blanket nest long enough to grab her phone from the bedside table. In the shadows beneath the blanket, Nicole scrolled until she reached the app she swore she’d never download, never use, never even entertain. It was Brynn’s fault, actually: they’d had a little too much wine one night a couple weeks ago, and after Nicole cried about being alone forever, she’d gone to the bathroom, leaving her unlocked phone next to Brynn. When she returned, Brynn had a devilish smile on her face. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that Nicole found the app on her phone, the sole icon in a folder titled “Someday You’ll Want This.”
She’d cried again, then, realizing it was true and Brynn was right.
With a huff, Nicole shoved her phone back out of her sacred blanket nest. Someday, probably, but someday wasn’t today.