When We Met
by b soiree
see all disclaimers in Chapter 1
When she called at noon, Benny went ballistic. “For cripe sakes, Lonnie, Angelina’s our best in sales!” he bellowed.
“I know Ben.”
“Why is she there with you, anyway? I thought she was going to the Printing Trade Show in Oakland.”
“She is. She said she just came by here first for moral support or something like that.”
“Well, this has to be fixed. Do whatever it takes. What....ever! Meanwhile, I’ll try to put together a counteroffer that doesn’t freak out the rest of her department.”
Why did Lonnie feel like he was blaming her? “This guy’s offer was double her current salary, Benny.”
She could hear him swearing. “Just keep her happy,” he’d finally snarled. “That’s what management does.” He hung up leaving her wondering just how she was supposed to accomplish that.
The planned dinner was their only hope, and while Lonnie had the clothes to accommodate a dressy evening out, Ruby did not. When she called her sister, Tina had offered a solution. She’d place a call, she told Lonnie, then call back.
Lonnie glanced at the door where the luncheon was being held. People were beginning to wander out. The afternoon session would start soon. Where was Tina’s call? She could still hear Tina’s voice from earlier echoing in her head.
“Mondo nutso, Lonnie,” Tina had admonished, “Your friend doesn’t know much about children, does she? I mean, the Top of the Mark? Come on. Not with a child, for goodness sakes.” She had laughed delightedly. “Suuuuue,” she’d added, “I guess we’ll just have to babysit for you.” Tina had sounded delighted. Lonnie had gratefully accepted...if Ruby approved. They’d talk about it when she got home. Where was Tina’s call?
Interminable minutes later her phone rang. “Hello,” she answered.
“Okay, Chickie Boom, here’s the deal,” Tina cheerfully reported. “I talked to Caroline next door. She says she knows just the place to take Ruby to shop for preowned evening wear. She’ll pick her up at one thirty. That way any adjustments that need to be made can be handled by Ruby tomorrow while you’re in session. You just have to let Ruby know to be ready in,” she paused to look at her watch, “a little less than a half hour. That float your boat?”
“You bet!” Lonnie exclaimed. “Thanks, Sis. I’ll call her right away.”
“Well, hold up there a minute. I know you said you and Ruby wanted to take us to dinner tonight, but how about if we have a barbecue instead? The weather’s nice and I sort of asked Carolyn to bring her family over about six. I said we’d put some burgers on the grill. Sound all right to you? I’ll let you pay for the groceries instead. What do you say?”
“Sure. Swell.” Lonnie wondered what a barbecue for that many people would cost in groceries. She’d looked at her check, and it was generous. Still, groceries for nine--could they afford that plus dinner out at a fancy restaurant the next night? She saw a group of women heading for the rest room. “Okay, I’ll call Ruby right away. Then I’d better hurry. I need to squeak in a bathroom break, and the line’s forming. The afternoon session can’t start without me...I’m today’s guest of honor.”
“Ho!-Guest of Honor no less! Okay, see you tonight, Big Shot.”
“Hardly. Bye, Sis.” Lonnie hung up and quickly dialed her sister’s home number. “Hi, honey,” she replied when Ruby answered. “We have some changes in schedule that just came up...”
A triumphant grin was on Lonnie’s face as she pulled into the driveway. The afternoon session had gone so well that even the man from Chicago had demonstrated shocked amazement then grudging appreciation. His snarky questions had stopped promptly when she’d personally had to show him twice how to make the changes she’d shown the group. She’d even had to slow down her verbal math calculations so he could follow. So! she preened, our shop, top of the heap, duffus--BAR NONE!
She saw smoke rising from the barbecue on the patio then saw John heading out from the kitchen with a plate of hamburger patties and hot dogs to put on the grill. He waved. Johnny came rushing at her from the front door. She put down her briefcase, grabbed the boy’s hands and swung him in a wide circle.
“We’re havin’ hamburgers tonight,” Johnny laughed as his untied boots once again hit the ground. And my friend Melvin is coming.” He wrinkled his nose, “His little sister, Amelia, too.”
“Hamburgers, yum,” Lonnie tweaked his nose. “I’d better go get washed up then. Would you put my briefcase in our bedroom for me, please? Whoops, best tie your shoes, too, pal, before you trip,” she remarked looking down, although the boy’s untied laces barely reached the ground.
“Okay.” He trotted beside her. “Momma says you’re running late, too.” He stopped to dutifully tie his boots.
“Am I?” Lonnie paused beside him then hurried inside where Ruby and Tina were both in the kitchen busily emptying deli boxes into serving dishes. “Hey, Babe,” Lonnie pecked Ruby on the cheek. “Did you find something to wear for tomorrow night?”
“Yes. I found some beautiful things,” Ruby smiled. “The shop Carolyn took me to had all kinds of really nice clothes. She’s a wonderful shopper. They’ll be here soon. Oh, she’s really into genealogy. So talk to her about that, will you, honey? She spends every minute of her free time online with family history. Oh, but first, go get washed up and take the plates and tableware out to the picnic table while we finish this, will you?”
“Sure,” Lonnie stopped at the baby’s car seat on the nook table to kiss the little girl. “Hey, Punkin,” she beamed. “It’s good to get home.” She blew a soft raspberry on the infant’s tummy to the delight of the baby.
Johnny wandered up behind and said something to the infant. Her small face sobered, turned his way then broke into another wide smile combined with joyous kicking. “Johnny can always make her smile,” Ruby marveled. “Did you notice that?”
“That’s cause he’s such a handsome dude,” Lonnie remarked, mussing the boy’s hair. Johnny laughed and ran outside.
Before long the neighbors had wandered over. Johnny and their son, Melvin, were both running around the yard, the small sister Amelia and dog, Brownie, in chase. John stood talking with Carolyn’s husband Michael at the grill while Lonnie, Carolyn, Ruby and Tina carried the last of the offerings to the table.
“Looks good,” Lonnie judged, lifting a cherry tomato and popping it into her mouth as she carried Bethy to the yard. “You eat later, sweetheart,” she whispered to the baby.
“We picked up most of this at the deli,” Carolyn laughed, “on our way home after Tina called and said she was running late and could we please get the groceries for her. Truthfully, I think Ruby’d rather do the cooking herself, though.”
“I would, Carolyn, believe me,” Ruby agreed with a smile. “If I had the time. But I have to agree, they have a very nice deli in that store. This isn’t at all bad for store-bought.”
“Looks fabulous to me,” Tina piped up. “Here I’m the hostess and I didn’t buy the food, cook the food or even pick it up at the grocery store. I don’t even have to cook the burgers. John’s doing that. Now that’s what I call accomplishment.”
“Someplace there’s a slacker in that woman’s family tree, don’t you think?” Carolyn chuckled.
“Oh, don’t start that lame-o genealogy garbage with me,” Tina laughed.
Carolyn held up her hands, “I know, I know, before you say it for the hundredth time, family lines should all be plotted by MAternity, not PAternity, cause...” Tina nodded robotically, “one never knows for certain who the father is.”
“Well, it’s the truth,” Tina sniffed. “They have this whole family crest, family name, generations of family whatever nonsense all wrong. Maternal lines, not paternal lines. Paternal lines are obscure. Maternal lines are accurate. I try to tell everyone, adjust your spectacles, dudes. You can’t miss who the mother is. But the world doesn’t listen.”
“Your sister is a first class feminist, I swear,” Carolyn said to Lonnie.
“Is she?” Lonnie questioned. “I never knew that about you, Tina.”
“Live and learn,” Tina laughed. “C’mon, let’s move into the last of the sun’s rays. We can have cake and coffee inside later when it gets cooler.” She began pulling lounge chairs out. Everyone got themselves seated in the waning sun and began to chat. Soon Bethy was being passed about among the women.
“She’s so precious,” Tina cooed to the little girl in her arms.
“You should have another one,” Carolyn said softly. “Look how wild you are over that sweet little baby girl.”
Tina looked up with a laugh. “I’d pay you good money to be a surrogate mother, Carolyn,” she kidded. “Real good money. Just think, no stretch lines for me, no pain, no swollen feet, no morning sickness, no twenty-two hours of delivery. I can think of a lot of reasons not to have more. Besides,” her eyes went to where her son was playing, “we hit the jackpot with our first one.”
“Everyone does,” Carolyn scoffed.
“Well,” Lonnie agreed. “Johnny IS a great kid.”
“Just like his Dad,” Tina assured. “John, are the burgers ready yet, darlin’?” John nodded and waved the spatula her direction. “Okay, everybody, grab a plate!” she called, “Time to eat.” Then she turned to the other ladies with a wide grin, “There, that should just about handle the rest of my hostess duties.”
“Did you have enough money to cover your new clothes and the groceries, too?” Lonnie quizzed softly as they climbed into bed later that night.
“Yes,” Ruby nodded, whispering, “The clothing was a buy, but with the food it took a bigger chunk than I expected. Deli food isn’t cheap. What we have left has to last the whole trip. How will we afford an expensive dinner tomorrow night, too?”
“Don’t worry, babe. I was given a very generous allowance for expenses,” Lonnie smiled, pointing to the envelope on the bedside table. She pulled out the contents and showed Ruby.
“Oh, my, that is generous.” Worry fell from Ruby’s face.
“I know. I’ll cash it and hold out plenty for tomorrow night. Enough for dinner and drinks. I’ll have to pay for Angelina’s, too, but I think I can get Benny to reimburse us for that. In any case, I’ll hold out enough so we won’t run short.”
“Oh, I’m so glad you got that,” Ruby sighed in relief. “I didn’t want to have to borrow any money from Tina. And I surely didn’t want to tell her we couldn’t afford to pay for the barbecue after all, not with Carolyn driving me all over creation and with everything Tina and John are doing for us. They’re even baby-sitting for nothing.”
Ruby snuggled back against Lonnie. The brunette’s arms wrapped around the blonde as they sat against the headboard. “It was fun tonight, wasn’t it?” Ruby remarked over her shoulder, bringing her eyes back to the nursery’s screen behind which the baby was sleeping.
“Yeah, they’re nice people,” Lonnie agreed. “Tina and Carolyn bicker all the time, but they really like each other. They’re more like sisters than she and I are, I think.”
Ruby thought a minute. “Maybe,” she agreed. A long moment of silence followed. “I didn’t bicker a lot with my sister,” she considered. “She was quite a bit older. Maybe that was it.”
“Where does she live?” Lonnie leaned her cheek on Ruby’s head.
Sadness swept over Ruby’s face. “I...I don’t know for sure. She and her family were in Iowa, last I heard.”
Lonnie’s head lifted, “She’s not talking to you either?” It was so unfair the way Ruby’s family treated her.
“I don’t know, truthfully. I expect my parents wrote to her. So probably she isn’t.” Ruby lifted Lonnie’s hand and traced the palm lines with a finger. “She doesn’t always do what they expect, though. She’s kind of a rebel. She left home as soon as she could. She did come home later when they had to, after her husband lost his job. Then she and her family were gone again. I heard he got a new job in Iowa.”
Lonnie kissed the top of Ruby’s head. “I’ll bet Carolyn could locate them, if you wanted. She seems to love that kind of research. I mean, she found some third cousin twice removed that no one else in her family could find.” Lonnie slipped a hand onto Ruby’s tight tummy and gently rubbed. She glanced into the mirror on the wall to get some hint of Ruby’s thoughts. “Or we could do research ourselves at home...when we have time.”
Ruby stared at Lonnie’s hand, her fingers still softly tracing lines. Her features betrayed no hint of what she was feeling. “Maybe. I might ask Carolyn to look for her.”
Tuesday at the business complex proved arduous. The thin man with the large Adam’s apple knew his business but was painfully shy. Trying to get a presentation from him was worse than trying to herd a dray of squirrels. It wasn’t made any better by the man from Chicago, who bobbed his mirror-shined shoes the poor man’s direction and made snarky remarks at every turn. At each break, more people from the hosting firm found compelling reasons to slip back to their offices.
The afternoon hands-on session was better, although Lonnie’s thoughts were dominated by that night’s dinner. So much was riding on it. She’d called Angelina and left messages saying they’d be there, but hadn’t actually gotten through in person yet. It was beginning to worry her.
She said seven-thirty at the Top of the Mark. So that’s where we’ll be, she decided after her third unsuccessful attempt. She made a point of leaving at the earliest moment. By the time she was headed home, she was in “get there” mode. She wasn’t worrying about anything but getting to the right place on time.
Actually she was running early. Tina and family were not home yet. Ruby and the baby were in the bedroom with the door shut. Lonnie rushed in, saw Ruby in her robe changing the baby’s diaper and gave both a quick kiss. “You’ve bathed already?” she grabbed her clothes that were hanging on the back of the door.
“Hi. You’re early. Yes, I’m done.” Lonnie quickly stepped into the bathroom to run her shower. She heard her sister’s family arrive home as she tested the water temperature.
Three quarters of an hour later Lonnie shrugged into her dressy silver jacket, pulling the sleeves of her black silk shirt down below the cuffs. She dried then brushed her length of black shiny hair flicking it back behind her shoulders before she stepped out of the bathroom door.
The bedroom door opened and out walked Ruby, her blonde, curly hair piled enticingly on her head, her “new” classic black dress hugging her full, shapely breasts, sweeping on past newly toned, lithe curves that gave a full measure of exquisiteness to the trim legs and high heels worn by the petite blonde.
She looked beautifully elegant. An errant thought of unending champagne and exotic vacation escapes flitted through the tall brunette’s mind. Lonnie’s breath caught in her throat. “Gods, Ruby!” she whispered. “You look... fabulous!”
At first puzzled green eyes looked up, followed by a transforming smile. “Thanks,” Ruby carefully placed her simple loop earrings in place. Her make-up was understated but designed to highlight the dazzling emerald green of her eyes. “Do you like it?” She placed her hands on the skirt of the sheath and turned in place.
“It’s...whoa...just unbelievable,” Lonnie replied, vibrant blue eyes not leaving her partner.
Ruby clicked her heels lightly. “The shoes were a perfect match. And they fit. So I got them.” She chuckled, “Didn’t think my tennis shoes would work with this outfit.” She looked down, ”They’re a little higher than I’m used to, though, but I think they’ll do.”
“Oh, yeah,” Lonnie purred. “They’re...oh, man, you’re perfect.”
“Doesn’t she look wonderful?” Tina asked, coming in from the living room, the baby in one arm, a silver lacy shawl dangling from her free hand. ”Here, use my shawl. It’ll work great. And the color will match Lonnie’s jacket.”
From the back Lonnie slipped the shawl gently onto Ruby’s shoulders. Without pause she ran her hands down Ruby’s arms, leaned down, nuzzled then kissed Ruby’s neck, eliciting a tremble from the small blonde. Lonnie felt the tickle of Ruby’s hair on her cheek as she savored the essence of her partner. “You smell really good,” she whispered.
“Lonnie, honey,” Ruby’s face began to glow an embarrassed red. It was one thing to be affectionate in their room, but in front of Lonnie’s sister..especially after the shorts episode... Ruby looked askance at Tina, whose rakish brows were lifting teasingly.
“Okay,” Lonnie soothed, “We’d better go.” Her thoughts went to Angelina and the purpose of the evening, and she tensed. She looked up. Ruby’s such a knockout in her new outfit, if nothing else, Angelina will have to be impressed with my family.
“I remember your instructions, Ruby,” Tina assured. “The pumped milk’s in the fridge, I know how to heat it. We did raise one of our own, you know. And I’m very good at diaper duty.”
“You’ll need to be,” Ruby’s sigh escaped. Of course they knew how to care for an infant. They were diligent, conscientious, careful, loving parents, and Bethy was an easy baby to care for. Still, Ruby felt funny leaving their small daughter here while they drove into San Francisco.
“We’ll call to see how it’s going,” Lonnie affirmed, as much for Ruby’s benefit as Tina’s. She planted a soft kiss on the kicking baby’s forehead. “Be good, little darlin. Momma and Mumsy won’t be too late.”
Ruby placed a kiss on the baby’s cheek and a soft rub on the baby’s tummy, and they were out the door, headed to the rental car and cocktails at the Top of the Mark.
“Think she’ll miss us?” Ruby asked, buckling her seat belt.
“Sure. But she’s awful little. It won’t be traumatic or anything. They love her, they’ll take good care of her while we’re gone, and Johnny will make her smile.”
“Yes,” Ruby assured herself, “She’ll be fine.”
“Tina said to park down here,” Lonnie pulled the car into a spot on the Fisherman’s Wharf Pier. “It’s not too far to walk.” She glanced at her watch. “We have plenty of time to catch the cable car and be there on time.” A nervous smile graced the features of the dark-haired beauty.
Ruby glanced over at the tall brunette and felt her heart do a cartwheel for probably the millionth time. She could pick that gorgeous smile out of any sized crowd anywhere. It always righted her world. Gods, you’re so fantastic. I wish I had you all to myself tonight. Her eyes swept dreamily out to the bay. Here we are in San Francisco, the most romantic place on earth. A soft breeze blew off the water and a flush settled on Ruby’s cheeks.
But, of course, tonight they would not be alone. They’d be meeting Angelina. That was a sobering thought. With a soft sigh Ruby gathered her purse, Lonnie locked the car and they headed out.
It was necessary to slow their pace since Ruby was in higher heels than she was used to. A multitude of turned heads convinced them that they must look their best, although Lonnie felt uneasy, like someone who shouldn’t be was staring at them. Quietly she studied the crowd as they passed, but saw nothing suspicious.
Their timing was perfect. They watched the brakemen turn the jaunty red car with its brass trim. They scrambled aboard with the rest of the crowd when the signal was given. The cable car was surprisingly full for sunset.
“This is such fun,” Ruby’s lopsided smile lit her face as she quickly seated herself.
“You can stand out here, too, if you want, hon,” Lonnie noted. “At one time they didn’t let women on the outside rail like this. But those days are long gone, thank goodness.”
“With these heels, Lonnie, I think it’s best if I sit.” Ruby faced outward, wondering if her hair would be mussed by the breeze, then decided it didn’t matter. She could fix it, if it was.
Lonnie pointed at her own short pumps. “Very stable.” She pressed the leg of her slacks against Ruby’s knee, eliciting a smile from the smaller woman as the car slowly started up the hill.
“Hang on tight, Lonnie,” Ruby worried when the car unexpectedly lurched. Her hand flew out to grab Lonnie’s lapel. Lonnie laughed. Could getting to one’s destination be any more fun?
The night view of the glittering harbor behind them was magical. When they finally climbed down at the crest of Nob Hill, Ruby’s eyes grew in size as they approached the well-lit hotel entrance. Three spotlighted glass overhangs added emphasis to doorways that rose at least two stories high, while red carpeting on the stairs added a perfect touch of elegance. A limousine had just dropped off their customers, who were now inside strolling towards the hotel desk. Ruby wondered if they were famous.
The blonde smiled uncertainly at the doorman who hurriedly opened the door for them. Lonnie watched Ruby taking in the sights--the busy ambience of the main desk, white uniforms gliding among bamboo furniture, a nearby bellboy busily loading luggage onto his brass cart near the curved fronds of a tropical palm.
“The 19th floor Top of the Mark Sky Bar please,” Lonnie said to the doorman. He directed them to the correct elevator.
“Wow,” Ruby breathed, “I’ve never been in a hotel this nice.” Lonnie smiled and winked. Their ride to the sky-bar took little time.
Seated catty-corner at a small window table on the perimeter of the lounge, Ruby was spellbound. The soaring views of the city lay around them. At their feet the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz burst into view in the clear evening sky. It was simply spectacular.
The bar at the far side of the room was surprisingly busy for a week night as the pianist prepared his repertoire of romantic songs for the evening’s gig. How could a simple Tuesday night in San Francisco seem so magnificent?
Ruby felt funny without the baby in her arms. To distract herself she studied her tall, unbelievably striking partner in the subdued light. Lonnie’s best feature, she decided, were those spellbinding blue eyes of hers and her long black lashes. They certainly made Ruby’s heart sit up and take notice. How could anyone resist them? The tailored line of the brunette’s silver blazer over her black silk shirt and black slacks also highlighted a long, dazzlingly toned figure. Would studying her partner always send a shiver of arousal through her as it did now, Ruby wondered? Yet there was worry clouding Lonnie’s blue eyes that bothered the small blonde.
“What would you like to drink, hon?” Lonnie asked. She checked her watch. She’d heard Angelina tended to be one of those people who always arrived at places early.
“Nothing alcoholic,” Ruby reminded. She was nursing after all.
Calling the waiter, Lonnie ordered a stirred, not shaken, martini from the list of 100 for herself and a Shirley Temple for Ruby. Lonnie could feel others eyes on them, appreciative eyes. She smiled. Of course they’d look, she was with the most breathtaking woman in the room, the woman who owned her heart. She wondered how impressed Angelina would be when she met Ruby. The brunette just knew the supersaleslady would be blown away with how fabulous Ruby looked.
Lonnie’s eyes searched again for the redhead. She didn’t take particular note of the man with the shaggy hair at the bar with his back to them. He kept his gaze on the window away from their direction, watching their table from its reflection in the glass.
In a very short time a bowing waiter arrived with their drinks. Lonnie twirled hers nervously when he left, her eyes scouring the elevators, willing them to open. Finally she shrugged. “I guess Angelina’s running late for her, but she still has a few minutes before she’s officially late.”
Ruby nodded and sipped her drink. “Um, good. You’re sure there’s no alcohol in this?” Again she fervently wished they could be there alone enjoying the most infatuating ambiance she’d ever experienced in her life, but Angelina was important to Lonnie’s job, so Ruby waited patiently keeping at bay the fairly hefty flutter of butterflies in her stomach.
“Yes. It’s alcohol free--or it better be, anyway.” Lonnie took a quick sip of the beverage Ruby pushed her way. “Yeah, alcohol free. But good.”
The blonde nodded. It was good. In blue eyes she saw Lonnie’s concern about the man from Chicago’s offer to Angelina. And she knew Benny had been very upset and had told Lonnie to do whatever it took to keep Angelina on board while he tried to secure a good financial counteroffer. Now it was Ruby’s job to help out the situation, but what might that entail? She swallowed to keep down the amazing romp of tummy otters she felt must be playing in her belly.
Suddenly Lonnie’s cell phone rang and the tall beauty answered quickly, her voice as muted as she could make it. “Angelina? Hi. We’re here waiting.” Ruby watched her quizzically. “You did?” Lonnie’s smile faded. “Uh, yes they asked us to turn them off during the meeting. You can’t? Oh, uh, sure. No, no. Hey, don’t worry about it. Where? Yeah, okay. No, we’re fine. All right. Do you want me to call....you’ll call me? Sure. Yes, we will. We’ll have a great time. Those things happen. Don’t worry about it, Angelina.”
Lonnie felt like she was sinking. Everything had led up to this moment and now... She wanted to plead with Angelina again to give them a chance to counteroffer, but decided she’d said that enough already. She tried to make her voice cheerful, “Talk to you later, then. No problem. You, too. Bye.” Lonnie chewed her lip. Benny would understand, wouldn’t he? Yeah, right. She sighed. As if. She sat back and blew a breath out in frustration. No, she knew her boss. Benny was definitely going to have a cow.
Angelina Osborn snapped her cell phone closed and slipped it into her purse. She’d heard the disappointment in Lonnie’s voice and in a perverse way it pleased her. She could make it up to the beauty later. The redhead looked over at the man across from her. He went through the ritual of lighting a cigar while self-satisfaction rolled off him in waves.
She wanted to dislike him intensely, but she’d worked with difficult men before, he was not exceptional. A relationship filled with Sturm and Drang, sure, but the day before he’d made her an offer she’d found near impossible to refuse, and at the last minute he’d followed it up with a dinner offer for tonight he knew should seal the deal. The man from Chicago was playing hardball. And obviously he was unfamiliar with taking “no” for an answer.
He hadn’t apologized for his last minute call that overruled any other plans she might have made for the evening. She doubted he ever apologized. And he hadn’t had to in this instance. She understood the status of the company she was keeping this evening and appreciated the opportunity to dine at this ultra trendy San Francisco restaurant where meals began at just under two hundred bucks a pop and party reservations couldn’t be had unless your name was well known to the owners. That was priceless in her business. The higher the class of people she knew in the sales world, the bigger and better the sales. The better the sales, the better her future.
“The Senator and his party will be here any minute,” the man began through a cloud of smoke. “Waiter,” he snapped his fingers. “Another drink for the lady.” She had barely touched her first drink. “And keep them coming,” he demanded.
“You’ll not get me drunk, Arthur. I told you I don’t do that kind of thing.” Angelina said. She’d outlined her rules, but wasn’t sure he’d paid attention. He’d better have, she decided, after all, I haven’t said definitely that I’d come to work for him yet.
He gave a deep rolling laugh. “Not in my game plan, my dear. You’re a fascinating redhead, you look great on my arm, but your honor is quite safe this evening.” Then his voice dropped to a growl, “Take your lead from the Senator’s point man,” he advised. “He’ll order the drinks. If the Senator’s drinking heavily, match him. I don’t care if you pour the contents in the plants, just keep up. He hates thinking people are looking down on him for drinking too much.”
“It’s your tab,” she raised a brow. If he wanted to spend untold amounts on drinks she threw away, what business was it of hers? She wondered how many thousands his tab might end up running tonight. She chuckled. It certainly wasn’t anything she could ever envision Benny doing. Nor would Benny ever be given the budget to consider doing something like this. That thought was ludicrous. Still, Lonnie worked there, and that said something for the place. That tall eyeful was charmingly naive, perhaps, but sui generis. Oh, definitely, one of a kind. A fabulous catch. She’d call the beauty tomorrow.
The man laughed. “Yeah. My dime. By the way, the fois gras is beyond reproach here, if you like that kinda crap. I’m a steak and potatoes kinda guy myself. Oh, and the Senator’s wife--she’s a real lush. Her family’s old money from Chicago. Hubby’s on all the right commissions. The other guests will be corporate power behind the throne. I think you’ll find them entertaining. Play your cards right and you just might get an invite to some of the most important cocktail soirees this season.”
He spoke as though she were on her own with this group, that he was merely there to make introductions. But she knew he had to have heavy business dealings going on. Having her with him--she was competition after all--could be risky until she committed to his offer. Yet she saw not a whit of worry from him in that regard. It rankled her. He was entirely too sure of himself. Yet...
Angelina raised a brow and sipped her drink. Old money from Chicago, power players from the nation’s capital and a southern Senator. Yeah, she could spend an evening having dinner with them, even if it meant passing up an evening with the beautiful brunette. She’d smooth everything out with Lonnie--tomorrow.
“Uh, she can’t make it,” Lonnie said, looking slightly lost. Benny would be livid. “Something unexpected came up, she said.”
“Oh, yes?” Ruby let out a silent breath of relief, then felt guilty for it. She saw worry but mostly puzzlement in Lonnie’s eyes. Ruby flashed an alluring smile, “Good. Then I have you all to myself tonight, Lonnie.” The blonde felt an unsuspecting wave of desire crash over herself as she took in the familiar strength and beauty of her partner.
Lonnie looked at her companion, aware again how unbelievably stunning she looked. The brunette’s disappointment drained away. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to touch, to caress this woman she loved. “I’m all yours.” Lonnie beamed. She felt the small wad of money she’d put in her pocket to handle tonight’s dinner. They would have a very good time--unlimited, just the two of them.
“Are we going to eat here?” Ruby wondered, looking around.
“Appetizers, if you want. But Angelina said she made reservations for us at a great little place on Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s one of her favorites.“ Lonnie looked at her watch. “We have about an hour. She can’t meet us there, either. I guess I’d better call and tell them our group’s down to two.”
Ruby took on as sophisticated an aura as she could manage, “Dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf....I don’t think I want to ruin my dinner with an appetizer. After you phone, let’s enjoy the view and these fantastic drinks.”
Lonnie made the call then leaned forward across the corner of the table. Her hands moved to gently cover Ruby’s. Time enough to worry about Angelina and Benny tomorrow. Tonight she had this heart-stopping woman all to herself.
Oh, honey... Shyly and with a look of deep apology, Ruby self-consciously slid her hands off the table and into her lap. Public displays were so extremely hard for her. She wished they weren’t. Normally Lonnie was none too fond of them herself, especially after Cheryl. Large apologetic green eyes rose to meet Lonnie’s.
Lonnie smiled with understanding. “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world, Ruby,” she said softly, lifting an elegant, long-fingered hand to her drink. “And I am extremely honored to be the one you’ve chosen.” She maneuvered her ring finger to spotlight the band the blonde had given her.
Ruby’s return smile was full and filled with utter devotion as she turned the ring on her own finger with her thumb.
You’re an amazing woman, Ruby Shaeker. Lonnie sipped her drink and studied her partner. Her eyes roamed from the beguilingly full swell of breasts held with more than normal cleavage against the top of the blonde’s new black dress, a testament to the fact that she was a nursing mother, to the smooth peach-colored almost bare shoulders, trim arms and stately neck up to a face from which the most gentle almost imperceptibly valiant thrust of jaw appeared. After all that’s happened, you still make me feel overwhelmingly special when you look at me that way, like I’m your choice, your one and only, and no one else holds the slightest interest for you. Thank heavens. Gods, I’m so lucky!
Green eyes fluttered. A tender smile parted Ruby’s lips. Pride filled Lonnie’s chest. You are so beautiful. And I’m forever thankful that when we’re alone you come to me so willingly. All things considered, that might not have been the case. It might have been that sexual expression had become impossible for you. That would have been understandable, and certainly we’d have dealt with it. But thankfully, it’s not the case.
Ruby’s hair was piled enticingly on her head, adding glamour and height to her bearing. She was naturally short, but was skilled at camouflaging that fact. No matter her real height, in Lonnie’s eyes this small blonde was ten feet tall with bravery. Thrust into the world on her own, scorned by family and friends, bearing a child and all that had entailed after such a vicious physical attack. How do you do it, my love? How do you smile and move on with your life as well as you have? How do you welcome me with open arms like you always do? How are you able to deal with it all?
Lonnie knew Ruby had her fears, her panic attacks. There was no question she had been seriously traumatized by the rape, had suffered physically as well as psychologically and emotionally. Still for the most part she’d managed to separate that out. She certainly hadn’t let any of it affect the budding, intimate side of their relationship. Ruby wasn’t overtly flirty, probably never had been, but she didn’t shy away from their lovemaking either. And that was its own blessing.
I will love you forever, Ruby Shaeker. Lonnie sipped her drink, her thoughts whirling. They went back to the rape. Maybe being drugged before the attack, not having a memory of the actual assault itself, that created its own problems of course, but maybe that makes it...hmm, not necessarily easier but less complicated maybe...less troublesome separating that brutal event from.... from us, from the love we share for each other. Maybe that’s it. Lonnie swallowed her sip. Whatever it is, you handle it amazingly well. Most of the time, anyway. And I certainly can’t doubt that marvelous twinkle you have in your eye right now. She caught her breath at the look Ruby was giving her. Oh, yeah! I recognize that look.
“To us, honey,” Lonnie toasted, swallowing hard. Ruby lifted her glass, they touched with a soft clink then sipped to seal the thoughts. “And to our wonderful daughter, Bethy. I don’t know what I’d do without either of you.” You have no idea how I count on you two being there. I’d be so lost without you. I love you both so.
“Bethy,” Ruby agreed, wondering again if the baby was all right. Another touch of glasses and a small sip. “Remember when we met?” the blonde ruminated as she lowered her glass, “ I think I knew even then that we’d end up together. Well, I didn’t, of course. I hoped we would. But somehow there’s always been a feeling since I met you...I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Like we belong together,” Lonnie suggested.
“Yes. That’s it,” Ruby agreed, her green eyes sparkling. “Now here we are, this exotic city, this bewitching night...” She looked around the dimly lit room at the other tables. People were involved in their own little microcosms while the glittering night lights created a sparkling, enchanted world beyond the glass. It felt glamorous. She felt glamorous. “All this feels almost like a..a honeymoon, doesn’t it?” she sighed. At least it was as close to any perfect honeymoon as she’d ever imagined--a romantic setting, a stunning view and the person she loved directly adjacent.
“You’re right, babe,” Lonnie agreed. “The honeymoon we didn’t have time for before.”
The piano man began playing and singing a romantic song by Taylor Dayne. Both found themselves singing softly to the music, the view forgotten, their eyes delving deeply into the other’s, losing themselves. The song seemed to articulate exactly what they were feeling. Ruby’s skin tingled as she stilled her voice and listened instead to Lonnie’s soft alto voice crooning just to her. Oh, this song was meant just for them.
When the music faded away, Lonnie leaned across the table corner and pressed a quick, soft kiss on a startled Ruby’s lips. “For now and for always,” she whispered before settling back into her chair. She let her trousered leg brush up against Ruby’s, settling into a slow, suggestive rub.
Though surprised, Ruby hadn’t recoiled. The kiss had dazed her, but she hadn’t pulled away. “Always,” she repeated, green eyes not leaving blue. Under the table she pressed her own leg closer to Lonnie’s.
The piano man’s voice began to sing the song made famous by Tony Bennett about leaving one’s heart in San Franciso. Lonnie took Ruby’s hand across the table, gently caressing it with her fingers. “You are my life, Ruby,” the brunette murmured, watching Ruby nervously keep her hand in Lonnie’s.
Ruby licked her lips. “And you, mine,” she replied huskily. It was long moments before she slowly withdrew her fingers.
One thing Lonnie knew for certain, Ruby did not make promises she ever intended to break. And she had promised herself to Lonnie. It would be up to Lonnie to be worthy of that trust. Silently she vowed on her soul to be more than worthy--every day of her life and through the ends of time. She would be true to both of them, mother and daughter, her family.
Isn’t it funny, she thought, I never even realized that I wanted a family. Now in quiet moments when Ruby wasn’t watching, Lonnie sometimes felt silent tears slip down her cheeks at the miracle of it all. I don’t think it would be possible for me to survive without them. Not now.
“I love you,” Ruby mouthed silently.
“Love you, too, babe,” Lonnie replied, slipping her foot from her shoe to gently caress Ruby’s ankle and foot.
They remained engrossed until Lonnie glanced at her watch and noticed it was late, and they had to hurry. Quickly they downed their drinks, she slipped on her shoe, they called home to give the change in plans, left the new restaurant number and saw how Bethy was doing. Tina reported that the baby was doing just fine. All was well.
Getting Ruby’s wrap centered around her shoulders, Lonnie’s eyes did a quick check of the room. There it was again, that strange, uneasy feeling she’d had when they were walking. What is it? Another quick survey of the room showed no problems. Strange. Not mentioning it, she headed Ruby toward the elevators.
Leaning against Lonnie, the brunette felt Ruby’s smaller hand move against hers till their fingers mingled. Delighted, Lonnie tightened her hand around the blonde’s in a firm grip. Warmth spread through both of them. They stood in the elevator, leaning against each other, hand in hand as it descended to the street level far below. A honeymoon in San Francisco. How magical was that?
The man threw down some bills and caught the next elevator down. On the street he watched them climbing into a cable car. He stepped behind a pillar, opened his phone and dialed, “Found ‘em,” he growled, then snapped it shut. “Fucking dykes,” he muttered to himself. “Taxi,” he called when the cable car left.
The Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant was right on the dock, and their table was exceptional. They didn’t see the man move into the dark recess to the closed building down the way. They perused the menu looking over the fascinating entrees.
“We’re on the water, I think I should get seafood,” Ruby mused, trying to decide. There were so many exotic choices. Soft green eyes looked up to blue and the restaurant faded from Lonnie’s vision. Gods, those lips. I want to kiss you so badly, the brunette sighed. She saw Ruby’s perfect lips moving, then realized she’d been asked a question. “Huh?”
“I asked what you’re going to order,” Ruby tilted her head slightly. Are you all right, honey?
Brought back to her surroundings, Lonnie blinked rapidly. “Oh, uh, I thought I’d get the filet.” She hid her embarrassment by encouraging Ruby to try the new chef’s special Shellfish Bouillabaisse, which she did. A large bib was tied around a laughing, embarrassed blond’s neck before a steaming soup tureen was placed on a large platter before her. An extra pile of cloth napkins was placed beside it.
A glance out their window showed few shadowy figures on the street or the dimly lit dock. Though they didn’t notice, even the dark doorway was now empty.
Lonnie watched with delight as Ruby dipped one new culinary sea treasure after another, still in the shell, out of the tureen’s hearty red sauce. It made a mess of both the blonde’s fingers and silverware as the shells were lifted to the edge of her platter where the meats were extracted by fork from their hard coverings and eaten by a very appreciative blonde.
“Shtop,” Ruby slurped up some clam meat, wiped her mouth with her napkin and protested laughingly as Lonnie snapped pictures. When the silverware became too sauce-covered to bother with, Ruby resorted to her fingers to tilt red-drenched oyster shells to her lips and let oysters and sauce slide inside.
“Oh, these are good!” she grinned at Lonnie, who watched in amazement as Ruby wiped her fingers. The pile of clean napkins was depleting rapidly. More pictures were taken.
A car drove into the parking area, finding a place far from where their vehicle had been parked hours before. The same man killed the lights, stilled the engine, raised a long-lensed camera to his eye, focused on their table and began to snap pictures.
Some seafood meats were shared with Lonnie. There was even crab that had to be cracked, though it was also in the red sauce, shell and all. Ruby laughed as she cracked the shell with the metal crackers, exploding bits of sauce everywhere. She dabbed at them with a napkin, then with sticky fingers she fed some sticky crab meat to a waiting Lonnie, who grabbed pieces with her lips and slurped them into her mouth.
“This IS delicious! But crimony, they’re going to have to bring us bath towels after this,” Lonnie laughed, wiping her own gloppy fingers on her napkin. Her excellent steak was also shared, and neither could remember ever having had so much fun at a meal.
They cleaned up with a large plate of hot, steaming wet hand towels sprinkled with fresh lemon slices. Then they snapped pictures of each other and the residue of their meals before Ruby removed her sauce spattered bib. “Good thing I had this on.” She took a wet towel and rubbed at a tiny red spot on her dress. It came out. “Got it,” she said, relieved. She checked, but saw no more. Her bib had worked well.
When the lights were dimmed even more and a flaming dessert was brought to their table by a widely grinning waiter, they considered their culinary experience more than complete.
Full and happy, finally laughing their way out into the cool harbor air, Ruby pulled her shawl around her shoulders and shivered.
“Here, let’s hurry to the car,” Lonnie suggested, taking off her fancy blazer and draping it around the small blonde’s shoulders. “It’s just down here.” Once in the car, they both shivered and rubbed their hands until the heater began pumping out heated air.
Reluctant to end the evening, Lonnie drove them up and over the near hills, searching till at last she found a semi-darkened parking space on a quiet side street. Though perhaps mediocre by day, the night view of the city on the nearby hill was delightful. On an adjoining street, the man angled his car into a spot, flicked off the lights and cast a vitriolic glare their direction.
Holding hands, the two women silently watched the lights of city traffic. This is so bewitching, Ruby glanced over to meet deepening blue eyes turned her way. Lonnie hid nothing in that look. Oh, gods! Ruby’s heart swooned as the tall woman, not breaking eye contact, silently slid across the bench seat, a strong arm moving around the blonde’s shoulders, drawing her closer. The air shimmered with the mingled anticipation of the two lovers. Ruby felt a stirring deep within her groin. They embraced and within minutes found themselves necking in the car like a couple of teenagers.
“Cocka-fuckin-mamie!” the man growled. Though dark, what was happening could be made out from the shadows. “Putas.” The man focused his camera and again began to click away.
Ruby came up for air long enough to suggest that they check on Bethy again, and so they did. The baby was still fine. Lonnie took the phone. “We’ll be home soon,” she reconfirmed to Tina’s laughter before hanging up and refolding her arms around the blonde. “Want a cup of coffee to top off the night?” Alcohol was out. She leaned down for a quick kiss.
“Mmm,” Ruby broke the kiss, brushed her cheek against Lonnie’s shoulder while deeply inhaling a scent of what was uniquely the brunette and her perfume. “How ‘bout hot chocolate instead?” she suggested. It was as far off course as she dared go. Chocolate wasn’t outlawed, exactly. Just moderately restricted. It did have caffeine...and calories. As it was, she’d need to do double the exercises in the morning anyway. Maybe triple.
“Sounds good. I know just the place,” Lonnie kissed the tip of Ruby’s nose, resisting pulling away. Finally she moved back, started the car and headed them toward Ghiradelli Square. Now to find a place to park. Out from the square, seeing an open, fairly nondescript bar with an empty parking space in front, Lonnie quickly pulled in. “This looks good.”
Catching an errant strand of blonde hair, she helped Ruby pin it and other fallen strands back in place. “Last stop,” she breathed. “Then we can go home and finish what we started back there.”
Stepping out of the car, Lonnie again became instantly vigilant. What in the Sam Hill is this feeling? It was more than weird. Her night vision was exceptional yet no jeopardy presented itself, leaving her perplexed. What in blue blazes is going on? Is this just a normal sense of caution in a strange neighborhood? Watchfully she guided Ruby into the bar.
Inside the bar the world seemed normal. Lonnie relaxed. Pleased to find a specialty chocolate drink on the bar menu, she ordered hers with rum and Ruby’s without.
“I’ll drive,” Ruby declared with that soft but implacable smile she had--the one Lonnie was beginning to understand had steel girders behind it.
“No, I can handle it,” Lonnie objected.
“Honey,” Ruby asserted, “You’re drinking. Let me drive, please.”
Lonnie looked at her without speaking, then changed the order to eliminate the rum in her drink. Chocolate sans alcohol would do.
In a room filled with midweek barroom gaiety, they discussed what they’d do when Lonnie was done with all obligations, including Angelina. Becoming tourists was an exciting prospect.
Being warmed by such rich, delicious drinks became a superb finish to a thoroughly magical evening. Draining the last of their calorie-laden beverages, they headed home. The night air had cooled considerably, so again they turned the heater on high, Ruby leaned her head on Lonnie’s shoulder, and the car was headed back toward Silicon Valley.
The man followed four cars behind. He pulled into a side street as they pulled into Tina and John’s driveway. Seeing them enter the house he used the camera, noting the address. “Gotcha.” He’d have to find a place to park in the morning that wouldn’t draw attention from the neighbors, but he knew how easily enough.
Inside they found John sitting asleep on the couch, the baby in his arms, also asleep. Tina sat beside them, her feet drawn up, awake and smiling. “Isn’t that a picture?” she whispered.
Lonnie took out the camera and claimed the shot. John awakened. They all bid good night and moved to their rooms.
Relieved to have her daughter back in her arms again, Ruby moved into the nursery and sat in the rocker for a few minutes, gently rocking the sleeping infant. We’re home, baby girl. Momma and Mumsy are home.
Bethy had been fed and freshly diapered and, true to form, was already sound asleep. Finally she was carefully placed on her back in the bassinet. “Hopefully she’ll sleep six hours straight again tonight,” Ruby whispered. The baby’d done so the night before. The doctor had said that before long Beth would likely grow out of her need for such frequent feedings during the night.
“Wouldn’t that be great?,” Lonnie whispered, gazing lovingly into the bassinet. “Sweet dreams, little darlin.” She slid her arm around Ruby’s shoulders. Ruby leaned her head against her partner. They stood a few minutes quietly watching the child, so peaceful in slumber.
“She’s kicked the corner of that cover off already.” Ruby fussed with Bethy’s covers while Lonnie made her way back into the main bedroom where she removed her earrings and put them on the bedside stand.
Deep green eyes under long blond lashes lifted as Ruby moved around the screen into their bed chamber. “Turn off the lamp, please.”
“Okay.” Lonnie did so, darkening the room. In the dim glow of the streetlight through the pull-down blind, the way Lonnie was looking at her made the small woman’s heart pound.
Lonnie sucked in a breath. Even in the dim light Ruby was breathtaking. A mounting tension settled in the pit of the brunette’s stomach. “Gods, you’re beautiful.”
With an almost shy smile, Ruby began to undress. Lonnie moved behind her, her fingers removing the pins from the blonde’s hair till it fell onto her shoulders. So soft, so silky. Lonnie nuzzled through the mass of sweet-smelling hair, softly kissing Ruby’s neck and shoulders, sending shivers of arousal down the blonde’s spine while one hand smoothly unzipped the black dress. The other hand brushed the spaghetti straps from Ruby’s shoulders, and within minutes the lined dress pooled silently on the floor around the blonde’s heels.
Mmmm. Ruby closed her eyes, leaning back against the warmth of her partner, savoring the contact. Lonnie’s arms encircled her from behind, fingertips sliding to her stomach then stealthily delving under the bands of her panties and pantyhose. Only my Ruby would wear both, Lonnie chortled momentarily, before letting her fingers unhurryingly wander.
The blonde’s breath caught and her stomach clenched as long fingers deliberately teased. “Oh, gods,” Ruby arched her back. Warm lips nibbled around her ear then a tongue tip slipped playfully inside one of Ruby’s hoop earrings with the tenderest of tugs.
Ruby’s hand clasped one of Lonnie’s, pulling it to her torso with a faint moan to where her bra fastened in front. While warm breath and heated nibbling around Ruby’s sensitive ear left the small blonde quivering, Lonnie’s hands skillfully removed Ruby’s bra and tossed it aside, careful not to indiscriminately fondle the nursing woman.
Pressing the heat of her body taut against Ruby’s back, Lonnie began to rock in a slow, sensual rhythm as she breathed huskily into the blonde’s ear, “You’re my everything, my love.”
Goosebumps remained on Ruby’s skin but she wasn’t the least bit cold. Eyes shut, back still to her partner, she hummed with pleasure, then nuzzled her cheek against Lonnie’s. She tilted her face and placed a series of tender kisses on the side of Lonnie’s face. She could feel the heat of Lonnie’s body pressing against her back, rocking in a primal rhythm, and it was driving her crazy.
Arousal twining within, Ruby turned in Lonnie’s arms. “I’ve wanted you all night,” she confessed breathlessly, thanking her lucky stars she had not lost the ability to feel the unfettered desire she had for this remarkable woman. Her arms wended up around Lonnie’s neck, watching silky dark hair cascade toward her as she drew her tall partner’s face lower. Ruby’s fingers seductively massaged the base of Lonnie’s neck as her lips moved to capture full, ready lips.
Lonnie’s hands splayed, curving around Ruby’s behind, firmly drawing their bodies together. Ruby’s center was pressed against her partner’s rock solid thigh where it was rubbed enticingly, sending instantaneous heat shooting throughout her body. Ruby gasped at the contact before settling into the familiar rhythm.
Lonnie knew Ruby’s surgery was healing well. At Ruby’s last check up the doctor, on her own, had okayed moderate sexual activity, much to Ruby’s dismay, slight embarrassment and delight, for the small blonde had wanted to ask about it but hadn’t been sure how. Now they knew they must aim for “moderate.”
But what had started as a short, tender kiss, quickly escalated into sultry, fervent kisses of longer, deeper duration. Exploratory tongues kindled heat that threatened to combust into throbbing infernos.Pulling apart for air, their breath ragged, Ruby rasped, “You’re wearing too many clothes, honey.” She began unbuttoning Lonnie’s blouse, hurriedly whipping it off. The brunette unbuckled her own slacks and kicked them and her underwear aside.
“Hurry,” Ruby whispered. In haste her hands fumbled with Lonnie’s bra till the item was unceremoniously pulled off over the brunette’s head. Ruby marvelled at the well-muscled, naked figure before her. The soft glow in the room emphasized the small, rounded breasts, the flat stomach, the firm toned planes of Lonnie’s magnificent body.
But they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Long arms reached for Ruby. Lonnie felt the warmth of her partner, the soft, trembling body against her own, felt the electricity as their lips met again. In seconds the rest of the world vanished, their hearts beat as one while a steady, burning, insatiable thirst swelled, sending aching tendrils of need to add to their bodies’ already teeming pools of liquid fire.
Gods, Ruby, what you do to me, Lonnie’s heart was nearly pounding out of her chest. She knew Ruby must feel it. How could one woman’s kisses do so much? She’d kissed plenty of women, well, not always in the nude, perhaps, but she’d never had one that sent her reeling as easily as Ruby did.
Ruby’s shaking hands moved to hurriedly remove her own panties and panty hose, but Lonnie’s hands stilled them. “Let me.” Long fingers teasingly danced beneath Ruby’s waistbands, slowly drawing the reluctant clothing downward.
“Lonnie,” Ruby moaned softly, feeling her body twitch in reaction. Her mind was a muddle of heightened feelings as Lonnie’s hands and lips flittered over her body. A concept worked its way into her unfocused thoughts. Maybe Lonnie’s sister’s was not the best place to have a honeymoon. “Uh, we have to be very, very quiet,” she murmured, stifling her own groans.
“Mmhmm, yes. Still as....” Regardless of her own readiness, Lonnie felt a sudden craving to slow their actions, to caress, to fondle, to kiss, to tease, to extoll head to toe every inch of the soft skin of this woman she loved. She brushed her heated lips gently over the blonde’s throat moving to the tender depression where the hot tip of her tongue flicked out to trace the hollow while her hands slowly inched further down the last garments that stood between them, “...flames in a fire.” Her lips mapped a maddeningly fiery trail ever southward.
Oh, gods! Ruby ran her hands through Lonnie’s hair as she tried to help wiggle out of the garments. “My love,” she gasped, squirming to hasten the progress, although now Lonnie seemed in no hurry.
“I love you, Rube,” the brunette whispered, easing down the nylons with provokative slowness, dancing heated, teasing kisses behind. Ruby thought her knees might buckle or at the very least she might disintegrate into a molten puddle before she was totally disrobed.
Then suddenly the blonde was being swept up into Lonnie’s arms and spun towards the bed.
“Honey, don’t hurt your back,” Ruby worried.
Lonnie laughed. She was young, her back was strong and her heart was full. “Never worry.” Gently she placed her parcel in the center of the bed, crawling above Ruby’s prone form. “Let the honeymoon begin,” Lonnie threatened in a husky whisper, slowly lowering herself onto the blonde, watching Ruby’s head tilt back, her eyelids becoming leaden, shutting partway. How Lonnie loved that look. It was the sexiest thing she’d ever seen, notching up the degrees of flame the brunette felt.
“Come ‘ere, you,” Ruby demanded, reaching for Lonnie to hasten her descent.
Lonnie paused momentarily. “Patience, love. Patience.”
Knowing they didn’t have the luxury of a timeless prelude of passion, they actually moved in somewhat measured haste, though Lonnie drew out her provocation as much as she dared until Ruby’s strong hands in her hair encouraged a definite quickening of their progress. Some honeymoons must conform to time limits. And some blondes will not be restrained indefinitely.
As it was, there was barely time later for Lonnie to catch her breath after her own tremors had subsided, for their night of shared passion abruptly ended to the distant crying of a small infant.
“Not six hours tonight, I guess,” Ruby shot up from the bed, pulling on her nightshirt. “Shhh. Don’t cry, baby girl,” she cooed softly, “Momma’s here. Shhh.”
Lonnie yawned then reached an arm out and searched the darkened floor near the bed for the diaper bag. Finding it, she arose from bed, slipped on her nightshirt and fumbled her way to the nursery where she could just make out Ruby in the rocker, feeding the infant. “Here’s the diaper bag, hon,” Lonnie said sleepily. “Want me to change her when you’re done?” She stood with her eyes shut, a yawn overtaking her.
Ruby smiled. “No, you have a busy day tomorrow. Leave the bag. I’ll do it. Go back to bed, sweetheart.”
“Okay.” Lonnie stumbled her way back then fell into bed, pulled up the covers and was sound asleep within minutes.
At 4:15 a.m. bleary blue eyes shot open from a deep sleep. Someone was in their room! A bent figure rose beside the bed then bent again. Lonnie’s hand flew out to find Ruby’s side of the bed empty. “Ruby?” she rasped, “Is the baby okay?”
“Shhh, she’s asleep. Don’t wake her.”
“What’s wrong? Are you walking her?”
“No. She’s there in the bassinet.” Again Ruby had moved the bassinet out close to her side of the bed so she could reach the baby before anyone in the house was awakened by the infant’s cries.
“What’re you doing, then?” Lonnie whispered incredulously, sitting up.
“I’m hanging up our clothes.” Ruby continued dutiously gathering items in the dark.
“Hanging clothes?” Lonnie was dismayed. “Honey, come to bed. We’ll do that in the morning.”
“I’m not taking any chances,” Ruby replied seriously.
Lonnie held up the covers. “C’mon to bed, babe.”
Ruby jammed her handful of collected clothing items in the suitcase. With a smile, she climbed in next to Lonnie and cuddled into her warmth. Sighing she whispered, “Okay, love. ‘Night.”
Lonnie slid her hand along Ruby’s arm till she gripped the smaller hand. Her other hand cocooned Ruby’s same arm and hand. She brought Ruby’s digits to her lips and gently kissed them. “You’re one of a kind, my sweet love,” she softly snickered. Ruby nuzzled even closer. Lonnie let go of Ruby’s hand, wrapped her arms around the blonde, shut her eyes and both drifted back to sleep.
The third and last day of the conference was to cause Lonnie lingering doubt. The man from Chicago turned out to be an excellent presenter despite being full of bluster. His braggadocio had no end, but his stories were more humorous and interesting than she expected. Thus the morning session went quite rapidly.
At noon Lonnie received a call from Angelina heartily apologizing for canceling dinner the night before. The redhead was cheerful and friendly, but when Lonnie tried to quiz her about whether Benny had talked with her or what she’d decided, Angelina would not engage in that conversation.
Lonnie suggested they all have dinner later this evening to make up for the night before, knowing Angelina would be flying back to Portland in the morning. It would give Lonnie time to reinforce any counteroffer Benny could provide. But the saleslady became coy. “I’m sure you’re going to be very busy tonight, Lonnie,” she’d exclaimed. “We’ll get together another time.”
What other time? Was this a cheerful brushoff or did it mean Angelina had decided to stay in Portland after all? That would please Benny, but the vibes Lonnie was picking up seemed to indicate otherwise. With a sinking feeling she decided Angelina most likely would be moving on. She just knew trying to keep her had become a lost cause.
Dispirited, Lonnie said goodbye and closed her phone. She needed to bring Benny up to date. If they did lose her, Benny’d have to work with sales to protect their client base. The man from Chicago would certainly encourage Angelina to take as many clients with her as possible.
She placed her call. She was right, Benny was decidedly pissed. He had not reached Angelina. Lonnie mentioned the possible need to protect their clients, and he grumbled that there were clauses in their work contracts that prevented most of that. “Check with legal, then,” Lonnie sighed. “This guy has no limits, Ben. He’ll rob anyone blind that he thinks he can. And he’s smart enough to do it. Double check with legal.”
“LA’s dealt with him before,” Benny snarled.
“Well, you’re the boss. If it were me, I’d double check with legal.”
“Yeah, yeah, all right,” Benny’d growled before he hung up.
The afternoon went slowly. The hands-on presentation by the man from Chicago didn’t show her anything she hadn’t already figured out. Afterward, after she’d thanked Randal and said her final goodbyes to the people there, that was when she was firmly gob-whalloped.
The large, obnoxious Chicagoan approached her in the empty boardroom, blocking her exit as she was packing her briefcase to leave. Taller than most women, up close Lonnie’s height surprised him. He was eye to eye and suddenly aware of her superb conditioning. He distracted himself from such thoughts by swinging his briefcase onto the table near hers.
She flicked hooded eyes his direction, not appreciating his interference with her departure. She was ready to begin her holiday. He could go to blue blazes. Hadn’t he caused her enough trouble already?
The man brazenly got right into her face, his aggressive chins poised with belligerence. She expected taunting remarks about Angelina. Instead what rolled from his lips was a job offer at nearly double her salary. She’d be hired as a troubleshooter/trainer.
“It doesn’t carry the title of your current job, but it doesn’t have the responsibility either. The job I’m offering has all upside.” He stepped back, slipping a cigar from his breast pocket. “You’re a bright girl. Talented. I’m offering an extremely bright future. Second in command could even be in the cards before you knew it, and at an unheard of salary, one your Portland firm would never be able to touch.”
Lonnie stared at him, startled speechless.
He removed the packaging from the cigar and clipped the end. “Now..I’ve made reservations tonight at the finest restaurant in town for us to go over the details.” He paused, “My dime.” He brought a lighter to the end and sucked away. A cloud of smoke circled him. “Make no mistake, my dear, this is the offer of a lifetime.”
Wrapped in self confidence, he sneered to himself. She’d take it. They always did. He clenched the cigar in his teeth and lifted his briefcase from the table. “And you’ll love Chicago.”
Lonnie’s mind was racing. He’s offering me a job? Why? He knows I don’t like him. He knows I want to shove that ‘my dear’ comment right up his kazoo. But it is a lot of moohla, and we could sure use that. Should I consider it? His organization-what do I know about it? What would Ruby think about moving to Chicago? I like where I am, but I have a family now. What’s best for them?
She saw the arrogantly expectant tilt to the man’s face as he puffed smoke her direction. He wanted an immediate answer. All right, she could do that. “Thank you,” she replied steadily, eliciting a smug grin from the man, “But no thank you.” She snapped her briefcase closed and lifted it from the table.
He blinked then puffed again on his cigar. “I see I’ve hit you with this at a bad time,” he continued, totally unabashed. He dropped his case and pulled a card from his pocket, scribbling the amount of salary on the back. “We might start you at more than that.” He scrawled a large plus after the amount. “Take some time, talk it over with your family and get back to me. Say a week from today. That’s time enough to contemplate this unparalleled future I’m offering. This offer won’t stand forever.”
Lonnie could hear the mocking in his voice. Would money be worth strapping yourself to a company with a man at its head that you disliked as much as she disliked this man? She couldn’t see herself doing it. She glanced at the card he held out but did nothing to retrieve it. “I’m happy where I am. Thank you anyway,” she replied.
For the first time a glimmer of uncertainty showed in his eyes. “I see. You’re in love with your title,” he scoffed. “Well, think about what you’re doing. This kind of offer won’t come your way again.”
“Maybe not,” she smiled. “And this isn’t about titles.”
“You’re making a mistake.” He jammed the card closer to her.
“Wouldn’t be the first time.” She eased her way around his outstretched hand and headed for the door, not looking back.
“Show you what a good sport I am,” he called. “I’ll still give you a week to decide. You know Mrs. Osborn is already on board.”
Lonnie looked back without saying a word. She shook her head then continued on her way. Blasted man! Being offered more salary was flattering, of course, but working conditions were important, too. She had no respect for him. None. How could she possibly work for the company he headed? She was only sorry Angelina had fallen prey to his pitch.
Her thoughts were calm as she headed the car for the freeway, but it niggled at her that she hadn’t talked to Ruby before deciding. Was that fair? It was both their futures, after all. “Aaaarrrgh!” she finally shouted and hit the steering wheel with a fist. Ruby would understand, wouldn’t she? Please don’t let this come back to haunt me.
By Thursday morning the thick fog that had rolled into San Francisco the night before was much like Lonnie’s nebulous mood. There were thick pockets while others were already turning misty.
“Foggy this morning,” Ruby said cheerfully, stepping out of the car at Fisherman’s Wharf. How could she get Lonnie off this funk? When they’d talked the night before after taking Tina’s family to the arches for dinner, Ruby’d told the brunette that any job had to fit her comfort level. Salary wasn’t the deciding factor. They would always find a way to get by. She could even get a job and help out. Lonnie hadn’t liked that.
“Fog’ll burn off,” Lonnie growled, then realized her tone of voice. “It usually does at home,” she added with less rancor. She unhooked the happily gurgling baby from the car seat, handing her to Ruby.
Ruby made sure the infant’s body suit was zipped, the hood soft but solid against the baby’s knit cap. “Inside you go, little one,” she cooed, placing the infant into the soft body carrier she was wearing so the infant was facing her. A baby blanket was wrapped around the outside to ward off the chill.
“I’ll carry the diaper bag,” Lonnie muttered, stuffing it into her backpack. “And get us some bottles of water from the trunk.”
“Fisherman’s Wharf looks different in the daytime,” Ruby grinned, wide eyes dancing around. Even in the fog she could make out the crowds snaking their way in and out of the small shops on the opposite side of the street. Near them people moved along the cement wall in the small park in view of the docked ships while others streamed into buildings to sign up for cruises.
Tourist trap, Lonnie scoffed, taking a slug of her water.
At the end of the parking lot fog-clouded statue-like men painted silver were gathering crowds to the park’s entrance as they stood on boxes, moving only periodically, an amazing gestalt while musicians, sometimes single, sometimes three or more strong, played near the street sidewalk, a hat out for donations.
The man had followed from the house and had parked on a side street far behind them. He knew staying behind one’s prey was crucial. If looking straight ahead was twelve o’clock, he also knew to never get caught in their ten to two zone. Camera around his neck, he shoved both hands into his worn leather jacket pockets, his billed cap low over scraggly brown hair, hard eyes peering out. He’d fade into the crowd.
Strolling through the park to the ‘statue men,’ the blonde gleamed, “Look baby girl, living statues.” Lonnie had to smile. “How do they stand so still for so long, Lonnie?” Ruby asked in awe. Lonnie shrugged.
One of the musical groups caught their attention further down. They moved there. Bethy kicked Ruby in delight. “She likes music,” Ruby beamed and rubbed the baby’s back to calm her.
“She does,” Lonnie agreed with a sigh. Look how relaxed Ruby is for once. Honey-colored hair slightly mused, freckles standing out across the bridge of her small nose, doe-sized green eyes taking in all the sights--how enthusiastic Ruby looked. I need to chuck my blasted work worries. They crossed at the light to the side with the stores and were amazed at the low prices for jackets, tee shirts, and vests.
“We can shop later. Let’s hike up to Coit Tower first,” Lonnie suggested. “The fog’s lifting. This walking guide Tina loaned me shows we can go to Battery Street and take stairs up from there. You up to it? How’s your ankle today?”
“Great! And it’s a good thing cause I need to walk off all that rich food I keep eating.” A smile and nod of agreement from Lonnie heartened Ruby that the brunette’s funk was vanishing. Ruby’s warm hand fell on Lonnie’s arm. “I’m ready to hike,” she said enthusiastically, with the lopsided smile Lonnie was beginning to know so well.
They started at a brisk pace. Before long they found themselves at the foot of a series of steep steps. “Good place to train to climb Mt. Hood,” Lonnie grinned. “We can run up it, if you like.”
Ruby’s eyes followed the steepness. “Uh, I don’t think so.” They started up, Lonnie taking the rear in case Ruby slipped with the baby strapped to her. “Gods, I need this,” Ruby grunted as they hit the second series of steps. Pausing to sip water, she added, “Enjoying the ride, baby girl?” Bethy waved her arms.
“Want me to carry her?” Lonnie asked. They switched, Ruby now carrying the backpack. Bethy was wide awake, seeming to enjoy the fresh air. Lonnie settled her against her chest.
“Good thing we already did some training,” Ruby panted as they climbed again, “or you’d have to have dragged me up.” Far behind them the man sat on a step and gasped for breath. “Fuckin’ physical fitness freaks,” he grumbled.
“Coit Tower,” Lonnie pointed as they neared the hill crest. “We can take the elevator to the top. It doesn’t cost much.”
Glad to stop a minute in the parking lot, Ruby turned in a circle, slowly drinking water. The fog sat in pockets below them. “Look, Lonnie, the view from here is dreamy today,” she mused. “In every direction.” A sweeping hazy waterfront vista spread before them, along with fog speckled city views. “Is that a statue of..”
“Columbus, I think,” Lonnie replied. “There’s murals inside. Free viewing.” Knowing Lonnie’s love of art, they headed inside.
“Daily life during the depression,” Lonnie noted, blue eyes studying each vignette. “I love this style of art, don’t you?”
“Yes,” green eyes looked up into blue, “I do. It’s so colorful.”
“Did you see the car accident in the last picture?”
“Car accident? No. I saw the robbery, though.” Ruby went back to examine the wall. “Well, stars, how did I miss that?”
Lonnie laughed. “There’s so much going on in each one of these.”
“Yes. Should we buy some post cards?”
“Oh, good idea. Here. I have some cash.” Lonnie pulled five dollars from her pocket and handed it to Ruby. The blonde went to look at postcards while Lonnie admired the paintings. Buying postcards. Now they were tourists on vacation. That felt good.
“See how they’re painted, Punkin?” Lonnie remarked to the infant, but Bethy was sound asleep. “I want you to grow up enjoying art,” Lonnie said softly. “And music and science and math and...”
“We’d better use the restrooms before we head back down, hon,” Ruby said, rubbing a hand on Lonnie’s back. “It’s a ways back to the car. And I’m sure she’ll need to be changed.”
“Let’s go to the top first,” Lonnie whispered, stroking the baby’s back, “after I get a picture of you by the murals.” In the crowded elevator Bethy awoke and began to fuss. Lonnie rubbed her back and hummed a quiet lullaby till her fussing stopped.
The enclosed viewing area had a musty odor but a spectacular view above the pockets of fog that were dissipating. Ruby took pictures of Lonnie and the baby before the panorama. “There’s light reflected off the glass,” she groused, but didn’t stop taking pictures. Then they got a couple to take their picture together just before Bethy resumed fussing. A quick trip down in the elevator, a use of the facilities and they were ready to head back to the Wharf, the baby newly diapered and once again happy.
Spotting them coming, the man moved deep into the bushes around the parking lot, totally out of view as they passed.
“It’ll be a lot faster going down,” Ruby beamed as they got to the top of the stairs. “But I’ll bet my shins feel it in the morning.”
“Mine, too,” Lonnie laughed. It felt good to exercise after three days in meetings. They moved down carefully and headed back, pleasantly tired when Fisherman’s Wharf loomed ahead. Far behind the man trailed them, watching as they appeared and disappeared among the blocks of buildings.
“Try on a jacket,” Lonnie insisted when they stopped at a sidewalk store with fantastic bargains. Racks of clothes were on the sidewalk and in the store itself. “You need new clothes.” She fingered the bills in her pocket. “We’ve got the money.” It was then she spotted the man in the side-view mirror of a car parked by the jacket rack. He was far back, looking their way, but instantly disappeared into a store beside him.
“You could use one, too,” Ruby replied. Lonnie said nothing, gazing in the mirror where the man had been. He hadn’t stood out much in the group of tourists, particularly with a camera around his neck. But he’d been looking directly at them. “Honey?” Ruby asked. What’d she see?
“Yeah?” Lonnie shook herself free of her thoughts. The man was gone. It was nothing. “You take Bethy, okay?” They exchanged the baby, Ruby now carrying her. They tried on different styles, even finding a tiny, inexpensive jacket Bethy would eventually grow into. Hunger pangs hit as Lonnie’s arms began to fill with their purchases.
Thinking she spotted the man following again far back in the crowd as they headed to the car, Lonnie swung them around a corner and stopped abruptly. Ruby stared at her. “What’s the matter?” Had she seen Angelina back in the crowd?
“Nothing, maybe,” Lonnie said, maneuvering Ruby and the baby aside. Lonnie’s whole body was ready to confront the man as he turned the corner. They waited by a new sidewalk store in silence. Many people went past but the man was not among them.
Lonnie felt foolish. “It was nothing. Silly, I, uh, let’s go eat.” Ruby would feel comfortable feeding and changing the baby in the back seat of the car, Lonnie knew. After all, their windows were tinted. And she’d packed sandwiches for them, but Lonnie had seen her looking wistfully at cafes they’d passed. To hide her embarrassment, the brunette added, “Wanna find an inexpensive cafe? We can save the sandwiches for dinner.”
“Oh, Lonnie, may we?” Ruby beamed. Being here was so much fun. Eating out had been a great adventure so far. This was a wonderful vacation, especially if Lonnie could forget Angelina and the man from Chicago. She sincerely hoped Angelina wasn’t out there somewhere in the crowd, then wondered if that was a selfish thought.
They made their way to the car with no further sightings. Lonnie stayed outside and turned in circles watching, looking not just for the man but for anyone suspicious, anyone acting nervously with a tense posture or extra sweating, but there was nothing.
Wiping her hands with wet wipes and giving one to Lonnie as well, Ruby brought the baby out of the car. They moved across the street to a hamburger cafe with old-fashioned jukeboxes at each booth. They counted out some change and had a very pleasant time picking a few choices from the 60s, 70s and 80s. “Look, our song’s on here,” Lonnie grinned.
They were eating by the time their music played. Lonnie chewed a fry and looked up from the baby she was bouncing in her lap. “Our song,” the brunette said making eye contact with Ruby as the tune began to play.
“Yes,” Ruby’s look was so warm and soft that Lonnie could feel her heart swell. How had she gotten so lucky to have met Ruby when she did? She would love this woman forever.
“After we eat, Rube, I was thinking maybe we could take the trolley to The Castro. It runs a couple of blocks from here and goes directly there. We can see where you thought you wanted to live. .. had you moved here. What do you think?”
“That sounds great!” Ruby looked at the gurgling infant now held out of her carrier. The brunette played peekaboo then used a napkin to wipe some drool from the delighted baby’s face. So far Bethy was proving to be a very good traveler.
“Hand me the camera, I’ll get a picture of you and Bethy,” Ruby instructed. “You look so cute together.” She could hardly wait till they downloaded these pictures.
Her family popped into her mind. Quickly Ruby pushed the thoughts away. She’d not let them in. Maybe they’d call Lonnie’s parents when they got back to Tina’s. Mom and Dad Shaeker always loved to hear about and particularly liked getting emailed pictures of their one and only baby granddaughter, the one who bore the same name as Mom Shaeker--Elizabeth Shaeker. The thought made Ruby smile. That was the kind of acceptance she wanted for her baby daughter.
Continued in Chapter 12
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