My new lesbian romance, Twice In A Lifetime, is due out at the end of the month. Yay! I can’t wait for you to read it and let me know what you think. But for now, to get you in the mood, here’s the first chapter for you to read. The book will be on sale on October 27th, so mark the date in your diary!
Sally McCall had a fear of water, and that was mainly down to her Aunt Paula.
Scratch that, it was solely down to her.
Sally was a scant five years old when her aunt, then 20, picked her up and threw her into the hotel swimming pool — unfortunately before checking if the young Sally could swim. She still remembered the shiny blue tiles of the swimming pool wall as she was rudely plunged underwater, the muffled shouts from above, along with the fizzing panic as her tiny limbs worked overtime to save her.
When Sally’s dad, Rick, dragged her to the surface, his strong arms clamped firmly around her waist and Sally flapping like a sardine, she recalled her mom gesticulating wildly at Paula, her pistachio-green swimsuit clinging to her slender frame. After coughing up her excess water, Sally sat wrapped in a soft towel on her mom’s lap, the sky bright blue as if it were illuminated, the thud of her mom’s heartbeat in her ear. Sally’s mom had smelled like cigarettes and sunshine.
One of the other memorable times Sally met her aunt was ten years later, when Sally was sitting with her dad’s family in a fancy restaurant to celebrate his birthday. At the awkward age of 15, Sally was shy, and dealing with only her third-ever period, still not believing this was due to happen to her every month for the next 40 years: surely some cruel mistake?
That day, Aunt Paula had barrelled in late and given her a crushing hug, before asking, in a voice that could have carried right across Lake Michigan, whether or not she’d had sex yet. Sally had died on the spot.
So now, sitting opposite her dad in her favorite New York City steakhouse nearly 20 years later, Sally was understandably hesitant about his news. All around her, servers rushed by balancing eye-level silver trays stacked with New York striploins and flat iron steaks, the air seared with the smell of roasted meat and silky gravy.
“She wants to meet me for lunch. The woman who tried to drown me before my life had even begun?”
Sally was still scared of water to this day, which had affected her life and relationships, too. The Hawaiian holiday with Casey; Mexico with her friend Taylor; even the lake house all those years ago with Harriet. She blew out a long breath, tasting Harriet’s sunscreen on her lips, before shaking her head, bringing herself back to the moment. With Harriet, the memories were so vivid, the feelings called up as if on speed dial.
“You know Paula — she’s excitable,” her dad replied, swishing his red wine around his tall glass. He took a sip and nodded his head in approval.
“She’s an excitable menace.”
“Try being her brother, you got off easy.”
Sally smiled at that. Her dad was laidback to the point of being horizontal, and she couldn’t imagine what he’d gone through having a sister like her. Even though he was 12 years older, Paula had been born a crazy whirlwind, kicking up a storm that had never died down.
“Why does she want to see me? She’s been living abroad for so long now.” As soon as Paula was old enough, she’d fled her home to work on cruise ships, returning on a very irregular basis. Sally had heard muttered tales of her investing in property, but nothing more.
“From what she told me, she’s got a business proposition for you, so it might be worth taking this meeting, honey. It sounds like she’s got money burning a hole in her pocket. She’s coming back to the US for good and wants to settle in Chicago and get to know her family. That includes you, her beloved niece.”
Beloved niece? Sally was pretty sure she’d never been that to Paula, because Paula had never really stuck around long enough to get to know her. Where her friends had aunts that were present, Paula had always been a mystery to Sally.
“That sounds ominous. Plus, I live in New York, in case you hadn’t noticed.” As if emphasising the point, a Yellow Cab slammed on its brakes to the right of the leather booth they were seated at, the driver honking his horn and gesturing out the car window. You didn’t get that in Chicago.
Her dad smiled, rubbing his hand over his gray stubble. They both shared the same strawberry-blonde hair, the subject of much teasing when she was in school, but now a color she’d embraced. Her dad’s hairline was receding, but he still had a good covering approaching his 61st year.
“I’m not sure anybody’s ever told Paula no, but you could try.” He gave her a grin. “I’m picking her up from O’Hare when she flies in next month. I did offer to come along to break your fall, but she was insistent. She wants to get to know you without me being there, so I have to respect that.”
Their steaks arrived, garnished with Béarnaise and fries, their waiter topping up their wine before leaving them to it with a smile. Sally’s stomach growled as she picked up her knife and made the first incision: it was perfectly pink, just the way she liked it.
“You think she’s going to try to drown me again?” Sally asked.
“Make a reservation somewhere pool-free, that cuts your odds,” her dad replied. “What have you got to lose? She’s offering to help you out, and you’ve always turned down offers of help from me and your mom. But if Paula gives you some money, look at it as payback for all that childhood trauma she put you through.” He paused. “Speaking of which, maybe she should reimburse me for all the trauma she put me through.”
Sally laughed, chewing her steak before replying. “I’ll get her to write two checks.” She put down her knife and fork. “Next month?”
“That’s what she said. Can I give her your email address? Then it’s in your hands, I’ll leave you both to sort it all out — just don’t shoot the messenger, okay?” Her dad licked his lips, catching some stray meat juice.
“I’ll try not to,” Sally said. “You know Mom’s going to go crazy, though, right?”
“Only if you tell her,” her dad replied.
Sally chuckled, thinking of all the times her mom had berated her dad. He hated confrontation, so he’d always backed down. Of course, it wasn’t an issue anymore now they were divorced.
“So I’ll tell Paula it’s a yes?”
Sally nodded, resisting her need to be independent. Maybe her dad was right: Paula owed her, and god knows, she could use the money. This steak was the first decent meal she’d had all week, and she was enjoying it twice as much knowing she wasn’t paying.
“Tell her it’s a yes, just name the time and place. And preferably in New York. Some of us have work to do.”
Twice In A Lifetime is due out on October 27th.