Angie Dressen’s goal in life is simple. She wants her son, Oliver, to have the childhood she never had. She remembers coming in second to the never-ending stream of girlfriends her father brought home, and she wants Oliver to know he comes first. Besides, between working full time as a waitress, struggling to finish her degree one class at a time, and raising her son, Angie doesn’t have time for love. Or so she thinks.
Luna Rinaldi is the wild-haired, leather-wearing embodiment of all Angie’s relationship fears. She’s a well-respected tattoo artist with a long list of past lovers and a reputation for leaving in the middle of the night. She’s also kind, thoughtful, and adventurous, with a serious soft spot for Angie and Oliver.
The two enter into a tenuous relationship, one that leaves Luna wanting more and Angie resisting the promise in Luna’s eyes. When they are together, though, Angie wants to believe in love, trust, and the possibility of forever.
Jove Belle was born and raised against a backdrop of orchards and potato fields. The youngest of four children, she was raised in a conservative, Christian home and began asking why at a very young age, much to the consternation of her mother and grandmother. At the customary age of eighteen, she fled southern Idaho in pursuit of broader minds and fewer traffic jams involving the local livestock. The road didn’t end in Portland, Oregon, but there were many confusing freeway interchanges that a girl from the sticks was ill-prepared to deal with. As a result, she has lived in the Portland metro area for over fifteen years and still can’t figure out how she manages to spend so much time in traffic when there’s not a stray sheep or cow in sight.
She lives with her partner of eighteen years. Between them they share three children, two dogs, two cats, two mortgage payments, one sedan, and one requisite dyke pickup truck. One day she hopes to live in a house that doesn’t generate a never ending honey-do list.
Incidentally, she never stopped asking why, but did expand her arsenal of questions to include who, what, when, where and, most important of all, how. In those questions, a story is born.
The grocery store was definitely a personal hell for Luna. Every time she went in search of something simple, the trip morphed into a major outing. All she wanted was a gallon of chocolate milk and a steak for tonight’s dinner. First was a battle for the only open parking space—which Luna won, but she did have a slight pang of guilt for forcing the other driver to the overflow parking lot. Then the dairy cooler was completely empty. Yes, they explained about the cooler malfunction, and no, it wasn’t anybody’s fault. But damn she had a craving and all the excuses in the world wouldn’t make it go away.
Finally, she saw Angie, like some sort of sexy apparition, standing in the meat department. Should she say hello? Or should she just duck and be done with it?
But Angie looked so good in her faded jeans and worn T-shirt, trying to pick out the perfect roast. Luna resisted as long as she could, then succumbed to the magnetic pull. She strolled as casually as possible to where Angie stood.
Angie smiled briefly, then her eyes hardened. “What are you doing here?” She said it like she owned the store. The attitude simultaneously pissed Luna off and turned her on. She squirmed; moisture and leather were a horrible mix.
“Came in for a steak.” Luna noticed a boy next to Angie and wondered how long he’d been there. Probably the entire time. She was a little single-minded when it came to Angie.
“Hi, you must be Angie’s son.” Unsure how to greet a child, she extended her hand like she would with an adult. He took it with a smile.
“I am. Who are you?”
“Right, sorry. I’m Luna. A friend of your mom’s.” Were they friends? She doubted Angie thought so, but hoped she’d let her get away with saying it.
While she was introducing herself, Tori joined them, her smile much more genuine than Angie’s. She bumped hips with Angie and placed a bottle of red wine in the top of the shopping cart. Luna was jealous of their casual intimacy, but grateful that the gestures held no sexual vibe. They were obviously friends only.
“Luna? What a coincidence.” The way she emphasized coincidence made Luna suspicious. Perez, after all, was responsible for the outing to the grocery store as well as the one to The Cadillac. She pictured Tori and Perez laughing as they plotted to bring Luna and Angie together. She felt manipulated.
“I’m Oliver,” Angie’s son interjected, unwilling to be pushed aside as the adults moved on with the conversation. “I like your tattoo.”
“Thanks.” She’d gotten the angel on her right bicep on the first anniversary of her mother’s death. The grief that everyone told her would lessen had stayed with her, hard and unrelenting in the pit of her stomach. It swarmed up and engulfed her at the least likely moments. The angel she’d chosen in tribute to her mother shocked those who knew Angela Rinaldi. Rather than a soft, flowing design, Luna had chosen a hard-lined relief image. The tattoo lacked angelic details, but conveyed strength and certainty.
“Did it hurt?” Oliver asked with youthful exhuberance, and Luna hoped Angie didn’t blame her for his enthusiasm.
Before she could defer the question, Tori chimed in. “Yeah, did it?”
“A great deal.” The answer surprised Luna, since the actual tattoo had been little more than irritating. The pain behind it had been crippling.
“Oh.” Their simultaneous response made Luna smile. Disappointment looked the same regardless of age.
“It was nice seeing you, Luna.” The look on Angie’s face didn’t agree with her statement. “But we need to get back to our shopping.”
She started to move away and Luna panicked. When would she see Angie again? “Wait.” She placed a hand on Angie’s arm. It was a light touch, but the power of the contact jolted her. “I want to see you again.” Luna cringed. Instead of cool and smooth, her mouth opted for bumbling and forceful. Again.
Angie looked at her far longer than was comfortable and Luna squirmed. Still she couldn’t stop her mouth from charging forward without her brain. Later, when she had a moment to think, she would likely regret her lack of control. Angie left her defenseless, and she wasn’t sure yet if that was a good or a bad thing.
“Let me take you out. I know Saturdays aren’t good, but surely you have a night off. I could take you to dinner or a movie or—” Luna clamped her lips shut, aborting her stream of babble, and waited.
“Oliver, get a loaf of bread,” Angie said, her voice level.
“Okay, fine.” Oliver inched his way toward the bakery section.
“Go with Oliver?”
“Not a chance. No way am I missing this. It’s better than daytime television.”
Luna suddenly wished she could accompany Oliver on his quest for baked goods. That would certainly be more fun than whatever Angie had in store for her. The woman did not look happy. Luna squared her mental shoulders and waited.
“What are you doing here, Luna?” The question held a lot more judgment than it did the first time Angie asked it.
“Getting steak, I told you.” Luna smiled, then remembered that her charm didn’t seem to work on Angie. “I came over to say hi when I saw you because I didn’t want to be rude.”
Angie didn’t look convinced. “And what was that? Just then? With the dinner invitation in front of my son. You do not get to bring him into this.”
“I’m sorry. You were leaving and I couldn’t just let you go.”
“Luna, you’re not being fair. I told you, I’m not comfortable with this… this…whatever this is. You have a girlfriend.”
“She’s right, you do.” Tori’s contribution was not helpful. Luna ignored her.
“What do you want, Angie? You want me to break up with Ruby?” As soon as the words left her mouth, Luna felt overwhelmed. The truth in the question left her breathless and lightheaded. The thought of losing what she shared with Ruby was surprisingly easy to accept. But the fact that she was willing to do so for a woman she barely knew, a woman who acted like she didn’t want to know her, was emotionally murky. She wasn’t ready for the very real feelings that fueled her attraction to Angie. Until that very moment, she’d been able to lay it off as lust. Now she had to confront her intentions. She clutched the side of Angie’s cart like it was a life preserver.
Tori squeaked and clapped. Angie’s expression, however, did not change. “Would you?”
“Yes.” The simplicity of the answer furthered Luna’s shock. It also strengthened her resolve. She didn’t know what was happening inside her, but her mother would be disappointed if she didn’t have the courage to find out.
“You don’t even know me.” Angie’s statement, blunt and to the point, made Luna cringe.
“I want to.” God, what was it about Angie that made Luna abandon all reason? She was going along great, then she met Angie and wham! Sharp left on illogical street. All her emotional self-preservation instincts abandoned her at the same time.
“Let me show you.” Luna struggled to control the situation. She’d already laid herself out for Angie, Tori, and every other person shopping in the meat department. She wasn’t about to give Angie an itemized list of why she was attracted to her, not with an audience. Besides, she wasn’t sure she could vocalize her feelings in a concise, easily quantified manner. Emotions were sloppy.
Maybe it was the way Angie fidgeted and chewed her lip when she was nervous. Maybe it was the steeled confidence to say what she thought, to ask questions others would leave alone. Maybe the combination of sexy girl-next-door mixed with nurturing lady Madonna. Maybe the shy smile that made Luna want to protect Angie, even as she pushed her away. Maybe it was just Luna’s relentless hormones driving her to chase the girl who said no. Maybe it was all that, along with a million other little things that Luna had yet to discover about Angie.
Angie’s smile was small and a bit uncertain, but Luna felt victorious. She’d finally said the right thing.
“A date.” Feeling more confident than she had since she saw Angie across the aisle, Luna expanded on her intentions. “Have a little food, drink a little wine. Get to know one another.” She took ahalf-step closer to Angie.
“Stop there.” Angie took a matching half-step back.
“I’ll stay three paces away from you at all times if that’s what you want.” It would kill her, but she’d do it. “But sometimes it’s good to not think, isn’t it?”
Oliver returned with the loaf of bread. “This the right one, Mom?” At Angie’s nod, he tossed it into the cart. “Are you two done, or are you going to send me to get something else?”
Luna didn’t agree, but didn’t want to push her luck. Still, she had to ask one more question. She hesitated. Angie hadn’t reacted well when she asked in front of Oliver before. She had to be careful. “When would you like…” She was proud of herself. The desperate clutching she felt in her chest at not cementing the date didn’t make its way into the question. She sounded confident, even if she couldn’t finish.
“I’m off on Monday.”
“Should I call you to confirm?” It required a great deal of tact to ask for a phone number with Angie’s son two steps away. In her club days, she’d simply say, “Hey, babe, can I have your number?”
That wouldn’t work with Angie.
“Sure.” Angie scribbled it on the bottom of her grocery list. Before turning it over, she looked at it, shook her head once, then handed it to Luna. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“Me either.” Tori laughed. “But I love it.” She high-fived Luna when she walked by.
Luna tucked the number in the back pocket of her leathers and slapped her hand against Tori’s outstretched one.
She was halfway home before she realized she’d forgotten the steak.