A work in progress has reached a milestone when I feel confident enough to share the first chapter. With the forewarning that this is as yet unedited, and completely subject to change, behold! The first chapter of my next lesbian romance: My Lady Lipstick.
P.S. Recognize anyone?
P.P.S. Interested in Chapter Two?
My Lady Lipstick – Preview
by Karin Kallmaker
Paris Ellison was so angry she made a seven-layer English Trifle and two large pans of double cocoa brownies.
She even dribbled water over the letter from Portman House, Proud Member of the Portman Media Group but the ink refused to smear and the words continued to taunt her.
She’d said no once, and now the nerve—the nerve! To offer her first-class tickets, reservations at the Omni Park Central, and the assurance of Hamilton seats—how rude!
She whipped ganache into submission and drizzled it on the first pan of still warm brownies. She’d slice them later before taking them to Lisa’s tomorrow. The second pan of brownies went into the oven, and she paused to read the infuriating letter again. Anita Topaz did not make personal appearances. Paris had been perfectly clear about that from the get go. But all the new people at Portman House since the merger meant nobody wanted to remember that little detail.
A scratch and yowl at the door made her look at the clock. Hobbit was right on time and sidled in to gift Paris’s jeans with orange tabby tomcat fur.
“You’re not fooling anyone, you know. I know I’m just Second Breakfast to you.” Aware that the cat had a single-minded agenda, she dropped a small scoop of food into the dish next to the door. Hobbit promptly abandoned his adoration of Paris’s ankles and dug in.
“Just because Portman House is the new owner, that doesn’t mean my contract is revised. Not yet at least.” Hobbit ignored the bowl of fresh water Paris set down next to the dry food. “They can’t make me, so there. The only thing I owe them is the next book, on schedule.”
The oven timer beeped and she left Hobbit to his loud crunching. She turned the pan in the oven and reset the timer. The custard was cool enough now to assemble the trifle, and she devoted herself to carefully lining the bottom of her only clear glass bowl with fresh sponge cake and splashing it with sherry. Apricots and silky vanilla custard followed, then she repeated the layers until the glass bowl was nearly full.
At least the Misses Lambeth and Richards upstairs would love the treat. She’d take it up after supper and check on the progress of the cold that had kept her usually gregarious and active landlords in “little old lady” mode, as they called it. They did like a drop of sherry now and again, and nobody could feel out of sorts with dessert.
Except her, maybe. Her day had begun as peacefully and predictably as any other—until the mail arrived.
Hobbit finished up Second Breakfast and made a beeline for the cushioned window seat now in the sun.
Paris ignored the loud, disapproving sniff at the layer of cat hair. “What do you think this is, the Omni Park Central?” She prodded the top of the brownies in the oven with a fingertip and judged them as needing one more minute. “Speaking of which, look at this letter.”
She carried the offending paper to the window seat and showed it to Hobbit while scratching under the cat’s chin and around the ears. Hobbit let out a grudging purr, and granted access to his belly while Paris read the letter aloud with renewed outrage.
“Looking forward to finalizing all the details, sincerely, blah blah blah,” Paris finished. “See? They’re trying to bribe me into going, and you know I can’t.” Hobbit had heard all about why Paris had moved three thousand miles from her last job. “Anita Topaz isn’t going to this meeting and she’s not going to do a TED Talk or whatever they call it for any—foul word!”
She dashed from the living room into the kitchen toward the you’re-too-late scent of burnt brownie. “Foul word!” She yanked the pan out of the oven, burned her wrist on the door. The pan slipped out of her grasp. She lunged to save it and whacked the side of her head on the counter so hard that she flopped onto the floor next to the steaming pan.
The dancing stars in her vision went away finally as she Jackie-Chan rubbed the dent in her skull. At least it felt like a dent.
Hobbit coiled into view from around the corner of the kitchen island, tail kinked with annoyance that the clatter had disturbed his morning nap and petting. Rightly presuming that the fallen brownies were not anything he would want to eat, he pointedly began cleaning a paw.
“I’m not leaking brain matter,” she told the cat’s back. “Thanks for asking.”
At least the brownies had landed face up. The edges were tooth-breaking hard. Increasingly foul-tempered about the whole world, she set to using a melon baller to scoop out the still moist and edible interiors. Chocolate, sugar and butter in any form was edible, right? Brownie Balls… Lisa might still be able to use them.
Now that was an idea. Why wait until tomorrow? Getting out of the house would probably make her feel better. It had been three…four days? Her last brownie delivery to Mona Lisa’s as a matter of fact. Not for the first time she was happy to have found a way not to eat her bouts of anxiety baking all by herself, and it even involved exercise.
Five minutes effort with little plastic bags and ribbons to tie them closed went without major mishaps. Two brownie balls in each, and they did look appetizing. She shoved the letter into her back pocket, thinking she’d ask Lisa’s advice about it.
Hobbit gave a discontented moof as she dumped him on the front porch.
“Go find Elevenses wherever it is you spend the rest of the day. I know it’s early, but I’m getting some fresh air.”
Hobbit slithered under the hedge with a parting yowl.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve been called worse.”
She pulled on her coat, grabbed up the basket with her wares and let herself out into the blustery blue day. Lisa wasn’t expecting her to show up with baked goodies until tomorrow, but Paris knew there really was no limit to how many brownies a bar full of sports fans would consume. Lisa was a smart woman—she’d think of something to do with Brownie Balls.
She flipped up the collar on her jacket while tipping her face to the sunshine. The sharp wind off Massachusetts Bay shouted winter, but the sun was seductively whispering spring. San Francisco was never this extreme. She pushed away the pang of longing for Gorilla Barbecue and the pale, sandy beach at Pacifica. She’d grown to like Revere and nearby Boston, but in the five years she’d lived here it hadn’t turned into home.
One thing was true—it was hard to stay angry on such a glorious day. The blue sky refreshed her eyes and the sun warmed the tip of her nose. It was as if the long, frozen,wet, dirty, slushy, slogging New England winter was over. But she knew it was a lie. As her landlords had warned her, March coaxed you out of your jacket, then dumped a foot of snow down your back.
The only thing she didn’t like about her location was that it was at the bottom of a hill even San Franciscans would call steep. For all that the location was a bit of a challenge to someone without a car, renting the lower floor of the Lambeth/Richards house was an ideal arrangement. The ladies had cash to help with their bills and repairs, and Paris had windows, a solidly constructed kitchen that allowed her to bake off her anxieties and an oversized bedroom with a big bay window where her desk was turned to face the garden. Her name appeared nowhere and it was a pedestrian’s paradise. Once at the top of the hill, it was only two minutes more to a bus that was only two short stops from the T. Only three minutes to a grocery and five minutes to Mona Lisa’s.
That Anita Topaz’s astonishing success meant she could afford more—a lot more—didn’t make a bit of difference. Anita Topaz was not online, didn’t Tweet or chat, and she did not do personal appearances!
In danger of losing her recovering good spirits, she paused halfway up the hill. In spite of the sun there was plenty of mud and slush remaining in between stretches of sidewalk. Fortunately, her Doc Marten boots were great Adventuring Gear for the New England winter, and no way would mud slow her down. With her hoodie pulled up and zipped to her chin, jacket flapping in the wind and wrinkled jeans scruffy at the knees, she might have been any of the local youths walking home from the high school for lunch. Though most wouldn’t have a picnic basket right out of Little Red Riding Hood swinging from one hand.
At the top of the block, breath steaming in the air, she paused to inhale deeply and smiled in spite of herself. There was a finch chirping. Spring was indeed coming. The last of her anger seeped away, leaving behind the familiar pulse of cold anxiety under her sternum. No news there. She’d known all along that her berzerker baking blitz had been spurred by fear.
The flashing blue and white Sam Adams Lager sign over Mona Lisa’s familiar green door was a welcome sight. The flutters and shivers that had tightened her chest eased. Note to self—fresh air is good for you. It wasn’t the first time she’d told herself that. It wouldn’t be the last.
The steamy, golden air inside the bar was also good for her, she decided. She loved the familiar sharp aromas of furniture polish, beer and tangy tomato soup. She immediately shucked her coat and unzipped the hoodie. Her word count could wait. She’d clearly needed this break.
Mona Lisa herself was working, and that was always a good thing. It was only past noon and customers were scarce. By five o’clock there wouldn’t be an empty seat at the long oak bar, especially if Lisa was still working it. Paris didn’t know where Lisa had picked up her mad skills, but she made filling a beer mug as eye-catching as a strip tease. It certainly helped that she had a mane of sun-streaked yellow hair and a figure that filled out a Shetland sweater and Levi’s in all the best ways.
Paris sent a chin nod Lisa’s way, hoisted the basket into view and got a nod in return. Her usual cushioned chair in the corner near the front window suited her just fine, especially with her face to the sun and back to the TVs. At the moment the televisions were replaying a muted broadcast of a some ancient baseball game that still brought a cheer from a die-hard Red Sox fan at the far end of the bar. Next month, on opening day, the place would be packed.
“What did you bring me?” Lisa put a cup of coffee on the table in front of Paris and dropped into the opposite chair. “I made that a couple of hours ago. Up to you if you drink it.”
Paris sipped. Contrary to Lisa’s description, the coffee was hot and fresh. “What every growing girl needs. Can you use some brownies?”
Lisa made a hmm sound that Paris had learned meant that the calculator in Lisa’s brain was adding up the potential profit. Pity the fool who thought the tanned, blond surfer girl exterior meant there was no business sense on the inside. “It’s going to be a slow night. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow with the usual.”
“I had a panic attack.”
“Sorry to hear that. All better?”
“They look awesome.” With a Betty Boop coo in her voice and shimmering tears in her eyes, Lisa asked, “Would twenty be okay?”
It was tempting to say yes to anything Lisa suggested, but they’d played this game before. With a roll of her eyes, Paris corrected, “I think twenty-five. And the cup of coffee.”
The corner of Lisa’s mouth twitched. “Spoilsport.”
“Does that big blue eye thing ever work?”
“Oh honey, you’d be surprised.” Lisa was peering into a baggie. “Why are they ball shaped? What went wrong?”
“I got distracted. Sorry they don’t look so great.”
“They look like a Stoli White Russian with a Brownie Ball chaser to me.”
Paris appreciated Lisa’s creativity. “That does sounds delicious. What will you call it?”
“Vodka with Chocolate Testicles is a little blunt, huh?”
“Might appeal to some women.”
“I think I’ll call it the ‘Adulting So Hard.’” Lisa flashed her a brilliant smile. “I know it’s the first of the month, but I haven’t picked a March special yet. Bring me more next week, just in a box is fine. No need to wrap them for single sale.”
Paris’s attention was caught by a new arrival. Small and pale skinned, she looked like the product of generations of Irish-Americans. There was even a tweed flat cap holding down the abundant, wildly tangled orange-red curls.
“You have a customer.”
Lisa was already rising to her feet. “She’s been a regular for the past couple of weeks. There’s a new production rehearsing at the Ferley Playhouse. It’s always the same order—soup and a half pint.”
“Lunch of champions.”
She watched Lisa chatter with the newcomer about how wonderful it was at last to see the sun. Former Floridian Lisa didn’t like the bitter Boston winter, but often said her Alaskan-born wife kept her warm, wink-wink. The most important thing Paris knew about Lisa was that she’d been a whistleblower against a large hotel chain in a dispute on union wages for wait staff. The settlement had bought the bar.
Good thing, since Paris was pretty sure Lisa would never get work in a hotel again, not in New England, anyway. When a woman stuck her head above the weeds, there was no shortage of people willing to throw bricks at it. And if she interfered with profits, they never forgot her name.
She sipped the coffee and quelled the prickles of tension that threatened again. When a shadow fell over the table she jumped.
The redhead was holding out a folded piece of paper. “The bartender said this belonged to you. I found it on the floor inside the door.” The lilt in her voice confirmed that she wasn’t a native New Englander.
“Crap!” Paris snatched the letter out of the woman’s hand. “Sorry. Thank you. I can’t believe I dropped it.”
“I thought it was trash and unfolded it to make sure. Hamilton tickets, that’s grand.”
Paris didn’t hide her annoyance that the woman had read it. “It’s really none of your—”
“I know. I have an eidetic memory. Helps with acting. Anyway, I hope you have a great trip.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
The full lips split into a broad smile. “Yes you did. I couldn’t help but absorb the whole thing, but it was still rude of me. So now we’re even.”
Hoping her nervous swallow didn’t show, Paris held out her hand. “I’m Paris.”
The handshake was brief and it had the surprising effect of abating Paris’s anxiety completely. Impressions rushed in—light freckles dusted Diana’s cheeks. Her eyes were insanely green. The lipstick was winter-ripe cranberry and the fingertips that had touched her palm were exquisitely manicured and tipped with the same red. The tweed pea coat fit the slim figure perfect and its large buttons were covered with the same suede piping that outlined the collar. Classy buttons meant couture, as she’d found out doing research for her high-fashion thriller, Hands off the Merchandise.
Diana had that…that…thing. That whatever it was that Lisa had that made muddy boots and a woolen scarf sing with casual elegance.
“So you’re Anita Topaz?” Diana’s puzzlement was plain on her face. “The writer?”
Double crap, Paris thought. “A pen name. And I would really prefer no one else know. I’m very private.”
Her hmm sounded a lot like Lisa’s, as if they were sisters from different mothers. Luckily, Diana seemed only mildly intrigued. “Good for you. You’re not what I would have pictured for the Queen of the Bodice Rippers, and that’s probably shame on me thinking writers look like their characters.”
The more Paris heard her voice, the more aware she was that Diana’s accent wasn’t Southie and it wasn’t Back Bay. It had taken her a while, but she’d learned the difference. It possibly wasn’t American. But it wasn’t the Irish lilt common north of Boston either. Maybe, a mix of all of those with something else? Intrigued against her will, Paris temporarily abandoned her plan for a quick goodbye and heading home at full speed.
Since Diana’s eyes held no dismay or malice, Paris said carefully, “It’s true. I don’t care for pink, or the heaving bosoms on the covers of my books. The covers are chosen by marketing pros, and clearly, they’re doing a great job.”
“When people see what they expect to see they don’t look deeper.” Diana pulled on thin leather gloves. “I have to get back to rehearsal. Could you tell me where the nearest postal box is?”
Surprised Diana hadn’t seen the station that lay between Mona Lisa’s and the Playhouse, she began, “The post office is a few blocks—”
“A drop box is fine.”
“It’s not on your way.”
“I like diversions.”
It was the little twinkle of amusement in Diana’s eyes that made Paris offer help. “It’s pretty well hidden from the street by the hedges, but I know they pick up from it at three. I’ll show you.”
“That’s perfect.” Diana cinched up her scarf. “Lead on, MacDuff.”
Paris caught a broadly mimed wink of approval from Lisa as they went out the door. She hoped Diana hadn’t seen it. It’s not like Paris had ever picked up a woman in Lisa’s bar, or wanted to, or that Diana pinged what little gaydar Paris had ever had. It had been a matter of high humor among Paris’s former associates that she had said, “No way!” when informed that Jodie Foster was gay.
“It’s just a block over.” Paris pressed for the pedestrian light when they reached the corner, then scrambled to keep up as Diana jaywalked. They skirted cars and reached the other side without mishap. “So what play are you rehearsing?”
“An adaptation of Tartuffe. The director is hopeful that with some backing there will be money for off-Broadway. It’s very political and given the times there could be interest.”
“But you have your doubts?”
Diana seemed startled at the question. “Was I that obvious? I’ll have to work on that.”
“You seemed hesitant is all.”
“If it does make it to New York, it won’t be with this cast. We’re good enough for working out the bugs, but that’s about it.”
“Turn into the parking lot here.” Paris led the way around the high hedges that surrounded the small drug store. “They hid it well.”
“I’d have never seen it. Thank you.” Diana pulled a small, heavily padded envelope from a surprisingly capacious inner coat pocket.
Paris caught sight of an address in Utah before the package disappeared. It was so light it almost didn’t make a sound as it landed on the mail already in the box. “Hope it gets there safely.”
“Me too. Well thank you. I really do have to hurry. Do you go to Mona Lisa’s often?”
“Twice a week.”
“Then maybe I’ll see you there again.”
“Maybe,” Paris echoed. And she stood there watching the petite figure make its way back up the street, to the corner, and then out of sight.