You’ve had the chance to meet the puzzling Paris Ellison, and learn how she meets the dazzling, mysterious Diana. Who is the woman behind the red hair, impossibly green eyes and red, red lips? If only Paris knew what you’re about to learn! This is the rough draft, unedited second chapter of my next lesbian romance: My Lady Lipstick.
My Lady Lipstick – Preview
by Karin Kallmaker
Diana Beckinsale put two blocks between herself and the helpful but unsettling Paris before she paused in her brisk pace to savor the moment. The wind snatched at her cap but the bobby pins held. She imagined her package whisked away instead, carried over the green expanse of the impossibly large American continent until it floated to a gentle rest on the desk of the one person she was certain would recognize the contents.
As soon as she could confirm that it had arrived she’d trash the burner cell phone, bow out of playing Dorine and be home in time to help her sister plan her wedding. It was a shame—Tartuffe was a lot of fun, and setting a play about avarice behind fake piety inside the West Wing of the White House was brilliant. The director thought it could earn more backing and was probably right. But not with any of the current good-enough-for-local-gigs cast. Besides, Diana wasn’t looking for that kind of notoriety.
The only oddity of the whole Boston job was that woman, Paris. Diana really hadn’t had any intention of prying, but once opened it was impossible for her not to take in the contents of the letter she’d found. Queen of the Bodice Rippers Anita Topaz was really a tatty, hoodie-clad twenty-something? Okay, she might be thirty—her light brown skin would resist wrinkles for years. Not that Diana had ever seen a photo of the writer for comparison, but it was surprising nonetheless. When she’d first entered Mona Lisa’s and assessed the occupants, she’d mistaken the figure for an underaged boy hiding his face in a bar.
When Lisa had pointed her that way to return the letter, Diana had been gobsmacked. As she’d approached the huddled figure she’d realized that her presumption of gender had been wrong. She also hadn’t expected large, deep brown eyes to greet her with open suspicion. The snarl in those eyes left Diana with the impression of a formerly gentle dog that had been kicked so often it growled a constant warning at the world to keep its distance.
And in the chaos of her reactions she’d mistakenly given the woman her real first name. Not that it mattered—they were unlikely to meet again.
What mattered was that her feet hardly seemed to touch the ground. She was floating with the elation of a job completed. The beautiful day had burst into pure glory as the package had slipped from her hand.
She came to the mud-filled gap in the sidewalk she’d been going around for the last several weeks. Between the sun and her exhilaration she decided it was time to show it who was boss. With one running step for momentum, she jumped it cleanly. And laughed at herself for putting her arms up as if seeking a perfect ten for the dismount.
Diana turned to find Jeremy, who played the titular Tartuffe, applauding her. “Thank you kind sir.”
He gallantly tucked Diana’s hand under his arm as they crossed the street to the theater. Decades in local theater with a love of performance for its own sake, Jeremy had no illusions about the scope of his abilities. He made rehearsals lively and wasn’t fond of behind-the-scenes drama. Of all the small, local productions Diana had crashed for cover, this one had at least been among the most pleasant.
As she shed her coat off stage and found her curled and ragged script where she’d left it before the lunch break, Diana flashed again on the puzzle of Paris’s surprising identity. The woman had been dressed like someone one paycheck from homelessness. Diana didn’t know much about publishing, but a writer with a name she recognized from the grocery store, well, wouldn’t she be more like a Meryl Streep in She-Devil? A mansion on pristine headlands, diamonds glittering from a hat pin? More like Diana’s own relatives for that matter, with their ostentatiously casual wealth dripping from every spa-tightened pore?
She wondered about the incongruity of the puzzle until the smell of old dusty seats and stage floor varnish pushed all thoughts but the production out of her head. She did like the play and the players. It would be hard to walk away this time.
Hours later Diana’s back was the only thing on her mind. As she climbed the steep, linoleum-covered stairs to her attic apartment, every step was accompanied by a pulse of tear-inducing pain. Her ebullient mood had masked the warning signs. The Nurofen tablets she’d hastily swallowed had helped, but the annoyed and aching vertebrae hated the stairs. Well, it was only for a few more days. The privacy and week-to-week cash rental were exactly what she required.
Her first stop was the bottle of Tylenol 3 she kept in the cupboard next to the fridge. The milk was a little iffy, but she didn’t want to wait until she’d heated a tin of soup to take the medication. It would blunt the edge and getting off her feet plus a good night’s sleep would do the rest. The rock-slab of a chair at the tiny dinette table gave her immediate relief and for a moment she closed her eyes and willed the pain to subside. She’d had years on the gymnastics circuit to learn how to play hurt. Ten years after her last competition she was still playing hurt.
When the pain had faded from a hot red to a tolerable orange on her personal meter, she wrestled her way out of her boots and carried them to the closet alcove. Her Irish lass rehearsal costume of a tartan sweater and plain black skirt fell onto the laundry pile alongside last night’s attire.
Last night. Pure joy. All of it.
A ubiquitous button-up white shirt, black slacks, and carrying a tray—presto! She had become part of the wallpaper in a busy restaurant. Entering the kitchen unchallenged was a simple matter of confidence. In a hotel the kitchen linked to everywhere and security was limited. Nobody noticed room service waiters. Tray lifted to block her face from the security camera, a quick knock, a tap with a housekeeper’s key… So easy.
Happy to relax into warm yoga pants and her faded red Arsenal sweatshirt, she filled a saucepan with tinned mushroom soup and put it on the larger of the stove top burners. It would take a while before it reached tepid, let alone truly hot. Even though their ubiquity was a Yankee mystery, she was happy to spot a packet of oyster crackers in the jumble on the table. They would hold her over while she took off her makeup.
The dinette table was just big enough for her makeup mirror and supplies. Witch hazel and cold cream worked wonders. The amateur actor and pretend waiter her own family wouldn’t recognize disappeared in minutes. Color contacts out and the heavy wig set aside at last, she became the brown-eyed towhead that Evelyn, Countess Donchester, would acknowledge as the product of her first marriage. Acknowledge—yes. Approve of—heavens no. They loved each other, and distance helped with that.
Feeling much lighter and aware that the codeine was moving the pain from orange to yellow, Diana plucked a sepia-toned photograph from its anchor point in the corner of the mirror. She studied the high forehead and long plaits of black hair that framed the woman’s somber face. At the neck of what was probably a deerskin ceremonial dress was a small charm of beads and feathers. The faded coloration of the very old photograph turned the beads a dusty brown and the feathers into wisps of black.
She allowed herself a grin as she fished out the small photo album she kept in her half-unpacked overnight bag. Flipping it open to the ribbon she used as a bookmark, she slid the photo into its original place. She ran her finger over the woman’s face and used the mirror’s lighting to study the charm at her neck one last time. It might have been sacred or merely ornamental. A gift from a suitor, or something she had made for herself.
Diana now knew the beads were clay red and the feathers were scarlet, from a macaw. The combination had looked beautiful in the palm of her gloved hand.
She sipped her soup from a chipped mug while ensconced in the apartment’s only other chair. At least the recliner worked, and the floor lamp next to it put good light on her treasured photographs. Turning the pages was a happy journey of past successes and future endeavors. Obsidian earrings, a carved leather choker, a delicate glazed black and white bowl. A tribal gavel, unpolished diamonds set into a ceremonial goblet—so many pretty things. Some of them she’d touched, but for most she was still waiting for that joy. After the wedding she’d pick something new.
All the adrenaline of the past month slowly drained out of her until she was too limp to move. It didn’t matter. The recliner was no worse for her back than the Murphy bed. The thump of her landlord arriving home for the night was the last thing she remembered.
She woke cold and stiff and mightily wished she’d grabbed a blanket. At last her back had stopped aching. The photo album tumbled to the floor as she dragged herself upright. Groggy and yawning, she got the Murphy bed lowered without conking herself on the head as usual, then cursed as she realized the album was out of reach underneath. She could leave it until morning, when she tucked the bed into the wall again. But the knowledge that something so precious to her was on the floor would likely keep her awake, so she crawled under the bed and emerged with the album out the other side. There were advantages to being small and nimble.
About to switch off the overhead light for good, she found herself standing stock still with the album in one hand and the other hand on the light switch. It had fallen open to the third page, displaying one of the first photos she’d collected. Her sleepy brain slowly called up the object’s data. The delicate gavel handle was shaped from obsidian and the head was carved from ram’s bone. A thin disc of rose gold was inset over the eye where the two pieces joined. In spite of disputed provenance, at last auction the artifact had fetched over five thousand pounds. The winning bidder and current so-called owner was an American tycoon with fingers in entertainment—television, tabloid news, films. And publishing.
Her drowsiness fled. She closed her eyes to recall the fallen letter. Anita Topaz’s letter. Signed by Ronald Aberto Portman himself.