Crazy For You - Harper Bliss - E-Book

Crazy For You E-Book

Harper Bliss

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Beschreibung

Only love can heal a scarred soul


Jessica Porter is recovering from a medical procedure that has left her both physically and mentally scarred.


Before she goes back to work, she calls upon the services of her trusted escort, Laurel. When a mix-up at the agency brings Liz to her door instead, it doesn't take long for Liz to charm Jessica.


As Liz's disarming ways help Jessica slowly open up to the new reality of her body and her life, Jessica finds herself falling for Liz a little more each time.


But can Jessica accept Liz into her life completely, unusual career and all? Or will the pressure of keeping up appearances doom their relationship before it even has a chance to flourish?


Find out in this deeply emotional instalment of best-selling lesbian romance author Harper Bliss' Pink Bean series.


Every book in this series can be read as a stand-alone without having read the other instalments.


★★★★★ "Each book in this series is so unique and I am fully invested in this series and the amazing characters in each story."


THE PINK BEAN SERIES:


1. No Strings Attached


2. Beneath the Surface


3. Everything Between Us


4. This Foreign Affair


5. Water Under Bridges


6. No Other Love


7. Love Without Limits


8. Crazy For You


9. More Than Words

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Crazy For You

Pink Bean Series - Book 8

Harper Bliss

Contents

Special Offer from the Author

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Epilogue

Excerpt of More Than Words

Chapter One

A Note from Harper

Get Three Books FOR FREE

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Also by Harper Bliss

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Sign up for the no-spam newsletter and get FEW HEARTS SURVIVE, a Pink Bean Series novella, and two other books for free.

Details can be found at the end of this book.

To all the survivors.

Chapter One

Jessica stood in front of the mirror with her eyes closed. She let her robe slip off and took a deep breath. She opened one eye to a slit through which she couldn’t really see anything, then screwed it shut again. It was amazing how much of your own body you could avoid seeing if you applied yourself to it. But she had to look. It was time. Laurel would be there in fifteen minutes.

Jessica had seen the scars before, of course. She’d caught glimpses in the mirror. In an unguarded moment in the shower, she’d run a finger over their coarse texture—the red lines of remembrance. She’d never done that again.

Showering had never been a long dragged-out affair before, but now it had become an even more frenetic process. She disrobed with her back toward the mirror, hopped in, soaped up as quickly as she could, and only allowed herself to relax when hot water cascaded down her skin and she knew the ordeal of washing—of being confronted with her naked body—was over again.

Jessica sighed. She knew she couldn’t avoid this forever. That was one of the main reasons she had made an appointment with Laurel. It would force her to confront what she was missing in a way she did not feel ready for at all. But she would never be ready if she didn’t push herself out of her comfort zone. Comfort zone. Jessica hated the term. Her father had used it a few too many times when she was younger. But now she was using the exact term to get herself to do something she didn’t want to do. It just went to show. In the end, she was a chip off the old block indeed.

“This. Is. Ridiculous,” Jessica said to no one. Not even to her mirror image because her eyes were still closed.

She turned around, picked up her robe from the bathroom floor and pulled it safely around her shoulders. Only then did she open her eyes.

She couldn’t do it. Yet. So what?

She took another deep breath. Should she cancel Laurel? It was probably too late. Canceling was always possible, of course, but she would have to pay the full amount if she canceled this late before the appointment. She knew the rules. In that case, Laurel might as well come over. If just to have a chat. She had no idea what had happened to Jessica. If she and Laurel only talked, Jessica could pretend nothing had changed.

Her body hidden away by the fabric of the robe, she looked into the mirror and examined her face. Strangely, little about her face had changed. Granted, her cheeks were a little hollower. Her eyes, at times, a little more sunken, but most of her features had remained the same. As if nothing had changed at all.

Jessica brushed her hair and forced a smile to her lips. She’d been lucky. One surgery and everything had been taken care of. It could all have been so much worse.

The smile remained without her having to strain to keep it. She’d have it ready for Laurel. How long had it been since she last saw her?

Jessica turned away from the mirror again and went into her bedroom. She’d taken clothes from her walk-in wardrobe earlier and laid them on the bed. The wardrobe had too many mirrors and she only went back in there once she was fully clothed.

She dressed and counted the weeks since Laurel had last come to her house. It had been so long that she lost count. Christ. It was time.

She headed down the stairs and waited. Outside, darkness had fallen. The clock read three minutes to nine. Laurel was never too late and never too early. Jessica knew the bell would ring at precisely nine o’clock.

She had opened a bottle of Cabernet earlier to let it breathe. Laurel liked red wine. Jessica didn’t know why she wanted to please Laurel so much. She was the one paying her. Laurel was coming over with the sole purpose of pleasing Jessica. Yet she felt guilty for not having booked her for so long. For being out of touch. It was the craziest thing to feel bad about. No feelings had gotten hurt. Maybe that was what stung the most.

The bell rang as the big hand of the clock slid to nine.

Chapter Two

Jessica inhaled deeply and turned the doorknob. In a split second she would come face-to-face with Laurel’s dark complexion, her surprisingly kind eyes—the warmth in them had always taken Jessica aback—and her easy demeanor. It was this particular quality of Laurel’s that Jessica craved most right now. Since her surgery, it seemed that no one was willing to be easygoing around her anymore. As though acting normal would somehow break her even more than she’d already been broken.

Jessica opened the door wide.

“Good evening,” the woman standing on her stoop said. A woman who was decidedly not Laurel.

“Who are you?” Jessica blurted out.

“Hi, Jessica.” The woman held out her hand. “I’m Elizabeth, but do call me Liz.”

“I was expecting someone else.” Jessica ignored Liz’s hand.

Liz nodded apologetically. “I know you were expecting Laurel. May I come in and explain?”

“No. I mean, not before I see, er, some sort of credentials. You could be anyone.”

“I hate to say it, but I don’t have my police badge on me.” The woman produced a wide smile. She was nothing like Laurel with her soft curves and enchanting eyes. Liz was more angular. Taller. She looked somehow more unmanageable to Jessica. What the hell was going on here?

“Why didn’t the agency tell me they were sending someone else?” Jessica asked.

“I’m desperate to explain,” Liz said. “If you’ll allow me.” She tilted her head and painted on a dazzling smile.

“You can explain standing right there.” Jessica crossed her arms in front of her chest, a gesture that still caused a strange sensation to run through her.

“Laurel has left the job,” Liz said.

“What?” Jessica suddenly felt caught out. As though what she did with Laurel was all perfectly fine and legal as long as she did it only with Laurel.

“A few weeks ago,” Liz said. “I’ve been taking over some of her clients.” She took a step closer and leaned against the door frame.

Jessica instinctively stepped back. “That may very well be, but why was I not informed? You can’t show up here and tell me this. I should have been notified in advance. I should have been—” Jessica swallowed the rest of her sentence. She didn’t want to sound that crass. That’s why transactions like this were not conducted verbally. It was all just too lewd to say out loud.

“I agree,” Liz said. “Some wires got crossed at the agency. You weren’t informed of the situation when you made the booking and they realized just a few minutes ago, when I texted to say I was on the way to you. I thought it better to explain in person.”

“This is not the level of service I pay for,” Jessica said. She really didn’t want to have this conversation. She wanted Liz to leave. She certainly wasn’t going to show her mutilated body to this stranger.

Liz nodded. “I completely understand.” She narrowed her eyes. “But maybe we can talk about it? Work it out?”

“I wouldn’t know what else to talk about with you.” Jessica looked Liz in the eyes for the first time.

Her eyes were too light. Her brown irises had flecks of green in them. Her skin was too pale. Her smile too wide. She simply wasn’t Laurel.

“I can think of a thing or two,” Liz said. “Unless, of course, I’m completely not your cup of tea. There’s no arguing over that.” She crossed one ankle over the other and leaned against the doorframe, giving the impression she wasn’t going anywhere soon. “But please allow me to say that I think you are one gorgeous woman, Jessica P.”

“And you’re obviously not very discreet.” Jessica wanted to slam the door in Liz’s face, but she couldn’t do it. Her arms wouldn’t move. Her body refused to go through the required motions.

“That’s where you’re very, very wrong.” Liz’s voice had dropped an octave. She looked around. “Let me ask you one last time. May I come in, please?”

Liz didn’t have her profession written all over her, but Jessica didn’t want her neighbors to start asking questions regardless.

“Fine.” She dropped her arms and gestured for Liz to come in.

They walked into the living room and Jessica invited Liz to sit. Jessica picked a spot on the couch as far away from her as possible. She didn’t want Liz to get any ideas into her head. As the thought ran through her mind, she realized it was one of the more ridiculous ones she’d had that night, which was quickly turning into an absurd farce. Things were definitely not going according to Jessica’s plan.

It hadn’t been easy for Jessica to send that message to the agency. But she had strongly believed that seeing Laurel would help her and had pressed Send after all. Only to end up in this situation. She would give whoever had been at the receiving end of her message a piece of her mind later after Liz had left. And call Katherine to tell her this was unacceptable. What did they think they were dealing in? The prices these women charged came with the expectation of absolute perfect management. But Jessica could hardly leave a bad review on Yelp.

She glanced at the bottle of wine. She could do with a drink right now and it would be too rude not to offer a glass to Liz, especially as two glasses stood waiting next to the bottle.

“Drink?” Jessica asked.

“I would love one,” Liz said. Her teeth almost sparkled when she smiled, that was how white they were. “Thanks.”

Jessica poured them both a glass then handed one to Liz.

“Cheers.” Liz held up her glass. “To happy misunderstandings.”

“What do you mean?” Jessica glared at her over the rim of her glass.

“Clearly a mistake was made and I understand you’re shocked and unhappy about it. It’s unprofessional and I’ll make sure whoever is responsible for this cock-up never makes the same mistake again, but…” She paused to take a sip from her wine. “I, for one, am very happy to be here.”

Because you get paid an exorbitant amount of money. Jessica didn’t say that out loud. She couldn’t say something like that out loud because she was completely complicit. And money mattered far less to her than the comfort Laurel brought her.

“What happened to Laurel?” she asked.

“She quit. It happens. This isn’t a job you do until you reach the legal retirement age.” Liz chuckled.

Jessica did admire her candor—and her sense of humor. Across from her sat a woman who displayed the same ease as Laurel had, perhaps even more.

“I suppose not,” was all Jessica could say to that.

“This wine is divine,” Liz said. “You have good taste.”

“I don’t need to be flattered or talked into anything—”

Liz held up her hands. “I know. Just to be clear, you won’t be charged for tonight.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Jessica said. She took a long swig of wine. However divine it might be, its exquisiteness was quite lost on Jessica tonight.

“It’s all good.” Liz picked up her glass again. “Any time you want me to leave, I’ll go. Or, we could just chat for a bit. I have all the time in the world.” She twirled the stem of the glass between her long fingers. “I’m a really good listener.”

Strangely enough, Liz came across completely genuine. There wasn’t anything fake or put-on in the way she sat there or the things she said. It was a gift, Jessica believed, to be able to talk to strangers as though you’d known them forever. Laurel had the same gift.

“Can I ask you a question?” Liz asked.

“Sure.” Jessica took another big gulp.

“The first time you met Laurel… what was that like?”

Jessica scoffed. It was easy to see what Liz was trying to do. She could choose to rebuke her or she could play along. The latter would probably be most fun. Not having Laurel turn up had been a shock, but she was getting over that now. She was sitting on her couch drinking wine with an attractive woman who was, in fact, being very kind to her. Wasn’t that what she was paying for in the first place? She could at the very least see where it would lead.

“Quite similar to meeting you.” Jessica had a few very vivid memories of that first night with Laurel, but none were of the time not spent in the bedroom. “It’s hard to pretend this isn’t awkward.”

“It doesn’t have to be.” That glittering smile again. “Anyway, I think it’s time to move the topic of conversation away from Laurel. How was your day?”

Jessica broke out into a nervous chuckle. “Sorry, but that just seems too mundane a question.”

“Would you like me to tell you about my day instead?” Liz pivoted in the couch and pulled one knee up, angling her body to Jessica. She wore a denim shirt of which the top three buttons were undone. Compared to how Laurel had always looked, Liz was quite casually dressed, even though on Liz a mere denim shirt somehow looked elegant. Her trousers were tight and black and glossy, not leather, but a soft-looking fabric nonetheless.

Truth be told, if Jessica had passed Liz in the street, she would have stopped to look twice.

“Sure. Do tell.” Jessica drank again and allowed the alcohol to relax her.

“Let’s see.” Liz fixed her gaze on Jessica’s, as though she was about to tell her the sexiest story instead of a recap of her day. Or perhaps her day had been sexy. “I woke up late. Went for a run in Centennial Park. Had lunch—smashed avocado on toast, for your information.” She paused. “In the afternoon I went to a TRX class.” She flexed her arm and pretended to feel her biceps. “Got to keep these babies toned.” The grin she shot Jessica next was goofy rather than seductive. “Then I read the newspaper, wasted some time on the internet, took a long bath, had a disco nap followed by a light dinner, and now I’m here.” She arched up her eyebrows. “Pretty mundane indeed.”

“A run and a TRX class?” The mere thought of it exhausted Jessica, even though she wasn’t quite sure what TRX stood for. Physical conditioning was next on her ‘to do list’—but first she wanted to work on her self-respect a little more. “You must be very tired.”

Liz shook her head. “On the contrary.”

Jessica imagined Liz running in the park. Her shoulders were broad, filling out her shirt in the most magnificent way. She pictured Liz in a tank top, a sheen of sweat glistening on her skin. The image ignited a light tingle in her lower belly. She was glad to discover that her most neglected organ still showed signs of being alive.

“It gives me energy and, well, my body is my biggest asset,” Liz said matter-of-factly.

Jessica nearly sputtered out the sip of wine she’d just drunk. One thing was for sure, Liz had no qualms about being open about the job she did.

“Is it really, though?” Jessica asked. She hadn’t meant to ask the question, hadn’t thought about it, she’d just blurted it out. It was the closest she’d come to a real conversation with Liz since she had turned up.

“How do you mean?” Liz lightly ran a fingertip over her knee.

The motion distracted Jessica. She was pretty sure her meaning was clear to Liz, but Jessica didn’t mind answering the question. So Liz wanted her to say certain things. Now that she had a bit of wine in her, and was getting used to the not unpleasant sight of Liz, that was fine. “Of course, I can see how your body is important, but I dare to guess other skills are equally, if not more, important.”

“Which skills might they be?”

Jessica chuckled. “Do you really want me to have a go at trying to sum up your social skills?”

Liz shook her head. “Absolutely not.” She grinned at Jessica. “Now would you like to tell me about your day?”

Jessica sighed. “There’s really not much to tell. I mainly watched a lot of Netflix, but don’t even ask me which shows. I was just passing time more than paying attention.”

Liz narrowed her eyes. “Not what I expected. You don’t strike me as the kind of woman who sits around and does nothing all day.”

Jessica didn’t reply immediately. Then she mumbled, “I’m still convalescing, I guess.”

“Sorry? I didn’t quite get that.” Liz shuffled a little closer.

“I had surgery a while ago. I haven’t gone back to work yet. Going back next week, though.” Jessica forced her voice to be louder, making it sound unnatural.

“How do you feel about that?” Liz asked.

What was this? Rent-a-shrink? Jessica shrugged. She didn’t have strong feelings about anything lately. As though something inside of her had gone numb when they’d taken a scalpel to her body and removed a body part she could live without.

“I’m sure it’ll beat watching Netflix all day,” she said laconically.

“Are you in pain?” Liz asked. “After your surgery?”

“Not anymore,” Jessica lied, because sometimes she felt the most acute pain in the very part of her body that wasn’t there anymore. A pain she could do nothing about because it was all in her head—where else could it possibly be?

Liz glanced at her and sent her a soft smile. She put her glass down, held up her hands, and wiggled her fingers. “I give a mean massage,” she said. “As hard or soft as you like.”

Jessica didn’t know what to say to that so she just stared at Liz’s hands—and her long, strong fingers. It was decision time again. “That’s very nice of you to offer, but I’m good.”

“Let me know if you change your mind.” Liz drummed her fingertips on her thigh. “You look a bit tense around the shoulders.”

Jessica huffed out some pent-up air.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite catch that either,” Liz said, a wide smile on her face again.

“I was trying to picture how I’m coming across. Obviously, you know who I am. You did your research. I’m sure the agency has a file on me. Part of me would like to know whether Laurel shared certain details about me, although the other part of me prefers not to think about that. I can only imagine this evening is not going according to your plan at all. And that you hadn’t counted on meeting such an uptight rich girl, having to slog through this awkward conversation with me.”

“That’s not how I think of you at all, Jessica.” Liz’s voice had gone all soft and buttery. “And just to put your mind at ease, no details are shared between us at the agency. Discretion is the key to our success. There are no files, although I have, of course, looked you up online.” She sank her teeth into her bottom lip for a split second. “Can’t say I found much. Discretion seems to be very important to you as well.”

“It should be to more people.” Jessica didn’t feel like divulging the real reason for the meagre results a Google search of her name yielded.

“That’s so very true.” Liz smiled again. “All of that being said, and since we were talking about my possible other skills earlier…” She looked Jessica in the eye again. “I can clearly sense you’re feeling ill at ease. Not so much about me, although having me turn up when you were expecting Laurel has understandably thrown you. You don’t seem to be very comfortable in your skin. Perhaps the surgery you talked about earlier has something to do with that?”

Jessica hadn’t seen her therapist since before the surgery. She was beginning to think that was a mistake. Liz was playing shrink with her and it was having an unmistakable effect on her—the jury was still out on whether it was a positive or negative effect, but Jessica was just glad to be feeling something other than the dread she faced when looking into the mirror.

“You know what, Liz?” She smiled back. “I think I might be up for a bit of a shoulder massage.”

Chapter Three

“It would be my pleasure.” Liz rose and looked around the room. “Why don’t you sit in that chair over there.” She pointed at the low-backed armchair in which Jessica liked to curl up with a book—even though she hadn’t read more than the odd page lately. “Put your feet up.” Liz dragged the ottoman close. “I’ll do the rest.”

Jessica followed her instructions. By the time she sat, her shoulders were so tense, she couldn’t wait for Liz’s fingers to dig in.

“I’m just going to massage you over your blouse. Is that okay?” Liz asked, her voice a soft whisper.

“Yes.” Jessica concluded that one of Liz’s other skills was a sixth sense as to which items of clothing her clients were comfortable removing at any given time. Jessica was nowhere near ready to lower her blouse, let alone take it off in front of a stranger. Although, when she was clothed, if you didn’t know about her surgery, and didn’t look too closely, you probably couldn’t tell.

Liz ran her fingers over the back of Jessica’s head, then the base of her skull, as though she was trying to get a feel and read the level of tension residing in that area of Jessica’s body.

Her fingertips caressed the exposed skin above the collar of her blouse. They dipped in a fraction, stroking her neck, before moving to her shoulders, over the fabric of Jessica’s blouse.

Jessica was glad she was wearing a long-sleeved blouse because her skin broke out into goose bumps. She hadn’t been touched like this in so long. With tenderness, as opposed to the directness of a nurse’s skilled hands when she changed Jessica’s bandages.

Over Jessica’s blouse, Liz circled her thumbs next to Jessica’s shoulder blades, the very spot where Jessica always suffered from various stress-related aches. When Liz’s thumbs sunk in, Jessica couldn’t suppress a gasp of pure pleasure.

Liz reacted by applying more pressure and gradually expanding the area she was working on. She dug her fingers into the hard-knotted muscles of Jessica’s shoulders, pressed her knuckles against the most persistent knots, and worked magic with her thumbs until Jessica felt a wave of tension just flow out of her, as though Liz was absorbing it through her fingertips.

Jessica had lost track of time and had no idea how long Liz had been massaging her shoulders, but she hadn’t strayed beyond the boundaries of her blouse. The motion of Liz’s hands slowed and then Jessica felt Liz’s breath near her ear.

“Would you like me to do your neck as well?” she whispered, making it sound like a very sexy proposition.

“Yes, please.” Jessica barely recognized her own voice.

“Okay,” Liz said. “Just relax.” She started by pushing the collar of Jessica’s blouse down a little. Jessica responded by undoing one button so she could expose a little more skin on her neck.

“I’ll just be a second,” Liz said.

Jessica watched Liz go over to the couch and pick up her bag, which she’d left next to it. When Liz returned to her position behind her, Jessica heard her rustling through the bag. She heard more rustling, followed by a squirting noise, and the sound of hands being rubbed together with some lotion or oil between them.

Liz’s hands were slick and warm when they touched down on Jessica’s neck.

Innocent though it seemed, Jessica hadn’t been touched this intimately since she’d shared a bed with three other women, one of whom she’d paid for her services.

So many thoughts ran through her head. When would she be able to share intimacy with someone she loved again? She had a long way to go before that could happen. First, she’d have to be able to show herself—to herself. That was the first step. Perhaps this evening wasn’t going as planned, but it was helping. The sensation of Liz’s skilled fingers kneading her neck, running up and down the sensitive skin along the side of it, was taking down a little more of her guard with every tiny motion.

For a brief moment, Jessica considered asking for a full back massage, that was how divine Liz’s hands felt on her flesh. But she didn’t. The words didn’t come out of her mouth and she knew that was because she wasn’t ready to speak them—she wasn’t ready for anything other than her blouse collar being pushed down a fraction.

“That was divine,” Jessica said when the neck massage was over.

“I’m glad.” Liz’s hands hadn’t ventured any lower than Jessica had felt comfortable with. She hadn’t pushed Jessica’s boundaries in any way. Maybe she sensed that Jessica wasn’t ready. Maybe her sixth sense was her superpower. “Can I wash my hands somewhere?”

Jessica pointed Liz to the bathroom in the hallway and took the moment alone to regroup. What would happen next? It was entirely up to her. She could ask Liz to leave. She would never have to see her again. Or she could pour her another glass of wine and they could continue their chat. Jessica might not be ready for a number of things just yet, but she was up to having a more candid conversation. Maybe if she just spoke the words to someone new, if they were out there in the atmosphere, it would be easier to open her eyes next time she stood in front of the mirror.

Liz’s hair fell into her eyes and she brushed it aside with an exquisite hand gesture as she returned and headed toward the couch.

“Would you like another glass of wine?” Jessica asked.

“I would love one.” Liz sat on the corner of the couch closest to Jessica’s armchair.

Jessica started to rise, but Liz held up her hand. “Let me,” she said. “You just relax a little more.”

Jessica watched her hop out of the couch with elegant swiftness. She wondered how old Liz was. Come to think of it, she’d never known Laurel’s age. She’d seen every nook and cranny of her body, and she had hazarded many a guess, but Laurel had never confirmed nor denied a number she offered.

Liz topped up their glasses and when she handed Jessica hers, she sent her a small smile. It was the kind of subtle smile that made Jessica imagine all sorts of things. Things she could have happen at the drop of a hat if she wanted them to. That was why Liz had come here in the first place.

“Thanks,” Jessica said and held Liz’s gaze. What had she had against the color of her eyes earlier? That they were lighter than Laurel’s? How silly. Just like Laurel, Liz had beautiful eyes.

Once Liz had sat again, her body leaning against the armrest of the couch, Jessica said, “I had a mastectomy. Breast cancer. I guess I was lucky that only my right breast had to be removed.” Her shoulders hunched, as though she was trying to obscure her chest from view.

“I’m so sorry. That must have been hard.” Liz didn’t sound very surprised.

“It was hard, but I also got lucky. I got to keep one.” Jessica had to stop herself from putting a protective hand on her left breast. “The biggest one.” She managed a chuckle.

“You haven’t had reconstructive surgery?” Liz asked, a warm smile forming on her lips.

“I was advised to wait at least half a year, in case I still needed radiation after the surgery. But I got lucky again. No radiation necessary. So far.”

“That’s good.” Liz looked into her wine glass, then up again. “You are lucky, even though getting cancer might not make you feel so lucky.”

Jessica drank before she spoke again. “It could have been a lot worse. I understand this very well.” She sighed. “I’ve been made very aware of my… mortality, I guess. Along with some other issues.”

Liz looked at her but didn’t say anything. In her profession, being a good listener was probably as important as keeping a fit body.

“I suddenly found myself at the age of forty-five without many people I could call genuine friends, without a family that cared beyond getting me the fanciest room in a private clinic, without a significant other, and without my right breast.” Jessica was aware of how pathetic she sounded. She squared her shoulders, making sure not to push her chest forward as she did, and looked Liz in the eye. An honest analysis of her life didn’t automatically make her pathetic. It was just how things were—and she wasn’t after Liz’s pity.

“That mustn’t be easy for someone who most people think has it all.”

Jessica waved off Liz’s comment. “I stopped caring about what others think of me a while back.” She painted on a wide grin. “And at least I have money. No matter how badly I fuck up, I will always have money. As crass as it may sound, there’s some comfort in that.”

“I don’t think there’s anything crass about money.” Liz mirrored her grin. “That would be quite hypocritical, doing what I do.”

Jessica narrowed her eyes. “Is this your only job?”

Liz nodded. “And a well-paid one at that.”

“Don’t I know it.” Jessica actually chuckled.

“But everything’s free tonight.” Liz leaned over the armrest a bit more. “Are you sure you don’t want another massage? Take advantage of the situation?”

“I’m not after a freebie.” Jessica shook her head. An idea popped into her head. “But since you’re still here, I’d like to ask you for another favor, if you don’t mind.”

“Anything except plumbing,” Liz joked. “I’m really no good at that.”

“I haven’t been out all day.” Jessica scrunched her lips together. “In fact, I haven’t been out since my last visit to the hospital three days ago. Will you come with me for a walk around the neighborhood?”

“It would be my pleasure.” Liz jumped up energetically. “It’s a lovely spring evening.”

“Great.” Jessica rose from her seat with considerably less energy.

Chapter Four

When they’d stood outside Jessica’s door, Liz had offered her arm for Jessica to hook hers through, and she had happily taken the opportunity. Walking around this Sydney neighborhood, to which she’d only moved a year ago, and under the current circumstances in which she often felt too fragile for the outside world, was so much easier on the arm of this gorgeous woman.

They walked in silence along MacLeay Street, meandering into smaller side streets. A few pubs had put out tables and chairs on the sidewalk already, but it was still a little too chilly to sit outside.

“Good thing I’m a sensible shoe girl,” Liz said after a while.

“There’s a phrase that could be taken in more ways than one,” Jessica replied. She steered them around. They’d walked for twenty minutes and still had to make it back to her house. She was getting tired.