Pink Bean Series: Books 7 - 9 - Harper Bliss - E-Book

Pink Bean Series: Books 7 - 9 E-Book

Harper Bliss

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Beschreibung

Sydney is full of coffee shops, but none as exciting and full of drama as the Pink Bean!


Love without Limits catches up with Caitlin and Josephine and explores the unconventional evolution of the relationship they started in Everything between Us.


In Crazy for You, Jessica is torn between giving in to love and keeping up appearances after a mix-up at an escort agency brings Liz to her door.


The opening of a third Pink Bean branch throws together former escort Katherine and grieving builder Hera in More than Words, but emotional walls will have to be torn down in this poignant enemies-to-lovers story.


Grab an espresso (or a flat white) and settle down for nearly 700 pages of heartwarming, dramatic and steamy lesbian romance like only best-selling author Harper Bliss can craft.

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Pink Bean Series

BOOKS 7 - 9

Harper Bliss

Contents

Special Offer from the Author

Love without Limits

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

Crazy for You

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

More than Words

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

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Excerpt of At First Sight

Chapter 1

A Note from Harper

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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.

Love without Limits

Pink Bean Series - Book 7

To my beta reader Carrie for her unwavering enthusiasm and loyal support.

Chapter One

I thought it would have taken me much longer to get used to this domesticity, but when I get the chance to crawl under the covers with Jo, it’s like I’m glowing on the inside, all warm and lit up and ready for a prolonged snuggle.

Jo doesn’t look so pleased to be sharing this intimate moment with me.

I scoot closer and curl an arm around her waist. “Look on the bright side,” I say. “You get to go to bed early with Caitlin James.”

This makes a smile appear on her face. “Aren’t I the lucky one,” she says.

“No, that would be me.” I kiss her shoulder. “I get to have an early night with Josephine Greenwood.”

“I should really sleep in the other room,” Jo says. “My coughing will only keep you awake.”

“I refuse.” I curl my arm around her tighter. “Stay.”

“Your choice, but I don’t want any complaints about this in the middle of the night.” Her face scrunches together before it erupts into a sneeze. I instinctively recoil a little.

After she has blown her nose, she asks, “Are you sure?”

I nod, although I hope I don’t catch this cold. I shuffle a little closer to her again.

She sighs. “I don’t even mind about the money so much. It’s letting the audience down that I care about. This is the twenty-first century. How can no-one have found a cure for the common cold yet?”

“Fair question. Maybe you should go over to the science department tomorrow and ask one of the brainiacs there.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing in bed yet. I’m not tired.”

“You need to sleep, Jo. You don’t get nearly enough sleep.”

“I don’t need that much.” Her voice is scratchy from coughing.

“A good night’s sleep will boost your immune system. With a bit of luck, you’ll feel much better in the morning.”

Jo looks at me from under her lashes. “You just sounded a lot like Amber. All these yoga lessons you take with her must be rubbing off on you.”

“Amber only ever has good advice to dispense.”

Jo’s lips draw into a pout, but she doesn’t say anything.

“What?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “Nothing.”

“If you’re not ready to go to sleep, we might as well talk.”

She adjusts her position so she can look at me better. “You know how the brain can make these crazy associations, jump from one random thing to the next?”

I nod.

“Thinking of Amber made me think of how you slept with her once and that made me think of something else… Something I’ve been meaning to ask you for some time.”

“Shoot.”

“We’ve been together a while now.” Jo reaches for a handkerchief and wipes the underside of her nose. “I guess I’ve been wondering when you’re going to bring up the inevitable question.”

“The inevitable question?” I know what she’s getting at. Of course I do. But before I can bring up this subject, we’ll have to work on our communication skills a bit more.

“You know.” Her facial expression tightens. “Sleeping with other people.”

“Darling, I’m not sure tonight is the right night to start that conversation. You’re a little grumpy about having to cancel your gig, which I understand completely. And you’re sick.” I stroke my thumb over her hand. “Tonight, you just need to be pampered.”

“I just would like to know. I feel like this has been hanging over my head since we got together. That at any time you can sit me down and tell me it’s time we started sleeping with strangers.”

“I would never even dream of broaching the subject when you’re so defensive. Although I’m beginning to think we should have talked about it already, as it’s clearly weighing on you. You make it sound like something I’m going to force on you, while that’s absolutely not the case.”

Jo’s features relax and she sinks a little deeper into the pillows. “Frankly, I don’t even know where we would find the time.”

“To have a conversation?” I envelop her hand in mine.

“To find other people to sleep with. I barely have time to spend with you.” She locks her gaze on mine.

Even though Jo has moved in with me, she’s very adamant about her financial independence, so I have to tread carefully. “How many colds have you had this winter? It seems you’ve barely healed from one when another’s already waiting in the wings. Maybe your body is trying to tell you something.”

“I’m not even thirty. I can take it.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to listen to the cues your body is trying to give you a little more. It’s not normal to suffer from so many colds. This is not the first gig you’ve had to cancel. Maybe it’s time for something else to give?”

Jo pushes herself up a little. “How did this turn into a conversation about my health? I thought we were talking about something else entirely?”

“Being under thirty doesn’t make you superhuman. You need to take care of yourself. You were already stretched too thinly when we met, between working at the Pink Bean, working on your PhD and being Sheryl’s Teaching Assistant.”

“Which is why I’m no longer Sheryl’s T.A.”

“I can tell you’re not in the mood to talk about this, but—”

“You just need to tell me one more time.” Jo’s lips draw into a soft smile. “Maybe it’s time to stop working at the Pink Bean.”

“You can’t keep on doing all the things you’ve been doing.”

“So I can have more time to sleep with other people.” She tilts her head.

I shake mine in response. “You’re being deliberately contrary.”

She clasps a hand to her chest. “Who? Me?”

“Yes, you.” I sneak my hand along her belly. “If you weren’t sick, I’d punish you.”

“Oh really? How would you do that?” She puts her hand over mine.

“I have my ways, but if you want to find out, you need to get better first.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Jo leans forward and kisses me on the forehead. “I just hate not being able to sing.” She lets herself drop against the pillows again.

“Don’t I know it.” I give her a smile.

“If only you could hold a tune, I could send you as my replacement.” She chuckles.

“What are you insinuating?”

“Same as always.” She puts her head on my shoulder. “You’re a woman of many talents, but singing’s not one of them.”

“My voice is just more of an acquired taste, that’s all.”

“No, honey.” Her chin bumps against my shoulder as she shakes her head. “It’s really not.”

“Go to sleep now,” I say. “We’ll continue this conversation later.”

As we settle under the sheets, I know it will be a while before I’m able to nod off. My mind is too preoccupied with things left unsaid.

Chapter Two

“Come on, Sheryl,” I urge. “How many times are you going to make me beg?”

“It’s not me making you beg, it’s you who can’t stop begging.”

“This is exactly why I want you on the show. So you can say things like that on camera.”

“I have no desire to be on TV, Caitlin. Besides, there are many people more interesting to interview than me.”

“Completely false. To me, there’s no one more interesting than you.”

“Really?” Sheryl cocks up an eyebrow. “You’d not rather interview yourself?” She bursts out in a chuckle.

“I don’t know where I got this self-centered reputation. Am I really that bad? As my friend, tell me the truth.”

“I wouldn’t dare.” Sheryl shoots me a wide grin. She looks over at the counter where Jo is busy with a customer. “You should have Jo on.”

“That would be a conflict of interest.”

Sheryl rolls her eyes. “Excuses, excuses.”

“Maybe I would, if she weren’t so exhausted all the time.”

“She has already quit working for me. Something I hold you personally responsible for, by the way.”

I know Sheryl doesn’t mean it. Not that she wasn’t sad to lose Jo as her T.A.

“You should have paid her better than your wife does. In what universe does working in a coffee shop pay more than working at the university?”

“Being a Teaching Assistant is more of a prestige than a money job.”

“A sad state of affairs,” I say. “No offence to Kristin or the Pink Bean, but I so wish she would stop working here. It’s too much.”

“But it’s not your decision to make.”

“I know. It needs to come from her. I just don’t understand why she’s so stubborn about it. She makes good money singing. She has royalties from the book.”

“It was already a big decision for her to stop being my T.A. For the first time, she’s making ends meet. She might be scared that her luck will run out.”

“I was like her when I was her age, so I do understand. But I have the benefit of hindsight. If I could be her age all over again, I would take more time to enjoy life instead of working all the time.”

“Singing is not a job for Jo. And I dare say she gets more than money out of working here. Next year, she’ll finish her PhD. Everything will change then.”

“I have the most uncanny buzzing in my ears.” Jo suddenly stands next to our table. “As though you were talking about me behind my back.”

Instinctively, I bring my hand to her back. “You’re my girlfriend and Sheryl is my friend. It’s only natural I should talk to her about you.”

“Only good things I hope.” Jo looks at Sheryl.

“How could we ever say anything bad about the great Josephine Greenwood?” Sheryl says.

“Oh, Christ. It must have been really terrible then.” Two new customers walk in. “Excuse me.” Jo walks away, leaving my hand to tumble down.

Sheryl hunches over the table. “We all have to make our own way in life, no matter how experienced the woman we share our life with.”

“But isn’t that one of the big advantages of being in a relationship with a woman who’s twenty years older? To learn from the wisdom she has acquired?”

“I don’t think it’s your age that made Jo fall in love with you.” Sheryl sits there smirking. “Nor your life experience.”

“Just my general loveliness then.” I lean back and smirk at Sheryl.

“What else could it be?” She sips from her coffee.

I roll my eyes at her and glance at Jo, who is chatting to a customer. I think of all the conversations we’ve yet to have and how, if she hadn’t pushed me to think about it yesterday, I wouldn’t have brought up opening up our relationship for a good long while.

“So,” I straighten my posture again. “Is that another official no from you? Jessica’s not going to be pleased.”

“Who is this Jessica you keep mentioning, anyway? And why does she want you to interview me so badly?”

“She’s my new boss at the network and an executive I actually get along with. She does, however, very much enjoy suggesting guests for my show.”

“But why me?”

“Maybe she’d like to get to know you better.” I quirk up my eyebrows.

Sheryl shakes her head. “You tell Jessica that not every person on the planet wants to be on TV.”

“Fine, but remember when I made you look good by guest lecturing at the university?”

“As if you would ever let me forget. Besides, you enjoy lecturing. It was no hardship for you. And it allowed you to woo Jo. You can hardly say I’m the only one who benefitted from that.”

“Nor would I be the only one to benefit from you coming on my show. You have important things to say and we need more women like you on television.”

Sheryl paints on a knowing smirk. “The answer is still no.”

“I bet the dean would love it.”

Sheryl holds up her hand. “Stop, please.” She looks at her watch. “I need to get to the university, where I will tell the dean all about this missed opportunity, of course.”

“I’d better go too. Off to disappoint my boss again.”

We both rise and kiss each other goodbye. I stop by the counter to blow Jo an air kiss.

“See you tonight, darling,” I say.

“I’ll be home late,” she replies. “Jimmy and I are rehearsing a few new songs.”

Chapter Three

While I wait for this week’s brainstorming meeting to begin, the one where we come up with a bunch of questions that will be pared down to the most inquisitive ones, I look over the research on this week’s guest. As a way of placating Jessica, I have agreed to interview Kathy Kramer, the star of Australia’s longest running and most popular reality TV show.

A far cry from interviewing the likes of Sheryl, I think, although I have to admit that in the few months since I took over The Zoya Das Show—and turned it into The Caitlin James Show—some of the guests of whom I expected the least have surprised me most. And Jessica was very persuasive when she made her case for Kathy Kramer. That’s the problem with Jessica—she has very convincing ways. And I haven’t quite figured out yet how to say no to the new boss.

While Zoya is off in Paris, living a life of romance with her French girlfriend, and befriending the French president Dominique Laroche, I’m stuck with Kathy Kramer.

In the document my team have prepared, there are endless links to tabloid articles, which I refuse to follow, until my mouse trigger finger accidentally opens one. The link takes me to a Daily Post article about how Kathy has supposedly split from her boyfriend. I roll my eyes, but before I can close the tab, my eye is drawn to a headline lower down the sidebar. “Media mogul Edward Porter’s daughter nabs top exec job at ANBC”.

I can’t help but click on it. However small, the picture of Jessica next to it is too compelling to ignore.

The article speaks of Jessica’s appointment in her father’s company as though it were a scandal—as though Jessica has no skills that would merit her a job at ANBC. The article also speaks of Jessica’s sexual orientation, as though it has something to do with her professional life.

I’m quickly reminded why I don’t read rags like the Daily Post and click away before I get sucked into the gutter of humanity that is the comment section.

When I first started presenting the show, I asked my team to collect all press clippings about it, except from the Daily Post. Life’s too short for their disrespectful tone and double standard for women.

I try to refocus on the research about Kathy Kramer, but even though I’ve only read a few pages, I already feel I know all there is to know about her. I should really learn to hold a firmer stance against Jessica. I refuse to think of her in terms of only getting the job because her father owns the company, but I do wonder if she has picked my show to meddle with because it’s just as new as she is. Because it makes her feel more comfortable.

Someone knocks on the door and it opens without me having the chance to say “Come in”.

“How’s it going?” Jessica asks. “Am I still welcome in your office after pushing Kathy Kramer on you?” She walks in and leans against my desk.

It’s not the first time she has dropped by unannounced. As a new exec, doesn’t she have anything more pressing to do?

“We’ll make it work.” I look into her eyes.

“It’ll be a ratings hit, which…” She leans over my desk. “Is exactly what we need.”

Jessica’s predecessor, who hired me and was very enthusiastic about me filling the empty spot Zoya’s departure had left in the network’s schedule, barely even mentioned ratings. He knew what the show was about and realized that, just like The Zoya Das Show, it would never be a big commercial hit, but a welcome addition to balance out the more popular programming. Jessica Porter does not seem to agree with this.

I scan her face. Her lips are tilted into a small smile. There’s a glint in her eyes that I can’t decipher—not in this context anyway.

“I thought ANBC had plenty of hit shows already. The Kramers being one of them.”

“Can I sit for a minute?” Jessica points at a chair.

“Sure.”

Before she sits, she pushes the door shut. She then leans back in her chair and crosses one leg over the other.

“Your show is great, Caitlin. I’m a huge fan. You do a great job. I’m just not sure anyone here is aware of its true potential—of your true potential. I’m talking about a possible prime time spot.”

I scoff and shake my head. “You know my show is not designed to be prime time material. It’s much too serious for that. Not enough sensation.”

Apparently, it’s Jessica’s turn to shake her head. “Zoya Das made it serious but it doesn’t necessarily need to continue in that vein now that you’ve taken over. We could lighten it up. Get more commercial guests on.”

I furrow my brow. “Then I don’t understand why you’ve been nagging me to invite Sheryl. She’s a professor. An interview with her would hardly be light entertainment.”

“I agree, which is why we’d need her on the show before we change its format.”

What’s with the we, I want to ask. And the change of format? Jessica is starting to get on my nerves with her presumptuousness and, for a split second, I feel myself agreeing with the Daily Post. Who is Jessica, a person who only got this job because her father owns the parent company, to interfere with my show? Then I regret my thought—and reading the article—and take a deep breath.

“Miss Porter,” I say, trying to sound respectful. “I have no desire to change the format of the show. If I did, it wouldn’t be my show anymore. I don’t mind humoring you and trying to find an extra dimension to the likes of Kathy Kramer because it would please you, but I don’t intend to stoop so low every week.” Oops. That didn’t come out very respectful.

“Please, call me Jessica.” She doesn’t lose her smile. “I do understand where that remark is coming from, Caitlin.” She puts emphasis on my name. “How about…” Her tongue flicks over her lower lip. “I take you out to lunch to talk this through a little more.” She leans in my direction a fraction. “Or better yet. Dinner?”

I do my best to not expel a sigh. So that’s what this is about.

“I can do lunch.” I make a point of looking at my calendar on my computer screen. “How about tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow it is.” Jessica paints a wide smile on her face and, all of a sudden, I can’t make heads nor tails of her again. She remains seated while neither of us speaks for a few moments, then she scoots up. “I think you and I will have lots to talk about.”

After she’s left my office, I lean back and think about our exchange. Is Jessica really interested in changing my show, or is she after something else?

Probably a bit of both.

Chapter Four

Jo arrives home after eleven, just as I’ve given up waiting for her and am getting ready for bed.

“Good rehearsal?” I ask as I gather her in my arms. Even though she told me this morning she would be late, I’m a little pissed off—but I’m happy to see her regardless.

“Sorry I’m so late. We had trouble getting a song right. Jimmy wrote a new arrangement for it and the changed melody made it very weird for me to sing. I just couldn’t get the hang of it.”

“Which song?” Maybe if I’m lucky, I can get her to sing it for me. The cold she suffered from a few days ago seems to have gone away.

“‘So Cruel’.”

“U2?” I can’t keep a hint of disappointment out of my voice.

“I know you dislike them, babe, but Jimmy hero worships the Edge.”

“By rewriting his melodies?” I nod. “It can only make the song better.”

Jo kisses me on the cheek. “How was your day?”

I contemplate for a second whether I should tell her about Jessica. It’s late and it could spark a long conversation. But I have to tell her, if only in the spirit of the complete openness I want to create between us.

“My new boss wants me to lighten up my show and thinks the best way to get me to do so is by openly flirting with me.”

“Jessica Porter?” Jo asks and takes a step back.

I’m glad she has remembered Jessica’s name. Sometimes Jo seems so preoccupied with all her activities, I fear she barely listens to me at all.

I nod.

“What did she say?” Jo’s interest seems piqued.

“She asked me to lunch, then swiftly changed her mind and asked me to dinner.”

Jo brings her hands to her sides. “What was your reply?”

“I agreed to lunch. I thought dinner was a bit much.”

Jo shuffles backwards and sits on the armrest of the sofa.

“It’s just a business lunch,” I’m quick to say.

“But she did flirt with you?”

“I think so, yes.”

“So she’s after more than just lunch?”

I feel awkward just standing in the middle of the room like this. “My gut says she is, which is why I didn’t agree to dinner.”

Jo scrunches her lips together. “Is this when we have the talk?” She sits down in the sofa properly.

“It could be, but just to be very clear, I have no desire to sleep with my boss.” I walk to the drinks cart. “Splash of something?” I ask.

Jo nods then lets her head fall back.

After I’ve poured us both a generous measure of whisky—which reminds me of the very first time she came to my apartment and she nearly gagged when she sipped from it—I sit next to her.

“I have no intention of responding to Jessica’s flirtation in kind, babe.” I take a sip from my drink. I’ve had this conversation a few times in the past but this time around, it seems so much harder. The words don’t sound right as they roll from my lips. “Not just because she’s my boss, but also because I’m not sure you and I are there yet. I know you brought it up the other day, and I do think we should talk about it. I’m just not… sure how you actually feel about it.”

“That’s because I don’t know.”

“You saying it was like something hanging over your head shocked me. Like it’s a very unwelcome destiny you can’t escape.”

“I fell in love with you. I knew all about this and it didn’t stop me from falling deeper and deeper in love. I know this is who you are. This is what you want,” Jo says in a nervous voice.

“The problem is that when you put it like that you make it sound like something I need to convince you of. That it’s my job to open you up to the possibility of desiring other people. That’s a difficult spot to be in.”

“Then let me make it easy for you.” She grins at me. “Don’t. Let’s just not. We’re good the way we are. Why make things so endlessly complicated?”

I drink to gather my thoughts. “Because if we were to do that, I truly believe we would be doing ourselves, each other, and our relationship a great disservice.” I find her gaze. “We should at least be able to have the conversation.”

“Then why does even the prospect of the conversation already wear me out so much?”

“Because you’re tired. You don’t get nearly enough sleep, let alone plain old rest. When was the last time you spent more than a few hours doing nothing at all?”

“There we go again.” Jo puts her whisky tumbler on the coffee table. “If you want to play with other people while I’m busy building my career, just go ahead. Just do it. I’m not in a stage of my life where I have the time or the inclination to explore this. I’m perfectly happy coming home to you after a long day. And before you say anything, I know you have loftier goals than to just sleep with other people. I get that you want our relationship to be different, to be less traditional. And I should respect that more, but you know what? To me, you are enough. I just wish I could be enough for you.”

I swallow hard then take her hand in mine. I think about what to say next, because I don’t want it to be as hurtful as what she just said to me. I don’t want things to escalate. It’s too late in the day for that. I also don’t want to sound like a lecturer on open relationships, because it’s very clear my words will never convince Jo that what I chose as way of life a long time ago can actually be a rewarding and wonderful process.

I’m going to have to rely on something else than just my words.

“May I make a suggestion?” I rub my thumb along her palm.

“Of course.” Her voice has softened.

“You have fans. Adoring fans. I see how some girls look at you when you’re on stage.”

Jo is already shaking her head.

“Just hear me out, okay?”

“Okay.” She holds on to my thumb.

“When someone you like comes up to you after a gig and they give you a compliment, when they are a little flirtatious… flirt back a little. Just to see how it makes you feel. Just say something cheeky. That’s it. No ulterior motives. Just some flirty banter.”

Jo has the kind of skin that can flush in an instant. Her cheeks are instantly rosy red. “Just because someone compliments my singing doesn’t mean they’re flirting.”

“You’d be surprised.” I scoot a little closer and put a hand on her knee. “But you need to be open to it to notice. Most people are not. Just try to be open to it at your next gig. That’s all I ask. Then we’ll talk about how it made you feel.”

“I’m not like you, babe. I’m not… hot like you.”

I tilt my head. “Trust me, you’re very hot. Especially when you’re on stage.”

“I’m more of an acquired taste. When someone sees you, like that Jessica for instance, I can so easily imagine her thinking, ‘Oh yes, I would like some of that’. Whereas for the life of me, I can’t imagine anyone thinking such a thing when they look at me.”

“That’s only because of how you see yourself.” I squeeze her knee. “Most of the time. Except when you’re singing. Then you forget to think. Then you exude confidence and charisma and sensuality. Take it from me.” I take her hand in mine again. “People are attracted to that.”

“But when I talk to them I’m not on stage anymore. I’m not singing anymore.”

“I’ve seen you after gigs, darling. There’s this window of time after you walk off the stage that you’re a different person.”

“That’s just it, though. I’m not me. I’m a different person.”

“I think those moments are more you than any other time. Since you’ve started performing on stage, you’re coming into your own more and more. You’re not the same shy girl I met a year and a half ago. Remember when I first asked you out? First you followed your gut and said yes—you responded to my flirtation. But then the overthinking took over and you said no. You overthink much less these days. A direct consequence of the confidence you gain by singing for an audience.”

“Have I really changed that much?”

I give her a slow nod. “You have.” I take her hand in mine again and kiss her palm this time. “Think about what we do in bed these days as opposed to when we first got together.” The thought sends a frisson of excitement up my spine. It was never my intention to end this conversation, even this day, like this, but now I can’t stop myself. I kiss the inside of Jo’s wrist, hoping she will catch my drift.

Her voice is soft when she asks, “How about you? How have you changed?”

I look her in the eyes and say, “I only want you more each day.” A cop out if ever there was one, but I’m done talking. I want to make love to my girlfriend.

We’re naked in bed and Jo lies on her back with a dildo strapped to her pelvis. Once I started kissing her on the sofa, it seems like we ended up naked in a matter of minutes. When I opened the drawer where we keep this particular sex toy, Jo knew, without me having to say a word, what kind of foreplay I had in mind.

My hand drifts down to the toy while I kiss her. I’m going to make it nice and wet before she fucks me with it. When we break from the kiss she looks up at me and says, with nothing but authority in her voice, “Suck my cock.”

The mere fact that she can say such a thing to me now is such a testament to how much she has changed. I may sometimes have to point out her transformation, but I like to believe that, deep down, behind all those insecurities that sometimes make her life much harder than it has to be, Jo knows this as well. As I look at her face right now, I know she does.

I kiss her on the lips once more, then make my way down. I trace a moist path along her neck and halt at her beautiful, luscious breasts. I take my time sucking her nipples into my mouth, but she starts pushing me down. When I first took Jo to bed, I’d never imagined her to be this bossy between the sheets. It took her a long time to get here, but here we are nonetheless. I love her all the more for it.

I kiss the edge of her pubic hair, all blond and soft and fragrant. Then I pivot and straddle her so that my pussy is mere inches away from her face.

The silicone cock stands high and mighty in front of me. I kiss the tip, lick my way around it to make it slippery enough for when I let my lips slide over.

I feel Jo’s hands on my butt cheeks, her nails digging into my flesh. Then she pulls me toward her and kisses my pussy lips. Her tongue skates along them the next second and when I feel it lapping at my clit, I know it’s time to open my mouth wide. I let my lips slip down half the length of the dildo, an action that never fails to leave my clit extra hard, extra ready for her tongue.

As has become our habit, we have discussed this particular sexual act at length, but I’ve never been able to accurately describe why it turns me on so much. Not every partner I’ve had has wanted to do this with me—lesbians and their phallic aversion—and if I hadn’t had so many lovers, I would never have known I enjoy this so much.

I lick the dildo’s shaft as I bob my head up and down. Jo’s tongue is insistent on my clit. She sucks it into her mouth and I’m pulled between the sensations on my lips and my pussy. Jo’s hands on my behind and the cock in my mouth. Slowly, I slide into a state of total surrender—there’s no other way to do this. Either I’m fully in, or I’m out. There’s no in between.

The silicone is soft against my lips, its girth spreads my lips wide. On the other side of me, Jo slides a couple of fingers inside, spreading me equally wide. Getting me ready. I’m almost there. Almost at that point where I want to turn around and look this woman I love in the eyes while she fucks me.

I take the dildo in my mouth as far as it will go, give the tip one last lick as I let it slip from my lips. I give Jo the time to slide her fingers out of me, then swivel around—not gracefully, limbs overtaken with blind, clumsy lust—and position the dildo at the entrance of my pussy. It’s slick with my saliva and I’m wet enough for it to slip inside easily, as though this is the only possible apotheosis of my day.

It feels so damn good inside of me, the length of the toy filling me so intensely. I look at Jo. She has that smirk on her face that drives me wild. When we do this, we don’t only do it for me, even though I’m the one getting the most physical pleasure from this particular position. But as we both know, physicality is only half of this equation. The other half is made up of how I feel when I look at her and what she gets back when she sees the look in my eye. My lust for her, for this, for us. I hope she sees in my glance that she is enough for me, that how I choose to conduct my relationships doesn’t have the slightest thing to do with any of that.

I push myself up and down on the dildo and Jo brings a hand between my legs. Her thumb finds my clit and every time I bounce down, she gives it a soft flick. She bucks up her hips and her face changes. I see surrender in her eyes now, echoing mine. She flicks faster, I bounce harder and, together, we orchestrate my climax. It’s one that takes me all the way out of myself because of the overload of sensation, the dildo, her finger, her hips slamming into me, my hands pushing into her as I hold on to her shoulders. It’s wild and full of abandon and love.

I collapse onto her chest, the dildo still half inside of me, to catch my breath.

I kiss the side of her breast. She wraps her arms around me. When I can properly breathe again, I glance up at her.

She smiles a smile that says, no matter what she said earlier, she bloody well knows how scorching hot she is.

Chapter Five

“Thanks for joining me.” Jessica holds up her glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

“When you said lunch, I thought you meant a quick bite in the cafeteria.” I hold up my glass of water. We’re sitting in a booth at a small French restaurant around the corner from the ANBC building. This lunch might be all about signals and how the other interprets them, so I thought it better not to order wine when Jessica did.

“I thought I’d go for a more intimate setting.” Jessica doesn’t beat about the bush. Only a few minutes into this lunch, and my suspicions have been confirmed.

“May I ask why?” Two can play this game. I dare to bet I’m much more experienced at it than her. I’m all for openness but she’s just being blatantly obvious now—and severely unprofessional.

She paints on a smile. “I enjoy your show and I would like to get to know you better. The ANBC cafeteria is not the right spot for that.”

“Right.” I drink some water.

A waiter arrives to take our order. After he’s gone, I decide to steer the conversation. I might as well get something out of this. I’ve only been doing the show for a few months and I would very much like for the format to remain the same. It suits me. An interview with a person deemed interesting enough to question for that long. This gives me an idea.

“Would you be interested in coming on my show, Jessica?” I ask with my sweetest voice.

“Me?” She plays coy too well. Maybe Jessica’s not that interested in me personally. Maybe this is what she’s been playing at all along. “Oh, no. That’s not my thing at all.”

“It would give you a chance to rebuff the rumors that you only replaced Jason Hewitt because your family name is Porter.”

She waves her hand. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about what the Daily Post writes about me. Besides, who believes anything printed on that waste of paper? I know why I got the job. I won’t sit here straight-faced and claim my father owning ANBC had nothing to do with it, because of course it played a part.” She shrugs. “Let’s not be overly naive about that.”

Her reply surprises me. “Is that a no?” I shoot her a sympathetic smile.

“I know I’ve been meddling with your show, Caitlin. I can’t shake the feeling it annoys you, while annoying you is the very last thing I want to do.”

“I get that it’s a TV exec’s primal instinct to increase ratings, but some shows will just never be a hit. Not unless you change them drastically. My show is one of them.” I tilt my head. “Truth be told, having to interview Kathy Kramer is already a bridge too far for me.”

“But you agreed. To please me.” She reaches for her wine glass again.

“You’re the new boss. I felt like I didn’t have much choice.”

“My sincere apologies for compromising your integrity. I really wanted to get stuck in and be hands-on with this new job. I might have gotten carried away and you may be the victim of that.”

“Why the focus on my show? There are so many on ANBC.”

“Pertinent question.” She grins. “I guess that’s why you’re so good at your job.”

I grin back at her because of the compliment. “Am I allowed to press you further on this matter? Or should I back off because you’re the boss?”

A laugh comes from the back of her throat. “Please, don’t ever hold back because of the title on my business card.” She leans over the table a little. “You’re the only out lesbian on ANBC. I’m the only out lesbian in management. I guess it instinctively drew me to you.”

“Good answer.” I narrow my eyes. “Although I can’t shake the feeling it’s a bit of a cop-out.”

She gives a slow nod. “Did you want me to say outright that you’re the most attractive host we have and, well, I know your reputation.”

“Ah.” I almost want to slap my hand against the table triumphantly because I got her to admit this out loud—and it wasn’t all that hard. “There we have it.”

Our dishes are brought to the table and the conversation pauses. It gives me time to consider whether I should be frank or cautious. But I don’t really do cautious, not after she has been so frank with me.

“A reputation can be a funny thing,” I say as I spear a roasted potato on my fork. “It can most certainly give people the wrong impression.”

“I read the book, Caitlin. Your entire life philosophy printed black on white.”

“I wrote that book more than fifteen years ago.”

“Has something changed?”

I chuckle. I’m beginning to see why she was put in the job of a ruthless executive.

“That’s not really the point.” I wish I had a glass of wine in front of me. “If my so-called reputation is the reason why we’re having lunch, we shouldn’t be sitting here at all. You’re my boss. If I were a different kind of person, I could perceive this as another thing entirely.”

“But that’s where your reputation comes in. I know you’re not the kind of person who will misinterpret this invitation.”

“That is the biggest line of bullshit I’ve heard in a while.” My voice shoots up. “If you were a man—”

“But I’m not, and I believe that changes everything.” Jessica doesn’t let me finish my sentence.

“Not everything,” I hiss.

She takes a deep breath. “Caitlin, I’m truly sorry. I was just flirting. Just trying to get a feel of the possibilities. I don’t even consider myself your boss. I see you as a colleague. An equal. And I got carried away by what I read about you, by what it might promise.” She sighs. “I certainly never meant to offend you or assume, um, certain things.”

“If you don’t consider yourself my boss, then could you please stop suggesting guests for my show. My team and I have a long list of people we’d like to ask. We can only welcome your input to a certain extent. You must understand that in your position it’s easy to put pressure on people. That’s just how it is.”

She holds up her hands in supplication. “I’ll back off, I promise. On both accounts.” She looks at her plate, which she has barely touched. “Have I completely blown things with you?”

“We can start over.” I suddenly feel like I owe her some lesbian solidarity, however false that sentiment might be. “Just lay off a little.” I try a smile. “And stop flirting. It’s not going to go anywhere. I don’t think I should complicate my life by sleeping with my boss or any co-worker.”

She drinks more wine. I don’t know her well enough to gauge whether my words have wounded her. If she wants to start over, and become friendly with me, it will depend on how she responds to them.

“I guess I’d better start harassing the people from Worlds Apart then. That show’s ratings have truly been flailing lately.” She sends me a cheeky grin, showing me that, even if she hasn’t recovered from what I’ve said, she’s at least willing to pretend for the sake of further conversation.

“How about this.” I look her straight in the eye. “We consider this lunch and what’s been said annulled, and we start by a friendly chat over coffee?” I relax and lean back in my chair. “You don’t happen to live near Darlinghurst, do you? Because I know just the place.

“I live in Pott’s Point,” she says. “So, close enough.”

Chapter Six

When Jo sings, I forget about everything. I’m more than ready to forget about my first truly disastrous interview since I started the show.

Interviewing Kathy Kramer felt like pulling blood from a stone. She was overly defensive from the start, and no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to put her at ease. In fact, the more I tried, the more she clammed up. Every other question I asked was met with a yes or no reply and my follow-up questions didn’t fare much better. The show’s producer, Jack, and I spent the better part of the day with our colleague Annika in the editing suite trying to salvage this train wreck—to no avail.

It’s Friday night and the show started airing five minutes ago. I’ve switched off my phone so as not to get any notification about overzealous Twitter trolls. And, of course, also not to be disturbed when Jo sings. This is by far the highlight of my week. Jo doesn’t sing at the Pink Bean that often anymore—the place has become too small.

She finishes the song and the crowd that did manage to squeeze itself into the Pink Bean bursts into raucous applause.

“This next song is for Caitlin,” she says as she finds my gaze. “U2 are her favorite band, so…” She winks at me from the stage and despite her teasing me, I melt a little inside.

I bring a hand to my chest and bow my head. I might hate the original, but I’m sure I’ll love her and Jimmy’s rendition of it.

Jo keeps her gaze on me throughout the entire song, as though she’s singing it to me. I try to ignore the lyrics of the chorus, but find it nonetheless disconcerting when she sings, “Sweetheart, you’re so cruel”. Is she trying to send me a message?

I shake off the thought and meet her gaze, while enjoying her voice, which, in my love-warped opinion is a million times more enjoyable than Bono’s. Does she know how much she turns me on when she croons, “Ooh, love” like that? I’m pretty sure she does. Maybe that’s why she’s doing it. And because of that chat we had earlier this week. I wonder what she’ll do when the gig is over. This branch of the Pink Bean has a liquor license now and these open mic nights tend to go on full throttle until Kristin kicks everyone out at midnight.

After the gig has finished, I stay in my chair for a minute to watch Jo. I keep my eyes on her, the way I’ve done countless times, but then realize this will not encourage her to be more receptive to flirting.

I find Sheryl who is chatting to Micky and Amber. They always show up to support Jo when she sings.

I keep an eye on the side of the stage while I try to find out what they’re talking about.

“Hey Caitlin, why don’t you harass any of these fine ladies to be on your show?” Sheryl asks. “Amber here would make the most wonderful interviewee, with all the enlightened wisdom she has to offer.”

Amber shakes her head. She’s a funny one. Even though she has explicitly told me she has forgiven me for sleeping with her under what she called false pretenses a few years ago, she can still be so skittish around me. After the train wreck interview we recorded this week, I’m not taking any more chances.

I put a hand on Sheryl’s shoulder. “You’re off the hook, Sheryl. I managed to get Jessica off my back.”

“Oh.” Sheryl juts her bottom lip. “It was that easy to make her lose interest in me?”

“I’ve invited her for coffee at the Pink Bean this weekend, so she might go gaga for you again if you were to be around.”

Sheryl rolls her eyes. “What’s with this woman blowing hot and cold like that?”

“I’ve yet to figure that out.” I look away from our group and try to find Jo. She’s no longer near the stage but by the bar, holding a glass of wine. Did Kristin give it to her or did someone else buy her a drink? I sip my own wine to get myself in check. If I can’t stop eyeing my girlfriend after asking her to have an open mind, there wasn’t much point asking in the first place.

She’s chatting to someone, however. A woman of her age who’s standing rather close to her, although that could simply be because there’s a crowd at the bar.

“Caitlin?” Sheryl asks.

“Um, yes, sorry. Miles away.” I glance at Sheryl.

“Micky asked you a question, I believe.”

“Are you coming to my pity party next Saturday?” Micky asks.

“I’m sorry, your what?” I didn’t follow the conversation at all.

“Micky’s a grown woman who was single for quite some time, but now that she’s found lesbian bliss with Robin, she finds it hard to be home alone for a weekend,” Amber says in that tone she always uses when she’s mocking Micky.

Micky juts her friend in the elbow. “I just want to cook for my friends. What’s wrong with that?”

“You never invite us when Robin’s not on a business trip.”

“What are you talking about? Of course I do.”

While they bicker, I glance over at Jo again. She’s smiling, then her smile bursts into a full-blown laugh.

“So, are you and Jo coming, Caitlin? I hardly ever see Jo anymore.”

I focus my attention back on Micky. “I’ll need to check with her. I don’t know for sure if she has a gig next Saturday, but chances are she has. So you may have to make do with just me.”

“I can probably live with that.” Micky grins. “Where’s Jo anyway?” She rolls her eyes. “Has she now gotten so popular she no longer has time for a quick chat with her former Pink Bean colleague?”

“I guess you’ll have to make do with me right now as well,” I joke. “It’s not easy to get a slice of Jo these days.”

For a split second, I think I must be mad to have asked Jo to flirt with other women tonight. She’s so busy, we’ve barely figured out our own schedule. The last time we had a quiet night at home was when she was sick with a cold.

I glance over at Jo again. She’s still talking to the same woman, who now puts a hand on her arm. Jo looks like she’s having fun, like she’s basking in post-show confidence. She looks like the very picture of what I wanted for her. But then why does it suddenly feel like it’s the opposite of what I want?

Jealousy is an emotion so foreign to me, I barely recognize it as it sneaks up on me. But that’s what this is. It’s the only thing it can be.

I’m jealous.

Chapter Seven

When we get home after the Pink Bean gig, Jo is still in high spirits. It usually takes her a while to wind down after she has been on stage. Weather permitting, it has become a habit to sit on the deck with a glass of whisky so she can let the last of the evening’s excitement drift from her body.

“What a night,” she says. “And to come home with you afterwards to this place.” She glances at me. “I sometimes wonder when all my dreams started coming true.”

These days, Jo is such a far cry from the girl who barely dared to address me because she was too much of a fan girl. It warms my heart when she says something like this: that I’m one of her dreams that came true.

“I suppose it started the day you met me,” I say. I hope she can hear the joke in my words.

“It’s true.” She leans back and puts her bare feet in my lap. “That day you signed my copies of your books. I didn’t know it then, but that’s when things started changing.”

I rub her ankles. “I loved your version of ‘So Cruel’. Wonderful arrangement.” I fix my glance on hers and send her a smile.

She wiggles her toes. “You have to say that because I dedicated the song to you.”

“That didn’t stop the woman from chatting you up afterward.” Is it jealousy making me say this? Or am I just curious? It bothers me that I can’t tell the difference.

Jo nods thoughtfully. “You were right. She was flirting. I flirted back a little. It was… kind of fun.” She looks at me from under her lashes.

“What did she say?”

Jo chuckles. “That she’s a big U2 fan.”

I roll my eyes ostentatiously. “And you managed to chat with her for that long?”

Jo doesn’t reply. She seems lost in thought. “I’m glad you, um, advised me to be more open to flirtatious signals. Having that conversation made me feel…” Silence again as I wait with bated breath. “I’m not sure how to put it.” She sinks her front teeth in her lips. “Extremely alive is the best I can come up with.” She rolls her head from side to side. “Like life is, in fact, full of endless possibilities.” She snickers. “Although I must admit that I drank a bit too much of the wine she kept offering me, so I might just be babbling.” She sips from the whisky. “And this isn’t helping.”

That explains her ease to talk about this. Two voices do battle in my mind. One wants to push and ask more. The other—the jealous one—wants to shut this whole thing down.

“Would you like to engage in some flirting like that again some time?”

“It was pleasant.” She nods, her head bopping up and down a bit too wildly. “Is that what you had in mind when you suggested this? I mean, it did make me feel sexy. As though I would want to get it on with you as soon as we got home.” She smirks. “Although now I feel a little too tired and tipsy.”

I have to laugh at how adorable she is as she sits there saying this.

“While you were flirting, did you feel like taking things a step further? Like getting it on with her?”

Jo scrunches her lips together, as though pondering my question heavily, though she looks in no fit state to do so. “I don’t think so. It was just fun. It made me feel good about myself.”

How can I possibly be jealous when she says that? When she says the almost exact words I wanted her to say. When my mission has been accomplished so perfectly.

“Was that your goal all along?”

My turn to nod. “Yes, along with what you said about endless possibilities.”

“What did I say about that again?”

I lean over and take the almost empty glass from her hand. “Come on. Bed time for you.”

“For you as well, I hope.” She manages one last lazy grin.

“Oh yes.” I haven’t switched my phone back on. Whatever messages there are—and nasty Daily Post reports about Kathy Kramer being treated unfairly by Caitlin James—can wait until tomorrow.

When we’re in bed, Jo turns to me. “I have to work on my thesis tomorrow. I have no choice.”

“But that’s tomorrow.” I scoop her hand in mine. “You’ll get a good night’s sleep first.”

Before I’ve even finished my sentence, I hear a gentle snore starting up next to me. I lay with her hand in mine for a while longer, pondering that I had, perhaps, not expected her to be so keen on the flirting.

Chapter Eight

“Am I fired?” I ask as soon as Jessica arrives at the Pink Bean.

“I should be fired,” she replies. “It was my mistake.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t have aired it.” I sigh. “What can I get you?”

“I should have let you do a quick back-up interview with me.” She chuckles and looks up at the blackboard above the counter. “I’ll have a large Americano, please.”

“Coming right up.” I’m so used to Jo being behind the counter that it’s strange to place my order with someone else. But it’s Saturday and Jo is trying to finish a chapter of her thesis—not that she looked as though she felt like getting up at all when her alarm went off this morning. But I held my tongue and didn’t bring up that she could have weekday mornings off to work on all the thesis chapters she wanted, if only she quit working at the Pink Bean. I just hoped she would reach that conclusion by herself before she gets too burned out.

Jessica is glued to her phone screen. While I wait for our coffees, I glance around the Pink Bean. In the furthest corner, I see a face I vaguely recognize, but can’t immediately place. Then an image from last night pops up in my mind. Jo smiling, laughing at something that woman said. It’s her. She has come back—maybe hoping to run into Jo.

I stare at her, hoping she will look up at me, so I can send her a territorial smile. She shoots me a quick glance but looks away quickly—like a kitten that knows it’s been naughty.

“Here you go,” Mandy says and hands me the coffees.

I head back to our table and sit with my back to the door so I can keep an eye on the woman.

“I’ve been here before,” Jessica says. “But I didn’t know this was your regular coffee shop. I like it.”

“My partner works here during the week.”

“Josephine Greenwood?” Jessica surprises me. We haven’t had many personal conversations and I haven’t had a chance to mention Jo.

“The one and only.”

“It probably won’t surprise you that I googled you,” Jessica says.

I shake my head. “Not in the least.”

“Did you, um, tell Josephine about my failed flirtation attempt?” Jessica’s tone couldn’t be more self-deprecating.

“I did.”

“And?” Jessica blows on her coffee. “Does she dislike me before she has even met me?”

I chuckle at Jessica’s forwardness as well as her down-to-earth-ness. Part of me wants to confide in her about the current state of my relationship with Jo, but the prevailing part thinks it’s none of her business. Jessica and I are having coffee today to gauge whether there is any friendly chemistry between us, I remind myself. Although I probably wouldn’t have invited her if that initial spark hadn’t been there.

“You might not be Jo’s all-time favorite person right now, but she doesn’t dislike you.” I glance at the woman in the corner. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Who are you looking at?” Jessica asks.

“A woman who was here last night at Jo’s gig.”

“Jo sang here last night?” Her voice shoots up a little. “I would love to see her perform. Will you let me know next time?”

I get the impression Jessica is trying very hard to be my friend—to force the brittle process of a burgeoning friendship. She’s new to ANBC, but as far as I know, she’s hardly new to town.