Roller Girl (A Lake Lovelace Novel)

Roller Girl by Vanessa North
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-417-6
eBook release: 
Jul 25, 2016
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-418-3
Print release: 
Jul 25, 2016
Word count: 
41,900
Page count: 
167
Type: 
Cover by: 

This title is part of the Lake Lovelace universe.

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Recently divorced Tina Durham is trying to be self-sufficient, but her personal-training career is floundering, her closest friends are swept up in new relationships, and her washing machine has just flooded her kitchen. It’s enough to make a girl cry.

Instead, she calls a plumbing service, and Joanne “Joe Mama” Delario comes to the rescue. Joe is sweet, funny, and good at fixing things. She also sees something special in Tina and invites her to try out for the roller derby team she coaches.

Derby offers Tina an outlet for her frustrations, a chance to excel, and the female friendships she’s never had before. And as Tina starts to thrive at derby, the tension between her and Joe cranks up. Despite their player/coach relationship, they give in to their mutual attraction. Sex in secret is hot, but Tina can’t help but want more.

With work still on the rocks and her relationship in the closet, Tina is forced to reevaluate her life. Can she be content with a secret lover? Or with being dependent on someone else again? It’s time for Tina to tackle her fears, both on and off the track.

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Doesn’t every girl dream of waking up to a face full of water and Elvis standing over her, his rhinestones a-glittering and his tongue all hanging out?

When the shock of it wears off, I turn on the light.

Oh God, I’m not dreaming. My dog is soaking wet and standing on my bed.

I rub a hand across my face and blink up at him.

“Did you tip over your bowl, baby?”

He shakes out his coat again, and it hits me that he’s really soaked. Not paw-in-the-bowl wet, but fell-in-the-lake wet. At one in the morning.

“Down, Elvis,” I order, sitting up.

With a whine, he jumps to the floor and starts rolling on the carpet to dry himself. My bed is drenched. Jesus. I’m going to have to wash the sheets. At one in the morning.

“Thanks, Elvis.” I glare at him.

He wags his tail. Damn, it’s hard to stay mad.

“Come on.” I pull on my robe, and Elvis follows me through the house but stops before we get to the kitchen and starts whining.

Of course I don’t take the hint. One step onto the tile floor and I’m flat on my ass—with a splash.

Water, everywhere.

The kitchen is flooded; water’s pouring out from—the washing machine? Oh God, I’m useless at fixing things. People? Bodies? I can work with. But things?

Nope.

Lisa would have known what to do. Lisa could fix anything. It hits me like a fist in the stomach—Lisa isn’t my wife anymore, and she isn’t ever going to fix anything for me again. Sitting on my ass in cold, soapy water, I actually think about calling her. Yeah, that conversation would be fun. I can hear it now.

Oh, hi, Lis! I know it’s the middle of the night and you hate my guts for killing your husband, but can you tell me how to fix the stupid front-loading washing machine I bought you for our anniversary?

Nope.

No calling Lisa.

I’m so fucked.

I run through the list of people who are still talking to me who might know what to do and who would answer their phones in the middle of the night. Eddie—but he’d just wave his wallet at the problem, and I don’t need money; I need someone to tell me what to do. My dad? No, not unless I want him to talk to me like I’m three instead of thirty-eight.

Ben.

One in the morning. I cringe, but I dial anyway.

“Tina?” His voice is sleep-slurred. I’m an asshole. “You okay, sweetheart?”

“My washing machine flooded my kitchen. What do I do?”

There’s a long pause.

“Ah, shit. Um. Turn off the electricity at the breaker—in the garage. You know what it looks like?”

“Hold on.” I go out to the garage and glance around. Elvis, unwilling to follow me across the wet floor—not that I blame him—whines. “No. What does it look like?”

“Gray metal box, flush to the wall.”

I spy it peeking out from behind boxes of Lisa’s stuff. “Yeah, found it.” Moving a box out of the way, I open the panel to see the rows of switches. “Okay, now what?”

“Anything to do with water should be labeled. Actually, if the electrician who wired your house was a super-nice guy, they should all be labeled.” They are. Thank goodness for super-nice electricians. I find the one that says “Laundry” and flip the switch.

“Okay, electricity off. What now?”

“Unplug the machine. Get the clothes out and into buckets—like five-gallon paint buckets. If you don’t have buckets, maybe put them in the bathtub. Dry the kitchen up as best you can and call a repair person.”

Okay, I can do that. I can handle that. “You’re a lifesaver.”

His distinctive, bold laugh fills my ear. “Nah, that’s you. Wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t come to borrow my electric screwdriver that night. Telling you where to find your breaker is the least I can do.”

I swallow around a lump in my throat at the memory, and then it hits me. Ben’s party is tomorrow—yeah, maybe it’s weird to celebrate his sobriety with a party, but it’s damn well worth celebrating. “Your thing is tomorrow?”

“I understand if you can’t come.” His voice is soothing, easygoing. He really does understand, and he doesn’t hold grudges.

Like I’m not going to be there though? No way I’d miss even a normal day on the lake with my best friends, let alone one that means so much to all of us.

“I’ll call you in the morning and let you know what the plan is with the repair person, but hell or high water, I’m planning to be there.”

He laughs again. “I think you got the high water covered. Okay, T. Call me later. G’night.”

I hang up the phone and go to face the mess.

* * * * *

Lisa used to make all the phone calls. Doctor appointments—except the ones I didn’t tell her about—restaurant reservations, vacation plans, all of it. She took care of everything because I didn’t like to, didn’t want to, hated talking on the phone. I’ve never had to handle something like this before—not once in my life. I went from my mother’s house to my wife’s and took their organizational skills for granted.

Dread settles into my stomach just past dawn as I reach for my phone, my hand shaking. A quick Google search pulls up dozens of plumbers. How do I know which one to choose? How did Lisa always know these things? How shitty an adult am I if I can’t even handle the basics of living alone? Lisa had called a plumber once for a leak in the bathroom—maybe she’d kept a receipt?

At first glance, the desk in the kitchen looks almost the way she left it. There’s still a pile of mail on it, now months old, and a coffee cup, the broken handle long gone, holding mismatched pens and pencils. Even a spare pair of her sunglasses sits near the edge. She always went for the oversize aviators—I like sporty mirrored lenses better. I could call her, let her know they’re here—maybe arrange for her to come pick them up. Or we could meet for coffee and I could hand them over. There’s a little flutter in my chest at the thought of seeing her again, before it spikes into pain.

No. She wouldn’t appreciate me calling her and dredging up all our fucking feelings only to hand over a pair of sunglasses she bought at Target for $14.99. I put them on my head instead, to hold back my hair, and I open the drawer.

There, taped to the bottom, is a list.

Her mom’s number. My mom’s number, crossed out and replaced with my dad’s. Elvis’s veterinarian. My gym. Her old office. And then, the gold mine:

Utilities. Landscaper, gutter cleaning company, cable, gas, electricity, and below it electrician. Then Lake Lovelace Water and Sewer Authority, and below that, plumber, crossed out with a note pricing not competitive, and below it, two more numbers and, in Lisa’s careful, rounded handwriting 24-hour emergency line with a circle around one of the numbers.

Marrying Lisa was one of the smarter things I’ve ever done in my life, which is kind of ironic because it was also one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life.

I dial the number.

Twenty minutes later, I’ve got an appointment “between eight and ten” for a guy named Joe to come fix whatever caused the washing machine to flood.

I hang up the phone and the panic sets in. A stranger in my house. In my personal space. God, I hate living alone.

A trick of the light and someone decides my jaw is too square or my voice too deep—am I strong enough to defend myself if something goes wrong? Is Elvis a deterrent? He’s not exactly a big dog. Ben—I could call Ben. Again. No, shit, I can’t call Ben. He’s got his party today. That’s okay. I can do this myself. I’m a big girl.

The first time I was catcalled and followed down the street, Lisa found me crying in the shower afterward. She told me all women fear male violence, but that if we really stopped to think about it, we’d never get through the day. I didn’t learn that lesson as a teenager; I’m still at the stopping-to-think-about-it stage.

So even though it’s god-awful early in the morning and I’ve been hauling buckets of water-logged clothes around my house half the night, I pull out my makeup box and get to work.

Putting on makeup is comforting routine to me now, like putting on armor before going out in public. Contouring, highlighting, concealing. Eye shadow—but not too much. Blush—because all that contouring and highlighting leaves me with the complexion of a mannequin. As a little girl, I played with Mom’s makeup, but unlike the other girls, I didn’t get a trip to the Clinique counter when I was thirteen to learn how to do it right. I got yelled at by my dad and disgusted looks from my brother.

When I finally braved the MAC counter in my late twenties, a sweet fem boy with skin like porcelain and empathy for days taught me all his tricks—and YouTube taught me everything else.

Except lipstick. I still use the same cherry-flavored lip balm Lisa wore when we were kids, and every time I put it on, I remember falling in love.

Tina fucking Durham, badass extreme athlete, hard-ass personal trainer—and cherry-flavored lip balm addict. Ready for anything, up to and including forced social interaction with a stranger.

Hopefully, the plumber will figure out in a hurry what caused the flood, and I can be out on the boat with the guys by noon. I send a quick text to Ben—who I am sure is awake by now—fix the coffee, feed Elvis, and take him for our morning walk.

Elvis tugs at the end of his pink sparkly leash and whines. Usually, we’d run a mile or so at the beginning of the walk to get my heart rate up and maximize the efficiency of the workout, but usually I wouldn’t be armored up with my best contouring, just in case the plumber is a big ol’ ’phobe.

When we get back to the house, Elvis’s tongue is lolling out and the plumber’s van is parked outside. Early. Wow. That’s . . . unexpected.

“Sit,” I order as the van door opens, and Elvis drops his back end to the ground.

A woman hops out of the van, and I do a double take. Petite, with short black hair that flops in her eyes, and a pierced nose. Baggy, cutoff camouflage cargoes hang low on her hips, and a white ribbed undershirt shows off swirls of colorful tattoos on her arms. Holy shit, she’s cute. She flashes me a quick smile and starts talking, fast.

“Hey, I’m Joe Delario. Joanne, actually, but everyone calls me Joe. I’m sorry I’m early, but since it’s Saturday and you’re the only appointment I’ve got today, I figured we could knock it out, get it done, get on with our lives, right?” Her voice is raspy, like that of a lifelong smoker. Her cheeks dimple as she grins at me and extends her hand.

“Tina Durham.” I clasp it in my own. It’s delicate but callused, and bright blue polish is chipping off her nails. “I’ve um, never met a female plumber before.” I immediately blush, because God, I should know better than to say shit like that.

She laughs, a hoarse chuckle that lilts up in pitch at the end. “Yeah, it’s such a sausage fest in this industry, but the money’s good. Can’t let the boys get it all. Plus, my dad is a plumber, and he never wanted me to have to depend on a dude for anything, so he taught me and I kind of inherited the business. Not that he’s dead. Just retired.” She lets go of my hand and holds hers out to Elvis. He sniffs, glancing at me out of the sides of his eyes.

“Hey, buddy, what’s your name?” When he doesn’t show any signs of aggression, she drops to a squat and starts scratching his ears. “Okay if I give him a treat? I like to make friends with the pooches on my jobs. Makes life easier.”

“Sure. He’s Elvis.”

“Hiya, Elvis.” She reaches into one of the cargo pockets on her cutoffs and fishes out half of a dog biscuit. “You’re a good boy, aren’t you? Yeah. You like that? Who’s a good dog?”

My heart lurches as I watch her make kiss faces at Elvis, fishing out the other half of the biscuit and handing it over. After he crunches it to pieces, he butts her hand with his head, begging for more scratches, which she delivers with good-natured efficiency. I’m getting a little emo—it’s not only that she’s nice to dogs, it’s that she plans ahead to be nice to dogs.

Humming “Suspicious Minds” under her breath, she stands and opens the back of her van and starts pulling out tools. She buckles a belt around her waist, then grabs a bucket full of other tools and calls over her shoulder “So, are you a big Elvis fan? I mean, you named your dog after him. Presley, not Costello, right? I mean, it could be Costello, but you strike me as a Presley kinda girl.”

I have no idea what a “Presley kinda girl” is, but she nailed it. And she was just humming one of my favorites. “Yeah, Presley. How could you tell?”

“The rhinestone leash and collar. Okay, let’s do this thing.” She slams the back of the van shut, and Elvis jumps. “You told our dispatcher it was the washing machine? You have kids?”

I follow her up the steps of my house, then unlock the door for her. “No. I’m not married. I was, but my—” I take a deep breath, then muscle through the coming out like it’s no big fucking deal. “—my ex-wife and I didn’t have any kids.”

“Gotcha, okay.” She nods briskly. “Baby clothes can be a culprit in these cases. Well, I guess I gotta work for it this time.” She flashes another megawatt smile. “Where am I headed?”

I point to the laundry closet off the kitchen. “It’s in there. Can I get you a cup of coffee? I can start a new pot?”

“Nah, I had an energy drink in the van. You go on and do whatever you normally do on a Saturday morning. I got things covered over here.”

It strikes me when she says “energy drink” that she reminds me of Ben, with all her enthusiasm and easy humor. I can totally see her trash-talking while watching a game with him, or arm-wrestling over the kitchen counter. I shake away the mental image just as it makes me grin.

“Okay, I’m gonna work out then. I’ll be down there.” I gesture toward the hall. “Last door on the left. If you need the restroom, it’s the first door on the right.”

“Sweet, thanks. I’ll come find you when I have you all fixed up.”

* * * * *

“Hey.” Her voice comes from behind me, that gritty rasp sending another spark through me. Setting down the dumbbell, I glance over my shoulder.

She’s leaning against the doorframe, pink from exertion, hips cocked forward and arms crossed over her chest. She smiles when I catch her eye, and she holds up something tiny, wet, and covered in black shit.

“Found the culprit. Running socks, man. They’re as bad as baby socks for getting in your drain and clogging it up. This one’s been in there a while—it was really only a matter of time.”

Relief washes over me. A stuck sock. I don’t need a new washing machine.

“That’s it?”

She shrugs. “You might want to get a lingerie bag to wash little stuff like this in, but yeah, your machine is fine.”

“Thank God.” I wipe a bead of sweat from my forehead and stand up. “Do you take a credit card? Or should I write you a check?”

“I’ve got an app that takes cards.” Her eyes focus over my shoulder. “Holy shit, are all those yours?”

I glance back to see what she’s looking at. Ugh. My trophy wall. Row upon row of mostly second-place trophies with my dead name on them.

“Yeah. I used to be a pro wakeboarder.” My face gets hot—not from embarrassment, but something else, something I have a hard time pinning down. “A long time ago.”

“That is so fucking cool.” She peeks around my home gym. “Why’d you stop? You’re not that old. I’m sorry, I’m being totally nosy. And unprofessional. Sorry for the f-bomb, but it’s not every day you meet a pro athlete.”

Former. I had some growing up to do.” I tamp down on the sudden urge to tell her how wakeboarding was my own personal fairy godmother, but how the Disney-fied versions of the old stories get it wrong: getting your wish come true doesn’t happen just because you’re virtuous and sing to animals. Wish fulfillment comes at a price. The tournament that paid for huge parts of my transition was the last one I ever competed in.

No regrets, not exactly. Not like Ben, who misses it so bad you can see it on his face every time he looks at the lake. Sometimes, though, I miss the thrill of competition and the camaraderies and rivalries that sprang up between friends. The sport was a huge part of my life and now it isn’t, and won’t be. Sure, I’ve toyed with the idea of going back, but my days as a pro are long over.

“Oh.” She looks down at her feet, quiet like she’s picked up on my weird vibe. “Sorry.”

I shrug. “Let’s get you paid.”

Back in the kitchen, she takes my card and swipes it, then hands me a stylus to sign her phone.

“Okay, so now that you’re not my customer anymore, want to come grab some breakfast with me?” She bites her lip on a flirtatious half smile. The force of it hits me like I caught an edge on a double up. Heat runs up my spine. Yeah, I want breakfast with her. And maybe a coffee-flavored kiss and to run my hands through that floppy hair to feel if it’s soft.

Having sexual thoughts about someone other than my ex-wife is such a novelty that I stand there and stare at her for a moment like a deer in the headlights.

Her smile fades. “Nah, never mind. I just thought . . .”

“I would love to.” I wince. “But I can’t. I have . . . a thing. A prior commitment. My friend Ben—it doesn’t matter. I can’t today. But I want it. Want you. Shit. Want to see you.”

Elvis comes and stands between us when I curse, full-on protective mode engaged.

Joe laughs, reaching into her pocket for another dog biscuit, which she hands over, and he collapses to the floor, snorting delightedly as he devours it.

“How about a drink then? You free tonight?”

“Tomorrow would be better. I didn’t sleep much last night.” I gesture to the washing machine. “I’m going to turn into a pumpkin by eight.”

“All right. Tomorrow, Tina.” She bites her lip again, and I feel that lurch-tug of attraction. “I’ll put my number in your phone.”

Somehow, we manage that exchange with the bare minimum of awkwardness, and then I’m watching her drive away.

Holy shit, I have a date.

I’m dating.

 

Chapter Two

Ben and Dave’s house is so pretty, all glass and stone and wood—it’s totally the outdoorsy dude version of Barbie’s Dream House. Dave’s an architect, and talented. Glancing around, I take in the massive fireplace and the furniture that probably cost more than my car—no matter how many times I visit, the room still takes my breath away. It looks like something out of a magazine, and I always feel weird having a key to a place this glamorous. My parents had a lake house when I was a little girl, but ours was more rustic weekend cabin than dream house. I hold tight to Elvis’s leash as I let myself in the front door, then lock it behind me. His toenails click cheerfully against the hardwoods as we cross the gorgeous living room to the glass door leading out to the backyard—this one is unlocked, and I leave it that way after passing through.

Elvis whimpers as we skirt the swimming pool and head down to the dock, though he doesn’t full-on balk until we get out over the water. Then he barks his betrayal at me in full voice. Poor pupstar. I wish I had some of Joe’s dog biscuits in my pocket to soothe him.

Dave’s Nautique idles at the end of the cove, and another boat is cruising along the side where Dave’s little brother and his friends built a rail. The top of Ridley’s blond head is just visible in the passenger seat.

“Sit,” I order—firmly, because Elvis hates water and might bolt at any moment—and wave at Dave’s boat.

When they pull up to the dock, I pick Elvis up by the handles on his life jacket, and as I hand him across to Ben—who hauls him into the boat and sets him on the floor to scurry under Eddie’s feet—I greet my buddy with a “Hey, baby” and a kiss on the cheek.

“Hey, T.” Always a gentleman, Ben’s boyfriend reaches out to help me into the boat.

“Hi, I’m Wish. I’m with Eddie.” A tall, muscular stranger waves at me from the sundeck.

I have to do a double take as I shake his hand. He can’t be more than twenty-five—not who I would have expected for Eddie’s date. His type generally seems to lean more toward burly, leather-wearing bears.

Eddie is sprawled behind the wheel. Dark red-and-purple bruises curl up from the back side of his thighs in angry stripes. I raise an eyebrow, and he gives me a smug little smile.

“We were chatting about the differences between snowboarding and riding wake.” Ben draws my attention back to Wish. “He’s a snowboarder.”

I sit down on the sundeck and look at Eddie’s date again, all scruffy and cute, eager as a puppy dog, and I try not to picture him putting those marks on Eddie.

“Ben was just telling me about how sliding on your edges helps you learn to jump. I figured out how to slide heelside, but maybe you can show me toeside?”

“Sure.” I start getting into my gear. “Hey, Eddie, I’m gonna demonstrate the backside slide for Wish. Give me a pull?”

I turn back to his date, “You know how you dig your toeside edge into the snow when you’re facing uphill on a snowboard?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Same deal when you’re facing away from the boat—dig that edge in to set the board into a slide. Don’t let your heelside edge catch or you’ll smack the back of your head on the water so hard your ears will ring.” I turn to Ben “Lube?” Of course, they all snicker as he hands it to me.

Once my feet are slicked with lube and shoved into the bindings, I grab the handle and jump into the water, gesturing for Eddie to pick up the slack.

In a moment, the rope starts dragging me forward, and I scrunch my body and ease to a standing position. I feel out the water—a little choppy from all the activity in the cove—and turn my board until my back is to the boat, digging my toeside edge into the water and sending a spray up behind me. I turn around, demonstrate moving into the slide a few more times, then face forward again as Eddie signals he’s going to turn the boat.

I love this part—flying. I swing wide to the outside as he prepares to cross his own wake. The double-up is huge, and I aim straight for it.

I’ve never been afraid of the big wakes. Not when I was a kid, not when Ben got injured—never. There is nothing in the world like the thrill of being launched into the air. I’ve missed this since I gave up riding professionally.

When I hit the wake, I throw my hips back and spin with the rope held over my head. I keep it simple, a single full rotation, then pull the handle down to my hips and bend my knees into the landing.

The guys on the boat erupt in cheers, and I can see Ben start to explain what I’ve done, all big gestures and grins. I wave to Dave and drop the rope. As I sink into the water, Dave motions to Eddie to turn, and they come back to pick me up. In the boat, Wish is already pulling on the vest and shoving his feet into the bindings of Ben’s board.

I envy him—it’s been a long time since I tried something new—but his excitement is contagious, and I can’t stay jealous. Instead, I bask in the sunshine with the company of my best friends in the world, and wonder what Joe is up to.

from Publishers Weekly

**Starred Review** The romance shoots sparks.

from The Lesbrary

[R]espectful. . . . [I]nteresting drama.

from Washington Post

[R]omantic and sexy, but it is the tribe of female supporting characters that glitters here.

from Smart Bitches Trashy Books

I loved the time I spent in the world of this story. . . . I still have a happy post-reading smile and feelings of affection for this book.