The Wrong Woman (A Toronto Connections Novel)
This title is part of the Toronto Connections universe.
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As an independent filmmaker, Katie Cherry is used to difficult shoots—but a band’s music video in a tiny lesbian bar is proving worse than most. Stress-busting, expectation-free sex with Zay, the calm, gorgeous bartender, seems just the ticket. But then she and Zay discover the band’s lead singer beaten into a coma in the bar bathroom. They need an alibi, but playing girlfriends is a role Katie’s never excelled at, so she can't see this ending well.
Zay Fayed-Smith is finally getting her life back together after her junkie ex broke it apart. She’s working part-time while pursuing her dream of being a lawyer, and definitely keeping things chill on the girls front. Of course, that’s when a crime happens in her bar and her ex shows up wanting to try again. “Dating” Katie seems like the best way for Zay to keep her head down and teach her ex a lesson.
Except pretty soon, the charade begins to feel less and less like acting. And when the attacker turns his attentions toward Katie, they have to cut through the lies to discover what’s real.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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The Dam was starting to liven up, and it was about damn time. Katie stood behind the curtain on the Dam’s stage, peering through a gap at the slowly burgeoning crowd. After the afternoon’s filming, Katie was completely ready for other people to draw the band’s attention away from the camera.
It was supposed to be a simple music video. Okay, a gig video intercut with scenes of audience appreciation, band members horsing around, and partying. Which was fine—if kind of a boring concept—but hell, it wasn’t entirely up to her. Katie had done music videos before; this one should’ve been a cinch. Easy. Simple. Quick. Today, tonight, boom, done.
This fucking band.
When Riz, the manager, had approached Katie about the job, it had sounded great. An alternative punk band comprised entirely of queer women; like Katie would ever, ever say no to that. Who would? Problem was, it seemed no one had told the band that showing up for work late, high, and/or drunk; ignoring the director; and hitting on the director’s intern was considered bad work ethic. Or a total cliché. Katie wasn’t sure which was worse.
Her intern, Emily, kept telling her not to sweat the small stuff, but that was literally Katie’s job. She had to take care of the small details. Why paying attention to your director was a small detail now was beyond her, but for fuck’s—
At least the space was nice. The Dam was a queer bar at the far end of Queen Street West, and like the rest of this part of Parkdale, the place was fashionably true to its roots. Gig posters were pasted over each other on the exposed brick walls, there was a stuffed beaver above the front door, the fittings were steel and copper, the floors stuck to shoe soles, and the washrooms were graffitied to hell. Right now, the bar was filling up with the kind of people who bought ripped clothing at designer prices, or yesterday’s designer wear hocked with tears at thrift prices.
Katie’s eye caught on a figure at the bar—a fine figure, standing with hip cocked as she drew a pint. She’d been standing there on duty all afternoon, serving drinks and making funny comments about the band while Katie had tried to film them.
Yes. The space was very nice. Even if Katie didn’t have a chance in hell.
She turned from the curtain with a sigh and made her way to where Emily was adjusting her camera. Katie sagged against the wall next to her, longing for a glass of wine. Actually, no, scratch that—she wanted gum. Sweet, minty gum. Specifically, the calming clarity that came with it. Why had she given that up again? Was an achy jaw and pained stomach really that bad?
Well. Yeah. Good thing wine existed. Only, she was on the clock. And this wasn’t that kind of bar, because this place only served beer and hard liquor.
Ugh. Today sucked.
Emily patted her shoulder in sympathy. “A beer says Nave pukes during the set.”
Katie snorted. Nave, Brine’s lead singer, was a nymphal vision of long hair, bad decisions, and netting in thigh-high boots. Add in the glazed eyes, glowing cheeks, gruesomely alcoholic breath, and the way she was currently holding up a bottle of tequila like it was somehow a new discovery—the bet didn’t seem a good one. If she puked—or maybe, when she puked—she’d be front and centre. No doubt she’d somehow make it cool.
At least it would be memorable footage?
The band members sank another round of tequila shots, and Katie withheld a disapproving sigh. At this rate, they’d be lucky to get footage of them standing upright, let alone performing.
At least each of them looked the part in her own way: arms or thighs tattooed, hair teased (or perfectly shaved), faces pierced, eyes smoked, and bodies leather-clad. Clothing choices were pretty typical: skulls and statements like DEATH TO THE KYRIARCHY abounded. When they weren’t cracking jokes, or drinking, or refusing to listen to directions, she had to admit . . . the five members looked crazy good. Ugh, why?
Not that Katie particularly liked the punk aesthetic or anything, but she was thinking that maybe her problem was that she hadn’t seen it on five gorgeous women at once before. Course, she’d like it more if their pupils weren’t huge and she hadn’t seen Nave pull a hip flask out of the waistband of her skirt multiple times.
Now Nave was doing a belly dance while balancing a shot on the back of her hand, her bandmates egging her on loudly. Katie couldn’t help it: her eyes were drawn to Nave’s flat belly and full hips as they gyrated and rolled. She looked as agile and pettable as a cat. Mmmm.
Next to Nave, Ana laughed and swiped the shot off Nave’s hand, downing it in one practiced swallow. As she ducked back from Nave’s outraged swipe, her eyes caught Katie’s and she winked.
Katie swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. If Nave was punk in netting, Ana was smoke in leather. All dark eyes, dark hair, olive skin, and sharp angles. Very handy with her guitar—Katie had managed to get good clips of her that afternoon. Nice finger work.
Shit. What was it Emily had said? Beer? Katie hated beer, but right now she wanted nothing more than to swim in a nice cold pool of it. Anything to get her head back into professional mode.
“I prefer wine,” Katie croaked. She cleared her throat and tore her eyes away from Ana’s hands.
“Aww, take the bet.”
“No way. They’re seasoned drinkers. They’re just getting warmed up.”
Emily shifted the camera on her shoulder. “Maybe, boss, I just really want a beer and you’re not taking the hint.”
Seeing as Katie wasn’t paying her much for the dubious honour of being her intern, and there was still twenty minutes before the start of the show, Katie decided she could get the girl a beer. She checked her camera was still safely against the wall and ducked out to the bar. Being in the crowd wasn’t much better, but at least she didn’t have to watch the band slowly disintegrate with alcohol. She wound her way through the packed space, her eyes on the bar.
God, this place took her back to her early university days, when she’d bounced around Toronto’s lesbian scene before settling on her favourite spots and events. She preferred more generic bars, ones that served wine and played music she recognized. The women in here were hot, but seriously, half of them looked like they tapped their own maple syrup. Not that she didn’t see people like these in her usual places too, but the Dam was so very, very obviously theirs.
Brushing past ripped shirts and intricate sleeves, Katie was supremely aware of her standard black-shirt-and-fitted-jeans combo, the one that said staff more than anything more personal like available or interested. Maybe she was more didn’t make the effort.
Which kinda sucked. No one was looking, and she wished they were. She hadn’t been laid in ages, and all this proximity to hot alt women wasn’t helping.
Fine. She’d get this job done, and next time she met her friends for drinks, she was going to try her best to get to second base at least.
But not with any of her friends. Oh God, no. They were so past that.
When she finally reached the bar, she surveyed the beer choices with rising dismay. Jesus. Nothing but microbrews. What kind of beer did Emily like? Would she care? Because Katie had no clue what the difference was between IPA or bitter or light or golden or malt or what. What was wrong with just an ordinary beer? Where was Molson when you needed it? She frowned at the nearest tap.
“What can I getcha, sugar?”
Katie looked over into cheerful dark eyes. Her throat dried up. Behind the bar stood the cute bartender who’d been cracking jokes all afternoon. At close range, she was even more strikingly gorgeous: teasing grin, half her hair shaven-but-growing-out, the other half braided over one shoulder, a nose piercing, tattoos across her shoulders and down her arms, and a tank top that read HOLY PUCK with a stencil of a haloed puck. The stencil looked homemade. No team mentioned. Her brown skin and full lips and black hair (the long half) spoke of Middle Eastern heritage. Her nose piercing sparkled red, matching her lipstick.
Make that an ocean of iced water Katie needed, not chilled beer. Holy puck indeed. Was it just her, or had every hot queer woman in Toronto congregated here tonight?
“Water and an IPA,” Katie managed.
Holy Puck indicated the taps. “Which IPA?”
There was more than one? “Whichever’s closest,” she said. Holy Puck raised her eyebrows, then took a glass and pulled a nearby tap.
Oh wow. Maybe Katie needed to rethink visiting this corner of the lesbian scene. A wink from a hot (but high and drunk and liable to pass out) guitarist, and now this lipstick goddess, all in one night? I need to record this. I’m never this lucky.
Not that anything was going to happen. God no, Katie was working. Sort of. Aiming a camera at a band and failing to direct them wasn’t Katie’s usual idea of work.
She really could use some gum.
“You okay there, sugar?” Puck asked.
What did that mean? Didn’t she look okay? Ugh, she definitely stuck out. “Do you sell gum by any chance?”
Puck’s eyebrows rose again. “This look like a Metro to you?” She grinned though. A joke.
Yeah. Funny. Do you sell gum? In a bar? What is wrong with you, Cherry? Get a grip.
“Sorry. I, uh . . .”
“Needed something to occupy your mouth?” The grin turned teasing.
Fuck work. This was happening.
Katie leaned forward. “Yup.”
“There are better things than gum for that.”
Katie smiled. “You don’t say. You wanna give me some ideas?”
Puck placed the beer in front of her. “Oh, I’m sure I could. But doesn’t that take some of the fun out of it?”
“Not necessarily.” Honestly, Puck could tell her what to do anytime.
Puck reached for another glass. “I’m surprised you’re still here. Thought you’d stop filming the band when their gig started.”
“We need live gig shots for the video.”
“Ah.” The tap water and sink was apparently just in front of Katie, because Puck didn’t move from that spot but her arms busied themselves under the counter. Katie tried not to stare at her tattoos or the skin bearing them. “It looks like fun.”
Define fun. Katie shrugged. “I can think of other stuff I’d rather be doing right now.”
Puck set down the water, her expression delighted. “Oh yeah?”
“Like buying you a drink. Can I do that later?” That deserves a mental high five. Fucking smooth.
Puck leaned forward. “I’d cry if you didn’t.”
Score. Katie wanted to fist-pump the air and jump around, but instead she reached for her wallet. “Sweet. What do I owe you for this?”
“On the house.”
“Really? You sure?” When Puck nodded, Katie smiled. “Thank you.”
Puck had a killer smile, the kind that movies could turn into slow-mo and every frame would be perfection. “Anytime, sugar.”
Sugar again. Heart thudding, Katie grabbed the glasses and turned away. As she wound back through the crowd, she replayed the conversation. Every look, every smile, every word. That had really just happened. Somehow, she, white-bread Katie Cherry, had been hit on by the hot bartender of a place like this. It was like the lesbian gods had seen her plight and granted her this sweet respite from the hijinks of the band.
When she reached backstage, she found Brine acting up for the camera: Nave had draped herself around a madly blushing Emily again and was staring into the screen display with her. Mo and Lena vogued in front of the camera while Marine and Ana laughed from the sidelines. Riz stood by with her face in her hands.
Katie handed over the beer, causing Emily to shake Nave off.
“Thanks, boss,” Emily said with relief.
“That’s so nice,” Nave gushed. “Riz, look how nice Katie is. You never run beer for us.”
“I don’t need to,” Riz snapped, “you’re a walking distillery.”
Nave draped herself around Riz now. “We love you anyway, you know that right?”
Riz glared into her face. “What have you taken?”
“All good things, mama.” Nave hugged her.
“I don’t get paid enough for this,” Riz said to the empty air over Nave’s shoulder.
Katie totally understood that sentiment. The high of successful flirtation was now gone, ousted by the reminder of Oh yeah, I have a job to do here.
Ana walked over, bearing her guitar and a wicked smile. Katie took a big gulp of water and prepared herself for a crazy request.
“Hi,” Ana said.
“Hey,” Katie replied.
“You’re looking kinda twitchy.”
For fuck’s sake. Katie pulled what she hoped was a breezy smile. “Just preparing myself for the gig. There’s, what, ten minutes before it starts?”
“Don’t worry.” Ana’s fingers plucked at the guitar strings, sending notes into the space between them. “We just like to be on a high when we perform. It’s gonna be good.”
“It’s gonna be fucking immense,” Mo bellowed in front of the camera.
Katie resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I have no doubt whatsoever about that.”
Ana stepped closer, her picking turning into a fast-paced melody, one Katie thought she vaguely recognized. “Here. Here. I got something that’ll make it all better. Listen up, Red.” She then launched into a husky acoustic version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” her smoky eyes locked onto Katie’s.
Dimly aware of the camera now trained on them, Katie gulped and held on to her water glass tighter. All the other band members were grinning at her like Cheshire cats.
Oh. Sweet. Jesus.
She hated being on camera, and she hated being the centre of attention like this. Just how wasted was Ana?
But. Still. This had to be one of the most awesome things to happen to her in a lesbian bar. Possibly to happen to her anywhere.
Ana stepped closer, right into Katie’s personal space, her voice belting out the last few lyrics. When she finished, she kissed Katie’s cheek, leaving a sticky mark from her lips. The band members whooped, and behind the camera, Emily grinned.
Katie was torn between super fucking embarrassed and super fucking turned on.
Riz shook her head. “Ana, save it for the gig. Ladies, places!”
Ana winked at Katie, then spun away and skipped over the stage to a position near the drums. The rest of the band snapped into business and went straight to their instruments. Holly, the Dam’s owner, slipped through the curtain to the microphone, ready to introduce them.
Still reeling from the impromptu serenade, Katie hustled to her spot with her camera. Lucky Emily was onstage while Katie had pulled the audience angle. She pushed her way through the audience to her stool in the pit at the front of the stage, pulled out her shoulder stabiliser, set the camera up on her shoulder, and put her eye to the viewfinder. Pressed Record.
Time for live-action filming, the bane of TV but the joy of filmmakers.
Within reason. Please don’t let anyone throw up.
Holly finished introducing the band, then Lena, the drummer, slammed them into the first song. A wall of music hit Katie from the front, and a wall of screams hit her from behind.
Screw the gum, she needed Advil.
She belatedly pulled out her earplugs and shoved them in, then forced herself to focus on the scene through the viewfinder. This was now about the direct moment happening in front of her. These women were throwing themselves into their art, and she had to frame them. Distil them. Capture them.
Finally, she relaxed.
* * * * * * *
Zay had heard better bands, but she had to admit Brine generated enough energy to power the entire bar. She thought they would’ve been exhausted after the afternoon of filming, but nope, they were still on form.
On the stage, the lead singer howled into the microphone, shimmying and grinding, while the guitarist strummed with blurring fingers. The drummer seemed in her own furious world, arms and sticks flying, while the violinist swayed and the bassist attacked her guitar. The audience was going nuts.
And perched on a stool in front of the crowd was the cute redhead with a camera. Zay could barely see her when the crowd was jumping to the music, but she was there. She’d been directing the band all afternoon with patience that had to have been gifted by the divine. The number of times the band members had completely ignored her was staggering. Zay would’ve walked out. The band manager—a short woman with a loud voice who’d snapped out orders every so often—had to have known it was bad, because she’d looked torn between killing the band and taking a permanent seat at the bar the entire afternoon.
Really, it was kinda funny. Probably because Zay wasn’t directly involved. But she’d thought that Red was more than ready to let off some steam and was interested—and she’d been right.
Flirting felt good again. Exciting. Who knew, maybe one of these days she could try dating someone long-term again.
She poured herself a glass of water and drank deeply. The music was loud and kind of grating, but it meant a break for her and Nik, the other bartender. This wasn’t her last shift at the Dam, not yet, but every shift brought the end closer. Zay needed free moments like this to take stock and make memories. Right now she was sweaty and splashed in various beers and spirits, her feet hurt, her head hurt, her ears hurt from this music, and her arms ached. So maybe this moment had its less-awesome parts—she definitely wouldn’t miss aching feet or being sticky—but it was still part of working here.
Seeing bands while working? Chatting up cute girls with a free drink and a smile? Yup, she was totally going to miss those parts. Working in a legal firm was going to be so different.
Nik reached over and tugged the end of her braid. “Hey.”
Zay was definitely going to miss having this half-shaven hairstyle, even if she did have to braid the long side out of the way. So badass while it had lasted.
She reached over and tugged at Nik’s buzz cut in turn. “What?”
“The hot filmmaker can’t see you making eyes at her from here.”
“So? She already promised me a drink.”
Nik grinned. “When did that happen?”
“She came up to the bar.” With a look on her face that said alcohol was desperately needed. “Asked for beer.”
“With a side of Zay?”
Zay scoffed and shoved Nik good-naturedly. “With a side of water. Zay was offered freely.”
Nik shook her head. “I’m going to miss watching you work.”
People turned up for drinks, and Zay was quickly back in the swing of serving, handling money, and clearing empties. Throughout the rest of the set, she glimpsed the filmmaker working, her red hair caught by occasional flashes of light. She bobbed off the stool at one point when the lead singer sang at someone in the crowd, but otherwise she was poised and still.
Zay had a warm, bubbly feeling about this one. Which was dumb, because you totally couldn’t tell what a person would be like before you got with them, but nonetheless, Zay felt sure Red would at least have a few good stories. She hadn’t seen her around before—but then again, Zay had taken herself out of circulation for a few years while she got over Parry, so she barely knew anyone on the scene anymore. In the past, Zay would’ve texted some of her friends asking if they knew who Red was, but she was over using the network to dig up the dirt on a potential hookup. Nah, she could ask Red her name and take things from there. Adulting was cool like that.
When the set was over, things got busy again, and she fell into the relentless pattern of making drinks, taking money, quick clearing, frantic glasses washing, and occasional dancing on the spot to the bar playlist. Fun, but tiring.
The band members popped up at the bar over and over, Red occasionally trailing them with the camera. There had been a second woman with a camera, but she seemed to have left. Not that Zay cared about her—nah, she was all eyes for Red. Sweet, sweet Red, with the hot frown and a gorgeous jawline. Mmmm. All that needed to happen now was for her to clock off and approach the bar.
But as the night ticked on, it seemed Red was still on the job, and that job was catching the band’s drinking antics on camera, rather than their musical ones.
And what antics. Jeez. Zay lost track of the drink requests. Mostly shots. There were flaming shots, tequila, Slippery Nipples, sour apple schnapps, freaking Aftershock—honestly Zay didn’t know why Holly even stocked half this crap. The band threw back the shots, then spun away to dance, then came back for more in an endless loop, the filmmaker trailing them awkwardly. And as the crowd started thinning towards midnight, the band kept coming.
Nik checked out for a long overdue break, and Zay was left on bar with Holly. She went on a quick clearing circuit and saw the band sitting in one of the booths playing a drinking game. The filmmaker sat with them, one of the band members—the guitarist?—pressed up against her. Really up against her. Huh. Seemed someone else liked camera-toting redheads.
The filmmaker caught her eye and made a sorry grimace.
Well, okay. Did that mean Red was still interested or what? Maybe not.
But she didn’t have time to find out. She turned away and took the dirty glasses back to the bar. When she was done loading the glasses into the washer, she saw Red at the bar, camera on the counter next to her arms.
“Hey,” she said.
Zay walked up to her. “’Sup.”
“Are you still free for a drink?”
Red seemed worried. Hmm. Zay glanced over Red’s shoulder. The band members were stumbling out of the booth, the lead singer especially drunk and hanging all over a blue-haired boi. The guitarist didn’t seem exactly territorial. Or upright. She was also wearing a corset—which was a gorgeous look on her. Yeah, Zay would’ve been tempted too. She looked back at Red. “Maybe.”
Red appeared relieved. “What’s your poison?”
Zay grinned. “IPA.”
“And what’s your name?”
Red’s mouth quirked as though she found that amusing. “Katie.” She extended a hand, and Zay shook it. “How about I buy you an IPA, Zay?”
“How about you do?”
“How about we get some service down here?”
Zay turned to the right, where the band was gathering. The lead singer slapped her hand against the counter, splashing up whatever was spilled there. “Come on, we’re thirsty.”
Considering how much they’d already drunk, Zay was pretty sure thirsty was the last thing they were. Fucking drunks. Please, please give me an excuse to cut you off. She grit her teeth and headed down the bar. “What can I get you?”
The lead singer still had her arm around Blue Hair. “We wan’ed . . . Sweetie, what did we wan’?”
Blue Hair giggled. “You forgot already? We wanted drinks, babe.”
One of the band members—the violinist?—rolled her eyes. “Jesus fucking Christ. Tequila, please. For . . .” She counted. “Eight of us.”
The lead singer threw up her arms. “Yeaaah! Tequila, whoo!” Then she slipped and fell down behind the bar, taking Blue Hair with her.
Damn. Zay leaned over to see them spread out on the floor, eyes wide. The band fanned out around them, staring down.
“You all right?” Zay asked.
Blue Hair burst out laughing, and the lead singer groaned.
Good enough. “I’m cutting you off,” Zay said to them.
The lead singer sat up so quickly everyone jumped. “What?”
“Six of us, then,” the violinist said.
The lead singer jerked to her feet. “You can’t cut me off!”
“Can and did.” Zay turned around to catch Holly’s eye. She stood at the other end of the bar, mid-pour, and nodded. Cool.
“I’m a goddamn rock star!”
Zay turned back to the lead singer. She was now leaning on the bar—maybe collapsed on the bar—face furious and hand waving. “I wan’ a drink, so fuckin’ gimme a drink.”
“Oookay.” The guitarist put a hand on her shoulder. “Nave, sweetie, maybe it’s time to—”
Nave shrugged her off, eyes on Zay. “Serve me or I’ll tear the rest of your fuckin’ hair off, bitch.”
Zay saw red. “Get out.”
“Oooh, what’re you gonna do?” Nave didn’t seem to realize her friends were looking aghast. “You gonna kick me out? You wanna start this? Who the fuck even are you? Where the fuck do you even come from? Durkastan or wha’ever? Yanno what Canadians can do? ’Cause I can take you any day. I’ll take you righ’ now, you raghead bitch.”
Hell. Zay hadn’t heard that one in a while. She didn’t even cover, so what the fuck. She gripped the shelf behind the bar in a very, very strong effort not to jump over the bar and rip this shithead a new one.
Hands grasped the singer’s shoulders and voices began yelling.
“Nave, shut the fuck up.”
“Omigod, I’m so sorry.”
The blue-haired girl patted at her. “Babe, you have to, like, stop.”
Nave began struggling against the hands on her, and Zay took a step back. Where the fuck was Holly?
Someone held a glass of water in front of Nave, angling her body between Nave and the bar. Red hair in a ponytail swung across lean shoulders. “Drink that and shut up,” Katie growled.
Nice move, Red. Had she poured herself that water?
Nave blinked, took the glass, then threw the water in Katie’s face.
Then Holly showed up. With the bouncer. And the band’s manager.
As the shouting continued, Zay reached for the closest bar towel. Wet already. Damn it. She dug around for a drier one, but by the time she had one, Katie had moved from the bar.
She was marching to Holly’s office, camera in hand and the guitarist running after her. Nave and Blue Hair were cackling together while the manager, Holly, and the bouncer yelled at the band, who seemed to be trying to process what was happening. And surrounding them all were lesbians with wide eyes, open mouths, and upheld phones.
A hand came down on Zay’s shoulder. Nik stood next to her, a grim expression on her face. “You okay?”
“Jesus. That was incredible.”
Nave fell down in front of them again with a shriek. Zay tried not to smirk, then saw Katie walking through the crowd. She had her coat on and camera in hand, the guitarist still following her with a stricken expression on her face.
Looked like that beer wasn’t going to happen anymore. Damn it.
Nik cleared her throat. “You know, I reckon Holly would be cool with you going home early.”
Zay blinked at her, not comprehending.
Nik inclined her head at Katie and the guitarist, who were talking near the front door. “Like, if you wanted. Considering what just happened.”
Zay saw Katie glance at her. Just a glance, but a dark one: Katie’s face was stormy and intense. Meeting her gaze sent a shock through Zay, right from her head down to her toes. Katie looked all fierce and sexy and delicious. Pent up. Hot.
“Taking you up on that,” Zay heard herself say.
Seriously, no fucking way did Zay want to stay here and watch this racist asshole get chewed out when she could go home—either with Katie, or home home.
She hustled to the back of the bar, collected her stuff, then practically sprinted to the door. She waved bye to Holly and almost slammed the door open in her need to get out and see where Katie was.
Outside. She was still outside, on the sidewalk, glaring at the guitarist.
“I’m so sorry,” the guitarist was saying. “I don’t know what got into her tonight.”
“Try tequila and racism,” Katie spat.
“Seriously, she’s never like this.”
Zay began shivering in the night air. It might officially be spring, but the weather wouldn’t be seriously warm for another month or two. Fuck, it was cold, and she’d only grabbed her things, not put any of them on. Now she pulled on a hoodie and her favourite green coat, keeping an eye on Katie.
“If Riz is still working for you in the morning”—Katie was almost yelling now—“tell her I’m charging her overtime and the taxi fare.”
“Shit. Well, okay, of course, I mean, that’s fair—”
“Bye, Ana.” Katie started walking away.
Ana swore, then ducked back into the bar. Zay wasn’t sure if she saw her. Not that it mattered. As soon as Zay pulled on her toque and shouldered her backpack, she was running after Katie.
Katie stopped and turned. She looked gorgeous in her coat, which was a dark-blue trench thing that swept around her dramatically. She also looked super pissed, but Zay was like ninety percent sure it wasn’t at her. “Zay?”
“So, I’m guessing you’re not in the mood for a beer?”
Katie scowled. “Nah. Beverages aren’t my friends right now.”
“You in the mood for anything else?”
Katie’s eyebrows rose. “Are you serious?”
The thing was, Zay was totally serious. They’d had something good going, and no way did Zay let opportunities slide. Energy thrummed through her, all focused on this redhead in cool colours. Her stomach churned with anticipation. “Well. Yeah. I could use some fun after that.”
Katie frowned. “Oh. That’s right. Are you okay?”
“I’m not the one who got it right in the face.”
Her mouth twisted. “It was only water. She was screaming racist shit at you. There’s a difference.”
“Comes with the job. Happens at least once a week.”
Katie’s expression went dark. “You need a better job.”
Well, Zay was working on that already. “I think maybe you do too.” But small talk wasn’t why she ran after her. “Katie. Sugar. I’m standing here in the cold, after midnight, talking to you, and you look like that’s the worst thing ever. I don’t want tonight to end like this, you know?”
A small smile crept onto Katie’s face. “You’re absolutely right. I’m sorry. My place or yours?”
They decided on Katie’s place right as a taxi swept up. Inside the car, the easy conversation fell away under the awkwardness of suddenly close quarters. Katie put her camera between them in the backseat and looked out her window, which felt a little odd considering they were going home together, but Zay could roll with distance in front of a taxi driver. Katie didn’t exactly scream touchy-feely. Totally fine. For now.
Zay pulled out her phone and sent a text to Layla. She wouldn’t be up—well, who knew, with Layla—but Zay and her liked to keep tabs on each other. Roomies who happened to be close friends were good for that.
Katie didn’t seem to be in the mood for talking, so once Zay was done texting her best friend, she gazed out her own window as nighttime Toronto rolled past. The address Katie had given the driver was in the Junction, which was reassuringly close to where Zay lived in Little Italy. It wouldn’t take long to get there from the Dam, or from there to home once they were done. Or in the morning.
Zay liked it when a plan came together.
Beside her, Katie jerked. “Shit.”
“The other camera.”
Katie sagged against the seat. “I rented a second camera for tonight, and my intern left it in Holly’s office. I forgot it. Shit.”
“Hey, it’s safe back there. Get it tomorrow.”
Katie let out an annoyed huff.
Zay glanced her over. She seemed a little more relaxed. Maybe she’d let things start in the taxi . . . or be grateful for a distraction? Katie had the wicked pale skin that typically went with red hair on white people, and Zay definitely wanted to reach out and just feel her.
Well, fuck it. Only one way to find out.
“Hey. It’ll be fine.” Zay extended her arm over the camera and took Katie’s hand in hers, running her thumb along the cold skin. No gloves. The skin softened as it warmed under Zay’s attention.
Katie watched her as Zay felt along the bones of each finger and rubbed circles into the palm of her hand. A muffled hum, then she lost the tight expression and shifted closer, which was promising.
The taxi driver cleared his throat. They’d arrived.
Zay startled and lowered Katie’s hand, only a second before Katie jerked it back. They split the taxi fare, and Zay followed Katie to the doorway of a large apartment building. It was the kind of place that needed entry with a key fob and had a concierge right next to the front door. An elderly man there nodded at them as they passed by.
Hmm. Swanky place.
One silent elevator ride later, Katie led her to a door with the number forty-two on it. She pulled her keys out of her bag and opened the door. No fumbling. No glances at Zay. No small talk.
Nope, definitely not touchy-feely. Was she nervous? Second thoughts? Ugh, Zay really hoped she wasn’t having second thoughts.
“Nice,” Zay said, walking in. It was true. The building didn’t look like much outside, but inside the apartment there was wooden flooring, those nice nonglaring lights, and white walls. A framed movie poster—Vertigo—was on the wall next to the coat hooks. Another movie poster stood out at the other end of the hallway, one Zay didn’t recognize, but it was striking—a colour drawing of a hand with M written on it. Interesting taste. The floor was clean apart from a welcome mat and a line of shoes under the coats. In fact, everything looked so clean that Zay suspected the place was new.
“Thanks,” Katie said, closing the door behind them. She hesitated, then put the deadlock on. “Can I get you anything? Wine? Water?” Another small pause. “Vodka? I think I have some.”
Zay toed off her shoes. “Sure.”
“Any. Where’s your bathroom?”
Katie pointed to it, and Zay walked in. She felt kind of grubby from work, and she wanted to at least wash her hands and arms and face. When that was done—and she’d nosed through Katie’s shampoos and bath gels because girl had a lot—she went back into the hallway.
An open door led into an open-plan combined living room and kitchen, which was where she found Katie staring into the fridge. Two glasses sat on the counter. Zay wanted some music on, something to break the quiet and help them chill.
Katie glanced over her shoulder with a tight smile. “I thought I had a mixer in here. But I don’t. Sorry.”
Zay walked over to the counter. “Water’s good.”
“Not with vodka.”
Katie shut the fridge and opened the freezer. She pulled out a bottle of Grey Goose, then closed the freezer and moved to the glasses. A healthy two fingers went into each, and Zay was handed one. Before she could raise it to her lips, Katie had downed hers.
Whoa. “Needed that, eh?”
Katie grimaced and wiped her mouth. “It’s been a long day. These last few hours were overtime because . . . Shit, I don’t even know why right now. Not worth it.”
“Why are you filming them anyway?”
“Music video.” Her grey gaze flickered over Zay, and Zay was abruptly aware she was standing in stained pants and a hoodie she hadn’t washed in, like, three weeks. Good thing Katie didn’t seem to mind, because she came around the counter. “Filming drunk people is the worst.”
“I dunno. Serving them kind of sucks as well.” Zay took a small sip of the vodka. Strong, but smooth. Almost sweet. Not much burn going down.
Katie stopped in front of Zay. “Again, I’m sorry that happened.” Her eyes were so focused, so direct. Her lips still had a slight sheen from the vodka.
Finally! Oh sweet God above, things were happening. No second thoughts, yes. Zay set down her vodka, pulled off her hoodie, and reached for Katie’s face. “You gonna make me feel better, sugar?”
Katie smiled. “I’ll try.”
Zay leaned in and kissed her. A brief, gentle kiss; the kind of kiss that said hi and helped Zay gauge a new hookup. The prelude to the main event.
Which Katie initiated by pulling Zay against her and kissing her harder. Oh. If there had been nerves earlier, there was no sign of them now. Heat bloomed, then spread through Zay, rushing from the heat of Katie’s body against hers, the rub of hands against her back, and the clean taste of her mouth.
This girl kissed like Zay was the best thing she’d ever tasted. Firm lips, twisting tongue, and gentle sucking when Zay returned the tongue action. Steady hands held Zay up, which was good because Zay’s knees were going weak by the time Katie broke off the kiss.
“Bedroom?” Katie asked.
Hell no. “Too far.” Zay pushed her up against the wall of the kitchen and tugged at her shirt. Katie made a small surprised noise, then got with the program and helped her, exposing small breasts in a balcony bra and the gentle curves of a pale waist. Fuck, so hot. Zay groaned and kissed her again, running her hands along Katie’s waist up to the bra, needing to feel the soft skin under her palms.
Katie gave small whimpers as Zay brushed over the lace-bound swells, and Zay grinned against her mouth. She reached behind her for the clasp. Katie arched beautifully as she went to help, pressing her chest against Zay’s.
Goddamn it. Zay was a body-sized pulsing ache by now. She let Katie work her arms loose and toss the bra aside before scattering kisses down her neck and palming the smooth, pink-tipped peaks of her breasts. Amazing. So soft. She slowly worked her mouth down to one nipple and sucked it in.
“Oh my God,” Katie gasped. Nails ran through the short side of Zay’s head, the other hand dug into her back.
Zay loved this part. Breasts were awesome.
Katie chanted a string of curses as Zay laved, her stomach clenching under Zay’s fingers, hips writhing. Zay switched to the other nipple, letting a thumb continue rubbing the reddened, hardened nub she’d left. She was dimly aware of Katie reaching down to her pants, unzipping them, and pushing one hand into her underwear.
Zay paused and pressed her hand against Katie’s, lace scratchy under her palm. “Getting ahead of me?”
Katie dragged in a heavy breath through reddened lips. “You’re so fucking hot.”
Yeah, but Zay wanted to press into her, to feel that warm, wet closeness. She tapped at Katie’s wrist and, when it moved, replaced Katie’s hand with her own.
Katie huffed in amusement. “Toppy.”
She had no idea. Enjoying the familiar sensations of hair and wet skin, Zay slid two fingers between Katie’s lips, and Katie wasn’t laughing anymore, she was gasping. Damn right.
Zay sucked Katie’s nipple back into her mouth and drew long, lazy strokes with her fingers, easing into tight circles around the clit. Katie felt fucking heavenly in Zay’s palm, slick and silky. Before long, Katie was a panting mess, blushing from her chest to her hairline, shuddering under Zay and grinding against her hand. She came with a groan, nails digging into Zay again, then sagged against the wall.
Zay pulled her hand out of Katie’s underwear and gave her wrist a surreptitious roll. If repetitive actions contributed to arthritis, Zay was certain she and the rest of lesbiankind had a one-way ticket there.
“Holy fuck,” Katie gasped. “I don’t think I can stand up.”
Totally freaking worth it. Oh yeah.
Zay loved seeing women undone (especially when she’d done the undoing), and this one was exceptionally good. Ponytail loose and hair out everywhere, topless, pants open, sex blush, and an insanely satisfied expression. Total opposite of the silent, buttoned-up woman who’d led her in here.
Yup. Job well done.
Katie sank to the ground. She still was gripping Zay, so Zay went down with her. Katie caught her breath, then grinned and lunged forward, pushing Zay onto her back. “Your turn, sugar.” Then Katie started tugging at Zay’s shirt like it was a sin she was wearing it.
Well, well. What had she done? Looked like she’d unleashed a beast. Oh dear. Whatever was she going to—
Katie kissed her fiercely, amping the deep pulse of want in Zay up to eleven. Zay helped her with the shirt, then settled back on the carpet and gave over to the sensations of lips and hands on her. Her body was caressed, hands feeling up and down her waist, inching under her waistband and bra band in smooth strokes. Before Zay realized it, her bra had been pushed up and oh god Katie’s fingers on her breasts were sending waves of pleasure through her. She reached up and tugged Katie’s hair free, wanting the feel of the hair on her skin as Katie went south.
Katie skipped her chest—instead, she kissed her way down, down, down to Zay’s navel, then yanked Zay’s pants right down her thighs.
Excellent. Zay helped kick her pants off. And her underwear.
Katie ran her hands along Zay’s hips and thighs, kissing around her pelvis, moving closer and closer to her groin. But slowly. So fucking slowly, building Zay up so much, that when she finally ran her tongue down Zay’s slit, Zay almost jackknifed off the floor, it felt so good.
Then Zay kind of lost her mind in the warm, wicked press of Katie’s mouth and tongue. She closed her eyes and gave in to the mounting, curling surge building up and up until she came in a deep, shuddering rush. Stars spun by. The universe exploded into nothingness. All that existed was exquisite, blinding pleasure.
Until the universe redid the big bang and reality came back. Waves still pulsing deep in her, she realized there was a grinning woman resting on her, red hair spread over Zay’s breasts.
Totally, unbelievably, mind-blowingly freaking worth it.
Even with the serious carpet burn happening on her ass and back.
Also great: Katie didn’t seem in any rush to send her back out into the cold spring night. Nope, once Zay had recovered mobility in her legs, Katie helped her hobble straight into a comfy bed and wrapped her arms around Zay. They talked about stupid things—haircuts and favourite snacks and the dumbest stuff that had happened to them on other nights out—before making out some more and going down for another round.
As she drifted to sleep, she decided this needed a repeat. Goddamn it did. She mentally high-fived her instincts, because those had epically pulled through for her today. Despite the shitty beginning, or maybe because of it, tonight was totally in Zay’s top-three hookups like ever. Ever. Even if Katie turned weird and standoffish in the morning—sometimes that happened—the sex was too good to miss. Plus it felt amazing to be back in the game like this. She still had it. Fuck yes.
As usual, Katie’s phone alarm woke her up at 7 a.m. Too damn early after last night’s shenanigans. She turned it off, then rolled over to go back to sleep.
Oh. Her bed had someone in it.
Zay’s still here?
As evidenced by a flow of dark wavy hair over the pillow and the tan curve of neck and bare shoulder above the cover—uh, yeah, Zay was still here.
Katie settled back in bed, hoping she hadn’t disturbed her. It had been a while since a girl had slept over. Normally they snuck out during the night. Not that Katie could blame Zay for staying—the nights were still cold.
Zay breathed deeply, asleep despite the alarm. Katie remembered the glint of her eyes and how her fingers had stroked Katie into a mind-numbing orgasm, the wicked grin she’d flashed as Katie’s knees had given out.
God. Collapsing from an orgasm. Katie wasn’t sure if that was because she hadn’t had sex in months or if the orgasm had been that good. Maybe both. Either way, it was kind of disturbing how easily she’d let go. Did Zay expect a repeat? Was that why she’d stayed? Because Katie could be persuaded, given how awesome last night had been.
But what if Zay was clingy? She didn’t seem the type, but what if she was?
Shit, Katie was totally overthinking things now. It didn’t matter what Zay was or wasn’t; Katie would just handle whatever happened.
She turned over, hoping the movement didn’t wake Zay, and closed her eyes.
Hmm. Zay smelled good. Not that Katie hadn’t expected her to—after all, she’d been face-deep in her last night. Lots of good there. This was more hair and skin smell. More herbal—shampoo, probably.
Zay’s hair was gorgeous. Katie had run her fingers through the long part while they’d chatted in bed, enjoying its softness and curl. The growing-out section was soft too, but in a different way. Katie had never shaved her hair, had never had the inclination or the attitude to pull it off. She liked the way it looked on other girls, and she could tell Zay had looked amazing with it, even though she clearly no longer wanted that kind of style.
Thinking about hair got her wondering if she should change hers, and before she knew it, her phone was ringing and she was opening her eyes again.