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Authors: K.G. MacGregor

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BOOK: Just This Once
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“I’ll tip you and you’ll feel better,” Paula answered, digging for her wallet.

Wynne did the same for her manicurist, and the two ladies exited the salon together.

“So you’re off today,” the tall woman observed. That meant they both had free time right now.

“Yeah, Tuesdays and Saturdays,” Paula answered. “Do you have to go do some work now…or anything?”

“No, could I talk you into joining me for dinner?” The brunette gestured in the direction of the Weller Regent’s five-star restaurant.

Thank you God!
“I was about to ask you the same thing. But not here. Are you up for a ride?”

Wynne’s face brightened in agreement. “Absolutely! It would be nice to see something of Orlando besides the office, the hotel, or the airport.”

“Then let’s do it!”

“I should change. Can you give me a minute?”

“Tell you what. I’ll meet you in the parking garage on Level 2; just go down this hallway and out the door,” she pointed over her shoulder, “and up one flight of steps. Look to your left and I’ll be waiting.”

“Ten minutes.”

“Great!” Paula watched the woman head to the elevator bank before exiting out the side to the parking garage. Finally, she and Wynne were going to have a chance to get to know each other. Management at the Weller Regent would likely frown on this, but it wasn’t forbidden, as long as she wasn’t on hotel property.

Wynne merrily pushed through the door to her room, unable to suppress the smile she now sported. In the first place, she was going out to dinner with Paula, and that would be fun no matter what became of it. But for the bonus, she now knew that she and the very sexy blonde went to the same church, so to speak.

You shouldn’t be doing this
, a little voice cautioned. But damn it, it was just dinner and she was going to do it whether she should or not. There was very little in Wynne Connelly’s life that wasn’t an obligation or responsibility. Paula McKenzie was not.

This is how it’s supposed to feel
, she told herself, taking on the objections of her conscience. Through the years, Wynne had met dozens of women at parties, at clubs, through mutual friends. She’d followed up with a handful who seemed like the strong and independent type, going out a few times to see if anything sparked. When it didn’t — and it never really had — she’d cool things and go back into hibernation again. On rare occasions, there’d be a sexual spark, but when she played it out, it was never attached to the kind of woman she wanted in her life.

Things were different with Paula, who was exactly the sort of woman Wynne wanted in her life. And though they barely knew each other, the spark was already there. How else could Wynne explain why she thought about this pretty blonde so much; why her breath caught when she saw that she had email from her; and why she was going out to dinner with her, even though the little voice told her she shouldn’t?

Wynne slipped on the tan slacks and red sweater she’d worn on the flight down last Sunday, grabbing a blazer just in case it turned cool. Paula had been wearing black jeans and a long-sleeved white v-neck pullover, so she didn’t want to be too dressed up.

Right on time, the tall woman emerged from the stairwell on the second floor of the parking garage. An engine roar got her attention as she eyed the roadster — top-down —

pulling out of a space to draw to a stop in front of her. “Was this the runt of the litter?”

“Come on, it’s bigger than it looks,” Paula encouraged.

Wynne gamely complied, bending low to fold herself into the passenger seat. Little by little, she stretched her legs in front of her, surprised to find that they fit just fine. Leaning over the console, she peeked underneath the steering wheel. “Do you have to pedal?”

“Yes, it’s how I keep in shape,” Paula answered back, not missing a beat.

“You never struck me as the sports car type.”

“This is probably the only thing about me that’s not practical,” she explained. “But I just love the way it grips the road.”

“That’s probably because you’re so much closer to it,” Wynne kidded. “Do you have to drag your foot when you want it to stop?”

“Yeah, I’ll let you know when,” she teased back. “Do you like ribs?”

“Are you kidding? I love ribs!”

“Great! I’ve got the perfect place.” Paula whipped out into traffic and made for the expressway. “You warm enough? This car’s got a great little heater,” she shouted.

“You drive around with the top down and the heater on?” Wynne brushed her hair from her face, but to no avail.

“Sometimes,” she answered defensively. Paula glanced over at her new friend’s struggle with the wind. “Here, have a hat. I won’t need it anymore,” she grinned, running her fingers through her short hair.

The brunette noted the USS Columbia insignia, took it thankfully and pulled her long locks through the opening in the back. Now that her hair wasn’t blowing all over the place, this open-air ride was rather nice. Paula had slipped on a jacket, but Wynne was comparing this to the winter in Baltimore, and it didn’t seem cold at all.

Fifteen minutes later, Paula pulled into Buck’s, a family style restaurant with a sports bar décor. Wynne twisted her body to climb out. “Wait, I’m having a
déja vu!
It’s from when I was born!”

“Very funny,” Paula chuckled. “So I bet you drive one of those road monsters.”

“A Volvo sedan. I’d crush this thing like a bug.”

“I’ll have you know I’m not easily intimidated,” Paula answered, tossing up an eyebrow.

“I think I already figured that out about you.”

A few minutes later the women were seated across from one another in a booth, the tall wooden seat backs affording them a measure of privacy in this otherwise bustling venue.

“I recommend the pork ribs,” Paula announced, “with the hot sauce if you’re man enough.”

“Then I’ll have the pork ribs, with
extra
hot sauce.”

“Ooooo, tough girl.”

“Believe me, I am a tough girl,” Wynne answered back, now arching her own brow. “And you’re not easily intimidated. I sure hope we never tangle, Miss McKenzie.”

Speak for yourself
. “Believe me, with all the stuff I have to go through at work, the last thing I want to do on my free time is tangle.” Paula went on to relate her Sunday night experience with the Frandles, and to tell a few stories about breaking up drunken parties, and even a fight or two.

“You know, that’s something I noticed about you right off that first night we met, when you handled that man in front of me. You just had this air of authority about you. I really admire that in people.”

“Well thank you. And I bet you’re really good at what you do.”

“To tell you the truth, I am good at my job. But I don’t think that’s going to be enough to save it.” Now it was Wynne’s turn to talk about work, about how the company she worked for had been acquired by Eldon-Markoff, and how she was helping them centralize the marketing operations in a way that would likely put her out of a job. “The vice president for sales and marketing is great, though. In fact, she’s a lot like you in a way. I mean, both of you sort of…”

“Walk softly and carry a big stick.”

“Exactly.”

Dinner arrived and both women dug in, each daring the other to add Tabasco to the already fiery barbecue sauce. The conversation was easy, Wynne thought, like they were already friends. And it was fun to see this playful side of the usually serious night manager. Paula talked again about her family, and how proud everyone was of the recent shuttle mission. Wynne told all about her mother’s ineptitude around the house.

“So I have to congratulate you on that little response of yours to Carla’s philosophy of men,” Paula teased. “How did you know I’d get it?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure you would until you spun around in the chair and flashed me that big smile…sort of like the one you’re wearing now.”

“I had to see the look on your face, just to make sure. I thought we were on the same wavelength, but you never want to assume anything.”

“What gave you the idea we were on the same wavelength?”

“Oh, I don’t know. That first night we met, I just sort of got the feeling you were checking me out while I was checking you in,” Paula quipped.

“You did, did you? That’s because you were flirting with me,” Wynne accused playfully.

“Oh, no! You were the one doing the flirting. ‘Shall I ask for you?’”

“Yeah, Miss ‘Here’s my card with my direct extension. If there’s
anything
you need.’”

The blonde woman raised her hands to her blushing cheeks. “This from a woman who said ’I promise not to misbehave,’” she taunted.

Wynne pursed her lips indignantly for a moment, finally looking down as she nodded her head in mock shame. “I was flirting,” she admitted softly.

“I knew it!”

“But so were you.”

“So was I,” Paula finally confessed, and both women laughed.

As they were talking, the waitress dropped by to discreetly deposit their check.

“Well thank you for being my dinner guest,” Wynne said as she covered the check with her hand. After a brief argument, Paula acquiesced and thanked her companion, vowing that she would get the bill next time.

Wynne dropped some bills in the tray, grimacing as she stood.

“Are you okay?” Paula hadn’t seen that look before.

“Yeah, my leg just gets really stiff when I sit for awhile.”

“Is there anything I can do? I mean besides marching you outside and folding you into my tiny car?”

“No, I think that’ll finish me off,” Wynne laughed.

“I’m sorry. If I’d known two years ago that we’d actually be going out to dinner, I’d have bought a larger car.” The women exited into the parking lot, Paula offering her arm to steady the hobbling woman.

“And if I could go back two years, I would stop at that intersection, even though I had the right of way.”

“So it was a car accident?”

“Yeah, some kid stole a truck and was trying to outrun the cops. He hit me broadside.”

“That’s awful! Was anyone else hurt?”

Wynne nodded sadly. “The kid was killed. He was only 15 years old. I was alone in the car.”

“Wynne, I’m so sorry to hear that. And that was two years ago?”

“Yeah. I’ve already had four surgeries on my leg. I need to have one more, but I just can’t bring myself to schedule it.”

“Will it fix this pain you have?”

“It should. But I’d be out of work for about a month, and back into physical therapy three times a week. I just don’t have the time to do that right now.” Wynne looked down at where her hand gripped Paula’s arm, squeezing a bit before letting go to climb into the small car.

“Well you definitely win the Tough Girl Award, my friend.”

As she had done on the ride over, Wynne put the USS Columbia hat back on, tucking her hair just right so it wouldn’t blow. “It’s great you have this hat,” she said wistfully, remembering the sad day the crew was lost.

“That reminds me, the next launch is scheduled for a Saturday. If it works out that you can come down on Friday, I can get passes to the press site right there at the Cape,” Paula offered.

Wynne tensed a moment. A weekend trip might prove difficult to pull off. “I’m not sure. If you’ll let me know the date, I’ll check my calendar.”

Paula had expected a more enthusiastic response, but maybe it was a real hardship for Wynne to leave her family for that long. Her mother seemed awfully dependent.

Drawing close to the hotel, Paula decided that it would be easier for Wynne if she entered through the lobby than through the garage, given that the woman’s leg was obviously bothering her now. That meant the entire staff would know by tomorrow that she’d been out tonight with the guest from Baltimore.
Oh, well
.

Reaching over the console before they pulled into the circle, she took the slender hand and gave it a squeeze. “Thank you very much for tonight. I had a lot of fun.”

“Me too.”

———

What the hell do you think you’re doing?

The soak in the swirling water had eased the throbbing in her leg, but Wynne was far from relaxed. The irony was that it was the fun she’d had tonight with Paula that was causing her to feel unsettled. She couldn’t take this any further, but that didn’t make her want it less. All night, she’d been looking across the table, wanting to kiss those lips and pull that body to hers. Only in her fantasies, one of which she was going to enjoy right now.

Chapter 6

“What is this stuff?” Rusty couldn’t hide his disgust.

“It’s called edamame, and you’re not supposed to eat the whole thing. Just put it between your teeth and pull out the soybeans.” Paula had insisted on something different tonight, despite Rusty’s pleas to return to the deli.

“If I’d wanted beans, I could have gotten a bowl of chili and eaten them with a spoon.”

“Rusty, I needed a break. You can go see her tomorrow night, and maybe she’ll have had a chance to miss you.”

“Did I tell you we went out again last Friday?”

“Only about 12 times, but if it makes you feel better, you can tell me all about it again.”

“What if we talk about your lady instead?” He gestured to the monitor, which showed Wynne Connelly climbing again from a cab and collecting her things.

Paula had been watching the clock, knowing that Wynne would arrive sometime between 9:00 and 9:30.

“She is not
my
lady.”

“You should go on down to the desk and check her in,” Rusty suggested.

“Oh, I don’t think so. Every single person on staff knows we went out the last time she was here, and I’d rather not be under their microscope. Besides, Jolene and Matthew have everything under control.” The view had changed to the front desk, where Paula could see Wynne standing in line, looking around. The women had traded several emails over the last couple of weeks, agreeing to a movie and pizza on Tuesday night.

“Nobody’s going to think anything about it,” he reasoned. “Everybody knows by now that she’s a regular, and they’ll just think you’re friends.”

“That’s exactly what we are, Rusty. But I’d just prefer that people not read any more into it.”

BOOK: Just This Once
11.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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