Girls’ Night! A Chapter from Leigh Hays’ Providence
Author: Lilia Shrayfer
February 11, 2020
I’ve never stared at a book cover for so long. And Leigh Hays’ writing is equally a showstopper in her debut lesbian romance Providence. Here’s a synopsis and chapter for your Valentine’s Day reading…pleasure:
Rebekiah Kearns’s passion is photography—erotic images of sex, love, and the boundaries between them. Still wounded by the death of her best friend, she’s locked her heart away and forges her only meaningful connections through the lens of her camera.
Lindsey Blackwell never stops. Her work as a wealth management consultant takes her all over the world, and she just doesn’t have time to make a relationship work. Women always end up asking for more than she can give.
When Rebekiah receives a huge inheritance, all she wants to do is get rid of it, but Lindsey has other ideas. Their professional relationship quickly turns personal when Lindsey agrees to pose for Rebekiah. With every click of the shutter, Rebekiah finds it harder and harder to keep Lindsey in focus without getting too close.
Rebekiah walked into the suite and glanced around. Her own room down the hall boasted the same features. She settled on the couch and looked out the window. Lindsey’s suite looked down into a park that Rebekiah assumed was Rittenhouse Square. But her eyes tracked back to Lindsey.
“No, the number above. Yes, that one.” Lindsey sat at the large, glass topped desk with her red-clad feet propped up on the table. One hand swiped across her iPad while the other twirled an expensive-looking pen.
The juxtaposition of professional tone and relaxed posture called to Rebekiah. She gave into her urge and started shooting.
Lindsey glanced up at the quiet click. For just an instant, her entire presence stared into the lens. Then her face changed, and it was gone. “No, Robert, that’s not what it’s saying. Yes, that’s true, but the research indicates…”
Rebekiah tuned her out and slipped into wallpaper mode. She moved around the room, making herself a part of the furniture so she could take the shots she wanted. Lindsey ignored her for the most part and spent the next twenty minutes mildly chiding and gently educating the other caller. Something about Lindsey’s work demeanor struck her, and she zeroed in on that strength and determination. The set of her jaw while she spoke, the way she articulated her point with her hands even though her colleagues couldn’t see her, the intense focus while she listened to understand their point, and finally, the smile that spoke of her pleasure in the work. Rebekiah watched her body language start to wrap up the conversation and settled on the couch just as Lindsey disconnected the call.
Pulling the headset out of her ear, she tossed the tiny gadget on her desk with a clink. She leaned back, rubbed her hands across her face, and sighed. “That was too much work for such a simple concept.”
Rebekiah set her camera down.
Lindsey dropped her hands into her lap and turned toward her. She smiled. “Sorry to keep you waiting.” She nodded toward the camera. “Is this part of our deal?”
Rebekiah stilled. She’d pulled her camera out almost automatically, with no thought to art or technique. She’d just wanted a couple photos of her. When had she stopped taking pictures for fun? She shook her head and tucked that thought away. “No.” She cocked her head to the side and hefted the camera. “Do you mind? I can delete them.”
Lindsey paused for the briefest of moments and shook her head. “If you can use them, by all means, keep them.”
Rebekiah smiled, knowing they’d never go into a show. Lindsey only saw the work and not the way she interacted with the work. Her facial expressions, her gestures, even her posture shared pieces of her that Rebekiah found fascinating. No, these pictures were for her alone. Rebekiah clapped her hands against her knees and got to her feet. “Are you hungry?”
“How long have you lived in Providence?” Rebekiah asked.
Lindsey plucked a mussel from its shell and popped it in her mouth. She chewed and swallowed while she counted in her head. “Six years.”
Rebekiah’s eyes shot up. “Really?”
Not the reaction she was expecting, but still, she welcomed the back and forth of conversation. She didn’t mind being photographed. In fact, it felt good to be seen as picture worthy. It unnerved her just how much she liked it. “Why does that surprise you?”
Rebekiah took a piece of cheese off the cheese board and shook her head. “I assumed you’d just moved here.”
“How come?” She dipped a crostino in the mussel broth and tried to ignore the way Rebekiah’s hands moved from plate to mouth. Talking was definitely safer.
“Providence is a small town once you take away the students. And the queer community is big but not that big.”
Lindsey swallowed and took a sip of her ginger ale, a poor substitute for the dry martini she craved. With three fat olives. She sighed and put her drink down. “I spend a lot of time on the road. I actually grew up in Barrington.”
“You grew up in Rhode Island?”
Lindsey nodded. She usually didn’t share that last part, but her craving distracted her. “Here and DC,” she added. “My grandparents lived in Jamestown. My mother has a house in Barrington.”
Rebekiah whistled. “Old money or new?”
Lindsey wiggled her hand. It was a question a fellow Rhode Islander would know to ask. “More like political legacy. My great-grandfather was a US senator. He married well but not wealthy. We’ve all worked for a living. Most of the money’s in real estate and long-term investments. No trust fund for me.” She stabbed the soft mussel meat and ate it whole to buy some time. Growing up with, but not part of, the wealthy elites had been hard as a child, worse as a teenager, but she had parlayed that cultural knowledge into her career.
“Blackwell?” Rebekiah’s eyes narrowed. “As in Senator Paula Blackwell?”
Lindsey nodded and offered a small smile. “Ayup. That’s my mother.”
Rebekiah leaned her head in her hand. “I didn’t know she had kids.”
Lindsey snorted. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard that. “That’s deliberate. The senator likes to keep her personal life…personal.” Unfortunately, that public invisibility had bled into personal invisibility. Lindsey’s reactions to not being seen had changed over the years. She’d stopped looking for acknowledgment and started pulling away. These days, she tended toward public appearances over personal visits with her mother. She shrugged. “Let’s just say the holidays are a little less about us and more about the constituents.” She nodded toward the last mussel. Rebekiah gave her the go-ahead. She speared the last one and changed the subject. “What about you? Are you from Providence?”
“More or less.”
Hoping to keep the topic of conversation on Rebekiah, she asked, “Where was the less?”
“My parents had a house in Wellfleet. We split our time between here and the cape. Do you go to Barrington often?”
Lindsey shook her head. Rebekiah was proving to be a deft deflector. “Not really. My mom lives in Barrington. It’s an election year, so she’s in Rhode Island more this year. I tend to come home when I know my dad will be there.”
“So you’re closer to your dad than your mom?”
Lindsey scowled. “Close is not a word I’d use to describe my family, but yes.” Why was she sharing this? Her clients only knew surface details at most. Where did her small-talk skills go?
Rebekiah looked up as the server picked up their empty plates and left. “Beats the alternative.”
Lindsey processed that information without comment. She knew Rebekiah’s parents were dead; the biographical dossier said so, but still. The reality of it was much different in person than on paper. “I read that your parents passed away when you were young.” Rebekiah’s face questioned her. “I have a basic dossier on you.”
“So you knew.”
“Yes, but not the specifics. I’m sorry.” And she was. Not just for her loss but because she’d shifted the conversation. She could feel Rebekiah closing off, and it bothered her. The slight buzz of attraction was still there, popping up when Rebekiah moved a certain way, but the subject had gotten very heavy.
Rebekiah waved her off. “Don’t be. It was a long time ago.” Rebekiah looked up. “People get weird. I’ve had therapy, and I’m fine.” She rolled her eyes. “I have abandonment issues. Who doesn’t?”
Lindsey laughed at her poor joke, not sure how else to respond and getting no clues from Rebekiah. Even though she made light of it, Lindsey wanted to stick with the emotions. “I wasn’t getting weird. I was just trying to reconcile the facts with the reality. How’d they die?” She’d stopped her research before she got into too much detail.
“My mother died from HIV complications when I was in college, and my father overdosed when I was nine.” Rebekiah shrugged. “They were junkies.” She tilted her head. “How much research do you do on your clients?”
Again, Rebekiah tried to steer the conversation away from her, and this time, Lindsey let her. She had no words for her, and it was obvious Rebekiah didn’t want to talk about it in-depth. It was an old wound but a wound nonetheless. And a little too close to her own issues with recovery. “It depends.” She opened her palm. “On the money involved, the time I have to prep, the information available.”
“So, what else do you know about me?”
Lindsey glanced toward the ceiling, wondering how far this conversation had moved in such a short span of time. “You graduated from RISD about ten years ago with a degree in photography and an illustration minor. I have addresses for you in New York City, the cape, and Providence.”
Rebekiah nodded. “That sounds about right. Anything else?”
“There’s a ton of reviews for several shows. Some in Providence and some in New York City.” She looked over and shrugged. “I skimmed them enough to know you’re a well-regarded artist.” If she had more time, she would have had Sabine research the galleries and get a sense of Rebekiah’s real status in the art world.
“All that from your database in the sky?” Rebekiah sipped her water.
Lindsey grinned. “Well, all that and you inherited your money from Emma Strahan with no legal or familial relationship to you.” She met Rebekiah’s eyes. “Along with biographical details, place of birth, age, etcetera, that’s about it.”
Rebekiah frowned. “If you know all that, why pretend not to?”
Lindsey considered her answer. Something about Rebekiah demanded honesty. “There’s a certain biographical context that helps me figure out what people want or need to do with their money. Plus, the facts don’t always tell the whole story.” She glanced out the window. The night sky was filled with the orange glow of falling snow. The snowflakes had switched from heavy drops to tiny pinpricks and had significantly slowed down. If it stayed that way, her chances of getting out tomorrow looked good. She wasn’t sure she wanted to go.
“Can I interest you in a nightcap?”
Up until this point, she could dismiss the evening as a meal between close colleagues. She’d already shared more about her family than she had with her last two, or was it three, girlfriends. She suspected it had to do with Rebekiah’s ability to put people at ease and her own comfortableness with total strangers. Going up to Rebekiah’s room represented a different boundary that she should not accept, but she didn’t want the night to end. She felt a closeness with Rebekiah that went beyond the professional. However, the offer of a drink presented its own problems. She hesitated, not wanting Rebekiah to think her no was about her but a little afraid to share her issues with alcohol. “Uh, I don’t drink.”
Rebekiah set her napkin on the table and stood. “Oh, okay.”
Whatever rapport they had was slipping away. Lindsey felt the need to clarify. “No, I don’t drink because I’m an alcoholic.”
Rebekiah smiled and offered her a hand. “Well, then, how about a Coke and some company?”
Rebekiah’s ease with her confession made up her mind for her. Tossing her reservations aside, Lindsey took her hand and said, “I’d love that.”
Lindsey mentally rolled her eyes at her words. “Love that”? Why would she even say that? For a moment, she realized what she looked like from the outside. One woman holding the hand of another woman heading up to their room. Was that what was happening here? Did she want that? Did Rebekiah? She was so involved in her thoughts that she almost missed Rebekiah telling her that she needed to pick up her camera in Lindsey’s suite.
Lindsey gave her a look and unlocked her room. “I’ve got soda. Why don’t you come inside?” With that simple shift in rooms, Lindsey’s control of the situation returned.
Rebekiah paused and said, “I’ll be right back.” She came back hefting a bucket of ice. “It felt weird showing up empty-handed.”
Closing the door, Lindsey smiled and said, “I could use the ice.” She grabbed a couple of glasses from the kitchenette and two cans of Coke from the fridge.
Rebekiah grinned and put the bucket on the table. “See? Not so random.” She doled out some ice and helped Lindsey pour the drinks.
“Was it worth the trip?” Better to start out professional than too personal.
Collecting her camera, Rebekiah took her Coke and sat on the couch. “Yes. Definitely. And I think you’re right. I can do a lot of good with the money.”
Lindsey sat across from her and smiled. She could do this. “Good. I have one more person I want you to meet.”
Rebekiah took a sip of Coke and pointed. “Here?”
Lindsey shook her head. “No, New York City. Probably early December. Does that work for you?”
“I think so.” Rebekiah watched her for a minute. “How long have you known Irene?”
“Her younger sister and I were roommates in high school.”
Lindsey gave a lopsided grin. “Boarding school.”
“That makes sense.”
“How so?” Lindsey’s smile faded, and she tilted her head.
Rebekiah spoke with her hands. “That you’re so contained.”
“Contained?” She’d never heard that word used to describe herself. Independent, stubborn, aloof, yes, but contained was new. She didn’t know how she felt about it.
Lindsey knew that she gave off that façade. Years of recovery left her with more self-awareness than she wanted. Curious, she asked, “Is that what you saw when you took my picture?”
“Among other things.” Rebekiah smiled.
“Such as?” Lindsey directed a look at her. It was Rebekiah’s turn to divulge details.
“It’s hard to describe.”
Lindsey leaned in, curious to know how much Rebekiah saw. “Try me.”
Rebekiah took a deep breath. “You have an intensity that sort of defies explanation. It stays with you at all times. But when you’re relaxed, it disappears, and there’s a softness, a vulnerability. The person behind the mask appears.”
A pleasant warmth suffused her insides. She felt both seen and desired in a way that hadn’t happened in many years. She found it disconcerting and tried to deflect the attention. “Is that what you’re looking for when you’re taking pictures?”
“Depends on the pictures. My paid work is a collaboration between myself and the client. They tell me what they’re looking for, and I try to capture that. My art is different. I might be looking for themes, but each model presents a different landscape to explore.”
“What theme are you working on now?”
“Strength, vulnerability, hidden potentials really.” She laughed. “And sex.”
Lindsey laughed with her. She couldn’t tell if Rebekiah was trying to seduce her or really believed what she was saying.
Rebekiah held up her hand and grew serious. “No, really, I tend to gravitate toward sex and all the baggage that comes with it. There’s a moment when women come that their eyes and their faces become vulnerable and exposed. All pretense stripped away.” Rebekiah leaned forward. “People use sex to connect. I just want to facilitate that.”
Matching her tone, Lindsey leaned in. “And there’s no ulterior motive in it for you?”
Rebekiah grinned and moved closer. “Are you asking, does it turn me on?”
She considered pulling back, but she wanted to know. She nodded. “I am.”
“Sometimes. With the right person.”
She swallowed. And there it was. Her intentions laid bare. Rebekiah wanted her. “I see.”
“Do you?” She shifted closer.
Lindsey leaned toward her. “Yes.”
She closed her eyes as Rebekiah’s lips brushed hers. She gave in to the feeling of connection and opened her mouth when Rebekiah’s hands slipped behind her head, deepening the kiss. She moaned as her tongue slid inside. She felt her smile against her lips and echoed it.
Rebekiah stood and pulled Lindsey with her. Lindsey stumbled against her, breaking their kiss. Reality tamped down her arousal. She was on a business trip kissing a client. “Fuck.” She backed up, and Rebekiah released her. She covered her mouth and shook her head. “I’m sorry. That was inappropriate.”
Rebekiah reached out. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. We’re consenting adults.”
She kept shaking her head. “It’s not professional. I don’t do this anymore.” Not since she stopped drinking.
Rebekiah waited and then nodded. “Okay. I’ll go.” She headed toward the door.
Lindsey groaned internally. “Rebekiah?”
She turned at the door.
“Does this change anything?” She motioned between them.
Rebekiah grinned. “Of course it does.”
Disappointed, Lindsey closed her eyes.
“But not professionally. I’ll still work with you.”
She opened her eyes and watched Rebekiah close the door behind her. This time, she groaned audibly and dropped to the couch. Throwing her hand over her eyes, she muttered, “What’ve I done?”
She thanked the universe that she had an early flight in the morning.