Broken Women and Healing Embrace Set - Anne Hagan - ebook
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A Set of two lesfic romance novels, Broken Women and the sequel, Healing Embrace. In Broken Women:Can two women, unlucky in love, find solace in each other?Where do you go when you lose everything? Who do you turn to next when nobody seems to want you for more than a causal fling?When death unexpectedly takes the love of your life, the best you can do is to try to cope and to hold on to the good memories. When your beloved’s family takes everything else you have, hope is all that’s left…if you can hang on to that.You’ve been smitten more than once. You’ve even been in love a time or two. The trouble is, your feelings are always only yours. Cupid’s arrow always fails to land.In Healing Embrace:Barb and Janet were a couple…and then they weren’t. What now? They started a tentative relationship that led to sex a little too soon. Both shied away but their friends knew the two women belonged together. Their friends conspired to put them together in a neutral place where they could talk it out and it worked. They talked. They started slow, with actually dating the second time around…but now what? They’ve both been shattered by love lost. They’re both wary of getting deeply involved again. It doesn’t help matters any when Barb’s focus gets drawn away from her own happiness to tend to the needs of others. Janet tries to be understanding of Barb’s need to be there for her family. She knows she loves the fiercely independent blonde but she’s not so sure they belong together in a committed, long term sort of way, especially when her attempts to lend a hand from time to time seem to bring out more ire than gratefulness. Barb’s dad and his health problems have her feeling years older than she already is. When she looks at the only slightly younger Janet, she sees the exuberance and inexperience of youth. She loves the curvy cop with her heart on her sleeve but she’s afraid the younger woman too often leaps before she considers all of the consequences.What will it take to convince the two women that their personalities complement each other and that they’re a good match? Can two love weary people, from different worlds, find strength together? Can they find more and even a happily ever after?Fans of the Morelville Mysteries mystery/romance series may recognize these two characters, who played supporting roles in these books but these novels stand alone, apart from that series.

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Table of Contents

Broken Women

Anne Hagan

Part One

Chapter 1 | Barb and Lisa

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Part Two | Janet

Chapter 10 | Janet Mason

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Part Three

Chapter 20 | Janet

Janet

Chapter 21 | Janet

Chapter 22

Chapter 23 | Barb

Chapter 24

Chapter 25 | Janet

Chapter 26 | Dana Rossi-Crane

Chapter 27 | Dana Rossi-Crane

Chapter 28 | Dana Rossi-Crane

Janet

Dana Rossi-Crane

Healing Embrace

Anne Hagan

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

About the Author

Check Anne Out on her blog, on Facebook or on Twitter:

Join Anne’s email List

Also Written by the Author

Broken Women

A Lesbian Love Story

Anne Hagan

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To all the Women of the Lesbian Book Writers, Readers Group, the Lesbian Book Readers Club and the Lesbian Book Nook; thank you for your friendship, support and encouragement over the past 18 months.

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PUBLISHED BY:

Jug Run Press, USA

Copyright © 2016

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https://annehaganauthor.com/

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All rights reserved:  No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.

Part One

Barb and Lisa

Chapter 1

Barb and Lisa

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Thursday Night, March 28th, 2013

“The Blue Moon is out Kane. Can you go back and change it please?”

“Sure thing boss lady.” He sauntered down the length of the back bar and disappeared behind the swinging door to the kitchen.

I scanned the half square of the bar top just in time to catch two more men coming in. They came to a stop at a small gap between customers on the far end, the taller of the two waving a twenty in the air. I moved toward them.

“Welcome to Steamboat Willie’s, gentlemen.” I greeted them with a smile I was starting to feel less and less as the night drug on. “What can I get you?”

“Two Blue Moon draughts, please,” the taller one requested.

“Oh, sorry. It will be a few minutes. I’m having it changed out right now. Do you want to wait or is there something else I can get you instead?”

He looked at his friend who was so busy bopping his head around to the mix the DJ was spinning and eying the guys around him, he was oblivious to our little exchange. He nudged the shorter man but, when he didn’t get an immediate response from him, he told me, “We’ll wait,” and handed me the twenty. After making him change, I readied two talls with orange slices and left them by the tap.

Lisa came out of the kitchen and, spying me, headed right for me. Touching my shoulder, she leaned in and spoke directly into my ear, “If you’d have called back, I could have changed that keg out.”

“You don’t need to be doing that stuff,” I told her. “Besides, that hookup’s a little tight. If we want to offer Kane the opportunity to manage this place, we need him to see every little nuance he’s in for.”

My wife nodded. “You’re right, I suppose.” She looked around. “Nice to see the place so packed on a Thursday.”

“I’ll tell you what, I’m already whipped. If the weekend is going to be like this, we’re going to have to call in reinforcements.”

“What’s that you say?” Kane asked, returning.

“It’s so busy,” Lisa repeated for his benefit. “We’re probably going to need more help for the weekend.”

He nodded. “The only gay bar in town for Outboard Week...bound to happen, but we got this.”

Marveling at his enthusiasm, I responded as I pulled the two beers, “Well still, if you have any buddies that want to earn a little extra cash this weekend schlepping drinks, you’re welcome to give them a call.”

He waved me off. “They’ll drink more than they bring in. My uncle Roger might be willing to help out though, if he can stay behind the bar and mix drinks, that is. I’ll work the floor more, if he’ll do it.”

Relief flooded my own features and Lisa nodded her approval too. “It’s a deal,” I told him. “Whatever hours he’s willing to spare.”

###

“You just need to get over your damn self, sweetie! You aren’t all that, you know.” The thin, bespectacled man stood and jabbed a finger at his table mate.

“Says you!” the other man said as he half rose too. “I could have any guy in this place and you know it!” He gripped the table edge to steady himself in place.

“Is that right, girl? I hardly think so.”

“Just watch and learn then.”

“What, are you going to do; go around offering blow jobs to every fella in the place? Huh?”

“So what if I do?”

“Gentlemen, how are we this fine evening?” Kane asked the two men as he stepped up to the little table and effectively got between them.

The guy wearing glasses looked the bartender up and down. “Well aren’t you a cutie,” he said, turning on the charm. “What’s your name?”

Kane gave him a lopsided grin. “Thanks; and I’m Kane. So, is this your first trip to Steamboat?” He glanced back and forth between the two of them.

The second man released his grip from the table edge and eased back down in his chair as he answered, “Yes, actually. We were in Aspen for ski week last year but it seems a little friendlier and less...pretentious here.”

“We pride ourselves here on hospitality and good powder. Actually, it’s called the champagne of powders.”

“The skiing was amazing,” the first man replied as he resumed his own chair.

“Besides that, just wait till tomorrow. There’s a virtual who’s who coming into town. And, if all the celeb spotting on the slopes isn’t enough, we’re going to have live music here on Saturday night.” He raised his hands to cup his mouth and he lowered his voice as he whispered conspiratorially, “Rumor has it that ‘Adele’ may take the mike for a song or two. That’s just between us though, okay?” He raised an index finger to his lips in the universal sign of a secret just passed on.

“Adele!” the glasses wearing man practically screeched causing Kane to tap his finger against his lip several more times. In a lower tone, the other man continued, “I love me some Adele!”

“You’ll have to join us Saturday then.”  He smiled again at them both.

“Oh honey, we’ll be here with bells on!”

“We’re damn lucky to have Kane on our team, Barb. He’s sharp, friendly and the customers seem to love him,” Lisa intoned from across the desk where I was sitting creating a purchase order for booze we were sure to be out of by Monday. “He defused a little spat out there without flexing a muscle and without having to give away any free drinks.”

“What I like,” I said, “is that he doesn’t mix business with pleasure. He keeps his head about him when he’s on the job...both of them.”

Lisa grinned at that. “That has been a problem for us, hasn’t it?”

“In a few of the bars we’ve rehabbed,” I reminded her, “gay and straight. Remember that mixed dance club we had in Indy? That guy we had to let go there was a rapist in waiting.”

“Don’t remind me!”

I sat back in my chair and slumped down a little. “What’s up out front now?”

“It’s winding down. Skiing all day and dancing all night must not be in the cards for tonight.”

I looked at the wall clock; 1:17 AM. “We’ll have Hexx announce last call at 1:30 and then spin one more long mix.”

“I’ll tell him.” She got up to go.

Something popped into my head. “Hey babe, in all the commotion tonight, I forgot to ask; any word from that guy in Portland?”

“Nadda.” She sucked in her bottom lip for a second in the face she always made when she was concentrating. “I’ll give him a call Monday. Our work here is about done. We need a new project.”

Chapter 2

2:30 AM, Friday Morning, March 29th, 2013

“What a night!” Lisa groaned as she dropped her car keys on the stand beside the front door.

“Yeah; I really hate to say it, but I’ll be glad when this week is over. I think every prima-donna skier in the country is already in town this week.”

Lisa smiled back at me ruefully. “Hungry?” she asked.

I shook my head. “Just a glass of wine for me. I snuck a bite in between waves tonight but I really need to unwind.”

“Is that right?” She touched my shoulder out of habit and this time gave it a squeeze as she passed me and headed toward the kitchen.

“Mmm, a backrub would be nice too.”

“Oh really,” Lisa tossed over her shoulder. “What’s in it for me?”

I attempted to waggle my eyebrows at her suggestively but, when I got a laugh in response, I assumed the gambit failed.

Turning away, I moved into the living room and popped the television on for a little background noise. Pressing down on the volume key first I stopped, finger hovering over the button, as the channel the TV had been on went from commercial back to the movie that had been playing, ‘Dirty Dancing’, one of my favorites. Moving to the sofa, I plunked down mindlessly, already caught up in the familiar story.

My Lisa and I sipped our wine as we watched Baby’s older sister Lisa on the screen make a fool of herself at the talent show rehearsal and we both cringed during the scene where the little weasel wannabe manager, Neil, fingered Johnny for stealing Mo Pressman’s wallet.

At the commercial break, I turned and said to my wife, “We should really get to bed. Tomorrow is going to be another long day. The whole weekend will be long...”

“It’s almost over,” she replied as she flipped a hand toward the flat screen.

I smiled to myself, happy that she loved the movie as much as I did. “True; and the end is the best part.”

Lisa simply nodded.

Several minutes later, we both called out, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” and then laughed at each other.

As Swayze and Grey took the stage for their last dance as Baby and Johnny, Lisa set her wine glass down, stood and offered me her hand. “Dance with me?”

She pulled me to my feet and moved us out into the center of the room. Dancing with her was a favorite pleasure of mine.

Lisa took up a position behind me and, holding one of my hands, much as Patrick held Jennifer’s, she ran her other hand down the side of my breast as he did the same to Grey on screen. A delicious shiver ran up my spine and I started to shudder but then I was spinning away, caught in the dance.

Now I’ve had the time of my life

No, I never felt like this before

Yes, I swear it’s the truth

And I owe it all to you

‘Cause I’ve had the time of my life

And I owe it all to you

I’ve been waiting for so long

Now I’ve finally found someone to stand by me

We saw the writing on the wall

As we felt this magical fantasy

So True, I thought. So true.

Now with passion in our eyes

There’s no way we could disguise it secretly

So we take each other’s hand

‘Cause we seem to understand the urgency

Just remember

You’re the one thing

I can’t get enough of

So I’ll tell you something

This could be love because

This is love...no doubt in my mind.

I’ve had the time of my life

No, I never felt like this before

Yes, I swear it’s the truth

And I owe it all to you

Hey, baby!

With my body and soul

I want you more than you’ll ever know

So we’ll just let it go

Don’t be afraid to lose control, no

Yes, I know what’s on your mind

When you say, “Stay with me tonight” Lisa bent in and stole a kiss.

Stay with me

And remember

You’re the one thing

I can’t get enough of

So I’ll tell you something

This could be love because

I’ve had the time of my life

No, I never felt like this before

Yes, I swear it’s the truth

And I owe it all to you

‘Cause I had the time of my life

And I’ve searched through every open door

Till I found the truth

And I owe it all to you

Our own dance was a bit simpler than the one we were now only half watching but we only had eyes for each other. Lisa dipped me as Johnny lifted Baby. Then, finally, as the kids on screen moved into the crowd to take up dance partners, she stopped our own little mambo and moved in for another kiss, this time more than the quick buss that had caught me by surprise mid-way through the song.

She started slow, gently brushing my lips with hers and nipping a bit at my bottom lip but moving with her to the music had heightened all of my senses. I was on fire and I took control.

I could smell the faint remnants of the perfume she applied hours before. It fueled my arousal.

As we continued to kiss, I moved one hand to the clingy top covering her breasts. Finding a nipple already peaked and pushing out, I kneaded it with my fingers until Lisa moaned with the ache of her need.

I pulled her into me tighter with one hand while I raised the other away from her breast to stroke through her long, raven hair. She broke our kiss and buried her head in my shoulder as I combed through the strands like I’d done so many times before.

Naked now, in our bed, I brought Lisa's nipples back to stiff erectness, my tongue moving around and around her swollen aureoles. I caught her nipples with my teeth and pulled gently on them, nipping them slightly. Lisa groaned.

I moved down her body slowly, licking her skin and then kissing her belly. I stroked her stomach gently with my tongue and then I moved further to her thighs. She mewed and writhed on the sheets as I moved my head upward after only a few moments to run my tongue up and down her slit. She let her thighs spread for me and she tangled her fingers in my hair to guide me.

From between her thighs, I looked up at her in the dim light. Her beautiful face was aglow with the light of our lovemaking. I held the eye contact with her as my fingers delicately spread her lips further and caressed her.

“Please baby, please...”  

Dipping my head low again, I leaned in and sucked her clit and laved it with my tongue. Lisa screamed out in her pleasure. 

I stroked at her clit for a long time and then I slid my tongue into her center and sucked in her sweet juices.  She tasted divine.

Her hips bucked and thrust upward. Moving a hand from its grip on her thigh, I ran my fingers over her wet center, then slowly inserted two inside her and rotated them in and out. Licking and sucking her clit while I finger fucked her slowly, sent her into a frenzy.

“Faster baby, faster!” she begged.

She cried out as she came. I didn’t stop. Picking up the pace even more, my hand was a blur as I slid my fingers in and out of her. She climaxed again, quickly, and then again. Then I slipped my fingers from her center and slowly licked her again. She gave a shudder as the tip of my tongue barely grazed her clit and she came again quickly. I moved up her body kissing it softly as I went. Pulling her into my arms, I held her and kissed her neck and the curve of her shoulder while she regained her breath.

“I love you Barb,” she told me then.

“Not as much as I love you.”

Chapter 3

10:00 AM, Friday, March 29th, 2013

Lisa tried to creep out of bed. I’d been curled into her so the withdrawal of her warmth roused me from slumber.

“Where are you going?”

“Bathroom.”

“Are you coming back?”

“Mm, I’m kind of hungry.”

While she went on about her business, I sat up and ran a hand through my hair. After the night we had, I thought, I probably look a fright.

Since Lisa was using our on-suite, I got up, grabbed sweats and headed for the guest bathroom where I took care of my own needs and tried to arrange my hair into some semblance of order.

When I emerged, she hadn’t come out of our bedroom yet so I decided I’d start the foraging in the kitchen.

As I rounded the breakfast island, the blinking message light on the phone caught my eye. I punched the play button and then opened the fridge to peer inside while the mechanical lady voice began reeling off her usual spiel.

A more melodious woman’s voice was up on the first message, “This message is for Lisa Falk. This is Chastity with Dr. Welle’s office. Please give us a call to make an appointment at your earliest convenience.” Lisa walked into the room as the voice on the machine was leaving the number.

“Hey babe, that’s the doctor’s office. Your test results must be back. They want you to call them.”

“Oh?” She raised an eyebrow. “What did they say?”

“Well nothing much on the machine; just a tech making the calls.”

Lisa played the message back, wrote down the number and then dialed. After a brief, terse, conversation with whoever answered, she dropped her miffed tone and said into the receiver, “That’ll be fine,” then she hung up.

“What’s going on?” I asked her.

“They want to see me A.S.A.P.,” she spelled it out, “and they had an opening for 2:30 today so I guess I’m going in then.”

“We’re going in then.”

“Babe, you don’t need to go with me. It’s probably nothing. Just stress. We’ve been going a hundred miles an hour lately getting this bar going and continuing to manage the others long distance. There’s no need for you to go to hear how I need to rest more, yada, yada, yada. Besides, this is the biggest ski weekend of the year, as far as the bar is concerned. I’ll be there as soon as they finish telling me I need to start taking better care of me.”

###

“There’s a small mass in your cervix.”

“Mass?”

Dr. Welle nodded. “Possibly a tumor. That could explain your tiredness and your general malaise.”

“A tumor?” Lisa gulped, her fear evident on her face.

“It’s not time to be alarmed just yet,” Welle held a cautioning hand up. “We’ll want to do a biopsy just as soon as we can and have the tissue tested. If it’s benign, we have no real problem.”

“And if it’s...it’s...”

“Malignant?” At Lisa’s slight nod, the doctor continued, “then you’ll need surgery to have it removed before it metastasizes elsewhere.”

“Would you be doing the surgery?”

“First things first, Lisa. I’ll perform the biopsy here at Yampa and then send the tissue I take out for testing. If you need surgery, I’ll refer you to a specialist in Denver. We’re not equipped to perform anything but routine procedures here.”

“How soon for the biopsy?”

“The sooner the better.”

###

“Cancer? I knew I should have gone with you!”

Lisa blew out a breath. “She kept cautioning me not to jump to conclusions yet. We won’t really know anything for sure until after the biopsy, Monday.”

“How quick do you get results back from something like that?”

“She said a couple or three days.”

I got up and moved around my desk to my wife. “I love you Lisa Louise,” I told her as I pulled her up out of her chair and into my arms. Whatever it is, we’ll get through it together.”

Chapter 4

Late Tuesday Morning, April 9th, 2013

Denver General Medical Center

I couldn’t sit. I was up, pacing the floor in the surgical waiting room. Hours had passed since they’d taken her back but I didn’t even know if she was in the OR yet. The electronic billboard that was there to keep families informed of their patient’s status hadn’t changed in Lisa’s case in nearly three hours.

A volunteer came into the room pushing a cart. People jumped from their seats and lined up for coffee, fruit and cookies. Mindlessly, I fell into line too. When it was my turn, the cheerful young woman waited patiently while I decided that I only wanted water.

“How about an apple, Miss? That’ll perk you up some,” she coaxed me.

“I’m way past the age where people can legitimately call me ‘Miss’,” I said to her. Noting her puzzled look, I decided it wasn’t worth pursuing and that I would just be holding up the line. “I’ll take an apple, then.”

Moving off to a seat in a corner near the conference room doors, where I could still see the billboard but where no one else seemed to want to sit, I flopped into a chair and started to work on the fruit.

I was nearly finished when the woman from the information desk in the hallway walked in through an entry near me and called out, “Hawley family?” She waited while three people stood and gathered themselves and then moved over to her.

“Conference room one,” she told them, pointing at a door just steps from my seat. “The surgeon will be there in just a couple of minutes. He’s scrubbing out now.” The little group moved toward the room, their relief at their wait being over, evident.

“Excuse me ma’am,” I stood and asked the staffer as she turned to leave again, “Any word on Lisa Falk? I mean, there’ve been no updates.” I swung an arm toward the billboard.

“I’m sorry, no. There are no updates at this time.” And then, she was gone.

I sank back down. Five minutes passed that seemed like an eternity.

I’ve got to stop watching the clock...

Another ten minutes went by and then the door to room one opened. Expecting to see the Hawley crew coming back out, I was instead surprised to see a surgeon and an RN in clean scrubs standing there. “Falk family; anyone here for Falk?” the surgeon called out.

“I am,” I said, rising. Relief washed through me that the wait was finally over and I’d get to see my wife soon.

Wordlessly both turned back into the small room. I followed. The female RN indicated I should take a seat.

I was anxious and didn’t want to sit anymore. “How is she? How did it go?” I questioned the man I assumed performed Lisa’s surgery.

“Ms.?” he peered at me as he questioned my identity.

“Falk-Wysocki – Barbara Wysocki. I’m Lisa’s legal wife but I uh...never actually legally changed my name.” I held up my left hand to display my wedding band. He didn’t bat an eyelash.

“Please have a seat Ms. Wysocki.” His tone was muted and that concerned me. I looked between the two of them but their features gave nothing away. Quietly I sat, dread starting to fill me. The RN took a seat right next to me as he leaned back against the door from the back hallway and started to speak again.

“I’m Philip Knox, the Chief of Surgery here at the hospital. One of our best surgeons was operating on Lisa today, Dr. Simmons. I regret to inform you that we lost her. Lisa passed during the procedure.”

“What? What are you saying?”

The RN reached over and took my hand. “She’s gone,” she told me. “Lisa died during the surgery.”

“What?” I was screaming now. “How? How is that possible?” I was shaking with fear and rage. This can’t be happening!

“I assure you, we did everything we could,” he tried to tell me. “When it became apparent that Lisa was in distress, I was called in. I stepped in to assist myself. I’m so sorry. We couldn’t save her.”

“What happened in there? You have to tell me what happened!” I looked at him and watched as he dropped his head, his chin almost touching his chest. Turning then, I looked at the nurse who was still holding my hand. “One of you better start talking!”

Knox picked up a chair near the back-hallway door and, after covering the six or seven feet between us, placed it down right in front of me and sat. He leaned forward and looked directly at me. “I’ll be reviewing all of the case notes, charts, and the video log but here’s what I think happened. Please mind you, at this point it’s just an educated guess.”

I nodded, “Go on.” My eyes welled up then as reality started to sink in. Tears began to roll. The nurse reached for a tissue box and held it out to me. I took one but I left the tears to fall and waited for him to speak again.

“We had an emergency procedure come in that bumped Lisa’s removal procedure back a little bit. She waited in surgery prep for a couple of hours longer than she otherwise would have. During the procedure, I believe – this is just my thoughts without a full review – Lisa suffered a spell of deep vein thrombosis which caused a blood clot. The clot moved quickly to her lung and caused a pulmonary embolism.”

“What does that mean in English?”

“The clot...or clots, blocked the flow of blood to her lungs and possibly even to her heart and brain. We couldn’t break them up.”

“This deep vein thing; that has something to do with her having to wait?”

“It’s possible but not very likely. We administer Heparin before surgery to counteract clotting and we normally continue it even after surgery for patients at risk for clotting from being held motionless for long periods of time. I mention the wait because it did happen but Heparin is fail proof.”

###

Our house already felt empty. At first, I moved about it with unseeing eyes. At some point in the early evening, I noticed it was snowing hard outside. I was drawn to the long windows to peer at the strange April storm blowing beyond.

I don’t know how long I stood there, but finally, growing cold with the draft, I turned away. Before me spread the rustic beauty of the log home we’d traded for when we’d sold our last bar in Chicago and taken on the Willie’s project.

Most of the black and glass furniture Lisa had loved so much for the townhouse we’d had in Chi Town was in a storage unit back there now. It just wasn’t a fit for this place and we hadn’t wanted to transport it all the out here anyway. Still, as I looked about, I saw so many books and photos and objects we’d bought together as we crisscrossed the country buying and rehabbing failing bars with promise and then reselling them and moving on.

I moved about now, touching this and that and remembering...just remembering. There was the brick we’d gotten when we went to our first ever – and only – NASCAR race when we were in Indy. It lay on a side table now like a paperweight for the mail.

There was the photograph taken from the camera attached to the Ferris wheel on the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach not long after it officially opened. I smiled at the memory as I looked at Lisa’s laughing face.

In the kitchen, hanging from a rack over the center island, were the copper-bottomed pots and pans that cost the moon but that she insisted I have just because I said I liked them. Tears started to well up again as I thought of the meals we’d both made and shared the last few years using them.

Our house phone rang. Lisa had always insisted on having a landline wherever we’d lived as a default business line. As I moved toward it, my eyes landed on a cut crystal vase resting on a sideboard by our little breakfast table. Ignoring the phone, I went to it instead, feeling compelled to touch it. I bought Lisa flowers for our first Valentine’s Day together. As I ran my fingers over the bumpy texture, I remembered that she’d had nothing to put them in. Our dinner date had turned into a shopping trip to Macy’s instead for the piece. We celebrated Valentine’s Day at the mall food court over quick serve Chinese food.

The phone stopped ringing and voicemail picked up. My mother’s voice came on the line.

“Barb, baby, I’m so sorry. We were at appointments all day for dad. We just got your message. Sweetie? Are you there? Sweetie, pick up please if you’re there.”

Letting out a breath as I reached for the phone I’d headed toward when the voicemail came on, I spoke into the receiver, “Hi mom; how’s Dad?”

“Struggling, as always but that’s not why we’re calling...I’m calling. He’s asleep. It’s been a long day for him. What on earth happened out there? Tell me it isn’t true!”

“It’s true...I wish it wasn’t.” I relayed the little bit of information I had.

“Oh Barb, honey, how very awful. I...I...I don’t know what to say.”

“They’ll be doing a full autopsy to get at the actual cause of death. I’ve been told her...her body will probably be released Thursday. The funeral will probably be Friday or Saturday.”

It was quiet on the other end of the line. After a prolonged silence, I asked, “Mom, are you still there?”

“Yes, yes. I’m sorry. I’m just contemplating who I can get to come and stay with your father so I can come out for the funeral.”

“You don’t have to come out here. Stay there with dad.”

“I should be there with you; I really should.”

“How is he? You never told me.”

“He isn’t doing so well. They keep adjusting his heart medication but, so far, they haven’t seemed to hit on the right combination. He’s tired all the time and he complains constantly that he can’t seem to catch his breath.”

“Mom, just stay there with him. I’ll manage just fine here. It will be a very small service here with just some local friends we’ve made in the six months or so we’ve been out here.”

“What about her family?”

“There’s none to speak of that would come here. She only had a few scattered cousins left, to speak of. Her parents are both long gone, remember?” I continued, “She didn’t have any siblings. The aunt who raised her is gone now too. We buried her a couple of years ago.”

“I remember that, now. Such a shame that she had no one else.”

“She had me mom...she had us. Lisa always said we were all the family she ever needed anyway.”

My mother sniffled at the other end of the line.

“Mom?” I prodded her gently.

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

“For what dear?”

“For loving and accepting me and Lisa too.”

Chapter 5

Saturday afternoon, April 13th

Steamboat Willie’s

“It was a nice service,” Kane’s Uncle Roger said from his perch on the bar stool next to mine.

“Thank you for coming. I appreciate you being there.” I meant the words but I felt like I was speaking from outside my own body. It had been a rough week all around and a very emotional morning.

Kane himself moved toward us. “And you as well, thank you too,” I told him.

He gave me a tight-lipped grin and a nod in response. He pointed to my coffee cup and I nodded back at him to go ahead and refill it. The bar was closed for the day but several of us had naturally seemed to drift that way after the funeral.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Roger began hesitatingly, “what will you do now? Will you stay on here or will you keep on moving about and doing rehabs?”

“That, I can’t answer for sure. The rehabs are in my blood but it’s all up to the courts and how big of a cut out of Lisa’s estate they take.”

He quirked an eyebrow in my direction, his question obvious on his face.

“Lisa and I were legally married in the eyes of the federal government but we weren’t in the eyes of the State of Colorado. We have a registered Civil Union here which doesn’t seem to mean much when it comes to probate. There are three bars that we kept in her name for tax purposes that are now going to be all caught up. We would use the income from those and the sale of more recent properties to buy the next place.”

“Such a shame, that. So, no will leaving those to you?”

“There’s a will.”

“I don’t understand then,” he said, shaking his head. “Probate isn’t required for wills, only for the lack of one. You can leave your assets to anyone you want if you have a will. Do you have a lawyer?”

“Yes.” It was my turn to appear puzzled. “We actually use a firm that’s got offices around the country since we move around so much.”

“I’d be talking to them soon, if I was you. Get that will looked at and those assets transferred to you.”

###

Wednesday, April 17th

Meecham and Seer Law offices

Denver, Colorado

“It’s not quite so simple Ms. Wysocki,” the junior lawyer was telling me, his tone borderline exasperated.

“What’s so hard about it? I guess I’m just not understanding. It’s a valid will. Lisa’s estate shouldn’t even be in probate.”

“It may very well be but it’s being contested as invalid.”

“By whom? The state?”

He shook his head. “By a group claiming to be Lisa’s rightful heirs; a Hake Swogger, a Heath Swogger and a Heidi Lykins. Are you familiar with them?”

“Well isn’t that fast?” I was livid.

“How so?”

“I’m vaguely familiar with them. They’re Lisa’s cousins by marriage and her only living relatives. I took the time to bother to notify the two I could track down, Hake and Heidi who still live in Iowa where Lisa was from, about her death and the funeral but they couldn’t even be bothered to send so much as a card let alone show up.”

“So they’re first cousins, then?”

I nodded. “Is that important?”

“You said they were her only living relatives so, in the event there was no will, they would be her legal heirs in the eyes of the state.”

“And again, there is a will. How can they contest it?”

“They can contest anything they want to. It will be up to the court to determine if their claim is valid.”

“Even if they don’t live in Colorado?”

“Their relative location has no bearing on their claim.”

“What are my chances here?”

“We’re not in the business of laying odds Ms. Wysocki. If you wish to retain us to represent you in this matter, we’ll work to serve your best interests.”

###

May 2nd, 2013

“I don’t know what to do mom; I feel like I’m drowning.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” her voice came back across the line.

“I appreciate that, but no. Just listening is enough.”

“Fill me in, baby. What’s going on?”

“The probate court out here froze all of the assets of Lisa’s estate pending their final decision. That could take months. Meanwhile, her medical bills are still piling up.”

“But, she had health insurance...”

I cleared my throat to keep from swearing into the phone with my disgust over our insurers. Instead I told her, “She did, yes, but she had a high deductible and it was a cost shared plan too; in other words, worthless. Since the funeral, I’ve run though what was left of the life insurance proceeds trying to pay off the medical bills but there’s just no end.”

“You would think when someone passes during a procedure that they would just...I don’t know...but not bill you, that’s for sure!”

There really wasn’t a response for that and mom was on a roll anyway.

“You could just do what I do with your father’s stuff; send them twenty dollars every time they send you a bill. They’ll see you’re making an attempt to pay and...”

“That isn’t going to work. Some of these bills are for thousands of dollars.”

“Oh.”

“Once this case is decided, hopefully, I’ll be able to tap the cash flow that’s in holding right now, pay off the bills, pay off my lawyers and try to put my life back together...somehow, maybe...I don’t know. Right now, I feel like I’m circling the drain.”

Chapter 6

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Meecham and Seer Law offices

Denver, Colorado

“They’re offering to settle.”

“They can take their offer and shove it. I don’t owe them a thing and Lisa sure didn’t either; bunch of blood suckers...”

“Now just wait, hear me out.” Frazier Cross, the young lawyer who’d been dogging the case for the past couple of months, held up a hand to me. “This very well may not go our way. We may want to give serious consideration to a settlement offer.”

“You’ve heard something you’re not telling me, haven’t you?”

“No, no. Nothing like that.”

I caught the nervous shake of his hand as he pushed his glasses up a little on the bridge of his nose. “Why do I feel like I’m about to get royally screwed then?”

Cross cleared his throat but his voice still cracked a little when he spoke. “Ms. Wysocki, when Ms. Falk made out her last will and testament, it was just after the two of you married, correct?”

“Yes. We both did wills at the same time. You have to be careful when your marriage isn’t universally recognized...fat lot of good that it did us.” I couldn’t see where this was going but he was quick to fill me in.

“At the time, there was one bar owned in her name. It was not specifically named to you in her will. It simply refers to ‘business assets’; nothing more detailed.”

“That’s because we had no way of knowing at that time what business assets we would have control of at a given point in time, should either one of us pass on.”

He was quiet.

“Are you saying we should have named everything and updated our wills every time something changed? Because we didn’t, its coming back to bite me?”

“In an ideal world yes, you would have done as you suggested.”

“So what do you think the outcome will be if we don’t settle?”

“The court is likely to order the three bars held in Ms. Falk’s name to be sold, all attorney fees and court costs paid, her final expenses be paid and the remaining proceeds divided four ways.”

A horrible taste invaded my mouth. I shook with rage. Taking a few deep breaths first to try and calm down, I finally leveled him with my gaze. “Those people have been no part whatsoever of Lisa’s life for nearly twenty years. It’s my own fault, I know; had I not told them she passed, we wouldn’t even be here. I’ll be damned if I’m going to just hand them 3/4ths of her estate, her life’s work!”

“If we don’t settle, you won’t have a choice.”

“You’re certain?”

“As I can be. I told you once before, we’re not in the odds laying business but precedents have been established in the courts that point toward the sort of outcome I’ve given you.”

Sighing, I resigned myself to what appeared to be inevitable, “What sort of deal are you recommending we make?”

“Your home and the business in Steamboat are yours, free and clear under joint tenancy. We don’t even put those on the table. We stipulate that all of Ms. Falk’s personal assets – her car, her IRA – roll over to you.”

“Those vultures don’t want those things anyway. They’re in this for a big cash windfall. The money is in the businesses.”

“Right,” he nodded. “So, we propose that you keep one of the three bars and liquidate the other two. I would suggest selling the two you think would be the easiest to move in the current business climate. The resulting monies would be split between the three plaintiffs minus court costs and their attorney fees. They would agree to have no further claim on Ms. Falk’s estate.”

“What about Lisa’s bills and your fees?”

He leaned back and pursed his lips.

“So those are on me?”

Chapter 7

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Owl Title Company

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

“I just want to move on with my life and be allowed to grieve for Lisa. I can’t do that with so much debt hanging over my head.”

Cross stared at me for a minute but I didn’t back down. “Let’s go in then and get this deal done, then,” he finally said.

Kane, Roger and the male title agent rose as we entered the conference room but I waved them back into their seats.

“Ma’am, gentlemen,” Cross began to address all of those assembled in the room before we were even seated.

I put a hand on his arm to draw his focus back to me and, once I had it, I told him, “I’ve got this.”

Nodding to my two friends Kane and Roger and to the woman, presumably their lawyer, seated to Kane’s right, I jumped right in, “So, you want to buy Willie’s and I want to sell it. I think we’re all in agreement on that, right?” There were nods and smiles all around. “I’ve seen your offer,” I continued, looking again at my two friends, “and it’s very fair. Sold!”

An even broader grin spread across Kane’s face. I smiled then too. “These folks have lots of details to hash out and paperwork to churn up before we can all sign on the dotted line,” I said as I waggled a finger at the two lawyers and the title agent. What do you say we leave them to it and go grab a bite, my treat?”

“Sounds good,” Roger said rising.

“I’m real sorry you feel like you had to sell the place Barb, but I have to say, I never thought buying a business would be quite so easy.”

Roger sputtered on a mouthful of coffee and I laughed at Kane’s naivety.

“What? It is easy.” Kane said again as he looked back and forth between the two of us.

“Buying it may be...but just wait till we’re back in that conference room and you feel like you’re signing your life away,” I told him. “And then there’s the day to day running of the place once it’s legally yours.”

Recovering enough to speak, Roger choked out, “He has no idea.”

“That’s where you come in Uncle Rog.” Kane smiled at the older man.

“Oh, you got that right, but I’m going to teach you everything I know about managing an establishment and then I’m going to take a backseat and live off my half of the profits.”

I chuckled at that too. For the first time in weeks, my burden felt a little lighter and my grief just a little less palpable.

“It’s good to see you smile,” Roger said to me.

I tipped my head toward him. “It’s been rough; I’m not going to lie. I’m really missing Lisa and...Listen; I really appreciate everything you two have done. You’ve kept things going, you’ve kept me going...”

Roger picked up the hand I was waving about. “That’s what friends are for,” he said simply.

“I still feel kind of bad about all of this, though,” Kane put in again.

“Don’t, okay? What you didn’t know is Lisa and I were grooming you to manage the bar anyway. Our plans were to sell Willie’s and move on once we were sure you could impress a new owner enough to keep you on. That you’re one of the new owners is even better. I have a lot less heartburn about this deal than I have about a couple of others we’ve made in the past.”

“Less? There is some then?” he asked me back.

“There’s always some. Willie’s is a good bar, good crowd – local and tourist. It’s bittersweet letting go of it and even more so since it was the last...” I got chocked up and took several seconds to compose myself while the server delivered our orders.

“Pardon my nosy curiosity,” Roger excused himself, “but what are your plans now? I mean, I know your other businesses are still caught up in probate.”

“It’s okay. I really can’t go anywhere until all of that’s resolved and, frankly, I don’t know that I want to continue on without Lisa. I just wanted to get her bills paid and have a little money to live on while everything else is tied up in court.”

“I appreciate all you’ve done for me Barb and all you’ve taught me,” Kane spoke up. “I hope you don’t mind me...us...picking your brain from time to time.” He looked at his uncle for his confirming nodded.

“Of course, and, it’s actually in the agreement. I want you to succeed.”

“So, you’ll come around from time to time?”

“Count on it.”

“Good, good,” Roger said. “You’re welcome by any time...you’re just one of the guys...so to speak.”

###

Thursday Evening, August 15th, 2013

Steamboat Willie’s

––––––––

“Barb’s here again?” Roger asked Kane.

The younger man nodded. “Drowning her sorrows for the third night this week.”

“I love her to death,” Roger said shaking his head, “but she really dampens the vibe of the place. She needs something else to do.”

“She’s still grieving...I hate to say anything...” Kane shrugged and moved toward a beckoning customer.

Roger went the other way, toward Barb. “Hey, how ya doing?” he asked the sullen woman when he reached her corner of the bar.

“I’m fine. Celebrating.” Barb took a sip of her drink.

“Celebrating? What?” His tone was curious but cautious.

“The deal was approved by the courts yesterday to sell the bars and there was already a good offer pending on one of them because I put the word out a few weeks ago that it might be coming available.”

“Barb, that’s great! I mean, I know you didn’t really want to have to give up anything at all but...”

“No but you’re right. It’s a good thing.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Looking down, she studied the drink her hand was curved around. “Maybe now I can work on moving on.”

“It’s early yet, honey; you’re entitled to grieve, you know?” Roger looked at her glass himself and decided to change the subject back to her small victory of the day. “How about a little dinner celebration over the agreement, you and me, on Kane?”

Barb smiled at that but before she could offer a reply, Roger added, “We got in some of the best honey glazed turkey today I’ve ever had, some California avocado...it’ll all make some killer sandwiches.”

“I know what you’re doing my friend but it does sound good.”

Roger held back a smile as she looked down again and pushed the half-finished drink toward him.  He took the glass and, over his shoulder as he headed toward the kitchen, he said, “Coming right up.”

“Hey pretty lady, how are you?”