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Excerpt for Fore Play by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Fore Play

By Julie Cannon

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 Julie Cannon

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Fore Play

What would you do if being with the woman of your dreams meant sabotaging your career?

 

That’s the exact situation high-profile executive Leigh Marshall finds herself in when she falls hard for her golf pro, who also happens to be an ex-con. Her board of directors hasn’t gotten the memo regarding workplace equality and who she sleeps with is still more important than her stellar qualifications.

 

Peyton Broader has no interest in anything other than keeping her head down, reporting to her parole officer, and getting her life back. Oh yeah, and making up for nine years of celibacy. The last thing she needs is to lose her job or get sucked into other people's drama, no matter how hot and tempting the woman is. So why can’t she stay away from Leigh?

Acclaim for Julie Cannon’s Fiction

In Smoke and Fire…“Cannon skillfully draws out the honest emotion and growing chemistry between her heroines, a slow burn that feels like constant foreplay leading to a spectacular climax. Though Brady is almost too good to be true, she’s the perfect match for Nicole. Every scene they share leaps off the page, making this a sweet, hot, memorable read.”—Publishers Weekly

 

Breaker’s Passion is…“an exceptionally hot romance in an exceptionally romantic setting. …Cannon has become known for her well-drawn characters and well-written love scenes.”—Just About Write

 

In Power Play…“Cannon gives her readers a high stakes game full of passion, humor, and incredible sex.”—Just About Write

 

About Heartland…“There’s nothing coy about the passion of these unalike dykes—it ignites at first encounter and never abates. …Cannon’s well-constructed novel conveys more complexity of character and less overwrought melodrama than most stories in the crowded genre of lesbian-love-against-all-odds—a definite plus.”—Richard Labonte, Book Marks

 

“Cannon has given her readers a novel rich in plot and rich in character development. Her vivid scenes touch our imaginations as her hot sex scenes touch us in many other areas. Uncharted Passage is a great read.”—Just About Write

 

About Just Business…“Julie Cannon’s novels just keep getting better and better! This is a delightful tale that completely engages the reader. It’s a must read romance!”—Just About Write

 

“Great plot, unusual twist and wonderful women. …[I Remember] is an inspired romance with extremely hot sex scenes and delightful passion.”—Lesbian Reading Room

Fore Play

© 2018 By Julie Cannon. All Rights Reserved.

 

ISBN 13:978-1-63555-103-7

 

This Electronic Book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185

 

First Edition: May 2018

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

 

Credits

Editor: Shelley Thrasher

Production Design: Susan Ramundo

Cover Design by Sheri (graphicartist2020@hotmail)

By the Author

Come and Get Me

Heart 2 Heart

Heartland

Uncharted Passage

Just Business

Power Play

Descent

Breakers Passion

Rescue Me

I Remember

Smoke and Fire

Because of You

Countdown

Capsized

Wishing on a Dream

Take Me There

The Boss of Her (Novella)

Fore Play

Acknowledgments

Again, it takes a village to create the end product you’re reading, and there are too many people to mention. However, a special shout out to Erin for her eagle eye.

Dedication

For my family

Chapter One

“See ya soon, baby.”

Peyton didn’t turn around or even acknowledge the voice as she walked down the wide corridor.

“You’ll be back,” the voice said confidently, then ended the statement with a familiar, spine-tingling cackle.

Step after step took her farther away from this place, this hellhole, her home for the past nine years, two months, and eight days. She wasn’t looking back because she didn’t need reminders. She would never forget the chipped cement floors, block walls with peeling paint, the three-inch-thick reinforced windows, the hard, metal beds bolted to the floor with a thin mattress, scratchy blankets, and wafer-thin pillows. Almost every metal sink faucet in the place dripped, and the steel toilets were missing their lids. She never needed to worry about putting the seat down—there was none. Small tables were bolted to the floor below a four-foot shelf hanging crooked on the wall above the desk. Redecorating was not an option.

She had nothing in her hands as she moved silently over the floor. She’d walked in with just the clothes on her back and was walking out the same way, albeit forty-two pounds lighter. Habit and discipline made her stay on the right side of the four-inch-wide black stripe that ran the length of the corridor. She was leaving catcalls, well wishes, drama, conflict, mayhem, and bullshit. No more roommates who farted, barfed, and couldn’t stop talking or crying. Behind her were liars, cheaters, dopers, and those that would sell their body for a bar of soap—or to survive.

She’d had a first-row seat when pissed-off inmates threw feces at guards, spat on each other, and stuck each other with shanks made from an old toothbrush or comb. She’d witnessed beatings and heard things she’d never forget. No more strip searches, cell searches, and cavity searches. Three thousand, three hundred, fifty-four days subjected to being poked and prodded with black batons from impatient guards or those who got their power fix over those that had none. Three thousand days of nonstop noise. Even in the dark of the night when the lights were out, it was never quiet. Crying, coughing, talking, or fucking—it never stopped. Three thousand days of rising to a horn, eating, showering, and even shitting to a horn like trained animals or Pavlov’s dog—basic behavioral training.

Each step took her closer to fresh air, clean clothes, and hot, delicious food. Where she could lie on a soft bed, with fluffy pillows and clean sheets. A closet full of Nike shoes, Levi’s, and Ralph Lauren. Where she could have private phone conversations and hot showers any time she wanted. Every step, every foot, every yard brought her nearer a place where she could see warm smiles, hear genuine laughter, and enjoy loving faces around the table.

She stopped in front of a battered gray door, the lock as large as her fist. The man beside her sadistically took his time selecting the right key to slide noisily into the keyhole. The click of the bolt retracting was quieter than when it had slammed home behind her nine years ago. At that time, the sound had echoed off the walls, settled deep in her gut, had never left, a constant reminder of where she was—the Nelson Correctional Institute for Women.

The thick metal door creaked loudly, like a shrill train whistle, as it swung open. She waited patiently, focusing on keeping her face expressionless and her breathing steady. She fought the urge to bolt across the threshold and out the front door. She prayed this wasn’t a dream. It was the same fantasy she’d had for months after coming here. The ones she’d had in the last few months were similar but ended with the door slammed in her face—cruel, vicious laughter coming from every direction.

Peyton was poked one more time on her back, just above her kidney, this time much harder than necessary. Were they ever necessary?

“You’ll be back,” a harsh voice said, his tobacco breath suffocating her. “You all do.” He ran his stick suggestively down the crack of her ass. “And I can hardly wait.”

Chapter Two

“Fore! Shit! Goddamn it! Son of a bitch!”

“Jill, relax. It’s just a game.”

“You think it’s a game, because you’re good at it.”

Leigh couldn’t help but laugh at her best friend of more than twenty years. They’d met in high school at volleyball tryouts and were complete opposites. Leigh was barely five-and-a-half feet tall, Jill almost six feet, with more than a few extra pounds. Leigh was a jock, and all Jill had going for her in the athleticism department was her height. Leigh’s blond hair secured in a ponytail through the back of her ball cap was a sharp contrast to Jill’s jet-black, so short people often mistook her for a man. Leigh excelled in just about every sport. Jill, not so much. She had heart and she tried, but without a certain amount of skill she was just a recreational athlete.

“If you keep having that kind of reaction when you hit the ball, you’ll never have fun.”

“So, this is supposed to be fun? How is this fun? You hit the ball, go after it, hit it again, go after it again, hit it again. See my point?” They shouldered their bags and started walking down the fairway. Jill brushed aside her observations of the game of golf, asking, “How’s the new job?”

Leigh didn’t like talking about it, afraid to jinx it. She had just been promoted to chief information officer for Cementic, a company that after years of success had finally cracked the Fortune 500 list. She’d worked at Cementic for twelve years, starting fresh out of MIT with her master’s degree in electrical engineering and information technology, as a senior programmer, working her way up the ranks to her current position. She was one of a handful of women in a senior leadership position at Cementic and, as much as she wouldn’t admit it to anyone other than Jill, had been determined to crack the final glass ceiling.

“It’s going okay.” Five months ago, Steve, her boss at the time, had notified the board that he was retiring. To anyone who didn’t understand the intricacies of successful executive transition, it typically took months to find a successor, and in the constantly changing world of information technology, profits and a high-visibility company made it that much more difficult. Finding the individual with the right skills, temperament, and personality to work in conjunction with the other leaders of the company was never easy. Leigh, along with, courtesy of the grapevine, three external candidates, had interviewed with at least seven people for the position. She was offered the job the day after her final interview.

For the past few years, Cementic had been undergoing a transformation, and they brought in several new hires to run senior leadership positions, people with levels of expertise that those who had grown up in the company did not possess. Other than one colossal failure, their strategy had been extremely successful, and Cementic profits and market share had soared. Shareholders were happy, the board was happy, the CEO was happy, and everyone wanted to stay that way.

“So, you actually play golf with those guys?”

Leigh had told Jill that all the senior staff golfed together at least twice a month. “It’s not just men. Caroline is the head of HR, and I’ve played a few rounds with her. I play with my boss in a few weeks.”

Jill punched Leigh’s arm good-naturedly. “It’s true. Deals really do happen on the golf course.” Jill was an attorney and had always been in private practice. Her area of expertise was environmental law and not office politics.

“As much as I’d love to think that the business world has evolved beyond that in the past twenty years, you’re probably right.”

“Especially in the male-dominated field you’re in,” Jill added, like Leigh needed reminding. “So that’s why you drag me out here week after week.”

“Yep. If I can’t use your body for money or sex, I’ll use it to help me fit in with my new peers.”

“You know, Leigh, you can use my body for sex any time.”

“In your dreams,” Leigh replied, giving Jill her own teasing punch on the shoulder. It was an ongoing joke between them. They’d started out as friends and would never be anything other than just that. They had no sexual attraction and certainly no sexual chemistry between them. They’d seen each other through more girlfriends than they cared to count, been with each other reveling in the excitement and happiness of new love, cried on each other’s shoulder in heartbreak, and shared a gallon of Rocky Road ice cream as they bashed the girl who had just broken their heart. Leigh had been Jill’s maid of honor in her wedding several years ago.

“Are you still seeing Tiffany?” Jill asked, lining up her next shot.

“Pay attention to what you’re doing,” Leigh said, not wanting to talk about her last girlfriend.

Jill settled her feet the appropriate shoulder-length apart and adjusted her hands on the grip of her club, looking from the ball to the pin one hundred and twenty yards in front of her. Jill’s first shot had gone wide of the fairway, and she’d be lucky to get her second anywhere near the green. Looking back at the ball she said, “Way to change the subject, Leigh,” just before her 5 iron connected with the ball.

“Yeah, baby,” Jill exclaimed, raising both arms, her club flailing over her head. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Leigh shook her head. “See. What did I tell you? Don’t take it so seriously, and look how well you do.”

They walked another fifty yards, and Leigh pulled her 8 iron from her bag, settled in front of the ball, swung, and connected solidly with her ball. She watched it sail to the green in a perfect approach shot, landing approximately ten feet from the cup.

“So, are you going to answer my question or not?” Jill asked, knowing enough golf etiquette to not ask while she was taking her shot.

“Not.”

“Why not? I thought you said she was hot and a rocket in bed?”

“I said she was very pretty and very attentive.”

“Pretty, hot, attentive, rocket, same difference.”

Leigh rolled her eyes at the euphemisms Jill had chosen. “Because there is more to dating someone than a pretty face and skilled hands.”

“There is?” Jill asked. “I never had a problem with it.”

“Because that’s all you were looking for. At least until you met Joyce,” Leigh said, referring to her best friend’s wife.

Jill stopped and looked at her, surprise on her face. “And you’re looking for something else? When did this happen?”

“I’m not,” Leigh said, maybe a little too defensively.

“You need a wife, you know.”

Leigh glared at her. “I don’t need a wife.”

“See, that’s the problem, Leigh. You need one. You just don’t want to admit it to yourself.”

“No,” Leigh said carefully. “What I need—”

“What you need until then is some wild, raunchy, uninhibited, no-attachment sex. Hey,” Jill said, like she’d just thought of something earth-shattering. “How about the woman we saw filling the drink coolers when we got here? She was hot.”

Leigh started walking again, pulling her putter out of her bag as Jill shot a decent approach on the green, her ball, however, landing forty feet from the cup.

Leigh had to admit it had been a while since someone made her toes curl, and Jill’s idea was appealing, as was the woman she described. However, hooking up with the wrong woman could jeopardize everything she’d worked for. You never knew who worked for whom, who had the ear of someone who was important in your next career step. Leigh was planning to hold her boss’s job for seven or eight years before she moved on to a larger company. Maybe something in the Fortune 200.

“Am I right or what?” Jill asked as they stepped onto the sixth green.

“I don’t kiss and tell.”

“Bullshit, Leigh. Yes, you do. How many times have you woken me up at zero-dark-thirty telling me all about her?”

“Jesus, Jill. You make me sound like a frat boy bragging about his latest conquest.”

“No. We were sorority, and you’re simply sharing things with your BFF.”

“Shut up and putt. You’re away,” Leigh said, using the term that signified Jill’s ball was the farthest from the hole.

It took Jill five strokes to get her ball into the hole, whereas Leigh needed only three.

“So, what happened with Tiffany?”

“Nothing earth-shattering,” Leigh finally said, knowing Jill wouldn’t let up until she knew all the details. “She was a very nice woman but a bit dull. I was bored after a few weeks. She didn’t have anything original to say, and the only thing we had going for us was sex, so I ended it.”

Four men had just finished teeing off on the next hole as Leigh and Jill approached, so Leigh didn’t say any more. When the foursome started walking toward where their balls lay, she pulled her 3 wood from the bag and removed the Mickey Mouse head cover—a gift from Jill on her thirty-seventh birthday three months ago. “Now shut up and get ready to hit the ball. And relax.”

Chapter Three

Peyton pushed the accelerator pedal on her cart as the two women approached the seventh tee box.

“Beverage, ladies?”

She’d been watching the two for the last several holes, her eyes immediately drawn to the shorter of the two. She was dressed in fashionable golf attire—dark shorts and a sleeveless white top. She was much shorter than her own five feet eleven inches and had blond hair. Light freckles sprinkled across her nose, and dark Oakley sunglasses hid her eyes. Her legs were tan and muscular, and her arms showed enough definition to indicate that she spent some time in the gym. She was wearing a white ball cap to keep the sun off her face, and her ponytail was pulled through the hole in the back. There was just something sexy about a girl in a cap.

The woman was more than a weekend hacker, the term used to describe someone who played golf only on the weekend, and poorly at that. But she did have good form and, with a few tweaks, could be an excellent golfer. The other woman was taller, her Capris were green, and her T-shirt had a large Nike swoosh across the front. Her swing was awful, which had resulted in her ball going every place except in the middle of fairway or close to the cup. However, from what Peyton had seen, they were having a good time. Having fun was just as important as the final score.

Peyton had watched them tee off on the first hole earlier this morning, noting a few subtleties the blonde needed to change to make her shots more effective. She let her shoulder drop, twisted her hips too much, and needed to extend her follow-through a little more. When she pulled up beside them, and the woman turned to acknowledge her question, her heartbeat sped up.

In her position as part-time golf instructor, part-time beverage server, and general helper at the Copperwind Golf Resort, Peyton came in contact with women every day. Most were straight and some were lesbians, but she never took advantage of the opportunity in front of her. Not at work. Never at work. She needed this job too bad to screw up for, no pun intended, a simple screw.

The dark-haired woman gave the blonde a conspiratorial wink and stepped in front of her, blocking Peyton’s view. “You are my savior. What do you have in terms of an alcoholic beverage?”

“I’m sorry, but we don’t serve alcohol until eleven.” Peyton rattled off the selections from the dozens, if not hundreds of times she’d heard the same question. Little did they know that the resort kept meticulous records of the drinks their guests ordered, cross-referencing them to the names on dinner or golf reservations. Peyton reviewed the pairings for the day and always stocked their favorite beverage on her cart. These women were Leigh Marshall and Jill Bailey, and they both drank Diet Coke. However, she didn’t know which woman was which.

“I’ll have a Diet Coke,” the woman said, confirming Peyton’s research on their preferences. She turned to the blonde. “Since you’re winning, Leigh, you’re buying. And you make a lot more money than I do,” she added.

The blonde, now identified by process of elimination, was Leigh Marshall. She shook her head at her friend, and her genuine smile lit up her face.

Peyton choked on her breath and immediately felt the heat of embarrassment creep up her neck as she struggled to breathe.

“Are you okay?” Leigh asked.

“Yes, fine,” Peyton was able to croak out, the heat on her face increasing. Regaining her composure, she stepped out of the cart and walked to the back of the cart, where four Igloo coolers contained the drinks.

“She’ll have the same.” Jill used her thumb like a hitchhiker and motioned to Leigh.

Peyton reached over the cooler directly in front of her, lifted the lid, and reached inside. The action was habitual, but she knew it drew attention to the curve of her ass and her thirty-eight-inch-inseam legs. It generated large tips from the lesbians, equally generous ones from the men, and more than a few dirty looks from their wives. Peyton didn’t care. The last ten years she’d learned a lot of very, very useful things, one of which she used several times a day in her role, affectionately known on golf courses around the country, as the beer babe. Since the terms of her parole prohibited her from selling alcohol, she was the beverage babe. The tips were cash, unaccounted to the IRS, and went directly into her safe for just that—safekeeping.

“Thanks,” Leigh replied, exchanging a twenty-dollar bill for the cold cans. Ice slid down the side of one of the cans. Peyton reached into her pocket to make change.

“Keep it.” Jill waved off Peyton’s actions. Leigh’s head snapped toward her friend, and Peyton saw the look that she was too polite to voice. Even she had to admit a fourteen-dollar tip for two sodas was a bit excessive. Peyton was about to say as much, when a whistle and a wave from the men on the green to her left caught her attention.

“It’s fine. Thank you,” Leigh said. “Catch up with us later?”

“Certainly. Thanks again. Enjoy your game,” Peyton replied, not wanting to leave. But it wasn’t like they all planned to chat for the rest of the afternoon. Her job was done, and she needed to move on.

“She’s cute,” Jill commented, tipping her head in the direction of the cart driving away. “Speaking of wild, raunchy sex—”

“Yes, she is,” Leigh said. A word other than cute came to mind to describe the woman, but she refused to say that to Jill. If she did, she’d be deflecting Jill’s dare for her to ask the woman out. She wasn’t in the market for a girlfriend, but then Leigh realized that was a huge leap from having a quickie with the beverage babe, however drop-dead gorgeous she was. “But no.”

Peyton was much taller than her, close to six feet, and she obviously spent a lot of time in the sun. Her legs were long and tan, her clothes perfectly pressed and neat. She couldn’t see her eyes behind her Ray Ban sunglasses, but Leigh felt her piercing gaze. Her hair was very short, but she didn’t look overly butch.

“Her name tag said Peyton. Did you see the scar on her face?” Jill asked, her voice unnecessarily quiet. Peyton was at least fifty yards away now.

Leigh had noticed and had tried not to stare at the jagged line that ran from just beside Peyton’s left eye, down her cheek, and ended at her jawline. “Yes, I did. It’s hard to imagine that a plastic surgeon wouldn’t have sewn up a cut like that.” The scar wasn’t ugly, but it was noticeable.

“I suppose.” Jill shook her head in agreement. “It makes her look dangerous, in a sexy kind of way.” Jill raised and lowered her eyebrows to emphasize her point. “Wild, crazy sex,” Jill muttered under her breath loud enough for Leigh to hear.

Chapter Four

Peyton parked her cart and handed the key to her relief. She had a lesson in thirty minutes and wanted a chance to review her notes before Steve Albert arrived. Steve, a newly minted cardiologist, was still under the misguided belief that all doctors played golf on Wednesdays. Peyton’s brother-in-law Phil, a neurosurgeon, had told her that with today’s health-care reimbursements, most doctors couldn’t afford to take Wednesdays off anymore.

“How’s business?” her brother Marcus asked when she stepped into the small office in the clubhouse. Marcus was thirty-one and looked like a young John Wayne, complete with a six-foot, four-inch frame. While Peyton was in Nelson, Marcus had married Olivia, who, at no taller than four feet ten inches, was as energetic and exuberant as the Energizer Bunny. After meeting Olivia, Peyton had wondered how in the hell they had sex, then quickly shut that thought down. She didn’t need that image in her head.

Marcus had met Olivia soon after Peyton went to Nelson. They’d been dating for a few years before he brought Olivia along on one of his visits. Olivia was warm and chatted constantly and obviously loved her brother. Marcus came alone for one visit and told Peyton he wanted to propose.

 

I want to spend the rest of my life with Olivia,” he said nervously. “I love her.”

Marcus, that’s awesome.” When he didn’t reply or even answer, she said, “So, what’s the problem?” Peyton knew there was more to the visit than he’d let on so far.

Marcus squirmed in his hard, plastic seat, and Peyton figured it out. She touched the thick glass separating them.

As a maximum-security prisoner, visiting day consisted of both parties sitting on hard round stools separated by bullet-resistant glass. The only way they could communicate, other than by using sign language, was through a telephone handset mounted on the wall beside them. Peyton knew all conversations were monitored when, during one of her parents’ early visits, an inmate slammed the phone back in its cradle and started shouting obscenities to the guards. She was taken away in handcuffs, still screaming about her rights to talk to whoever she wanted about whatever she wanted. Peyton, at first shaken by the ugly scene, quickly put it out of her mind. She had only fifteen minutes before the next inmate would occupy her seat.

Marcus, I don’t expect, nor do I want, anyone to stop living their lives just because I’m in here. Your life needs to go on, and that includes being happy. If Olivia makes you happy, then you better marry her as soon as you can.” Peyton’s voice was firm. “Life is too short.”

 

Marcus’s marriage to Olivia had created a partnership with his new father-in-law as part owner of the exclusive club. When Marcus wanted to give Peyton a job after she was released, his father-in-law had adamantly refused. Olivia, Marcus had told her one afternoon as they were drinking iced tea on the patio, had stood up to her father and told him that Marcus would be hiring her, and that was the end of that discussion.

Peyton owed everything to Marcus and Olivia and would never do anything to make them regret their support when no one wanted to hire an ex-convict, especially a murderer. With her background as a collegiate golfer, she knew more than enough to be a competent resident pro. Copperwind charged one hundred and ten dollars an hour for a private lesson, and Peyton took home sixty of it. She currently had twelve regular clients and at least four or five others throughout the week.

“Good. Everyone’s keeping up. There was a backlog on eleven, but the foursome let the group behind them play through, and that moved things along.” In addition to her beverage duties, she reported back to Marcus about how the pairings were moving through the holes. Nothing killed the reputation of a course more than golfers griping about how they had to stand around on a tee waiting for the group in front of them to clear the hole.

“We have quite a few women playing today.” Marcus was determined to increase the number of women in the clubhouse and had designed several specific programs especially for them to encourage membership.

“There was a pretty good pairing out there. Bailey and Marshall, I think.” Peyton knew exactly the names but didn’t want to give anything away to Marcus.

“They come in a few times a month. Marshall comes in during the week too and hits a couple buckets of balls,” he said, referencing the practice range. “She’s not too bad.”

Peyton nodded, not wanting to comment too much. “She needs a little work, but she’s better than most.” Peyton changed the subject. “The LGBT invitational is coming up. You ready?”

Three years ago, Marcus had started a golf tournament specifically catering to the LGBT community. He’d posted fliers in the bars and community centers around town and placed ads in every newsletter or magazine he could find that catered to the community.

Peyton had volunteered to be a caddie, and Marcus would assign caddies to teams. At last count, twenty-seven teams of two or four had signed up. The entry fee of one hundred and twenty-five dollars per person provided the golfers a tournament golf shirt and cap, four drink tickets, lunch for the day, and attendance at the awards dinner Sunday evening. The winning team received a trophy and bragging rights for the year.

“I’m excited to see how it goes. It’s Olivia’s favorite tournament, and it’s grown each year,” Marcus commented.

Peyton was still getting to know her sister-in-law, but she’d liked her from their first meeting. Olivia was the perfect complement to Marcus’ calm, staid personality, often finishing his sentences when she thought he took too long to finish them himself. She’d welcomed Peyton home with no hesitation and, unlike some others, never asked about her life behind bars.

“It’s mine too,” Marcus said. “Everybody just wants to have some fun and play golf without any hassle. Last year we had several that were transitioning from men to women, and it’ll be interesting to see how they’re doing this year.”

Peyton looked at her brother, trying to detect if anything underlay his comment. Marcus had been twenty-one when she went away, and she was still getting reacquainted with him. She had come out to her family in her late teens, and Marcus had been her biggest supporter. He still was, and he supported the LGBT community every chance he had. But a lot had changed in the nine years she was absent from the weekly family dinner table.

Her parents, Brad, a technical writer, and Maria, the chief nurse in the busiest emergency room in the state, had aged tremendously. Worry lines were deeper, and their dark hair now more salt than pepper. They had mortgaged their house to pay for her defense. Peyton lived in an apartment above her brother’s garage, and she gave her parents almost all her paycheck every week. She kept just enough for food and utilities and a few incidentals. It was the least she could do.

Her sister, Lizzy, had just turned ten when the doors of Nelson locked behind Peyton, and now that Lizzy was nineteen, Peyton hardly recognized her. In the years she was away, Lizzy had shaved her head, had six piercings in each ear, one above each eyebrow, and a bar through her nose. Tattoos started at the first knuckle on each hand and continued up her arm, shoulder, and chest as far as Peyton could see. When Peyton saw Lizzy the first time after she was released, Lizzy had told her, no, demanded, that she should address her as Elizabeth. Lizzy was a little girl’s name, and she was not a little girl. Peyton and her mother often talked about the anger and guilt Elizabeth carried like one of her angry tattoos. Maria had shared with Peyton how, in one drunken episode, Elizabeth had shared that she felt overwhelming guilt for Peyton going to jail.

Her other sister, Natalie, now twenty-eight and more than a little overweight from sitting behind a desk, was just getting back into the good graces of her boss, the district attorney. She had been instrumental in petitioning for Peyton’s release and had gotten her ass chewed, spit out, and handed to her because of it. Natalie’s fiancé at the time of Peyton’s conviction had dumped her via text the day after her sentencing. He was callous enough to ask for the ring back, and Natalie had gladly returned it somewhere inside a baggie full of dog shit from the local park. She’d since gone on to marry a neurosurgeon.

“Do you get any backlash from the other members?” Peyton asked.

“A few. Olivia told the ones who complained to get over it or go play somewhere else.”

Peyton gladly added another tally mark in the “Owe” column under Olivia’s name.

Chapter Five

After more than ten years, the dream was as real as it was when it happened. Every detail marched through her mind in an orderly procession.

The police came the day after the shooting and took Peyton into custody. They searched her, gave her the legally required Miranda Warning, and informed her that she had the right to remain silent and to have an attorney, and that anything she said could and would be used against her. She immediately requested a lawyer.

Peyton had taken the law into her own hands and was judge, jury, and executioner. And she was okay with that. If it brought peace of mind to her little sister, she had no conscience. She knew she’d be questioned about the killing, and she had a lawyer’s phone number memorized.

She was officially booked and asked questions that she answered without her lawyer present, including her name and address, emergency contact information, and treatment for any medical condition. She was moved to another room, where her fingerprints were taken using a machine that looked like a standard copy machine. There was no ink or mess, and each of her ten fingers—her right and left four fingers and her thumbs—was digitally scanned into a database. She was handed a blackboard with white block letters spelling out her name, the date, and an identifying number and told to stand against a wall containing a measuring chart and look directly into the camera. The light was harsh, and the flash blinded her for a few seconds.

She was taken to a small, empty room and told to remove all her clothes. One of the two female guards in the room watched Peyton as she stripped, the other taking her clothes and thoroughly inspecting each item. Peyton knew what search was next and complied with their instructions, knowing the sooner this was over, the sooner she could get out of there.

She was taken to a holding cell and told she’d remain there until her lawyer arrived. Four other women were in the cell, each of whom looked like this wasn’t their first visit. Woman #1 had dirty blond hair that looked like it hadn’t seen shampoo in weeks. She sat on the corner of the bench, her knees drawn up, a blank look on her face. Woman #2 was as tall as #1 and pencil-thin, her dress tight against her breasts and stomach. Her legs were disproportionately smaller than the rest of her, and she wore flip-flops. Number 3 had her head in the metal toilet, retching, the sound echoing off the concrete walls, the smell permeating the stale air. The last woman’s shorts were too short, her top too revealing, and her heels too tall for anyone other than a hooker. She was sitting on the other end of the bench from #1, examining her nails like she was just biding her time until she was bailed out.

The women looked at her when she entered, and Peyton made eye contact with each of them. It was her way of saying don’t fuck with me. It either worked or they just didn’t care and left her alone.

Her lawyer, Bernard Lerner, showed up an hour later, and she was led, in handcuffs, to an interview room. When they were left alone, as required by law, Peyton went over exactly what she’d done step by step. Lerner peppered her with questions and after two hours left her with strict instructions to not say a word to anyone about anything without him present. She returned to the holding cell, where this time, only woman #3 remained, and five new occupants were there. She received the same once-over and silent treatment as before.

Several hours later, she and the other women were taken, again in handcuffs, this time secured to a chain around their waist, to a courtroom and instructed to sit in metal folding chairs in what looked like a jury box. The proceedings began, and one by one the women, along with their attorneys, faced the judge. Each one’s case number and charges were read for the record, and when asked how they pled, they all claimed their innocence. When Peyton’s name was called, she calmly stood beside Lerner and, under his specific direction, repeated that she too was pleading innocent. This had been a major argument between her and Lerner. Peyton fully intended to accept whatever was the punishment for her actions. Lerner had finally convinced her to plead innocent and said that he would explain everything to her later.

Her attorney successfully argued that she was not a flight risk nor a risk to society, and her bail was set at three million dollars. It took another few days for her parents to post her bail, and it was well after noon the following day when she was released to a media frenzy.

The anticipation of a trial polarized the community, the nation, and even as far away as South Africa. There was an equal split between those who wanted to see all charges dropped and those who wanted Peyton burned at the stake. People holding signs bearing the words VIGILANTE and MURDERER in bold, block letters jockeyed for position with those that were equally supportive crowding the steps to the courthouse. Microphones were stuck in her face, and, if not for her father and her lawyer, she would not have been able to move through the throngs of people on the sidewalk.

After weeks of negotiations between the prosecutor and her attorney, Peyton pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The judge sentenced her to fifteen years in prison, and the heavy metal door, and her life, slammed behind her.

Peyton sat up in bed, her breathing ragged, sweat dripping off her forehead. It took a few moments for her to realize she was in her own bed, not a cold, hard cot in a skanky cell. She got up and turned on the lights in her apartment, quietly chanting the mantra she’d created in Nelson to calm herself. She murmured one word per step, with fifteen steps in total. Back and forth she walked across her apartment until her heart rate slowed and her breathing returned to normal. She knew she wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, so she sat down at her kitchen table and opened her well-worn deck of cards. She found it ironic that she played solitaire for hours.

Chapter Six

“Peyton, I need to fill in a foursome,” Marcus said.

Peyton stepped away from the counter and looked at her brother.

“We’ve had a last-minute scratch, and the group is asking for a single. We had one, but he’s already paired up.”

Peyton sighed. As much as she loved playing, she’d rather get her tips from the cart. She needed the money. “Sure,” she said easily. Marcus needed her, and she wasn’t going to let him down. “Let me get my gear.”

She hustled to her truck and pulled her golf bag and shoes from the passenger side. The clubs clanged together as she hefted the strap of the bag over her shoulder and shut the door. She hurried back to the clubhouse, mentally preparing for the round she was about to play.

A few minutes later she joined her foursome on the first tee. Their tee time was in eight minutes, but she wanted to at least introduce herself before then. As she approached the group, two of the team looked vaguely familiar.

One of the women looked her way and smiled expectantly. “Are you our fourth?”

“Yes. Peyton.” She extended her hand to the woman. She was an attractive woman in her mid-forties, dressed in a royal-blue Nike golf shirt and white capris.

“Hilde Rochelle.” The woman shook Peyton’s hand and almost crushed it, her grip so tight. “This is Jill and Leigh.” She introduced the other women, and Peyton was surprised and pleased to see Leigh Marshall was one of them.

“We’ve met,” Leigh said, shaking her hand. “But not officially.”

Tingles ran up Peyton’s arm, and her pulse picked up.

“You’ve been holding out on us, Leigh.” Hilde’s eyes moved up and down Peyton’s body. “We’ll be expecting all the details over cocktails.”

Leigh had the politeness to blush at the innuendo. “It’s not like that. Peyton, uhh…uhh…works here,” she said finally. “Jill and I met her a couple of weeks ago.”

Peyton had gotten very good at reading people and what was between the lines, and she detected more than a little unease in Leigh. Obviously, she didn’t want Hilde to know she drove the beverage cart. Fine with her. She didn’t need their approval. They could judge her on her game instead.

“What do you do?” Hilde asked, the look in her eye conveying her renewed interest now that it was clear it wasn’t like “that” between her and Leigh.

“I’m one of the pros,” Peyton answered. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Leigh’s surprise.

Hilde stepped close to Peyton, running her fingernail down her arm. As she passed she said, “I’ll bet you could teach me a thing or two.”

Peyton looked at Leigh and was surprised to see anger flare in her eyes before disappearing as fast as it had arrived.

“Jesus, Hilde. Give it a break,” Jill said, placing her neon-orange golf ball on her tee. “Let’s play. Loser buys the first round.”

It was clear to everyone that Hilde was not going to give it a break, and after missing her birdie putt on the fifth green, Peyton pulled her aside.

“I appreciate your interest, Hilde, but I’m not in the market for anything or anyone right now.” Peyton kept her voice low and conversational. She’d mastered the art of saying something without really saying it loud enough for anyone nearby to hear.

“You’re kidding, right?” Hilde replied, a look of surprise on her face.

Peyton wondered if everyone Hilde came on to fell under her spell and into the sheets with her. Since losing her freedom, Peyton preferred to be the one in control in all aspects of her life, especially her sexual partners. She was the pursuer, always went to their place, and never, ever spent the night. She had an understandable yet debilitating fear of waking up and somehow being back in prison. She felt safe in her apartment, where she could toss and turn and wake from nightmares without embarrassment—or explanation.

After almost nine months, she was still restless and slept with one eye open. At least the nightmares of her release being nothing but a dream had subsided. Now they occurred only once or twice a week instead of every night.

“If this were a different time, it might be another story, but…” She let her explanation drop, its meaning evident.

“I bet I can change your mind.” Hilde’s voice was husky as she stepped closer to her.

“I appreciate it, but no thanks,” Peyton said strongly and hopefully clear enough.

“Hilde, for God’s sake, leave her alone,” Leigh said over Peyton’s right shoulder.

Peyton spun around more out of defense than guilt. No one had snuck up on her in over ten years, and it shook her. How had Leigh gone from the other side of the green to right behind her without her knowing it?

“She said no, and unlike your other conquests, she probably means it.”

Hilde shot daggers at Leigh before practically stomping to her ball.

“Doesn’t get told no much?” Peyton asked, her nerves still on edge.

“Actually, never, at least as far as I know, or she says,” Leigh added, shaking her head and watching Hilde stalk away. “Sorry about that.”

Peyton waved her hand. “Don’t worry about it. No big deal.”

Leigh looked at her, dark eyes burning a trail up and down Peyton’s body. “I’m sure you get hit on all the time. Oh, God,” Leigh said, covering her face with both hands. “I didn’t just think that, did I?”

Peyton chuckled. “Nope, and thanks.”

“God, I’m so embarrassed.” Leigh’s hands muffled her voice.

“No need. And thank you for coming to my rescue.”

“I doubt you rarely need rescuing either.”

Peyton’s insides warmed at the sound of Leigh’s voice and the friendly, stress-free conversation. She’d had to watch what she said and to whom at Nelson, and almost as much now. No one wanted to date an ex-con, sleep with one, or even be around one. Peyton was saved from making further comment as it was Leigh’s turn over the putter.

“You said you were one of the course pros. Does that mean you give lessons?” Jill asked three holes later. She squinted at Peyton through her thick-lensed prescription sunglasses as Leigh was lining up to hit her tee shot on the next hole.

“Yes, I do.” Peyton had been watching Leigh swing the club for the last few holes and noted that, with some minor adjustments, she could lengthen her drive by at least twenty-five yards. With a few more changes, she could increase the loft of the ball as it traveled through the air.

“Leigh has to play a lot of golf with the people she works with, and she has a big round with the president of her company in a few weeks that she’s really nervous about.”

Peyton frowned, trying to see what that had to do with her previous question. “What does she do?”

“She’s a big VP and does something in IT. It’s too technical for me, but she’s obviously really good at it.”

Peyton still had no clue how this all tied together. Maybe it didn’t, she thought. Maybe Jill was simply making conversation. The pace of the changes in technology since she’d been in Nelson was absolutely mind-boggling—and scary. She’d had one of the original iPhones before she went in, but Bluetooth, iCloud, and web mail were completely new to her. Her current iPhone was two models old and a hand-me-down from Olivia.

“What does she have to be nervous about? She seems rather confident and sure of herself, and she has a pretty good game.” And the combination was nothing short of sexy, Peyton thought.

“They’re playing here, I think. How ridiculously old-school chauvinistic is that?” Jill’s question contained more than a little sarcasm. “No offense against your club.”

The familiar whack of hitting the ball squarely in the center of the club was unmistakable, and Peyton watched as Leigh’s ball sailed into the air. Several seconds later it landed squarely in the center of the fairway. “With a shot like that, she’ll have nothing to worry about,” Peyton commented.

“Maybe, but the other day she mentioned she should probably take a few lessons.”

“I’m not here to solicit business, Jill,” Peyton said uncomfortably. “I’m just your added fourth.”

Thankfully it was her turn on the tee, effectively ending the conversation, however, not before Peyton admitted to herself she wouldn’t object to spending more time with Leigh.

 

* * *

 

“You told her what?” Leigh asked, walking with Jill toward her ball. They were approaching the green on the twelfth hole.

“I was just trying to help.”

“But did you have to tell her I was nervous? Why did you tell her at all?” Leigh struggled to keep her voice from carrying to Peyton, who was walking a few yards behind them.

“Because you mentioned you wanted some lessons.”

“I said I was thinking I might benefit from some,” Leigh said. “God. She probably thinks I’m trolling for free advice.” And that possibility made her more uncomfortable than she cared to admit.

“Don’t worry about it. She said she wasn’t playing with us to solicit business. Chill, Leigh. She seems really cool.”

Chill and cool were not the words Leigh would use to describe her body’s reaction to being near Peyton. When Leigh had seen her approach them on the first tee, she knew Peyton was their fourth. She’d been more than a little surprised, having expected the beverage server to do little more than serve beverages. At least that was her experience at other courses where she’d played. Leigh had revised her narrow opinion when Peyton drove her ball farther and straighter than anyone else and had nine birdies on her scorecard. She, herself, had two bogeys, which put her two strokes behind Hilde and six ahead of Jill.

Leigh had always wondered how the scoring of golf originated. Each hole had a set number of shots that the designers believed would take the golfer to get the ball in the cup. If they made it in that number, it was called par, which made sense. Where it got squirrely was that fewer shots were called birdies and more shots were bogeys. On the previous hole, Peyton had sunk her ball in the hole in three shots instead of the set number of four, while she, Jill, and Hilde had made par.

“She must play a lot,” Jill commented. “Her form is perfect. And her body isn’t too bad either,” she added, bumping Leigh with her hip. “I’d love to have her arms wrapped around me showing me exactly where to put my hands.” Jill fanned herself with her gloved hand.

“Jesus, Jill. First Hilde, then you. It’s like playing with horny teenage boys. And you’re married,” she added. Like Jill needed any reminder. After two kids she was still crazy in love with her wife.

“Just because I’m off the market, I’m not dead. Come on, Leigh. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”

Leigh had done nothing but notice, which was evidenced by her score. Peyton’s swing was graceful and the intensity of her commitment to her game evident. She approached every shot the same way, looking from her ball to where the ball was going to land, then back at her ball. Leigh had the impression Peyton was visualizing exactly where she planned to place her ball. She hadn’t deviated from her routine on any of her shots. Maybe that’s why she was eating their lunch in this round.

“Looks like we have a crowd ahead of us.”

Peyton’s voice right beside her startled Leigh, and she stumbled. Thankfully Peyton caught her around the waist before she did an embarrassing face-plant.

“You okay?” Peyton asked, their bodies pressed close together.

The feel of Peyton’s hard body against hers sent Leigh’s pulse racing and her heart running to keep up. She fit perfectly under Peyton’s arm, her eyes level with Peyton’s lips. Leigh watched them move as Peyton spoke. She tingled with the sensation of what they would feel like on her. She definitely needed to get laid, and soon. No, she was anything but okay, but no way in hell was she going to tell Peyton that.

Peyton released her and stepped back, but not before Leigh saw a flash of desire in her eyes.

Leigh had admittedly found Peyton extremely attractive from their very first meeting, the moment Peyton pulled up in her cart two weeks ago. Whereas most of the women that drove the cart were straight, Peyton was anything but. Judging by the confident way she carried herself and the way she made and held direct eye contact, she was obviously a lesbian. She hadn’t tried to flirt to increase her tips, and her aloofness wasn’t negative in a standoffish kind of way but simply showed that she was all business and didn’t get too familiar with the members or their guests.

Peyton had been dressed similarly to what she was today, in knee-length golf shorts and a light-blue polo shirt with the Copperwind logo just above her left breast. She looked extremely professional and hadn’t done anything to indicate otherwise in their first twelve holes. She hadn’t offered any unsolicited advice to any of them about how they could improve their game, nor had she joined in the familiar camaraderie and teasing that friends do when their ball couldn’t hit the cup after eight strokes. She pretty much kept to herself, and the conversation that she did join was completely appropriate.

The heat must be getting to me, Leigh thought as they dropped their bags behind a foursome that was already waiting. The players in front of that group had just teed off and were walking down the fairway. The two couples in front of them glanced over their shoulder, and Leigh detected more than a little interest as one of the women appraised their foursome, her eyes lingering a little too long on Hilde and even longer yet on Peyton. Her eyes lit up with familiarity, and Leigh felt a surge of jealousy, however unwarranted it was. There was no reason for it, it made absolutely no sense, but it was there nonetheless.

Leigh felt Peyton stiffen beside her as the woman left her group and stepped forward.

“Peyton, it’s so good to see you again.” Her voice had a soft, Southern drawl that reminded Leigh of Scarlett O’Hara, the heroine in the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind.

“Hello, Denise,” Peyton replied politely. “How are you?”

“I’d be much better if you’d join our group. I’m afraid I don’t play as well without you as I do with you.”

The woman’s meaning was more than innuendo, and for some bizarre, shocking reason, Leigh wanted to step forward and smack the smirk off the woman’s face.

“I’m sure you’re doing just fine.”

“Oh, I am, sugar, but I’d love to be better.”

Leigh couldn’t believe the audacity of this woman. She was hitting all over Peyton as if they weren’t even there. She had no idea if Peyton was with any of us, but then again maybe she did. Maybe she knew Peyton was single. Maybe she knew Peyton would take her up on her offer. Maybe Peyton already had, and she was looking for a repeat. But something told Leigh that wasn’t the case.

“Jill, Hilde, Leigh, this is Denise Jamison, one of my clients,” Peyton said, introducing them.

“Nice to meet you,” Denise said, but didn’t take her eyes off Peyton. Obviously, she didn’t care who they were.

“Are you making notes on your game like we talked about in last week’s lesson?”

“Of course, sugar. I do everything you tell me to do, and ask me to do,” she added suggestively.

Her sugary drawl with emphasis on the endearment sugar was turning Leigh’s stomach.

“Maybe we can get together at the clubhouse after we’re done here, and I can divulge all my weaknesses, and you can give me some pointers.”

Jill tried to stifle a laugh at the absurdity and ridiculousness of Denise’s approach. Good God, Leigh thought. Why don’t you just say let’s meet in the clubhouse and fuck?

“I’m afraid I’m not available this afternoon. We can talk about it at your lesson next week. It’s Tuesday, right?”

Denise’s eyes narrowed, and it appeared she was trying to decide whether to step up her verbal seduction or give up.

Before Denise had a chance to make up her mind, one of the men in her group called, “Denise, you’re up. Let’s go.”

Denise gave Peyton one more long, very obviously interested look before saying, “See you on Tuesday. I’m beside myself with anticipation.”

“Wow.” Jill stepped next to Peyton after Denise was out of earshot. “I don’t know about you, but if she were looking at me like she was looking at you, I’d need a cold shower or a moment alone.”

Peyton’s head whipped around, and she glared at Jill. “I don’t do that.”

Jill, obviously taken aback by Peyton’s sharp rebuttal, lifted her hands, palms out, in front of her. “I didn’t mean anything by that, Peyton. I apologize.”

Leigh watched the interchange between the two and noticed Peyton exhale and her shoulders relax. “No problem. I apologize for my overreaction. This is my job, not a place to pick up women.”

“And I bet you have plenty of opportunity. I don’t know if I could resist the temptation, if they look like that,” Jill added.

“Then aren’t you lucky you work for yourself. You should come work for me,” Hilde said. “I have more women in my office than I know what to do with.”

“No, thanks. Joyce would kill me,” Jill said, referring to her wife and the mother of their two kids. “Peyton, how did you become a club pro?”

Peyton appeared to be relieved that the subject had changed. “I played a little golf in college. Marcus, the club manager, knew that, and here I am.”

“Where did you go to school?” Jill asked.

“The tee is clear. Jill, you’re up,” Peyton said instead of answering the question.


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