Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon



On Christmas Eve, Mayor Dugan threw a Christmas party.

The guests arrived two by two, passing through the wrought-iron gates that are atypically standing wide open to receive them. The spires of the gate and the hedges on either side were wrapped with Christmas lights that shone like tiny fallen stars, illuminating the entrance to Mayor Dugan mansion. A group of valets orchestrated by a dashing woman with curly red hair accepted keys at the front porch, sending the cars off to be parked while the guests made their way inside.

The front door opened into a receiving area with a coat room to their right and a piano to the left. The floor was checkerboard tile, which faded into a cookies-and-cream carpet that stretched into the living room. A corridor separated the foyer from the living room, ended at either side by an enclosed flight of stairs. Through the crowd of about a dozen strong, she saw a wall of windows that looked out onto a beautiful deck and swimming pool. The water was lit from beneath and looked alive. The waves shimmered and made fairy lights dance on the walls of the enclosed courtyard.

Nadine Butler still wasn’t entirely sure why she had been invited. She thought she would have been on the mayor’s shit list after all the trouble she caused his brother a few years back. Still, she was the closest thing the island had to a celebrity, and Miranda thought she should take advantage of it now and then. The entire ordeal was worth it for the look on Miranda’s face when Nadine came out of the bathroom after getting ready.

She wore a bright red dress that was cut low to accentuate the shape of her breasts. It hugged her hips, and a slit running up either side made her legs look just a touch longer than they really were. Her arms and shoulders were bare, and she wore the necklace Miranda had given her on their first wedding anniversary. She’d been nervous about looking like a little girl playing dress up, seconds away from rushing back into the bathroom to scrub off some of the makeup, but then Miranda swept her up and kissed her cheeks and lips.

“I would never believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself… you got more beautiful.”

Now, judging from the admiring glances she was receiving from the other guests, her wife hadn’t just been coddling her vanity. She was willing to entertain the possibility that she was, maybe, kind of good-looking. Tonight, at least. She clung to the arm of the truest beauty in the room. The woman who could make a pair of sweatpants and a college sweatshirt look like designer labels, the woman who woke up looking like she should be on television. She wore a blue dress with straps that met at the back of her neck. The bodice had a teardrop shaped window that offered a hint of her décolletage. Before they left, Nadine had kissed her there and Miranda had purred. Now every time Nadine looked at it, she thought of that purr.

“Whoa-ho, the belles of the ball have arrived.” Nadine turned and saw Kate and Amy approaching from the stairs. Amy wore a silk blouse and black skirt, while Kate looked gorgeous in a white cocktail dress set off by a black leather belt. Kate leaned in and pecked Nadine on the cheek. “Very, very fancy, lady. You both look great.”

“You, too.” Nadine smiled and squeezed Amy’s shoulder.

“Thank you.” Amy greeted Miranda. “I still can’t believe we even got invited.”

Kate put an arm around Amy’s hip. “You run the best bakery on the island, babe. Everyone in this room has been in there at least a dozen times. I’m just surprised you weren’t asked to cater.”

Amy leaned against Kate, and Nadine smiled at their casual closeness. She remembered the jealousy she’d felt the first time she saw them together, when she and Kate were still an item, and it felt like someone else’s emotion. That had been a very hectic time, and the chips had fallen exactly where they were supposed to. She was glad Kate had found someone she obviously cared for as much as she cared for Miranda.

“Have you been here long?” Miranda asked.

Kate shook her head. “We just showed up and did a quick tour.” She glanced back toward the living room and dropped her voice. “We’re trying to figure out if the people who are already here are regular folks or if they’re hoity-toity rich twits.”

Nadine looked past her and slyly pointed with her pinky. “That’s Dr. Tom’s partner, the fire chief. Alexandra.”

“The fire chief?” Amy and Kate both looked. When Alex Crawford first arrived on the island, she had been a bit of a legend. The story was embellished and exaggerated until Nadine was sure the truth was a distant shadow. If she listened to what other people said, she would have to believe that Alex had single-handedly swooped into a burning building and single-handedly killed the arsonist who was threatening her girlfriend.

Alex had come to the island damaged. Her leg was injured, and she had walked everywhere with a cane. Now she was fully healed, and she was dressed in a black blazer and a pair of slacks that belled out around her calves. Her dark hair was long enough to just barely touch her collar. She looked masculine, but with an undeniable touch of femininity that was very appealing.

“Oh, yeah. I interviewed her for the paper. She’s damn tough.”

“We’re going to find something to drink,” Miranda said. “Catch up with you later?”

Amy nodded. “Definitely. You really do look amazing, Nadine.”

Nadine blushed and thanked her quietly as Miranda led her toward the kitchen. Amy watched her go and then bumped against Kate as they went into the living room. “You know, one of these days I’m going to make good on that thing we talked about.”

“Sh.” Kate smiled and looked around to make sure no one was paying attention to them. “That was just talk to get you in the mood. Dean and Miranda would never go for it.”

“You never know unless you ask.”

“I’m not going to ask my ex-girlfriend and her wife to have a foursome.” She plastered on a smile as they drifted too close to someone. She greeted them and guided Amy toward a spot where they could see the front door and look out at the pool. Kate turned toward Amy and touched her hair, stroking it until the loose strands were secure behind her ear. “I do love being with you. I feel like I can tell you everything and you won’t judge me.”

Amy shrugged. “We’re not vanilla. We like to expand our horizons.” She sipped her punch and looked into Kate’s eyes. “I’m just lucky I found someone as adventurous as you.”

“I just know that no matter what we do, we’ll end up together.”

Amy’s smile became emotional, and she leaned in to kiss the corner of Kate’s mouth. “Yeah. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She nuzzled Amy’s hair next to her ear. “But I’m still not asking Dean for a partner swap.”

Amy chuckled. She gestured past Kate’s shoulder and she pulled away just as a waitress approached them with a tray of drinks. The caterers were all dressed the same in black slacks, white dress shirts, white vests, and black bowties. This particular girl was young, probably just out of high school, with dirty blonde hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. Kate took a cup, but Amy shook her head. The waitress, whose name was Alana, moved on to the next group of people. She emptied her tray and returned to the kitchen for another.

Clifton Gail was dressed the same as his staff, save for the toque that covered his shaggy brown hair. At the stove behind him, Molly Page and Shane Sanborn were busy putting together trays of hors d’oeuvres. Their sleeves were rolled up and the fronts of their uniforms were covered by aprons. Clifton finished a tray of “angels on horseback,” which were oysters wrapped in bacon and speared with a skewer, and Alana picked it up and headed back out.

Molly handed another plate of appetizers to Shane, who put it on the counter for the next waiter to come for it. She and Shane had always worked like a well-oiled machine, but after their rocky relationship finally settled into a casual friends-with-benefits situation, it was almost as if they could read each other’s minds. Molly liked not having a label for what they had. She would have panicked and screwed things up if she had to call Shane “girlfriend” or “partner.”

“You all set, babe?”

“Yeah, hon.” Molly squeezed Shane’s shoulder. “Clif, you have the main course?”

He turned to see they were finished with their task. “Yeah. You guys can take a break, if you want. Half hour, forty-five minutes…”

Shane leaned close to Molly. “I think he wants us out of his hair.”

“You know me too well, Sanborn.” He waved them away, and they doffed their aprons before leaving him to his domain. Molly hesitated at the door between the dining room and the living room. She didn’t feel right joining the party. They hadn’t been invited, and the fact they were dressed identically to the wait staff would have led to a lot of confusion. She was about to ask Shane what they should do when she nodded toward the door to the courtyard. Molly nodded and followed her outside.

Patricia Hood-Colby watched the two chefs disappear outside and went through the kitchen door they had just exited. “Mr. Gail, how is everything coming?”

“Absolutely great.” He smiled over his shoulder at her. “How’s your side going?”

Patricia groaned and scratched her eyebrow. She was one of the few attendees not dressed for the party. She was dressed business formal, the wild curls of her hair tamed into a bun. As Dugan’s deputy mayor, it was her responsibility to make sure everything went smoothly while Mr. Dugan, as usual, simply enjoyed the fruits of her labor.

“Everything is fine. Of course, that just means I’m juggling eighteen things behind the scenes to make sure everything keeps going fine.” He offered her a commiserating smile. “I just wanted to be sure the main course was going to be served on time.”

“We might even be a little early.”

“Excellent. Let me know when I can start corralling people. Thank you again for doing this, Mr. Gail.” She knew he had to shut down the restaurant early in order to cater, but she figured Mr. Dugan’s menu had more than made up for any money he lost. She let him return to work and crossed through the living room to find Mr. Dugan to give him an update. She saw her wife, Jill, parked on an ottoman and idly eating one of the bacon-oyster wraps the caterers were passing out. She made a detour.

“Jill. Hi. Baby, I am so sorry.”

“For what?” Jill leaned in and kissed Patricia’s lips. Patricia could taste the bacon, and it made Patricia remember how hungry she was. For dinner, and for other things.

“Neglecting you.”

Jill shook her head. “No. I asked you to bring me. You said you’d be busy with work… I’m taking what I can get from you tonight.” She winked. “It’s your duty to sacrifice so everyone else has a flawless, wonderful night. You’ll pay me back later.”

“You’re damn right I will.” She kissed Jill again, lingering this time, and then looked at the skewer. “Can I steal–”

“Yeah, of course.”

Patricia took a bite, and her eyes rolled back in her head. “Gah, yes, definitely the right caterers. My God. I swear, you will get a dance from me tonight.”

“If not here, then at home.” She pursed her lips and Patricia weakened. She touched Jill’s cheek and went off in search of her boss.

Jill finished her appetizer and was looking for someplace to put the skewer when someone lightly touched her shoulder. She turned to see Cheryl Paxton standing behind her, smiling and looking nervous in her bright red dress. Jill dabbed at her lips with a napkin as she stood.

“Cheryl! I didn’t know you’d be here.” They embraced and Jill stepped back so she could sign. “You look incredible.”

“You do, too. Is your wife here?”

“Working. It’s okay.”

Cheryl gestured at the dance floor. “Then do you want to dance?”

“It would be an honor.” She took Cheryl’s hand to guide her over to the dance floor. Only a few other couples were taking advantage of the space and the music, so they had plenty of room to maneuver. Jill and Cheryl had met through the school; Jill taught at the elementary school, and Cheryl worked at the town’s library. The two were close enough that Jill often took her class there for field trips, and they had quickly become close enough friends that Jill learned sign language so they could better communicate.

During their dance, Jill noticed an older bald man in an ill-fitting suit who she recognized even with his back to her. She tapped Cal Rucker’s shoulder and he spun toward her with an expression like he was waiting to be kicked out.

“Enjoying the evening, Sheriff?”

He tugged on the collar of his shirt. “Am I that obvious? Mrs. Hood-Colby, Ms. Paxton.” He smiled, nervously looked around like a kid waiting for a rabid dog to pounce on him. “I’m still trying to find a safe place to hide out until it’s acceptable for me to call it a night.”

Jill gestured at Cheryl. “Would you like to cut in? No one bothers a man dancing with a beautiful woman.”

Cheryl stepped back from Jill. “It would be my honor.”

Rucker held up his hands, started and stopped a few times, and finally shook his head and spelled two letters with his fingers. “OK.”

“At least you tried,” Cheryl waved goodbye to Jill before she took his hands. To Jill’s surprise, the sheriff was rather light on his feet. She watched for a moment, highly impressed, and then went to find refreshments. There had to be something stronger than punch. On her way to the kitchen, she passed the town’s new fire chief. She had been at the job for almost two years, but small towns were set in their ways. She had a feeling Alex would be in the job for five or six years before she stopped being the “new” fire chief.

Alex saw Jill smile at her and returned it politely. She waited until the brunette had passed out of earshot before she leaned toward her partner. “Who was that? I know I know her.”

Rachel looked. “Jill Hood-Colby. She’s a fifth grade teacher, and she’s married to the deputy mayor.”

“Right, the one dressed like a hot librarian who is running around like she’s balancing spinning plates on sticks.”

Rachel laughed. “Yes, her.” She slid her hand down Alex’s arm and looked at her for a long moment. “You know, we don’t have to stay all night if you don’t want to.”

Alex met her eye. “Hm? I’m fine.”

“You look very, very uncomfortable.” She smiled. “It’s okay.”

“No.” Alex put an arm around Rachel and pulled her close. “I can tell when you’re trying to hide being excited about something because you think I won’t want to do it. You’ve been looking forward to tonight. So I’m enjoying your enjoyment.”

Rachel lifted her chin. “Ahh, I see. Well, in that case, maybe tonight I’ll do something to enjoy your enjoyment.” She kissed Alex’s cheek and slid her lips to her ear so she could elaborate. Alex’s hand slid to the small of Rachel’s back and she actually blushed as she listened, and then she cleared her throat.

“Yeah. We can stay for a while longer.”

Rachel laughed. She glanced toward the back window and, in the pool light that reflected off the walls, saw two people dressed as caterers step away from the pool and disappear into the shadows. She saw a woman she thought she recognized crossing the living room, fingers intertwined with those of her partner. Rachel only recognized the first woman because of who she was with; she was used to seeing Amy Wellis in work clothes covered by a blue apron, with some kind of flour on her cheek or her hair pulled back into a tangle. Tonight, she looked absolutely gorgeous.

“Hey. That’s Amy Wellis from Coffee Table Books.”

Alex’s eyes widened. “Wow. She cleans up well, huh?”

Rachel playfully nudged her. “Stop gawking at women on our date. Do I have to whisper in your ear again?”

“No, ma’am,” Alex said. She linked her arm with Rachel’s and guided her toward the fireplace as Amy and Kate snuck out to the deck through the backdoor.

Kate’s arms were bare so, as they stepped outside, Amy turned to her. “Do you need a jacket?”

“No, I’m fine.” She wrapped her arms around Kate from behind and walked her toward the pool. “Think anyone would notice if we skinny-dipped?”

“Um… we probably would.”

The voice had come from behind them. Kate and Amy both turned toward the speaker. Molly and her partner were standing against the wall, blocked from view by a tall shrub that was wrapped in small white Christmas lights.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t,” Molly clarified. “Just that you should know we’ll be voyeurs if you do. How are you guys?”

“We’re doing great.” Amy and Molly knew each other professionally; Clifton had come up with the idea of offering ‘Seafood Cakes’ with marine themed decorations in the restaurant, and he commissioned Amy to make them. The cakes were a hit, and Amy had made half a dozen cakes every weekend to keep them in stock.

They introduced their respective partners, who shook hands while Amy and Molly hugged hello. When Molly only put one arm around her, Amy realized why they were standing in the shadows pinched between her thumb and forefinger.

“Whoa. You know there are cops in there, right?”

“You gonna squeal on us?” Molly smiled as she brought the joint back up to her lips and took a drag.

“Not if you share,” Amy said.

Molly handed her the joint and Amy took a drag. She closed her eyes and smiled. “Wow. That is… nice.” She passed it to Kate. “It’s kind of dangerous, isn’t it? Partaking of this and then going to deal with all that food?”

Shane shook her head. “We’re done with the food. Clif is taking care of the main course, and then we’ll just have the wine to deal with.” As Shane took the joint from Kate, Amy noticed that she had a slight overbite. Her hair was a little longer in the front than she remembered, the bangs veiling her right eyebrow. Her eyes drifted closed as she took a deep hit and then exhaled it to the sky. “This is just to release the stress from getting everything going smoothly.”

“I understand.” Amy leaned heavily against Kate’s side and watched as Molly placed the joint between her lips. She pursed, like she was kissing, and Amy’s heart leapt. She thought about Kate’s comments earlier and looked up at her. It seemed Kate was thinking the same thing, eyes locked with Shane’s. Amy doubted Shane knew why she was under such scrutiny, but she didn’t seem to mind.

“You and Molly should shotgun,” Kate said.

Amy lifted her head and looked at her fully. “Like Nick?”

Kate was smiling like a Bond villain. “Yeah. Like we did with Nick.”

“What are you guys scheming about?” Molly held the joint out to Amy. “What’s a shotgun? I mean I know what a…” She caught the giggles and pressed the back of her free hand against her mouth.

Amy took the joint. “I apologize in advance.” She took a drag and held the smoke in her mouth. She stepped forward and kissed Molly, parting her lips with the tip of her tongue. Molly’s eyes stayed wide open in surprise as Amy pulled back and gently blew the smoke into her mouth. Molly inhaled, held it, and then blew the smoke back out. Molly’s hand cupped the back of Amy’s head and pulled her forward to kiss her again.

The first time Amy had shotgunned someone, it was the prelude to a threesome with her ex-girlfriend Nicole Bronwyn. For all intents and purposes, she felt history was about to repeat. She pulled back, licked Molly’s lips, and took a step away from her. She wiped her thumb over her lips and coughed.

“That’s what a shotgun is.” She offered the joint to Shane. “Want to try?”

Shane looked at Kate. “What do I do? Just…”

“Hold it in your mouth and blow.”

Shane did as she was told. She leaned forward and met Kate halfway. Amy and Molly’s eyes met over their partner’s heads, and Molly laughed nervously until Kate and Shane backed away from each other.

There was some nervous laughter, shifting of feet, and Molly looked at the burning tip of the joint for a long moment. Finally she exhaled sharply and said, “Wow. I think I’m sober enough to understand what that meant, and just stoned enough to actually do it.”

“The perfect combination.” Kate’s lipstick was slightly smudged, and Amy reached up to brush it away.

“So you guys have done this before?” Shane asked.

Amy shrugged. “Just with one person. An ex. Never…” She gestured at Molly and Shane both. “Not two.”

Molly glanced at Shane, who was already staring at her. “Would… you be averse… to… trying… with two?” Her words came out as if they had been forced, like a part of her was trying to hold them back.

Amy took another hit. “I’m game.”

Molly pushed away from the wall. “When we were setting up, I saw a little guest house out back.” She took Shane’s hand, and Amy saw she was trembling with excitement. They led the way, and Amy put her arm around Kate’s waist as they followed. Amy looked back and saw Nadine and Miranda at the window. Nadine saw her, smiled in a confused way, and waved. Amy couldn’t help but laugh as she waved back and followed Shane and Molly’s quickly receding backs. The night was so dark in the backyard that the shirts appeared to be floating under the women’s blonde hair like ghosts haunting the lawn.

“If we get left behind, do you think they’ll start without us?” Kate laughed.

“Let’s not find out. C’mon.” Amy chased after them, leaving Kate to catch up with her.

In the warmth of the living room, Nadine pointed with her pinkie. “I wonder where they’re off to.”

Miranda shook her head. “Want to go see?”

Nadine considered it, but decided not to. “I think–”

She was interrupted by a gentle touch on her shoulder. “Excuse me. I’m sorry. You’re the Pixie, aren’t you? Nadine Butler?”

Nadine turned and smiled. “Mrs. Hood-Colby. Yes, I’m the Pixie.”

Patricia smiled and offered her hand. “I’m a big fan of your show. We always have it playing at City Hall. But that’s not why I’m, um, why I interrupted your conversation.” She looked an apology at Miranda, who waved it off. “Your father is Nathaniel Butler, right? He owns the photography shop?”


Patricia’s smile widened. “When I was a little girl, my parents always gave me the store-bought stuff for Christmas and told me it was from them, but they also gave me some little presents that were handcrafted wood carved… masterpieces. They told me those were from Santa Claus, since he could only give presents that the elves made in their workshops. So every year when I opened a present ‘From Santa,’ there was this smell of wood shavings and varnish. I always thought I was smelling the North Pole, and it was so… amazing.”

Nadine had brightened as she listened. “My parents did the same thing with me. I felt bad for all those kids at school claiming Santa brought them bicycles or video games because obviously those were just from their parents writing Santa’s name.”

Patricia laughed. “Exactly! I felt the exact same way. Dad finally told me where they came from when I got older, and I passed on the tradition to my son when he was little.” Her smile wavered. “Oh. I hope… I hope I’m not stepping on something special with you and your father. If it’s–”

“No! God, are you kidding me? Knowing he did it for other kids is…” She laughed. “My father really was Santa Claus!”

“Do you know if he’s still doing it?”

Nadine shook her head. “I haven’t thought about it. Thank you, though. It means a lot that it… meant a lot to you.”

“I just saw you and put two and two together. I couldn’t resist coming over and telling you about it.” She snapped her fingers. “Did he ever make you a merry-go-round?”

“Yes!” Nadine laughed. “One horse every year–”

“Right! I thought I was just getting horses.” She looked at Miranda to include her by telling the story to her, since Nadine already knew it. “After six years of horses, I got a little base with a tall pole in the middle, and fabric hanging down. There was a spot for all the horses I’d gotten and, when they were all in place, they made a merry-go-round. I felt… so…” She looked down at her punch. “I felt so special that Santa remembered the six horses he’d already given me, and that he had given me something so perfect to go with them.”

Nadine hugged Patricia. “Thank you for telling me. I wonder how many other kids on Squire’s Isle got presents from my father’s workshop. I might really be an elf.”

“Well, you have the right height.” Miranda playfully traced the upper shell of Nadine’s ear with her thumb, and Nadine twisted away from her.

Patricia chuckled. “Well, I’ll let you get back to the party… I’m so glad you were here. I haven’t thought about those toys in ages.”

“Doesn’t your wife teach elementary school? Maybe I could talk to Dad about doing some sort of special toy drive for some less fortunate kids.”

“That would be amazing. I’ll talk to her about it, we’ll set something up.” She shook Miranda’s hand. “It really was nice to meet you.”

“You too.”

Patricia walked away with a smile on her face, but it quickly faded when she saw the Mayor in the living room doorway. He was dressed in his finest suit, sans tie, and his eyebrows shot up when he saw her. He motioned for her with two fingers and she put aside the errand she was about to run to follow him into the hall. He walked ahead of her, half turned so she wouldn’t have to talk to his back.

“How’s the party going?”

“Perfectly, sir. No catastrophes.”

“That’s what I like to hear. I just need to take a few minutes of your time. Hopefully any fires that pop up will take care of themselves.”

Patricia hoped he was right as she went into his office. He shut the door behind her, and the Christmas music coming from the party was lessened to an almost subliminal hum. Dugan crossed the room and gestured at the mini-bar as he rounded his desk. “Would you like a nip of something? Laura insisted the party be alcohol-free, but there’s no reason the woman keeping everything on the tracks shouldn’t partake.”

“No, sir. But thank you.” He sat down and Patricia stood in front of his desk.

She often felt like a general reporting to the President during these impromptu conversations. She resisted the urge to stand at ease and simply stood comfortably as Dugan lowered himself into his chair. He groaned as he sank down, sighed as he turned the chair toward the window. He rubbed his stomach and sighed heavily. She waited patiently for him to speak first, trying not to think of any small crises that might be arising in her absence. And if things were going smoothly, this could be time taken away from being with Jill.

Finally, Dugan looked at her. “Do you remember three weeks ago, the golf trip I took to the mainland? Just after Thanksgiving?”

The one that turned into a sudden and unannounced week-long trip to Vancouver? Vaguely. Aloud she said, “Yes, sir.”

“There’s something I haven’t told you about that trip. I was on the fourth hole when I had a heart attack.”

Patricia felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. Her eyes widened. “Sir. Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

“You were running things here, and I told my wife. I figured it was no one else’s business. It was a very small attack. An episode. The doctor called it a warning shot across the bow.” He rubbed his chin. “Anyway, I took some time off, stayed on the mainland, and I didn’t have fuck-all to do except think. And what I thought is that it’s time I gave this up.”

Patricia resisted the urge to close her eyes, but her shoulders sagged. Succession was hardly democratic on Squire’s Isle. A Dugan took office, decided when he wanted to leave, and then endorsed a member of his family in the next election. The Dugans always won. The island trusted them, and they were good mayors if not exactly excellent people. Unfortunately, each Dugan usually brought in their own staff. Her heart lurched and she accepted that she was about to be fired.

She put her hands behind her back and clenched her hands into fists. Her eyes stung behind her glasses. After all of the fucking hard work she had put into this night, he was going to do it now?

“Have you thought about… who your successor will be?” she asked, wondering if her real-estate license was still valid.

“I have. This island has changed in the past few years, Patricia. Since that disc-jockey did her little last stand, we’ve changed. Hell, I’m talking to my openly gay deputy mayor who is married to an elementary school teacher. And half the tourists who show up are here because they heard about this being a great place for lesbian getaways.” He held his hands out. “That’s great. And it’s been great for the town. It’s put us on the map. But I don’t know how to run that town, and no one in my family does, either.”

Patricia nodded. She could hear ‘The First Noel’ playing in the main rooms of the house. How long could they live off just Jill’s salary?

“That’s why, when I retire, I want to endorse you to take my place.”

Patricia looked at him. “Who?”

“You. The… only other person in the room.”

Patricia blinked. “Why?”

Dugan turned to face the desk, resting his elbows on the edge. “Don’t play coy with me, Mrs. Hood-Colby. You and I both know the minute you were promoted to deputy mayor, you started doing my job for me. I got lazy because you were so much better at it than I was. I took a golf trip on a weekday. Hell, I took a week-long recuperation trip after a heart attack, and odds are no one at City Hall even realized I was gone, because you were there.” He smiled. “You’d only be running for the title, Patricia. You’ve been the unofficial mayor for a long time. I need to step aside and let you have the glory as well as the labor.”

“What?” She was trying to make sense of what he was saying.

Dugan laughed. “I’m not guaranteeing you’ll get the job. One of my idiot brothers may decide to run out of spite, or people may just not vote for you because they don’t want a woman in charge. All I’m offering you is the traditional endorsement that all outgoing mayors give. I’m just not willing to give it to a family member this year.” He raised an eyebrow and stared at her. “Patricia?”

“Yeah.” She looked up from his desk and blinked.

“Are you in there?”


He smiled. “I don’t expect an answer tonight. Talk it over with your wife. Sleep on it. I’d like an election to happen in… November. To run with the big national one. So there’s no rush. But the sooner the better. Maybe after the Christmas break.”

“Sure. I’ll… talk to Jill.”

“You do that.” He stood up and walked around the desk. His hand was extended for almost a full minute before Patricia realized what he wanted. She took his hand and shook it.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t thank me. You deserve the job, Patricia. And this island deserves you.” He winked and patted her shoulder. “You want that drink now?”

She looked at the mini-bar with real desire, but shook her head. “No. Thank you.”

“Take your time. Process this. I’ll see you at the party.”

He left the office door open behind him, and Patricia sank into one of the wingback chairs in front of his desk. She wasn’t sure what the hell had just happened. She didn’t know how long she had been there when someone appeared in the doorway. She turned toward the visitor and tried to stand up when she saw it was Dugan’s wife, Laura.

“No, don’t get up. I’m just looking for James.”

“He… left. Back to the party.”

Laura smiled. “He spoke to you, didn’t he?”


She winked. “You would be great in the job, Patricia. Please, do think about it carefully. You’ll have my vote if you run.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Dugan. That means a… lot. Thank you.”

“Take your time, dear. You’ve been running ragged all night. You deserve to have a break.”

Patricia nodded, still looking stunned. Laura walked down the hall, greeting guests with an eye out for her husband. She passed Patricia’s wife and stopped, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Mrs. Hood-Colby, dear… your wife is in my husband’s office. I think she’d like to see you.”

Jill was already on the move. “Is everything okay?”

“She’s a little stunned, but she’s fine.”

“Thank you.” Laura continued on her search for her errant hubby. She went outside on the off chance he had escaped to the guest house to hide out. As she walked alongside the pool, she could smell marijuana smoke on the breeze. The gall of someone smoking weed on her property and not even offering her a hit. She smiled and hoped she could find whoever it was later and let them make amends to her.

The guest house was mostly dark, but she could see a light on in the back window. “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy.” She didn’t want to make a scene. Jameson was respectful of her dalliances and affairs, so she didn’t want to make a big deal about his. She walked along the soft, wet grass along the side of the house and peeked through the bedroom window.

There were four women on the king-sized bed. One caterer was on the bed next to a woman in a white cocktail dress. The caterer’s pants were off, discarded like spilled ink on the carpet. A woman in a silk blouse was kneeling between her legs. Beside her, between the legs of the other woman, was a second caterer with long, curly blonde hair. The two women on the bed were kissing, and the brunette in the cocktail dress had the short-haired caterer’s blouse mostly open. Her hand was inside her blouse, and the caterer was arching her back.

Laura was frozen on the spot, her lips parted in surprise and sudden arousal. She put a hand on her chest, sliding it down to her breast as she watched the threesome. After a few more moments of oral sex, the two kneeling women sat up and kissed each other. Laura recognized Amy Wellis and the head chef of Gail’s, and she backed away from the window.

She would let them have their privacy. But now she was definitely going to have to find Alicia once everyone else had gone home. She straightened her clothes, touched her hair, and steadied her breathing before she continued on her quest to find her husband. When she got to the back door, Clifton Gail had just opened it to step outside.

“Ah. Mrs. Dugan. I’m looking for two of my employees…”

Laura slipped an arm around his and guided him back inside. “Let them have a little break, Mr. Gail. If you need an extra set of hands, I was a waitress for many years before I was married and a bartender ever since. Let me know what you need.”

He smiled and patted her hand as she let him go. “Will do, ma’am. Have you seen Mrs. Hood-Colby?”

“Which one, dear? Actually, they were both in Jameson’s office last I saw them.”

He thanked her and weaved through the crowd. The hall was dark, and he could hear soft voices coming from the open door of the office. “–you really want to do. I think it would be an amazing opportunity.”

He knocked, and the conversation stopped. The deputy mayor was sitting on the edge of the desk, leaning forward. Her wife was seated in front of her, and their hands were clasped. Both women looked up as he ducked in. “Hey. Uh, sorry. But I thought I would let you know that we’re about ready to start serving dinner.”

“Thanks, Mr. Gail. I’ll be in there in a minute.”

He nodded and ducked back out. Patricia looked down at Jill’s hands. “It would mean really crazy hours,” she whispered. “It would be hectic all the time.”

“So we’ll deal with it.” Jill brought Patricia’s hands up. “You’ve worked so hard for this, Patricia. You started at the bottom, and now you’re at the top of the ladder. And someone’s holding their hand out to help you onto the top. Look, by the time the election is held, Michael will be a junior in high school. He’ll be looking at colleges soon.”

“Jesus,” Patricia whispered.

Jill laughed. “I know. But a little extra money probably wouldn’t hurt. And hon, you’ve been doing the job for so long anyway. If you want my permission to run… you have it. In spades. It might kind of be fun to be First Lady.” She frowned. “Although… why would the elected woman not be the First Lady? I mean, she’s the elected–”



“Kiss me.”

They kissed.

Patricia pulled back and stroked Jill’s hair. “Thank you.”

“For what? Supporting you? Loving you? Knowing you would win in a landslide even without Mayor Dugan’s support? Easy-peasy, babe.” She kissed Patricia again. “You should get back to work.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mrs. Mayor.”

Jill stood up and pulled Patricia away from the desk. She put her arm around Patricia’s waist, and Patricia put an arm around Jill’s, and they guided each other out to the party. Patricia stopped at the door of the living room and looked at the partiers. More people were dancing, and the caterers were inviting people into the dining room to begin their meal. Jill started in, but Patricia stopped her.


“Don’t you have to… hover?”

Patricia pulled Jill back to her. “No party is perfect. If something goes wrong, I’ll fix it. Or someone else will fix it. I’ve been neglecting you this whole night, and you’ve been just amazing. So I’m going to take a few minutes and dance with my wife.”

Jill smiled and pressed herself against Patricia. “Well, if you put it like that…”

The music that was playing at the moment was lively, a happy Christmas tune. But Jill put her head on Patricia’s shoulder and let her wife lead her in a slow, romantic dance. It didn’t match the tune at all, but neither of them cared.

It was nearly eleven when the party finally broke up. Under the portico, Miranda unzipped her coat and wrapped the halves around Nadine’s body to keep her warm. Nadine kissed the teardrop shape in Miranda’s dress and then looked into her eyes. “So when we get home, are you going to wash all this crap off and make yourself pretty for me?”

“You mean my face mask, hair pinned up, dressed in my NYU sweatshirt and boxer shorts?”

“You don’t have to wear boxer shorts.”

Miranda laughed and they danced together on the front steps.

Molly and Shane had to go pack things up, but they left Kate and Amy with searing kisses that both women would remember for a very long time. Kate was in her underwear, her dress pooled at the foot of the bed. Amy finished dressing and then ran her fingers down Kate’s spine. “Hey. We should get dressed. The party is probably wrapping up… I don’t want the mayor to catch us in here.”

“Sit with me a second.”

Amy was mostly dressed, her shirt unbuttoned to show her slip. She sat beside Kate, linked their fingers, and bent down to kiss her shoulder. “You okay?”

“I’m fine. I just want you to know that even if I seem to jump at the chance to…” She gestured at the bed. “Even in those situations, it’s not about being with someone different. It’s about experiencing something new with you. I don’t want to be with Molly or Shane. Just you. At the end of the day, whatever else has happened, it’s not a good day unless I’m in your arms.”

Amy turned Kate’s head and kissed her lips. “If you were jumping, it was only because I was jumping, too. It’s like I said. I love that I can do this sort of thing with you. I’ve always thought sex was a fun thing, so why confine it to a dark bedroom? I never did any of this stuff with Nick. I’ve never done it with… anyone. I’m so comfortable with you. I’m so in love with you, and so confident that we are meant to be, that I don’t have to worry about sharing you.”

Kate smiled. “You’re that in love with me?”


“Good.” Kate kissed her. “I’m still more in love with you.”

Amy growled. “Wanna bet?”

“We’ll have a contest when we get home.”

“Who will be the judge?”

“Nadine and Miranda?”

Amy laughed. “Now you’re up for it?”

Kate shrugged. “With you, I’m up for anything. Sky’s the limit. But right now, could you hand me my dress?”

She was almost completely dressed when there was a knock on the front door. They both froze, but Amy overcame her paralysis first. She cleared her throat and moved through the living room. “Um… yes?”

“I’m Laura Dugan.”

Amy closed her eyes and waited for the anger. “Uh-huh?”

“Feel free to stay the night. There’s some food in the cabinets, drinks in the fridge. I hope you enjoyed the party. You’re more than welcome to join us in the main house for breakfast tomorrow.” There was a pause and, when she spoke again, it sounded like she was stifling laughter. “Good night, ladies.”

Kate was standing in the door of the bedroom, a sheet wrapped around her body. “Did we just get caught?”

“Yeah. But I don’t think it matters.” She grinned and strutted across the room. “Drop the sheet, Price. I’m not done with you tonight.”

Rachel and Alex walked down the long driveway of the Dugan property. Rachel’s high heels were in her bag, and she was wearing Alex’s dress shoes and socks. They were just a bit too big, so she clung to Alex’s arm so she wouldn’t fall over. “Did you really enjoy the party?” Rachel asked.

“I enjoyed spending a few hours with you where we didn’t have to worry about running out due to a call. I spent all night just looking at you. How could I not enjoy that?”

“You’re so sweet.” She stumbled and Alex caught her. “Thanks.”


Occasionally a car would pass them, and they stepped off the driveway until it was gone. Alex curled her bare toes in the grass, feeling like a kid again. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d walked barefoot through a wet lawn. Much too long. She stroked Rachel’s arm.

“You know that, how do I love thee, let me count the ways?” Rachel nodded against her arm. “I came up with five.”

“Only five?”

“Five is a lot.”

“Oh. I didn’t know the game.”

“Well now you do.” Rachel smothered her laughter against Alex’s shoulder. “Okay. I love you when you work. Professional, dedicated, strong. I love you when you’re sleepy. I love you when you’re fresh out of the shower and walking around half-dressed. I love you when you fall asleep on my lap. And I love you when you’re angry.”

“When I’m angry? Even when I’m angry at you?”

“Yeah. Because then I get to fix it and then I’m the one who made you happy.”

Rachel sighed. “Okay. Five is a lot.”

“How many ways do you love me?”

“Do I have to answer immediately? I want to ponder it.”

Alex kissed her temple. “Take as long as you want, sweetie.”

They reached the end of the driveway and moved onto the sidewalk outside the gates. Rachel put her arms around Alex, and they held each other until they were ready to walk back up to the house to get their car from the valet.

The last few guests slowly drifted away from the mayor’s house, their cars moving through silent streets. Children were nestled asleep in their bed awaiting Santa’s visit. Out in the harbor, a ferry arrived with all the windows shining like a floating tree ornament. Businesses were decorated with colorful lights. Snow had started to fall not long after the sun set, delivering light fluffy flakes that settled. They melted on the surface to make the roads and red brick buildings look like they were made of crystal.

Christmas had come to Squire’s Isle.

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