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Holiday Inn: Storybrooke

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It was always strange, coming back to Storybrooke.  You could only fly as far as Portland, and if you didn’t rent a car, you were stuck with one bus a day.  Ruby stepped off the plane into the Portland airport, and looked around.  Maine.  She was back.

At the baggage claim she found her red wheely bag and glanced around.

“Ruby!”

The squeal barely registered before a figure hit Ruby from behind.  She dropped her bag and nearly toppled over.  Sturdy arms grabbed her and righted her.

“Emma.” Ruby recognized her attacker, and threw her arms around her and hugged her in return. “It’s been years!”

“Oh my god, it’s so good to see you!”

The flutters of excited reconnection created a vortex of happiness around them. It had been years. But back in those days, they had been sisters.

They split the driving, Emma’s car making small and distressing sounds of protest at being driven so far, and caught up furiously.  Emma was working in Portland as a paralegal while she was studying for the bar. Ruby was in New York, a sous chef at Nobu.

“Seeing anyone?” Emma asked with a wiggle of the eyebrows.

Ruby laughed. “If I was, you wouldn’t be my date to this wedding.”

“Have you met this girl that Killian’s marrying?” Emma asked, frowning slightly.  “I kind of don’t like what I heard.”

Ruby nodded slightly. Killian sounded smitten, all Lacey this, Lacey that.  But he wasn’t great at figuring out who was interested in him and who was interested in his money.  He had just been a lowly diving instructor, when he found a wreck of a pirate ship off the coast.  Just the doubloons had been sold to collectors for over half a million dollars, and everything else had pushed him into the stratosphere.

“I heard she’d been married before,” Ruby said.  “Isn’t she our age?”

Emma laughed. “Some people actually have relationships before they’re twenty eight.  But I heard that her husband died. Gold digger, all the signs.”

“We’ll have to meet her before we judge.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so nice. I just want to dish the dirt.”

“And how about you?” Ruby asked, narrow eyed.  “Marriage appearing on your horizons?”

Emma flushed and the car went bump over the side of the road.  She righted it quickly.  “I, um, no.  I’m not – really, looking for that right now.”

Ruby, suddenly suspicious, watched her.  That didn’t say single to her.

*            *            *

It was hard to go past the diner, now empty and boarded up.  Ruby stood outside, missing Granny, missing her childhood.  It had been a good time, back then. She’d been taken in, along with Emma and Killian, three orphans and a grandmother, making up a little family. They’d been there for each other, even when the shit hit the fan, Killian’s shoplifting, Ruby’s getting outed, Emma getting pregnant in senior year, and they were fine.  It was all thanks to Granny, though, and Ruby missed her more than anyone.

“Well, it looks like there used to be a place to eat in this town.”

Ruby jolted and glanced around.  There was a young woman, standing a few feet away, also looking at the boarded up diner. She glanced over to Ruby and offered a raised eyebrow.  “Sadly, now we will all starve.”

Ruby laughed a little. “It was the best place too. Lots of food, low prices.”

“Ah,” the woman drawled, “niced itself out of business.”

“Nah,” Ruby looked away. “The owner died. No one wanted to start it up again.”

“I presume,” the woman said, sauntering toward her, cat-like in her confidence, “that you’re from around here, if you know all this.  So, I presume, you know where someone can actually get food in this town?”  She wrinkled her nose.  “I was going to say shithole, but you are from here.”

Ruby frowned at her, amused but confused.  “If you really wanted to be polite, you wouldn’t have added that last part.”

The woman grinned, “I know.”

It was the grin that did it. Ruby had found her surprising, a little amusing, kind of odd, but with the grin she was meltingly sexy. She had lush dark wavy hair, eyes that glinted blue, a sexy blue tank-top on over black jeans, and strappy heels. The tank top was open enough to expose a good portion of her black lacy bra.  Attractive and a little odd, that was kind of Ruby’s type. She smiled and offered an arm.  “I do, in fact, know where one can get food in this town.  May I escort you there?”

“You may indeed.”

The struggling wrap place down the street was one of the only decent places to eat, now that the diner was closed, so Ruby lead the way there, rather interested in finding out more about the woman walking at her side. “So, I shouldn’t really talk since I don’t live here anymore, but Storybrooke really doesn’t get a lot of passers through. What brings you here?”

“Oh, you know, social events,” the woman waved an annoyed hand.  “A wedding, actually. It’s supposed to be party all the time, but I know hardly anyone, and I hate people, so I snuck off to go find my own lunch, and maybe somewhere quiet to catch up on queries.”

Ruby blinked. Was it the same wedding she was here for?  One of the bride’s party?  But there was a further puzzle in the utterance.  “Queries?  What are those?”

The woman smiled. “Query letters, people pitching their novels to me.  I’m a literary agent.  I crush people’s dreams for a living.”

“Ohhh.” Ruby did not know a lot about publishing, but you couldn’t work at a fancy restaurant in Midtown for as long as she had and not know about the Agent meetings with famous authors that they always expensed to their companies.  The waitstaff always knew to press them with tempting descriptions of appetizers and recommendations of the most top-end wines.

The woman gave her a suspicious look.  “You’re not going to tell me you’re thinking about writing a novel, now, are you?”

Ruby blinked. “What?  No.  No way.  Me, write a novel?” She shook her head.  “I read them sometimes, you know, when I can’t bear my life anymore and need a break from thinking about it, and shockingly, don’t have twelve other things that need doing.”

The woman laughed and nodded. “We have that in common then. You’d think an agent would actually have time to read, but no.”

“You based in New York?”

“Course.”

Ruby smiled. “Then we have that in common too. I work at Nobu. Maybe you’ve eaten my sushi.”

The woman gave her a dark look and waggled her eyebrows.  “Now that was unexpectedly dirty, Miss…”

“Ruby, uh,” Ruby stuck out her hand.  “I’m Ruby.”

“Isabelle,” the woman drawled. “No one actually calls me that, but hell, I really don’t feel like being me right now.  Too much stress.  So I am giving you the gift of calling me by my real name.”

Ruby gave a slight bow. “I am most honored.”

Isabelle(?)’s smile danced.

Ruby hadn’t planned on staying away from the party for lunch, but since she was here, she might as well eat, she thought.  She was honest enough with herself to know if there hadn’t been a beautiful woman seeming to want her company, she would have bailed immediately.

“So, Miss – Chef at Nobu – should I expect wonders from these wraps, or atrocities?”

Ruby took a bite of hers, and chewed contemplatively. “Mmm, a warmed tortilla, fresh lettuce, only moderately dry chicken, and an excitingly preservative filled sauce. I would say, average, but on the high side.”

Isabelle gave her a grin and a nod.  “I am appeased.”

Ruby didn’t click with people that often.  She could flirt her ass off, if need be, but easy, low-stakes banter, that was calming and fun. Sure, she’d like to take this girl home, but it was early afternoon, and she had other things to do that day. Best goal was phone number, and really, it didn’t matter if she got it or she didn’t, as long as she had a good time at lunch.

But when lunch was over, Isabelle glanced at her watch and wrinkled her nose.  “God, I’ve only had an hour away from them. Is there anything else to do in this godforsaken town?”

Ruby blinked. “You don’t want to do your ‘queries’?  I could show you the library?”

Isabelle scowled. “Ugh, queries. No, I think I’ll put them off, unless you have somewhere to be?”

“No, not really. I could… play tour guide? I was going to go and walk down by the docks anyway, just to see my old stomping grounds.”

Isabelle smiled. “Sounds like fun.”

There was something about being with a pretty girl that brought out the competitiveness in Ruby. She hadn’t been under the wharf in years, but when Isabelle gave her a sly look and started disbelieving her tales about her and her foster siblings adventures there, Ruby slipped right down in.  Isabelle, leaving her heels on the dock, followed and they scrambled about, playing an impromptu form of chase and tag on slippery beams in the damp cool salty hollow until a policeman stuck his head down and scolded them.

Isabelle’s face was pink with exertion and she had a green streak of algae on her nose. They were both rumpled and a little dirty, and Ruby hadn’t had so much fun in years.  But Isabelle was a mess.

“Oh god, sorry for getting you into that.” she said, going after the nose algae with a kleenex.

Isabelle caught her wrist. “I’m not.” She was pretty and windblown, and looking up, intent, and Ruby thought that if she kissed her, right at that moment, she might get kissed back. She moved forward.

“Clear out, you two,” the policeman called, and the spell broke.

Isabelle went even redder, and caught up the tissue to wipe her own face.  She checked her watch.  “Oh shit,” she said, “I gotta go somewhere at three, and I’m a mess. Better get back.”

“Me too,” Ruby said.

They had walked about three blocks when Isabelle cast a suspicious look over her shoulder. “You know, I really do have to be somewhere at three.  And I didn’t mean the ‘I need to clean up’ as, I have time for a quickie in the shower, okay?  So, um, scooch.”

Ruby felt herself flushing. “I, god, I’m just going this way too.  I’ve got to get to the Holiday Inn.”

“Oh,” Isabelle scrunched up her face in embarrassment.  “You’re staying there too?”

“There really isn’t any other place to stay in town, now that the Inn closed.”

“Now I’m a douche.”

Ruby laughed. “Just arrogant.” She hesitated.  “Not that I would say no if you figured we’d have time for a quickie in the shower.”

Isabelle gave her an intent look.  “Oh, really? Well, justified arrogance then.”

“But now I’m hurt that you’d say no to me.”

Isabelle gave her a rough half-smile.  “Ah, the good old days when I was single.  You would be on your back so fast.”

“Good reasons.” Ruby ducked her head. “Look, I really enjoyed hanging out with you today, so you know, like, any other time you want to take a break, or do something dumb, while we’re both here—”

“Give me your phone,” Isabelle said, and then snagged it, typing in her digits.  She hit send until hers rang.  Then she handed the phone back.  “Call me, sometime,” she said, and disappeared into the Holiday Inn.

Ruby scrolled through her contacts list.  There was nothing under ‘I’.  Then she found it. The entry: ‘Totally Sexy Lit Agent’ had a New York number beside it.  Ruby laughed and slid the phone into her pocket.  That girl was crazy.  And she might be with someone now, but she really hadn’t shut the door on a follow up.  Either way, Ruby might have made a friend.

*            *            *

Emma hadn’t been able to find Ruby during lunch, and though Killan had welcomed her with a hug, he hadn’t been able to introduce her to Lacey, who had apparently claimed a headache and had holed up in the hotel room.  Emma wished she had bailed for lunch too.  She didn’t get back to Storybrooke as often as she’d like, and there were people she wanted to see.

She found her phone instead. “Hey, I’m in town,” she typed. “Mind if I stop in tonight?”

“If you want to see him, come before ten, please,” was the brusque response.  But it was a yes.  Emma smiled.

“Hey you!” It was Ruby, finally, looking flushed and a little damp. “Anything been happening?”

Emma frowned at her. “Nothing, except I couldn’t find you.  Did you… pull?” she asked.

Ruby gaped at her for a moment, and then laughed.  “What? No.  I just went downtown for lunch.”

“For three hours? And you didn’t invite me?”

Ruby winced. “I wasn’t actually planning on staying that long.  I just wanted to see the diner.  I just… ended up talking to someone, and so I ate lunch with her and then we hung around the docks for a bit.”

Emma stared hard at her. “Oh my god, you met someone.”

“I didn’t!  I mean, she was hot and I would have gone for that, but she’s with someone, so nothing happened.”  Ruby smiled.  “Well, I got her digits.  But that’s all.”

“You dog.” Emma shook her head, grinning. “We’re at a wedding.”

Ruby made a face. “I’m kind of worried that she’s in the wedding too.  She’s staying here, and needed to be back for three, which is fittings, right? And, I mean, I wouldn’t mind seeing her again, not at all.  But still, maybe a bit awkward.”

Emma laughed. “Awkward indeed.”

“Ruby!” Killian shouted, and threw his arms around her.  “How’s my best man?”

Ruby hugged her brother back fiercely.  “How are you?  How come I haven’t seen you for a year?”

Killian gave her his usual rakish grin.  “You know, life, love, or on your part, raw fish.”

Ruby smacked his shoulder lightly.

Emma wrinkled her nose. “Why does she get to be best man?”

“Because if I get cold feet, I need someone who will marry the girl,” he said laughing.  “And as far as I know, you’re still straight.”

Emma looked suddenly awkward and Ruby’s eyebrows shot up her forehead.  “Oh, you and me are having a talk later,” she said. But then she turned back to Killian. “Anyways, I think she’s seeing someone, whereas I am still totally available, and therefore am perfect for the job of stand in.” She elbowed Killian in the side. “Now, when do I get to meet my prospective bride?”

Killian fake growled at her. “She’s still my girl, and my feet are totally hot,” he said, “so don’t get your hopes up.”

A tall woman with cascading dark hair and an intensely gorgeous appearance strode up to Killian. Ruby gaped slightly. “Is this…”

Killian looked over. “Oh, no! This is Milah,” he said. His scruffy cheeks seemed to pinken, and he grew a little stiff.  “She’s…”

“I’m the bride’s previous husband’s ex-wife,” she said, her tones a bit self-deprecating. “And, for some inexplicable reason, Matron of Honor.”

Emma gaped. Ruby looked rather bewildered. “You were—”

“I was thrown over for the younger model,” Milah said, entirely unamused.  “But oddly enough, the younger model has even fewer women friends than I do, and so we found ourselves entangled in something resembling acquaintance.” Milah gave Ruby the side-eye. “Although if you’re the best man, perhaps I could have been replaced with one of Lacey’s plethora of sturdily handsome gay companions.”

Ruby smiled awkwardly. She was probably going to have to escort this woman down the aisle.  Couldn’t it have been someone who wasn’t taller than her?

A child walked up to the group.  Killian noticed him first. “Neal, my man!” he exclaimed and swooped down to gather the boy into a hug.  He couldn’t be older than ten. Ruby’s eyes slid over to Emma, who was looking more amused at Killian being good with kids than angsty. That was comforting.

“This is Neal,” Killian said. “Our handsome little ring bearer.”

Neal ducked his head and blushed at all the attention he was getting.

“My son,” Milah said, flatly.

“And Lacey’s step-son,” Killian added. “Though that’s all a bit weird now that his father, is well…” He looked down at Neal and tousled his hair. Neal gave a strong little-boy smile.

Ruby and Emma exchanged a glance.  This whole situation was a bit weird.

“Killian!  There you are.” A figure swooped in, looping an arm around Killian and pulling him down, into a kiss.

“Have a good rest, doll?”

The woman wrapped around Ruby’s foster brother was undeniably familiar.  In a sleek dress and with freshly blow-dried waves of hair and perfect make-up, she was miles away from how Ruby had last seen her, mussed and intense and streaked with algae.  But there was no denying it.  It was her.

Shit.”

“Definitely.”

“Lace, meet my family,” Killian said.  “This is my sister Emma, and this is Ruby.”

Lacey turned to look, and when her eyes fell on Ruby, she froze solid.  They hadn’t done anything, Ruby thought to herself, they hadn’t, and yet…

“Ruby.” Lacey offered a smile, so practiced it didn’t look forced, and stepped up to shake her hand. “Lovely to meet you… officially. Killian has told me so much about you.”

“Um.” So they were denying it, sort of. “Yes, you too.”

“And Emma,” Lacey’s smile relaxed and she stepped right in, kissing Emma on the cheek. “Truly lovely.”

“Uh, yeah,” Emma said. “Sure.”  She kept glancing from Lacey to Ruby’s hand, as if she couldn’t understand why it was Ruby who got the stiff handshake.

“So,” Killian said, oblivious to the weirdness.  “I hear there are fittings now?”

*            *            *

“Ruby,” Emma said, highly suspicious, as they hustled down the hallway to where the fittings were going to be held.  “What the hell was that?”

“Um,” Ruby said, “you know that girl I said I had lunch with, and got her number, but nothing else because she was with someone.  Yeah, that was Lacey.”

Emma froze. “Oh.  Ohhhhh.” That look that had been on Lacey’s face. Suddenly her worries about Lacey being a gold digger were replaced by much more serious one.  “You wanted to bang her,” Emma said.

Emma,” Ruby hissed.  “She’s my brother’s fiancée!”

“But you didn’t know that then.  And she wanted to bang you.”

“She didn’t.”

“Come on.  She shook your hand.  She totally wanted to bang you but didn’t trust herself to get too close, god, I knew she was a ho.”

“Emma!” Ruby whirled on her. “Shut up.  You don’t know anything about her.  Of course she gave me a handshake.  I had been hitting on her like crazy and she turned me down.  She didn’t want to give me any ideas.”

“No,” Emma said. “It’s not that simple. She lied to Killian about where she was at lunch.  She said she was in the hotel room with a headache.  Instead she was out picking up girls.”

“She went out for lunch, Emma. It’s not a crime!”

“And she has a kid.”

Ruby frowned. “Only kinda.”

Emma gave a short sharp nod. “That’s what makes me worry. Killian seems to really like the kid.  But she didn’t even look at the boy.”

“This isn’t any of our business!”

Emma scowled. “It is our business.  If it’s clear that Lacey isn’t any good for him, it’s our job, as his sisters, to get her off of him.”

Ruby sighed. “I liked her, Emma, when I met her before.  She’s fun.”

I know,” Emma said, giving her a hard, suspicious look.  “That’s part of the problem.”

*            *            *

The debate ended for the duration of the fitting, which was split into bride’s party and groom’s party. Ruby enjoyed the teasing by the rest of the groomsmen, mostly Killian’s old diving friends, and really enjoyed the clothing they were being fitted with.  Killian was going with a pirate theme for the wedding.

Trying on an eyepatch, Ruby caught up with Killian at the mirrors.  “So this is awesome,” she said.

“I know.” Killian grinned at her, and brandished a scimitar rakishly. 

“And Lacey was really on board with it?”

“On board? She was up the rigging!” Then he laughed.  “She said it sounded fun.  She’s a cool girl.”

“Yeah, I kind of got that.”

Killian smiled. “I knew you’d like her. She reminded me of you when I first met her – the sort of girl who takes her partying as seriously as her work.”

“And Milah?”

“Oh, Milah’s great, and little Neal.” He grinned.  “He was stoked about the pirate theme.”  He looked around, and then frowned. “Actually, I was hoping I could help him pick a costume.  But I guess I’m not supposed to see the girls before the big day.”  He cocked his head.  “Do you think you could run down there and see if little Neal wants to join us?”

“Um,” Ruby shrugged. “Sure.”

She was dressed enough to be presentable, in breeches and boots, with the sword she had fought the other guys for dangling from her belt, so she strode down the hall to the other room. She knocked politely. Milah, looking absolutely amazing in pirate garb, opened the door.  Ruby gaped for a moment.

“Yes?” Milah inquired. “Is there something you need?”

Ruby got a hold of herself just as Lacey glanced over from deeper into the room.  She was only wearing a slip, and when she caught sight of Ruby she flinched.  Feeling awkward as hell, Ruby waved.  “Uh,” she said. “Killian wanted to know if Neal was interested in getting dressed with the guys.”

Milah snorted slightly. “The guys, including yourself and your sister.”

“The groom’s party then,” Ruby clarified, trying not to roll her eyes.  She found that Lacey looked like she wanted to as well and was smirking at her.

“I’m sure Neal would love to, wouldn’t you?” Lacey said, tugging Neal out from a chest of wench dresses. Neal nodded furiously. Lacey sauntered over with him in tow and pushed him toward Ruby.  Her eyes flicked up and down, taking in Ruby’s pirate attire with intensity, and a bit of criticism.  Then she reached up and unbuttoned Ruby’s collar.  “No button downs for you,” she said.  “And layer.  That will work really well, I think.”

She was too close, and mostly undressed, and now she was forbidden fruit, which only made her hotter, and Ruby had forgotten how to breathe.

“Also, dark colors. You’re pirates, right?”  Then Lacey really did roll her eyes and Ruby couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled out of her.

“Aye, aye,” she said, and snorted.  “God, Killian.”

“I know,” Lacey agreed, and their eyes met, all amusement and understanding.  Lacey gave her arm a light smack.  “Get on with you,” she said.  “See you at dinner.”

Ruby swallowed. She would see her at dinner.  She’d spend the next four days in close quarters with this beautiful, off-limits girl.  Unsettlingly, she found herself as thrilled by the prospect as she was unhappy.  “Indeed.  And you’d better actually have clothes on then.”

Lacey scrunched her nose and shook her head, and Ruby took Neal’s hand and led him back down the hall.

*            *            *

Unsurprisingly, it was fish for dinner. When Killian got an idea in his head, he tended to go all the way.  And somehow, in the mess of tables and people that was the hotel dining room, Ruby found herself at the end of a long table, sitting kitty-corner from Lacey.

“See, clothes,” Lacey said, waving at herself.  And… they were clothes.  But the short electric blue sundress didn’t really improve the situation.

“Did you end up picking a wedding outfit?”

Lacey gave a nod around a bite of whiting.  “I had it mostly together before.  Just doing detail work.  Milah’s great at that.”

“And… this pirate theme thing, you’re really cool with it?”

Lacey laughed. “Sure.  It’s silly, but fun.  And, you know, it’s not like it’s my first wedding.”

Ruby, about to bite into her own meal, paused.  She’d forgotten that, sort of, or hadn’t really thought about it.  And for a girl who pinged bi like Lacey, it was odd that she was already on her second wedding.  “How… old are you?” she asked.

Lacey mock gasped and fanned herself in shock.  “A lady never reveals her age.”

Ruby grinned and shook her head.  “My apologies. I was just wondering, you know, a cute girl like you, nearly being married twice already.”

“I was twenty-three the last time I got married,” Lacey said, laughing.  “Fresh from my master’s in library science, realizing that I hated working in fucking libraries, and trying to figure out what to do with my life.  Met a rich, handsome older married man, and then suddenly he’d divorced his wife and I was in Aruba with a ring on my finger.  It was kind of intense.  This is… much more under control.”

“Were you a kept woman?” Ruby asked, kind of amused by the story.  It was a bit horrible and a bit fairy tale all at once.

Oh yes.  And I was kept well.” Lacey smirked, and Ruby could imagine diamonds and fashion and trips to the Caribbean.  Killian could afford that too now.  And that was what worried Emma.

“And… how on earth did you become friends with Milah?” That was the most absurd part of it all. Milah was terrifying, and Ruby really doubted that she’d become best buddies with the woman her husband threw her over for.

Lacey shrugged, and glanced over, finding Milah and Neal in a booth, being waited on by a solicitous Killian, and tipped her glass to them.  Milah acknowledged it with a nod.  “Honestly, I had to.  After the honeymoon in Aruba, I had to figure out what my life was going to be like, and what Elliot expected of me.  The one thing I couldn’t get out of was dealing with Neal. Now I am shit with kids,” she grinned at Ruby, shaking her head. 

Ruby laughed. “Oh god, me too.”

“And I just didn’t want to get shot by Milah, so when I was bringing Neal back and forth, we would talk. Never about Elliot, but about Neal, or her art or whatever books we were reading.  She’s a jeweler, and kind of an amazing one. When Elliot died and everyone thought I’d murdered him, she had my back.  We’ve been pretty solid ever since.”

Ruby paused. “Everyone thought you’d murdered him?”

Lacey rolled her eyes. “Just because I was young and pretty and from a shitty background, it meant I had to be a gold digger. And when he died, of food poisoning, of course, I was now a black widow.  It was lovely.”

Suddenly Ruby had a flash of a newspaper she’d barely looked at, from at least four years ago. But she’d seen the curve of this woman’s face in the photograph, though obscured by sunglasses, and at that point topped by golden curls.  “You were blonde then,” she said.

Lacey gave her a look. “Um, yeah.  It was a phase.  I think I’ve probably been every hair-color in the book, save black.  I don’t think I could pull off black.”

Ruby eyed her. “No…” she said. “That might be hard.” She frowned, trying to remember the details of the article.  “And your name…”

“Isabella Gold?” Lacey shook her head.  “That was one of those things that Elliot made me do.  ‘Lacey French’ was not classy enough for him.  He said it made me sound like a playboy bunny. My first name is Isabelle, but he put on the ‘a.’ I dropped his last name immediately after the case ended, and went back to Lacey.  I’d had enough of being who he wanted me to be, and I was finally free of him.”

“You… didn’t kill him, did you?”

Lacey looked at her, took in her rather worried expression, and grinned.  “Can’t say I didn’t think about it.  But I was out of the country at the time.  I was cleared by a jury of my peers.”

“You weren’t happy married to him?”

Lacey shrugged.  “It wasn’t terrible.  He was very solicitous.  But he just… he didn’t let me make any decisions for myself. I’ve always been independent, and suddenly I wasn’t anymore, and it was… it was hard.  And when I disagreed, well, he was on a bit of a hair trigger.  He wouldn’t hit me or anything, but he could yell, and, well, talk shit about my background, and how he pulled me up out of the dirt, which was so much crap. So, I’m sorry he’s dead, but I’m not sorry that I’m not married to him anymore.”  Lacey narrowed her eyes. “Do you get that? Or do you think I’m a gold digging whore?”

“I get it,” Ruby said. It was crazy, but still… “I had this girlfriend while I was at the CIA—”

Lacey’s eyebrows shot up her forehead.

“Culinary school! Not the spying one. And she was a little older, and had tons of connections in the cooking world, and I didn’t realize until we’d been together for over a year that she’d latched onto me because I was good enough to get her where she wanted to go.  The problem was, she had serious dreams of the kind of restaurant she wanted to open and what my career path needed to look like to get her there.  When I figured that out I was so angry that to spite her I dropped all my French courses and went into Asian styles instead.  Then I started doing the sushi, and, well,” Ruby felt herself smile.  “What can I say?  Raw fish. It’s my favorite thing in the world.”

Lacey was laughing then. “Great story, great.”

“All true!” Ruby protested. “I did offer to cater the wedding, but Killian is a little squeamish.”

Lacey rolled her eyes. “I know.  I love sashimi, but Killian even feels threatened by salmon.  I keep telling him it doesn’t taste any different cooked than raw, but he won’t even try it.”

Ruby frowned, looking back and forth between her brother and his fiancée. “That isn’t fair,” she said. “He’s got the pirate theme, and, really, everything he wanted, and you don’t even get control over one meal?”

“Ruby, it’s fine.” Lacey’s expression was half tense, half uncomfortable. “Like I said, this isn’t my first wedding.”

Ruby’s jaw set. “And the first one didn’t sound like you had any say in the matter either.  I’m going to talk to him.  I can do the rehearsal dinner at least.  We’re in Maine, right by the docks, it’ll be beautiful.” She looked at Lacey, suddenly worried.  “I mean, if you’d want that.  That’s what this is supposed to be about, not just me showing off my awesome culinary skills.”

Lacey watched her, her intense blue gaze steady and unwavering. “Yes,” she said.  “Yes, I’d like that.”

Ruby glanced up, ready to go over and accost Killian at that very moment, when instead, she caught Emma’s eye.  Emma was watching her and Lacey with a very unsettling expression.

*            *            *

“We have to stop this wedding.”

“What? Emma!” Emma was inside the coat closet and she’d grabbed Ruby and jerked her in to join her as she walked by.  “You’re crazy!”

“I am not.”  Emma was fiery eyed, and Ruby knew that look.  It usually meant Emma was on a crusade, and only Granny or jail time could stop her.  Ruby wished hard that Granny was still in the picture. “This wedding is a mistake.”

Ruby sighed. “They’re adults, Emma. Let them make their own mistakes.”

“Aha!  You agree then!  You agree it’s a mistake!”

“What?  I never said that!”

“Come on,” Emma glowered at her.  “I saw you having dinner with Lacey.  I saw the way you were looking at her.  More importantly, I saw the way she was looking at you.

“Oh my god, Emma. We were having a conversation. We were making eye contact. It happens.  In fact, it’s polite.”  Ruby narrowed her eyes.  “In fact, we were talking about how sad it is that everyone thinks she’s a gold digger.”

“You’re saying she’s not?”

Ruby opened her mouth, then closed it again.  It was a complicated story, and she really only had one side of it.  Still… “I don’t think she’s marrying Killian for his money. She married a rich dude without really thinking about it once, and it sounds like she wasn’t happy. She’s not going to make that mistake again.”

Emma subsided slightly. “I don’t trust her.”

“Killian does.”

“I just…” Emma kicked the bottom of one of the rolling coat racks.  “I don’t like the way she looks at you.”

“What do you think, Emma?  That she’s suddenly going to decide to drop Killian and jump my bones?  Or that…” Ruby frowned.  “Is it because she’s bi?  Is it because you’re bi?”  Ruby narrowed her eyes.  “I think you’ve just figured out that you have lesbian leanings, Emma. And you’re unsure of them. You’re scared. And you want Lacey to go for me, to pick the girl, because you want to believe you can do it too.  Is that it?”

“Oh my god, Ruby!  Don’t psychoanalyze me!”

Ruby laughed. “I’m right, aren’t I?” This was absurd. “I’ve been dealing with this stuff for a lot longer than you have, and yes, it hurts when the bi girl you like picks a boy over you, but it’s her choice. And it doesn’t hurt any less when she picks a different girl.  So yes, I like Lacey.  If she were single, I would ask her out.  But she’s our brother’s fiancée, Emma.  It’s too late.”

Emma hung her head. “You’re probably right,” she said. “I’m probably reading too much into the way she looks at you.  But… isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?”

Ruby frowned. “What are you suggesting?”

“Nothing!  Nothing… special.  Just…” Emma smiled awkwardly.  “Just you keep hanging onto her, and if she makes a move, well… we’ll know, right?  Catch her in a compromising position.  And if she doesn’t, then it’ll be fine.”

Ruby stared at her. “I’m not going to try to seduce her.”

“That’s not the point. The point is if she tries to seduce you.”  Emma grinned.

Ruby sighed. “Emma, you are crazy.”

“I am proactive!”

“Crazy.”

*            *            *

It was crazy, but it couldn’t hurt, right?  Ruby felt awful for even considering it.  But that was two meals that Lacey had spent with her and not Killian.  And it was probably the dumb result of too many RomComs, but weren’t the couple preparing for their wedding supposed to be inseparable?

On further consideration, it probably made sense for people to get to know their prospective spouse’s family.  And lots of social activity was stressful.  Sometimes people needed a break.  Ruby rubbed her temples and wondered where Emma had disappeared off to. She’d talked to Killian about the rehearsal dinner, and he had pouted, but given in eventually. He always gave into her. And… all Ruby really wanted to do was find Lacey.

Oh god.  She knew this urge, that feeling where everything else was paling, and even the most boring activity was fun when you thought you might be able to spend time with the person you liked.  This was a crush.

Her phone lit up. Ruby’s stomach clenched at the name of the texter that spread over the screen.  “Totally Sexy Lit Agent.”  Going to the bar with Kil & evry1.  Bring Emma.

Why not?

*            *            *

Emma ignored Ruby’s text and stood outside the door, the paint perfect, the stoop swept.  It was nowhere she belonged, and yet she couldn’t be anywhere else.  Carefully, she pressed the bell.

The door opened, and the woman standing there gave her a long calm look.  “He’s already getting ready for bed,” she said, “but you can say good night to him if you’d like.”

Henry was always thrilled to see her, and when left alone, he would happily complain by listing all the things his mom made him do, like tidy his room and finish his homework and brush his teeth.

“Sounds like a great mom to me, kid,” she’d reply, and he’d smile and nod.  It had taken her a while to realize how much he loved Regina, but it had taken her hardly any time at all to realize that Regina really was a great mom for her kid.

It had been a terrible time, back in senior year, finding out that she was pregnant, and that everything she’d been planning was suddenly derailed.  Granny had been ferocious though, and she had stayed in school and kept her grades at or above their previous level.  Granny had also been the one to bring Regina over to their house.  Back then, Regina had been a young fisherman’s widow, and the strain of loneliness had clearly been the feature Granny had seen in her. With her no-nonsense attitude, Granny had set out to kill two birds with one stone.

After two chapters of his big-kid book, Henry consented to sleep, and the two women headed back down stairs.

“Would you like a drink?” Regina asked.

Emma watched her as she poured the cider and wished she hadn’t had it out with Ruby that evening. For someone she hadn’t seen in far too long, Ruby knew her better than she wanted to admit.  A stupid tipsy kiss one evening had led to more, and more had happened frequently enough that Emma knew it wasn’t an experiment. But she also didn’t know what to do.  How did you ask the woman who was the mother of your son if she was interested in doing more than just sleeping together without ruining everything?

“So, um, I’m going to be in town all week,” Emma said softly.  “It’s my brother’s wedding on Sunday.”

“You are welcome to see as much of Henry as you would like, barring interruptions in his schedule.”

“Actually, I was wondering… hoping. Um.  I wanted to ask…” She saw the exhausted and frustrated expression on Regina’s face, and gave up. 

“Just spit it out Emma.”

‘It doesn’t matter,” Emma said.  “Nothing important.”

*            *            *

“Ruby!”

By the time Ruby had figured out that Emma was nowhere to be found and gotten herself down to the bar, the rest of the wedding party had had a chance to start drinking. Lacey, clearly, had gotten into the good stuff.  She threw her arms around Ruby’s neck and ground up on her slightly.  Then she dragged her over to where Killian was sitting in a booth, his boots propped up on the table, nursing a Corona.

“Killian!” she announced. “This is Ruby. She’s your sister.”

Killian laughed. “Yup.  I do know that, babe.”

“I like her! She’s sweet.  And hot.  And she can cook!  This is impressive!”

Killian grabbed Lacey and pulled her into his lap.  “I can cook too, you know.  We both grew up in a diner.”

“’s true,” Lacey said, consideringly.  She curled into Killian, but reached out and caught Ruby’s arm, pulling her down beside them and half sprawling onto her as well.  “Lucases.  Sexy, can cook, all sweethearts.”

Killian caught Ruby’s eye and she smiled.  Yes, his drunk fiancée was totally cute.  And if she kind of wanted to kill him for getting to her first, well, that was a sibling feeing she was familiar with.

*            *            *