Read Heart's Surrender Online

Authors: Emma Weimann

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Lesbian

Heart's Surrender (17 page)

BOOK: Heart's Surrender
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CHAPTER 17

The smell of oily fish invaded Gillian’s nose. Even with eyes closed, she would be able to identify the part of the Springfield Zoo they were in. That unique combination of odor and donkey-like braying was only found at the penguins’ enclosure.

“Ugh. It stinks.” Angela grimaced.

“Well, I wouldn’t say it stinks. But yes, it’s certainly a strong smell.”

“No, it stinks.” Angela sat down on a bench. “And penguins are boring.”

Gillian resisted the urge to roll her eyes and sat down next to her daughter. “Michael likes them. He thinks they are cute.”

“He’s a baby.”

“He’s your brother.”

“Baby brother.” Angela had her arms crossed in front of her.

Oh dear Lord. Kill me before she hits puberty full on.

“Look, Mom.” Angela pointed at the brochure she held. “The feeding starts soon.”

“I know, Angela,” Gillian replied. “Give Michael a moment, all right?”

Unlike Angela, her brother was fond of the penguins—so clumsy outside the water, but moving like a shot once they were in their element. They were his thing—the meerkats were Angela’s.

Gillian cast a glance at her son, who stood beside Sam at the penguin enclosure. For a moment Gillian’s breath caught. Being here with Sam and her children felt like a dream. A weird, but good dream. Still, some doubt still lingered inside Gillian. Was this really the right time for her children to meet Sam, even if it was only as one of her friends? Sam related easily to the children. Michael already had a small crush on her. Five years older than her brother, Angela had a harder time wrapping her mind around the fact that her mother suddenly had a friend who dressed and spoke so differently from her usual acquaintances.

“Mom, please.” Angela’s whining ripped Gillian out of her thoughts. “We’re going to be late.”

“All right. Let me talk to them.” Her daughter was right. They had to hurry if they wanted to be in time for the feeding. Gillian got up and made her way over to where her son and her lover stood. She drank in the sight of Sam, who looked fantastic in blue jeans, light brown leather moccasins, and a boat neck sailor top that did nothing to hide her strong shoulders. A swell of desire coursed through Gillian’s body. They hadn’t seen, kissed, or touched each other for over a week. A very long week. She swallowed against a mouth gone dry. “Hey, you two. As wonderful as penguins are, there are some cute little meerkats waiting for us.”

Michael’s reaction to her words was a pout and a long drawn out, “Mom.”

“We’ll come back later,” she ruffled his hair. “And then you can take your time watching them.”

“But look.” He pointed at a penguin that moved like a shot through the water. “They are so cool.”

“Yes. I agree. But they’ll be cool later as well. All right?”

“All right.” The pout was back.

“Come on, Michael. Let’s go and watch how the cute little carnivores make mincemeat out of the zookeeper.” Sam winked at him. “Girls only see the lovely gray face and never wonder why they have eye patches like the Beagle Boys.”

Michael frowned. “The what?”

“The Beagle Boys.”

The frown remained on his face.

Sam sighed. “All right. I think that reference shows my age. The Beagle Boys were characters from the Scrooge McDuck cartoons, a gang of criminals just like these animals and look, they both have eye patches.”

“Oh? What do the meerkats do? Do they bite? Are they dangerous?” His earlier disappointment was replaced by the kind of childlike joy Gillian didn’t see often on her son’s face, especially not since his father’s death. He had always been a shy and quiet child, especially compared to Angela.

“What? You’ve never seen them eat?” Sam asked, her brows raised.

He shook his head.

“We haven’t been to the zoo for nearly three years.” Gillian smoothed down her jacket.

“Wow. Okay, pal, then it’s about time. You’ll be blown away.”

As fast as he could, Michael ran over to his sister, most probably to tell her what Sam had said. Only in slightly different words.

“Please don’t exaggerate stuff like that with him.”

“Exaggerate?”

“I’m sure the meerkats just became monsters in his fantasy and that is what he’s telling his sister right now.”

Sam shrugged. “Honey, have you ever seen them eat?”

The way Sam’s gaze slowly wandered up and down her body made Gillian’s skin tingle, rekindling the barely extinguished desire that still lingered inside her. She held up a hand. “And you can’t look at me like that.”

“Is that so?”

Gillian groaned, taking a step back. “Stop it.”

“I guess you’re in for a surprise,” a mischievous twinkle appeared in Sam’s eyes.

“What?” Gillian held her breath.

Sam slowly bridged the distance between them.

The cocky smile on her face made Gillian’s inside go all mushy.

Sam stopped in front of her. “The meerkat feeding.”

“What?”

“You’re in for a surprise with the ‘cute’ little bastards. What did you think I meant?” With a wink, Sam stepped around her.

A hint of her perfume teased Gillian’s nose, triggering memories not appropriate for a family visit to the zoo. At least it made her nearly forget about the fishy smell coming from the penguins.

Sam hurried toward Angela and Michael.

Gillian’s pulse beat in time with the sway in Sam’s steps. She was gripped by so many conflicting emotions and didn’t know where and how to begin to sort them out. Guilt about the X-rated thoughts Sam unleashed in her was the most dominant right now. She guessed that this had to do with the children being around. However, no matter how often she told herself that what she had with Sam was special, there was always that nagging voice inside her saying otherwise—a voice that, on reflection, sounded very much like Derrick’s mother. Gillian clenched her hands into fists. What she felt for Sam was so profound, going so much deeper than anything she’d had with Derrick. And she had known Sam only for a few weeks. She squared her shoulders and willed the nagging voice inside her to be quiet while she walked toward the three most important people in her life.

A short while later they stood in front of the meerkat enclosure, where a large crowd of visitors had already gathered. With a bit of luck and Sam’s determination, they had found a spot in the first row.

Gillian leaned back into Sam’s sturdy body, reveling in her closeness. She felt safe enough, with everyone around them standing close to each other, that nobody would notice the intimacy of the position she was in. With a grin on her face, she pushed back into Sam’s body until she heard a slight gasp.

“You’re playing with fire,” Sam’s voice was husky, almost a whisper.

She hummed in response. “No, I’m just testing your self control.”

“Bitch.”

Gillian chuckled. The knowledge that Sam wasn’t immune to her actions warmed her inside. Every simple touch, every smile from Sam made her feel so much better, so much more alive. And it made her forget how complicated her life was…if only for a moment.

“Look, Mom.” Michael pointed at the bustle of little tan bodies inside the enclosure. Some meerkats groomed one another, while only a few feet away, three wrestled with each other. Others lay under sun lamps, using their stomachs as solar panels.

Watching them interact was pure fun. Gillian had no idea what to expect when the feeding started, but she was sure Sam had exaggerated. These animals could be nothing other than cute.

“Look, this is the sentry,” Sam said, pointing to a lonely meerkat standing on one of the bigger stones. His body tense, he kept a constant watch on the surroundings. “Hey, Michael, Angela?” she whispered.

The children looked up at her.

“See the group running around in front of the small door over there?” Sam pointed at a handful of the animals that were hovering at the other end of the enclosure. “The zookeeper will come through that door. They already know that it’s about time. But the sentry is the one who sees her first and will signal her arrival to the group. Keep watching him.”

Gillian frowned. “How do you know it’s a she?”

“Eh?”

“The zookeeper. You said that the sentry will signal ‘her’ arrival.”

Sam shrugged. “It could be a he, but it’s been a woman every time I’ve been here with my niece.”

Her niece. Right. So that is why she’s so good with children.

Sam nudged her. “Look, it’s about to start.”

A woman in a dark green overall stepped out of a small building on the other side of the enclosure, carrying four stacked dishes in her hands.

“Now, watch the sentry,” Sam said.

The sentry stood straighter, making a funny peeping sound. As if given a command, the other animals stopped whatever they were doing, moving together like a school of fish until they hovered in front of the small door Sam had pointed out earlier.

An excited murmur rose from the group of spectators around them. The whole scene reminded Gillian of the ancient Coliseum, the zoo visitors as spectators, and the meerkats like little gladiators.

Sam’s breath was hot on her ear. “They aren’t the only small mammals on high alert.”

Gillian looked down at Angela, who gripped her digital camera tightly, ready to take pictures. Michael’s hands were in constant motion on the railing.

“They are cute, but not as cute as their mother.”

Heat rushed to Gillian’s cheeks. Distracted, she turned her gaze back toward the meerkat spectacle.

The zookeeper closed the door to the enclosure behind her and was immediately surrounded by the whole group of small creatures.

Gillian couldn’t believe her eyes. The formerly cute animals turned into a growling and squealing mass. Tails held in an upright position, the very same meerkats that had groomed each other seconds ago were now fighting and biting right, left, and center.

The zookeeper ignored the seething group at her feet, stepping over them. She took a few steps, turned to the left, and bent down to place the dishes on the ground. A wave of small animals followed her, swarming to the place where they expected the dishes to land.

Gillian held her breath and gripped the railing tightly. She was sure that the little beasts wouldn’t discern between food and fingers when it came down to it.

At the last moment the zookeeper turned to her right and set one of the dishes down on meerkat-free ground while a murmur swept through the crowd. As soon as the dishes were on the ground, the zookeeper jerked her hands away not a second too late. The mob dug into the food as if there was no tomorrow.

Gillian didn’t want to think about how flour worms tasted or how the feeling of a live worm must feel in a mouth. She concentrated on the zookeeper who, to Gillian’s relief, didn’t waste any time and placed two dishes a few feet away on the ground, and the last one several feet away from the others.

“It’s a bit like watching the movie
Gremlins
,” Sam said. “One moment they’re so sweet you want to cuddle them; the next moment you think you need a weapon to defend yourself.”

“Wow.” Michael looked up at Gillian. “They are dangerous.” Awe filled his voice.

“Mom, can we have some meerkats?” Angela asked, a dreamy look on her face. “They aren’t big and we have enough space in the garden.”

Sam chuckled but otherwise kept quiet.

“No, we cannot build a meerkat enclosure in the garden. We would have to move to...” she looked questioningly at Sam. “Africa?”

“Yes, Africa it is. That’s where they live.” Sam confirmed, smiling. “Anybody interested in watching raccoons eat? They’re just around the corner.”

Gillian groaned. “I don’t even want to imagine what they’re going to do to get their food.”

“You’d be surprised.”

Sam rapped her fingers on her legs. A swarm of crying, laughing, and screaming children was testing her eardrums and her patience. Keeping an eye on Michael while he went wild on the playground had sounded like a great idea. Back then.
Damn. Those kids are loud.

Sam hugged the backpack closer to her and glanced around. The benches scattered on the playground were occupied by a majority of women and only a handful of men. She wondered how many of these women had husbands working on a Saturday? How many husbands didn’t have to work today but had other things to do besides spend time with their families? And how many of the women were single parents like Gillian or part of a patchwork family. “Normal” families certainly were less and less the norm nowadays and she knew from experience that “normal” sometimes was just an ugly nightmare.

A bright red Frisbee whizzed over her head and smacked into something behind her. “Shit.” She turned around. Thankfully, it had only hit a tree. Sitting there wasn’t really for people with frail nerves.

She turned around again just in time to see Michael climb down the monkey bars while doing his best to get out of the way of three boys who were trying to break a speed record to the top. He was a great kid, lots of fun to be around and full of questions. Chloe would like him
.
Sam leaned back on the bench. Maybe they could include Chloe the next time they did something together. That could help her bond with Angela, who seemed more standoffish.

Michael made his way toward her. Heaving a sigh, he sat down on the bench. “I’m thirsty.”

“No wonder. You conquered the monkey bars.” She opened Gillian’s backpack. “Let’s see what I can find for you.”

She found two bottles of water, one soda, and one sports drink.
What now? Gillian hadn’t left instructions as to what Michael was allowed to drink.
Better safe than sorry.
Painful experience with her sister had told her that mothers could be very peculiar. She picked a bottle of water and opened it for Michael. “Here, pal.”

BOOK: Heart's Surrender
12.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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