Lily 7

Wow. Seven weeks we’ve been working on this. Still no clear conflict, and I have no idea what the hell Seb is up to. Except it’s about that ax.

Chekhov’s ax.

Sigh.

Here. Have some romance.

After therapy, Lily picked up Pangur and went out to the park without stopping to talk to Van or Cheryl. They’d notice, but she needed some time to think before she talked to anybody. A lot of time to think.

She sat down at the edge of the cliff at the end of the park to watch the Little Muis roll by below. It was odd, now that she knew how she died the first time, that this was still her favorite place to think. Maybe it was because it wasn’t really a cliff, just a steep hill, and the Muis wasn’t an ocean, just a little river. She could fall off, but she’d only go about five feet before she hit the slope of the hill and then she’d just roll the rest of the way. It’d be a fairly short roll, a tree would probably stop her eventually, but still . . .

Not really a cliff, she decided as Pangur settled in beside her, having scoped out this part of the park and found nothing of interest. “You getting any flashbacks from this?” she asked the cat, and he blinked up at her, lazy in the sun, so evidently not.

The warmth of the sun was soothing, and the wash of the little river was, too, and Lily sank into the peace of the moment and just sat there for a while. After an hour, Pangur grew restless, and she started thinking about going. Her shift at the diner started at four, and Van would want to know about therapy, and Cheryl would be there, harassing her about that stupid cap, and Fin . . .

She had to do something about Fin. Her life had too much garbage in it right now to deal with a controlling Viking who was really sweet . . . and really attractive. Maybe–

“I knew you’d show up here sooner or later,” Seb said from behind her, and Lily jerked away and almost fell off the cliff. He grabbed her arm and smiled at her, that I-know-I’m-hot-and-you-know-it-too smile that now just made her want to smack him. “Easy there. I just want to talk.”

At least he wasn’t a Viking.

She shrugged off his hand, and Seb sat down beside her, and she spared another thought for Fin, smiling at her over the counter, looking happy to see her, not grabbing at her–

I would prefer a Viking.

She scooted down a couple of feet away from him. “Leave.”

“I just need some answers,” Seb said, leaning closer.

Lily moved down another couple of feet, annoying Pangur. “Leave now.”

“It’s a free park–” Seb began, and then a shadow fell over him and Lily looked up and saw Fin.

“Ice cream,” he said, holding out a glass sundae dish from the diner, and Lily took it while he moved between her and Seb.

“Thank you,” she said, and pulled the spoon out from where Van had embedded in the ice cream.

“I walked fast,” Fin said, “but the hot fudge is cool anyway.”

“It does that,” Lily said. “It’s the ice cream, that whole hot and cold opposites thing that makes this so wonderful.”

Fin nodded and sat down between her and Seb, keeping a respectful distance.
“Well, cold’s winning.”

Lily shook her head. “Yeah, but scoop underneath. Van puts most of the chocolate under the ice cream. It’s hot down there.” She blinked at him. “You know. Under the cold.”

“Uh huh.” Fin scooped up a lot of ice cream and ate it.

Pangur growled softly to remind them that he was there.

“Do you mind?” Seb said to Fin. “We were talking.”

“No, we weren’t,” Lily said to Seb. “He stays, you go. Or Pangur leaps.”

Pangur growled on cue and moved between Lily and Fin, moving his head back and forth, eyeing both sundaes.

“This is a really nice place.” Fin spooned up more ice cream and chocolate. “You come here often?”

Lily stifled a laugh. “That line is so old it creaks.”

“But it still works. You laughed.”

Seb snorted his contempt.

Lily looked up at Fin, back lit by the sun, grateful he was there, even if he was mostly snarfing ice cream at the speed of light. He looked a little tense. Maybe because of Seb. “Van sent you out, did she?”

“You were late coming back from therapy. She said this is where you go to think. Thinking is better with ice cream. And she promised me free food if I brought this to you.” He smiled down at her, his eyes crinkled behind his glasses. “You should know I didn’t pay for these. Don’t give me credit for that.”

“Your credit is just fine.” Lily scooped more ice cream. Lovely full fat stuff, Van wouldn’t let anything else in the diner. “It is a beautiful day.”

He was sitting a couple of feet from her, exactly in the middle between her and Seb, and that felt wrong. He should be closer. Why would I want to be closer to a Viking on a cliff? she thought, but he was Fin, and she trusted him, and Pangur was curled up next to him, rubbing his head on Fin’s thigh, and the sun was shining, and what the hell.

She moved down a couple of feet to be next to him. “This was very nice of you.”

“I’m a very nice guy,” Fin said, smiling down at her. Then he ate more ice cream.

“Oh, cut me a break,” Seb said. “I’m sure you’re a nice guy. We were having a conversation. Leave.”

“No,” Fin said and ate more ice cream. He was really plowing through it.

He’s tense about something. He could take Seb with one hand tied behind him, so it wasn’t that.

“This is about business. I just need to know . . .” Seb began, and then looked at Fin. “This is private. I know you think you’re being the big hero, protecting her, but it’s not necessary.”

“She can protect herself,” Fin said. “I just brought the ice cream.”

“Look, we have things we need to discuss. Leave.”

“No.” Fin’s spoon scraped the bottom of the glass. He dug up the last of the melted ice cream soup and put the spoon on the grass for Pangur.

Pangur purred like an expensive engine and went to town on the dregs.

“Lily,” Seb said, and she shook her head.

“Seb, I don’t know anything. I don’t even know why you went for me and tried to kill me–”

I did not–

Fin put his glass down on the grass, and Pangur leaped on it.

Lily spoke over Seb. “—but you are no longer my problem, I have other problems, so I’m letting you go. Away. Go away. Go far away and never come back.”

I did not try to kill you,” Seb said. “Damn it, I—

Fin said, “Son, you are done here. Go.”

Pangur got his head stuck in the sundae glass.

“It’s a free park,” Seb snapped.

“Yes, it is. How far do you think you’ll roll free before you hit a tree when I throw you off this ledge?” He looked down at Lily. “Sorry. But he’s annoying me. That was for me, not you. You’ll have to save yourself.”

She grinned at him. “I can do that.”

“Oh, spare me the mushy stuff,” Seb said.

Fin smiled back at Lily. “The important thing, Frey, is that I know you can do that.” Then he reached down and pulled the sundae glass off Pangur’s head. “Pace yourself, cat.”

Lily stood up. “I need to get back to the diner. Can I get an escort?”

“Yes,” Seb said, standing up.

“Not you,” Lily said, and Pangur moved in front of her, the fur on his head spiky with chocolate as he hissed.

Fin picked up his spoon, now Pangur-clean, and his sundae glass, now with cat hair, and stood up, and she couldn’t see Seb at all.

“You can’t keep ignoring me, Lily,” Seb said from behind the Viking.

“I really will get that restraining order if you try to see me again. I don’t know anything about anything you’re trying to hide–”

I’m not trying to hide anything,” Seb said, his face twisted the way it had the day he’d lunged for her, and she felt Fin tense beside her, and then Seb shook his head, and walked away.

“He’s hiding something,” Fin said, watching him go.

“Yes,” Lily said.

He looked down at her. “And you know what it is.”

Lily sighed. “No, but I could probably find out. I’m trying to get it all straight in my head, but there are so many loose ends, and I’ve got bigger problems. Like I think I’m losing my mind.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“No.”

Fin pointed toward the path. “So how did Pangur get his name?”

“That’s always been his name,” Lily said and told him all about the Pangur poem and the times they’d died together as they walked back to the diner.

When they got there, he said, “If you decide you want to look into the museum thing, let me help. And Bjorn. Bjorn is very intelligent, he just acts like a doofus. You shouldn’t be investigating that alone, not because you can’t defend yourself, but because many brains are better than one. Please.”

Lily smiled at him. “You are a good, true friend.”

“About that,” Fin began, and then Cheryl opened the door to the diner and said, “Lilyanne Frey, you are late,” and Lily escaped inside, not sure exactly what Fin had intended to say next, and not sure she wanted to find out. Simple, she told herself, keep things simple.

“We sent Fin because we were worried about you being out there alone,” Cheryl said. “Take the cleaver next time.”

“I had a Viking and a cat,” Lily said. “I was fine.”

#

Time passes. I don’t know how much time. Some.

#

Fin finished the last drawing of the illumination series, and considered it. He should have been relieved, a month’s work finished and it was good. The client had wondered about the red-headed woman in some of the margins, but he’d liked her, so that was okay.

Fin liked her, too.

He put on his running shoes and went to the connecting door to his brother’s apartment to ask if he wanted to go and stopped when he heard Bjorn laughing on the other side. When a woman’s voice answered, laughing, too, he thought, Violet, damn it, knocked once, and opened the door, praying he was not going to see his brother stoned.

Bjorn was in bed, naked and tangled in his sheets.

And so was Vanessa.

“Oh,” Fin said.

Bjorn sat up to block his view. “I thought you were going to lock that door,” he said, his voice on edge.

“Doing that now.” Fin closed the door and locked it, hoping Bjorn could hear the click as the bolt went home.

When did that happen? he thought, but he was so grateful Bjorn didn’t have his arms around Vi, he didn’t care.

Although actually, he did care: Vanessa was a huge improvement in Bjorn’s life. She was a good person, she’d keep him fed and—judging by the brief view he’d just gotten—warm, and Bjorn would be perfectly happy to eat at the diner three times a day now.

There was no downside. Everything was good.

Oh, god, I want Lily.

He needed to run. After that a cold shower. And after that . . .

I may need help with this, he thought, and went out to hit the street.

#

At four, Bjorn knocked on the connecting door.

Vanessa started her shift, Fin thought, which meant Lily was at the diner, too. “Come on in,” he called and then remembered he’d locked the door. “Hold on.”

When he’d thrown the bolt and opened the door, Bjorn was standing there, not smiling.

“I am really, really sorry,” Fin said. “That was inexcusable.”

“You opened that door because you thought I was with Vi,” Bjorn said.

Fin winced. “Truly sorry–”

Bjorn walked past him, pulled one of the arm chairs around and sat down. “Listen to me, very carefully. Vi and I are done. I cannot save her. The only way to save her is to be with her 24/7 and watch her so she can’t get to the pills. And that will not save her because she’ll find a way. There is always a way. She’s going to have to save herself, and she doesn’t want to. I will not get sucked back into using because of Vi. I told her that. She’s not happy, but she believes me. We’re done. Do you understand?

“Yes.” Fin sat down across from him. “I will not interfere again.”

Bjorn looked at him as if he didn’t believe him. “The one thing I learned in rehab is that you cannot save people. People have to save themselves.”

We saved you, Fin thought, and Bjorn shook his head as if he’d said it out loud.

“I know you think you saved me, getting me to rehab, the whole family ganging up on me, but if I hadn’t been ready for it, I’d been out of there the first day. I saved me.”

“Okay,” Fin said. “But you had help. That makes a difference.”

“That made a big difference. But help is not saving, it’s help. It’s support, it’s not control. It is not fixing anybody, it is not being somebody’s daddy.”

Fin winced again.

“I need a brother, not a keeper,” Bjorn said.

“Understood,” Fin said, and when Bjorn looked skeptical, he added, “No, I really do understand. If you need help, you’ll ask for it. Right?”

“Yes, I will. And you should, too. That goes both ways. We help each other. Brothers. Equals. You are not–”

“Got it.” What could I need help with . . .

Oh, yeah. That.

“Okay,” Fin said. “Good. So I could use some advice here . . . . Exactly how did you and Vanessa . . . hook up?”

Bjorn frowned at him. “What do you mean? We did it the usual way. We took off our clothes–”

No,” Fin said. “I mean, how did you . . . become a couple.” He knew it sounded lame even as he said it. “Basically, how did you get from there to here?”

Bjorn grinned at him, relaxing now. “My older brother is asking me for sex advice. This is a moment to remember.”

“I am not asking you for sex advice,” Fin said. “Once we get to the sex, I know what I’m doing. It’s the getting to the sex . . .”

“You don’t know how to seduce a woman?”

“Yes, I know how . . .” Fin stopped. “I don’t think I’ve ever seduced anybody. We just get to know each other and things take their course.”

“That sounds like the slow way,” Bjorn said.

“Fine. What’s the fast way?”

“It’s a two-part process.” Bjorn leaned back, frowning in mock-seriousness as he put the tips of his fingers together in professor mode, clearly relieved the kicking-his-brother-in-the-ass part of the conversation was over. “First, you have to let them know you’re not a creeper pervert.”

“Okay,” Fin said. “I’m pretty sure Lily already knows that.”

“Oh, yeah.” Bjorn nodded. “You’re good there.”

“How the hell did Vanessa know? You’d never even spoken.”

“We spoke,” Bjorn said. “We speak a lot. Your eyes are just full of Lily so you don’t notice. But in the beginning, I just told her.”

“You said ‘I’m not a creeper pervert.’”

“Yes.”

Fin shook his head. “And she said . . . ?”

“‘That’s exactly what a creeper pervert would say.’”

“And you saw that as a good move.”

“An opening move,” Bjorn said. “I told her she had to give me a chance to prove it, and we should go to the movies so she could see how respectful I was.”

“And she fell for that.”

“She said free movies were always good.”

“This was really the first conversation you had with her?”

“Yeah. I mean we’d had a couple of short exchanges about butter, but that was the first non-food conversation.” Bjorn frowned at him. “I don’t see the problem here. Lily trusts you.”

“I’m still back at the movies, where you’re not making a pass at Van in the dark.”

“Oh, I made a pass. She’d have been insulted if I hadn’t. I did the yawn trick, you know.” He yawned and stretched his arm around an imaginary Vanessa next to him. “She laughed because it was so lame. Once you get them laughing, you’re gold.”

Fin shook his head. “I had no idea you’d put so much thought into this.”

“No thought, really,” Bjorn said. “It just comes natural.”

“Okay, she knows you’re not a creeper pervert. What’s part two?”

“I say, ‘Want to have sex with me?’”

“What?”

Bjorn spread his hands out. “What? That’s the goal, right? Find out if you’re going to get it.”

Fin shook his head. “Don’t you get turned down a lot?”

“No,” Bjorn said. “If she knows I’m not a creeper and she likes me well enough to go out with me, then it’s in her mind, too. If she doesn’t want to, she says no. It’s no big deal.”

“I think some women aren’t that . . . reductive.”

“Yes,” Bjorn said. “But they are not my type.” He frowned at Fin. “Your problem is that I-have-to-take-care-of-the-little-woman thing. You think sex is somehow exploiting her. But she’s an adult who knows what she wants, too. Actually, the women I like best are the ones who ask me first, but it doesn’t always work that way.”

“You don’t think a woman has a lot more to risk from having sex than a man does?”

“Of course, she does, that’s why I always ask if she wants to, never assume anything, and wear a condom. But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t show up with condoms, too. She’s an adult, she doesn’t need me assuming she wants sex, but she also doesn’t need me assuming that she’s too helpless to protect herself. It’s just basic human decency to take care of each other, but it’s not the man’s job to protect the woman.” He frowned as he thought about it. “I never gave this much thought, but it’s people’s jobs to protect people. If one of you insists on doing all the protecting it’s . . .”

“Creepy,” Fin said. “You’re giving me a headache.”

Bjorn leaned forward to make his point. “You’re making this too complicated. You like Lily. Lily likes you. You’re both consenting adults, moving fast into middle age–”

“Hey,” Fin said.

“—so if you would like to have sex before you reach middle age, you should suggest it to her.”

“Not yet,” Fin said.

Bjorn stood up. “I will come visit you in the old folk’s home where you will still be gazing hopelessly into each other’s eyes. In the meantime, I have a class to teach. You just sit here, all by yourself, contemplating your lonely, tragic future.”

“Thank you for all your help,” Fin said.

Bjorn left, shaking his head.

Fin stared at the ceiling thinking vile thoughts about his brother until he was calm enough to look at things logically. The worst thing about Bjorn, he decided, was that he was right. Left to himself, he’d be eating pie alone at eighty.

Complete the pass, he told himself and began to plan.

#

They were slammed during the dinner hour, so Lily didn’t have much time to talk to Fin at first, and he seemed distracted anyway, which was a worry. Then when business had died down and he’d pushed his empty pie plate away, he’d leaned across the counter and she’d leaned in, too, in part because she wanted to hear him and in part because it was nice having him close. Just a kiss away, she thought and squelched the desire to plant one on him.

“Did you know Van and Bjorn were a thing?” he said.

“What do you mean, a thing?” Lily blinked, confused now. “They’re not a thing. She gives extra butter to anybody who asks.”

“Not butter. I opened the door to his room this afternoon and she was there.”

“Huh,” Lily said. “Maybe she brought him lunch. Although she’s never delivered to anybody else.”

“They were naked.”

“Oh.” Lily pulled back. “So not lunch.”

“Depending on how you define ‘lunch’, no.”

“Wow.” Lily looked back at the kitchen. “So really not our business.”

“No,” Fin said. “Not our business.”

“But still important to know.”

“Yes.”

Lily looked back at him. “Don’t tell Cheryl.”

“I’m not telling anybody but you.” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t have said anything to you, but I was . . . surprised.”

“Hell, yes,” Lily said.

“Don’t tell Cheryl what?” Cheryl said from behind her.

Fin jerked back. “Where did you come from?”

“Table nine,” Cheryl said. “Don’t tell me what?”

“How did you hear us at Table Nine?” Fin said, sounding annoyed.

“She didn’t, she reads lips,” Lily said. “I should have checked to see where she was.”

“Don’t tell me what?” Cheryl said.

“Okay,” Lily said to her. “But don’t harass Van about this. She’s sleeping with Bjorn. At least once anyway.”

“Oh, they’ve been at that for weeks,” Cheryl said, and started to go down the counter.

Lily caught her arm. “Wait. She told you . . .”

“No,” Cheryl said. “Of course not. Why would she tell me? I could tell, though. I’m a keen judge of character.”

“They were never together,” Lily said.

Cheryl snorted and moved off.

“God, I’m a lousy friend,” Lily said. “I’ve been so caught up in my own crazy that I didn’t see hers.”

“I don’t think sleeping with Bjorn is crazy,” Fin said. “They seemed pretty happy. I mean from the little I saw. They were laughing. I’m all for it.”

“I am, too,” Lily said. “I just missed the friend part. She should have been discussing this with me, figuring out when he’d make his move. We missed the fun part. I don’t even know when he made his move.”

“It’s a two-part pass,” Fin said and grinned, and Lily put her hands on her hips.

“This is not funny, this is serious.” Then she grinned, too. “Okay, tell me the funny.”

“First part, he tells her he’s not a creeper pervert.”

Lily’s grin widened. “That’s exactly what a creeper pervert would say.”

“That’s what Van said, too, but evidently Bjorn is more convincing than I am.”

“And the second part?”

“He says, ‘Do you wanna?’”

Lily blinked. “That’s it?” She shook her head. “I wouldn’t think Van would go for that.”

‘He took her to the movies first. Did the yawn trick.”

Lily started to laugh. “You know, that would do it. Bjorn and the yawn trick would be irresistible, especially for Van. She has a highly developed sense of humor.” She smiled at him. “You know, this makes me really happy. People should be warm at night. Good for them.”

Fin got a funny look on his face and stood up to go. “I agree. One more thing.”

“Yes?” Lily said, not sure why his face had changed.

He met her eyes. “I am not a creeper pervert.”

Lily blinked for a good two seconds. “Good to know,” she said and went back to the kitchen fast before he could say anything else. Inside, she stood there thinking, He just made a pass at me.

The first part of a two-part pass, but still . . .

“You okay?” Van said.

“Fin just made half a pass at me.”

“Half a pass?” Van stopped, spatula in hand. “When are you expecting completion?”

“I have no idea. Or if I’m going to catch it or drop it.” Lily focused on her. “Congratulations on sleeping with Bjorn.”

Van winced. “Sorry. I was going to tell you about that, but aside from ‘I’ve seen Bjorn naked and it is good,’ there wasn’t much to say.”

Lily nodded. “Is it serious?”

“No,” Van said.

“How did this happen?”

“Remember the pumpkin pie? He came back to the kitchen and said he wasn’t a pervert and he thought I might bring his heart back to life and then he asked me to the movies.”

“And did the yawn trick.”

Van grinned. “It was very meta. He knew the yawn trick was lame and that’s why he did it, and I knew he knew the yawn trick was lame, and he knew I knew that he knew, so I knew he was doing it to make me laugh, and I had to laugh, and he had me. Fortunately, the yawn trick is not the only thing he’s adept at.”

“Fin just told me he’s not a creeper pervert.”

“I know Bjorn’s not a creeper pervert, he told me,” Van said patiently.

“No,” Lily said, “Not Bjorn. Fin just told me that he, Fin, is not a creeper pervert.”

“Oh,” Van said. “Half a pass.”

Lily nodded.

Van shrugged. “If he tries the yawn trick across the counter, go for it.”

Cheryl came in. “The Viking is gone but he left something for you and I want to know what it is so we should go look now.”

“Oooooh,” Van said. “The pass thickens.”

Lily went back to Fin’s place across from the pie safe. There was the usual five bucks, but this time it was stuck in a glasses case.

“He got you glasses?” Van said. “That’s . . . an approach, I guess.”

Lily opened the case.

The glasses were real, not bargain stuff, glass lenses and beautiful heavy frames, catseye, bright red on the bottom, the top black wood with real silver filigree, a pattern almost like illuminated vines on a manuscript.

“Wow,” Cheryl said. “That’s a good tip.”

“You’re gonna have to sleep with him,” Van said, but she was laughing.

Lily put the glasses on. They were her number, too.

Underneath, on the specials list, was the drawing of the waitress again, this time in cats-eye glasses, a large cat at her feet, an axe in her hand, standing on a shield that said, “Cave Liliam.”

A waitress not to be messed with. A waitress who could protect herself. A Viking waitress.

“Well, there it is,” Van said, reading over her shoulder. “He knows you. Do you wanna?”

“Those glasses cost a mint,” Cheryl said, approval strong in her voice.

Lily took off the glasses. “I have to go,” she said, and headed for the door, glasses in hand.

#

Lily banged on the door to Fin’s studio and then turned the knob, and when it opened, walked in without waiting.

He swung around from his drawing table, looking as calm as ever behind his glasses.

Lily scowled at him. “I need to talk to you.”

He put down his pen.

“When you said you weren’t a creeper pervert, you knew I already knew that. So that was half a pass.”

Fin nodded. “Yes.”

“And then there was this.” Lily held up the glasses, her hand shaking a little. “This. This is not a tip. This is . . . courting.”

Fin nodded. “Yes.”

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Throw them out?”

Lily gaped at him. “Throw them out? Throw them out? They’re gorgeous.”

“So are you.”

“No, I’m not.” Lily threw up her hands, exasperated, holding onto the glasses for dear life. “See, that’s not a compliment because it’s not true. I fully realize I am attractive, but nobody turns to look at me on the street–”

“I do.”

“—so the whole gorgeous thing is just you being . . .” She sputtered to a stop, outraged and confused.

“A Viking?” Fin guessed.

“Stop it. I’m serious.”

“So am I.” He looked at her with that steady patience that at the moment was just exasperating as all hell. “I come into the diner and you’re there all flushed and rosy in that pink uniform, and you’re smart and funny while you pour my coffee—I hate coffee by the way, but I like the way you pour—and you feed me, which is always good, but mostly you’re just Lily and you’re wonderful.” He smiled at her. “Pretty simple, really. I want you.”

“Uh.” Lily swallowed, trying to get some air. It was really warm in his apartment. She was really warm. Damn it. I want you, too. Unfortunately, I am nuts, so this isn’t a good time. “It is not simple.”

“If you want me to stop coming in, I will,” Fin said.

“Oh.” No, don’t stop

“Do you want me to stop coming in?”

Lily swallowed again. “Well . . .”

“Yes or no, Lily.”

Bastard. Fucking confident Viking bastard.

“No. No, I do not want you to stop coming in. I would . . . miss you. A lot.” There. There it was. Just hell. “But the expensive glasses–”

He stood up and she remembered how big he was. Maybe he’s quiet so people won’t get freaked out about how big he is, she thought. Maybe he’s just a really good guy. Maybe—

He’d taken a step toward her, and then another, and he was right in front of her now, and her heart was beating like mad, and she leaned forward and put her head on his chest. “I don’t know how to deal with this.”

And then his arms went around her, and he said, “I do,” and she lifted her head to see if he was laughing, and he bent and kissed her, very gently, and she felt her breath go as she grabbed onto his shirt and kissed him back as if her life depended on it.

Maybe it does, she thought, dizzy with the heat and the taste of his mouth and dizzier because it was Fin. He’s a Viking and he’s destroying me, maybe it does.

Then he was looking down at her, his eyes dark on her, and when she’d gulped in enough air to speak, she said, “I don’t know what’s next.”

He had his arms around her, and that was really good, and he tightened them, and that was better, and then he said, “Well, how was the kiss?”

“Really good,” she said into his chest. “Really, really, really, really good. We could do that again–”

He laced his fingers in her hair and pulled her head back and caught her mouth and kissed her hard this time, pulling her in to all that good muscle and heat, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and went up on her toes to get closer, to fit better, as his hands slid down her back, and she shuddered against him.

When he broke the kiss, she said, “I’m trying to be practical here,” but her voice was shaking, so she didn’t have much credibility. “I need to be careful.”

“Okay,” Fin said, not letting go, his voice a little shaky, too. He took a deep breath. “There’s always the three-date rule.”

Three dates?” Lily tried to pull back, but he was holding on, and that felt great, so she leaned into him again. “Three dates?

“I have been thinking about getting that damn apron off you for a month,” Fin said, his hands sliding up her back. “I can wait three dates. Or did you mean longer? I mean I can wait longer but–”

I can’t,” Lily said, and Fin said, “Oh, thank god,” and bent to kiss her again.

“Damn Viking.” Lily pushed him away, breathless, handed him the glasses so they wouldn’t get broken, and took off her apron.

Then she put her arms around him and felt his breath kick up, felt him tremble against her, felt all that good heat wash over her and make her so dizzy that she held on to him tighter, and there was really nothing left to do but fall.

Her last coherent thought was, At least I’m taking him with me.

23+

48 thoughts on “Lily 7

  1. Why is Seb smuggling artifacts? Or things in reproduction artifacts? or codes in receipts for reproduction artifacts?

  2. Is squee still a thing? That’s how I feel right now. There is something about how you write lovers being equal and each of them seeing the other person. That is what makes the romance so good. I think this is why Crusie couples are my favorite.

  3. That was fabulous. I loved Fin and Lily eating icecream while trying to block Seb, and I adored Fin pulling his half a pass on Lily. The only thing I didn’t love was Fin on his own thinking about how to make his move. To me, that felt a little redundant and it would have been more fun to put together his conversation with Bjorn with his conversation with Lily later for myself.

    But I completely loved Fin threatening Seb and then pointing out that was for his own sake and that Lily would have to look out for herself, and the whole closeness I felt between the two of them at that point.

  4. Aahhh. Thank you for that.

    I do agree with Emily that most of your readers will get the parallel between Bjorn telling Fin how it happened, and Fin telling Lily without the inner Fin thinking part.

    Lovely way to start the morning.

    1. Okay, I chopped out a chunk after Bjorn leaves. Is that what you and Emily (Hi, Emily!) meant? I overwrite my discovery drafts pretty regularly. And I hate sittin’ and thinkin’ scenes so that would have had to go anyway. Same thing with that front-loaded scene in the park.

      Writing. It is hard.

  5. Huh. Just thinking, my pic for comfort movies was “Ever After” with Drew Barrymore as a Cinderella character.

    The reason why I love it so much is because she rescues herself. And here you have Lily taking care of herself, surrounded by a team who will support but not take over. This may be my catnip.

    1. One of my favorites, also. But I owned it on VHS and someone else owns it, now. Not just the self-reliance, but “I’m only here for the food.”

  6. I concur on Ever After, Sure Thing. Also, I agree with what you said yesterday, Jenny, about the Princess Bride being perfect. But, the only thing that might make it a little more perfect is if the princess got to rescue herself at least a little.

    As for Lily, loved this. Thank you for writing it! But I had a moment in the middle where I wondered if Fin was undercover investigating the shenanigans at the museum. Hmmmm. Maybe he’s using his artist day job as cover to listen in on stuff involving the museum and he thinks Lily might know stuff that could help him in his investigation.

    1. I think that Buttercup does essentially rescue herself when she plans on killing herself to be with Westley. She doesn’t have a lot of options and takes the only one available to escape. After that it is just everyone helping each other. Oh, and she is a little more proactive in the book. The guards are closing the gate as they ride away and she makes them stop, yelling “I am the queen!” even though she isn’t, technically.

      1. It’s funny because in the book, Buttercup is a little spoiled and stupid, but Wesley loves her anyway, just as she is. And somehow that adds to both the humor and the sweetness. In the movie they got rid of the stupid part, which I think was smart, because that’s a harder line to walk in a movie without tipping over into unlikeable or misogynistic. Normally I’m all for letting the heroine having a hand in rescuing herself, but some reason here it feels like that would make it a different movie. Not bad, just different.

  7. This is all the wonderful. And exactly why I have always loved and will always love Crusie romances. This is what I want to happen in my life. Please send me a Viking, stat.

  8. This was great! I love all of it, especially Bjorn with Van, Bjorn’s moment with Fin and the entire last scene! XD

  9. Oooo, the way that Van and Bjorn feeds into Fin and Lily is amazing.

    Re: Seb and Louis, I’m getting the feeling, since the idea of them being criminals has been on the table for a while without being picked up, that maybe they’re not? Sneaking around, yes, doing something illegal, no?

    What if, for example, they’re trying to arrange to sell something from the museum? I recently read an article about how museums usually don’t sell their collections, especially important pieces, so this could be something that would be really unpopular and they need to sneak around to arrange and then present as a fait accompli.

    I think it would be fun to see more of what’s in the museum (maybe via uncertainty about what’s actually in danger of being sold) and what it means to any of the characters (“how could they” vs. “I never liked that one”). And what it might mean for the identity of the museum? What will they buy with the money?

    (Even if the museum doesn’t really matter because the characters stay in the diner and live happily ever after, I can sort of imagine ‘and then the museum went to hell, which is what Seb and Louis deserved’ being a part of the ending. Though maybe Lily could save whatever her favorite things were somehow? Or if her favorite thing is teaching… umm, cooking classes at the diner? Historical cooking? Medieval feasts? Good thing this is just brainstorming…)

    1. The stuff about the museum would be a have-to because it would be the external structure of the story. All of this stuff is the emotional structure, and while a lot of romances are just emotional structure–nothing wrong with that, Bet Me is all emotional structure–I think the external conflict is crucial as a metaphor for the emotional structure here. So if this were going to be a book, I’d be researching museums now.

      I am not researching museums. Although I have several museum crime books for the Nadine book, so who knows.

      1. If it’s tied to a university there’s potential for academic shenanigans as well. Unfunded public institutions seem to attract well-meant incompetence. The museum and the university library or archives might borrow haphazardly from each other or something. I have a friend who worked a university where faculty members could “check out” the fine art collection to hang in their office (this is not a good practice at all).

        1. Could Seb have lost something of the museum’s?

          I love the relationship stuff, though it still felt to me like Fin and his icecream were rescuing Lily. But I’m very curious about why Seb keeps wanting to talk to Lily.

          1. Yes, if she doesn’t hear him out pretty soon it’ll start to feel like a Big Misunderstanding. Otherwise, lovelovelove.

          2. Well, I’d have her hear him out, if I had the slightest idea of what he wants to say.
            In the meantime, he circles the drain.

            I was standing in line at the grocery today, and saw one of the special one topic magazines on secret cults, and I thought, “What if Uncle Louis is running a secret society out of the museum?” so I bought it. It’s so far off the wall that it would fit with everything else here. This whole thing is absurd which is why it’s so much fun.

            But just think of it. The Sons of Vikings Secret Society. Oh, come on, think how much fun we could have. They’d wear those helmets with horns . . .

          3. I LOVE the idea of a secret society.

            And that made me google and discover this truly weird Vice article from 2016, “My Year in San Francisco’s $2Million Secret Society Startup.” OMG.

  10. Perhaps Fin has been trying but failing to save her in all the past lives. Somehow she is always unwittingly involved in a smuggling plot (sees something/is used as a dupe/etc). This time he really saves her.

    As for conflict between Fin and Lily – I haven’t thought of anything either except it seems to me there should be some kind of family feud. Perhaps when Fin finds out more about her family he finds out something that makes her an ancestral enemy. Although that is maybe hackneyed. But it seems he should discover something about her that turns him off.

  11. Jenny, I was thinking about Bet Me and then read your comment about it being all emotional structure. Why does this have to have and external structure? Basically in Bet Me, Min needs a date for her sister’s wedding and Cal needs to permanently ditch his beautiful ex-girl friend Cynthia and everything escalates from there. There really isn’t any external plot. David is just being a butt-head because he is mad and Cynthia can’t believe the love of her life is walking away from her. And Bet Me is probably one of the most interesting romances I have read. I can figure out that Lily needs to come to terms with the re-incarnation thing so she can concentrate of having this life and not fixate on previous lives but I don’t know what Fin’s first motivation is. Save Lily seems like a stretch since he didn’t know her well enough at first to know that she might need saving.

    Anyway, I love the scenes above. Keep up the good work.

    1. Bet Me’s structure is a fairy tale. It begins with Once Upon a Time and ends with Happily Ever After, and it’s about Min and Cal vs. fate.

      This is something else. I don’t know why it’s something else, it just is. Stories tend to tell you their structure, at least mine do, and this isn’t about the first part of a romance plot, this is somehow about the partnership part. A classic romance is meet, negotiate, fall, setback, commitment, more or less, but the first three are in Act One here, and I’m not interested in the setback/misunderstanding/test part this time, that was in the don’t-rescue-me scene. This seems to be about negotiation, building the relationship, not beginning it, but I’m not sure how or why because . . . this is not a book. This is me playing around and you playing with me.

      But the museum keeps coming up, attention must be paid. There’s a lot of “past” in this stuff–reincarnation, museum, Bjorn’s rehab, Cheryl and Lewis, etc. That has to be something. No idea what.

  12. And yet another sigh. Love this stuff.

    I would say more but I’m struggling with anxiety. Feels like a low blood sugar episode but definitely is not – according to my monitor. Turns my brain to mush and my mood to shit. So that’s all I’m saying about Lily because anything else would come out wrong. Damn anxiety, screws me right up.

    1. And we love you, Kate George.

      I’m positing for an article that in centering ourselves in nature we find strength and healing; unfortunately, the woman garden writer under consideration is pretty dry and descriptive and offers no solace. Her columns ran from 1909 to 1939, so she was turning out words in the 1917 flu pandemic, just no words of healing. I’m having to work.

      If weather is fine, take a walk. If not, look out your window.

  13. Everyone else used up the “Thank you!”s and the “OMG”s and effusive compliments. I had those, too, but now they just seem redundant.

    So I’ll just claim to be tapping a foot impatiently for the next batch. (I’m not, but what else is there to say?)

  14. I’m starting to see Seb and Louis as being more the kind of characters that would do something like embezzle, or as someone else said sell off something from the museum – the ‘it’s not really a crime, and the rules are for people who aren’t me’ kind of thinking – and then get in too deep or in a situation where they double down to keep from getting in trouble.

    1. The “no one would know it’s not the real deal, so where’s the harm?” group!

  15. I really love the way you play with what comes along between you and the Girls in the Basement.

    It’s not my way of thinking, so my comment just may not apply. (1) Seb is either too motivated or not motivated enough in the hill scene. Since Fin appears almost immediately, and Seb is quickly separated from Lily by Fin, Pangur, and ice cream, I don’t know why Seb stays at all. He doesn’t have way to catch Lily’s attention. (2) Fin tells Lily he was sent to take care of her and he includes a comment on her therapy. I’d be furious if someone brought up my therapy while I was being harangued by a former boss. Even if Fin knows that Seb ordered the therapy, the remark seems intrusive.

    I would like Lily to have really, really loved her job and be ready to fight to get it back — perhaps at the level of a “improperly fired” suit or “an exposure of wrongdoing by the museum” claim (in which case she’d only have her job again if a new administration came in). Partly, I feel this way because the diner doesn’t seem like a goal, only a way station. Also, there’s all this cool stuff bouncing off the back walls — Lily FREY, really??!! — the ax — Seb’s reaction to the ax — Lily’s success at the museum — what’s her name the replacement — Pangur — Uncle Louis.

    I understand that you’re focusing on the relationship part because you know what’s happening there and, after all, you’re not writing a book. This Part 6 does a great job of providing a lot of the connections between the characters, (especially Bjorn and his self knowledge). It’s just that I’m just itching to find out more.

  16. Is there a trope that divides bad guys into their types or motivations? The thug, the quack, the seducer or whatever? Because that would help me get a handle on Seb&LouInc. I’m getting distracted by the image of Louis as a playboy with inherited wealth and no sense of humor. Which obviously means golf resorts, underwear models and running for president, and that doesn’t really compute here.

  17. There are many Lois Bujold readers at Argh, Ink, so I thought I would share an announcement: Penric 8 Impending

    “When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.

    The Physicians of Vilnoc” is the eighth Penric & Desdemona novella, following about a year after the events of The Orphans of Raspay.”

  18. Every time I get a Lily installment in my email, I feel soooooo happy. Thank you, Jenny, for all the times you make me smile when you blog appears in my email’s inbox.

  19. Aaahh, good stuff. I love the way Pangur likes Fin and hates Seb. The Bjorn/Fin scene was LOL.

    Will agree there was a slight ‘huh what?’ at Fin being sent with ice cream after therapy, but it’s obvious everyone knows about Lily’s therapy so I am not tripping over that.

    We need to find an artist who can actually draw Fin’s illustrations. Or Surprise Lily could be a graphic novel. Oh lord I would buy the hell out of that.

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