(Lesbian Contemporary Romance set in Iceland)
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Kennedy Segal travels to Reykjavik, Iceland for a once in a lifetime business trip to sign a multi-million dollar deal for Segal Holdings, her older brother’s billion-dollar company. The first night she’s there, she meets an alluring woman only known as Marella, who tempts Kennedy in ways she has never been tempted before.
What should have been a one-night stand, becomes more because Marella is also Svana Landvik, former European pop star who left it all behind to run one of the biggest breweries on Iceland.
Kennedy’s mistake with Svana may ruin everything she has achieved, including the respect she has been striving for her entire life. But if Svana has her say, Kennedy may have a bright new future with a woman who wants much more than just a fling.
She accepted a menu from the bartender, a handsome man near her age. He set down a cocktail napkin and said something in a strange language, probably Icelandic.
Oh no. He doesn’t speak English? “I’m sorry. I don’t understand you.”
“He said you have remarkable eyes.” A woman with no recognizable accent mounted the stool next to Kennedy.
“Yes, you have very unique eyes.” The bartender pointed to his green ones.
Kennedy’s face warmed. “It’s hereditary.”
The woman nudged her arm. “You must feel special, then.”
Her comeback stalled on her lips. The woman next to her had finely shaped eyebrows, one of which was pierced with a silver hoop. She also had a pixie cut with various shades of blonde highlights. Silver hoop earrings dangled from her ears, and her face was sharp but welcoming.
“Um, hi,” she responded when she could speak again.
Her seatmate wore a sexy-as-hell outfit consisting of a tight ivory blouse that barely restrained her ample chest, along with a knee-length leather skirt that looked painted on. Her black leather thigh-high stiletto boots encased her trim legs.
“Hiya.” The woman grinned at her, highlighting a large freckle or mole near her plump upper lip. “You’re the first person I’ve met with different colored eyes.” She turned to the bartender “How about you, myndarlegur?”
“Nei.” He dipped his head, showing a flag of red on his cheeks.
The woman set her hand on the bar near his. “Aw, don’t be embarrassed. I’ll bet the lady gets the question a lot. Right?”
“All the time.” Kennedy studied the woman’s hand, fascinated by her multiple silver rings, and shiny red nails. She curled her dull, unadorned fingers into her palms to hide them.
The tip of the woman’s tongue grazed the corner of her mouth, staying there long enough for Kennedy to zone in on it. As soon as she realized what she did, she shifted her gaze back to the bartender.
“Um, I’ll have a wine spritzer,” she requested.
The woman said something in Icelandic to the bartender then laughed while he just smiled.
She scrolled through her emails until curiosity got the better of her. Was this beautifully arresting woman making her the butt of a joke?
“Since I’m not fluent in your language, would you mind telling me what you said to the bartender just now?”
“She said she’ll have something stronger and to put yours on her tab,” the bartender responded in accented English and turned to make the drinks.
“About putting your drink on my tab? Absolutely.” The woman shrugged then held out her hand. “So I don’t end up calling you Wine Spritzer the entire night, we should share names. I’m Marella.”
Her uncommon name sounded familiar. Instead of concentrating on why, she focused on the woman next to her. “My name is Kennedy.”
“Welcome to Iceland, Kennedy.” Marella gave her hand a strong pump.
“How do you know it’s my first time in your country? You’re a native, right?” She left her hand in the other woman’s, despite her usual preference for short handshakes.
“Yes, I am. It’s obvious you’re visiting for the first time. Usually Americans order one of our beers or at least wine.” She loosened her hold but kept their fingers tangled together.
Unsettled, Kennedy drew her hand back and laid it on her lap. Just far enough away so Marella wouldn’t have easy access, not that this very affable woman would do such a thing.
“I don’t like beer.” She checked her phone. It had only been a few minutes since she sat down. Why did it seem time had slowed in Iceland?
Marella gave her a sympathetic smile. “Between you and me, I’m not a fan of beer either. I prefer wine.”
The bartender returned with their drinks, and Marella requested he keep her tab open.
Kennedy lifted her glass. “Is everyone here like you? I mean, do your people go out of their way to buy tourists drinks?”
“I’ve done it a few times. This is one of my favorite hotels in Reykjavik to have a few drinks, especially on a Friday night after work. Their happy hour is also one of the best.” Marella pointed to the small plastic tabletop display, indicating the happy hour times and specials in English. “Skál.”
“Skál?” Kennedy winced as she murdered the word.
“It’s Icelandic for cheers and good health.” Marella tapped her glass to Kennedy’s and took a sip.
She spoke the foreign word much clearer this time. As she sipped, she watched Marella drink her wine, a dark red that almost matched her nail color.
“Hm, I love a good Merlot.” Marella lowered her glass and licked her lips, flashing something metallic in her mouth.
She almost choked as she swallowed. “You have a barbell in your mouth?”
“Yes.” Marella displayed her tongue, and the metal ball in the middle of it.
“Why?” Fascinating. This was the first time she’d met someone with an actual piercing in their tongue.
“I was young and stupid at the time I got the piercing. But I kept it. I also have one in my bellybutton.” Marella’s eyes twinkled. “And, no, I don’t have any others.”
Kennedy pressed her lips together to stop from laughing at a conversation she’d never thought she would have in a million years, and in Iceland of all places.
“How about you? Any piercings?” Marella crossed her legs, brushing Kennedy’s knee with the hem of her skirt.”
“Only my ears, but earrings irritate my lobes. I didn’t want to be pierced anywhere else, especially those intimate areas only a few select people have seen.”
Marella slapped the top of the bar. “Good one.” She flicked her bangs away from her forehead, flashing black ink on the inside of her arm.
“You also have tattoos?”
She lifted her sleeve and traced the ink with her fingers. “It’s fjölskyldan mín, meaning family. I got it a long time ago.”
The tattoo on Kennedy’s hip tingled. She tightened her grip around her glass to keep from rubbing at it. Asking for the story of the woman’s tattoo would make things too serious between them. She didn’t want to be solemn or reflect on her own loss then end up a blubbering mess.
“You have a beautiful name.” She brought the conversation back to more lighthearted topics.
Marella lowered her sleeve, and her head snapped up. “It’s my middle name.”
“Your middle name? Why don’t you go by your first name?”
Marella lifted her glass, downed her wine, then set aside her empty glass and flagged down the bartender. “Perhaps I’ll tell you my first name after a few more drinks.”
She swirled her drink. “How about we add food into the mix? I’m starving.”
Marella smiled and claimed her wrist with a squeeze, causing her stomach to flutter. “I’m starving also.”
“You’re not going to be forty in October! You look ten years younger!” Kennedy finished the last of the cheese on her plate. She rubbed her hands on her napkin and settled back in the booth. They sat close together, sharing enough appetizers for triple their party.
Marella had started out sitting across from her then moved next to her when their food arrived. After a few glasses of wine—or maybe more, she’d lost count—Kennedy felt very relaxed. Marella’s arm lay over the cushion behind her, brushing Kennedy’s back with her fingertips every so often.
Marella grimaced as she finished her glass, setting it down on the table with a click. “I’m so fucking old. What are you, thirty?”
“I turned thirty-one in January.” Kennedy sighed and licked some salt from her finger.
Marella refilled Kennedy’s glass. “Everyone I work with is younger than me.”
“You never said what you do. Something in the arts?”
Marella arched her eyebrow. “The arts? Honey, I work behind a desk. I’m an executive.”
She snickered and swallowed more wine. The wooziness in her head helped loosen her up, but also made her brave. She grasped her companion’s inked arm. “You’re an executive even with your tattoo and tongue piercing? You must work for a cool company.”
She twisted her arm, taking Kennedy’s hand. “It’s one of the coolest in Reykjavik. I work for a brewery and spirits distributor.”
“That’s why I’m here. I have a business meeting at one of the breweries. You must know Landvik, then.” Her eyelids fluttered as Marella stroked her wrist with her thumb.
“I know them very well. Their wild honey victory vodka is amazing.”
Kennedy’s eyes popped open. “Vic for Landvik?” She giggled.
“What’s the purpose of your meeting?” Marella’s breath brushed her ear.
She shifted closer. “I work for the Segal Corporation. Our headquarters are in California. We’re signing a big deal with Landvik to sell their alcohol at our properties in the United States.”
“You’re an account executive like me?”
“You could say that.” Kennedy took another sip of her wine. “I’d better stop drinking after this glass or someone might have to help me to my room.”
“I wasn’t planning on getting you drunk, so maybe you should stop.” Marella took her glass and set it down. “But perhaps you’re still sober enough for one last drink.”
“What type?” Kennedy blinked away the fuzziness in her vision.
Marella waved for their server. “Since you haven’t tried any of Landvik’s beers or spirits, we’re having a wild honey shot.”
“You sure you’re not trying to get me drunk?” Kennedy hiccupped. “You better order me a water chaser.”
The server came over and took their plates. “Yes, Madame M?”
“Two shots of wild honey vic vodka and two glasses of water.”
After their server left, Kennedy nudged her companion. “What’s with the Madame M? Don’t tell me you’re also some government official like the mayor or governor.” She scratched her nose. “Does Reykjavik even have a mayor?”
Marella tapped her chin with her fingers as a smile broke over her face. “You’re too cute. I’m not in politics. Madame M is just a nickname. Most in Reykjavik use it as a term of endearment.”
“Most? How many do you know here?” Wow. Only a few high-profile celebrities were “known” by most at home in Los Angeles.
“There’s around one hundred twenty thousand residing in and around Reykjavik, so it’s easy to know many people.” Marella’s impish smile returned. There was more to this story.
“Your personality probably has something to with it. You’re very friendly.” The server returned, and Kennedy took a healthy gulp of water, suddenly parched.
Marella dipped her finger in her vodka. “Just my personality impressed you? Nothing else?”
Kennedy swallowed an ice cube too fast it lodged in her throat. As she cleared the intrusive lump, she cut her gaze away from the sexy woman next to her.
Marella tickled her nape. “What about my fashion sense or my hair?”
She opened her mouth to respond, but froze when a vodka-laced finger stroked down her cheek to her throat.
“Maybe my face is more than pleasing to you?” Marella whispered in her ear.
A rush of liquid warmth settled in her belly, and the atmosphere between them became charged with sensuality.
“I ah, think you’re very beautiful. Most of the women here are.” She drank more water, trying to quench her thirst. Keeping her mouth to the rim, as if it would protect her from Marella’s scrutiny, she stared ahead.
“I find you—”
“Did I tell you I’m practically engaged?” She silently cursed the squeak in her voice.
“What does ‘practically’ mean? To a man or a woman?” Skepticism lined her tone.
“To a man. Why would you think a woman?” She released a nervous laugh and finished her water.
The twinkle in Marella’s eyes gave away her amusement. But she didn’t make Kennedy feel like the butt of a joke. Nothing about the woman led her to think her cruel.
Nervous, she set her glass down and tilted it to the side to fish out another ice cube. She froze when Marella petted her thigh.
“You may ‘practically’ be engaged to a man, but your body isn’t as loyal to him as you want me to believe.” She squeezed Kennedy’s knee then skimmed up higher.
The heat swirling in her belly dipped lower. “What about my heart?”
“The heart is different. It may want one thing while the body wants another. I believe this is the case with you.” Her hand curled around Kennedy’s upper thigh.
She dropped her hand on Marella’s. “You didn’t approach me just to be nice. You had an ulterior motive.”
“You’re a smart woman.” Marella shrugged and linked their fingers. “You could have thanked me for the drink and left or given off the vibe you wanted to be left alone. You did neither.”
“How often do you do this?” Her heart rattled in her chest. She might be a pushover in some instances, but she refused to be a victim or target.
The light in Marella’s eyes dimmed, and she shifted back, although she kept their fingers linked. “I’m not, how you say, a repeat offender. I don’t go around seducing unsuspecting women or accommodating those here on holiday who want to experience something risqué or naughty. I’m not some temptress or dahlia out to steal your soul.”
Kennedy burst out laughing. “You have an interesting way with words. It must be the language barrier.”
Marella’s shoulders relaxed, and she finally let go, leaving her phantom touch on Kennedy’s thigh. She made a fist on her lap, tempted to caress Marella’s face.
Their intimacy had vanished. Conversation around them had become too loud, with the arrival of a new group of patrons, and the space too crowded. She could thank the other woman for the company and go back to her room alone. But she’d only spend the rest of the evening obsessing over work.
It had been a long time since had done something daring. The last time it had been the biggest mistake of her life, leading to years of guilt and shame. She hoped this next step wouldn’t come back to bite her in the ass.
“Have you ever stayed here or seen the inside of one of the rooms?”
“I’ve never stayed here. My home is less than twenty minutes outside the city.” Marella lifted her shot to her mouth.
She snagged Marella’s wrist before she drank. “I have a huge corner room with a view of the marina. Why don’t you come up with me to check it out?”
Marella’s eyes widened. Then a small smile appeared. “I would love to.” She transferred her shot to her other hand and lowered the arm Kennedy still held. “A toast to new friendships, elskan.”
“It’s a term of endearment, like ‘sweetie’ or ‘darling.’” She tapped her glass to Kennedy’s and tossed back the drink.
Much better than being called babe. She mouthed the strange word then drank her shot. As the smooth as silk vodka slid down her throat, a warm prickling spread through her body, making her anxious for privacy to get to know her new friend.