Excerpt for Hearts and Roses by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Jove Belle

Hearts & Roses

Dirt Road Books

Copyright © 2013, 2018, Jove Belle

Dirt Road Books, Inc

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording, printouts, information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons living or dead or to business establishments or events is coincidental.

Hearts & Roses

Ava closes the door as quietly as she can, but the soft click is all it takes. She has just enough time to slip her keys over the hook by the door before she’s wrestled to the floor by two, screaming, blond-haired banshees.

Corina squeezes her tight around the neck, cutting off the flow of oxygen and knocking Ava’s glasses askew. Clara digs her fingers into her sides, bouncing on Ava’s bladder and making her almost pee herself.

All she can manage is a strangled, “Ooomph” as she holds the single rose above her head, safely out of reach.

“Girls,” Valentina calls from the kitchen, “get off your mom and go wash your hands for dinner.”

Corina squeezes her even tighter, then presses a sloppy wet kiss to her cheek. “Missed you today.” She turns and crawls over her sister, one foot landing first on Ava’s hip, then another on her ankle. Corina stumbles to gain her footing and Clara climbs higher to hug Ava tightly.

As Corina disappears around the corner, Clara stands carefully, then helps Ava sit up. Clara looks at her seriously as she straightens her glasses, then pats down her hair. She evaluates the rose with a small frown. “Momma worked really hard today.”

“Well, then, let me up so I can make sure she doesn’t work hard for the rest of the evening.”

This seems to satisfy Clara. She nods, kisses Ava on the cheek, and then follows her sister to the bathroom. The water comes on a few minutes later, followed by giggling. She should correct them, tell them not to make a mess, but she can’t hold herself back from going directly to the kitchen, where her wife is waiting.

Her wife. It’s been seven years, and she still hasn’t grown tired of the way that sounds, the way that feels. It’s the most delicious, perfect truth that she knows.

The dinner table is already laid out with the china that Valentina’s mom insisted they’d need when they registered for wedding gifts. Ava had shaken her head, unable to see a time in her life when the extravagance would make sense. Now she can’t picture her life without it. Or the deep burgundy linen napkins. Or the real silver flatware that Valentina polishes by hand because some events, like Valentine’s Day, are just worth it.

Years ago, when they first started dating, Ava teased about it actually being Valentina’s Day. She meant it then and means it even more now. That first year was an elaborately planned celebration. Dinner, dancing, a hotel room in Spokane—the closest city that had anything resembling a gay bar. Ava loves their life in Bitterroot, but the town isn’t exactly a mecca of lesbian activity.

She tried so hard back then, desperate to impress Valentina, to prove herself worthy of this beautiful woman. She can’t quite believe that she looked at Ava and finally, finally, saw her. And, God, had she wanted to show Valentina that she’d made the right decision when she said yes to her bungled attempt to ask her out on a date. Ava had literally scuffed her feet against the floor, her face growing hotter with every painful moment, dying by the second until Valentina took her hand with a laugh and simply said, “Yes.” Then, she kissed her square on the lips and Ava just about passed out. When she recovered enough to ask why she’d done it, Valentina shrugged and said if she had waited for Ava to work up the courage, it never would have happened.

Ava likes to think she had more game than that. And maybe she did once, with other women, women who weren’t Valentina. Women who didn’t twist her inside out with a glance. Women who didn’t hold the very secret of Ava’s past, present, and future in their dark, shining eyes.

She sets the rose carefully across Valentina’s place setting on the table. The rose is pretty, but far too simple to express the rush of love swamping her senses, making it impossible for her to think of life beyond this perfect pocket of time. This is her life, her family, and she still can’t quite believe it every time Valentina says yes, regardless of how many times Ava hears it.

Valentina stands at the stove, apron over the dark red dress that hugs her body in all the right ways, hair swept up, her hand stirring something on one of the burners. She glances over her shoulder and smiles, her eyes dark and teasing, daring Ava to do something. “You’re home.”

“Mmmm,” Ava hums as she slides her arms around Valentina’s waist, settling her hands on the swell of her stomach. She stretches out her fingers, covering as much of her middle as possible. “How was your day?”

Her voice is deeper than usual, too deep for before dinner, with both girls awake and ready to run into the kitchen at any moment. But as Valentina sinks back into her embrace, she’s helpless to stop the way her body responds.

“Good.” Valentina’s voice is rich, rolling over the letters with a sensuality that Ava’s never been able to properly describe. “I spent most of the day on the couch with my feet up.” She scrunched her nose up at the end.

“Doctor’s orders.” Ava moves her hands, massaging Valentina’s abdomen. On cue, she feels a flutter beneath her touch, followed by a stronger kick.

Valentina laughs. “He missed you.”

Ava kisses the soft column of Valentina’s neck and then sighs as the scent of Valentina leaves her light-headed and blissfully happy. “I missed you.”

Their son kicks again and Valentina leans more heavily into Ava’s arms with a groan. “He’s been relentless today.”

Ava kisses her neck again, her hands massaging over Valentina’s belly. She works one around to her lower back, to the trouble spot that refuses to give her wife any rest with this pregnancy. The pain started before the first ultrasound, before they knew for sure that the insemination process had worked. Valentina’s mom laughed the first time she saw her daughter wince and rub her lower back. “It’s a boy this time, mija. Just wait and see.”

Valentina rolled her eyes and rubbed a little harder at her back, but she didn’t argue.

“How was work?” Valentina draws her brows together briefly, then releases the scowl. At thirty, she complains that the lines on her face are a little too pronounced for her own liking. Now she spends a little more time controlling her expressions and applying moisturizer at night. Her mom laughs at that, too.

Ava steps back, but keeps her hand on Valentina’s back. She rubs slow, sure circles against the tense muscles as she kisses her wife. Work is work, the thing she does to afford them this beautiful life, but it’ll never be more important than the soft press of Valentina’s lips against her own. She pulls away far too soon, aware that the distant sounds in the bathroom have gone quiet and they only have a few more moments together before the girls return.

She shrugs. “It was work.”

Valentina stops stirring long enough to press her fingers to Ava’s tie, hanging loose from her neck, the knot even with her clavicle. Then, she runs her fingertips over the open collar of her shirt, and twists a strand of Ava’s blond hair in her fingers. The contrast between Ava’s light hair and Valentina’s dark olive skin makes Ava smile. She presses another gentle kiss to Valentina’s lips because she can’t think of a single reason not to.

The girls burst into the kitchen, Corina whining, “No fair!” as Clara beats her to their moms by half a step. Ava scoops them up, holding Corina in one arm and Clara in the other. At three and six, they are almost too big to be held like this. After giving them each a kiss, she lets them slide to the floor.

“Did you wash your hands?”

The girls display their hands, palms down, and Valentina makes a show of inspecting them. She finishes by kissing their fingers, then nibbling them. The girls squeal, pulling their hands away and tucking them safely into their bodies as they shake with giggles.

“What do you think? Do they pass inspection?” Ava asks.

The girls peek out at their momma, their eyes bright, hopeful.

Valentina answers, her tone serious and yet light and playful at the same time. “I suppose.”

“Excellent! Now, girls, help your momma to the table while I serve dinner.”

Valentina tries to protest, holding tight to the spoon for a moment as Ava pries it from her fingers. Finally, she releases her hold, her eyes flashing with something dangerous and inviting, and Ava scoots her toward the dining room with a pat on the bottom. The girls tug her along as instructed.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

She carries the serving dishes to the table rather than filling the plates from the stove. Valentina took the time to set out the china and she respects the work involved. She serves the girls first as she watches Valentina lift the rose to her face and brush the petals across her cheek. She raises her eyes to meet Ava’s gaze.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you.” She sets it on the table next to her plate and Ava dishes out her food.

“Not as beautiful as you.” It’s totally cliché, but it makes Valentina smile, so Ava lowers her head to kiss her wife once again, something she thinks she’ll never grow tired of.

As she pulls away, Valentina’s fingers play over the rolled-up cuff of her shirt sleeve. There’s a splotch of black ink there, soaked into the layers of fabric, indelible.

“You spilled.”

Ava shrugs. “Just a little.”

Valentina smiles, then moves her fingers from the shirt to the skin beneath, tracing over the script names of their children tattooed high on Ava’s forearm, hidden just beneath her sleeve. Valentina’s name covers the other arm in flowing ivy and lace. Ava bends to kiss her one last time before moving to her own seat.

“Did you do any interesting designs today?” Valentina asks.

“Yeah, mom! Did you do a dragon?” Clara chimes in, as always hopeful to hear that her mom brought another of her favorite fabled creatures to life on someone’s skin that day.

“No, baby. Not today.”

“Oh.” Clara’s head and shoulders fall, heartbroken until the next distraction comes along.

“Did you do a princess?” Corina’s voice is smaller, her words not as defined as her big sister’s. At three, she still stumbles with the power of speech, amazed that her little mouth can make such awesome sounds.

She’d done a princess tattoo once, a fluffy, yet shiny, Barbie-esque princess with giant blue eyes, blond hair, and an unrealistically tiny waist. The woman who asked for it laughed hysterically when Ava suggested that the princess hold her own head on a platter. Then, she’d agreed with a devious smile. Ava hadn’t told her girls that part.

“No princesses, either.” She smooths Corina’s hair behind her ear. “I did a lot of hearts, though.”

Both girls nod approvingly at that. Valentine’s Day is a surprisingly popular day for tattoos. Lots of names and hearts and other permanent, if ill-advised, expressions of unending love.

“Are you sure it’s okay that you left so early?” Valentina asks.

Normally, Ava would come home for dinner, then go back to work for the evening rush. Tonight, though, her time belongs to Valentina. It always has and no amount of eager, giggling girls and macho, flexing boys, all determined to show their devotion in ink, will change that. She’s happy her shop is doing so well, but some things are just more important than money.

“I’m positive.”

“Okay, then.” Valentina sips her water and looks pointedly at her girls. “You’ll never guess what we did today. Will she, girls?”

“We thought of names!” Corina laughs, too excited to follow whatever script they agreed upon.

“Hey! You did it wrong!” Clara scolds, indignant.

“It’s okay.” Ava watches her girls, Corina amused and ready to laugh about everything, just like her momma, Clara serious and thoughtful, always hesitating before making her move, just like Ava. She smiles at Clara and gives her a small wink. “Tell me what they are.”

“Adam!” Corina yells again.

“No, Benji,” Clara counters, her voice calm and smooth. She’s far too serious for a six-year-old.

“What about you?” Ava asks Valentina.

“I like Luis.” Valentina speaks softly, her voice almost too quiet to hear over the raucous debate rising up between Clara and Corina. It was her father’s name. Ava never met him, but she’s seen the pictures and she isn’t opposed to her son being named after the compact man with smiling eyes that matched her wife’s.

“Luis Adam Benji it is.” Ava smacks her hand against the table like a gavel, an important decision made. The girls giggle because they know she’s being silly. Valentina smiles, her mouth and face as soft as her voice moments ago.

“I love it.”

“Then it’s decided.”

They play this game every night. The girls will have new suggestions tomorrow night and the next, but Luis is a good name. Ava likes it. And she likes the way it makes Valentina smile, so that part, at least, really is decided.

“Anything else? Besides hearts?” Valentina takes a small bite and Ava holds back the impulse to scold her about not eating enough. She knows this pregnancy is harder than the last two, that Valentina has difficulty keeping anything in her stomach once it gets there, and that food tastes wrong to her. Every bite is a struggle.

“Did you talk to the doctor?” She tries to keep the smile in her voice, keep her words light. She doesn’t want to worry the girls. They are sensitive and they pick up on everything, even the slightest change in tone. Still, she herself is worried.

“The nurse. Same answer as before. Don’t overdo it, keep my feet up as much as possible, stay hydrated.”

“Mmm, and did you tell her that’s not working?”

Valentina nods slowly, then glances at the girls before meeting Ava’s gaze. “I did.”

“I talked to your mom. She’s ready whenever you are.”

Valentina’s mom lives a few hours south in Boise. When the doctor ordered Valentina to leave work and stay off her feet, she offered to come stay with them until the baby was born. Ava cleaned the spare room that same day, making sure the bedding was fresh and the floor vacuumed, but Valentina asked her to wait. Since then, she’s been going crazy trying to get her wife to change her mind, with no luck.

“I spoke with her today also. She’s driving up on Friday.”

Ava’s chest fills with a rush of relief, followed immediately by dread. What changed to convince Valentina?

“Don’t look so worried.” Valentina smiles. “Weekends are harder, that’s all.”

During the week, Corina is in preschool while Clara is in kindergarten. Clara joins her for daycare after school. It’s their routine when Valentina works, and they didn’t see any reason to disrupt their schedule, especially since having Corina home would mean more work for Valentina. Bed rest isn’t really possible with a three-year-old bouncing on you. Ava didn’t even think to put them into daycare on weekends as well. Her wife admitting those days are harder makes her feel sick to her stomach with guilt.

“I can see about putting them in daycare on Saturday and Sunday, too.”

“No, of course not.” Valentina brings another tiny bite of food to her mouth. “You didn’t answer my question.”


“Did you do any other designs?”

Valentina asks the same question every day, and as far as Ava can tell, she really wants to know. Ava is working on a new design to cover her shoulder, the top part of a sleeve, but the concept is too fresh and she really just wants to surprise her family with it after she commits it to her skin. So, she smiles and shakes her head and takes a bite of dinner. She’s never been able to lie to Valentina, so demurring is the closest she can come. Even then, she can tell by the look on Valentina’s face that it didn’t work. Her wife knows she’s hiding something, but she doesn’t ask again.

“I worked on something today, Mom.” Clara is standing right next to her, hands clasped behind her back.

“Me, too.” Corina pulls at her sleeve, drawing her attention to the other side.

She needs to pay closer attention because both of her girls finished their dinner and moved to her side while she was smiling at Valentina across the table. She scoots back until there’s room for both girls to stand in front of her. She hasn’t really eaten, but eating doesn’t seem nearly as important as whatever her girls are trying to tell her. She can always finish later.

“Show me?”

The girls look at each other, for once not rushing to be first. Clara puffs out a sharp breath, then says, “You go first. You’re younger.” Her voice holds only a tiny amount of resentment and Ava wants to scoop her up into a hug and tell her what an awesome big sister she is. But she doesn’t want to ruin the moment the girls are building up to, so she doesn’t.

Corina holds out a small envelope that has Ava’s name written across it in unsteady, blocky crayon letters. Ava opens it carefully. Valentina will want to save it in her keepsake box and keepsakes are better if they’re not shredded. She pulls out a Disney Princess Valentine, one of the bigger ones that came in the box of thirty-two that they bought at the drugstore a week ago. On the back, “Love Corina” is written in the same bold, blue crayon.

She pulls Corina onto her lap and kisses her about a thousand times. Corina giggles and squirms, but doesn’t try to get away.

“Do you like it?” Corina asks breathlessly, her eyes wide and happy.

“It’s perfect.”

Corina nods, then climbs down. “Now it’s Clara’s turn.”

Clara looks at her, her face serious as she hands Ava a piece of thick white paper that she pulled from one of the drawing tablets in their home. Ava’s been working with her on texture and shading and she shows real promise, even at six years old. She may not want a career in art, like Ava, but they’re laying the groundwork now, just in case.

“I drew this for you, Mom.”

It’s a picture of Valentina, her belly round and heavy, bigger than it is right now, but that won’t be true in another month. She has her hands resting on her belly, and where her chest would be, there’s an oversized red heart with all their names written on it. The proportions on the face are off, but the skin tone is perfect and Ava is impressed. It’s hard to match Valentina’s complexion. She knows from many failed tries. Eventually, she realizes that the scripted letters of their names is actually loose flowing strands of Valentina’s long hair. It’s beautiful and perfect, just like her wife.

“It’s beautiful, baby.” Her voice is rough and she has to swallow once before she can speak properly.

Clara brushes her fingers against her cheek and Ava is surprised to feel tears spread with her touch. It happens sometimes, when she looks at her life and just can’t keep all the happiness inside her. It swells up until it bubbles over. The girls have seen it before, but Clara still looks worried.

“It’s okay, Mom.”

Ava presses her forehead to her daughter’s. “It’s better than okay.”

Later that night, after the dishes are done and put away, and the girls had their baths and are tucked into their beds, Ava sits and holds Valentina’s feet in her lap. Eva Cassidy sings to them from Ava’s iPod playlist, and on any other night, if Valentina wasn’t on bed rest, Ava would pull her close and dance in the middle of their living room together. She’ll do that again. Next year. Maybe the year after. Tonight, she’s happy to rub lotion into her wife’s feet and listen to her talk about her mom’s upcoming visit, about how much work she’ll have on her desk when she finally makes it back after Luis is born, and about how quickly the girls are growing up.

Eventually, Valentina notices her staring at her and stops talking mid-sentence to ask, “What?”

She smiles and shakes her head, unable to voice how much this moment means to her.

“Tell me.” Valentina reaches for her hand.

“I just...I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Ava moves until she is able to kneel on the floor at Valentina’s feet. She stretches up and kisses her softly, with as much love and adoration as she can put into one simple kiss.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

And with those three words, she knows life couldn’t possibly be any better than this. It really is perfect.


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