Piper Sheridan stood on a darkened Brooklyn sidewalk, staring at the bar on the opposite side of the street. A lavender dragonfly-shaped logo gleamed above the door, announcing the bar’s name. Through the window, Piper could see a handful of people on stools, laughing and sharing conversation, out for a drink with friends after work. Maybe a date. Piper used to be one of those people.
Now she was standing outside, heart pounding, palms damp as she summoned the courage to cross the street and go inside. It had been six months since she’d gone out in public like this, but she was going to change that statistic tonight. She and her therapist had talked through all the details ahead of time. They’d covered every possible scenario and how Piper would handle it. She was doing this.
One step at a time. That’s what Dr. Jorgensen said. Piper glanced both ways to ensure the street was clear, and then she took that first step. And the second. She crossed the street, gaining speed with each stride. With a quick tug at the black wig covering her distinctive auburn locks, she grasped the bar’s heavy wooden door and pulled it open.
Immediately, she was enveloped in the murmur of conversation undercut by strains of jazz music. A pink-haired bartender waved in her direction with a friendly smile. Piper spotted an empty stool against the back wall, and she made her way to it before she could lose her nerve and bolt back out the door. She took off her jacket and hung it on the hook under the bar before sliding onto the stool. Then she reached for a lavender drink card on the lacquered bar top in front of her, not because she didn’t know what she wanted to drink, but because she wanted something to do with her hands, something to focus on. If she fidgeted, she’d only draw unwanted attention to herself.
Piper wasn’t exactly a household name—not yet anyway—but after four seasons as Samantha Whitaker on the legal drama In Her Defense, she was fairly recognizable here in New York, and for tonight, anonymity was key. If she made it through the evening without a panic attack, she’d be one step closer to going out in public as herself again.
She wanted to reclaim that freedom, but even more urgently, she needed to get her panic attacks under control before her audition next month. This movie could launch her career, and it was ultimately what had driven her out of her apartment on this Thursday night.
“Welcome to Dragonfly,” a cheerful female voice said. “I’m Josie.”
Piper looked up to see the pink-haired bartender standing in front of her. “Hi.”
“Know what you’re having?” Josie asked.
“A negroni, please.” She’d chosen her drink before she left her apartment. Tonight, she was following her own script, no unnecessary decisions to elevate her anxiety.
“You got it.” The bartender turned around to mix the drink.
Piper darted a quick glance around the bar, relieved to find that no one was paying her any attention. Her chest was tight, and claustrophobia pressed over her, the feeling that everyone was just too close, even though she had the wall to her left and an empty stool to her right. She had to recondition herself not to react this way in public places, and tonight was a first step toward achieving her goal. She blew out a slow, measured breath.
The door to the bar opened, and a petite brunette entered. Piper tugged a strand of black hair into her face as recognition dawned. That was Eve Marlow, the host of Do Over, a popular makeover show on the Life & Leisure channel. She and Piper didn’t exactly know each other, but they’d met in passing at industry events, and Piper didn’t want to be recognized tonight. Her entire strategy for the evening hinged on remaining anonymous.
“I see who you’re looking at, but don’t get any ideas,” Josie said playfully as she placed a glass tumbler on the bar in front of Piper. “She’s married.”
“She is?” Piper was genuinely surprised at this news. She hadn’t heard anything about Eve getting married, but sure enough, as her eyes tracked to Eve’s left hand, she saw a gold band glinting there.
“I’m her wife,” the bartender said with a wink, and Piper wasn’t sure whether or not she was joking. “It was a small, private event.”
“No shit?” Piper said as she spotted a matching ring on Josie’s finger. “You’re married to Eve Marlow?”
“I am,” Josie confirmed as she moved down the bar. Perhaps to make her point, she leaned across the counter and kissed Eve.
Well, that was interesting, and Piper was glad to have Eve’s attention elsewhere tonight. She lifted her drink and sipped, feeling the burn of liquor all the way to her stomach. She blew out another breath, and some of the rigidity left her spine. This was okay. She was okay. She’d finish her drink, maybe have another, stay long enough to be able to report tonight as a success to Dr. Jorgensen, and then she’d go home.
“Is this stool open?” a woman’s voice asked, and Piper became aware of someone standing beside her, uncomfortably close.
Her muscles stiffened, tension prickling across her scalp. She kept her eyes on her drink, watching the reddish liquid as it glistened beneath the bar’s track lighting. “Yep.”
“Thanks,” the woman said cheerily as she slid onto the stool.
Piper caught a glimpse of jean-clad legs and knee-high black boots. She lifted her drink for another sip. Maybe she’d only stay for one drink after all. A hand strayed across her vision as her new neighbor reached for the drink card.
“These specialty drinks sound so good,” the woman said after a moment. “What did you get?”
Piper darted a glance in her direction to see if that question was meant for her. The woman sitting beside her had shoulder-length blonde hair and hazel eyes, which were crinkled at the corners as she smiled at Piper. “Mine’s a negroni,” she said, answering the woman’s question, grateful that she found no hint of recognition in her neighbor’s eyes.
“Oh,” the woman said, lips pinching. “Too bitter for me.”
Piper hummed noncommittally as she returned her gaze to her drink.
The bartender approached. “Welcome to Dragonfly. I’m Josie. Do you know what you’d like to drink?”
“Hm,” the blonde said. “I’m torn between the Midnight in Manhattan and the Broadway Bubbles.”
“They’re both really good,” Josie told her. “The Midnight in Manhattan is cooler because of the mint, where the Broadway Bubbles has a bit of a bite.”
“Let’s go with the Midnight in Manhattan,” the blonde said. “Lemon and mint sounds like a winning combination to me.”
“Perfect,” Josie said. “I’ll be right back with that.”
The blonde sighed as she settled on her stool. “Come here often?”
Piper glanced to her right, and sure enough, her neighbor was making another attempt at starting a conversation with her. Maybe she’d come in looking for a hookup. This was a gay bar, after all. “No. You?” She surprised herself by tacking on that little question, since she really wasn’t trying to get into a conversation.
“First time,” the blonde said. “I’m a flight attendant, just in town for the night. One of my coworkers recommended this place, so I decided to pop in for a drink.”
Did she even know it was a gay bar? Maybe she was just talkative. That was probably part of her job description. And maybe Piper should indulge her to keep from focusing on the fact that she was in a room full of strangers. Actually, this was one of the scenarios she and Dr. Jorgensen had rehearsed. “Seems like a nice place,” Piper said.
“And bonus, I don’t have to worry about being hit on by any of the men in the room,” the blonde said with a sly wink. Okay, so she did know.
Piper let out a soft laugh. “That is a nice bonus.”
Josie reappeared in front of them, setting a glass containing an opaque liquid on the bar.
“Thank you,” the blonde said, tapping her finger thoughtfully against the drink menu. “So, what’s the deal with this rumor about the Midnight in Manhattan? Did you make that up?”
Intrigued, Piper peeked at the menu, noticing the italicized line beneath the blonde’s finger: Rumor has it, it you drink one at midnight, you’ll fall in love before the end of the year.
Josie laughed. “I could tell you I made it up, but I could also tell you that it worked on me and several of my friends, so I wouldn’t discount the rumor.” With a wink, she walked off.
“There’s no way a drink could make me fall in love,” the blonde said, “but I guess it can’t hurt, right?”
“You want to fall in love?” Piper asked.
“Well, not tonight, obviously, since I don’t live here, but I’m a romantic at heart, so I wouldn’t complain if the right woman were to come along and sweep me off my feet.”
“Where are you from?” Piper asked, because it seemed the only safe part of that statement to respond to. She thought she’d detected a hint of a southern accent when the woman spoke.
“North Carolina,” the blonde said as she sipped her drink. “Mm, this is delicious. Ever been?”
“Once,” Piper told her. She’d filmed a bit part in a movie there a few years ago. “The mountains are beautiful, although I only got to see them in passing.”
“Oh, that’s where I live,” the blonde said. “My family’s just outside Asheville. I love it there, even though I’m hardly ever home.” “Do you fly somewhere new every day?”
“Almost. I’m a long-range flight attendant, so I typically travel for four or five days at the time, then go home for two to three days, and then I’m off again.”
“That sounds exciting but exhausting,” Piper commented.
“It is both of those things,” the blonde agreed with a laugh.
“How did you get into that line of work?”
The blonde swirled her drink, staring into its opaque depths. “I’d always wanted to see the world, and since I was young and on a budget, this seemed like a good way to make it happen. It’s been amazing, but I’m actually moving on at the end of next month.”
“You’re quitting?” Piper asked.
“Yep. I think it’s finally time to stay in North Carolina long enough get my own place and put my interior design degree to good use.”
“Ah,” Piper said, intrigued by this woman who’d spent however many years flying around the world, traveling so often she had no home of her own. “Where do you live now?”
“With my parents,” she said, scrunching her nose. “I know that sounds super lame for a woman my age, but I couldn’t justify paying rent when I’m only home two days a week.”
“It’s not lame,” Piper said. “It sounds practical.”
“I guess it is.” The blonde smiled, drawing Piper’s attention to her lips, soft and full and glistening with a combination of lipstick and her drink. “I’m Chloe, by the way.”
Piper dropped her gaze to her negroni. This was why she’d intended to keep to herself tonight. She could give Chloe a fake name, but somehow that felt disingenuous. They’d only just met, but Chloe seemed so open, so honest, so real. It was refreshing. “I’m…trying to be anonymous tonight. Sorry.”
* * *
Chloe Carson sipped her drink, cheeks puckering from its tart flavor as she watched the mysterious woman sitting beside her. She was about Chloe’s age, probably late twenties or early thirties, with striking blue eyes. A cascade of shiny black hair tumbled over her shoulders, but it was a bit too shiny, and it didn’t match her eyebrows, leading Chloe to think it was a wig. What kind of woman came to a bar in disguise and unwilling to share her name?
The kind Chloe wanted to get to know, apparently.
“Why didn’t you just give me a fake name?” she couldn’t help asking.
“Good question,” the woman said with a shrug. “That would have been easier, wouldn’t it?”
“Yep,” Chloe told her. “But this way is more intriguing. So, tell me something less revealing. What brings you to this bar tonight?”
“Trying to prove something to myself,” she said as she sipped the reddish liquid in her glass. “And you?”
“Just didn’t want to be alone in my hotel room,” Chloe told her. “I like to be around people.”
“I guess that makes you good at your job.”
“It certainly helps,” Chloe agreed.
“So you aren’t here looking for someone to take back to your hotel room?”
Chloe narrowed her eyes at her neighbor. Was she flirting? She looked vaguely familiar, which gave Chloe the impression she might be a public figure of some kind. And she was probably in the closet. Why else would she be in a gay bar, hiding her identity? “Not necessarily, no,” Chloe answered her question. “I’m not usually a one-night-stand kind of girl, but my job makes it hard to maintain relationships, so I’ve been known to indulge occasionally if I meet the right person.”
The raven-haired woman held Chloe’s gaze. “I’m not the right person.”
The woman shook her head, looking away. “I’m just here for a drink.”