I know you guys are dying for an update on Cleo's story, so here's the deal. With school starting next week and everything else going on, I've sort of been slacking on writing. My original plan was for it to be live this week.
Yeah, that's not happening. But the good news is: I'm super close! I still don't have a title for my book yet, so if you have any ideas, please pass them along. The person who comes up with the title gets a free copy if that's an incentive. And because I'm feeling guilty and I don't want you guys to be mad at me, here is the first chapter. Tell me what you think!
Cleo stared at her crutches and then slowly leaned them against the wall. She could do this. She took a few careful, slow steps around her room and felt the immediate ache. The cast on her leg was coming off later that afternoon, but her pelvis would take longer to heal. She’d need to take things slow. Very slow and use her crutches to keep her weight off.
Cleo frowned and shuffled back towards her crutches. No use being stupid and pushing herself and then having to add more time on to her recovery. She slipped her crutches under her arms and walked over to the window. The crew was out early today pouring the cement for the lap pool Rayne and Ivy were so excited about. If had been her, she’d have gone for the all-out family sized pool so they could have a party or something. Maybe grill some burgers and dogs. That way they could invite the landscaping crew over, she thought with a grin.
She was about to go out of her mind with boredom. Cleo sighed and pushed her long blond hair over her shoulder. Now that she wasn’t actually guarding Rayne and Ivy, she felt completely useless. Her life back in San Diego had been busy, fun and exciting. Now that she was out of commission, she felt like a dying slug. A useless, dying slug at that. With Sharon and Tai watching over Rayne and Ivy, she might as well go home.
She knew Rayne was still paying her, but that didn’t sit well with her at all. She was being paid for doing nothing. Rayne had politely and very firmly insisted though. When she’d tried to talk to Ivy about it, Ivy had just held up her hand with a glare and said that since she’d been injured while on duty, they would take care of her and she didn’t want to hear another word about it.
That was one thing the Nyman sister’s had in common. Stubbornness. Well, that and the ability to attract incredibly gorgeous men. Cleo sighed and leaned her head against the cool glass window and felt the self-pity wrap around her. But who could blame her? Watching Garrett fall for Rayne had been sweet and romantic. But then watching Asher and Becket fight over Ivy had made her feel a little pathetic.
She was happy for Ivy. Ecstatic really. Sort of. Becket was beautiful and so perfect for her. And she really was glad that Ivy was finally finding a little bit of happy to hold onto. Poor kid deserved it after being raised the way she had. But the fact was, she had liked Asher. A lot. And watching Asher make a fool of himself over Ivy had done a lot of damage to her self-confidence.
She’d grown up being independent, athletic and surrounded by boys always fighting for her attention. She’d gotten so used to boys making fools of themselves over her, that when the one boy she did want, didn’t want her back, she wasn’t sure how to handle it.
That, on top of the accident, and here she was feeling unattractive, unwanted and left out. Since Rayne had come back married to Garrett, all the excitement now surrounded Ivy’s upcoming wedding. Both Ivy and Becket wanted to keep it small and intimate which made sense since neither one had any family to speak of. Becket was inviting his grandmother and Ivy just wanted her, Rayne and Garrett and all of the friends they’d made since moving to Fircrest.
Cleo winced, wondering how Asher was going to take the news that he wasn’t invited to the wedding. Probably not well. He wasn’t taking anything well lately. When he’d found out Ivy was going back to Becket, he’d fired her from the band and even Garrett had been disgusted by that.
Things had been very awkward between the two brothers lately and she wasn’t sure what was going on, but whatever it was, it was bothering Rayne. Rayne lived with Garrett at his house now that they was married, but she still ended up at their house with her and Ivy most days so she could be with her flowers and her sister.
Cleo sighed and stood up, moving towards her door. Her bedroom was now on the main floor so she wouldn’t have to deal with the stairs. She nudged her door open with her toe and walked down the narrow hallway to the kitchen where she could hear someone already up and making breakfast. She hoped it was Tai. That man could cook like a dream.
Cleo smiled and knew that Tai did everything well. He was the perfect guy. Too perfect for her, that was for sure. Most of the guys she dated back in California had been hipsters that would come to her yoga classes and ask her out for dates involving Kombucha and something with Kale. Most of them had beards, wore plaid and were against using deodorant for some reason. But she always enjoyed their company and at least they were never boring.
Now Tai, he was the opposite of boring. She walked through the doorway and paused as a grin lit up her face. Tai was making his famous egg sandwiches they all adored and was wearing one of Rayne’s grandmother’s old, lacy yellow aprons. He looked darling.
Cleo shook her head, trying to get rid of the stray, slightly inappropriate thought. It wasn’t a good idea to entertain ideas about their favorite body guard. Although the man was a seasoned flirt, he’d never once made a serious play for her. She frowned slightly as she studied the tall, strong Samoan man who had become an important member of their household in such a short time. His light brown skin, black hair and strong bone structure could send unsuspecting women into shock. She’d seen it. Heck, she’d experienced it. She still experienced it. But he treated all women the same. He flirted with them all and did his best to make every woman he came in contact with feel beautiful and special.
True, he went the extra mile with her. She knew Rayne and Ivy thought Tai liked her but she knew the truth. He was just trying to make her feel better. She was a pity flirt. Cleo felt slightly sick to her stomach at the thought, but pasted a bright smile on her face as she moved further into the kitchen. It wouldn’t do to have him turn around and find her staring at him with yearning in her eyes. Nope, not her. She had too much pride for that.
“How did you know I was craving one of your egg sandwiches?” she asked lightly as Tai turned around and grinned at her, his eyes lighting up and crinkling at the edges.
“Because you always crave my egg sandwiches. And you’re just in time for the first one. Have a seat, Beautiful and let me serve you,” he said solicitously as he brought a plate over to the table.
Cleo blushed and shook her head. “You’re ruining me for all other men, Tai. You’re going to have to start acting like a cocky jerk soon or I’m going to start a fan club,” she said, smiling at him easily.
Tai laughed. “Is that so? Are you finally declaring your feelings for me, Cleo?” he asked, his warm brown eyes, now melting as they looked down at her.
Cleo cleared her throat and bit her lip. She loved flirting with Tai. She lived for it, to be honest. It was the highlight of her depressing life right now, but he could always out-flirt her and sometimes she was left tongue tied.
“Let’s just say if you keep making me egg sandwiches every morning, you’re going to have to get a restraining order,” she said, very proud of her comeback.
Tai smiled crookedly at her and pulled a chair up, sitting down next to her while she took the first delicious bite. “A restraining order, huh? Now, why would I want to restrain you?” he asked, his voice going low and deep.
Cleo choked on her bite and stared at Tai, her eyes watering as she grabbed her glass of milk. Tai grinned at her and stood up as Ivy walked in, looking refreshed and happy.
“Tai! I love you, I love you, I love you,” she shouted, hugging him hard as he began making her an egg sandwich too.
“See Cleo, now that’s how to express your feelings. See how easy it is?” he said over his shoulder.
Cleo laughed lightly and took a big bite to hide her embarrassment. Ivy narrowed her eyes and glanced between her and Tai suspiciously.
“Is our little Cleo having feelings that I should know about?” Ivy asked as she poured herself some orange juice.
Tai nodded his head as he slipped two pieces of toast into the toaster. “You’ll have to ask Cleo. The only thing she’ll admit to is having feelings strong enough to warrant a restraining order. I find that kind of vague myself. I’m the type of man who appreciates the direct approach. What does Becket like, Ivy? Does he like it when you’re mysterious, or does he appreciate it more when you just come out and say, hey Becket, I love you. You’re amazing.”
Ivy grinned, sighing happily as she sat down next to Cleo and kicked her feet up on the opposite chair. “You know Becket. He likes things short and to the point. I absolutely love that man,” she said with feeling, as she closed her eyes and tilted her head back.
“You better be talking about me.”
Cleo whipped her head around at the low, gruff voice that could only be Becket’s and laughed as Ivy turned red.
“I thought you were going to be working in Tacoma today,” Ivy said, standing up and walking into her fiancé’s arms.
Becket leaned down and kissed her, his lips still turned up in a smile. “I was, but Garrett texted me and wanted to meet me here.”
Tai brought over Ivy’s sandwich and gestured to the backyard. “He’s out in back talking to the concrete guys. And uh, Asher’s out there too,” he added, sounding grim.
Cleo winced and took another bite as she watched Becket’s smile fade and his eyes turn hard. She never wanted Becket to look at her like that. It sent chills up her spine. If she were Asher, she’d be very careful about making Becket mad. Asher had done his best to come in between Becket and Ivy and Becket hadn’t appreciated it at all. Ivy had told her that Becket was planning on quitting Murphy’s Landscaping just as soon as Garrett could find another crew to take over the heavy jobs.
“I’ll just head out then,” he said quietly and touched Ivy on the cheek before walking out the backdoor.
Ivy frowned and shook her head. “Let’s all say a prayer for Asher’s life right now.”
Tai bowed his head along with Ivy so Cleo did the same although she refused to pray for Asher. He deserved whatever Becket wanted to do with him. The idiot.
Ivy sighed and took a bite of her sandwich, immediately smiling. “Oh this is amazing, Tai. You should open up a diner. I swear you’d be a success in less than a month if you had these on the menu.”
Tai grinned and shrugged as he turned back to make himself one. “I’ve actually thought about it. My dad wants me to take over the construction company when he retires in ten years but it’s not my thing. It doesn’t bring me all the joy that cooking does.”
Cleo smiled and took a sip of her milk. “I didn’t know you wanted to be a chef like Kam. That’s great.”
Tai shook his head. “Nah, not like Kam. Like me. He’s all about fine dining. I’m all about comfort food that makes people happy.”
Ivy licked her lips. “Tai’s Diner. I like the sound of that. You should seriously think about it.”
Tai shrugged and slipped two more pieces of bread in the toaster. “Actually, with all of the money I’m earning guarding you and Rayne, I’m getting pretty close to having a down payment. I’d still need a small business loan, but yeah, I’m thinking about it.”
Cleo and Ivy shared gleeful glances and high fived each other. Ivy cleared her throat and crossed her legs nonchalantly. “You know, I hear those small business loans can be a pain to get. What if you had a financial backer though who didn’t make you jump through twenty-million hoops?”
Tai sighed. “Yeah and tell the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause I said hi. It’s going to be hard, but I think I have a chance.”
Ivy threw a dish towel at Tai’s back and he turned around in surprise. “What?”
Ivy laughed. “I could be your financial backer!”
Tai stared at her in surprise, his eyes going wide with hope but then he shook his head. “No, Ivy. I don’t want to take advantage of our friendship. You’ve already done too much for me as it is. You pay me way too much and you know it.”
Ivy snorted and took another bite. “It’s done. But I will insist that you name something on the menu after me and Becket. And maybe our first child too,” she added thoughtfully.
Tai laughed and shook his head. He began to say something else but stopped as he stared at something out the window.
“That doesn’t look good,” he said, moving the hot pan off the burner.
Cleo and Ivy frowned at each other before Ivy jumped out of her chair and hurried to Tai’s side, going up on her tippy toes to see what he was looking at.
“Oh, crud,” Ivy whispered, holding onto Tai’s arm.
Cleo grabbed her crutches and moved slowly toward the door. “Forget the window. I’m going to find out what’s going on,” she said and opened the back door and walked out onto the back porch where she was immediately surrounding by the dogs.
Within seconds, Tai and Ivy were standing next to her. The concrete crew had been given a break and were making their way to the trucks. Right next to the pool, where the newly poured cement was gleaming and smooth, stood Garrett, Asher and Becket. And none of them looked happy.
“This has been brewing for weeks,” Tai said under his breath.
Cleo nodded her head. “I hope Becket punches Asher,” she said jokingly, although she wasn’t sure she was joking.
Ivy bit her lip and held onto her arm. “I hate this,” she whispered vehemently.
Cleo shushed her so she could hear what was being said. Garrett was shaking his head and put his hands on his hips.
“I didn’t want to do this here, but the office is being painted this week. I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks about everything that Becket has told me about what happened while Rayne and I were gone. And Asher, I’ve listened to your side of things too,” he added quickly as Asher’s face turned red and his mouth tightened.
Becket held up his hands. “Forget it, Garrett. I already know what you’re going to say. I knew what you were going to say when I told Asher it was him or me. I’ve already moved on, like I told you. I’m just sticking around until you can find a new crew.”
Garrett glared at the ground and shook his head. “Shut up, Beck.”
Ivy gasped lightly and covered her mouth with her hand. Cleo winced and looked up at Tai. Tai glanced at her worriedly and his hand went for his cellphone. “Man, if I have to call the cops, this is going to suck,” he whispered.
Becket froze, his hands turning into fists by his side as Asher ran a hand through his hair. “Garrett, I don’t even know why I’m even here. Fire him and be done with it. Why make it into a big production? So what, Becket wants to leave? Who cares? It’s not like we need him. There are three other companies we can sub out our big work to. Good riddance I say,” he said coldly, glaring at Becket.
Ivy groaned and hid her face in Cleo’s shoulder. “Please tell me when it’s over,” she whispered.
Cleo swallowed sickly at the look on Becket’s face. Murderous would be putting it kindly.
Garrett shook his head and pointed at Asher. “You can shut up, too.”
Asher stared at his brother in shock. “Excuse me?”
Garrett looked down at his feet for a second and then sighed loudly. “I’ve listened to you both. I’ve talked to Ivy and Cleo and Tai about everything and from what it sounds like Asher, you’re the one in the wrong here.”
Becket’s look of stunned surprise almost perfectly matched Asher’s look of shock.
“You can’t be serious,” Asher sputtered, pointing at Becket. “He stole Ivy from me. He’s never respected me and he didn’t even care that I loved her. He just walked right in and stole her from me. How can you take his side, Garrett?” Asher asked, his voice wavering.
Garrett stared at his younger brother with sadness. “All I can hear you saying is me, me me. Asher, you’re the one who didn’t respect Becket. You’re the one who didn’t respect Ivy’s feelings. You’re the one who has to go. I love you, Ash. But I’m giving you two weeks’ notice. That’s plenty of time to line up a new job. I’ll put in a good word for you and ask around. I’m sure someone’s hiring.”
Cleo’s mouth fell open as she stared at the scene in front of her. No one had seen that coming. Least of all Asher. Asher’s face had gone pale and she could see even from a distance that his hands were shaking. This was not good.
“Are you joking?” Asher demanded, his voice rising as his shock was quickly turning to anger. “I’m your brother! He’s nothing. He’s just a friend. How can you turn your back on me?”
Garrett ran a hand over his short hair and stared miserably at his brother. “I thought I had raised you to be a man Asher, but you blame all of your problems on everyone else. You can’t go through life not taking responsibility for your actions. I wouldn’t be a good brother if I let you stay and let Becket walk. It wouldn’t be fair. This is the only honorable thing to do, Ash. I know someday you’ll understand.”
Asher’s mouth moved, but no words came out. After a minute he shook his head. “I’m your brother,” he whispered.
Garrett finally looked at Becket and smiled slightly. “Yeah, and I’m lucky to have two. Becket’s just as much my brother as you are.”
Cleo watched as Asher turned and walked away without another word, disappearing around the side of the house. She saw a glimpse of his face and felt her heart ache at the pain she saw there. Ivy’s grip on her arm had her turning back to Garrett and Becket just in time to see Garrett pull Becket into a big hug. Becket pounded Garrett on the back and surprised her by wiping something from under his eye.
Tai smiled slightly and put his arm around Ivy’s shoulder. “That was actually kind of beautiful,” he said softly.
Ivy sniffed and nodded her head. Cleo grinned as the two men hugged each other again and Garrett slapped Becket on the back.
“You’re hiring the new accountant though, not me,” Garrett said, his voice sounding rough.
Becket nodded his head. “I know this guy. You’ll love him. His name is Pule Matafeo.”
Garrett erupted in a shout of laughter and Becket grinned as the men walked towards the trucks.
Cleo glanced at Tai and noticed his wince. “I’m guessing that was a joke.”
Tai sighed and opened the back door for them. “Yeah, I picked up on that,” he said dryly as they went back to their breakfast.
They finished their breakfast quietly as each of them thought over what they’d witnessed. Cleo finally broke the silence and pushed her plate away.
“So what do you think Asher is going to do? And more importantly, will this ruin his relationship with Garrett?” she asked, looking back and forth between Ivy and Tai.
Tai shrugged and looked at Ivy. “It’ll be hard at first but after Asher gets a new job and things calm down I bet he and Garrett work things out. Garrett loves that guy more than his life. He’s doing the right thing, but yeah, Asher’s going to be mad for a while.”
Ivy nodded her head, sighing loudly as she finished her juice. “That guy can hold a grudge. I mean, he fired me from the band and hasn’t spoken to me since. I hate that he’s hurting, but honestly? He really needs to grow up. Maybe this is exactly what he needs to open his eyes.”
Cleo pursed her lips. “Well, from what I just saw out there, it’s going to take decades.”
Ivy frowned at that but then sat up straight, her eyes going big and round. “Not unless we speed things up.”
Tai raised an eyebrow. “Watch out, Cleo. She has that look on her face.”
Cleo winced. “Ivy, just stay out of it. This is between Garrett and Asher. This is none of our business.”
Ivy shook her head. “They’re family now. Come on Tai, if you had a brother who needed help, or even Pule, wouldn’t you step in and help things along?”
Tai stood up and picked up their dishes. “We’re talking Matafeos and Murphys here. Two different families. Too different to compare, sweetheart.”
Ivy laughed and stood up as Rayne walked in looking tense. Rayne put her purse on the table and collapsed in Ivy’s vacated chair.
“Garrett just told me outside that he fired Asher,” she said, sounding shocked.
Cleo reached over and patted her hand. “We know. We saw the whole thing from the back porch. Sweetie, it’s going to be okay. Asher will calm down eventually and things will go back to normal.”
Rayne bit her lip and looked at Ivy. “I know Garrett did the right thing, but it’s killing him,” she whispered.
Ivy walked over and hugged Rayne. “First things first. You need one of Tai’s egg sandwiches. And then, I’ll tell you my plan.”
Cleo groaned and leaned her head on her arms. “Ivy, not everything can be cured with Belinda’s cupcakes.”
Ivy grinned. “You’re right. Forget the cupcakes. We’re going to use our secret weapon. You.”