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Authors: Sawyer Bennett

Tags: #Romance, #Adult

Garrett (2 page)

BOOK: Garrett
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Sutton laughs and punches me on the shoulder, kind of hard, and I rub at my muscle as I wince.

“I kept her hidden with hard work and dedication. I didn’t want her falling prey to the likes of you.”

Ouch…that kind of hurt too. And now I’ve got a sneaking suspicion where Olivia has heard all about my playboy ways. Sutton has stood alongside Alex over the past several months and watched me burn through women like a wildfire burns across a dry forest. I’ve even gone out on double dates with them, and at the end of the evening, when my date would shake hands with Alex and Sutton, and say with such hope and yearning, “This was lovely. I can’t wait until we can do it again,” I would never fail to miss the roll of Sutton’s eyes because she knew damn well that there would never be a second date.

Angling my head to look at Olivia, she returns my stare with the same light and cheerful smile that was on her face a moment ago. She’s enjoying me getting my chops busted by Sutton.

“Well, it’s your fault you left her here unattended,” I assert as I tweak Sutton’s chin. “She was just ripe for the taking.”

“Except there was no taking,” Olivia chimes in. “He put forth a good effort, but alas…I held my own.”

Alex starts snickering, and I know that I have officially struck out with Olivia. Oh, well. It’s not like there won’t be someone else on my near horizon.

“Okay, Sutton…why don’t you and Olivia go away then and let me and Alex have some man-talk,” I say as I make a shooing motion with my hands.

Sutton bumps Olivia on the shoulder and leans in to whisper loudly to her, just for my benefit, “That’s code to mean Garrett has a dirty joke he wants to tell Alex.”

I start to open my mouth to object, because I’m about so much more than dirty jokes…even if that is exactly why I was shooing them away, but then Olivia pipes up, “I love dirty jokes. I want to hear it.”

Damn…gorgeous and she loves dirty jokes. I’m seriously bummed she won’t go out with me, because if she loves filthy humor, she certainly wouldn’t mind my filthy mouth in the bedroom.

I open my mouth to start to tell my joke, when a phone starts ringing. Olivia reaches into the pocket of her long skirt and pulls out an iPhone that has a bright, tie-dyed case. Lifting a finger, she says, “I’m sorry. I need to take this.”

She steps a few feet away and I hear her answer with a murmured “Hello.”

My eyes are pinned to her for just a moment, then Sutton is slapping at my arm, causing my gaze to jerk back to hers. “Stay away from her,” she hisses, in sort of a teasing way, but there is seriousness there as well.

I look at Alex in surprise. “Are you seriously going to let your woman abuse me like this?”

He shrugs nonchalantly. “Hey man…she’s the boss.”

I give him a mock glare. “You’re so whipped.”

He just gives me a cheesy grin as he pulls Sutton in tight to him and nuzzles the top of her head. “Happily.”

“I’m serious,” Sutton says, her voice now warm and her eyes slightly apologetic about the hammer she’s laying down on me. “She’s got a lot on her plate right now and doesn’t need your type of complication.”

Well, hell…that makes me feel like shit. I start to ask what exactly Olivia has on her plate that can’t be made better by some fucking amazing sex, but then Olivia is stepping back up to our circle. Looking directly at Sutton, she says, “I was able to get that early-morning appointment, so I’m going to have to head out.”

Sutton gives her a tiny smile and some type of understanding passes between them. Olivia then turns to me and holds her hand out. “It was great meeting you, Garrett. I love how you made me laugh.”

I reach out almost stupidly to take her hand, and I relish briefly its warm softness as she says goodbye. “It was nice meeting you too.”

“Come on,” Sutton says as she steps forward and drapes her arm companionably around Olivia’s shoulders. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

I watch as the two cousins walk back up toward the house, their heads bent in toward each other as Sutton squeezes Olivia gently. Then they’re gone and my mind drifts back to the dirty joke I wanted to tell Alex.

Chapter 2
Olivia

My mind was all muddled as the call I had just received caused both anxiety and relief to flood through me. I made my excuses to leave the party, not because I needed to get an early start in the morning, but because I suddenly felt out of my element…standing around, making flirty small talk, and acting like nothing was wrong in my world.

The phone call was a brutal reminder that
everything
is wrong in my world.

So I gave Sutton a long hug goodbye, tried to avert my gaze from her worried eyes, and drove off. I didn’t have any intention of going home and instead headed my car toward Fleurish, because even though the shop had closed more than half an hour ago, I knew Stevie would be there, working to get a head start on the next day’s orders. I needed to talk to him, and besides, there was nothing that made me feel more peaceful than immersing myself in creating a beautiful flower arrangement.

Fleurish is in a trendy little area of Chapel Hill, tucked between an upscale women’s boutique and a Vietnamese bistro. My boss, Stevie Magliano, who also happens to be my best friend, opened Fleurish almost ten years ago, and it’s one of the most popular floral shops in the area. I parallel-park my car right out in front of the shop, with its bright purple walls and distressed wooden sign above the door that bears the name of the shop with a brass fleur-de-lis in the corner. The lights are off, but I can see a glow from the back design area as I walk up to the glass front door and peer in.

After unlocking the door and swinging it open, I immediately call out so as not to freak Stevie out over my sudden presence.

“It’s just me,” I yell, as I quickly turn to punch in the code to deactivate the alarm.

“I’m back here,” he calls out, and duh, of course, I knew he was back there.

Captain Obvious.

Stevie is all kinds of silly, but he is about the most awesome person in the world. He’s of Italian heritage, but the only acknowledgment he gives to his roots is some weird nod to
The Sopranos
whereby he wears big, chunky gold jewelry and calls me
paisano
sometimes. Past that, he’s one hundred percent certifiably and flamboyantly gay. Stevie wears his hair in long spikes all over his head, bleached platinum blond, but with the tips done in a brilliant hot pink. Or orange. Or blue. Depending on his mood. His fingernails are painted with glitter polish and he glues tiny rhinestone designs at the corners of his eyes. I relock the door from the inside and reset the alarm, making my way through the front of the store that is filled with spectacular displays of silk floral arrangements and novelty items. One entire wall houses a row of floor-to-ceiling glass coolers that contain dozens of premade fresh arrangements.

The back design area is partitioned off with a wall that runs behind the checkout counter but holds a large glass window, so we can see out to the store area if we are in the back working on arrangements. I see Stevie in there, fluffing up a large basket of peonies, alstroemeria, and Asiatic lilies. As always, his work is artistically beautiful.

“Hey,” I say as I set my purse and keys down on the back counter.

Stevie lifts his head and gives me a wink. “What are you doing here, kiddo?”

I snicker…that Stevie would call me “kiddo.” He’s a grand total of five years older than I, but at thirty, he does seem a lot wiser to the world, and I lean on him far more than I have a right to. I’ve been working for him at Fleurish for almost six years now, starting during my junior year in college at the University of North Carolina. When I graduated with a degree in business, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, so my part-time job to make some extra cash turned into a full-time career at Stevie’s little shop. My degree doesn’t gather dust, though, because while my main duty is floral design, Stevie has had me step in to help with other aspects of the business, such as inventory, bookkeeping, and marketing.

It’s a peaceful existence for me. I make enough money to rent a cute little apartment here in Chapel Hill and indulge my obsession with designer shoes. Past that…my life is pretty simple. I come to work, I go home. Every once in a while, I’ll go out with Stevie when he wants to bring me to some crazy, awesome drag queen show or I’ll go over to Uncle Jim and Aunt Penny’s house to hang out with them for a family dinner or sometimes I’ll go out for a glass of wine with Sutton. But otherwise…my life is without complications or relationships outside of my family and Stevie. Quiet and mellow would describe my existence.

Or…at least it did.

Now I think it’s getting ready to be all kinds of crazy, scary.

“Just restless,” I finally answer his question as I take in his neon-yellow tank top, white denim short shorts that are a little too tight in my opinion, and black Converse high-tops. “Thought I’d come help you a bit tonight.”

“Dive in, girlfriend,” he says as he removes a large peony and replaces the hole with a handful of alstroemeria, stepping back to give the arrangement a critical eye.

I walk over to the computer that sits on a desk on the eastern wall, and with a few taps of my finger I pull up the next order in line. It’s a fresh arrangement order from one of our long-standing customers who is about the sweetest thing ever. She’s been ordering a weekly vase from us for as long as I have been working here.

I stock up on everything I need from the cooler, laying the flowers and greenery out on the design table next to Stevie. He continues picking at the arrangement he’s working on as I grab a cobalt-blue ceramic pot from the supply shelf and a piece of dry foam block. Taking my items over to the large, industrial-size sink, I soak the foam under the faucet and use a small paring knife to cut it down to size to fit in the bottom of the pot, then pour a little water in behind it. Carrying it over to the design table, I take a seat on one of the stools and get to work.

I pick up a handful of mokara orchids and tuck them one by one into the foam base, building my framework first before I start adding some of the greenery. I add in some blue hydrangeas and lavender roses, but the orchids add a touch of delicate softness to the massive arrangement I’m creating.

“That’s stunning. Kind of like me,” Stevie quips with a huge smile as he reviews my work. With an overly dramatic voice, he says, “Miss Conyers is so going to love that arrangement.”

I give a quiet nod and tuck a few more orchids down into the foam base. “I hope so. She deserves something pretty she can smile over.”

Miss Conyers has been battling Lou Gehrig’s disease for the past two years and her health has been failing fast. She told me just a few weeks ago when she stopped by that the flowers make her smile and remember all the beautiful things about this life she lives.

Stevie’s smile goes flat and his eyes turn sympathetic. Walking up to me, he leans down and plants a kiss on the top of my head. “You doing okay?”

I shrug and place the last orchid in the vase before giving it a spin so I can check it out from all angles and make sure there are no holes that need to be filled in. “Just musing about my life.”

“And what a spectacular life you have now, and will have long into the future,” he says with a bright smile and a squeeze to my shoulder.

“You don’t know that,” I say flatly.

Stevie’s eyes fill with tears, and then he wraps his arms around me. Tucking his chin on my shoulder, he whispers. “I do know that. There’s simply no other option.”

“I’m scared,” I admit to him in a whisper, and his arms squeeze me tighter.

I’m scared because I found out two days ago that I have cancer.

Follicular B-cell lymphoma, to be exact.

“The oncologist’s office just called me a little bit ago,” I tell Stevie in a soft voice as I continue to stare at the arrangement in front of me. “I have an appointment at seven o’clock tomorrow. He apparently rearranged his schedule to get me in.”

“I’ll go with you,” Stevie says as he tightens his embrace. “You need someone with you to listen to everything he’s going to tell you. You’ll probably only absorb half of the information.”

“Thanks,” I say with true gratitude as I pick up the finished arrangement and walk it back to the holding cooler for deliveries. “But Sutton said she’d go with me.”

He nods in understanding and releases his hold on me. “Good. At least one of us needs to be with you at each appointment.”

It’s surreal to me that just three days ago, I never even knew what an oncologist was. Never heard the term before. As I sat in my primary care doctor’s office and listened to him go over the results of the biopsy that was done on the lymph node in my neck, he had said, “We’ll need to get you in to an oncologist to start treatment.”

Despite the angry buzzing noise that had started in my ears when I first heard the word
cancer,
I did hear him say that, and I stupidly asked, “What’s an oncologist?”

My doctor gave me an indulgent smile and said, “That will be your cancer doctor. He or she will direct and perform any nonsurgical treatment you need.”

So I sat in my doctor’s office and started contemplating all kinds of stupid stuff. I watched his mouth opening and closing with words that I seemed not to be able to hear after that, and all I could think about was who would help Stevie out at Fleurish when I died.

Practically a zombie, I drove straight to the shop because I needed my bestie at that moment. Stevie was behind the counter, going over receipts, and his head popped up as the little brass bell above the door tinkled when I opened it. He took one look at me and came flying around the counter. “What’s wrong?” he practically screeched.

“I have cancer,” I told him, my voice wobbly and foreign-sounding.

Then I collapsed into a puddle of snotty tears, right on the floor. Stevie immediately jumped into action, throwing the
CLOSED
sign on the door and locking it. He whipped his iPhone out and called Sutton. I could hear him murmuring urgently to her for a few minutes, and then he was sitting on the floor with me and hugging me tight while I cried.

Sutton arrived in thirty minutes flat, which meant she had to have been breaking the sound barrier on the highway. By then Stevie had me off the floor and had brought me back into his office and gently lowered me into his big, cushy chair behind his desk, then promptly plied me with hot herbal tea.

I recounted to them as best I could what I had been told so far, which was practically nothing. Stevie and Sutton were amazing…going above and beyond to bolster my confidence and reinvigorate my strength. Not a one of us knew what the future held for me, because we were sorely lacking in information at that point, but by the time they got done with me two hours later, I was convinced that I was going to whip this cancer’s ass straight into the depths of hell.

And for the next few days, I tried to push this ominous news to the back of my mind and not obsess too much about it. Which was practically impossible. Sutton even invited me over to the Cold Fury party, and whereas I’m usually content to stay at home and immerse myself in a good book, for some reason I felt the urgent need to get out and do something. To prove to myself that I still had a whole lot of living to do.

So I met Sutton and Alex over at the coach’s house in North Raleigh, and for the brief time I was there I had a lot of fun. Granted, my time was short, and granted, the fun that was had was in sparring verbally and flirting with Garrett Samuelson, but fun all the same.

Not just fun. Scintillating banter. Thrilling flirtation.

Damn, but Garrett is absolutely and devastatingly gorgeous. Of course, I’d heard enough about him from Sutton and Alex to know that he was not someone you gave your heart to, but I couldn’t deny the animal magnetism that threatened to pull me in. Even though I repeatedly denied his advances, every time my mouth opened up to say “No,” my body was screaming at me to say “Yes.” My brain was also chiming in, telling me that I needed to live life to the fullest…while I still had time, and to take advantage of a supremely attractive man wanting to have some mind-blowing sex.

Still, my common sense prevailed, but I’m not sure how much longer it would have had the fortitude to hold out. Had Sutton not come up and practically chased Garrett away from me, I have a feeling I would have capitulated, because my mind was all kinds of fucked up and twisted over the terrible thoughts that kept circulating through me.

But then I got the phone call from the oncologist’s office, offering me an early-morning appointment for the next day, and the reality of my world came crashing back down around me again. While I didn’t necessarily have to leave because it was late, I suddenly didn’t feel like being social anymore, and these bright, vibrant people surrounding me were a painful reminder of all I stood to lose.

“So, how was the party?” Stevie asks as he pulls out a large foam block circle mounted to a wire frame. He’s obviously going to work on a funeral arrangement, and I’m glad he took that order. I’m not as good at them as he is, as they require precision and balance. I do much better with the free-flowing types of arrangements.

“It was good,” I tell him, smiling internally over my conversation with Garrett.

“What?” Stevie exclaims. “What’s that look on your face?”

I blink at him in surprise as I wipe down the table so I can prepare to work on the next arrangement. “What look?”

“That little secretive, maybe even a little bit sensual, look on your face.”

“You’re crazy. Batshit crazy, in fact,” I scoff at him, even as my cheeks heat a little.

“Oh, hell, no,” Stevie says as he pushes the foam block farther back on the table before lunging at me. Grabbing my hands in his, he pulls me back over to my stool and pushes me down onto it. He then hops on the other stool across from me, crosses one leg over the other, and clasps his hands together. Looking at me expectantly, he says, “Dish. You have something juicy to tell, and you better spill every bit of it to me.”

I grin. His mood for some scintillating gossip excites me and expels all my troubles out of my head momentarily. I’ll take the reprieve.

BOOK: Garrett
10.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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