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Authors: Gretchen Galway

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This Changes Everything

BOOK: This Changes Everything
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This Changes Everything
Gretchen Galway
Eton Field

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

Copyright © 2015 by Gretchen Galway

Eton Field, Publisher

www.gretchengalway.com

Cover Design: Gretchen Galway

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, no part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the Author.

All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

ISBN (eBook): 978-1-939872-11-1

v.20151209

From the Back Cover

T
here's more
than one way to ruin a beautiful friendship.

Tech entrepreneur Sly has a portfolio of lucrative San Francisco Bay Area start-ups, but while his financial options are unlimited, his romantic options are anything but. Bored with the same old, same old, he finds himself spending more and more time with Cleo, his former piano teacher and current pizza-eating, binge-TV-watching partner.

Already divorced at only twenty-nine, Cleo's not looking for love. Certainly not with a gorgeous workaholic who usually dates high-powered, MBA-toting supermodels. Although, come to think of it, Sly hasn't dated anyone in a long time. And Cleo isn’t the only one to notice he seems lonely…

An unexpected road trip to Las Vegas forces Cleo to confront her past while Sly slams into his own demons and realizes he's his own worst enemy. What happens when they cross the line? And then move it, jump over it, trample it, zigzag across it, and forget where the line was in the first place?

1


I
t’s a poodledoodle
,” the little girl said, kicking Sylvester Minguez in the shins.

The sudden pain knocked the smile off Sly’s face. He’d been thinking how cute the girl was, a five-year-old holding the leash of a curly brown mop of a dog that was as tall as she was. “I beg your pardon,” he said, moving out of the range of her short legs. “I’ve never heard of a poodledoodle before.”

“It’s a new word,” the girl said. “It means he’s all poodle and nothing else.”

Sly scratched the dog behind one fluffy brown ear. “Good name.”

The girl gave him a look that was grudgingly apologetic. “My mom hates it when people call Charlie a labradoodle.”

Sly brushed off the dirt she’d left on his best pair of dark jeans. “Then I’m glad she isn’t around.” One little girl’s kick had been bad enough.

His uncle, fondly called Doctor Hugo at his decades-old veterinary clinic in El Cerrito, California, strode over from the front desk, took the leash, and escorted the girl and her poodledoodle to a man staring at his phone at the far end of the waiting room.

When Hugo returned to Sly, his eyebrows were raised in mock concern. “Will you need surgery?” Like Sly’s father, he had a square, handsome face with short black hair, caramel-colored skin, and brown eyes as sad as those of a hungry basset hound.

Sly smiled and handed his uncle the gift bag he’d brought. “Possibly an amputation. That was a hell of a kick.”

Hugo frowned at the bag. “What’s this?”

“It’s a birthday present.” Sly looked around the busy clinic, saw several people and their companion animals waiting, and patted his uncle on the shoulder. “You look busy. I won’t keep you.”

Hugo nodded at the bottle of Laphroaig, his favorite whiskey, inside the bag. “I would’ve forgotten it myself if your dad hadn’t called me first thing this morning.”

“Maybe you can get off early, enjoy yourself.”

Hugging the bottle under his arm, Hugo looked at his busy clinic. “I’m already enjoying myself. Nothing for me at home. You know that.”

Sly shook his head. “You need to get married again.”

“Me? You’re what, thirty-five? I thought you would’ve gotten married a long time ago.”

“I work too much for any woman to put up with me.” Sly’s own parents were proof of how sour a marriage could become when one or both of the participants were obsessed with a career. It was only fair to choose one or the other.

One of the vet techs behind the desk cleared her throat. Hugo patted the desk, waved at the group who was waiting, and gave Sly an apologetic shrug. “The Minguez men always have been workaholics. Sorry Sly, but I really have to get back—”

At that moment the front door burst open to a distraught woman holding a tiny dog. Both she and the animal were covered with blood.

“Help, Dr. Hugo,” the woman gasped. “It’s Luna. Luna’s been run over.”

The atmosphere in the clinic changed instantly. The technicians jumped out of their chairs, the other people and their pets stiffened with alarm, and Hugo strode over in a flash and put his arm around the woman, guiding her around the desk to the back.

“Easy, Trixie. Let’s not move her any more than we have to,” he said.

In those first few seconds, Sly had been too distracted by the sight of all that blood to recognize Trixie Johnson. Now his stomach took another lurch. Trixie was the mother of one of his best friends and had fostered dozens of rescue dogs over the years, although now only had a few. She loved her dogs almost as much as she loved her children, and that was saying something.

He followed them into the back, driven to help if he could. “Trixie, it’s me, Sylly.” He used his nickname—it sounded like “silly”—one that had amused him more when he was twenty-five than in recent years.

“She got away from me,” Trixie was saying, not looking at him. “It’s all my fault. Doctor Hugo told me to get a harness or a martingale so she couldn’t wiggle out of the collar, but I didn’t listen. She knew I was going to clip her nails when we got home, and she hates the clippers. Oh boy, does she hate the clippers.” Her shoulders trembled.

Gently, his uncle examined the dog in Trixie’s arms while a nurse and a technician hovered behind him. “We have to get her into the back, Trixie. Can you walk with me? I don’t want to pick her up just to put her down again.”

Trixie nodded and walked with them through another doorway. Sly waited behind and took out his phone to call Mark, his friend and Trixie’s son, before remembering that he was out of town. Putting the phone back in his pocket, he paced around the small room, hoping for the best but dismayed by the memory of all that blood. It was a very little dog. His uncle would probably have to put it out of its misery. Poor Trixie. Damn unfair, life was.

His friend Cleo was expecting him, but he couldn’t leave Trixie now. He sent her a quick text message and returned to pacing.

In a few minutes, the door opened. A young technician led Trixie, looking dazed but calm, into the room, before disappearing again.

Trixie walked over to the sink in the corner and began washing her hands very slowly. She went still, staring down into the pink water, her lip trembling. Sly walked over and put an arm around her.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.

Trixie leaned against him for a moment, then drew away and went back to washing up more vigorously, squirting a mountain of liquid soap into her palm and sudsing up her forearms. “Don’t be sorry. Hugo says she’ll pull through. She’s a fighter like her sister.”

“That’s great.” He squeezed her shoulder. “What a relief.”

“I’m all right now. There was a lot of blood, but it’s not as bad as it looks. It was just the shock.”

“Luna, her name is?”

Trixie nodded. “Luna.”

He handed her a paper towel.

“There’s nothing I can do.” Roughly, she dried her hands and forearms with the towel. “They’re doing everything they can.” There was still a faint quiver in her voice.

“Let me bring you home. I’ll make sure Hugo calls you as soon as they know how she’s doing.”

“I hate to leave her here all alone.” She turned away and dabbed at her cheeks with the towel.

“She won’t be alone. Hugo’s here. And all the animal-loving minions he’s hired are running around the place.”

“But then my car will be here and I won’t be able to come back in the morning.”

“I’ll give you a ride.”

“You have to go to work. You’re always working. Even worse than my own children.”

“Not anymore,” Sly said. “I quit this morning.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“You don’t have any new business you’re starting up to take its place?”

“Not yet,” he said. The thought of being idle and directionless terrified him. But maybe it would be good for him.

Trixie threw away the paper towel and looked down at her stained sweatshirt. She sighed. “All right. I’ll take you up on that. I need to feed Zeus and Europa. They’ll sense what’s going on, and I don’t want them to worry.”

That settled, he led her out to his Audi on a side street behind the clinic and opened the door for her.

“No, you don’t want me in that fancy car with Luna’s guts all over me—”

He gave her a gentle push, and in several minutes they were heading south through Berkeley to her house in the hills of Oakland.

“Is there anyone I can call for you?” he asked. “I know Mark and Rose are out of town, but maybe—”

“I’ll be fine. It’s Luna I’m worried about. But your uncle is a wonderful vet. Expensive, but they’re all like that now, aren’t they?”

He was trying to think of a polite way of offering to pay for Luna’s care when a call came through on his car’s speakers.

“Hi, Sly,” Cleo said cheerfully. “What’s your ETA?”

“Less than an hour.” He hadn’t explained in his text why he was going to be late, just that something had come up at his uncle’s. “I’m in the car.”

“With a hot chick, right?” Cleo laughed that unexpectedly throaty, sexy laugh of hers, and he knew she suspected exactly that and was trying to embarrass him.

“Hello,” Trixie called out. “I’m a chick but not very hot. At least, not at the moment. My dog just got run over by a bicycle.”

Cleo’s swift inhalation of breath made the speakers crackle. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” She fell silent, no doubt wondering whom the hell she was talking to.

“Can I call you back?” Sly asked. “I’m bringing Trixie home. She’s up in the hills.”

“Just come over whenever you’re done. No hurry,” Cleo said, then raised her voice. “Sorry about your dog.”

“Thanks,” Trixie said. After Sly hit the hang up button on the steering wheel, she said, “I’m so glad you’ve found someone. She sounds wonderful.”

“Oh, that’s just Cleo. A friend.”

“Oh?” The word spanned an octave and expressed deep skepticism.

He chuckled. “Take it easy. I know how you like to set people up.”

“She called you Sly. Not Sylly.”

“Yeah, she insisted on that when we met.”

“Sly is much sexier.”

He snorted. “Cleo’s not like that.”

“Not like what?”

“You know what I mean. We’re friends. Great friends. We talk to each other, hang out, just relax.”

“And what did you do with your girlfriends?” Trixie asked. “When you weren’t having sex? Or were you always going at it?”

Another laugh tumbled out of him. Trixie was one of the most plainspoken people he’d ever met. “What’s the fastest way to your house from here, do you think?”

She sighed. “Sorry. I was trying to distract myself. Do you think your uncle would’ve called me if something serious had happened?”

“Absolutely. Right away.”

Silence settled between them. He felt guilty for not staying on the topic that had brought her a little relief from worrying about the dog, but he knew that if she made a project out of his love life, he’d be in trouble. Hitched within the week, probably. All three of her children had settled down recently, and since Chihuahuas didn’t date, she needed fresh victims for her schemes.

“What does she do?” Trixie asked. “Your
friend
.”

“She’s a musician.”

“Like a rock star?”

He shot her a smile as he turned left on a steep street up into the hills. “Like a piano teacher.”

Trixie’s face melted into ecstatic approval. “Really? Oh, she sounds so nice.”

“She’s not. She’s a pain in the ass.” He cleared his throat. “Pardon my French.”

“Cleo the piano teacher,” she said thoughtfully. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

Warning bells ringing, Sly was careful to say nothing more about Cleo for the remainder of the journey. When they reached the house, Trixie became preoccupied with the other dogs waiting for her and didn’t say another word about Cleo except that Sly should hurry along and see her.

“Are you sure I can’t call anyone for you?” he asked, lingering at the front door.

Hugging two tiny dogs up to her chin, one of them remarkably ugly, she said, “No, I can do that myself. But I will hold you to that ride in the morning if that’s all right.”

“More than all right.” He took a business card—the job title was now obsolete, but the phone number was good—out of his wallet and handed it to her. “Call me anytime.”

She took the card and studied it. “Because you won’t be worn out from just being with a friend.”

Smiling, he shook his head. “I’m never worn out.”

The door was already closing between them, but she stopped it and peeked out at him. “Don’t be so sure about that, Sly. Oh well, thanks again.” The door banged shut.

He wondered what she meant. You thought you knew with Trixie, and then you learned you were about half-right. Half-right and sideways, inside out, or in reverse. You just didn’t know how exactly until it was too late.

When he got back in the car, he closed his eyes, leaned back on the headrest, and yawned. Maybe he was worn out. He wasn’t as young as he used to be.

With that depressing thought, he started the car and headed for Cleo’s. Good old Cleo. There was no sideways or inside out with
her
.

BOOK: This Changes Everything
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