Authors: Vivienne Savage
“I have not eaten a human in years,” Saul insisted.
“Try to refrain from it this afternoon, even if my cousin Jimmy bothers the hell out of you.”
Her reservations all faded into obscurity the moment Chloe spotted her father at the grill. He gripped a cane in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other, and she might have successfully crossed the park grounds unseen if her Aunt Susie hadn’t blown her cover.
“Chloe! Sam, Sam, look, she made it after all!” Her father turned to greet her, prompted by the energetic wave from her aunt.
“Daddy, I missed you!” Chloe ran to her father and threw her arms around his neck.
Saul caught up to her as the embrace ended, arriving just in time to fall under her father’s scrutiny.
“Daddy, this is Saul.”
“I am honored to meet you, Mr. Ellis.” Saul shook her father’s hand.
“Call me Sam. It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Saul. Thanks for convincing Chloe to attend the reunion. This would have been the third that she’s missed in four years.”
Saul glanced at her and raised one skeptical blond brow. “Her tenaciousness will not allow her to admit that she would have mourned the missed opportunity this time.”
“You know her well.”
Sam ignored her in favor of waving a hand toward the nearest picnic table. “Come on now. If you’re going to stick around for a while in Chloe’s life, I may as well get to know you.”
“Just like that?” Chloe had expected resistance, or at least a varying degree of the cold shoulder. From the moment her dad first came in contact with Freddy, the two loathed each other. She should have taken that as the first clue to dump him and never look back.
“Yeah. You can go.”
“Huh?” Chloe asked.
“You can go,” Sam repeated, dismissing her. “How can I talk to the young man if you’re going to hover?”
Saul provided no help whatsoever. Instead, he grinned and shooed until she gravitated toward the drink station where an enormous barrel-shaped ice cooler held her Aunt Judy’s special cherry limeade.
The feeding frenzy began as anticipated once Saul and Chloe separated. While she allowed him the chance to bond with her father, curious gazes fastened on Saul and observed his every step. One of her cousins approached with a pie under the guise of offering slices to her dad and the new arrival.
“Chloe! You made it!”
Chloe spun on her heels to face the fast approaching woman. Her father’s new girlfriend drew her into an enthusiastic embrace. “Hi, Annette. Nice to finally meet you in person after all of these Skype calls.”
“Sam was worried you wouldn’t come after all.” The woman was only a handful of years older than Chloe herself, yet genuinely attracted to her dad. If not for Annette’s loyalty, Chloe would have had to take off work to help him recuperate from his hip replacement. “I’m so glad that you changed your mind,” Annette said.
“Saul wouldn’t let me back out of it this year.” Chloe laughed and stole a glance toward the barbecue pit. The two men sat opposite one another, each holding a cold bottle of beer. If she strained to listen, a hint of Saul’s hearty belly laugh reached her ears despite the distance.
“Good man there,” Annette answered. She nudged her sunglasses to the top of her head, revealing one blue and one brown eye. “Come sit with me. I’ve been waiting weeks to get to meet Sam’s daughter, and you’re finally here.”
“Weeks to meet me?”
“I’ve heard so much about you from Sam that I feel as if I already know you,” Annette admitted.
They settled at a table away from the rest of the boisterous group. Giggling children played and frolicked while a game of soccer traveled up and down the green field. It turned out that Annette had anticipated Chloe’s disdain due to her and Sam’s differing ages.
So they chatted and became reacquainted beyond a first name basis. Annette owned the small bakery across from Sam’s favorite diner, where he took supper every evening alone.
“You both sound like a romance novel,” Chloe commented, laughing.
“I guess we do. I don’t know what made me do it, but he looked so sad sitting there that I had to take him a pie.” Annette craned her neck, keeping Saul and Sam within her sight. “They seem to be getting along well. So, how’d you meet him?”
“In a cave, of all places.”
While talking love, romance, and men, Chloe and Annette shared the remainder of a pecan pie left on the picnic table.
“Your dad won’t ever admit it, but he’s been worried about you. Misses you.” Annette smiled and refilled both of their glasses. She stole another look at Chloe’s father, allowing her pensive expression to linger a few seconds longer.
I’ve been away too long.
“Now that I’m moving to Los Angeles, I’ll be closer for visits at least. It wasn’t so bad a drive, even if Saul slept the last half of the trip.” The memory of his serene features coaxed a smile to Chloe’s face.
Annette’s brows furrowed above her mismatched eyes. “Are you sure about this whole moving thing? I mean, it all seems so fast. Do you know enough about him?”
“Saul? He’s amazing, Annette. Honest. I wouldn’t have brought him to meet you guys if he wasn’t 100% better than Freddy. I know Dad’s probably talked your ear off about him.”
“Sam had a lot of things to say about your boyfriends, but I told him it wasn’t up to him to judge. To, you know, give this new guy a fair chance. Not that he’ll listen to me either way.” Despite her words, Annette appeared unconvinced, and her eyes returned to the two conversing men. “So tell me about him then. Is he a model?” she asked.
She’s barely any older than I am and she’s giving me the third degree about my boyfriend? What the hell is this?
Chloe opened her mouth to blurt a rude retort, but the words died on her tongue.
Her own mother wouldn’t have given a damn, and for just one second, it was nice that someone did. According to her father, Annette was as loving and kind as they came.
“No, why?” Cautious, Chloe feigned ignorance. She sipped her lemonade and stole a glance at Saul and her father. They appeared to get along without her present. Every time she checked on them, one or both of the guys were laughing.
“He’s drop-dead gorgeous, that’s why,” her cousin Sarah spoke up in passing. “No wonder you weren’t going to show up. If I had a man that hot I wouldn’t trust him around you bitches either.”
Chloe choked on her drink. “That has nothing to do with it.”
“Hey Chloe, want a beer?”
“Nah, I’m good. I’ve been pretty dehydrated lately so right now this lemonade is like ambrosia.”
If I tell Uncle Dan before Dad, he’ll never let me forget it,
she thought. Her uncle was the family’s gossip. If a secret touched his ears, he was bound to share it to any relative willing to listen. If none were available, he phoned them.
“So what does this mystery man do besides charm everyone with his toothpaste commercial smile?” Annette asked. Her warm smile put Chloe at ease until Sarah’s rabid interest placed her right beside them.
“I know this is practically hurling chum into the water, but he’s the CEO of a movie studio in LA,” Chloe said dryly. “He inherited it from his grandfather or something.” She waved her hand and feigned boredom with the discussion.
“Tell me you’re joking,” Sarah said.
“Does he have a brother?”
“No, but he has a butler,” Chloe replied.
After a moment of hesitation, Sarah asked, “Is the butler hot too?”
“I know. Marcy was bummed too.”
Annette interrupted, “Oh look. Maggie’s dragging your boyfriend away to the playground. Five bucks says he returns covered in sticky handprints because she leaves him with her brats and goes to smoke and have a few margaritas.”
Chloe crinkled her nose. “He’s not her personal babysitter. Should I save him?” On one hand, she felt pity for Saul, but on the other, it made excellent practice for when her little one arrived. For a terrifying nightmare creature of myth and legend, he displayed kindness toward her young relatives above and beyond what some humans were capable.
“Hell no. Let them have fun with him a little. You know their dad doesn’t give a damn about them. He’s probably the first man to pick Mikey up in weeks,” Sarah said while shaking her head. She and Maggie were sisters and only a couple years apart. While one remained childless, the other had birthed four children within six years to a deadbeat.
Saul’s relaxed posture indicated that the children hadn’t upset him yet. After deciding to keep tabs, she nodded in agreement. “You’re right. I’m going to go talk to Dad some now and see what he thinks about my guy.”
While Saul was occupied with her younger second cousins, she maneuvered beside her father at the grill and helped him to turn the meat. A delicious aroma wafted toward her nose. Beer bratwurst and smoked cheddar and mushroom filled burgers.
“Daddy, if you’re done here for now, can we talk for a few?”
Ever the observant father, Sam didn’t waste a moment once they distanced themselves from the reunion and left earshot. “What’s on your mind? I knew something was wrong from the moment you two arrived.”
Chloe gauged the distance again between them and the rest of the party. She sighed. “I’m pregnant,” she blurted without further suspense.
“I…” Sam stared at her, completely at a loss. “That was fast,” he commented lamely. As far as her dad knew, she’d only broken up recently with Freddy.
“Well…” Ever since childhood, Chloe had never been able to successfully lie to her father. “It’s not Saul’s baby, but he wants to help me,” she admitted.
“Oh, sweetheart.” Her father sighed and hugged her close. “Is it that asshole gym trainer’s?”
“Yeah,” she replied in a shaky breath. “He doesn’t know, and I don’t think I’m going to tell him.”
Her father was quiet for a moment, wearing an indecisive expression on his face. “Now, Chloe, don’t you think he deserves to know?”
“No, Daddy, not really. Freddy wouldn’t be any better than Mom was to me. I don’t want him involved in my life at all.”
“Yeah… yeah. No child deserves that.” Sam leaned back. “You know that I’ll support whatever you decide. Now, what is this about moving to California? Saul says that you’re going to take over as executive assistant at his company. Sweetheart, I’m impressed.”
Chloe sighed. “We discussed that I
take over as executive assistant. I don’t want to steal someone’s job.”
“According to Saul, he’s creating the position just for you. Honestly, Chloe? Go for it.” As she leaned back to scrutinize her father through narrowed eyes, Sam laughed at her. “I know, I like one of your boyfriends for once, and I’m excited to see this movie studio he’s invited Annette and me to visit. Now tell me about Saul.”
“You just talked to him for an hour, Daddy.”
“I want to hear more about him from
It didn’t take long to summarize her meeting, whirlwind romance with Saul, their separation, reunion, and recent vacation in Texas. By the time she reached the end, her dad had begun to nod his head in approval.
“You found yourself a good man there, Chloe. Damned shame he didn’t beat Freddy’s ass. I would have.”
“With your cane?” she teased him.
“I’d give him a well-deserved whoopin’.” Her father wisely steered the conversation to a sweeter topic: the child itself. “So when’s my grandbaby due? When do I get to hold him? Or her?”
Chloe toed the ground nervously. “I haven’t gone to the doctor yet. Sort of just found out in Texas, and only told Saul… yesterday. But he’s okay with it. I kind of thought I’d take it one step at a time, you know?”
“I know, I know,” Chloe sighed. A first pregnancy should have been giddily reported to her mother. Her mom should have chastised her for failing to seek care and whisked her off the next day on a journey to purchase maternity clothes, stretchy pants, and little dresses with bow-tied ribbons beneath her tits.
But Chloe’s mother had been a self-absorbed drug addict who thrived on sucking the life out of others. Nearly a decade had eclipsed between their last meeting in person, and then two years ago, Chloe found out her mother overdosed on coke.
“Tell me, Daddy, what do you really think about Saul?”
“I think he’s great. He’s the first person I’ve met from Iceland, but his parents raised a fine young man. Have you met them?”
Chloe shook her head. “His father died when he was a child, and his mother… travels a lot. The adventuring sort. She wouldn’t have cell phone reception wherever she is.”
According to Saul, his mother had hibernated since the loss of her mate, and there was a high possibility that she wouldn’t awaken during Chloe’s lifetime at all.
“Sounds like a woman I’d like to meet.”
Chloe swatted him. “You have Annette.”