by Jaime Clevenger
When a little rest and relaxation turns into something more…
Julia Maguire can’t wait to spend two weeks in Hawaii with her best friends. She’s been dreaming about this trip for years and all she wants is to lay on a sandy beach with an icy cocktail in her hand. But those vacation goals change the moment she meets Reed Baxter.
Reed is a busy doctor with family demands. She’s in Hawaii to let go, not find love, and she’s not interested in any commitment. Adding a little heat to the vacation seems like a good idea as long as there aren’t expectations for anything more.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Hawaii is one of my favorite places on earth. Before kids, my wife and I were lucky enough to travel there often but kids change things and most vacations are now spent visiting relatives.
Last year we did manage a trip to Hawaii with the kids and that was when I realized how different nearly every experience is as a parent. Hawaii still is paradise, don’t get me wrong, but with kids you slow down and enjoy the sunsets, splash in the waves and build sand castles more. With this slower pace, I found myself wanting to read island romances as I kicked back on the beach. Thus began a little daydreaming and before long I had an entire plot and too many characters to contain in one book.
Three Reasons To Say Yes begins a series of romances all set in island locations. The kid aspect certainly threw a few curveballs in this particular romance but to me Julia and Reed’s story is more about growing out of your comfort zone. Julia has issues about sex that she worries might be insurmountable and Reed has reservations about love in general. Opening your heart isn’t easy and Three Reasons to Say Yes is about that process. I hope you enjoy this mini vacation to paradise!"—Ann Roberts
Calm, cool, collected. Julia Maguire repeated the mantra as she gripped the armrests of her window seat. The giggling kid in the row behind her had started up on another round of kicks. If she was trying out for a team, she was well on her way to making captain, but a soccer star wasn’t what Julia needed at the moment. The turbulence had her stomach in knots and her boss’s voice was on a loop in her head—“You’re going to Hawaii now?”
“You okay?” Mo asked.
“Of course. I’m on my way to Hawaii.” Calm and cool.
Mo peeked between the seats at the row behind them and then looked back at Julia. “Kate and I have a bet going. She’s giving you five minutes before you lose it and make that preschooler cry. I told her you love kids.”
“Why’d you tell her that?”
“Everyone loves kids.”
Another kick thrust her seat forward and Julia shook her head. It wasn’t that she didn’t like kids. In fact, well-behaved children were cute in small doses. This kid, however, was not one of those.
“Why do people take kids to Hawaii anyway? Aren’t they supposed to go to Disneyland?”
“My parents took me and my brother to Maui when we were little…I loved it.” Mo paused, craning her head to sneak another look at the row behind them. “I know you’ve already made your mind up on this, but you should really take a look behind you. The kid’s adorable. You’d have a hard time being mad at her if you saw her. And as for her mom—”
“I’m about to lose my breakfast. If I turn around, it will only be to glue those soccer cleats to the floor,” Julia said.
“Suit yourself. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about this one.”
Julia rubbed her stomach, wishing she had a Tums to pop in her mouth. The last thing she was interested in was checking out a mom with an annoying kid. She tried to focus again on the mantra.
Calm, cool, collected…
The conversation with Val interrupted. Conversations with her boss were one of the reasons she’d started seeing a shrink. Between the looming meetings with the Okinadi group and their rollout of the software upgrades for Pacific Powerlink, she had no business going to Hawaii for two weeks. Val was right. But this was the first real vacation she’d taken in five years. And she’d promised Kate and Mo that she wouldn’t renege on the plans they’d made in college—one vacation with all three of them together before anyone got married.
Kate leaned forward in her aisle seat. “Jules, have you tried meditating? It can really help with nausea. Close your eyes and imagine a sunny beach lined with palm trees.”
“I’ll start us off,” Mo volunteered. She took one deep breath, exhaling with a hum, then turned to Julia and whispered, “It’s possible we’ll need Kate’s Xanax to get this right.”
“I’m wearing earplugs, but I can still hear you,” Kate said. “And I left the Xanax at home so watch out.”
Julia decided meditation was worth a shot. As Kate and Mo argued, she closed her eyes and inhaled. Her seat jerked forward again and the palm trees were instantly replaced with an image of a grinning kid and a soccer ball. She cursed under her breath.
Mo eyed her. “I don’t think you’re supposed to swear when you meditate.”
“I’m so done with this punk.”
“Should I get the glue ready?” Mo chuckled.
“One more kick…”
When the next kick landed, Julia slammed her tray table closed and unbuckled her seat belt. Before Mo could stop her, she’d stood up, nearly smashing into the overhead compartment, and spun around to lean over her seat and stare down a tiny gremlin in an abundance of pink frills. The kid was frozen, mid-kick. Her rainbow-striped sneakers flashed like mini disco lights.
Julia opened her mouth, one millisecond away from a scathing lecture about personal space and respect, when she spotted the woman in the seat next to the kid. Short dark brown hair, sharp jawline, lanky athletic build…and unmistakably butch. The trendy designer glasses made her look more smart than sexy, but it was a close call. Dusk-blue eyes caught Julia’s gaze. Well, damn.
Julia realized her mouth was hanging open. She closed it quickly and turned to the kid. As long as she didn’t look back at the mom, she could pretend that her cheeks weren’t burning up.
“Sweetie, my stomach’s upset with this bumpy plane ride. Do you think you can stop kicking my chair? It would really help.”
“Mom told me, but I forgot. Sorry.” The little girl glanced at the butch woman and then back at Julia. She kicked the side of the plane and pointed at the flashing lights along the front of her sneaker. “My shoes light up.”
“I can see that.” Clearly having light-up shoes exonerated her. “I bet those are fun to watch when you run around in the dark.”
“That’s why Mom got them for me. I’m scared of the dark.”
Julia couldn’t help but look over at the mom then. She was convinced the universe was playing a cruel joke. The most attractive butch she’d seen in ages had not one but two kids. A matching burst of pink was sound asleep in her lap. The two girls looked to be about the same age, but the kicker had curly dark brown hair while the napping one had blond braids.
“I fell asleep for a bit. I hope she hasn’t been kicking for long.” The mom turned to her daughter and started in on how she’d have to take away the shoes if she couldn’t be responsible for her feet.
Julia doubted a stern talk about foot responsibility would slow this kid down. She would have ripped the shoes off. Problem solved. She quickly scanned the nearby seats. No one else was obviously with this group and the mom wasn’t wearing a ring.
“But I can’t see in the dark without my shoes,” the kid was saying. Her eyes had started to water. Crocodile tears.
“It’s not dark in here, Bryn.” The mom sighed. “Look, you can keep the shoes on as long as you don’t kick her seat.”
The plane lurched through a patch of clouds and Julia grabbed her chair’s headrest. She swallowed, tasting bile.
“Are you going to throw up?” Bryn’s eyes widened.
“I don’t think so.” Although she wasn’t one for dramatic ploys, she finally had the kid’s attention and knew she should play it up. “But this turbulence on top of all that seat kicking…”
Turning to her mom, Bryn said, “I know what she needs.” She whispered something and the butch woman shook her head, but Bryn leaned forward to search her seatback pocket anyway. When she popped up again, she was holding a white paper vomit bag. “You can take mine in case you can’t find yours in time.”
Before Julia could stop her, Bryn had pressed the vomit bag into her hands. Julia stared at the bag, feeling the butch woman’s eyes on her. She was officially sunk. No one could pull off looking sexy with a vomit bag. The most she could do now was make sure the kicking stopped.
“There’s one problem.” Julia tugged open the vomit bag. She already regretted her next sentence. “I ate a big breakfast and this isn’t going to hold it all.”
Bryn glanced from Julia to her mom, her panic obvious. “What should we do?”
“Well, we don’t want her to overfill that bag. I think you better stop kicking.” The mom looked up at Julia and winked.
Julia dared a smile and the look she got in return made her heart leap to attention. Maybe she wasn’t sunk…Before she had time to process the buzz of feelings in her chest, Bryn covered her face with her hands and started making loud “ew” sounds. The mom tried to quiet Bryn as the sleeping kid in her lap stirred and Julia felt a pang of guilt. Ten minutes ago she’d cursed this stranger for not controlling her kid’s feet. It was obvious now that she had her hands full.
Suddenly Bryn said, “I know what you need—a candy cane!”
“Oh no, I don’t need any candy,” Julia said.
“But Mom says peppermint helps when your tummy hurts,” Bryn insisted, already pulling out a plastic bag full of mini candy canes and jelly beans that had been hidden under a sweatshirt. “She knows all about stuff like that because she’s a doctor. Basically she knows everything.”
“Basically.” The mom grinned. “I primed her on that line.”
Julia fought back the thought that this was her karmic retribution for always complaining about lesbians with kids. This woman was perfect. For someone.
“Bryn, how many jelly beans have you eaten? That bag was a lot fuller when I packed it.”
“I only ate the ones that rolled on the ground.”
“The bag just opened up and fell on the ground? Or you pulled it out of that zipped pocket?”
“This one’s not even broken!” Bryn said, ignoring her mom’s questions. “And it’s still wrapped. That’s lucky.” She held it up to Julia like a peace offering.
“As fair warning, those were in the kids’ Christmas stockings,” the woman said.
“But they still taste good.” Bryn inched the candy cane higher in the air.
Julia knew she wasn’t going to win if she tried fighting this. At least Christmas was only two months ago. She reached for the candy. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome!” Bryn’s dimpled smile was triumphant. She looked over at her mom and squeezed her shoulders up to her ears. Cute enough to get away with murder. And as for her mom…
Julia stopped her thoughts right there. She wasn’t interested in a mom. Even a sexy, smart, butch mom with amazing eyes and a sense of humor. Without chancing another look at the woman, she settled back in her seat, candy cane and vomit bag in hand.
Mo snickered and Julia waved the vomit bag. “Don’t even start.”
“What?” Mo pressed her lips together. “I was only going to say that you sure straightened that one out. Bet that kid never kicks anyone’s seat again.”
“And I’m sure her mom is happy for the parenting help. I hear it’s hard to keep those preschoolers in line,” Kate added, her grin unmistakable despite the magazine she was hiding behind.
Julia unwrapped the candy cane and licked the tip. She knew she shouldn’t care what the butch mom thought about her, but she did.
“So…” Mo drew out the word. “She’s your type, right?”
“I’m not interested.” If she said that aloud ten times maybe she’d believe it.
“I’m not buying it,” Mo said. “You’re still blushing.”
Of course she was interested. But even if the woman wasn’t a mom, it wouldn’t work between them.
When Julia didn’t answer, Mo pressed on. “Okay, fine. Let’s pretend you’re not interested. Is it because she’s a mom? Do moms have a certain look that you don’t like?”
“You and I both know most moms don’t look like her.”
“Meaning most moms aren’t butch,” Mo clarified. “Although that’s a very limited perspective and more gender normative than I would have expected from you.” She chuckled at Julia’s eye-roll. “Just tell me she’s your type so I can say I called it.”
“At least you made an impression, Jules,” Kate said unhelpfully. “I saw her when we were waiting to board and wondered if you were going to say anything. I thought maybe the kids turned you off.”
“Trust me, I would have said something if I’d noticed her.”
“She’s wearing sandals with socks. How could you not notice that?” Kate continued, “Plus she’s tall and nerdy. Mo’s right—exactly your type.”
“She’s a lot nerdy,” Mo agreed. “But she’s got the shy handsome thing going that Julia always likes.”
“Did you see her legs, Jules? Great calves.” Kate raised her eyebrows as if this would be the selling point. “I bet she’s a mountain biker.”
“I couldn’t see her calves. She’s sitting down. And, Kate, take out your earplugs. Half the plane doesn’t need to hear our conversation.” Julia silently hoped that at least one person on the plane was too distracted with her kids to have overheard anything.
“Hear what?” Mo turned halfway around in her seat so her voice would certainly carry to the back of the plane as she loudly continued, “That you like a woman who wears socks with her sandals?”
Mo continued, “Or is it that you’d like to rip them off? I bet she looks good naked. What do you think?”
“I think this is the last vacation I’m going on with you.” Julia wanted to melt into her seat.
“But you like her, right?”
“She can’t answer you, Mo. She’s too busy fantasizing about pulling off those mom socks.” Kate cracked a smile, pleased with herself. “Who knew sitting in economy could be so much fun. Going back to first class will be boring after this.”
“Welcome to our world, Kate.” Mo turned to Julia, “The thing is, I can totally imagine you dating a soccer mom.”
“You’d go to the games and be on the sidelines with a wagon full of juice boxes, yelling for the kids to kick the ball harder,” Kate added.
“I’m getting you guys back for this.”
“But what if she’s the one, Jules? Maybe this is fate.” Kate continued, “I could pass her a little note with your number. Or you could go to the bathroom and then when you’re coming back, I’ll get up to get something from the overhead and you’ll have to stop and chat.”
“Great. The straight girl’s giving me tips for picking up women.”
“You’re right—why trust the straight girl’s advice? You should listen to me instead.” Mo chuckled at Kate’s glare. “First step, hand her your number yourself. You don’t need a friend to do that. Second step, bend down and take off her socks.”
“I’m not that straight,” Kate argued.
“You’re engaged to a six-foot-two engineer who watches ESPN all day and you’ve never dated a woman,” Mo said. “The fact that you’re not that straight isn’t going to help our case here.”
“All I’m saying is that it’s been a long time since she’s been on a date. Just because I’m marrying Ethan doesn’t mean I can’t help her get a date.”
“And all I’m saying is that she should listen to someone who actually dates women.”
“Enough, you two.” Julia held up her hand. “I’m on vacation. I don’t want to think about dating.”
“Why not?” Kate and Mo asked simultaneously.
“You needed some time after Sheryl, but it’s been, what, six months?” Mo glanced to Kate for confirmation.
“Over a year. They broke up last January,” Kate said. “Unless there’s someone we don’t know about.”
“You know I’d tell you.” Julia sighed. Since her ex had dumped her, she hadn’t wanted to think about dating anyone again. But it wasn’t because of a broken heart. “I suck at dating.”
“Practice makes perfect,” Mo said.
Julia nearly argued that she needed more than practice. She needed a whole semester of classes. But then she’d have to admit to her friends that she was terrible in bed. That was the other reason she’d started seeing the shrink.
Mo continued, “I think you’d be happier if you started looking around a little—that’s all.”
“Can we go back to thinking about palm trees and sunny beaches?” She sucked on the candy cane, avoiding Kate’s and Mo’s gazes.
Kate sighed and closed her magazine. “Sounds good to me.” She pulled a black silk eye mask on, adjusted her neck pillow and then settled back in her seat. “Wake me when we’re in Hawaii.”
Julia avoided looking over at Mo, certain that she still wanted to talk, and instead stared out the window. Streaks of white passed below the wings and the distant blue ocean seemed cold and lonely. Maybe her friends were right. She could try dating again…
Her chair bumped forward and she overheard the whispered scold that followed. It took all her restraint to not peek between the seats. Another look at that butch mom was not what she needed. Finally she popped in her earbuds, picked out her favorite Pink song, and turned up the volume.
“I’m sweating already,” Mo complained, handing her suitcase over to the shuttle driver.
“Get used to it,” Julia said. “The weather forecast is in the eighties all week. Good riddance, Winter.”
Julia had pulled her thick black hair into a ponytail, stripped off her long-sleeve shirt and stowed her jacket in her carry-on bag. Now in a spaghetti strap tank top, sandals, and a loose skirt, she was decidedly comfortable. Her plan to wear next to nothing for the rest of the trip was looking good.
She climbed onto the shuttle and headed for the empty back row. After the long flight, the thought of stretching out on the bench was tempting. Mo took the seat in the front row next to Kate, who was already applying sunscreen.
“Don’t you think it’s a little early for sunscreen? We’ve got an hour drive to the resort,” Mo said.
“I burn in a walk across a parking lot,” Kate said. “Knowing me, I’ll get scorched sitting by this window.”
Mo chuckled and offered to switch seats, but Kate argued that she didn’t want to put Mo at risk. Predictably, she then launched in on a skin cancer spiel. Kate’s job was to raise money for cancer research, and she was a walking doomsday report on anything cancer-related. Mo, usually optimistic and ready to chance fate, didn’t challenge Kate on this one topic. She’d lost her dad two years after college to what she still called the Big C, as if not wanting to name the thing that had too much power already.
Outwardly, Kate and Mo were opposites. Kate had a petite, slender build with long blond hair and skin so pale you could see her veins at her temples. Mo was several inches taller with an athlete’s physique, dark brown skin, and black curls clipped short against her head. They were both gorgeous, people always said, but so different. And yet in some ways they couldn’t be more alike.
Kate leaned over the edge of her seat to look back at Julia. “What about you? Need sunscreen back there? We could go on for days about the high risk Irish-Americans have for skin cancer.”
“I’m only half Irish.”
“Being half Chinese isn’t going to save your skin,” Mo argued.
Kate pitched the sunscreen over the empty rows between them. “And I know how you feel about freckles.”
Julia stuck out her tongue. She’d always liked freckles—on other people. Whenever she spent time in the sun and the freckles popped across her cheeks, she heard her mom urging her to wear a sunhat. Her father was the redhead, although now entirely bald, and she blamed his genes for the freckles.
“Mom, look! It’s the woman from the plane who needed my vomit bag!”
Julia started at the voice, nearly gouging her eye as she hurried to rub in the sunscreen. Bryn, light-up sneakers and all, was half dragging and half leading her mom directly toward her spot in the back row. Her sister, who still looked mostly asleep, brought up the rear.
“Remember me?” Bryn shouted.
“Light-up shoes. How could I forget?” Julia wasn’t sure if her stomach was buzzing with butterflies at the sight of the butch mom swinging suitcases onto the top luggage rack and now clearly fitting into the category of single with kids, or if her motion sickness was returning.
“Did you throw up?”
“The candy cane worked.” Bryn smiled. “I knew it would.” She plopped down in the open seat next to Julia while her quiet twin took the seat by the window. Julia met the gaze of their mom for only long enough to feel a rush at the realization that she’d been checking her out. Then she reminded her body that she wasn’t interested in dating anyone—not even an attractive butch who was giving her way too much eye contact. But damn…
“Hello again.” The mom motioned to the remaining open seats. “Is it okay if we share this row with you?”
“Yeah—definitely.” Way too excited. Turn it down a notch. Julia cleared her throat. “So, you’re staying at the Sea Breeze Resort too?”
Of course that was where they were staying. The shuttle only went to the one resort. Julia knew she should quit talking before she managed to embarrass herself anymore. Still, what were the chances that they’d be staying at the same place? Kate’s words repeated in her head: “Maybe this is fate.” Or maybe it was only dumb luck…Two rows in front of her she spotted Mo, who’d turned halfway around in her seat to make a kissy face. Later she’d be laughing out loud.
“Julia.” She stuck out her hand.
Reed had a strong grip, but her hand was decidedly feminine with smooth skin and shapely fingers. She met Julia’s eyes and smiled. Realizing that she was still holding on to Reed’s hand, Julia let go and tried to think of something to say to lessen the awkwardness. Who shook hands on an airport shuttle bus? What was wrong with her?
“Apparently I’m not in vacation mode yet. At work I’m always shaking hands with everyone.” She mimed shaking hands with invisible people all around her and Bryn giggled. Thanks, kid.
“No problem. Takes a while to get out of work mode.” Reed set her carry-on bag down and then took the empty seat next to Julia. “What do you do at work?”
“I’m in software.” Julia hadn’t meant to bring up work. In fact, the last thing she wanted to talk about was her job. But because Reed seemed to be waiting for her to say more, she added: “I’m a customer success manager—hence the hand shaking.”
“Customer success? Is that like customer service?” Reed wondered.
Before Julia could answer, Bryn cut in with: “Mom, when are you going to introduce us?”
“You could introduce yourself, sweetie.” At Bryn’s crossed arms, Reed pointed to each girl: “Bryn—who you may have noticed never sits still—and Carly. Carly’s my thinker. You won’t hear much from her.”
“I sit still sometimes,” Bryn argued. “But it’s hard because I’m four and a half. I’m the older twin. That’s why I have more energy.”
“Older by five minutes,” Reed clarified.
Carly, the younger-by-five-minutes twin, was an inch or two shorter and frail looking. She was also clearly the introvert, glancing at Julia under long blond eyelashes and then quickly turning back to the window. Julia didn’t blame her. The scene outside was beautiful—palm trees, flowers, and green everywhere—and they hadn’t left the airport yet.
“Carly, what do you see out there?” Reed said.
“There’s a little yellow bird in that tree with all the flowers.” Carly’s voice was a fraction above a whisper.
“Where?” Bryn said, climbing over her sister to squish her nose against the window. “I don’t see it.”
“You’re looking too hard. He’s right over there.” Carly pointed at the branch where a small yellow songbird was perched. “Even the trees look happy here.”
“I think so too,” Reed said. “Bryn, sit down. The shuttle driver is ready to leave.”
When Bryn didn’t move and Carly started to whine about not having enough space, Reed reached across Julia’s lap to pull Bryn back into her seat. “Bottom in your seat and hands to yourself.” She met Julia’s eyes. “Sorry about the reach.”
Julia didn’t have time to say that it wasn’t a problem. She was still tingling from the contact of Reed’s arm against her shoulder when Bryn slid into her lap. She tried to hide her surprise.
“Bryn, what are you doing?” Reed asked.
“Why do you think the trees are happy here?” Bryn asked Julia.
“Maybe because they haven’t met winter,” Carly guessed quietly.
“Bryn, get off Julia’s lap and into your own seat. Now.”
Grudgingly, Bryn finally looked over at Reed. She mumbled, “I was going to,” as she slid off Julia’s lap into her seat. A moment later, she’d popped off the seat. She turned to Julia and said, “Do you know that it’s always warm in Hawaii? And if you live here, you don’t need mittens—or a scarf. Or even a jacket!”
“Crazy, huh?” She smiled at Bryn’s enthusiasm. Kid energy wasn’t something she was used to and Bryn had it in spades. “I think you’re supposed to be sitting down.”
“Oh, right.” Bryn smiled and the dimples were back. She dropped into the seat. “I’ll try to stay in one spot, but I’ve got lots of energy.”
Julia glanced over at her, wondering how she managed two kids alone. At least one of them seemed sane. “How long are you all staying?”
Before Reed could answer, Bryn said: “One week. That’s this many days.” She held up seven fingers, working hard to not let another finger slip loose.
Reed only smiled when Julia looked between her and Bryn. Maybe this was how it always went. Having kids interrupt every conversation was cute at first but would get old quick—not that she was entertaining the idea of dating Reed.
“Are all three of you here together?” Reed motioned to the row where Kate and Mo were sitting.
“Yeah. We were roommates in college and we always talked about going on a vacation together…Kate’s getting married this summer so we decided it was now or never.”
“Life ends when you get married?”
“That’s what I’ve heard,” Julia said.
Reed laughed and Julia was all too aware of the responding heat in her body. It seemed like an eternity since she’d flirted with someone and by some miracle, she wasn’t blowing it.
“A vacation with friends sounds amazing,” Reed was saying. “I wish I’d kept in touch with my college friends.”
“I’m lucky to have Mo and Kate. Mo’s our social committee. She drags us out to have fun against our will. But it’s always worth it.” Mo and Kate shared a two-bedroom flat in San Francisco while she’d moved across the bay to be closer to work. Julia still met up with them nearly every weekend however.
“Mom, when are we going to be at the ocean?” Bryn whined. “I want to swim.”
“Soon. Look out the window and tell me if you can find a pink flower.”
“Over there,” Bryn said, jabbing her finger in the direction of a bush covered in bright pink blossoms.
“How about a yellow sign?”
The shuttle driver settled into the driver’s seat and soon they were bustling down the highway and past fields of lava rock. Reed kept up with the color game, distracting Bryn and Carly, while Julia snuck sideways glances at her.
She guessed that Reed was in her mid-thirties—maybe a few years older than her. Her warm laugh matched her easy smile but the rest of her was easy to appreciate as well. Kate was right—even her calves were worth noticing.
Being in close quarters made it difficult to ignore her body’s response to Reed, but worse than that, Julia found herself wishing they could have a long conversation. Maybe Reed’s dark blue eyes and those glasses were to blame or maybe there was some deeper connection. Or maybe I’m just horny. As soon as she had that thought, she nearly laughed out loud. Since when had she been so attracted to anyone that she’d even used the word horny?
When Bryn popped out of her seat again and Reed had to lean past Julia once more to pull her back into her seat, their knees bumped together. It was an innocent touch, but the feel of Reed’s skin against hers sent a flare up to her brain. Finally fate had sent her someone nearly perfect. She wasn’t sure if she was glad that Reed’s kids threw a wrench in the possibility of dating or if she was disappointed.
* * *
A wide stretch of grass and a handful of palm trees separated the condo’s lanai from a set of black-bottomed pools with fountains and cascading waterfalls. Beyond this was a winding path down to the beach.
At least a hundred condos all shared the same pool area, but it hadn’t taken Julia long to figure out which one belonged to Reed. Within minutes of arriving, Reed’s kids had decorated their lanai with beach towels and blow-up pool toys. Towels were strategically hung to create a sort of cave that the girls took turns hiding in and then calling for Reed, only to shriek and laugh when she came out to find them. Reed played the game a half-dozen times before setting to cutting up a pineapple on the patio table. The girls clamored for her attention even more then and every few slices she’d pause to chase one back into the cave.
When she’d finished cutting up the pineapple, Reed handed out slices and then sat down on one of the patio chairs. She kicked up her feet, gazing out at the view, and then suddenly she was looking right at Julia.
Cheeks burning, Julia dropped her eyes to the pages of her paperback and reread the opening paragraph with her pulse thumping in her ears. She hated being caught staring. Hopefully, Reed was too far away to notice her embarrassment, but she’d seemed to sense that Julia had been watching her.
“How’s the book?”
Julia jumped at Kate’s voice. “Uh, good. Great, I think.”
Kate craned her head to see the page number and then raised an eyebrow. “You know you’ve been reading for an hour. That must be an amazing first page.”
“It’s possible I’ve been distracted.” Julia nodded in the direction of Reed’s lanai, feeling a measure of relief at admitting her past hour’s obsession.
Kate laughed. “Now that makes sense. Well, Mo and I are going to the pool. You should join us. You’ll be able to spy on her better there.”
Mo pushed open the screen door behind Kate. She was wearing a pair of flowery board shorts and a black sports bra-style swimsuit top. A wide-brimmed sunhat with a bright Hawaiian print band around the base completed her outfit. The hat was perfect for her, even if it challenged her usual butch image.
“Where’d you get that?”
“The resort store. Like it?” Mo pulled a matching hat from behind her back. “I bought three, but Kate won’t wear hers. She thinks it makes her look gay.”
“I didn’t say that,” Kate argued, swatting Mo’s shoulder. In a serious tone, she met Julia’s eyes and said: “You know I’d never say something like that.”
“Because she can’t say the word ‘gay.’” Mo grinned and continued, “This place has everything. We can walk to the ocean, play tennis, golf…”
“Since when do you golf? And I can say the word ‘gay.’ Gay. Gay. Gay.” Kate had her hands on her hips in open challenge.
“I love it when you talk dirty,” Mo said. She winked and stuck out her tongue. “Too bad I know you’re a tease.”
“Mo!” Kate swatted her again.
Julia couldn’t help laughing. This argument between Kate and Mo was old, but still funny. Mo was convinced Kate was a closet case and Kate was convinced Mo wanted everyone to be gay.
“I could golf if I wanted to,” Mo argued. “But I probably won’t make it past the pool bar. Speaking of, it’s time for piña coladas.” She walked over to the chaise lounge and balanced the second hat on Julia’s head. “You can bring the book that we both know you aren’t reading. But if you keep staring at that mom from the plane I’m gonna have to run a background check on her.”
“Don’t you dare.” Julia didn’t need to know more about Reed. She was having a hard enough time ignoring her as it was. Fortunately she knew Mo wasn’t serious about the background check, but she worked in Internet security and had a knack for tracking down dirt.
“My best friend—who hasn’t had a girlfriend in over a year and almost never pays attention to women who are interested in her—has a crush. I think it’s my job to sniff around a little.”
“I don’t have a crush. I’m enjoying a good view.” Julia’s dating history paled in comparison to Mo’s. High school had passed without any offers and she’d been too unsure of herself back then to ask anyone out. College came without much more success although she did manage to have her first kiss before she turned twenty-one. Still, in her entire dating life, she’d only slept with a total of two women and one guy. Mo had someone new every six months. “It doesn’t matter if she has a police record. I’m only looking—not dating.”
“I think I’d be more interested in her if Mo dug up a few misdemeanors in her past,” Kate mused. “Who doesn’t like a bad girl with great legs?”
“You have to stop talking about her legs,” Mo said. “No one’s going to believe you about the whole straight thing.”
“I’ve already told you—I’m not that straight.” Kate continued, “Did you notice that she took off the ankle socks by the time we got on the shuttle?”
Mo shook her head. “Let’s go. My piña colada is waiting.”
Kate often mentioned her attraction to women, but she rarely pointed out anyone she liked and not once had her interests matched Julia’s. For the first time Julia felt a spark of jealousy at the thought that Kate was paying attention to Reed. Not that it mattered—Kate was about to get married and Julia wasn’t going for someone with kids. She wondered how many times she’d have to remind herself of that fact over the next week.
Adjusting her sunhat, Julia followed Kate and Mo. She was planning on keeping her eyes on the path to avoid the temptation of looking at Reed’s lanai, but the path went right past it and when she dared a quick peek, Reed raised her hand and smiled. Julia’s pulse shot up, her cheeks likely matching the pink flowers on her hatband. She waved in return and then hurried to catch up with Mo and Kate. Reed seemed to have been waiting for her to walk by. She tried not to think about what that might mean.
Reed and the twins appeared at the pool not long after Julia had made it through the mystery book’s first chapter. For the first ten minutes she pretended that she didn’t notice them, but Bryn’s squeals were hard to ignore and soon even the quiet twin was making noise. Finally Julia set down the paperback and leaned back in the chaise lounge to watch them. Since she had sunglasses on, she figured Reed wouldn’t know that she was staring.
Reed’s swimming suit gave Julia plenty to appreciate and the kids were a noisy but hilarious distraction. They alternated between splashing Reed, screaming for her attention and then careening down the waterslide to bump into her. Julia had to stop herself from laughing more than once at their antics.
“No way did twins come out of that belly,” Mo said, jutting her chin in Reed’s direction.
“She could have used a surrogate,” Kate proposed, sipping her margarita. “Or maybe her ex had the kids?”
Mo’s brow furrowed. “Maybe. Then why’d they break up?” If there was anything that bothered Mo, it was a woman whose history she didn’t know. Being nosy was good for her job, but she couldn’t take a vacation from the habit.
“Could have been an affair,” Kate offered. “I bet she doesn’t have trouble finding women to sleep with her. Or maybe she’s a widow.”
“Maybe her ex was terrible in bed,” Mo said. “I’ve known lots of couples who stopped having sex after a few months. Imagine adding kids to the mix…”
Julia cringed. Mo had no clue about her failings in bed, of course, but this hit too close to home. “I don’t want to marry her, remember? Let me enjoy watching her in peace.”
Still, she was curious about a backstory. Reed’s belly certainly didn’t look like it had carried twins. In fact nothing about her body was motherly. She was all lean muscle. But how she’d ended up with kids didn’t really matter.
Reed pulled herself out of the deep end without using the ladder, and Kate made a little moan. Mo rolled her eyes in response.
“She does have nice shoulders. You have to admit that at least,” Kate said.
“I thought you were into her calves,” Mo said.
“I’d take the whole package,” Julia said, ignoring Kate and Mo’s shared “I told you so’s.” They were right from the beginning. Reed was her type.
Reed dove off the edge of the pool, startling Bryn and Carly into a fit of giggles. When she popped up for air between their inflated dolphins, her mop of brown hair was sleeked back. She playfully lunged at the kids and then as they scattered, she looked over her shoulder and met Julia’s gaze. Without the glasses, those blue eyes were even more amazing.
As soon as Reed looked away, Julia murmured, “Nice dive.”
“I’d give it an eight point five,” Kate said. “A little too much splash.”
“I agree. She should hop out of the water and try again.”
Kate pushed up her sunglasses. “That’s what I was thinking.”
“I can’t take you two crushing on the same woman,” Mo grumbled.
“I’m not crushing. I’m enjoying a good view—just like Julia.” Kate winked at Julia. “It’s like being at the gym. Eye candy is one of the reasons I stay in shape.”
“Who’s your eye candy at the gym?” Mo asked.
“Oh, I’ve got a few,” Kate said evasively. “Anyone attractive is worth checking out.”
“And you regularly check out men and women?”
Kate shrugged. “If they’re good looking, sure. Why not?”
“Have you told Ethan that you’re attracted to women?”
“I don’t need to tell him every time I appreciate a nice body,” Kate argued. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I think it might matter to him. One of these days he’s gonna catch you staring,” Mo said. “You’re not that discreet.”
“He’s oblivious. Anyway, what exactly would you want me to say? ‘Honey, I know we’re about to get married, but I keep checking out women—and other men—at the gym. Do you think that’s a problem?’”
“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Julia said. “It’s natural to notice attractive people. And it’s not like you’re fixated on one in particular, right?”
Kate hesitated before answering and Mo looked over at Julia with an arched eyebrow. Finally Kate said, “Well, there is one…She has really nice forearms and always saves me a spot in the spin class. But it’s nothing.” She reached for her sports bottle and took a sip. “Don’t look at me like that, you guys. I’m not telling Ethan. And with the woman in my spin class I’m convinced it’s only a forearm thing.”
“I’m with you on nice forearms,” Julia said. “Sometimes that’s all you need. Did you notice the guy at the towel counter with those tats?”
“Mmm-hmm,” Kate murmured. “I’d pay good money for him to take off his shirt and show me the other end of that dragon that went up his arm.” She looked over at Mo. “Probably dumb as a box of rocks, but anyone can appreciate a good body. Although Mo would probably argue with that…”
Mo mumbled something under her breath and then said, “I want to hear more about the woman from the gym. I know a lot of people who work out there. I might know her. What’s her name?”
“Careful, Kate. When Mo says ‘know’ she means it in the biblical sense.” Julia dodged Mo’s hand as she tried to swat her arm.
“This isn’t about me,” Mo said. She eyed Kate. “I’m only asking ’cause I could probably help you out. Introduce you.”
“I’m marrying Ethan. I don’t need any help getting a date.”
“Kate, some guys are interesting. Ethan isn’t one of them. I fall asleep when he talks about the Forty-Niners and you know how much I love football.” Mo paused. “Look, I don’t blame you one bit for marrying him. He’s stable and I know you feel like you can trust him. But maybe you should look around a little more before you settle—”
“I’m not settling,” Kate argued.
“Ethan’s a little boring, maybe, but he’s not a bad guy,” Julia said. “I don’t think you’re settling either.”
“This has nothing to do with Ethan anyway,” Kate continued, her voice rising. “My point is, I’m not trying to notice women. It’s like I can’t help it.” She shook her head. “Lately everywhere I go, I’m running into lesbians. The dog park is worse than the gym. That place is lesbian central. And it’s not my fault that they’re all hot.”
“I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault,” Mo argued. “I’m only saying that I think you should consider your attraction before you marry a dude.”
“Julia thinks the towel guy is cute,” Kate shot back. “If she wants to marry a woman are you going to ask her if she’s considered a dude just because she might be attracted to some men?”
“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” Mo said. “Julia help me out here.”
“Honestly, I think Kate has a point. Although I’ve tried guys and it wasn’t all that.” Admittedly, the women she’d been with weren’t any better. But she was convinced that she was either meant to be with a woman or meant to be single forever. “And I do think two women can have a deeper emotional connection.”
“A deeper emotional connection? That’s all you’ve got?” Mo’s expression made Julia feel like she’d let down the entire gay rights movement.
“Well, I’m still stuck on the image of Kate in a crowd of lesbians at the dog park trying to get Peeves to hurry up and do his business.” Julia said, hoping the change in subject would diffuse the tension between Kate and Mo. “I wish I could see that in person…”
Kate finally cracked a smile. “It’s ridiculous. Peeves has to mark everything. Literally everything. You wouldn’t believe how many women have given me their phone number.”
“Jules, maybe you and I should get dogs,” Mo mused.
“Or move next to a dog park. A string of lesbians walking dogs outside my apartment would be enough…Kate, what is it about the woman from the gym—beyond the forearms?”
“When you mentioned her you were blushing as bad as Julia does when she looks at that one,” Mo added, jabbing her thumb in Reed’s direction.
Kate didn’t answer immediately. She looked over at Julia and seemed to be debating something. Finally she sighed and said, “Her name’s Chris. I think it’s short for Christine…And she looks a little bit like her.” She nodded in Reed’s direction. “Maybe even a little more masculine. Her head’s shaved and when I first saw her I actually thought she was a guy. She has a rainbow flag on her water bottle so I know she’s…well, you know.”
“A big old homo?” Mo said.
“Maybe she just likes rainbows.” Julia tried to hide her smile.
Mo added, “And sexy straight women in her spin class.”
“She’s not into me. We aren’t even friends really.” Kate shook her head. “Can we forget I brought this up?” She stood up suddenly, tossing her towel aside. “I wish you two wouldn’t make it a huge deal when I notice an attractive woman. I’m straight, but I’m not blind.”
Julia waited until Kate slipped into the water to look over at Mo. “I guess there’s a chance she really is straight.”
“Yeah right.” Mo lowered her voice as she continued, “She drives me crazy. One minute she’s arguing that she isn’t that straight and then the next minute…Why can’t she admit that she’s bi? Her two best friends are queer. After all these years she still thinks it’s a problem?”
“She didn’t say that, Mo.”
“She might as well have,” Mo argued.
“You know how hard it is for her to open up. I think she was really trying that time.” Julia changed her position in the lounge chair so she was facing Mo. “She’s got baggage. You can’t expect her to be as open as you are.”
“Lots of us have baggage. We unpack it. Has she ever told you what happened to her?” Mo waited for Julia to answer and then when she didn’t speak up, she continued, “I’m not saying she doesn’t have issues. But we’ve been friends for this long—you’d think she’d have told us by now whatever the hell her issue is instead of just always saying that something happened…”
Mo followed Kate across the pool with her eyes. She was doing a graceful sidestroke with her face away from them. “And I’m not saying she needs to be with a woman. But I don’t think Ethan’s the right guy. She’s gonna marry him and then realize it was a mistake.”
“You know her better than anyone,” Julia said. “But I think you might be biased against Ethan.”
A brunette in light blue shorts and a dark blue polo shirt that had the resort’s name embroidered above her left breast stopped in front of Mo’s lounge chair. She held a notebook in her hand and her eyes went up and down the length of Mo’s body before she casually asked, “Can I get you ladies anything? Something cool from the bar?”
Mo never seemed to mind a woman admiring her body but this time she hardly looked up as she handed the woman her room key. “I’ll take another piña colada.”
“Perfect.” The server jotted down the room number and then handed Mo back the card. “Be right back.” Her eyes lingered on Mo before she turned to head to the bar.
“I don’t get it,” Julia said. “You practically ignored her.” She wasn’t surprised when the server reached the bar and then glanced back at Mo.
“We said hello earlier, but I didn’t want to give her the wrong idea.”
Mo shrugged. “I’m not interested.”
“Too easy?” Julia laughed. “God, if I had half your mojo…”
“Tanya asked me to marry her on New Year’s.”
“What?” Julia nearly choked on the sip she’d taken. She leveled her gaze on Mo. Mo, the one who’d sworn she’d go to her grave single and free, only nodded. “What’d you say to her?”
“I said I wanted to think about it. We’ve only been dating for six months, but you know that’s a long time in my world. Still, I kept thinking that we shouldn’t rush things…Then I went and bought her a ring.”
“I know it’s crazy, but things have been going really well. It feels like the right decision.”
Julia wasn’t sure what to say next. She thought maybe she should say congratulations, but Mo marrying Tanya was among the worst ideas she’d heard in a long time.
She straightened up in the lounge chair. Regardless of how she felt about Tanya, she wanted Mo to be happy. The fact was, Mo wasn’t smiling. Was it because she wasn’t sold on the idea of marrying Tanya or was it because Mo had proclaimed more than once that she’d never marry?
“Have you told Kate?”
“No. I’m waiting for the right time.” Mo exhaled. “It still feels a little surreal, but I love Tanya. So I figure, why not?”
Why not? Julia felt her stomach twist. She could give Mo about ten reasons why Tanya was not someone she should marry. Now both of her best friends were marrying people she didn’t even like. What was worse, she was supposed to feel happy for them. “Well, Mo, I never thought I’d be going to your wedding, but if you’re happy—that’s what matters. Congratulations.”