“Give my brother a hug from me, and tell him I’ll see him soon,” Cleo instructed as she got up from the table, eager to leave before Dante and Luc showed up. How weird was it that after years of friendship between the two men, she’d nearly run into him in their family home for the first time ever? Then again, before her accident, Cleo had hardly been a regular visitor to the house. She’d always been miserable here. She hated how strict her grandparents had been, how she and Luc were never allowed out past seven on a weeknight and nine on a weekend, even when they were in their late teens. Luc had been the ever-obedient good boy, while Cleo had been a rebel—receiving constant censure from their grandparents.
Cleo had left home as soon as she was eighteen and had moved in with a small commune of fellow dancers while attending the University of Cape Town School of Dance, earning the elderly couple’s disapproval. Every time she visited home—usually at Luc’s behest—she had always wound up arguing with her grandparents, so she regularly made excuses not to visit. Which was something she would regret for the rest of her life.
Cleo moved to hug Blue, who was still cursing over her charred onions, and made her escape before the other woman could offer any further protest.
Dante parked his Jaguar in front of his friend’s huge, rather creepy old house at exactly the same time as Luc drove up in his serviceable old Ford sedan. He felt his lips settle into a relaxed grin as he caught the other man’s eye. Luc’s face lit up with a huge smile as he got out of his car and rounded the trunk to greet Dante as he leisurely climbed out of his own car.
“Hey, howzit?” Luc called, and grabbed Dante’s hand for a brief shake before tugging him in for a one-armed hug. “Good to see you, Dan. Ready for tonight’s match? Barcelona’s going to wipe the floor with Real Madrid.”
“Oh, amigo, stick to rugby; you clearly know nothing about soccer.” Dante laughed dismissively at Luc’s—frankly ludicrous—prediction, and just like that it was as if they’d seen each other only yesterday.
Their banter continued all the way into the house and then into the kitchen, where Luc greeted his gorgeous fiancée with a sweeping kiss, and Dante followed it up with an only slightly less sweeping kiss. This was the closest thing he had to a proper home in this country, and he’d always guarded these relationships jealously. The knowledge that he’d nearly completely fucked it up with everything that had happened with Cleo was chilling, and he considered himself lucky that he’d managed to get through that entire sordid situation with this important friendship still intact.
Beer in hand, he settled back, ready to enjoy his meal and the companionship for the rest of the evening.
“So what the hell has been going on with you lately?” Luc demanded of Cleo a month after she had narrowly escaped running into Dante Damaso in this very house. Thankfully she hadn’t seen the man at all since then. “We’ve hardly seen you since your return from Tokyo.”
“I’ve been busy with work, and I can’t seem to shake this damned bug. I feel like I’ve been sick forever,” she groused. They were having dinner around the kitchen table, and delicious though it was, Cleo was having a hard time keeping it down.
“You do look a little paler than usual,” Luc said, concerned.
“Do you have to say ‘than usual’? You make me sound like Morticia or a zombie or something.”
“She’s definitely looking a bit vampirical, isn’t she, babe?” he asked Blue, who nodded somberly despite the laughter dancing in her eyes.
“Is ‘vampirical’ even a word?” Cleo scoffed.
“If it isn’t, then it should be.” Luc shrugged.
“I’m just tired and a little depressed because it just never stops raining.” They all simultaneously glanced at the ever-present bucket in one corner of the room, which was rapidly filling with water. It had been raining almost nonstop for nearly a week now, and aside from being depressing and cold, it had caused floods, accidents, and illness. Cleo couldn’t remember any other winter being this desperately grim before.
“Is this still the same bug as last month?” Blue asked, her pretty brown eyes warming with concern, and Cleo nodded.
“Yes. It’s so irritating. It’s nothing serious, just a dodgy stomach and a bit of dizziness. It comes and goes.”
“There is a stomach bug going around,” Blue said. “You can consider yourself lucky if all you’re suffering from is dizziness and a bit of nausea. We’ve practically been swimming in vomit at the office this week.”
“God, Blue.” Luc grimaced, and she grinned unrepentantly. She’d left the hospital a couple of years before and now worked for a private practitioner. The job offered better hours and a much better salary.
“Sorry.” Blue grinned, and Luc rolled his eyes, unable to even pretend to be mad at her when she flashed those dimples at him.
“Well you have lost some weight over this past month.” Blue was all seriousness again as she gave Cleo a critical once-over. “Weight that you can’t really afford to lose. Have you been throwing up a lot?”
“Right, I’m done.” Luc tossed aside his napkin and got up, collecting his and Blue’s empty plates along the way and dumping them in the sink.
“Not that much,” Cleo said, ignoring her brother, who was pointedly clearing the table and piling more dishes in the sink. “Just a couple of times a day, really.”