“Tanya, you already said I could have the time off!” Vivian pulled the phone away from her ear and gritted her teeth as she resisted the urge to hurl it across the terminal. Her boss’s shrill voice blared through the speaker, grating on her already frazzled nerves.
She took a deep breath and interrupted the diatribe coming at her. “My ticket’s non-refundable and I’m out of here. For fuck’s sake, I’m at the airport right now, about to check my luggage. There is no way I’m going to cancel my first vacation in two years and drive back into town to babysit the shop while you fly to Hawaii! This is not me being difficult, this is me telling you, no. In fact, this is me telling you good-bye. I quit!” She hit the disconnect button on her phone and turned it off before her former employer could call her back.
When she looked up, she found herself the focus of several curious looks, and she smiled blandly as she swept her tousled, red- and black-dyed hair back behind her ear. “It looks like my vacation just got extended,” she explained with a shrug. With that she dropped her phone into her carry-on bag and decided to postpone panic until after she’d gotten her boarding pass and could find a lounge to hide in, preferably one with a well-stocked bar.
By the goddess, she needed a drink right now.
It took her another twenty minutes, but she finally sank down into an overstuffed chair and took a slow sip of her Irish coffee. If quitting her job a few, short weeks before Christmas wasn’t a reason to indulge in a boozy pick-me-up with double whipped cream, she didn’t know what was. She leaned back in her chair with a sigh, letting her eyes flutter closed as she did a mental inventory.
Job? No. Money for rent? January was covered, but after that, another no. Best friend? Now living on the other side of the country and getting married in three days to not one, but two men Vivian had never met. It was official. The winds of change had come storming into her life again.
Well, at least my life never gets boring.
She took another drink of her whiskey-laced coffee and tried to think things through. When she got to Tofino, she’d have to get her Tarot deck out and do a reading for herself. She’d brought them with the intention of reading Jess’s cards, but it couldn’t hurt to read the signs so she could prepare herself for whatever change was coming.
Her best friend, Jess, had left Toronto a few months ago to spend some time at her family’s cabin out on the west coast, and Vivian had missed her more than she cared to admit. They’d been best friends since childhood. With Jess gone, life hadn’t been the same.
Now she was flying out to stand up for Jessica as she committed herself to two men who had swept her off her feet. As happy as she was that things were working out for Jess, Vivian had felt a hint of selfish panic at the idea of losing her best friend to love and long distance. It wasn’t something she was proud of, and she had hoped that once she’d seen for herself that Jess was truly happy, she’d be more ready to accept that her friend was never coming home.
And now I’m getting maudlin.
She sat up a little straighter and closed her eyes, imagining a quick, cleansing flare of white light all around her, burning away the negative energy she was gathering around herself like tiny storm clouds. There was no point in wallowing in self-pity or panic. The holidays were here, she was only a few hours away from seeing Jess again, and apparently she had no pressing reason to rush back from her long overdue vacation. The rest of the fallout she could deal with eventually, given enough time and possibly another Irish coffee.
Many hours and two time zones later, Vivian walked into the Tofino terminal and was hit by a short, platinum-blonde tornado. “You’re here! I’ve missed you so much!” Jess squealed and let her go only to hug her again twice as hard. “Rory and Evan can’t wait to meet you and I can’t wait for you to meet them! Did your flight go okay? Is this all your luggage? The guys wanted to come along but I told them I wanted you all to myself for a bit.”
“Whoa! Slow down!” Vivian grinned down at Jess. “Is this what love has done to you? You’re actually glowing! And laughing!” She couldn’t believe the difference in her friend. The sad, quiet woman who had left with her mother’s ashes and a heart full of grief was radiantly happy and almost bursting with cheer. “I’ve got to say, this is a good look for you, girl.”
Jess grabbed one of Vivian’s suitcases and nodded. “I’m happy, Viv. So happy it’s almost scary. I have so much to tell you, and show you. The cabin is gorgeous. You’re going to love it. I’m so glad you’re here!”
“I’m glad to be here. I’ve missed you!” Vivian followed Jess out into the parking lot, shivering as the damp chill in the air sucked the warmth from her body three steps beyond the doors. The sky was a deep gray and the shadows were already deepening, despite the fact it was only three in the afternoon. There weren’t a lot of vehicles in the parking lot, and Vivian headed for the sensible, gray, four-door sedan nearest the door.
“Uh, Viv? Not that one.” Jess called and pointed to a bright red Jeep. “That one.”
“You bought a Jeep? Good gods, you’ve only been here a little while and already you’ve gone native! If you tell me you’ve given up lattes for herbal teas, I swear I’m going to call for an intervention.”
“Not to worry, I will always be a caffeine junkie. I’ve got the nicest espresso machine set up, I’ll make you something as soon as we’re home, I promise. You look a little wiped out, rough flight?”
“The flight was okay, more turbulence than I would have liked, but that’s on par for the the kind of day I’ve had.” Viv tossed her bag into the back of the Jeep and climbed in. “How do you get in here with those short little legs of yours?”
“Very funny.” Jess climbed into the passenger seat and stuck her tongue out before admitting, “The guys had a step installed.”
“I think I like them already,” Viv said, unsuccessfully trying to repress a snicker. “That was very thoughtful.”
“Laugh it up, Miss Long-Legs! Not all of us got bonked on the head with the tall, svelte, and sexy wand!” Jess was laughing as she pulled out of their parking spot.
“Well now, I bet I can name two men who would say you’re more than a little sexy. Two very hot men, I might add,” Viv pointed out, and grinned as Jess blushed and nodded in silent agreement. It was worth the trip just to see the changes in Jess since she’d left Toronto. She was her old self again, with a double dose of confidence.
“There’s plenty of time to talk about me, I want to know what’s up with you. You said you’d had a bad day, so tell me what happened.”
Viv groaned and rolled her eyes. “What happens every time I try to get away from the shop?”
“Tanya suddenly needs to go out of town and you’re left—You’re kidding me. She did it again?”
“Yep. This time she actually waited until I was standing in line at the airport counter waiting to get my boarding pass. I shouldn’t have answered the phone.”
“No, you shouldn’t have, but you wouldn’t be you if you’d ignored a possible emergency at the shop.” Jess glanced over at her with a frown. “So, do you have to cut your vacation short? You’re going to be here for the commitment ceremony, right?”
“Cut my stay short? Uh, not exactly. I may have let my temper get the better of me and told her I quit.”
Jess squealed with joy and bounced in the driver’s seat, which was not exactly the reaction Viv was expecting. “You quit? Finally! You were the best hairdresser they had and they treated you like crap. I am so glad you’re done.”
“Well there’s the whole matter of my being unemployed now, but I have to admit, I’m pretty happy I’m done too. She actually wanted me to miss my vacation with you so she could go to Hawaii.”
“You see? She’s been taking advantage of you so long she actually thought that would work!”
“As if I’d miss my best friend’s big day! Not even a horde of fire-breathing dragons would keep me away,” Viv said and meant it. Jess was the one person Vivian would always be there for, because Jess had always been there for her. They’d been best friends since they were kids, and nothing would ever change that.
“You know, when Dad gave the place over to me you said it was kismet, so now I’m going to say the same thing to you. This is fate! I’m moving out of the cabin in a few days, so you can have the whole place to yourself for as long as you want. Stay for the holidays. Hell, stay forever if you want. You’re the only thing I miss from my old life. If you moved out here, I wouldn’t have to miss my best friend anymore.”
“I think that is the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me, and the most insane. I can’t just stay out here in the wilds! I have a roommate back in Toronto, and my bike, and rent, and…well, stuff!”
Now Jess was openly laughing at her. “I cannot believe what I’m hearing. You’re the one who helped me pack up my stuff and told me to go have fun and not worry about things too much. Now it’s your turn and you’re telling me you’re worried about rent?” She made a clucking noise at the back of her throat.
“Hey, I’m not a chicken!” Viv protested the good-natured teasing. “I quit, didn’t I? But I have a personal rule never to make life-altering decisions while jetlagged, so you’re not getting any kind of an answer tonight.”
“Fair enough, but I promise when you see the men here you are going to be phoning your roomie and giving notice for the end of January. My guys aren’t the only hotties out here and it’s the off-season. You’ll get a sample at the ceremony in a few days. Rory and Evan’s entire community are coming to this thing. It’s going to be fun.”
Viv saw an opening to ask one of the questions she hadn’t been able to voice in their Skype sessions. “So, what exactly is this community they’re part of? I know they all live together on the land next door to your cabin, and judging by their pictures they’re not tree-hugging hippies, so what exactly are they?”
“I dare you to tell Rory you thought he might be a tree-hugging hippy,” Jess snorted with laughter at the idea. “They definitely aren’t like that. It’s a bit hard to explain. They’re all originally from Scotland, their ancestors came here a long time ago and bought up a large tract of land, and they all live on it together.”
“And they’re all poly?” Viv asked, cutting to the point she really wanted to understand.
“Most of them are, yes.” Jess glanced her way, her gentle features suddenly knotted with worry. “You aren’t freaked about the fact I’m going to be with two guys, are you?”
“Freaked? No.” Viv decided to come clean about her doubts. “But you have to admit, it’s pretty unusual. If you hadn’t looked like you were glowing with happiness I’d be a lot more concerned, though.”
“Good.” Jess grinned. “Because as I recall, you’re the one who told me to go for it.”
Viv faked a horrified shudder. “I said sleep with them. I never said anything about a lifelong commitment! I can’t commit to the same hair color for more than a couple of months. I have no idea how to commit to the same guy forever. You’re sure this is what you want?”
“Absolutely, completely, utterly sure, and once you meet them you’ll see why. They really do make me happy.”
“They better, or I’ll be having very unladylike words with them! I promised your mom I’d take care of you, and I will.”
Jess snorted with laughter. “You call telling me to sleep with two guys taking care of me?”
“Yep. You needed to cut loose and have some fun. And clearly I was right about that, look how it all turned out! Speaking of fun…” She glanced out the window at the forest around them. “What exactly is there to do for fun around here? I’m seeing an alarming number of trees and not a whole lot of anything else.”
“Oh, we’re not going through town. I’ll show you Tofino tomorrow. There are shops and even a Starbucks, not to worry. And there’s Breakers, which is one of the local bars. It’s run by Rory’s cousin and it’s totally your sort of place.”
“Rough, cheap, and full of hot guys?”
“Exactly! And we’re going there tomorrow night for a sort of a co-ed bachelor party. I thought you’d want a chance to meet everyone before the big day.”
“Perfect. I am dying to meet your guys, and all these hot men you keep promising me live out here.”
“Oh believe, me, you’ll meet at least a few of them tomorrow night. And I’ve told them all about you already.”
Vivian chortled. “Well, that wasn’t very sporting of you! Now they’ve been warned!”
* * * *
“I still don’t understand why they couldn’t have the reception here. It’s a Sunday night, we could have closed it down for a private party, no problem,” Tucker grumbled as he finished one last walk-through before they opened the doors for the evening.
“Dude, look around you. I own half this place and there is no way I’d want to celebrate a new chapter of my life here. It’s a dive bar. Stress on the word dive.” Byron popped his blond head up over the aged wooden bar and flashed his best devil-may-care smile. “You need to get out more. This will be good for you.”
“I own a fucking bar. That means I don’t need to get out to socialize. I just open the damned doors and the people come in, saving me from having to go out. It’s a good system, I don’t see the point in messing with it.”
“Going to see Rory and Evan bond with Jess isn’t messing with your precious system, it’s celebrating a major milestone while getting drunk on someone else’s dime for once. Now lighten up and go see if we have any customers.” Byron tossed a bar rag at him. “Besides, we both know why you really don’t want to set foot in Kismet Cove, and it’s got nothing to do with your antisocial streak.”
“What are you, my shrink now? Keep your opinions to yourself and get the music on.” Tucker flipped his middle finger up at his best friend and business partner before heading over to open the main doors. There were a few of the regulars already loitering outside, and as he greeted them he was nearly deafened by AC/DC’s Highway to Hell booming through the sound system.
“Welcome to Breakers. Come on in out of the cold and the wet. The bar’s open!” He greeted the customers and led them back inside, taking a second to tap one of the strobe lights back into place as he passed the dance floor. At six foot four, he was tall enough to reach the lighting without needing a ladder.
As he joined Byron behind the bar and started filling orders, he kept a careful eye on the floor, making sure the waitresses were attentive and no one was getting too friendly. His staff could all handle themselves, but lately there’d been a few incidents with patrons getting unruly and harassing the serving staff or picking fights with the bouncers.
The tattoo parlor that leased space on the south side of the property had been a nice source of income, but since it had changed hands a few months back it had been attracting a crowd that was rough even by his dubious standards. He’d talked to the new owner, but so far Steve Trask hadn’t done much to impress him, and neither did the shop’s new name, The T-Spot.
Breakers did well because it catered to everyone, and it wasn’t uncommon to see some of the local businessmen having a brew or playing a game of pool with a biker or a surfer or a gaggle of sunburned tourists. All that would come to an end if his bar got a reputation as a hangout for troublemakers and criminals.
As if on cue, three of the guys who liked to hang out at the tattoo shop walked through the door and grabbed a corner booth. They were already leering at Patricia, his head waitress, leaving him with no doubt they were going to be a problem at some point in the evening. He was going to have to talk to Trask again and make the man understand that if he wanted his lease renewed at the end of the year, he was going to have to do something about his buddies.
“You okay?” he asked as Patricia dropped her tray on the bar.
“All good, boss. Just make sure the other girls leave that table to me. I can handle them.”
Tucker poured the beers and set them down on her tray. “If they get out of line, you throw up a flare.”
“You know it.” Patricia winked at him and waltzed away, tray balanced in one hand as she ducked and darted through the gathering crowd. Not bad for a Thursday night. Tomorrow night was going to be packed, because on top of the regular crowd, Rory and Evan had reserved an entire section for what they were calling their bachelor party. It wasn’t really one, considering it was all co-ed, but if it meant getting his friends in his bar for a night of drinking and fun, Tucker was all for it, whatever the excuse. He may not have much to do with the colony of selkies he was born into, but he still had friends there, and he missed them. Not that he’d ever admit it.
“Tucker? Dude, snap out of it.” Byron hip-checked him as he went past, hoisting an armload of clean glasses. “You’re the cheapskate who won’t hire another bartender for the midweek shift, so quit daydreaming and fill those orders!”
“And this is why I don’t need a wife, I have you to nag me,” Tucker muttered good-naturedly. Byron was his best friend and blood-brother. While they didn’t see eye-to-eye when it came to women and living by the rules of the shapeshifting clan of seals they belonged to, he was the only person Tucker trusted completely. When everything in Tucker’s world had fallen apart, Byron had been there with a joke and an outstretched hand, committed to getting him back on his feet again. That meant he was also the only person in the world allowed to bitch at him. All in all, it was a fair trade.
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