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Coco’s Somewhat Excellent Adventures, Book 1:Hawaii
By Cheryl Sterling
COCO TRUEHEART RAN her thumb over her ring finger then remembered she’d removed her diamond when her rat-bastard husband had run off with a twenty-year-old barista.
I hope she kills him with sex. She hoped he’d heave his pasty-white, flabby body onto the anorexic, little gold-digger and pump her until his heart exploded. It would be great if it happened before he climaxed, leaving him as frustrated as she’d been during their twenty-two year marriage. Better still if a full-length mirror was part of the decor and he could watch himself flop around like a dead chicken.
“Why, no, doctor, what makes you think I have anger issues?” she muttered to the empty office of Trueheart Destinations, the travel agency she’d started with her best friend, Rose. “No anger at all. Nothing here but good times.”
She flicked her keyboard and frowned as she noticed a chip in her Bleeding Heart red nail polish. It had taken six months after the divorce to screw up her courage and face embarrassment at The Nail Garden, and what good had it done? Three chips within a week.
“Damn, you, Mr. Maxwell.” She wondered if rumors of his diluting bottles of clumpy polish were true.
Find new salon; she scribbled into the moleskin notebook that went everywhere with her.
Coco turned back to her keyboard. The specialized and personalized service of Trueheart Destinations continued to pay the bills, and she had a honeymoon to plan.
Several minutes later, the back door to their strip mall store jangled shut, and Brannigan sauntered in.
Saunter was the only description for how Levi Joseph Brannigan moved. Tall, loose-limbed, and still handsome at forty-nine, he eased around corners as smooth as smoke.
Coco, who strode everywhere, sighed and shook her head at her partner’s husband. His easy-going personality was a boon and a bane. It rubbed her the wrong way, but he connected with people in a way she didn’t and brought in new clients.
She and Rose had temporarily folded him into the business after he’d lost his job when the economy had tanked. Temporary had changed to permanent as Rose’s cancer worsened and finally took her life.
It had been a devastating time. Two years later, neither Coco nor Brannigan had recovered.
Coco pushed away the memory and greeted her partner.
“How did it go with the Deboers?” One of Grand Rapids’ leading families, their wealth had started in lumber, segued to furniture and had taken a right turn toward technology as the new millennium started. The upcoming nuptials of the youngest son, combined with a milestone anniversary, would pay a healthy chunk of Trueheart Destinations’ expenses.
Brannigan slapped a folder onto his desk. A grin split his face, emphasizing the smile brackets around his mouth.
“Terrific. They’ve added an inter-island cruise for the whole family.” His dusky blue eyes twinkled.
“That’s great!” The Deboers continued to add extras to their Hawaiian excursion, due to Brannigan’s efforts.
“Yes, it is.” He moved to loom over her, the charm that had captivated Rose oozing out of him.
Coco tilted her head. “What are you up to?”
“Me?” he said in mock horror. “I just want to make everything perfect for our number one client.”
A sense of doom skated down Coco’s spine. “No.” She rose and faced him over the expanse of her desk. “You are not sending me to Hawaii.”
“It’s Hawai’i.” He added the glottal stop and pronounced it as if he’d lived there for years, which he had as a teenager.
“Show off. And no, I’m not going. Did you forget things happen to me when I travel?” Ironic for a travel agent, but every trip she’d ever made had included at least one calamity.
“Coco.” Brannigan wagged his eyebrows in a move he thought charming, but Coco found, on a good day, amusing, but which annoyed her today.
“Brannigan.” He never used his given name. “It will be like an episode of Lost. Maybe not the plane crash, but being stranded. Sunburn. Food shortages. A smoke monster.”
“You exaggerate. I’ll give you a list of places to check out. It’ll be easy-peasy.”
“Grown men do not use the term ‘easy-peasy’, and why can’t you go, as you’ve lived there?” She had no time for distractions. Not with her son, Jack’s, college graduation in two months.
“Because Lee Deboer is considering us for all his corporate travel. It’s over a thousand employees in seven locations.” He held out his hand to stop her from speaking. “I know our core business is honeymooners, but we have to expand.”
He’d made this point before, and they had shifted some of this year’s budget to other areas, but it hadn’t taken off yet. If Brannigan could land a plum client like Deboer Telecommunications. . .
And Lee’s many, many colleagues…
“They deal with digital communications, Brannigan. Why do they need to travel?” Coco fought a losing battle.
“Not everything can be done via teleconference. Plus, they have clients who fly in and out all the time who need accommodations and entertainment packages, the whole nine yards, which is where we come in.”
Coco knew Brannigan had the inside edge with Lee Deboer and pulled his puppet strings.
I should have seen this coming the minute he booked the wedding.
Brannigan chucked her under the chin. “Come on, Coco; it will be good for you to get away from the office. You’ve been stuck in mothballs since the divorce. Go. Enjoy the sun. Sit on the beach. And take care of our number-one client. It’s a win-win.”
Coco glanced around the office. She’d retreated to the once place where she had a modicum of control. Had it become a less of a safety net and more of a prison?
Brannigan was right. He was always right.
She squared her shoulders and tried to remember where she’d left her carry-on.
“I’ll check flights.”
Brannigan wrapped her in a bear hug, blowing away co-worker boundaries for the zillionth time since he’d come on board.
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