She had timed it just right. Luc wasn’t home from work yet, and Blue had just started with the dinner preparation.

“Do you think you could build a career out of it?” Blue asked as she scraped the diced onions, peppers, and garlic into a pot. They immediately sizzled as they hit the hot oil at the bottom of the pot, filling the kitchen with a delicious aroma.

Cleo fiddled with the handle of the coffee mug in front of her while contemplating the hot chocolate swirling around inside.

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“Maybe.” She shrugged. “I’m not sure. I was hoping . . .”

Blue glanced at her sharply when her voice trailed off.

“Cleo,” she said softly, ever perceptive, “it’s been three years.”

“I know, but every time I go to the dance studio and put on my pointe shoes, I feel like it’s still in there, like I can still dance the way I used to. I keep thinking if I stay fit and keep dancing, keep doing my pointe routines, just keep going, I’ll wake up one morning and just know that it’s back. But with this job . . . there’s not enough time to spend on my dancing. I have to devote my attention to either the job or dancing. I can’t do both.”

“You can dance in your spare time.”

“As a hobby, you mean?”

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Blue hesitated, before nodding, and Cleo ignored the stab of pain in her chest as she thought about what her friend had said.

“That would mean giving up on the only real dream I’ve ever had,” she whispered.

Blue said nothing for a long time, keeping her hands busy and her eyes averted as she began meticulously peeling potatoes. “Cleo, maybe it’s time to find another dream?” Blue finally whispered, and Cleo’s heart stuttered in her chest.

“What’s for dinner?” Cleo asked, changing the subject clumsily.

“Nothing fancy, just beef stew and mashed potatoes, with bread pudding and custard for dessert.”

“Ooh, perfect for a cold, rainy day,” Cleo enthused, eyeing the buckets collecting water in the corner. The damned roof leaked like a sieve, and Luc had already set aside some money to have it fixed when the rain eventually stopped, which didn’t seem like it would be anytime soon. The old house was right on the beach and had a rustic charm that could possibly have passed for shabby chic, if things were a little less shabby and a lot more chic. Its location made it prime property, but the fact that it had been in their family for generations turned it into a burden that desperately needed fixing up. Cleo was a lot less sentimental than Luc and had urged him to sell it, since he couldn’t afford to get married with the damned thing hanging around his neck like an albatross—but her brother had a little more respect for familial obligations than Cleo did.

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“Are you staying for dinner?” Blue asked, and Cleo brightened at the invitation she’d been hoping for.

“For your gorgeous beef stew and pud?”

“It’s really plain fare. If I’d known Luc was going to be asking Dante around for dinner, I would have planned something with a little more flair. He’s not exactly the type of guy you serve beef stew to. Although, he’s not at all a snob, is he? The last time he came around to dinner, he schooled your brother in proper manners and cleaned up the kitchen after we ate. He even helped me fix dessert. Seemed to enjoy it, really.”

Cleo hadn’t heard anything beyond the revelation that Dante Damaso was coming around for dinner and was immediately thankful that she hadn’t already agreed to stay for the meal.

“Well, thanks for the invitation, Blue, but—much as I’d love to—I really can’t stay. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately. I’m worried I’m coming down with something.”

“But you drove all this way. I thought . . .”

“I was in the area for . . . uh.” She ground to a halt as she comprehended that there really was no good reason for her to be so far out of her way. “Well, I wanted to see you. I haven’t seen much of you since getting back from Tokyo, what with the job change and all. But I underestimated how ill I was feeling. I should go home and get into bed.”

“What are your symptoms? Maybe I have something here that can help with them?” Blue was a nurse and had first met Luc eight years before, while he’d still been taking care of their ailing grandparents. Blue had been one of the junior nurses in the oncology ward, and while nothing romantic had flared between them at the time—what with Luc being so preoccupied with the stress of having two extremely ill, elderly people to take care of—he had appreciated the young nurse’s kindness and concern. Their relationship had bloomed after the elderly couple had passed away.

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Luc was completely smitten with the tall, doe-eyed, caramel-skinned, brown-haired woman and had asked her to marry him a few years after they’d started dating. But he wanted her to have a fantastic wedding, so the wedding date kept getting pushed back due to financial reasons. They’d been engaged way too long, and while Blue was infinitely patient and understanding, Cleo sometimes wanted to give her brother a swift kick in the butt for being so stubborn on the matter of the house.

“Some tummy issues and just general listlessness. Cal was sick last week, and I think I probably caught this from him.”

“Okay, then stay hydrated and eat as much broth as you can manage. And get a decent night’s sleep tonight,” Blue said, stepping into her caregiving role with complete ease. Cleo smiled warmly at the woman before nodding toward the pot sizzling away behind Blue.

“Your onions are burning,” she pointed out, and laughed when Blue swore and dashed for the pot.

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