Seven o’clock finally came around. Cleo tried to stifle the butterflies in her stomach as she walked into the surf club to meet Will. She wasn’t sure why she felt so nervous. This wasn’t a real date.Did she wish it was?
‘Hi, Cleo. Good to see you. I wondered if you’d have changed your mind.’ Will came to meet her, a wide grin on his tanned face, his hair looking as tidy as it had when she agreed to be party to this deception. Tonight, he was wearing a pair of pressed jeans and a blue-striped shirt, the blue the deep colour of the sea which matched his eyes – why hadn’t she noticed how blue they were before now?
Cleo swallowed. It was going to be all right. ‘Will,’ she said, ‘of course I came. I said I would.’ She ignored the small voice reminding her how she’d almost chickened out.
‘Shall we go upstairs? Coop and Ailsa are already there.’ Will seemed almost as nervous as she was.
Once upstairs and seated on the deck with Ailsa and Martin, Cleo felt more comfortable.
‘Thanks again for looking after Owen last night,’ Will said to her. ‘I checked in on him on the way here, and he’s feeling much better. I think he’s enjoying having your daughter play nursemaid. But he’s looking forward to having full use of his ankle again.’
‘What happened to Owen?’ Ailsa asked.
‘He tripped on the way to the protest last night and sprained his ankle. Cleo came to his rescue,’ Will said, smiling at Cleo – a warm smile that made his blue eyes twinkle.
‘I only did what anyone would have done.’ Flustered, Cleo looked down.
‘Is that the protest Nate got involved in?’ Ailsa asked. ‘The one you tried to hide from me, Martin?’
Martin appeared embarrassed. ‘I managed to get Nate away before the police arrived. It looked like a brawl was about to start. Anyway, all’s well that ends well.’
So, Owen’s tripping had been a blessing in disguise. Cleo gave a sigh of relief. Hannah had had a lucky escape.
When they had all been served with their meals and drinks, Martin saidsotto voce, ‘Don’t look now. Danger heading this way.’
Cleo glanced around to see a well-dressed, but flashy woman standing by the doorway, staring in their direction. She started towards them, then stopped in her tracks. ‘Is that her?’ Cleo asked.
‘Joy Taylor, the woman who’s been pursuing Will,’ Ailsa said. ‘The plan seems to be working,’ she added as the woman hesitated then went back into the club.
Cleo almost felt sorry for the woman as Will’s face turned red and he muttered something unintelligible. But both Ailsa and Martin were grinning with delight.
‘See,’ Ailsa said. ‘I told you it would work. If you two keep it up, she’ll get the message.’
Keep it up?Cleo had hoped this one time would do it – fix things for Will. She looked across the table to where he was taking a gulp of beer and trying to avoid her eyes. Had he known this was only going to be the first of… ‘How long do you think it’ll take?’ she asked Ailsa who was the architect of this charade.
‘How long is a piece of string?’ Ailsa asked, chuckling at Cleo and Will’s discomfort. ‘I guess it depends how determined she is, how enamoured she is with our friend.’
Will’s already red face turned beetroot. ‘Steady on,’ he said. ‘I never asked for any of this.’
Cleo sympathised with him, but she did feel she’d been tricked into more than she bargained for. But would it really be so bad? Last night, she’d seen a different side of Will. She’d even felt a grudging sympathy for the man.Was that why she’d agreed to come tonight?
‘To change the subject,’ Will said. ‘Last night, before the council meeting, I attended one about the surf carnival. For my sins, I’ve been elected chair of the group and it occurred to me you need to be part of it, Coop. You are as much part of the surfing fraternity here in Bellbird Bay as I am.’
The two men began to discuss surfing. Ailsa rolled her eyes and turned to Cleo. ‘When they start on this topic, I know they’re going to go on for ages. Why don’t you and I move inside and order coffee?’
‘Good idea.’ Cleo welcomed the chance to get away from the difficult situation and have a chat with Ailsa.
When they’d found a seat in the club where, luckily there was no sign of Joy Taylor, Ailsa ordered coffees from Nate.
‘Thanks for helping Will out,’ she said, when they’d been served. ‘I know you weren’t keen.’
‘Mmm’ That was putting it mildly, and Cleo still wasn’t sure she’d made the right decision. She sighed.
‘Is there something else bothering you?’ Ailsa asked. ‘When I was round at Nate’s the other day, Hannah said something about a girl from Santa Barbara.’
Cleo sighed again. She didn’t know Ailsa well, but she imagined she could be a good friend, their children were sharing a house together, and she’d already confided in Bev. ‘It’s like this,’ she began.