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I never thought my life would be what it is today. Here I am, 27 years old, helping to manage my cousin’s newest casino in Reno, Nevada, a convicted felon and recovering addict. I’m not proud of my past, I mean who would be after everything I had done? I had a great girl, got lost in my insecurities, messed with the wrong crowd, and ended up hurting the one person I loved the most. When I found out she had found love again with my cousin, who was like a brother to me, I fell deeper into my darkness and ended up partnering with some really bad people to hurt her even more.
Since I’ve been out and have gone through rehabilitation and therapy, she, and my family, have forgiven me for my past sins and we have started to mend our broken relationship. But I have yet to forgive myself. I have yet to feel I deserve to be happy after all the sadness and hurt I caused.
My cousin, Xavier, thought I needed a change of scenery to get myself back on track, and to be honest, I could not have agreed more. I loved my cousin, and I was happy my ex, Cassie, was able to find love again with him. Their relationship was special, and I could see that he was the better man for her. Watching them together, the way they look at each other when the other is not looking, and the way they can calm each other with just a touch, or a look is something I’ve always wanted for myself. I thought I had it with Cassie, but I see now, my relationship with Cassie was never meant to be more than a close friendship.
I agreed to help oversee the construction of their new casino here in Reno, alongside my cousin, Austin, Xavier’s younger brother. I was looking forward to being here. It was a new city where nobody knew who I was, where I was not surrounded by the constant reminders of my past. I could move forward with my life here and finally feel deserving of some type of happiness, or at the very least, figure out who I am and finally be able to forgive myself for what I had done to my family. What I knew for sure was I had to focus on myself first before diving into a relationship with anyone else. What good am I going to be to someone else if I don’t feel I am good for myself?
At least, that was my intention when I accepted Xavier’s offer. But then, when we had come out here to conduct interviews for our new staff, a tiny, dark-haired beauty, with the most alluring blue eyes I had ever seen, walked into my life causing me to reevaluate my goals. Well, her and the 4-year-old miniature version of her, who was just as beautiful. When I had laid eyes on them and they both looked back at me with their big baby blues, it stirred up feelings inside me I thought had died.
Jana Lynn Davis, a petite, kind-hearted woman, who was going through a rough divorce, had walked into my life and turned it completely upside-down. Her daughter, Athena, stole my heart the moment she smiled up at me. Jana had come to interview for one of the head waitress positions at our casino. When we first read her application, we had all agreed that we would hire her even before we met her. Then, when the day of her interview came, and we saw her arguing with her then douche of a husband in the parking lot with her daughter hiding behind her scared out of her mind, we all went into protector mode, me more so than the others.
After the week of interviews, Austin and I went back home to Las Vegas with Xavier and Ethan to pack our things. We were going to be returning to Reno and staying there to make sure the casino is ready for the grand opening. Austin planned to stay during the week and return home to his pregnant wife, Chelsea, on the weekends. Me, I was not sure yet if this move was going to be permanent or not, but I packed all of my belongings and brought them with me just in case. My sister Ashlie, and her son Lucas, have come out here to help us as well. She has a degree in Finance and Xavier had hired her to manage the books for the casino.
I think she needed this move just as much as I did. Lucas’s father had passed away not too long after Lucas was born in a hit-and-run accident. She had been raising him by herself, with the help of our father and Lucas’s paternal grandparents. She had not had much luck in the relationship department either up until recently when she met Rodney Hutchinson, a police officer with the Reno Police Department. They met about a year ago when she had come here on a business trip. So, when Xavier presented this job opportunity to her, she jumped on it, and I have to say, I have not seen my big sister this happy in a long time.
Her son Lucas is a great kid. In his short life of 12 years, he was already more mature than most guys my age. My sister did an amazing job raising him to be a polite, respectful, and responsible young man. He never knew his father personally, but my sister and his grandparents made sure he knew him from the stories they would tell him. I love having them around. Ever since I was released from prison and had been going through rehab, Ashlie has been my rock. I don’t think I could have gotten this far without her. Depending on how things go with Rodney, I have a feeling this move to Reno will be permanent for her. If I decide to stay here permanently, then at least I know I have some family nearby.
Chelsea has made some trips out to Reno with Austin. She works in Marketing and has been helping us with the advertisement for the Casino. She and Ashlie have been spending a lot of time with Jana. Lucas and Athena have also built a great relationship. He watches over her like a big brother would, similar to how Damien, Xavier’s oldest son, is with his younger siblings. I am grateful to them for opening their hearts to Jana and Athena. The divorce has been weighing heavily on them, and it does not seem like Jana has any family here to support her through this process.
Since the first day Jana and I met, we have been almost inseparable. When I am back home in Las Vegas, we text and video chat every day, and when I am in Reno, we are either working closely together at the casino or we are hanging out at home with Austin, my sister Ashlie, her son Lucas, and Chelsea when she visits. I had decided, that even though I had strong feelings for her, I did not want to pursue anything more than a friendship with her for now. Given the situation she was in with her now ex-husband, and the fact that I had a few demons I needed to overcome, I did not want to rush into things with her and ruin something between us before it even starts. Besides, I had to think of Athena’s feelings as well. She was already going through so much watching her parents go through the divorce, I did not want to add any more stress or trauma to her than necessary. She is such a sweet girl and all I want to do is protect her from any more hurt than what her father was inflicting on her.
Jana and I have built a great friendship over these past months. She is so easy to talk to and so much fun to hang out with. We have a lot in common. We like the same movies, we have the same taste in foods, we both love watching basketball and football, and we both prefer a quiet night at home over a night out at a club. The trust we shared ran deep. So much so, that we had opened up about our pasts. I told her everything about my past and she told me about her troubled marriage.
We both agreed we have so much to work through before we can jump into any romantic relationship right now. But that does not mean we don’t see the chemistry between us and have not engaged in playful, and flirtatious banter with each other from time to time. She has quickly become one of my best friends, and I am hoping that I am one of hers.
The construction of the casino has been going well and on schedule. The staff we hired had been working hard to get everything set up inside. We have formed a great bond with this group we brought on. The opening of the casino was two weeks away. Xavier and the rest of the family were flying up here next week to help with the final preparations, including hosting a staff party two days before we opened. We had decided that our parents would stay in the suite above the casino while the rest of us stayed here at the rental house. Since everyone was bringing their children, it made the most sense for us to stay here since it had a backyard and a swimming pool for the kids to play in.
Jana and I were busy getting the bar are setup. She was busy placing the tablecloths and arrangements out while I was getting the bar stocked. I could not help but stop and stare at her while she moved around the floor. I was mesmerized watching her ponytail bounce when she walked, the natural sway of her hips, and the way she meticulously laid out the tablecloths perfectly over each table. I could not help but fall more and more in love with her each day we spent together.
“The tables are all done,” she says as she walks up to the bar. I had my back turned to her initially as I was placing some bottles on the shelves. When I turned around, I found her arranging the napkins and snack dishes on the bar.
“They look great.” I take in the perfectly decorated tables and turn to her with a smile. She stops what she’s doing and turns to admire her work.
“They do, don’t they?” She giggles as she turns back to face me. “Do you need any help back here?”
“No, I’m just about done.” I finish putting up the rest of the bottles on the shelf as she sits down and watches me. Just then, Austin and Chelsea walk up to us and take a seat on the barstools next to Jana.
“Everything is in order,” Austin smiles as he helps Chelsea onto her seat. “I’m thinking we can give the staff the rest of the week and next week off until we open.” I stop and take a look around the casino and smile to myself.
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” I smile as I lean on the bar.
“Great, I’ll let everyone know,” he nods. “How about the four of us and Ashlie and Rodney go out for some dinner and dancing tonight to celebrate?”
“I’m game,” I smile, and we all turn to Jana.
“Um, sure. I just need to find a sitter,” she smiles shyly.
“No worries,” Ashlie says as she walks up next to her. “Rodney’s parents are coming over to watch Lucas for me. I am sure they would not mind watching Athena as well.”
“Are you sure?” She looks at Ashlie hesitantly.
“Yes, I’m sure. I have already worked it out with them. Lucas is already building their fort in the living room and getting things ready for when you bring her by,” Ashlie laughs. “How about you bring her by around six and we will leave from there?”
“Ok,” Jana smiles at her. She then looks at her watch and back at us. “I have to pick her up from her daycare. I’ll see you guys tonight.” She gives us a small wave and heads towards the employee area to get her things. As soon as she disappears through the doors, Chelsea and Ashlie quickly turn to me with matching smirks.
“Why are you three looking at me like that?” I sigh knowing my sister and cousin are up to something. They exchange a look between the two of them but do not say a word. When they turn back to stare at me, I laugh. “Have two of you suddenly lost all ability to talk?”
“Are you ok with going out tonight?” Ashlie asks me, trying to hold back a snicker.
“Yes? Why wouldn’t I be?” I scoff.
“Just wanted to be sure,” she smiles. I look at the two of them thoroughly confused at this whole exchange. Why would they want to be sure I was ok going out with them, Rodney, and Jana? It’s not like we haven’t hung out together before, although this would be the first time we have gone out dancing…after going out to dinner…just the six of us…Austin and Chelsea…Ashlie and Rodney…me and…OH SHIT! My eyes go wide when I realize what the two of them were grinning about.
“I think he’s finally figured it out!” Austin laughs as he points to my face. Chelsea and Ashlie join him in laughing at my expense. I groan knowing Chelsea and Ashlie had somehow tricked Jana and me to go on a date. They have been trying for months to get me to take her out on one, but we both had been adamant about us just being friends and wanting to keep it that way for now. I scowl at the three hyenas cackling in front of me hoping they would stop but it just makes them laugh louder.
“Don’t be like that, Kyle.” Ashlie puts her hand on my arm and smiles. “You two need this.”
“How do you figure?” I fold my arms in front of me scowling at her.
“Look, we know why you two want to keep your relationship to just friendship, but we also know you two are crazy about each other,” Chelsea jumps in trying to defend their actions. “This will give you two time together but not have the pressure of actually being on a date.”
“Three couples going out to dinner and dancing is technically a triple date,” I huffed.
“Not if we don’t say it is,” Ashlie smiles like the Cheshire Cat. “And, we say it’s not a date, right Chels?” She says as she turns to Chelsea.
“Right,” Chelsea fist bumps Ashlie and nods. I turn to Austin who is just shaking his head at them.
“It’s a fucking date, isn’t it?” I groan.
“Yep,” he laughs. “And you’re not getting out of it. Not if you don’t want them to kill you.” He says as he waves his finger between Chelsea and Ashlie. The two women were looking at me triumphantly as if they had won a bet. I groan and run my hand over my face. Jana is not going to like this.