Sixteen years later
“Brian, I need a favor,” Meena said into the phone. She hated asking anyone for anything, but she was getting desperate and it was too early to call a service. Or if she did, she’d get charged double time when she was hoping it was something Brian could fix.
“Sure, what do you need?” he asked on the other end. It was Monday morning, barely seven. He’d be leaving for work soon and she felt horrible calling, but she had clients that would be showing up at nine. And not just her clients either. Being a business owner was a lot more difficult than she thought.
“I’ve got no hot water for some reason. I don’t know why.”
“Is your furnace working?”
“I think. It was cold when I came in, but then I turned it on and I heard it kick in.” She moved closer to the vent. “Yep, hot air coming out.”
She didn’t know the first thing about furnaces or heating, nothing mechanical. What she did know was hair. And she had close to fifteen of her twenty chairs that would be filled in two hours and she needed hot water and she needed it fast.
“I’ve got a meeting this morning at nine, so I’ve got time to run over quick and look at it. Give me about thirty minutes to get there.”
He was a lifesaver coming to her aid this early in the morning. Not many brothers would do that and she was damn lucky and knew it. Years ago, she wouldn’t have called him. Or she would have, but might have worried he wouldn’t have come. She’d pestered him enough when they were kids, doing what little sisters did.
She hung up and went about getting her salon ready to open. She had plenty of time, but she liked to make sure everything was just right.
Having only owned the business for six months, she was still trying to figure out what she wanted to do with the place.
It was huge, which was part of what she was looking for. It was located conveniently in Albany with easy access to major highways.
And it had high-end clientele.
That had been the biggest piece of the puzzle. Pulse catered to all ages, all styles, and most pocketbooks. But the deep pocketbooks were the ones she was trying to target the most.
If it was the newest rage in style, color, and technique, Pulse was the place people were flocking to. More so than ever.
Her own unique style and creativity had people piling in faster and requesting her. Her biggest problem of late was making time for everyone, which she couldn’t do. So instead, she started to train a few of the girls in the salon how to mix colors the way she did. How to be bold and vibrant and make the color last.
Some of the girls were good, but they just needed to learn a few tricks that she was willing to pass on. The more people in the salon, the more revenue.
Half her twenty chairs were rented out, the other half were her employees. Business was booming.
But that boom was going to crash if she didn’t have hot water for all her appointments this morning.
Less than thirty minutes later, Brian was walking in the door and he wasn’t alone. Troy Walker was behind him and he was carrying a bag of tools. Sexy? Hell yeah!
She hadn’t seen him in almost two years. Not since she’d come home for his father’s funeral. His beautiful girlfriend had been there with him and Meena had felt out of place, so she’d given her condolences and made a fast exit, driving back home to Manhattan where she felt like she belonged. She never felt like she belonged in her hometown just outside of Albany in the suburbs.
Suburbia living wasn’t for her. She wanted downtown and she wanted action. She got it all in the Big Apple.
When Brian let it slip shortly after the funeral that Troy’s girlfriend had decided to move on to someone else, Meena knew it was now or never and put her plan in place to move back home. All those years of excitement and big city living were out the window. Whatever she’d been looking for, she realized she just wasn’t finding it.
Not there but maybe here. Maybe coming back as an adult on her own terms would make the difference.
She hadn’t been able to find a way or a reason to see Troy since she’d been back. Looked like today was the day to make some progress.
“Thanks for rushing over, Brian,” Meena said, walking forward and giving him a kiss on the cheek. “My hero. I’m going to go get you some breakfast while you look it over because I’m guessing you ran out the door as soon as you hung up like the awesome brother you are.”
Brian laughed. “There used to be a time you didn’t think I was so awesome.”
She grew up. “And there used to be a time you wouldn’t have come over if I asked.”
Brian rolled his eyes. “I’d always come over, but I would have been grouchy about it.”
She gave Brian a little playful shove, then made her way toward Troy and opened her arms. He seemed to hesitate and she didn’t care. She was going to give her brother’s best friend a hug. “It’s so good to see you, Troy.”
He wrapped his arms around her and held on tighter than she thought he would have, then let go much sooner than she would have preferred. He still topped her five-foot-six-inch frame by half a foot, but he’d filled out plenty. “You too, Meena. You look good.”
She ran her hand through her long bright red hair. “Thanks. I decided I needed a change.”
“Her hair was silver a few weeks ago,” Brian said.
“Titanium. And though it’s popular right now, I kept thinking it was too close to Mom’s natural color and it freaked me out.”
“Nothing has ever freaked you out before, but whatever works,” Brian said. “Though I know a few things about a furnace or water heater, thanks to Troy, I figured I might as well bring him along since he was my nine o’clock appointment anyway.”
“Whatever gets me hot water, I don’t care. Just don’t make it hurt too much,” she joked to Troy. He actually blushed. Holy cow. She didn’t see that coming.
Troy now owned his father’s heating and cooling business that had fleets of vans covering a good hundred-mile radius of the Capital Region in all directions. Last she knew he didn’t do much hands-on work himself. Not after his father passed away.
Her brother, on the other hand, spent most of his time in a stuffy suit and tie riding a desk at his legal firm. Neither one of them really wanted to work for anyone else.
“Did you check all the faucets or just one?” Troy asked her.
Dang it, what an idiot she was. “Ah, just one. Maybe it’s the faucet and an easy fix.”
“Could be,” he said, turning a few on. “But you’re out of luck because there’s no hot water coming through any of them.”
Her shoulders dropped. “I’m more concerned about canceling all the appointments than I am the cost to fix what is wrong. Though I still hope I’m not hit too hard.”
Revenue was high, expenses were actually decent. Her business was thriving, but she’d always been frugal when it came to money. Her only splurges were clothing, and even then, she still bought discount. Who needed brand names when half the time she was going for color and texture. She wasn’t one to follow the current trends or fashion. Jeans were jeans in her book. Especially if she decided to take a pair of scissors to them herself. Best to do that with ten-dollar jeans and not hundred-dollar ones.
“I’ll try,” Troy said, sending her one of those rare smiles he often did when she was a kid pestering him and Brian. It’d been way too long since she’d seen his smile in person. Just her dreams for the past several years.
“While we’re being your little slaves, how about some breakfast?” Brian reminded her.
“Can do,” she said. “There’s a bakery a street over. I’ll just run there now and grab a few things. How do you take your coffee, Troy?” she asked.
“He likes it black and strong enough to grow hair on his chest,” Brian said.
She smiled when Troy rolled his eyes. “Hairy chests aren’t really in, you know?” she told Troy.
Troy ran his hand over his jaw as if he was thinking. She’d never seen him with much more than a goatee now and again. Never hair on his cheeks. She wondered if he was one of those men that couldn’t grow a full beard, but she liked him clean-shaven just like now.
Brian snorted, then said, “His chest is as bare as a baby’s bottom. That’s why he drinks his coffee that way.”
“Ass,” Troy said, following Brian to the cellar door.
She let the two of them go and got the hell out of there, thankful it was February and the blast of cold air that hit her cooled down her body that overheated at the thought of seeing any part of Troy naked.