"Nevaeh, hey isn't this the guy whose picture you were holding all those years ago," Cyan rushed through her front door waving a newspaper then shoved it at her. "You know, when you woke up from that coma on the beach all bleeding and pregnant and you didn't have a clue how you got knocked up cause you've never had a relationship with a man?"
"What...?" She looked at her best friend as she panted. Her green eyes as always bursting against what she felt were her own less adventurous brown just as her red hair hair sparked against her own uneventful black.
"You know the one who killed your father...the one whose father killed your brother?"
"What?" The paper ripped as she unrolled it then stared at the headline. Cormac Keo, an art exhibition.
"He's trying to take over your family's company now right?"
She grabbed Cyan's arm and pulled her out of the parlor into the hallway. "Shhh mother might hear you."
"Your memory still hasn't come back this might be your chance."
Nevaeh turned away from her and took a few steps. She could feel the burn of the sun again, the pain of the breaks and wounds in her body as she dragged herself on the biting sand of Pampelonne beach reaching for that short distance home. Hear again that same torturing voice that even after thirteen years still chilled her skin...
"You're lucky...you lost your memory. Just saved your life and your unborn...won't save them though. Make sure you stay forgetting, remembering could kill...Will kill."
"Remembering isn't what you want anyway..."
She rubbed her amber forearms and gave her head a shake.
"Don't you want to know what happened during that year you can't remember? I know I do."
"He killed my father. He's a Keo and I'm a Taylor." "And he's the only clue to your past, I mean why else would you have been clutching his picture-in a death grip-that's what you said right?"
She turned to face her then flipped the newspaper.
Renowned artist and self made billionaire Cormac Keo part Native American finely added to his European and Hawaiian ancestry, has touched down on the shores of St Tropez for the first time to display his acclaimed art. In high demand, just one of his paintings can sell for millions which thrust him from poverty to wealth. Art however is not where he makes his most money, the billionaire has his fingers in hotels, restaurants. He even owns a film studio and maintains shares in what he doesn't own. He's however best known for his looks which leaves him the envy of his peers and ferociously sought after by females. I for one will make an appearance tonight at the Galerie Vénéré and I won't be only admiring the art.
"You wake up half dead on a beach practically crawling for your life, you can't remember a single thing for an entire year and oh you just happen to be pregnant, did I mention-no clue...and you won't see the one man with a key to it all."
She rolled up the paper again. "It's something I'd rather forget."
"Have you though?"
"Like I said," she balled the paper until it was no longer useful, "he's a Keo and a murderer...I wouldn't expect any form of truth from him. Besides after I was released from the hospital I did make an attempt to confront him."
"You never told me that."
"He was in prison and I booked a flight to Hawaii, on route in the cab, a car blocked our path, a man and a woman jumped out. They said they were having problems with their car. Next thing I know my head is covered with a hood. An old man came and untied both myself and the cabdriver hours later. I missed my flight."
"And you never told me this."
"I never really wanted to talk about it. I suppose it was a simple robbery but I tried again. I got to the airport this time, my booking had been cancelled. After that I must admit I was shaken but five years later when I heard he'd been released and he was in Los Angeles. I tried again. My booking had not only been cancelled but for whatever reason they took me into a room and questioned me for hours. As if I was going to blow up the plane or something. They finally let me go but they siezed my passport. I decided it was pointless after that. After all my twins were healthy and happy..."
"And you never told me."
She warmed her arms with her palms.
"Coincidence...?" Cyan said.
"I don't know."
"But that isn't the worst of it." She said.
"What could be worse than that."
"Around the time we first met. I think it was the first time my booking was cancelled. Outside the airport a man waved to me, an older gentleman maybe in his late seventies. He was in a hurry with the door of a taxi open cars honking behind them."
"Did you recognize him?"
"No...but he shouted across the pavement, glad to see you're looking better, you looked like death on the boat. Make sure and greet your husband and son for me. I must say I would have been suspicious but for the boy."
"I know I only have Navarro and Noelani...and even the doctors confirmed that that was my first pregnancy."
"Maybe he took you for someone else."
"Maybe...but somehow I don't think so."
"All the more reason to go to this gallery thing." "There was also the time I was just leaving a cafe when the waitress smiled and said I have an admirer and
he's been watching me with binoculars the whole time."
"I think you really need to get answers Vaeh...this is sounding weird and scary."
She exhaled and dropped her shoulders.
"Vaeh...well Bric told me this Cormac Keo's already got a lot of shares and he's still buying. There's a rumor he's going to break up the Taylor real estate company and sell it to the highest bidder."
The paper ripped. "What...that company's been in my fathers family for decades, its my twins legacy. Do my aunts and uncle know...my mother?"
"I'm sure...Bric tells me it's all over the office.
" She threw the paper aside. "No one tells me anything in this house."
"Where was this gallery showing again?" She headed for the discarded paper.
"It's the Gallery Vénéré, Bric is outside we can be there in half an hour."
"Aren't you taking your bag?"
"I'll need both hands when I come face to face with Cormac Keo." She slipped the paper under her arm and pulled Cyan's hand.
"So your mother doesn't see huh."
"You know the Taylors and the Keo's-and how my mother gets." She rushed her through the door. "Better not to let the family know where we're going."
"Gotcha. He's not going to talk if you go at him guns blazing like this."
She pulled open the backdoor of Cyan's boyfriend, Brics Porsche. "The type of conversation I'm hoping to have with him doesn't require many words." She closed the door.
"I just realized I don't know what he looks like." Nevaeh Taylor looked around the gallery, people moved around pressed to overflowing.
"What about the picture?" Cyan said.
"It was so faded like it had been stared to death." "There wasn't a picture of him in the paper, I've got to admit I'm dying of curiosity."
"I...I think I'll walk through the gallery, you and Bric can take in the art." She started to walk away.
"You're always going off alone..."
She waved a hand and turned a corner. A young couple stood entwined before a painting. A keen hollow ache settled in her chest. At such times she'd normally escape into her room at home-Cher Ami-or dash onto that very beach that had witnessed her crawl from death.
She was thankful though for Navarro and Noelani, her children remained her continuing light in this mystery that was her. She pivoted around another corner and pretended the mill of people were not around her. She still couldn't see any man likely to be Cormac Keo. Her eyes rotated to his abstract paintings along the walls, they held. She crossed her arms. He was brilliant. Her lip curled and she turned away again searching the faces around her. Swift moving feet caught her interest. Her head swiveled at the moment a tall lean man shot forward around a corner then went to stand behind a display as if concealing himself.
His action kept her eyes on him and she focused
looking closer then grabbed for breath as her eyes
found his face. Her heart stuttered and she felt her lips
part. Whispers blew through her subconscious but wouldn't
coalesce. There was something about him but she could not
quite place it. She could not however recall ever having
beheld any so appealing.
His hair fell in dark waves, a little long to the back of his neck, his thick brows lifted sharply forming a face of arresting interest that held captive over the line of his rising nose to the curve of his mouth.
Three teenage girls finally tore her eyes away as they sped past, their eyes sweeping, busy giggling, a snatch of their, "Where did he go, can you see him...?"
Causing the corners of her mouth to tremble as the man observing his hiding place easily exposed straightened and turned his back joining a pair of elderly women absorbed in one of Cormac Keo's paintings. The teenage girls paused catching his sight, their giggles strengthening.
"He's so cute..." The redhead said.
"I'm in love..." The other with pink hair played with her lip.
"I wish..." The last with blonde dreadlocks sighed.
There was an in drawn breath.
She smiled, her own eyes still fixed on him, there was something about him. More than his lure and it held her attention and whirled her mind.
He looked cut out from mold, a form of perfection used unsuccessfully to create everyone else. Native American necklaces fell from his neck, what caught her eye was a wolfs claw and a braided dream catcher which stirred something in her mind that had her frowning. The girls eventually sidled away.
The man seemed to observe this and appeared ready to take his leave but, Nevaeh's smile widened, it would seem he'd jumped from the pot into the fire. The old ladies grabbed both of his arms and simpered. His body became tense, his eyes darting about, his shoulders dragging before he turned his eyes once heavenward. She chuckled and decided to take pity on him. She crossed the shining gallery floor.
"I was sent to get you, you're wanted in the main gallery." She said. His lure was further enhanced close-
up, the five o'clock shadow dusting his jaw adding an edge. Her eyes fell of a will of their own traveling over his dark distressed high fashion jeans and designer style blazer worn over a light U neck hand aged t-shirt emblazoned with a hard design of a rock group.
She smiled looking up and now catching his sage eyes.
Her smile dipped and a whisper chased through her mind.
His eyes changed, a dark fire storming their depths, his face hardened and set and his body stilled, standing tight and straight. With a sharp movement he drew his arms out of the elderly women's clutch. She hid her hands in her dress and twisted her fingers as she was met with his concentrated hard stare fixed and unmoving. This was a fresh meeting? He was a stranger after all right?
Acrimony and venom came off him in waves. Perhaps this was his personality or he was not in a good mood? She decided to break the ice. She extended her hand and pulled her lips into her brightest smile.
"Hi I'm Nevaeh Taylor."
His eyes fell on her hand then lifted back to her face, her eyes blinked fast and she prattled.
"I promise my hands are clean and no sharp objects...honest I wash them all the time..."
His mouth tightened and his eyes narrowed.
Well she wasn't his favorite person and her heroic bid of an offer of an escape for him it was obvious was not appreciated. She dropped her hand and wiped them on her simple dress. Ticking time between their silence cut sharp and she balled her hands feeling a building tightness in her chest blinking under his hard look.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I just-"
With a swift move he turned and walked away, his back stiff, he turned the corner then was gone. The elderly women standing in front of her tsk'ed. The older one shook her head making noises between her lips.
"He doesn't like you." She said.
"What," the other said, eyes wide, "did you do to such a fine man?"
They looked at her. She shook her head in degrees still looking where he'd disappeared.
"I don't know him, I've never met him." She said.
"Well you must..." The older woman said, "Fanny
doesn't that look like her in the painting?"
The other woman looked at the painting then at her.
"Why yes yes Alice...why I'll be it is her. Such a beautiful piece of work. Actually they're five of you all along this line. His best work if you ask me."
Nevaeh moved in small jerks as if in a dream or maybe a waking nightmare and went to stand before the painting. She had no doubt the abstract lines and brush work of the painting was her. She was younger in it and naked. That private part of her that she'd believed none had seen, her birthmark was bared. Although Cormac Keo hadn't exposed her, there was still too much of her on display for her liking. She moved to the next, then the next. Her eyes widened and dragged away from each reluctantly but they were of her. Her heart hammered. No. He couldn't be. All of her memories were intact apart from that missing year and her mother had filled those gaps and in no place had there been a Cormac Keo. Her mother was certain, her family was certain, one thing for sure she had never met Cormac Keo. She drew in a deep breath. No this was his first trip to St Tropez and she according to her mother had never left its shores. Her lips set and a showdown burned in her chest, how dare he paint her and nude. But how does he know...why were you holding his picture?
The women came to stand beside her.
"Lovely aren't they?" The older one said.
"Did you two have a spat then?" The other added.
She turned mechanically the burn in her chest
They pointed at the painting.
"I don't even know him." She said.
But she was about to and his head better be attached tightly. The two ladies she guessed to be British tourists looked at each other.
"Why that was him that just left a moment ago love." The older one said.
Nevaeh blinked and stared at them.
Cormac Keo was the man who'd refused her hand in introduction, displayed such unnecessary hostility? It sank in slowly. Then she swept around in a rush of air her lips tight and stamped in the direction he'd disappeared. Her best friend Cyan and Bric slipped to her side as she passed them, she barely paused.
"Hey was that cursed Keo, I just saw you with?" Bric winded stretched his stride to match hers.
"Cursed Keo?" She and Cyan said in unison.
The hot burn in her chest urged her but curiosity froze her feet for a moment.
"She's here." Cormac's voice was urgent to the only remaining person that was as close to family as he would ever have again, Summer Ellis. Blonde blue-eyed, a little too thin but curvy and almost as tall as his over six feet and the same age as his thirty-one. She was beautiful, a famous actress that thirteen years ago had come to stand next to him on the beach then given him a home and opportunity. They maintained an easy relationship and slipped into each other's bed on occasion, though it had been two years since he'd taken her to bed and six months since he'd had a woman. Summer made it a habit of being the one on his arm when they attended a function even if-especially if-he had a date. She would just jump in, straighten his tie, dust his blazer and wrap her arm through his leaving whatever current woman he had with him to walk behind them. He let her. There was no promise, no word but he'd likely marry her in the end. Probably.
Summer nodded at the group of four men she was speaking with, she enjoyed that, being the center, having men want her.
"Who love?" She fluffed her straight hair, Summer had beautiful thick long blond hair that fell to the middle of her back. No one but he knew how much time she spent getting it to look that way.
Cormac breathed still suffering the mix of feelings inside. She must be thirty now but she barely looked it. Back then he would have thought it impossible but her dark looks had matured into a more enhanced allure though she seemed very different from the girl he'd known then.
Summer finally paid him attention.
"Well," she said looking at him, "you knew love coming to St Tropez that you would see the Taylors, better sooner. Now you can finish your plan and destroy them as you intend right?"
He met her gaze, his body was strained and there was chaos inside him. He hadn't thought of how he'd feel seeing Nevaeh Taylor again. He'd expected hate, he'd expected anger and they were there but so were a host of other feelings that roiled in a chemistry of destruction inside him. His mind drifted as Summer returned to flirting with the men and they lavished adoration back at her. Nevaeh Taylor, the reason he'd rotted in prison for five years, every day expecting her to walk through the doors and set him free with her words but nothing. Nothing. Nevaeh Taylor the forbidden, the princess and he the cursed Keo, the beast...The cursed beast and the bedeviled princess. It could have only ended one way. Had it been thirteen years...really that long...
The cursed Keo's, for as long as Cormac Keo had memory he'd had those words thrown at him, ground in his face and laughed at his back and he'd lived up to it. Modeled himself with his ripped clothes and leather jackets, sunglasses for effect. He'd ridden his 1957 Harley Davidson pan head, his motorcycle Bessie. The only thing of value he had and he'd toughened up till no one dared say it to his face.
He swung his bike over the sand of Poipu Beach. He felt a little worn, he'd just spent the day flipping burgers promising himself at every moment to make something of himself one day. The wheels of his bike swept up sand as he flicked his gaze toward the sea. His eyes narrowed. Was that not...Nevaeh Taylor of the Taylors sitting on the sand of Poipu beach her glasses sitting on her nose, her good girl dress tucked correctly under legs, her dark hair in a plait down her neck reading a thick book. The recognition came immediately.
The Taylors were of interest to him ever since his mother told him the story, he'd read about them, bought newspapers. He'd heard they were in Hawaii for the summer staying in Koloa and a part of him had been curios to take a look, someone had pointed her out but from a distance. Now he had the chance on their golden girl. For a moment he was tempted to ride his bike next to her and work sand onto her but his mother had raised him well. He parked and slipped off the bike removing his sunglasses and moving toward her.
She barely looked up, why should she, the princess, the forbidden fruit he'd been warned to keep a berth from. Whilst he was the mocked cursed Keo thanks to her family. He hadn't understood it younger, the cursed Keo, but as he aged into a young man his father had revealed its painful source.
"A woman I was married to years before then divorced after meeting and falling in love with Your mother cursed me one day in the middle of Koloa for everyone to hear. Aniya Taylor."
Aniya Taylor, Nevaeh Taylor's mother. There was more to the story though his father was reluctant to tell it. Cormac knew however that his father had once been a wealthy man, now they lived in a wooden shack a short walk to Poipu beach and he wondered why. He'd cornered his mother at the only table in their one room shack one day and she'd finally told him the story.
"Your father and I met down the beach one day, he had
his canvas set up and was doing an oil painting of the most
beautiful sunrise, I thought he was the beautiful one. We
sat for hours just talking, then we met again and
again...till we were in love but he was married for two
years. He decided to leave her, she was angry and hired a
lawyer and stripped your father of half of everything he
owned. But we didn't care, we were in love, happy, he was
free...Your father bought a house in Koloa, I loved it and
we moved in and prepared to share our life. I honestly
believed that was the end of it..."
"She wanted revenge?"
"Yes...she married again quickly to a very wealthy and powerful real estate mogul and I suppose her request of her husband was to destroy mine. They set about it...your father owned hotels...suddenly there were rumors going around that the walls in his hotels were filled with lead...that the kitchens were infested. People came out swearing to have eaten cockroaches...so many negative stories ran in the press, clientele dropped, investors pulled out, staff quit, banks were calling for their loans to be repaid. People sold their stock...then we found out the one buying was Jet Taylor, Aniya's husband. Slowly he forced your father into a position where he had to sell and he did, to him. After all the losses we had little money left which was further sucked by the debt. Angry your father travelled to St Tropez...that's where they lived..."
"Weren't they American?"
"Yes but they settled there, your father left Kauai for St Tropez...later he told me he'd entered their house meaning to speak to Jet and Aniya to leave us, return the hotels...all we had left was the house in Koloa...Jet responded in rage and your father answered in kind. They threw fists then Jet pulled out a gun...they struggled..."
His mother had gone silent and looked down at their scarred table where she insisted every meal the three of them gather together to eat.
"Mother what happened? "He'd covered her hand.
"The gun...it fired...their little boy fell to the floor-dead."
"No..." Agony strained his chest, "and papa...?"
"They tried to have him arrested, he spent time in jail but they ruled it an accident and let him go. The Taylors swore revenge. Aniya followed him back to Kauai cursing him down the streets till her husband came to get her."
"Is that where the cursed Keo comes from?"
"It was after that...we already had you, then I fell pregnant again...but I lost the baby, your father made some investments hoping to get his money back but they all went sour. Every pregnancy I had after that...miscarriage, then our house burnt down...I know it was them. We had no money, nothing...your father couldn't get a job, strangely. If he got it they'd call him a short time later and give him his dismissal...we knew it was the Taylors, we heard they couldn't have any more children after their daughter. They blamed us for not having a son."
"Then we came to live here and papa working for peanuts painting people's portraits." He said.
"Why don't you fight them mama, why-"
"Son, we live as quietly as we can...you're our joy, it's enough."
"But don't you get tired scrubbing toilets and papa-"
"That's for us-"
"No," he'd risen and walked out, his chest burning, if he ever laid his eyes on a Taylor...
That was seven years ago, he was eighteen now...and he had finally...laid his eyes on a Taylor.
His feet scrunched in the sand encased in his only pair of boots, the waves singing their song as they washed the shore filled his ears. It was past afternoon and there were only a few people on the beach, the air cooling preparing for nightfall. He stopped next to her and looked down at her. She continued reading.
"Aloha." He said.
"Aloha," she mumbled still not lifting her eyes, still reading.
He crouched, then sat down next to her. Then stopped a moment for even with those ugly glasses and her hair pulled tightly behind her, even with no make-up she was the most bewitching girl he'd ever seen. He found himself gazing at her lips wanting to kiss her.
"I didn't say you could sit." She turned a page.
"I didn't ask." He said.
You couldn't see her breasts under her good girl dress but he found himself looking at her chest.
"You're rude." She continued reading her book.
"I suppose you're not. You keep reading that book when you should be asking my name."
"I don't want to know it." She turned a page.
"You're rude." He said. He wondered what it felt like to touch her.
She made a sound then dropped the book on her lap turning to him. Their eyes touched and he felt strangled, hers were dark honey with lights, big and uncommon. She blinked then lowered them.
"Come I want to show you something." He held out his hand.
"I'm not supposed to speak to strangers."
"What are you five?"
"Seventeen." Her eyes lifted.
"I'm eighteen, see we're already acquainted. Not strangers."
A smile shaded her lips and hesitated at the corners.
She turned and looked into the distance for a long moment.
"I have to go." She started to rise picking her bag and book and walkman.
"It will only take a moment, you'll like it, on my bike...don't you want to see the parts of Kauai tourists never see." He rose with her. She was tall reaching his chin.
She flicked a glance at his bike.
"I don't think father would like me riding on that."
"Do you always do what your parents want?"
"I," she blinked, "don't know you." "Cormac Keo." He gave her a half salute. Her eyes shaded. So she knew him.
"I'm sorry my parents told me to..." She twisted her toe in the sand.
"Stay away from the cursed Keo."
"Cursed Keo?" A slight curve touched the corner of her mouth.
"Isn't that what they said?"
"No..." She chewed her lip, "they told me your family...were bad so I should keep away."
"And do I look bad?"
They hadn't told her the story.
"Yes." She smiled.
He wanted to touch her badly, he took her hand and felt actual electricity. He looked into her eyes seeing she felt it too.
"I promise to be good for you." He made an innocent face and she laughed. She didn't pull back her hand.
"Do they," her brow creased, "call you cursed Keo?" "Yes...a wicked witch cursed my father long ago and
we've lived under it for years...but now I've met the beautiful princess and her kiss will lift the curse." He met her eyes, "will you kiss me?"
She looked warm, hiding her eyes.
"My parents wouldn't like that." She said.
"And you always do what they say?"
"Don't you," she looked up with wide eyes.
"No." He thought of the dishes he washed every night, the garbage he took out and the shack he cleaned everyday, all on his mothers orders.
"A cursed Keo wouldn't do well with a bedeviled sister."
"Bedeviled sister?" He said.
She lifted her shoulders, "oh just a family joke...no one seems to find love amongst us...and if they do...it's always ripped away."
"But your mother...?"
"The only exception...so far...fingers crossed." She giggled. "So you see I doubt my kiss would lift your curse."
"I'll take my chance," he stepped forward.
"Where," she moved back looking away, "do you want to take me?"
"For a ride through Koloa...maybe one day I'll take you to Spouting Horn."
"I'd love that."
He'd been so involved he hadn't seen him come. The man tore her hand out of his and pulled her with him.
"Come Nevaeh, we don't speak to riff ruff like this." Cormac guessed this was Jet Taylor. He felt a burn of fire.
"I'm sorry I have to go." She said.
"Tomorrow, here 3 p.m." He mouthed at her.
She nodded her eyes trekking the sand, her father dragged her away.
Cormac smiled thinking I know. Strangely the anger he felt for the Taylors didn't extend to her but there was a conflict inside him. He headed for his bike finding himself looking forward to the next day.
"What do you think Cormac?"
His mind drifted into the present.
"Have you been listening?" Summer flicked her hair and swept her blue eyes to his face.
"Sorry..." He ran his hand through his hair and stepped into the here and now inhaling deeply. At once the object of his thoughts rounded into the main floor of the gallery flanked by a man and a woman stamping hotly toward him. He watched her, taking his time with his second look. Her dark hair was longer styled in a Rachel cut that accentuated her light honey features. Gone were her good girl outfits instead she wore casual sexy, a beige petite cap sleeve mini bodycon dress and wedged sandals. She was spicy, titillating and so taking it paused one's breath. His eyes narrowed and his ire rose. A Taylor. That's all she was now. She stopped before him and unlike before, there was nothing nervous in her manner.
"Why am I the subject of a murderer's paintings, and how dare you paint me nude" her eyes slapped bullets his way, "and exactly how you do you know what I looked like when I was young and just how do you know what I look like naked?"
He'd expected a lot of things but not that and for a moment his brow crinkled.
"You may but don't expect a response," he said, his voice dipped into the arctic.
A murderer? He'd spent years reworking his image after stepping out of that jail cell. He had no intention of being branded again and he remembered again she was a cause of that brand.
Her mouth fell open, then shut, then tightened.
"I want to buy every last piece of your art that has me in it...then I demand an explanation."
"It's not for sale, as for an explanation I don't need to give one not to a Taylor."
He prepared to walk away. He needed nor wanted anything of social chit chat with the Taylors even Nevaeh Taylor, especially Nevaeh Taylor...except perhaps at the end when he'd achieved his purpose.
She barred him.
"Just what the hell do you mean it's not for sale? And you will explain."
"Exactly that...they are a part of my private collection, I bring them out for viewing purposes only. If you want to purchase my art those along that wall are for sale. And believe me it will be a cold day in hell before I waste explanations on a Taylor." He took Summers arm, "now if you'll excuse us."