Chapter 1: Fallen Leaf
Rio comes to Beth for her help with a new idea.
Prompts used: “Enough! I heard enough.”, “That’s what I’m talking about!”, and “It will be fun, trust me.”
An empty house always hits Beth hard, especially on the first night, and it doesn’t help that this time the kids will be gone for a little over a week. She can’t help but think of the time that Dean took them, has that fear that maybe he won’t bring them back whenever they go to stay with him. This time it’s a trip to his family’s cabin up north and if it wasn’t for Judith going along with them, she might have said no to the request. It’s been nearly seven months since the divorce came through but only three since he moved out. His place is a lot smaller (all four kids are crammed into the second bedroom although sometimes the boys camp out in the living room instead) but that doesn’t stop her from worrying that he might keep them in that small space just to… just to punish her.
She’s convinced he’s not over it, how she adapted and continued to work with Rio despite everything. She never told Dean about Jeff’s body - for obvious reasons - nor did she tell him about how close she had come to being charged with Boomer’s murder. It had frustrated her when Rio hadn’t responded to any of her messages but after that conversation in his car things just kind of fell into place. Boomer was found very much alive and at the last possible second, he showed his face at the police station so she could go home. It was a few weeks before she saw Rio again, him claiming that she still owed him. Amongst the slow pace of cleaning up his fake money, she started selling her cakes and other sweet treats. It didn't take long for her and Rio to strike up a deal of cleaning his money through that. She’s only got a market stall four days a week and some online orders but it's much faster than feeding notes into a machine at the laundrette in exchange for clean coins.
The last Dean knew, Rio was warning them about the FBI raid but she was very much out. She knew that her still being in touch with Rio had something to do with Dean’s decision to move out when he did. They had planned to try it his way, even saved up for a small apartment to share but about a month before he moved out, he decided they should separate in every way possible other than to raise the kids. Instead, the search had turned into finding him a place and Beth even let him use all of the money they saved considering she was getting the house. She had to admit, it was a relief to know she would be in the house with her babies and that she would no longer have to share space with Dean but then fear had crept in the first weekend the kids were with him.
The coming week or so was going to be long, Beth could feel it, already counting down the days until they came home and her house would be noisy again. It’s her second bourbon of the night. She had deliberately left the bottle in the kitchen while she took her first glass to her bedroom, hoping she would finish it and then go right to bed. Sleep, however, took forever to come and so she got up to get another.
If she hadn’t, Beth might have missed the fact that Rio is in her back garden, sitting on the picnic bench. He’s on the table part - like always - and he’s looking down at his feet. It reminds her of the time he showed up looking for his drugs. She wonders what he’s feeling this time as she abandons her intention of pouring another drink and heads outside.
It’s cold. Bitter even as it nips against her skin. She tugs her dressing gown tightly around herself, thankful she had at least shoved on a pair of slippers before traipsing into the kitchen. Despite the earlier shower, the grass isn’t wet thank God, and as she gets closer, Beth realises that he’s got his head down because he’s looking at an orange fallen leaf that’s landed on the seat of the picnic bench. His head is titled ever so slightly to one side like it’s some piece of art he’s examining and she would laugh if she wasn’t so cold. It’s no surprise that he’s dressed all in black but he’s only got his hoodie (and signature beanie) to combat the cold and she knows full well he owns coats suitable for the weather, is almost tempted to reprimand him for not dressing better.
She’s stood directly in front of him but just far enough back that he’s out of reach. It’s tempting to step closer, to touch him and see if he feels the drop in temperature just as much as she is. “You know, you’re meant to sit on the other part of the bench.”
Rio looks up at her, brows raised and she motions to the seat where his feet and the fallen leaf are. “That so?” He seems to contemplate it and taps the table with his finger. “Been trying to figure it out for the longest time.”
It’s impossible not to roll her eyes and he just smiles, looking back down at the leaf and her eyes follow. “Why are you here?”
And her brain seems to falter as her heart goes on a trip but then she looks up and catches him watching her, that amused smirk in place and just… Right. “I don’t have time for this.”
“Got an idea I need help with,” he supplies.
“Business?” Because she knows it's got to be. Nothing has been personal between them since she decided she was out, since she had sex with him and then promptly asked him to leave like it was nothing. There hadn’t been an opportunity to tell him that it was anything but.
He nods. “Basically.”
“And what is it you want to rope me into?” Beth asks, stepping closer to the bench, so close that if she were to reach out, she would touch him. “Because I’m going to guess it’s not another way to launder your money.”
“Thinking of opening up my pharmacy again.”
“Nope,” Beth says as she pivots around and starts heading back to the house.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You said enough.”
When Beth goes through the back door, she pushes it shut behind her but there’s no sound of it actually closing and she knows he’s followed her. It doesn’t stop her though. Instead, she goes right over to her abandoned glass, pours herself a drink and finishes it before she turns to him, glass still in hand as she points it - and her finger - at him.
“We got back into washing fake cash because we owed you but we’re not going back to the drugs.”
He laughs at that. "You stole my drugs and strong-armed me into fifty, fifty, remember?”
“Well…” She shrugs and places her glass in the sink. “I learnt the hard way that that was too much. I make enough to survive, I don’t need more.”
Slowly, he moves around the island counter so he can stand closer to her, his hand dragging along the surface of the counter a little as he does so. “You really gonna pretend like it was just about the money?”
“It was,” she insists. “It’s why I robbed you and wanted to keep working. I needed it to fix the mountain of problems I had thanks to Dean. After that I just… I got greedy.”
"Nah.” He shakes his head and moves even closer, crowding her against the counter so she’s pinned in. “We both know it was the excitement. The thrill.”
He’s not wrong, it hadn’t been entirely about the money although that was always a factor. “I’m still not getting back into drugs.”
Rio pouts. “You ain’t even heard me out.”
Her eyes drop to his bottom lip, taking note of the way it juts out, thinks of how it’ll feel between her teeth and just- “Enough! I heard enough. It’s not for me and we both know I’m not well equipped for it anyway. I went inside the house, remember? And sure I got us out of it but I said entirely too much to our associates.”
“If you said too much they would’ve cut ties or retaliated.”
“I thought they had.”
“But they hadn’t.”
Beth sighs, running a hand over her face. “The dealership - my dealership - getting raid ended up shutting down deliveries, right? I messed up so really, I’m the last person you should be coming to.”
“Nah, baby sister messed up.” And she blinks at him, mouth wide. They had come clean to Rio about Noah that night Beth had spoken to him in his car. He had insisted they use it to their advantage, seemed to believe that none of them had any clue. “And you ain’t even heard what I got planned.”
“You said things were cool with Annie.”
“They are,” he agrees. “She got some good info out of him and she’s practically paid me back. I would have her do this job for me but she ain’t got the right kind of skillset.”
“And what’s that?”
“Thinking fast on her feet and being able to shut up for five seconds.”
It’s his smile that does it, make her roll her eyes and laugh a little. “Right, so Annie isn’t the best for the job and Ruby too, I guess. But I’m not either. Don’t you have someone else on your payroll you can ask?”
He huffs out a breath, placing his hands on the counter either side of her and leaning in so close that she has to lean away a little. “Look, I got a contact who might be able to not only help me get my drugs across the border but also store them until they can be delivered to our associates.”
“See? You don’t need me.”
“He got some charity fundraiser happening this weekend that he uses as a front,” Rio explains, ignoring her words. “A lot of associates of his will be there. It’s my in but our last business meeting didn’t go particularly well.”
She narrows her eyes at him. “What did you do?”
For a moment he looks offended but then it turns into a sly smile. “Might’ve poached a few potential clients of his. Was just getting into fake money at the time.”
“Was he in that line of business too?”
“Nah, he was bankrolling some big drug operation,” Rio supplies and Beth remains silent, waiting for him to say more because the fact he’s telling her anything is a big enough surprise and quite frankly, much better than the whole cloak and dagger routine he normally does. “It was only short term but at the time, it was meant to be a huge deal. He needed clients to help launder the money he was getting.”
She nods her head a little. “But instead, they ended up cleaning your fake cash.”
“Heard he ended up sitting on a large sum of money for a bit before any of it became useful.”
“And he’s still a contact of yours?”
“We just don’t talk about business.” Rio shrugs. “I need you there as my partner to convince him that he won’t just be working with me. Butter him up a little.”
“But we’re not partners,” Beth says. “And how is he supposed to help anyway?”
“He’s still got connections from his drug days. Knows people who can smuggle them across the border and has plenty of space to store it all.” He backs away from her until he’s leaning against the island counter. “Might even be able to set up getting the drugs here without having to cross the border at all.”
“So, okay, I’m meant to sweet-talk him into working with you but won’t he realise that you’ve played him when the work starts up and he realises we’re not partners?”
“Oh, so you don’t want the thirty-five percent?”
She blinks at him. “Excuse me?”
“I mean, if you wanna do it for free-” He rolls his hand. “-by all means.”
“I’m not doing it at all,” Beth tells him. She’s determined about it. Admittedly, strong-arming him the last time was for a lot of reasons. Money, the excitement like he said, but it was also the fact that he had deliberately kept her out of it while still expecting to use her dealership for his new venture. There’s no real reason for her to get involved this time. “I didn’t even meet most of the people you were working with before and I didn’t exactly make a good impression with the ones I did meet.”
“You got a mouth on you-”
“That’s what I’m talking about!”
Rio gives her an unimpressed look. “Was gonna say you know how to be convincing. Might’ve fucked up by going into that house but you talked your way out of it just fine. Convinced me way back when to give you more jobs and to give you more money to clean.” He licks his lips. “Go big or go home, right?”
She hates that he’s using her words against her. Hates it even more that it’s kind of working. “I’m not the right person for the job.”
“Nah, you exactly the right person.”
“You’re not going to give up are you?”
He grins at her. “You done pretending like you ain’t interested?”
“This will not end well,” she tells him, motioning between them. “This never ends well for us. The money only works because it’s routine and it’s simple.”
“That mean you’re in?”
She huffs out a breath. “Like I’ve got a choice.”
“It will be fun.” He gives that sly smile. “Trust me.”
The worst part is that a part of her, a very small part buried deep down inside, does trust him. Things really don’t end well with them but she has to admit, it usually is fun for a while, especially in the beginning. He doesn’t even wait for her to say anything. They both know she’s in and that he’ll send her the details. So, instead, he just tips his head a little before moving towards the back door.
Her eyes follow him until he’s gone - the sound of the lock clicking into place, something she tries not to overthink because it has become apparent he knows about the spare key hidden just outside - and when she looks away, Beth catches sight of a leaf laying on the island counter. Stepping closer, she picks it up and examines it. It’s bright orange and surprisingly in good condition. She sets it back down, realising that it must be the one Rio was looking at on the bench.
Finding some tape in her craft table, she pins the leaf to the fridge. She knows it’ll whither before long and need to be thrown back outside but currently, there’s this urge to keep it. It’s clean, vibrant, beautiful even. Beth’s finger traces it gently before she heads towards her bedroom, trying to push down the desire to hold onto the leaf for a little while and the even bigger feeling of pleasure that’s slowly building up inside of her at the idea of working on something new. Or maybe it’s just the idea of working with Rio on something new. That’s more troubling. Also more likely, she thinks, especially considering the way her heart beats much faster when his text comes through with all the details for their upcoming meeting.
Chapter 2: Partners
Beth and Rio attend the first day of the charity fundraiser where she meets his contact.
I didn't get a chance to reply to those who left comments on the first chapter and thank them but just know I did read them. Whether you took the time to comment or just simply read the first chapter (or left kudos or subscribed or added this story to a bookmark), thank you, it's much appreciated :)
Prompts used: “Just follow me, I know the area.”, “I’m doing this for you.”, and “Yes, I’m aware. Your point?”
- [prompt list]
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The text only tells Beth that she should wear something comfortable and casual and what time Rio would be picking her up the next day. That’s how she finds herself in his car at nine in the morning on route to a location that she still doesn’t know. She’s settled on jeans, a dark purple sweater, black ankle boots, and a big coat in case the day's activities are outside. He didn’t say anything when she climbed into the car, just started driving. Now, in the silence, she has a good chance to really steal a look at him.
He’s not dressed in his usual head to toe black but that’s really the only difference. His jeans are the same style he usually wears but they’re blue instead. He’s also got on a grey t-shirt (one she remembers touching in his apartment that one time), his usual pair of converse, and a grey hoodie combined with a jacket (a combination she recognises from that time she convinced him not to shoot her in the head). He looks good. It’s probably the most vibrant she’s seen him in a while and that’s saying something considering there’s still no colour. She thinks of the minimal colour she saw in his wardrobe, knows she’s seen him in the likes of maroon but wonders if he ever wears anything that’s actually bright.
It’s then that Beth realises that he’s caught her staring. She clears her throat and looks ahead. “Where are we going exactly?”
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Rio smile. “You’ll see.”
She doesn’t argue. It’s the type of answer she was expecting but it does become tempting to ask him again or at least to ask what will happen. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by her that she doesn’t know anything . He never even mentioned the name of his contact. There’s no plan of action, well , she’s sure he has a plan but it doesn’t help unless he actually tells her what it is.
By the time Beth figures out a way to lure him into a conversation, the car pulls into a parking lot and she realises it’s a community centre. Jane had done a couple of dance recitals there in the earlier days and Kenny’s swim team had had a little get together there once to celebrate a big win. She glances at Rio who does smile but remains silent.
“You’re really not going to tell me?” Beth asks as he parks the car up. “I mean, we’re here.”
“It’s definitely your kind of thing.”
That’s all he says as he exits the car and Beth just stares after him for a moment, trying to figure out what on earth that could mean. When she does finally get out of the car, Rio simply locks it and heads towards the building. He doesn’t wait for her so she’s unable to try and ask him what’s going on. Even when he stops by the entrance, she doesn't get a chance because by the time she catches up to him, he heads inside. She groans in frustration, wants him to just stop so she can talk to him but then they enter the main hall of the community centre and she stops dead.
He wasn’t lying. This part of the weekend-long fundraiser is definitely her kind of thing. On the side of the room farthest from them, there’s a soft play area for the kids including a bouncy castle and various games as well as a small area for people to sit down. The rest of the hall is filled with stalls selling all kinds of things. There are cakes, clothes, arts and crafts, and so much more that Beth really doesn’t know what to do with herself.
“This is unbelievable,” she whispers, eyes darting around, trying to figure out where she wants to go first but Rio’s soft chuckle brings her out of those thoughts because right , they’re here for business. Turning her gaze to him, she asks, “so, where’s this contact of yours?”
“See that stand with the big painting of a pink rose?”
Beth’s eyes scan over the cluster of art and craft stalls before she finds the one he’s talking about. “Yeah.”
Rio’s standing right beside her but looking in a totally different direction to the stall he had just pointed out. “He’s talking to the woman in the blue dress.”
The man her eyes settle on appears to be older than she was expecting. Forties, maybe, if she had to guess but he’s a good enough distance away that it's hard to be sure. He’s white, heavyset, has brown hair (pushed back) and a beard that are both starting to grey quite noticeably, even from the distance she's at. He’s smiling at whatever the woman is saying to him and Beth can’t help but note that he actually seems relatively warm and welcoming.
“He seems nice.” Rio looks at her, brow raised. “And a lot older than I thought he’d be.”
“It’s the beard.”
“Not going to comment on the other observation?”
There’s a bit of a pause and for a moment she thinks he won’t answer but then he shrugs just ever so slightly. “Knows how to be nice.”
“And what’s his name?”
“Are we going to go and say hi?”
“ Nah ?” Beth frowns at him. “So what are we going to do? Just stand here?”
“You’re gonna look around and probably buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need,” Rio tells her, motioning vaguely to the room. “At some point, we’ll run into him and then say hi.”
She just stares at him in disbelief, going over the words again in her head because surely she must have heard him wrong. “You’re seriously going to let me drag you around this place?”
“Only ‘cause we gotta look like we’re actually on the same side,” Rio points out. “If he’s gonna believe we’re partners, might as well show him we get along in all aspects.”
Beth blinks a little, wants to ask if that means they’re going to let him think they’re sleeping together or dating or whatever and that ‘partners’ extends beyond the workplace definition but she doesn’t want to risk giving up the change to drag Rio around all of the stalls laid out in front of them. Instead, she just smiles sweetly and stands a little closer to him. He rolls his eyes at her but does make a point to throw an arm around her shoulders, leaning in closer so his lips are at her ear.
“You better not get used to this,” he warns and his breath his hot against her skin which makes her begin to blush and he does sound serious but as he continues speaking, she can’t help but smile. “It might all be for charity but if I get stuck looking at some piece of junk that’s priced way above its value, you ain’t gonna find this whole thing amusing.”
“Just follow me,” she says, catching his eyes as he pulls away. “I know the area.”
And he rolls his eyes again as she slips out from under his arm and grabs a hold of his hand so she can tug him in the direction of a nearby stall selling various cakes and pastries. She figures if she buys him one, he can eat it while they walk and he’ll have less to worry about or at least, with his mouth full, he’ll have to wait a little while before he can start complaining. They might be here for business purposes but considering how adamant she had been about not getting involved in this new pharmacy adventure, Bet thinks she deserves to have some fun before things get serious.
By the time they actually run into Jacob, they've only been to a few stalls but Beth has managed to buy enough to make Rio huff out a breath in frustration when she has to hand him all her bags so she can dig out her purse to buy something else. She's just put her purse back and taken the wrapped scarf she just bought from the seller when they hear a voice from behind them.
"Heard you were here."
They both turn and Rio grins as he reaches out to shake Jacob's hand. "I come every year."
"Not to this."
"Well, my partner here really wanted to come to this," Rio says, motioning to Beth with his head seen as his hands are so full. "And I want to go tomorrow night."
Jacob's eyes widen a little as he really takes a moment to look at Beth. She tries not to move as he does. He still seems to have that warm feel about him and upon closer inspection, Rio was right, he isn't as old as she first thought, but it's still hard not to wonder what he must be thinking as his eyes move over her.
She holds out her free hand to him, thankful that it doesn't shake. "Beth."
"Nice to meet you," he says, shaking her hand before his attention turns back to Rio. "Take it she's sticking around for whatever business you want to discuss."
"Am I really that predictable?"
"You're that bold."
"I got a proposition for you," Rio says without missing a beat.
Jacob scoffs. "Bold and stupid."
"He told me the gist of what happened between the two of you," Beth says, capturing his attention again and she tries to ignore Rio, who’s watching her carefully. "I get why you wouldn't want to work with him again but that's why I'm here. We’ve had our share of problems in the past and when it comes to business, we both like to be sure.”
“So, what if I just want to talk to you?”
She wills herself not to look at Rio for confirmation. “I would say that’s fine but we won’t be making any kind of deal unless the three of us sit down together.”
Jacob seems to mull that other, his eyes darting around the room briefly before returning to her. “Why don’t we take a walk around? If I like what I hear, the three of us will talk tomorrow evening.”
“That sounds good to me.”
When she looks at Rio, his jaw rocks a little. “Sure. Just gimme that other bag.”
He’s already carrying a fair amount but he manages to take her newest purchase without dropping any of the other bags. She gives a small smile which she hopes will reassure him. She knows that look. It’s clear he isn’t happy about letting her wander off with Jacob but he wanted her there to help make a deal so that’s what she’s going to do.
When she turns back around, she’s thankful Jacob doesn’t try to do something like offer his arm. It allows for her to keep a little bit of space between them as they begin to walk around the hall. This time, she doesn’t stop at any of the stalls although her eyes do wander here and there as she makes a mental note of things she might go back for.
“I know who you are Mrs Boland,” Jacob points out, instantly grabbing her attention. “And I know your dealership got raided by the FBI.”
She knows then that it’s the commercial he reconigses her from and it seems he’s put two and two together that the dealership has something to do with her business with Rio. “And you’ll also know that nothing was proven and the man in charge of that investigation has lost his badge.”
He nods. “Still under investigation from what I hear. Guess that’s why you want to talk business?”
“I could have opened up the dealership again,” she tells him. “But it would’ve been a lot of work to build up a good reputation again and well, after my divorce, I didn’t want it. We ended up selling.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Jacob starts.
“But I don’t seem like the kind of person Rio would be partners with?” Beth guesses and he gives her a soft, apologetic smile. “It takes me by surprise sometimes too.”
“Mind if I ask how it happened?”
She contemplates for a moment if she should tell him the truth. “I robbed him.”
He almost stops dead but seems to catch himself and they carry on. “And you want me to work with you?”
“You have to understand,” Beth begins. “It was a one-time thing and I didn’t intend to rob him specifically. I was in a bit of financial trouble and I needed some money fast to keep my head above water. Turns out the money I took was his.”
“And you’re alive?”
She smiles, thinking about the gun that was pressed against her head and the off-the-cuff speech she’d given him. “Only just. I managed to pay him back and then I asked him for more work. He could see I was capable and our… relationship grew from there.”
He eyes her carefully. “Financial trouble?”
“Yeah,” she says, not wanting to offer up too much information. “Things are good with me right now but this deal you’re going to make with Rio, I’m going to be involved too because good doesn’t mean I’m secure.”
They both come to a stop. “You’ve got just as much riding on this.”
“If Rio screws you over, he screws me over.” She draws a triangle in the air with her finger. “Works out that way no matter how you do it. Whoever messes up, the other two suffer.”
Jacob chews on his lip for a moment. “I’m not promising anything but I’ll hear you both out tomorrow. If I like what you’ve got to offer, we’ll consider a trial of sorts.”
“I’ll let Rio know.”
He offers up a smile and it seems like he’s about to leave when he pauses. “When you say, 'partners'...?”
Beth gives him a smile that she hopes will keep him satisfied without having to actually answer the question. She’s not entirely sure what the best response to it would actually be. “I'll see you tomorrow, Mr Riggs.”
As she walks away, she hears him laugh before he calls after her, “tomorrow.”
While Beth went in search for Rio, she tried not to think too much about how her conversation with Jacob went. It felt right and she was sure it was good. Although she had worked with Rio long enough to know that her definition of what was right or good didn’t always match up with his. He would probably ask for a play by play and that’s exactly what he did do when she found him at the seating area drinking some coffee, her bags on the floor around him.
When she finishes up telling him everything, she reaches for his cup and finishes his coffee, ignoring the way he narrows his eyes at her. “So? What do you think?”
“Sounds like it went good,” he comments but he’s got this far off look in his eyes like he’s going over every detail again. “And that’s all you told him?”
She nods. “Decided to be honest about how we met, especially considering your boys know about that. And he recognised me from the Boland Motors commercial so I had no choice but to talk about the raid.”
“We’ll need to be ready to reassure him about that tomorrow,” Rio notes.
“Double down on me wanting to sell it after my divorce,” she says with a slight shrug. “He knows Turner is under investigation so we chalk it up to some kind of vendetta.”
“Yeah, you still a law-abiding citizen after all.”
Beth rolls her eyes. “According to the law, so are you.”
“He likes you.”
The suddenness of his comment takes her by surprise. She knows better than to ask if he’s jealous but something about his tone is just so… off. “I’m doing this for you , remember?”
“Yes, I’m aware.” And she can’t miss it this time, it’s almost like he’s angry. “Your point?”
“He asked what we meant when we say ‘partners’,” Beth says because she had deliberately left that out of her play by play. “Seemed amused when I wouldn’t give him a straight answer but it’s clear he suspects something is going on.”
“Again… Your point?”
“My point is… Is...” She huffs out a breath in frustration. “That you can drop whatever this sudden attitude is. He’s going to hear us out. If he likes me, that’s good. That’s exactly what you wanted.”
When he rocks his jaw, she knows she’s got him. “I ain’t got an attitude.”
“You just hate being wrong.”
“Nah, I hate you being right.”
And that makes Beth laugh because isn’t that just them all over?
How are we already so close to the end of October? It's going way too fast. Things IRL have been kind of busy for me hence me not updating this regularly like I wanted. I'm going to do my best to use all of the prompts but with how much time is left of this month, I'm not sure if it'll happen, we'll see (and maybe I'll just go past the end of October, ha)
Chapter 3: Making Sense
Beth and Rio go to a charity ball
Prompts used: “Patience… is not something I’m known for.” , “No, and that’s final.” , “Listen, I can’t explain it, you’ll have to trust me.” (Although, I changed can't to can 'cause it fitted a little better), “What if I don’t see it?” - [prompt list]
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next evening is definitely more in tune with what Beth was thinking. Rio had shown up to hers half an hour before they were meant to leave. He was wearing a dark blue suit with a black shirt and tie underneath. Stepping into her house, he had promptly handed over a box containing a dark blue dress that matched his suit. It sat off one shoulder and came down to just above her ankles. Beth had paired it with some cream coloured heels and a pearl bracelet (she had been about to put on her pearl necklace before she remembered that Rio had never actually given it back to her).
Before Rio had arrived, she had settled on putting a slight wave into her hair and as minimal effort into her make-up as possible, the most prominent thing being the black eyeliner and pink lip. Now, stood in the middle of a big hall, filled with people dressed up all fancy, Beth can’t help but play with the ends of her hair.
“Don’t know why you’re so nervous.”
“I’m not,” she snaps.
That earns her a look from Rio who seems to be caught between being amused and annoyed. “You was definitely more comfortable yesterday.”
Beth tries not to look at him because, well , he’s not wrong. Glancing around the room instead, she takes the chance to really take everyone in. The venue itself is one that Beth has never actually been inside of, although she’s seen it from the outside many times and knows there’s usually some kind of gala or ball or something going on inside.
It’s got high ceilings, chandeliers, large floor to ceiling windows, two grand staircases at one end of the room that meet at the top at a small balcony with a large door that leads into another room. There are round tables and chairs dotted all over the room with plenty of space for everyone to stand and move around. Everything is primarily white or gold but there are other warm colours around too. It’s all very… grand . The people are too. What they’re wearing seems to be expensive and they all look as if it’s something they wear every weekend and not something they were just handed earlier that night.
At that thought, Beth’s hand smooths out over the skirt of her dress. “It’s all so expensive. Yesterday was normal.”
“Normal for you, sure.”
She looks at him to find him scanning the crowd of people. “You come to this sort of thing regularly?”
“Enough to be used to it.” He takes a step to the side so he’s closer to her and slips an arm around her waist. “It’s usually for business though so I don’t get to enjoy it.”
“Been to that kind of thing before,” he admits. “Not really my scene.”
That makes her laugh a little, capturing his attention in the process and she has to look away again as her cheeks begin to heat up. There had been a period of time where she had been unable to see it, see how they were like night and day. She was sure Rio could fit in anywhere if he really tried. Talk anyone into anything he wanted or talk himself out of any situation. He was so blasé about so many things that Beth was confident he would have no trouble with most scenarios. She, on the other hand, was a different story.
Her problem with this particular charity fundraiser is all of the unknown variables. An event like this would be a piece of cake for her if it was simply just an event but it’s not. She knows they’ll meet with Jacob and they’ll discuss things further but she’s still not any clearer on how Rio wants to proceed. She knows the gist - they have worked with drugs before after all - but things have changed between them and she’s not entirely sure what’s safe to say and what’s not. The two hadn’t discussed it at all after they spoke to Jacob and once Beth had bought some more things, Rio had taken her home and left.
“Maybe we should discuss what’s going to happen.”
“We’re gonna drink, maybe dance.” Her head whips around so quickly to look at him that he laughs and presses his fingers against her side. “Maybe donate some money and then, when he decides, we’ll slip off and talk business.”
She tries to ignore his hand but it’s so warm, even through the dress. “And say what exactly?”
He chews on his bottom lip like he’s contemplating it and maybe it’s the fact that she keeps looking at him insistently or perhaps it’s the fact that she’s sure she’s shaking but he actually answers her. “I’ll talk about what we need from him. You can cover why.”
“What do you mean why ?” Beth asks, feeling the panic rising up. “I don’t know anything. I’m not involved with anything, you made sure of that.”
“But you know how we ran it all before,” Rio says, not even sparing her a look. “And it was your dealership so you gotta convince him that it going under isn’t a problem now.”
She took a breath, nodding her head a little. “Right, reassurance.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he tells. “Just keep it simple and to the point. “We need him on board but we don’t need him knowing the whole thing.” She makes a noise of agreement, unable to actually say anything. She’s not naive enough to think that he trusts her but it’s reassuring enough that he isn't drilling her with what to do and what not to do despite her nervous behaviour. “Just be patient, yeah? We still gotta keep up appearances.”
“Patience,” she starts. “Is not something I’m known for.”
He scoffs. “Tell me about it.”
She hits his chest. “You’re hardly one to talk.”
Then there’s that signature smirk and it’s just a reminder that maybe they’re not entirely night and day.
As the evening passes, they do drink and there’s even food to pick at. At one point, Rio does get Beth to dance and it just so happens to be a slow dance during one of the longest songs and she’s sure it’s on purpose by the way he grins at her. It’s all kind of surreal. She can’t help but think about how long of a journey its been to pay him back and how rocky things were for a long time. She’s not entirely sure it makes sense for them to be where they are. The business side makes total sense to her but all the little details like dancing with him or standing so close to him or him carrying her things the day before. It’s all for show but it almost puts her off-kilter.
At various points they had spoken with Jacob, mostly about the event and never about business. Rio seemed completely at ease with that. Each time he would listen intently and engage in conversation with no trouble at all. Beth spoke at the appropriate times and was as upbeat and as interested as would be expected but she had to admit, she was eager to move things along.
Both she and Rio turned to see a man - one of the waiters who had been serving drinks earlier - standing behind them. “Mr Riggs would like to see you.”
“Oh,” Beth says, glancing around before looking back at the man. “Right.”
“I’ll take you to him,” he explains.
The three of them walk to the end of the room until they reach the two large doors that they had come through when they first arrived. The waiter opens them up and steps aside to let Beth through but when Rio tries to, he blocks the door.
“Sorry, sir,” he says. “Mr Riggs wanted to speak to Ms Boland first, I’m to come back for you.”
Beth looks at Rio who reaches a hand out towards her, although his eyes remain on the man. “Tell Mr Riggs it’s both of us.”
“He was very clear.”
Stepping around the man, Beth puts her hands on Rio’s shoulders and presses herself against his front. His hand settles on her hip in response. “Let me go in.”
She sighs, leaning her forehead against his shoulder for a moment before lifting her head back up. “Come on, Rio,”
“No,” he grinds out, hand tightening against her in a way that feels almost possessive. “And that’s final.”
“Everything went okay yesterday.”
“You was surrounded by people,” he points out. “Gonna be alone with him now.”
“As if that matters.” And she’s sure it doesn’t. If tonight was going to be dangerous, he would have brought his gun and she knows he didn’t because she saw him leave it in his car. “I know enough to get him hooked and by the time you come in, you’ll have an easy time selling him on the idea.”
“He’s doing this deliberately.”
She knows this, knows it’s probably Jacob’s tactic to keep them separate in the hopes of getting as much information as possible that could help make whatever deal is on the table work in his favour. It’s hard to blame him considering his past with Rio.
“Maybe he just wants to ask me out and doesn’t want you ruining his chances,” she jokes.
His response is a low growl that makes her swallow. “And what you gonna say if he does?”
She pulls away from him but his hand is still on her which makes it difficult to move too far. “Well, he thinks I’m already taken.”
“Yeah.” When she looks at him, he’s biting his lip while his eyes drop down to her lips. “You sure about talking business with him?”
“Yes, listen, I can explain it.” She’s fairly sure she can and it’s not like they have much of a choice, especially if there’s a chance that she might need to avoid whatever ulterior motive could have had Jacob calling on her first. “You’ll have to trust me.”
He looks startled and she clocks the word ‘trust’ as the trigger for it but tries not to read too much into that. She’s not entirely sure if it helps or not when he shakes his head a little and any look of surprise disappears as if it was never there at all.
“Fine,” he says before looking over her shoulder at the waiter. “I’m gonna stay right here and if it takes too long, I’m gonna go back there whether you want me to or not.”
Beth leans in just enough to kiss his cheek as his hand loosens its grip on her. She turns abruptly to follow the waiter who, once they exit through the doors, takes her down a hallway on the left. There’s artwork (mostly portraits and landscapes) along the way and they pass by a lot of doors as well - some of which have indicators as to what’s behind them - but eventually, they stop outside of one with no obvious markings. The waiter knocks twice and then motions for her to go inside.
When she does, it looks almost like a library. It’s got a similar vibe to the hall she was just in only every wall that doesn’t have a window or a door has floor to ceiling bookshelves. In the centre of the room there’s a coffee table with two armchairs and a couch surrounding it. Jacob is sat on one of the chairs and he motions for her to come over.
“We said we both wanted to talk with you,” Beth reminds as she sits down on the couch, partly because it’s away from Jacob and partly because it’s closest to her.
He smiles, nodding his head a little. “I know but I want you to tell me a little bit about what this proposition is and then we’ll bring Rio in for the details.”
“To make it fair,” he says, which makes her frown and which in turn makes his smile grow. “You know about our past?”
Beth nods. “He stole potential clients.”
“That he did,” Jacob agrees. “I guess it was all fair, might’ve done the same thing if our roles were reversed. However, when you’re doing so well but can’t enjoy the rewards, it makes you feel a little bitter.”
She wonders if that’s true. Nothing would make her bring it up to Rio but it’s not hard to wonder about the risk in working with Jacob considering what Rio had done. “I get that.”
“I want to hear this proposition from someone I’ve had no prior dealings with,” he explains. “Despite what happened with your dealership, you seem capable enough and the fact Rio’s calling you his partner says even more. I want to deal with you, alone, to begin with.”
“You want to see if I’m worth working with,” she says, clicking on to his other motive.
He laughs a little. “Yes.”
Beth offers up a small smile. ‘Partners’ was for the benefit of making the deal go through but she wasn’t so sure how long Rio wanted that term to extend past getting a yes from Jacob. If she says the wrong thing, it could make it impossible to stop the charade without ruining the deal somewhere down the line. She can’t quite decide if Jacob would be more inclined to work with them if her and Rio’s partnership was successful or not. For now, she opts to put a pin in any discussion on the matter and moves on to the actual business.
“Well, if you really want to begin discussions with me,” Beth starts. “We want to start up an operation we had going before.”
“That you ran through your dealership?”
She makes a noise of agreement. “We used it like storage.”
He raises a brow. “Storage?”
“Rio had packages brought down from Canada,” she says, choosing not to be too specific. “They were hidden in cars that would be left on my loft and then, at later dates, would be dropped at different locations for our associates to pick up.”
“And based on my past dealings, I’m guessing I have some experience with what’s in those packages.” She gives him a look that she hopes suggests he might be right but she’s not going to say exactly because she isn’t, not until Rio is the room but regardless, Jacob laughs. “Alright, alright. So, where would I fit in exactly?”
“We need help getting the packages across the border and storing them.”
“That’s a lot of work.”
“Yes,” she agrees and she knows by ‘a lot of work’ he means ‘risky’. “And we’ll discuss numbers and percentages when Rio’s here but look, getting them across the border wasn’t necessarily an issue before but it only worked because the cars had somewhere to be.”
“Now you need a method and storage solution that’ll fit well together like before,” Jacob says, nodding his head a little like he’s thinking it over. “How much will I know?”
“Enough for you to do your part,” Beth starts. “Basically, all you’ve got to worry about is getting the packages from our suppliers up North to wherever it’s being stored. Once you’ve got it there, keep it safe until we collect and distribute it to our associates.”
“And once it’s out of my hands it's not my problem?”
“Right,” she agrees. “Technically Rio and I oversee the whole thing, we’re the only two who are in contact with everyone else involved. You’ll know enough about our supplier to be able to do the pick-ups but you don’t need to know about anyone else.”
“I’m guessing they won’t know about me either?”
“Right, and they and the supplier don’t know about each other.”
“And what if one of my guys gets caught?”
Beth shrugs a little because she’s not entirely sure what will happen but the corner of her mouth tugs up. “You’ve done this kind of thing before, I’m sure you know the ins and outs by now.”
He’s silent for a moment which has her heart beating fast but then, suddenly, he huffs out a laugh. “Yeah. I’m sure Rio will be pretty clear what counts as a fuck-up and how to deal with it.”
She lets out a soft laugh. “Yeah, he’s very particular.”
“Don’t I know it.”
And he sounds almost fond as he says it but, before she can get a chance to try and decipher that, there’s a knock at the door and both of them look towards it. A second later, it opens up and Rio steps into the room. He smiles but Beth can tell that he’s anything but relaxed. Everything about him is a little too rigid. It’s so clear to her as he walks towards them and she wonders if Jacob can see it too.
As Rio comes around the side of the couch, he stands to meet him. His hand presses against her lower back as he settles by her side, kissing his cheek.
“Your partner here gave me a good idea of what I would be involved in,” Jacob says.
“Yeah?” Rio asks, his eyes still on her.
A moment later, his hand slips away and he steps past her to sit on the couch. When she joins him, they’re so close that they’re pressed right up against each other. She crosses her legs and he settles his hand on her thigh, her hand falling on top of his.
“Packages from Canada, huh?”
Rio smiles at that, probably at the lack of specificity if she had to guess. “That’s right.”
“We were talking about me bringing them across the border and storing it for you.” Jacob glances at her and Beth does her best to keep her head held high, trying not to let the feel of Rio’s hand or the fact he’s so close, distract her. “Didn’t want to go into specifics without you.”
He doesn’t look phased at all, just looks at her and smiles. “We partners after all.”
Jacob nods his head. “I’m gonna need some of those specifics before I agree to anything though.”
Rio keeps his eyes on her for a few moments more before he finally looks away to focus on Jacob again. “Everything will be on a schedule.”
“Detailed enough to know what we’re doing without messing things up,” Beth adds. “But not so detailed we’ll get caught.
She catches Rio’s smile out of the corner of her eye and she tries to ignore it. Really, she has learnt her lesson. Perhaps keeping such a detailed plan in her underwear drawer hadn’t been her best idea regardless of the fact that she had used a code.
“You’ll know dates and times and where to pick everything up and drop it off,” Rio continues. “We’re willing to work out a schedule with you so we know it works.”
“Everything needs to run on time,” Beth clarifies. “It doesn’t matter if you’re holding it for us or not.”
He smiles, genuine and friendly, despite the fact that he would have had to have done this kind of thing before. “I’m sure we can figure out something that works for both of us and holding it or not, it all comes down to percentages.”
“You’d get twenty to begin with,” Rio says and Beth tries not to react, remembering that he had offered her thirty-five. She can’t help but wonder if, when Jacob’s percentage goes up, would it come out of her cut or Rio’s. “Once we know it all works out, we’ll talk about upping it.”
“I’m guessing there’s a cut-off.”
“Thirty max.” Rio squeezes her leg. “Which is more than generous considering it’ll only leave us with thirty-five each.”
Beth schools her face to remain impassive but her heart is beating faster, especially when he squeezes her leg. “The thirty will only be if you transport and store. It’ll be less otherwise.”
“But never below twenty?”
“Right,” Rio agrees.
Jacob seems to think it all over as they lapse into silence. The hand on her leg turns over and, because Beth doesn’t move hers all that much, her palm presses against Rio’s. He pushes his fingers between hers and closes them until he’s holding her hand. She stiffens, tries to swallow the lump in her throat, before her fingers slowly press down, closing in around his hand.
After that, the three of them spoke a little more but ultimately called it a night on the whole thing, saving it for another day. Rio never once said specifically what was in the packages although, considering he had gone to Jacob, it was clear it was drugs. It didn’t seem to be a breaking point and really, it made sense. The last time Rio was into moving drugs, Beth was never supposed to know about them so why should Jacob? Still, the three of them settled on a plan for moving forward. A month-long trial to start in a week or so to help them figure out a final schedule and all the other details moving forward.
Once they had left the room, they moved back to the main hall where they drank a little more, Rio convinced her to dance again, and they even donated some money (to a children’s charity she had found out). Everything was so intoxicating. Things were on track in terms of business and for the rest of the night, Rio’s hands had been somewhere on her at all times. If he wasn’t holding her hand or pressing one of his against her lower back, his arm was around her shoulders or her waist. He was there at all times and considering their talk with Jacob was out of the way, Beth was able to fully enjoy it.
Now, they stand outside her front door. She has her back pressed against it with him standing in front of her, keeping some space between them. She moves her hands so that they’re behind her because the idea of reaching out towards him is too tempting. His eyes slowly move down her body as he takes her in and then back up again until they settle on her face. He’s hard to read and Beth can’t help but think back to what Jacob had said before they parted ways for the evening.
“I have to admit, I thought this,” Jacob motioned to them vaguely, “made no sense at all.”
Rio smirked. He had his arm around her shoulders and she could feel him practically melt against her, more relaxed than she’d ever seen him before. “But it does now?”
“It’s starting to,” Jacob admitted, giving them a knowing smile.
She doesn’t give herself time to think before she steps towards him. Despite her heels putting her closer to his height, Beth still takes the opportunity to settle her hands on his shoulders for support as she leans in to kiss him. Just as he kisses her back, she pulls away, her hands slowly slipping down off his shoulders before she turns towards her front door.
Her key is in the door and she manages to unlock it but then she’s being tugged back until she has no choice but to turn around only to find Rio right there and before she can say or do anything, he’s kissing her again. He presses her back up against the door, a hand slipping up to tangle a little in her hair and all Beth can do is grip his shirt as she kisses his back.
When he pulls away, he stays close to her. “Talk soon, yeah?”
All Beth can do is nod before he kisses her quick once again and then slips away. She doesn’t allow herself to watch him, not sure if the urge to ask him to stick around is a good thing or not. Instead, she quickly slips inside, shutting and locking the door behind her. She kicks her heels off and discards her bag on the unit that’s there.
“Where have you been?”
Beth screams and whips round to see Annie standing by the stairs. “Don’t do that!”
She doesn’t look the least bit apologetic. “I texted you but you never replied.”
“So you just came over?” Beth asks as she walks towards her sister, her heart gradually slowing down.
“We wanted to know what was going on,” Annie admits. “And to find out how tonight went.”
“In here.” She follows Ruby’s voice and finds her sitting on the couch in front of the TV, whatever show they were watching now muted. “I thought you were gonna be here.”
“And you just decided to stay anyway,” Beth says, flopping down beside Ruby. She pops her feet up on the coffee table and settles her head against the back of the couch.
“So,” Annie starts, squeezing down on Beth’s other side. “What’s going on?”
“I told you, Rio’s setting up his pharmacy and he needed my help to get someone on board.”
“Alright, so you’re not going to go into details,” Ruby says, catching on. And it’s not that Beth doesn’t want to tell them but with it all being in such early stages, she doesn’t want to drag them into something else. “But did it go well?”
“So far, so good,” Beth assures.
“What was tonight?” Ruby asks as she looks over the dress.
Annie reaches out to touch it. “Yeah, you look fancy.”
Beth chews on her bottom lip, looking down at the dress, knowing she should take it off in case Rio wants it back. “It was some charity ball.”
“Was it fun?” Annie asks.
“ B .” She looks up at Ruby who is giving her a questioning look. “What are you thinking about?”
Her cheeks begin to heat up and she clocks when Ruby notices by the smile on her face. “I… Uh… He kissed me. Well, I kissed him and then he kissed me.”
Annie scoffs. “And that’s got you all twisted up? You two had sex for the first time in a bar bathroom.”
Normally Beth would glare at her sister or make some kind of remark to that but she’s still stuck on that kiss and what Jacob had said and- “What if I don’t see it?”
“What do you mean?” they both ask.
“The guy we were meeting with,” Beth says, looking anywhere but at them. “He said that Rio and I made no sense to him at first but now we’re starting to.”
“But you don’t think you do?” Ruby asks.
She moves her head to settle on Annie’s shoulder. “I don’t think we’ll ever make sense but I mean, Jacob clearly thought we were a couple and not just business partners. I don’t know if I see us like that and what if it… What if it ruins everything and it all gets messed up again?”
“Sis, you’re worrying about nothing.”
“Yeah, he clearly wants you as a business partner again otherwise he wouldn’t have let you get this involved.”
“We’re only partners to make this deal go through,” Beth cuts in.
“I’d check on that,” Ruby tells her. “Homeboy has gotten away with a lot of shit since we met him. Do you really think he couldn’t have done this without you? Might’ve taken him longer but…”
Beth looks over at her. “You think he actually wants me involved?”
“Duh.” And this time she does react by hitting Annie’s arm. “ Ow . I’m just saying! I mean, you got him arrested and he still wanted to work with you later. He gave you the kingdom and said he was walking away but then demanded to wash money through the dealership. Hell, he sent you body parts to try and coax you back, even if that was to pay off debts.”
“Yeah,” Beth says, scrunching her face up. “Definitely not his finest moment although, I guess it was effective.”
“Point is,” Ruby says, capturing their attention. “The three of us have screwed up too much in the past. He clearly wants you involved with his pharmacy but you gotta decide where you stand with him outside of that and if you can handle it or not.”
Beth’s brow furrows but she nods her head as much as she can with it still pressed against Annie’s shoulder. “Right, I can do that. No problem.”
So, setting the pharmacy back up and dealing with Jacob will be a thing that runs through the story but honestly, cause I don't think this will be a super long fic, things will be shifting to focus more on Beth and Rio's relationship with the business side running in the background/helping to move things forward with them.
Chapter 4: Versions of Apology
Beth and Rio head to Canada on a business trip.
It’s a couple of days before Beth sees or hears from Rio again. She’s in her kitchen, waiting for the last batch of cupcakes to cool so she can put icing on them when he walks in through the side door. Her back is to it and the only sound is a soft click as it shuts behind him. She knows it’s him because the only other people who would just walk in are Annie and Ruby but either one or both of them makes some kind of noise to announce their presence. Still, she doesn’t turn right away, wants to see if he’ll say something first. She knows he’s been busy making sure everything is ready for the trial with Jacob and despite her reluctance to get involved originally, she has questions and she doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction of coming right out with them, hopes he’ll just offer up the information instead.
Something she realises is stupid because this is Rio and he rarely makes things that easy so she steels herself before turning around. He’s on the other side of the island counter, leaning on it, head propped up on his hand as he watches her. A smile spreads across his face, brow lifting.
“Business or pleasure?” he asks, eyes dropping briefly to the already decorated cupcakes that are laid out before him.
“Pleasure,” she says but then looks down at them. “Well, actually, it’s neither.”
“I could really eat something,” he says, seemingly to himself before speaking a little louder. “Can I have one?”
The response is enough to make him stand up straight and she’s sure how quickly she replied is only adding to the confused look he’s giving her. Still, he doesn’t waste the opportunity to pick a cupcake up and peel away the paper casing.
“I mean, you might as well. It’s going to go to waste,” she clarifies. “Even if Annie and Ruby take a bunch like usual, there’ll be loads left.”
He takes a bite, savouring the moment afterwards. “So, what’s got you baking so much? Figured you’d have enough of it with work.”
“Well, baking is my thing,” she points out. “Crafts too. They’re what I do when I’m bored or my mind is racing or I just need… something . Everyone has a thing, right?”
“Right, right.” He focuses back on finishing up his cupcake and a part of her hopes that maybe he’ll say what his thing is. She’s always guessed music - especially after seeing the record player in his place - and perhaps reading but really, she’s not entirely sure and it’s those little details that she sometimes finds herself wondering about. “So, why you gotta bake right now? It’s late.”
It’s not really. It’s 7pm, she’s been up later than this for baking purposes. “Empty house,” she offers, gesturing vaguely. “Still getting used to it.”
“He ever had them this long?” And he must realise what he’s said because he rolls his shoulders a little before adding, “since he took them.”
“No.” She plays with the edge of her apron just for something to do. “And when it’s his turn to have them, they’re still close by, y’know? Now, they’re at his family’s cabin up North and I’m not used to them being properly away.”
When she finally forces herself to look up at him, he looks as if he wants to say something. His brow is furrowed in a way that tells her it’s something he’s heavily debating and she wonders if maybe it’s reassurance. Instead, he says, “speaking of up North.”
Now it’s her brow that knits together. “Oh?”
“I set up a meeting with the suppliers,” he says. “Wanna make sure no one important is out of the loop too much.”
“Oh. Well, uh, when you get back, make sure to fill me in enough so that I can at least sound like I know what I’m talking about if Jacob asks.”
“Kinda pointless me telling you everything if you’re gonna be sat right there.”
Her whole body seems to freeze for a moment. “Wait, I… I… What ?”
“You my partner, right?”
“You want me to come?”
He sighs, rolls his eyes like she’s being dramatic like he hasn’t just suddenly invited her to sit in on a meeting with associates he’s been working with for ages and she’s never once officially met. He’s acting like this is something he does all the time.
“Look, I ain’t promising you’ll get to come to the meeting,” Rio starts, rounding the island counter to come and stand in front of her. “I told them you was gonna come up North with me. It’s all gonna depend on how they’re feeling.”
“‘Cause they’ve never actually met me before,” Beth says, trying to ignore the urge to take a step back to create some space between them, doesn’t want to answer his questioning look if she does.
“Exactly.” And like he can sense her discomfort, he steps even closer, that signature smirk in place as her chest brushes against his.
“I can’t just go to Canada,” she says. “What about work?”
“You your own boss,” he points out. “Take some time off. Plus, your girls can handle it.”
“I have orders to fill,” she argues.
He shakes his head at her. “We’re gonna go now and we’ll be back the day after tomorrow. Plenty of time to do the orders you’ve got.”
“You want to go tonight ?”
“Why I’m here.”
She narrows her eyes at him. “So you just figured I’d say yes?”
“Gotta sixth sense for that kinda thing.”
Beth scoffs as she finally steps away from him. “You’re so arrogant sometimes.”
He gestures between them. “Pot, kettle, black.”
It’s suffice to say that Rio was technically right because it didn’t take very long after that for her to box up the cupcakes and go to her bedroom to pack some things.
They’re sat in the car, a good chunk of the way into their journey, and they’re almost at the border. Beth has taken to curling up in the passenger seat under a blanket. There’s music playing - jazz, unsurprisingly to Beth - and it’s turned down low. They haven’t said much of anything to one another since they set off, mostly just Rio thanking her as she unwrapped and passed him one of the cupcakes he made her box up and bring with them.
“Have you ever eaten this much cake before?” Beth asks he eyes the box on her lap.
“Don’t usually have a lot of sugar,” he admits but his eyes keep going back to them so she takes out his third cupcake of the night and unwraps it before handing it over to him. “Remind me why you robbed me when you can make these?”
Beth laughs, finally taking one for herself. “They’re just normal cupcakes. I’d hate to see you try something more complex.”
“You offering to make me something?”
“You gonna pay me?”
“I technically helped you set up that stall.” The corners of his mouth begin to tug up. “Call it perks of the job.”
She rolls her eyes as she picks at her cupcake. That’s technically true. He had put a hold on their debts. Everything she cleaned for him went right back into his pocket in order to pay him off quicker. After finding out she was making cakes for some of the other mom’s at the kids’ schools, he had dropped off enough fake cash to pay for a stall for two months at the market. All she had to do was clean it (she didn’t want to risk paying for it with fake money). He told her it wouldn’t be added to the debt she owed him and then, once it was all set up, she went right back to cleaning his cash and paying him back.
“I could just stop working with you,” she points out. The debts are done with now and while she does use his fake cash to buy some of the ingredients and then sells the finished products to get a reasonable profit, she could manage without his money. She could afford to buy everything herself. Normally the profit sticks with her and what she makes back for the ingredients goes to Rio to replace his fake notes but, without him, that could just roll over to buy her next lot of ingredients. There’s enough constant, successful business to make it work. “I mean, I’m surprised you haven’t stopped it already.”
He’s licking the icing from his fingers when he pauses, his head turning slowly to look at her. “What you mean?”
And that, in turn, makes her pause because isn’t it obvious? She finishes up the last little bit of her cupcake as an excuse to take a moment before she speaks. “I mean, I know what I do is pretty profitable but I’m not cleaning anywhere near the amount of cash I was at the dealership.” Beth reaches into her bag for the sanitizer she keeps in there. She cleans her own hands and then deposits some into Rio’s open hand, trying not to fall into panic mode when he takes his hands off the wheel long enough to rub them together. “You must have businesses that are cleaning more.”
There’s a pause and when he speaks, he sounds unsure. “Nah.”
“ Nah ?”
He groans like he regrets ever opening his mouth. “It’s just you. And I’m stopping with the money.”
She blinks at him. “Since… Since when?”
“Since the feds,” he supplies as if it’s obvious. “Like you said, they figured out the money, right?”
Panic starts to build. She had wondered if maybe they were shooting themselves in the foot and that the FBI would come after them. The only reason she hadn’t spiralled is because she figured Rio wouldn’t take the risk. “Yeah but we’ve been cleaning it.”
“Uh-huh,” he agrees, making a point of not looking at her. “It’s a different batch. So much shit was going wrong, we wanted to change some things up. They ain’t looking for the lot you’ve been cleaning.”
“But they are looking?”
Rio shrugs. “Since they left, I ain’t got much intel but it’s probably on their radar somewhere. Sure if notes pop up, they’ll know about it.”
The whole thing is just confusing her more and more. It’s typical Rio to have a back-up plan but it also doesn’t seem like him to just stop doing something that’s working. “But if it’s untraceable again and you’ve got a second chance at doing this, why stop?”
“Ain’t worth the risk,” he tells her. “It was the first batch after the initial test. A huge one to make it worth our time. After things went South for Turner, I took the chance to shut everything down.”
“But you were still sitting on a mountain of unwashed cash.”
“The original I could destroy. The new lots still worth something.”
“So, that’s why you’re starting up the pharmacy again,” Beth says, finally catching on. “It’s going to be the only thing you do.”
“You and your girls owed me but that money you was cleaning for me.” He glances her way. “I’m using that to start the whole thing.”
“Were you going to tell us?” she asks. “Or just stop?”
He shrugs. “Figured if I got the pharmacy up and running, you’d only want to be involved in one or the other.”
She stares at him for a moment. He’s focused on the road, slouched in his seat with one hand on the steering wheel. She’s not entirely sure what has shifted or when. Him being so open and actually telling her stuff is making her worry. It’s not typically him. He doesn’t do this, at least not easily, not without prompting.
“You really want me in on this pharmacy?”
“So if Jacob’s cut goes from twenty to thirty,” she starts, knowing his answer to this question will tell her so much. “Is that coming out of my cut or yours?”
Rio sighs, extending his fingers to stretch them out then curling them back around the steering wheel. “If he stays at twenty, I’m gonna have forty-five to your thirty-five. Considering our past dealings, I think that’s fair.” He looks at her and she quickly looks down, nodding her head because yeah, that does sound kind of fair. “But if he goes up to thirty, I’ll drop down.”
Her head snaps up and although he’s focused on the road, she can see he’s smiling. “But then we’ll have the same cut.”
“Uh-huh, and you don’t even have to strong-arm me into an even split.” Beth rolls her eyes and if he wasn’t driving, she’d give in to her urge to shove him. “‘Sides, this is only a temporary thing with Jacob.”
She pulls on the seat belt, giving herself the space to turn in her seat so that she’s sitting sideways and facing him. “Aren’t you afraid to work with him?”
“What you mean?”
“You screwed him over once before,” Beth points out. “Don’t you think he’ll do the same?”
“Might,” Rio agrees, which is not what she was expecting. “Doubt it though. Don’t think he’ll take the risk. Working with me is gonna make him more money than turning on me.”
“And if you just cut him out?”
“ We won’t. We’re gonna do this bit by bit, temporary contracts that get renegotiated every now and then.”
“Gives you a slightly better out,” Beth agrees. “Still, you must be worried. What if he goes after the suppliers or the dealers?”
“The dealers know it’s in their best interests not to cross me,” Rio assures, not sounding the least bit worried. “And the suppliers prefer to work with people they know. And they don’t know Jacob.”
She frowns. “I thought he worked with drugs before?”
“ Drug drugs. Nothing like our pharmacy.”
“Different kettle of fish.”
Rio flashes her a smile. “Exactly. His connections was about getting stuff over the border undetected. He knows different methods to help conceal and who to pay off if things don’t go well.”
It shouldn’t surprise her that he’s thought it through so much but still, somehow it does. “Are you feeling okay? You’re more talkative than usual. Aren’t you afraid you’re telling me too much?”
He reacts similarly to how he had in her kitchen, like she’s the one being dramatic. “First you want me to tell you shit, now you don’t.”
She huffs out a breath. “I didn’t say that. It’s just not like you to be so open.”
“Well, things change.”
“Change is annoyingly difficult.” Beth sighs and drops her head the side, settling against the headrest. “Must be more so for you.”
He gives her an unimpressed look. “I can be open.”
“Not with me.”
Rio looks her up and down before turning his attention back to the road. He doesn’t say anything and they both fall into silence. Her eyes roam over him, unable to stop herself even though she’s sure he must be aware of it.
It’s not that much later when they finally pull up at a fancy hotel. A four-star at least but most likely a five star rated hotel if Beth had to guess. Between its size and its decor and the general running of the place, it feels like her three mortgages would probably be less money than some of the rooms. Even if she is overreacting, she’s pretty sure can’t afford it.
She hangs back with their bags while Rio goes to the front desk to check-in. At one point, the girl booking him in looks towards Beth and breaks out into a grin. She nods and both she and Rio laugh at something one of them said. Beginning to frown, Beth turns away from the pair, pushing down the overactive part of her brain that’s already jumping to conclusions.
A few moments later, a hand presses against her lower back as Rio moves past her to grab their bags. When it’s clear he’s going to carry her bag, she walks ahead of him to push the button outside the elevators.
“How much was it?”
“Don’t matter,” he says, looking at the numbers above the closed doors. “I got it covered.”
Chewing on her bottom lip, she knows she’ll hate herself for bringing it up but she can’t help it. “What were you two talking about?”
“She said I’m a lucky guy.”
Beth turns to face him just as the elevator arrives and opens with a soft ding . “Lucky?”
“She assumed we’re married.”
He walks into the elevator once it’s empty and she follows numbly behind him, staring at his back in disbelief. He tells her the number and she hits the right one, still trying to wrap her head around what he’s said. She turns so that they’re both facing the doors.
“And you didn’t correct her?”
“Seemed more fun not to.”
“Us? Married?” Beth says, more to herself than anything. The whole thing is just so bizarre. Who on earth looks at them and thinks, ‘oh, they must be married’? A one night stand perhaps, a mid-life crisis more likely but married ? “Well, that’s definitely something.”
“What?” he asks, glancing sideways at her. “You don’t like the idea?”
She feels flustered just thinking about it because the whole thing is just so ridiculous. They’re not dating, not even sleeping together, in fact, she’s pretty sure they weren’t even on good enough terms to even consider each other friends and yet. “I’ve never thought about it.”
“Never?” His tone is teasing.
Luckily, the elevator arrives at their floor. “Well, my marriage of twenty years didn’t exactly work out. Besides the fact we’re not even together and it would probably be a disaster, marriage is far off my radar with anyone .”
She steps out because she doesn’t want to look at him. Talking about divorce, about Dean, it’s hard enough with Annie and Ruby, she’s not so sure she can do it with him. Plus, she’s pretty sure she’s blushing harder than she ever has before. Problem is, she starts walking only to realise she has absolutely no idea where they’re going. Thankfully, he doesn’t say anything, just walks right past her and leads the way. When they get there, he finally hands her bag over and digs a room key out of his pocket. He unlocks the door and steps inside to hold the door open so she can come in.
The room is pretty simple but the furnishings are definitely on the nicer side. She ducks her head into the bathroom to see counters with two sinks and one of those showers with the big waterfall shower head coming out of the ceiling. The actual room has a queen-sized bed against the left wall, or perhaps it’s a king, she’s struggling to decide with all the pillows, the big bedside tables, and the large landscape painting on the wall above the headboard distracting her. On the right wall is a wardrobe, a desk, and a big unit with a TV. The windows on the remaining wall are so big, that the curtains have a remote control to help open and close them.
“This is… This is…” Her eyes fall back on the bed as she puts her bag down on it. “There’s only one?”
It comes out as a question and she doesn’t mean it to but it’s out there and he seems amused by it. “Yeah. We married after all.”
“Right.” She nods slowly, trying not to overthink it but did he really expect- She catches him grinning and just ugh. She hits him. “You’re not funny.”
He motions over by the desk and she moves to get a closer look. Between it and the TV is another door. “ Adjoining room. Said we had relatives coming.”
“Should have told her it’s so I could kick you out when you piss me off,” Beth mutters.
“Aw, mami, is this our first fight as husband and wife?”
She groans at the laughter in his voice. “You’re not funny.”
“Sure I am,” he says as he heads back to the main door.
“Where are you…?”
“Gotta get some sleep,” he says but then gestures to the door. “You can open that but there’s another door that can only be opened from my side.”
“Oh, right, well... Just knock if you need me to…”
Beth motions vaguely towards the adjoining door in way of explanation and he nods ever so slightly before slipping out of the room entirely. Her mind is already running wild but does more so once he’s gone. She’s trying to put any kind of sense to what’s been going on. He had said that she was just work, had made it perfectly clear that things weren’t okay with them. Sure he had been a big help in making sure shit didn’t completely hit the fan when it turned out it was Jeff they disposed of ( twice ) and not Boomer but she and Rio were still a far cry away from being okay. At least she thought that was the case but now it’s not just the kiss they shared at the weekend that she’s replaying over in her head but everything he’s done since.
Feeling herself already gravitating towards it, Beth opens up her side of the adjoining door, already prepared to knock only to find his side already open. He’s stood there like he was about to knock himself and for a moment, they just stare at each other.
“Hi,” she eventually says.
His hands push into the pockets of his jeans. “‘Bout what you said in the elevator.”
“What’d I say?”
“Your marriage not working out.”
She shrugs, eyes darting away from the briefest of moments. “You already know about that.”
He hums in agreement but then lifts one hand to run over his face. “A’ight, so it was how you was acting. Looking all shifty like you are now.”
“Well, I just don’t like to talk about it,” she admits. “It’s not exactly something I like to broadcast. Divorced in my forties because a marriage I thought was pretty perfect and solid was actually the exact opposite.”
“No, no, I know that.” She lets out a frustrated breath, trying to find the words to explain it to him. “I’m not naive but I never expect to find out there were so many lies.”
“You ain’t ever said what carman did,” Rio says, finally stepping into her room and forcing her to move back to accommodate him. “‘Cause I know whatever broke your marriage, it’s all on him.” Beth shakes her head, eyes darting down because he can’t know that but then his hand is on her chin, tilting her head up so she’s forced to look at him. “Listen.” She tries to look away but he isn’t having any of it. He doesn’t release his hold until she stops trying and then he reaches up to move her hair out of her face and tuck it gently behind her ear. “No, really listen.”
She sighs. “To what?”
“Whatever shit he pulled,” Rio starts. “That ain’t on you. All them lies you talking about... I’m guessing they’re all his, yeah?” She lets her eyes drift shut and it seems to be answer enough because he keeps talking. “You acting like you got something to be ashamed of but you ain’t. There ain't nothing wrong with being divorced, no matter how old you are.”
As Beth opens her eyes, she tilts her head to the side. She looks him over as she tries to suss him out. “Why do you care so much?”
“Shit.” He laughs a little. “Wish I knew.” He licks his lips and steps even closer so that they’re practically pressed up against one another. “You was right. I could’ve stopped working with you and your girls once your debts were paid. Could’ve got my cash cleaned much quicker elsewhere.”
She swallows. “So why didn’t you?”
“Didn’t want to.” His eyes dart down to her lips. “Just like I couldn’t walk away when you got me arrested or when I tried to hand over the keys or when you fucked me and left me like it was nothing.”
She cringes a little at that last part. “You said I was just work.”
“Didn’t mean it.”
Beth watches him carefully. His features are soft and she can tell he means it. “It wasn’t nothing. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”
He hums in agreement and it’s probably the closest either of them will ever come to actually apologising but it seems to work for them. He’s even closer now - if that’s at all possible - and she can feel herself leaning into him. Suddenly, his hand is on her, slipping around so his arm can wrap around her waist. Her hand presses against his chest and she can see the smile that’s already beginning to form on his face, the one he’s clearly trying to stop. The whole thing is magnetising in a way she can't explain and just-
“Can you stay?”
Rio answers her with a kiss.
Listen, things weren't meant to escalate so quickly with these two and Rio wasn't supposed to be so open/talkative at this point but I also don't want this fic to be too long so, here we are. That being said, they've still got things to discuss. I just want them to be soft and openly into each other in the meantime 😌
Chapter 5: New Things
Rio and Beth's second day in Canada.
Prompts used: “Now? Now you listen to me?”, “Scared, me?”, “It’s not always like this.”, and “We could have a chance.”
- [prompt list]
Beth is the first to wake up the next morning and she doesn’t waste a moment of the opportunity she’s been given. It’s surprisingly easy for her to shift back a little without disturbing Rio so that she can look up at his face. He’s still fast asleep, features more relaxed than she’s ever seen and he’s snoring just ever so slightly. Not enough to be a disturbance but noticeable nonetheless.
He’s still got his arm draped over her waist. Her hand splays out against his bare chest. Their legs are tangled together beneath the sheet that only covers their lower half. The night before, after he’d kissed her, they had separated long enough to change their clothes. When she had stepped out of her bathroom, he was already sat on her bed, propped up against the headboard. He was only in his boxers, although he had looked over at a pair of grey sweatpants he had draped over the chair like he was making sure it was okay. After a moment of deliberation, Beth had climbed into bed beside him without a word. She had on one of her floral pyjama sets and Rio had simply smirked at the sight of it, tugging on one of the buttons enough to make it strain but not enough to outright pop it open. It had made her hesitate. She had considered changing, figured they might be a bit much, but then no , she wouldn’t do that.
Instead, she had laid down with her back to him and tried to ignore the hammering in her chest as he switched the remaining light off. A moment later, the bed shifted slightly as he got comfortable which turned out to be him pressed up against her back. His arm wrapped around her waist, holding her firmly in place against him. He curved around her in a way that was comfortable and felt surprisingly familiar. She could feel the hard lines of him and a part of her was thankful for her possibly over-the-top pyjamas for creating at least some kind of layer between them. She wasn’t so sure what she would do if she had that much skin on skin contact with him. His hand tucked just under her shirt, splayed out against her stomach, was enough to send her mind racing.
At some point in the night, she must have rolled over. When she first awoke, she was still tight against him, head tucked in below his chin. She can imagine it now, him pulling her closer once she’d settled again or him edging closer to bridge the gap. It makes her smile as she thinks about it, eyes focusing on his features. The temptation is too much and she reaches up a hand to brush the tips of her fingers against his face when suddenly, the hand that was over her waist, flies up to catch her wrist before she can make contact. She gasps at the sudden movement and he smiles before he opens his eyes.
“You was staring.”
“Admiring,” she counters.
Rio’s smile grows. He tugs her in close again, making up for the space she created when she pulled back to look at him. Her head tilts back ever so slightly so she can still see him and he moves to kiss her. It’s once. So soft, she barely feels it and she almost chases him for another.
He looks off to the side for a moment and then back to her. “I gotta get up.”
It takes her a second to remember that they’re in Canada for business and she nods ever so slightly. “How long till the meeting?”
“Gonna get a phone call at some point over the next hour or so.”
“Do you think they’ll let me come?” she asks and he gives a slight shrug. “I’ll shower just in case.”
His lips ghost over hers before he untangles himself from her. “You gonna be good if they say no?”
“If you’re asking if I’m okay with it then yes but I do want to meet them, especially if we’re really going to make the pharmacy work this time,” Beth tells him, hand still splayed out on his chest despite the space between them now. “But if you mean, am I’m gonna be good alone while you’re off meeting them… I bet the room service is exceptional here.”
That makes him laugh, loud and genuine, and she just grins at him before she rolls away and gets up from the bed. She gathers what she needs from her bag and heads into the bathroom, ignoring the temptation to look back at him. He’ll be tangled up in the sheets, lying alone, and just the thought makes her think of that time in her bedroom. They might not have had sex this time but it’s just as intimate. More so in some ways, less so in others, and she can already feel the guilt starting to bubble up at having asked him to leave the last time. They’re moving on from it, she knows that, but it’s going to take a minute.
The phone call had come twenty-five minutes later and afterwards, Rio told her they were going to leave immediately so they could get there in time. They hadn’t outright said they didn’t want Beth there but they also hadn’t explicitly said that they were okay with it. With no time to really debate it, she put on her shoes and coat and left with Rio to go and meet them but on the car ride over, it was clear he was mulling over the idea. His hands were a little too tense on the steering wheel and she would catch him looking at her out of the corner of his eye. She was hyper-aware of his gun sitting in the space between their seats. Really, it was no surprise that when they pulled up at a warehouse and Rio cut the engine, he had already come up with a decision.
“Wait in the car,” he says as he grabs his gun.
Beth looks over at the warehouse. It reminds her of the one she had left her pearls in although this area seems to be far more populated. The fact Rio still seems to be a little worried, tells her that more people doesn’t necessarily mean a good thing.
“Like I said, these guys only work with people they know,” Rio explains. “We might’ve been partners back then but I assured them they’d be dealing with me specifically.”
“But they didn’t say no to me coming,” Beth points out.
“Which concerns me.” He chews on his bottom lip. “Don’t wanna give them the excuse to get worked up. I’ll make it clear you’re more involved, set another meeting up for after this trial run is done, yeah?”
“Yeah,” she agrees. “Do you think they’ll start something?”
“Nah, their whole game is about staying under the radar. They don’t want trouble,” Rio assures. “But I still ain’t giving them an excuse. Work will speak for itself and they’ll want to meet you next time.” She nods, eyes darting over the warehouse again. “So, wait in the car.”
He might be speaking calmly but Beth can see the tension in him and she knows it’ll only worsen if she goes in with him. “Okay.”
“Now?” Her eyes snap back to his. “Now you listen to me?”
Beth can’t help but smile as she settles more comfortably into her seat. “Don’t get used to it.”
The tension seems to leave him a little as he smiles back at her. With his hand on the door, ready to open it, he glances at her. “Nothing’s gonna go wrong but if it does, I want you to drive and get out of here.” She glances to see he’s left the key in the ignition. “There’s a spare gun in the glovebox. Try not to use it.”
And really, there’s no fear of that. She doesn’t even want to look at the gun if she can help it and well, she knows from the look on his face and the fact that he’s almost entirely relaxed now, that nothing is going to go so wrong that she’ll need to use it. She’s pretty sure she won’t even need to drive his car.
“I’ve got this,” she assures before digging into her pocket to retrieve her phone and hold it up slightly. “Just call me if you need me to come in or anything.”
“ Only if I call.”
“Yes, yes, I said I would wait here.”
“Yeah,” Rio agrees as he finally opens the door. “Still tryna process that.”
Without another word, he steps out of the car and shuts the door behind him. She leans over and hits the switch that locks all the doors and then settles back to watch him as he makes his way over to the warehouse. She makes a mental note to talk to him about this later, to see if he’s still willing to be open and honest like he was the day before. He might have taken his gun in with him (hell, she’s seen him more times with it than she has without) but the fact that none of his boys have come to back him up and the fact that she’s sure he knows what he’s doing, tells her that this whole thing is going to go fine. So it’s got her wondering, what is he worrying about so much?
It also has her thinking over the events of the night before. If the woman at check-in hadn't made the assumption that they were married, would they have kissed or ended up sharing a bed? And then her mind goes down many paths. Is he married? He never answered her last time and she still hasn't asked him about his other name. Christopher. She even tries it out loud and it doesn't feel right. It suits him. She's thought about it enough. Whether it be chosen for alias purposes or his actual name, it's definitely a fit, but there's some disconnection there due to the absence of any clarity.
Suddenly her phone buzzes in her lap and she looks down to see a text from Annie come through. She glances around outside. Everyone she can see is working away, not even giving the car a second look so she allows herself to become distracted enough to check the message.
A: Still alive?
Beth rolls her eyes. She had spent the first twenty minutes or so of the car ride to Canada texting with Annie and Ruby to explain what was happening. They hadn't exactly been happy, both voicing concerns for her safety, but she had insisted she was safe and there was nothing dangerous about any of it.
B: Rio's meeting with the suppliers now.
A: So where are you?
B: Waiting outside.
Her phone begins to ring and she picks it up, Annie's voice immediately coming through. "Thought the point of you going was to attend the meeting?"
"I said I might attend the meeting," Beth says as she looks back over the warehouse and the surrounding area. "They've never met me so Rio is gonna talk to them about the new deal and me so that I can meet them officially in the future."
There's a pause. "Does that mean you're gonna stick around after the trial is over?"
"Maybe?" It comes out as a question because really, she's still debating deep down. "Washing is out of the question now and expanding our business endeavours seems smart."
"What if me and Ruby don't want to be involved?"
"I'll still give you a cut," Beth decides. "Or I can try to give you more work with my business. You're so much better with the online stuff and Ruby's quick at picking up the recipes."
"But we don't have to get involved with this new thing?"
"No. And besides, I've not spoken to Rio so he might not want you involved."
Annie scoffs. "He pays too much attention not to know we're usually a packaged deal."
And that's true enough. She wonders if he's already assumed they might be involved and makes another mental note to ask him about that at some point.
"Well, we've got a month to see how this thing goes," Beth says. "Plenty of time to discuss involvement and whatnot."
Sadie's voice sounds in the background. "Right, I gotta go. Kid's got a birthday party to go to. Seriously, sis, you should see the size of the house I'm dropping him off at. No one should have that much space."
Beth laughs a little and she says, "try not to cause a scene" at the same time she hears Sadie say, "please don't be embarrassing."
Annie huffs out a breath. "No faith."
"Love you," Beth says, trying to stifle another laugh.
“Yeah, yeah. Love you, too.”
She shakes her head as they hang up and she drops the phone back into her lap.
It’s not too long after that when Rio finally reappears. He steps outside the door and Beth can just about make out that there’s someone stood behind him. He turns briefly and shakes hands with the person before he starts walking back towards the car. Once he’s closer, she leans over and undoes all of the locks on the car.
He slides into the driver’s seat, immediately starting up the car without a word and driving away from the warehouse. The fact he hasn’t said anything doesn’t concern her because, as she looks him over, Beth can see he’s much more relaxed than before.
“Were you scared?” she asks suddenly, unable to help herself.
“Scared,” Rio turns her way and, if she had to guess, looks genuinely offended. “Me?”
Beth rolls her eyes as he focuses back on the road in front of them. “Well, you were worried before and now you seem completely fine. So, I was wondering if you were scared.”
He looks at her out of the corner of his eye, his hand flexing a little against the steering wheel. “Mama, everything’s fine. We changing some big things from last time, just gotta be careful.”
“Were they okay with it?”
“They want in on the trial run at least.”
“That sounds good.”
Rio hums in agreement. “Let’s just see how it goes, yeah?”
She watches him carefully. He’s definitely much more relaxed but she figures he’s probably at least a little sceptical. “Is there something else?”
He glances at her. “We gonna have to talk about whether you’re in or out.”
That’s… Something . She had assumed he might have his own ideas about how in or out she might be but, looking him over, it seems that he genuinely is leaving it up to her either way. “What do you mean?”
“I asked you to help me get Jacob on board,” Rio starts. “You’ve done that.”
“It’s just a trial,” Beth points out.
“That you saying you don’t want out just yet?”
It seems having to make a decision was coming up quicker than she thought. And she really was debating it deep down, wondering if it was the right thing or not but also, could she really step away entirely? She hadn’t been able to in the past. “I think we need to talk terms and conditions.”
He begins to smile, nodding his head ever so slightly. It’s impossible for Beth to stop the corners of her mouth from turning up ever so slightly. Despite how bad things went before, she feels almost giddy at the prospect of moving on to something else with him and this time, she was already more involved than she had been before. If they did things right this time, it could be good. Great even.
“Were you scared?” Rio asks suddenly.
Beth narrows her eyes, knows she probably looks offended just like he had and decides to repeat his earlier words. “Scared? Me?”
He chuckles as she settles more comfortably in her seat. Silence starts to fall over them but before too long, Rio clears his throat and shifts in his seat. “Was thinking... If you were gonna stay in, should probably start up more lessons.”
“Among other things.”
Beth frowns, her head automatically tilting to one side. “Other things?”
“We both agreed there were some mistakes, yeah?” He looks at her just long enough to see her nod her head. “And some things were left up to chance but we can’t be fucking up no more.”
“Am I going to have to prove myself to the suppliers?”
“They know about Turner and knows he weren’t about to let shit go,” Rio says. “But yeah, it might take a minute for them to open up.”
“They’re doing this for you.”
Rio nods. “History.”
“You vouched for me,” Beth whispers, realisation washing over her.
“Exactly why I’m gonna teach you some things.”
“Terms and conditions,” she repeats, knowing they both need to be on the same page about everything relating to the business.
All Rio does is nod.
Still, there was a lot to celebrate or at least to feel positive about. Jacob and the suppliers were on board so far and Beth was fairly sure the dealers probably were as well. There seemed to be no issue with fixing up a schedule and their trial period was partly about smoothing out any kinks in that department. On the drive back, Rio took a slight detour and instead stopped at a restaurant about ten minutes from the hotel. It was all big windows and open space and despite its beautiful furnishings, it wasn’t at all expensive. They didn’t talk about business the entire time, not even once their plates were away and they were just left with their drinks.
After their food, they had decided to keep on driving for a bit and once they came across a nearby park, it seemed almost wrong not to stop. They had found a bench not too far from where they had parked up, Beth dropped down onto it first and Rio settled right beside her. His leg pressed up against hers, his arm along the back of the bench behind her. There was a surprising about of small talk to break up the silence between them. Every part of it, whether they were speaking or not, felt right. She could feel herself leaning into him ever so slightly and he didn’t seem to mind one bit.
“It’s not always like this,” Beth muses. He looks at her but remains quiet, waiting for her to elaborate. “Us, I mean.”
“Be boring if it was.”
His arm moves from the bench to actually drape around her shoulders as he slouches ever so slightly. “What you worrying about?”
“We can make sure everything is set for the pharmacy,” Beth starts. “Terms and conditions, all the lessons you want, but what about us? We can’t pretend that there aren’t issues outside of business.”
“Issues like what?”
She can think of a few. Kicking him out after sex and him calling her work might have been left behind but they’re both stubborn as hell and there’s still a lot to unpack. “Would we just be business partners?” He opens his mouth to respond and she holds a hand up. “And you can’t answer with another question.”
He huffs out a breath. “What you got in mind besides partners?”
And she wants to glare at him. She wants to be angry that he answered with a question but really, it’s a fair one. Unfortunately, it’s one she doesn’t quite know how to phrase her response to. “Last night… Lying in bed together, kissing you, that woman thinking we were married.” He raises a brow at her and she feels the heat as her cheeks begin to redden. “I’m wondering what’ll happen if we have sex again. We didn’t last night. We just… Slept.” He doesn’t say anything, just watches and waits and Beth sighs. “I like having sex with you.”
Rio smirks as he looks away from her to scan his eyes over the park. “That so?”
She doesn’t expect him to say it back, in fact, she’s happy to move the conversation on as quickly as possible. “After the first time, you vandalised your way into washing through the dealership and the second time… Well, we both know what happened there. Point is, is it worth the risk?”
“Depends how much you like it.” And she’s surprised to find that he doesn’t look the slightest bit amused, that he isn’t teasing her. It’s also encouraging that he hasn’t immediately shut down the idea of it. She begins to wonder if he’s thought about having sex with her again, just like she’s thought about him a million times over. “You like something enough, it might be worth the risk.”
“I don’t want to sleep with you again,” she decides, looking out over the park as his eyes snap back to her face and that alone is confirmation enough that he’s thought about it at some point. “Not unless I’m the only one and not until we talk about us first.”
She can feel him watching her, refuses to look at him until he says something. “No labels.”
“There wasn’t anyone else.” And she can’t help it, the look of disbelief she gives him because she’s pretty sure a guy like him could get anyone he wanted if he tried hard enough. She’s confident he’s never struggled to find someone to have sex with. It seems to make him relent a little. “A’ight, so there was after the first time. A casual thing. But not since that time at your house.”
She studies him carefully and it’s easy enough to tell he’s telling her the truth. It becomes overwhelming, the urge to ask him why but instead she says, “me neither.”
There’s a long pause and Beth begins to think that might be it when he pipes up again. “We could have a chance.”
Beth looks at him, pulling back a little as it becomes impossible to hide her surprise because... W hat ? “You said no labels.”
He shrugs. “Ain’t good with them. You my partner. Only label we need right now.”
And he doesn’t look the slightest bit phased as he watches a nearby family kicking a ball around. She, despite the look of surprise slipping from her face, can’t get over it. We could have a chance. It’s like the words are echoing in her mind. The openness and honesty, sleeping in the same bed, soft kisses, the joking around, the talk of a future… She almost doesn’t recognise him but then he turns to her and gives her that lazy smile that makes his eyes flutter for a moment and just... He’s exactly the person that managed to claw his way inside of her and make her feel things she wasn’t even sure she was capable of. The person she recognises as somehow being her polar opposite and her exact copy at the same time. All Beth can do as she tries not to spiral down a path of unnecessary thoughts and countless questions, is smile back at him.
Chapter 6: Decisions
Beth and Rio's last day in Canada ends with a bet and after getting home, she has some decisions to make.
Prompts used: “Can you wait for me?” , “You keep me warm.” , “I can’t come back.” , “You could talk about it, you know?” - [prompt list]
Beth decided to make the most of the waterfall shower in her hotel room after they got back from the park. She and Rio left the adjoining doors open but he remained in his room. He was sitting back on his bed, scrolling through his phone when she left him to jump in the shower. It was perfectly warm and the pressure of the spray was just right that she ended up staying in there long after the room began to steam up.
When she does finally step out, she grabs the smaller towel and wraps her hair up in it. She wipes at the mirror with her hand so she can actually see her reflection. With the bigger towel, she pats herself dry enough to apply her creams and moisturisers, taking a little more time to really rub them into her skin. The air in the bathroom is hot but comforting and so she doesn’t rush brushing through her wet hair and once that’s done, she pulls on one of the fluffy robes that were provided and tidies up a little after herself.
She’s in there for a long enough time that she shouldn’t be all that surprised when she comes out of the bathroom to find Rio has moved from his room and is now lounging on her bed. Still, a scream escapes her and she presses her hand to her chest.
“Thought I might have to send a search party.”
He’s all smiles and Beth lets out a noise that sounds somewhat like a cross between a scoff and snort. It’s enough to make herself pause but for his amusement to only grow. She shakes her head a little, walking past the bed with the intention of grabbing some clothes out of her bag when she notices he has the room phone and a piece of paper in his lap.
“What are you up to?” she asks, craning her neck ever so slightly to try and get a better look.
At that, he deliberately holds it away from her so she has no chance of seeing it all. “Thought about what you said this morning.”
Beth frowns at him, trying to remember. “And what did I say this morning?”
“ I bet the room service is exceptional here ,” he says, mimicking her words from earlier. “You wanna take that bet? If it’s good, I’ll pay. If it’s bad, you pay.”
“Nope.” She shakes her head. “Because I also bet it’s expensive.”
“A’ight,” he says. “We won’t bet money.”
Her eyes narrow at him. She had been joking about the room service and it hadn’t been a hint just now to get him to pay but she had to admit, she was intrigued. “What will we bet?”
He looks her up and down for a moment as if he’s debating it but she knows he’s already figured out what he wants. “If it's not good, you take that robe off and let me leave a mark wherever I want.”
As her heart begins to hammer in her chest, Beth’s hand instinctively goes up to hold the material over her chest closer together as her other arm wraps around her waist. The more she feels the blush creep up her neck, the tighter her grip becomes. The worst of it is, she’d probably let him do it whether he won the bet or not.
“What do I get out of it?”
He licks his lips as a smile forms and his eyes dart down before finding hers again. “What do you want?”
“A massage,” she decides suddenly before holding her hand up when he goes to respond. “And no , that’s not code for anything. Dean would never do it for me and I rarely saw a professional. It never seemed worth the money.”
It’s clear from the look on his face that he’s got a comment or two locked away but thankfully he keeps them to himself. “Stressed?”
She shrugs as she wanders closer to the bed. “Might as well put you to good use.”
The smile completely disappears and his eyes narrow at her but then suddenly he’s laughing. Shaking his head like he’s somewhat impressed with her and amused all at once. She ignores him as she climbs onto the side of the bed he isn’t occupying and settles down next to him.
“And the massage has to be a decent length,” she adds quickly before holding her hand out. “Now, let me see that.”
He doesn’t look any less amused as he hands the menu over to her. While she scans through it, he dials and begins ordering things he’s already picked out. She notes everything that he says and then when he turns to her to see what she wants, she points out a few things to him that he hasn’t already mentioned.
As they talked about the room service bill (she wants to split it, he doesn’t, they never find an agreement), all of the food arrives and they spread the plates out over the bed. Beth had moved to settle towards the end of the bed, legs crossed, facing Rio. They settled into trying only a tiny bit from each dish so as not to eat too much all at once. Now, barely halfway through the selection of food, Beth finds herself smiling because she realises that she’s won.
"Bit expensive," Rio comments when he knows he's lost their little bet.
"That's your fault for picking this hotel," Beth argues. "Just admit it was good."
"Nah, it's average food that's overpriced." She narrows her eyes at him and he breaks out into a grin. "A'ight, let's clear the bed then."
And God, it becomes so real then. He's going to be so close and he'll have this hands all over her. It makes her feel alive and terrified all at once.
She busies herself moving plates, trying to keep her mind from spiralling because this is going to be good. She deserves it. But then Rio disappearing into her bathroom catches her eye. She watches curiously until he steps back out with a bottle of lotion in his hands and she’s honestly not sure if that makes her feel closer to alive or closer to terrified.
Ignoring the grin he gives that tells her this just as much of a win for him, Beth grabs a pillow and puts it at the end of the bed. Once she's found some panties, she pulls them on underneath the robe but before she can find a bra, Rio is moving swiftly in front of her and tugging on the tie until the robe falls apart, only just covering her chest. He licks his lips, eyes darting down for the briefest of moments.
He makes a point of ignoring the way her eyes narrow at him and instead, he turns away from her, giving Beth the opportunity to remove her robe completely and lay down on the bed face down. Her arms wrap around the pillow and she rests her chin on it.
Just as she's about to speak, the bed dips and she swallows instead. Her heart is so loud and fast, she starts to think that maybe he’s able to hear it. A moment later, he straddles her. His fingers run up her back and over her shoulders, making her shiver. He chuckles, quiet and already kind of breathless. He removes his hands and the next time they make contact, there's lotion. It cool against her skin and, as he rubs it in, he kneads at the knots at the top of her back and her shoulders. He works them slow and with so much pressure that it stings for just a moment before becoming unbelievably good. She begins to wonder if he's done it before but then starts to consider who he's done it to and so then she focuses on the feel of his hands, his fingers digging in just enough.
And it’s not entirely hard to do. It feels far better than she ever thought possible so much so that it becomes increasingly difficult to hold back the moan that’s threatening to slip out. It doesn’t help that his hands are on her shoulders, thumbs rubbing circles at the base of her neck and it’s enough to make her bite her lip. There are so many sensations and thoughts that her previous plan to stay focused, is drifting.
She must tense up a little too much because suddenly he stops and his hands slip away just enough so that his fingertips can still press against her skin. “You okay?”
Beth clears her throat and tries to make some kind of noise or reassurance. “Yeah, I… Yes .”
From the way his fingers ghost down along her back, she can just tell he sees through her. She can imagine the grin on his face and it’s so tempting to look, just to be sure, but then he’s back to massaging her. It’s so sudden and he’s applying so much pressure that this time she can’t stop herself and it barely registers before her eyes flutter shut and she moans into the pillow. His hands still against her back momentarily, fingers flexing, and when he continues on, it's like a flood gate has opened. She really does try to keep quiet but it’s so good and all too much and, now that she’s started, her moaning only seems to spur him on.
She knows then that it’s a challenge, a new bet even, only this time she’s not entirely bothered if she loses. Lifting herself up a little, he backs off and lifts away entirely when she starts to shift even more. With the absence of his weight, she’s able to roll onto her back. He’s kneeling just to the side of her and, as his eyes drop down, she becomes hyper-aware of the fact that the only thing she has on, are her panties.
His eyes come up to hers and he just stays there, waiting, and she tries not to squirm under his gaze. “That mark you were talking about… I thought maybe you could...”
And it’s all the invitation he needs.
Rio shifts so that he can press his lips to her neck and God , the thought of him leaving a mark there causes her to feel both thrilled and worried at the same time. But then his hand grips her side, squeezes it as he presses one more kiss to her neck before he slowly kisses his way down her body. He hesitates every now and then like he’s really trying to figure out where to stop or perhaps convince himself not to get distracted. Eventually, he pauses at her stomach.
He looks at her and he’s grinning. All Beth can do is suck in a breath. When he presses his lips to her skin once more, it’s almost at her left side not too far above her hip. His lips are soft, almost hesitant before he nips at her skin, sucks at it. Her fingers curl against the sheet until he stops and pulls away from her. He smirks, fingers coming up to ghost over the spot.
Beth’s eyes land on the bruise and a shiver runs right through her. It’s vibrant and big enough that she’s glad he hadn’t settled on her neck or anywhere else it could be seen. Although, with her body squirming and her fingers instinctively gripping at the sheet again, she’s not entirely sure that’s the case. When she looks back to him, her eyes roam over him or rather, his clothes, and she frowns.
She props herself up on her elbows, ignoring the way his eyes take a moment to take her in. “I’ll let you leave another one if you take your clothes off.”
“Oh, mami, I would’ve done that for free.”
And he smirks as he climbs off the bed just long enough to remove his clothes.
They had decided to go home during the early hours of the following morning. Beth with another mark, this time on the swell of her breast, just far enough to one side that she should still be able to cover it up and just- She had glared half-heartedly at him afterwards but the little pout he gave her had only made her roll her eyes. (It certainly helped that his fingers hadn’t taken very long to slip between her folds and run gently over her clit as he leaned up to kiss her).
During the last couple of days, between leaving Canada and the official start of their trial period, Beth saw a lot of him but it was mostly work-related. With a schedule ready to go, it was usually about going through the what-ifs and because she’s so obviously in (and not just to keep Jacob sweet), they talked seriously about when they’re going to have those lessons he’s so adamant she needs. As the trial period moved into effect, they talked about it even more, Rio actually mentioning dates and times and places for their lessons because, not even a week into their month-long trial, things were going well. Everything ran smoothly and there were no complaints from anyone involved and Rio began to suspect that all parties involved might agree to a somewhat permanent deal sooner rather than later. Beth even felt like she had a better handle on things this time around but then that had her realising that she wasn’t really doing all that much.
That’s how she finds herself in her kitchen, drinking bourbon with Annie and Ruby. The kids coming back earlier that day had taken up a lot of energy so the two of them had come to help her tag team their hyper behaviour and constant talking about how their trip had gone. Eventually, they had all crashed in Kenny’s bedroom. Him and Danny on his bed and the girls on the floor, each wrapped around a pillow.
“Can I ask you for another big favour?”
Ruby looks at her curiously. “Why do I feel like I’m not going to like this?”
When she first got back from Canada, Beth had filled them in about the meeting and told them about her conversation with Rio at the park but she elected to not go into too much detail when it came to her and Rio and their agreement to exclusiveness but no labels. She definitely hasn’t told them about the massage or his hand - and later, his mouth - between her legs nor did she mention pushing him onto his back so she could get her hands on him.
“Could you watch the kids for a few hours?” she asks. “It probably won’t even be for that long.”
Annie narrows her eyes. “Why do you need a babysitter?”
“Rio’s going to one of the drops tonight and I want to talk to him after.” She deliberately avoids their eyes as she takes a drink. “Last time, I ran the dealership and helped to make sure the schedules worked but a big reason I was able to earn my fifty, fifty split with him is because I did some drops.”
“And what, you want to do them again?” Annie asks.
“Well, he’s got people doing it. Right now, I’m helping with the overall schedule and making sure things are running smoothly. If they don’t, I help to figure it out,” she explains. “But shouldn’t I be doing more? The chances of something going wrong are slim. Rio’s too particular for that so really, what am I doing to earn my cut?”
Annie scoffs. “You’re getting a cut even though you might not have to do anything and you’re complaining ?”
“I’m not complaining,” Beth tries to defend. “I’m just…” She lets out a breath. “He’s just been different and really open to me being involved. I feel like I should pull my weight, okay?”
“B, I don’t want to put a damper on things,” Ruby starts, taking a drink before she continues. “But the last time you got this involved you thought Jane was taken by drug dealers and Dean ended up taking the kids. Do you really want to get so involved again?”
“Last time, I got in over my head,” she admits, focusing on her own drink. “I was fueled by the fact that Rio tried to use my dealership but keep me out of the loop. After that, it was just fun and things spiralled too quickly.”
“So, what’s different now?”
She wants to tell them about the lessons they’ve planned, about how Rio is being more careful this time, but the thought of them asking a million more questions doesn’t seem productive at all. “Well, I won’t be jumping into this, I’ll be moving more slowly. Carefully . And I know what I can handle, I’ve got an opportunity to really establish something that works for me.”
Ruby nods like she agrees but asks, “why tonight?”
“Rio won’t be attending the drops regularly,” Beth supplies. “This might be my only chance to talk to him after he’s been to one.”
“I’ll babysit on one condition.”
From Annie’s grin, she knows it isn’t good. “And what’s this one condition?”
“I want more details about your little getaway,” Annie tells her. “And not the business stuff.”
Rolling her eyes, Beth turns to Ruby. “Do you think you can handle things alone?”
“ Oh , you’re no fun.”
Ruby tries not to smile at Annie’s response. “Go on. I’ll call Stan just in case I end up staying here.”
Giving her a thankful smile, Beth gets up before Annie can say or do anything and heads towards the front door. She pulls out her font and opens up her text thread with Rio, typing out ‘can we meet?’ with one hand while (slowly) putting on her boots with the other. It’s only a few seconds before her phone dings with a response but she ignores it to pull on her coat and grab her car keys. It’s only once she’s outside and sitting in the driver’s seat of her van, that she checks.
R: For? I’m about to head home.
B: Where are you?
R: The bar.
B: Can you wait for me?
B: Please. Don’t go home yet.
It feels like she’s waiting a lifetime for a response, even considers just calling him. Despite having her phone in her hand and staring down at the screen, it makes her jump when a new message comes through.
R: Hurry up then.
It’s enough to make her shift awkwardly to thrust her phone back into her pocket and then she’s off.
When Beth arrives at the bar, he’s not actually there. She at the exact same spot she had been when he told her she had the keys to the kingdom. He appears not too long later, coming out of one of the doors that leads into the back of the building. He says something to the bartender before making his way over and settling on the stool beside her. After two glasses of bourbon are placed down, he takes his, drinks a little and then leans on the bar, propping his head up on his hand as he looks at her. She takes the chance, with his current silence, to pick up the other glass and take a few sips from it.
“How was the drop?” she finally asks.
“They’re going good.”
“You know, you’ve never actually told me how you’re doing it.”
He smiles them, tongue darting out to run over his bottom lip. “We got a couple of methods.”
She tries to keep her tone in check, tries to appear neutral. “And what does that mean?”
It’s not just the fact that they’re partners and she should know because of that but it’s also the fact that things need to be different this time around. She can’t have the same mistakes as before.
“I got it handled, yeah?” And really, it doesn’t sound all that dismissive. He even sits up a little straighter before he speaks again. “We’re trying out some different ways during the trial. Partly to make sure if the FBI is still keeping tabs, we can avoid them figuring it out straight away, but also to see what works the best.”
“I should know,” Beth points out.
She blinks a little in surprise when he nods his head. “And you will. You keep handling your side of things and I’ll handle my side. At the end of this, we’re gonna sit down and talk about it all. You don’t like anything, you say. I don’t like any part of what you’ve been doing, I’ll say.”
How they were going to split the workload had happened almost naturally. It made sense for Rio to handle the suppliers alone, so she handled Jacob. While he did any needed face to face with the dealers, she kept track of them on paper along with everyone else. Afterwards, she would make sure the right amount of supply and money was handed over. With the help of one of Rio’s guys, she’s been able to keep track of everything in enough detail to ensure things run smoothly but not so much that it could become a problem.
“If I’m doing behind the scenes stuff, I should really get to know our suppliers,” Beth says, looking away to focus on her glass just so she doesn’t have to look at him. “The dealers too.”
Having expected the answer, she rolls her eyes at his predictability. “I get you’re on the front line so to speak. You’re the face, the one that goes to every meeting and actually handles things if there’s a problem. And I am still good with splitting who we’re in contact with but shouldn’t I at least know everyone involved?”
Rio chews on his bottom lip like he’s thinking it over. “When we know what dealers are gonna be working long term, I’ll get you more details on them but you ain’t meeting them. Not after last time.”
And just- that’s fair, she supposes. “What about the suppliers?”
“I’m still gonna set up that meeting for after the trial.”
Beth nods her head as she thinks back on it, remembers him saying it in the car up in Canada. Admittedly, she had begun to wonder if he really meant it but she knows she just has to trust him. “I just want to pull my weight,” she finally tells him.
He runs a hand over his face like she’s said something stupid and he’s frustrated by it. “You are. Your job is to make sure everything is running the way it should so we don’t go to jail.”
And of course, that’s her job because she’s pretty confident that if they were ever caught, she’s more likely to go to jail than he is. Maybe that’ll be one of their lessons, him teaching her out to evade being charged and put away. She’s also begun to suspect that this month-long period is about testing her as well, seeing if she can do the tasks set out for her in a way that works and isn’t going to get them all in trouble. Trusting her to be capable is easier to do over a shorter period of time than it is long term.i
“What you so interested for anyway?”
Beth lets out a breath, shrugging a little. “Things feel different this time. I know I need to be careful, take my time, but I want to earn whatever cut I end up with.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” he says, grinning at her. “I’ll let you know if you’re slacking.”
Although she rolls her eyes as she reaches for the glass, Beth doesn’t doubt that for a second. “Do I get that same privilege?”
He scoffs. “Like you don’t boss me around already.”
“I do not! I’m very-”
But she catches that little smirk of his and just, right . She shoves him a little and he laughs into his glass, completely melting her in a way she’s pretty sure she’ll never get used to. He’s way too good at making her feel things she never thought she would or could. The worst of it is, he never seems to try. He can overload all of her senses and send her spiralling with simple movements and looks and words and he’s just, he’s a lot. It makes her say and sometimes even do things on impulse.
The next time it happens, he’s just walked her to her car and they’ve stopped just outside it. He’s standing so close to her that, despite the fact she’s starting to feel a little cold (probably more to do with how tired she is), instead of getting inside, she just turns to him. He watches her carefully, waiting, but then he must spot the way she rubs her hands together because he reaches out to grab one and tugs her in close.
Beth hums a little as he wraps his arms around her. She does the same but slips her hands up under his hoodie and t-shirt to warm them against his back. He hisses at first because like always, his temperature is much higher than hers but the tension in his body ends up easing away fairly quickly. And even if it didn’t, God , she doesn’t feel even a little bad for putting her cold hands on him anyway.
“You keep me warm,” she blurts out. When she dares to look at him, he’s just watching her carefully but she can feel his grip on her tighten a little. “You’re like a furnace.”
After a moment, he just leans in to press a kiss to her cheek and then nudges the same sport with his nose, warming her face a little too. Maybe he sees right through her, maybe he doesn’t. It’s not a total lie. He is like a furnace and he does keep her warm in the literal sense but it’s so much more than that. It’s like he’s inviting and comforting but at the same time, she can’t help but wonder that if she gets too close, it might burn. Regardless, he lights her up in such a way that she’s fairly certain it’s worth the risk.
It’s way too early in the morning when Beth makes a decision that she instantly regrets. She picks up the phone to one of the PTA moms. In her defence, it seemed harmless at first. Lila was one of the newer moms and was never really that involved but it didn’t take long to realise that having her make the phone call was intentional.
Beth’s trying not to hang up as she listens to Lila go on about how the PTA would just love to have her more involved again. There’s lists off upcoming events and what specifically needs to be covered. She might not be a part of it anymore but it’s all stuff Beth knows about and she’s been actively avoiding it all. Every time she even considers it, she remembers making all of those treats around thanksgiving and finding every single one still stored away, completely ignored and unused. It’s not like she doesn’t do anything for the school. She helps with anything remotely charitable - usually by supplying cakes and whatnot - and if any of her kids are involved in something, she might lend a hand if need be but now, she just doesn’t care about every little thing like she once did.
“Well,” Beth says as soon as she’s able to get a word in and, to her credit, she does manage to sound cheery. “I can’t come back, busy schedule, y’know? But if you ever need some cake or other sweet treats, you’re welcome to make an order.”
With that, she just hangs up and immediately feels the tension leave her body. She settles the phone down on the counter and focuses back on drinking her coffee.
“Who was that?”
And it’s bad enough when Rio sneaks up on her but Dean? That’s a lot worse. She sets her cup back down on the island counter and turns on her stool to face him. He had come by to drop off the rest of the kids’ stuff from their trip and she’d almost forgotten he was upstairs helping them all unpack properly.
“Lila,” Beth supplies. “One of the PTA moms.”
He looks a little stunned but it soon turns into a smile. “Oh, are you getting involved again?”
On the one hand, she’s happy that he doesn’t seem to have been listening in but on the other hand, it’s irritating to know he’s still oblivious enough to think she would even be interested. Especially after his past ultimatum practically forced her into getting more involved again with some pretty unhappy conclusions.
“No,” she says. “I don’t really have time with the business and the kids.”
“Well, I’m sure the business is great and all but it’s still pretty small, right? You’re not at the market all the time. I’m sure there’s time to show your face. You were always really good at that stuff and you always said the PTA would be great for the kids in the long run.”
And with the stupid smile on his face, it takes every ounce of strength in her not to throw something at him. She had been pretty vague with work. He knew about the market because he’d seen her stall (and Jane had mentioned it) but she kept the details low when it came to the scale, especially with her online orders. The less involved he was, the better. Especially considering she had been washing Rio’s money through it. Still, the fact that he would even think that the PTA would be good for her. She’s sure there’s probably a compliment in there somewhere, she really was good at what she did, but it’s so far in the past that it’s kind of insulting to think that he would even suggest she give it a chance.
When she’s confident she’s not going to cause any physical harm, Beth smiles. “Maybe but right this second, I’ve got stuff to do.”
“Right, right,” he says, that stupid smiling growing as he motions to the front door. “I was actually coming to tell you I was heading out. Pretty sure the kids have everything but let me know if anything is missing.”
“I will,” she agrees.
He nods a little (still smiling) and finally leaves. When she hears the clicking of the front door, Beth puts her head back and groans in frustration. It amazes her how someone she had been with for so long could be so wrong about her. It’s worse that the whole thing makes her worry, makes her overthink. Getting involved with the pharmacy was only going to work if she had balance and was she really doing enough stuff for the kids? With her work and now this new business step with Rio, would she even have time? Would she miss more dance recitals? Perhaps other things would be missed too. And while he is still relatively young, there are all of the teenage milestones with Kenny to come and soon, he’ll at least be hearing about college and then it’s all the thinking and the planning for that.
The creak of her side door makes her spiralling thoughts stop long enough so she can turn on her stool. Rio’s smiling as he closes the door behind but it falters when his eyes land on her. She tries to cool her expression as he comes closer but it’s a lost cause.
“What you thinking?” he asks once he’s settled in front of her, somehow having found his way between his legs, one hand reaching up to truck her hair behind her ear.
“It’s nothing,” Beth tries to assure but she knows she’s answered far too quickly.
“Saw carman leaving,” Rio points out. “He say something?”
Beth bites her lip because, while it’s tempting to offload on him, she doesn’t want to do this now. “It doesn’t matter. I’m just doing what I always do and overthinking. Give it a few hours, I’ll be fine.”
He doesn’t look like he believes her at all. “You could talk about it, you know? With me.”
“I know,” she agrees, lifting up just enough so she can kiss him. “Maybe if it keeps bothering me.”
For a moment it seems like he might push it but instead, he kisses her before grabbing her cup. He takes it round to the coffee pot and pours her a fresh one before grabbing one for himself. When he turns back around, something catches his eye as he brings the cup back to her.
“You got a leaf on your fridge,” he says as if she might not know.
Her eyes go to it as she wraps her hands around her cup and takes a sip of coffee. It doesn’t look quite as good as it had when she first pinned it there but she actually kind of loves it. “It’s the one you left on the counter when you asked me for my help.”
His turns to her, his attention leaving the fridge. “The one I found outside?”
“Yeah, figured I should do something with it.”
“Yeah,” he agrees.
Rio sips on his coffee as his eyes go back to the leaf and she knows, can just tell that he’s thinking about something. Perhaps even scheming. He somehow manages to look relaxed, like he’s lost in thought, but also look like he’s calculating something that’s impossible to solve at the same time. She doesn’t disturb him, just drinks her coffee and watches him, take the opportunity to really study every inch of his face while his mind is focused elsewhere.
Chapter 7: Gamble
Beth starts to see things in a new light.
Over the next couple of weeks, life became a bit of a balancing act for Beth and not quite in the ways she’d expected. Her work - both the legal and illegal sides - were going better than she could have hoped for. It was easy enough to keep up with her stall at the market as well as the online orders especially with Annie and Ruby both chipping in. When it came to the pharmacy, Jacob had expressed a desire to keep going past the originally planned month and was more than happy to cover both the transport from up north and the storage. According to Rio, the suppliers were also more than happy with the way things were going and it looked really likely that they would say yes to meeting her before they officially transitioned into long term agreements. It worked that they were pushing enough drugs to make the whole thing worth it but not so much that it could get out of hand too quickly. Everything was looking great with the possibility of expanding and Beth fell into an easy routine that blended both it and her little bakery business with her life as a mother.
No, it was other things that were causing her to learn how to juggle. Dean was a very specific problem and really, it mostly traced back to him. She spent so much of the last two weeks trying to avoid him whenever possible (which she realised is difficult when you’ve got four kids together) because for some reason the idea of her rejoining the PTA was still somehow the topic of conversation with him. Whenever they’re together for more than a few minutes and talk turns to that, it often leads Beth to overthink once again and that usually changes the way things are with Rio. When they meet for work purposes, it’s easy enough to distract herself from all of her worries and when it’s not for work purposes, well, Beth finds other forms of distraction. While she does just like to cosy up to Rio and kiss him and even do things like cook or bake with him to keep her mind focused on just enjoying his company, she also drags him off to her bedroom or any space that offers privacy where he makes her come so hard she forgets her own name.
None of it’s ideal and she realises that the technique of her balancing act is not sustainable at all. And, because of that, it really shouldn’t surprise her that Rio has picked up on it all.
She’s sat on the couch with a glass of wine and the TV on mute, just saying goodbye to Jacob over the phone, when Rio walks in through her back door. As carefully as possible, she hangs over the couch just enough to see him. He smiles at her but doesn’t even pause as he goes right over to make himself some tea.
While he’s busy, she sinks back onto the couch and just gives herself a moment to really take that in. How easily they’ve fallen into a comfortable way of just existing with one another. Sure, not much time has really passed since he showed up at her house asking for help but God , she really thinks this could work. The no label thing doesn’t even bother her, just knowing he isn’t with anyone else is enough right now and all she wants is for that balancing act to hold long enough to keep what they have intact.
“So,” Rio says as he comes round and joins her on the couch, settling on the opposite end of it. “What’s going on with you?”
Just so she doesn’t have to answer right away, she sits up a little straighter and sips slowly at her wine. All he does in response is shift a little so that he’s sitting with one leg on the couch, his side against the back of it, careful not to spill his tea before he starts to drink it.
“Nothing’s going on with me,” she supplies when it’s clear he’s just going to wait for her to answer. “Works been going good.”
“Yeah, what did Jacob want?”
“Usual check-in. I told him they’d be happening less once we get past this first month.”
Rio starts to break into a smile. “How’d he take that?”
She rolls her eyes at him. “He’s very professionally.”
“Uh-huh.” But he’s smiling even more now. “Bet those phone calls he’s gonna be missing out on get replaced with social calls.”
“Careful,” she warns, attempting to hide her smile by taking another sip of her wine. “I might start to think you’re getting jealous.”
He scoffs, swirling his tea a little. “Now you’ve had time to think something up, you gonna answer my question?”
And just… Damn . She lets out a breath, turning a little so she can set her glass down on the coffee table. Rio puts his drink down as well before focusing his attention entirely on her. It’s a deliberate move, she knows it is. Despite the gap between them, the way his eyes lock onto hers is enough to make her lose her senses which means she’s more likely to blurt out what she’s thinking without meaning to.
“It’s nothing, okay?” Beth starts, hoping her voice is reassuring enough. “I’m just trying to make sure everything is working out before it’s all completely set in stone.”
“And is everything working out?”
She doesn’t mean for it to come out as a question and it’s too late to take it back. He raises a brow. “You don’t sound so sure about that.”
Placing her head in her hands, she takes a moment before running them down over her face and looking at him. He’s got his head tilted ever so slightly to one side, lips parted, the thing he does when he’s thinking her over, trying to figure her out.
“One of the PTA moms called me a couple of weeks ago,” Beth explains and he just gives her a look as if to carry on. “She wanted me to get involved again and well, I don’t want to so I told her that.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming.”
“It’s so stupid,” she insists but he’s already shaking his head because right , there’s no way he’s dropping it now. “Dean heard about the conversation and whenever I see him, he brings up what a good idea it would be and how good I was at all that stuff.”
And she’s not even sure how to describe the look on Rio’s face. He somehow manages to look like he’s just been told something amusing and frustrating all at once. “He only wants that ‘cause he thinks you’re gonna go back to the way you were before.”
“I’m still the same person,” Beth protests, brow furrowing. “I’m just… I’m more than that, well, I’m…” She huffs out a frustrated breath and he motions for her to elaborate, even leaning in a little like he’s genuinely interested in what she’s trying to say. “The person I am now isn’t exactly new. Growing up, I had to do things to make sure Annie and I were fed and had a roof over our heads. I had to be tough before I met Dean and when I did and I realised we were serious, I got comfortable. I guess he’s just forgotten who I used to be.”
“More like he don’t care,” Rio says and when she gives him a questioning look, he moves along the couch until he’s right beside her. He leans in just enough to press a kiss to her cheek before pulling back again. “Don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s only interested in the version of you that needed him.”
Beth hates how there’s an impulse inside of her to argue with that because, as she forces herself to sit on it for a moment, it’s clear that Rio is right. “It all got me thinking.”
There’s a slight nod of his head. “About?”
“About what I miss out on with my kids,” she explains, eyes darting down because she knows he’s got a life to balance as well and he spoke to her the last time about this, made it clear that being a mother can’t be her only priority, that she’s going to have to… “I’ve just been trying to make sure there’s some balance so I don’t miss everything. I can’t just turn that side of myself off.”
“I know.” Her eyes snap back up to his and he chuckles. “So, what? This balancing act not working?”
“I… I don’t know,” she admits. “I think it is? Both my work and our work is going smoothly enough and I’m sure it won’t change all that much, especially if there’s little to no deviations from what we’ve got planned out. Between the kids having school and other commitments as well as being at Dean’s sometimes and occasionally having sleepovers, it’s not like I’ll be ignoring them. I can do my best to make sure I’m busy when they are so there’s a good chance I’ll be able to spend time with them while they’re here.”
There’s that smirk of his. The one he gives when he’s amused by her and, on occasion, impressed. “A’ight, well, what’s the problem then?”
Beth slumps a little on the couch until her head hits the back of it and lets out a breath. “I’m just overthinking it all. Wondering about the what-ifs. It suddenly just all feels like a lot and it’s like I’m preempting some kind of disaster when there’s really no sign of one.”
He leans in to nuzzle his nose against her cheek and takes a deep breath in before slowly letting it out, the hot air fanning out across her skin. His hand comes up so he can wrap his arm around her and draw her in closer to him. He kisses her cheek before lifting his head away to look at her.
“We got this, mami.” He laughs and it’s quiet, breathless even. “Nah, you got this. You know, I ain’t had one call from you asking for help? You’ve just been getting on with it. No point stressing ‘cause if shit happens, I know you got that too.”
Beth moves so she can press her forehead against his and tries in vain to stop herself from crying because she’s pretty sure he’ll be able to read it on her face regardless. As his hold on her tightens, she sucks in a breath.
And, when Beth quickly pulls away, there’s no way Rio doesn’t catch her tears, even as she wipes at her face. He leans in just enough to kiss her once before pulling away completely. To her surprise, he gets up and goes over to where Jane is standing by the stairs, watching them curiously.
“Hey,” Rio says as he crouches down in front of her.
“Hi,” Jane whispers, waving a little at him.
Beth chews on her nails. It’s not like the kids don’t know who he is. They have met, albeit mostly due to their old meetings at the park. There hasn’t exactly been many opportunities to re-introduce them. Not since he started washing money through her bakery and not since things changed between him and her up in Canada. If she’s being honest with herself, she’s not sure she wants to push it.
Jane looks down at her feet and then back to Rio. Her voice stays low in volume. “Is mommy sad?”
“You think she might be?”
Jane shrugs. “She hugs me tight when I’m sad and you hug her really tight.”
And God, if she didn’t sound so unsure, Beth might have laughed. It’s really such a small detail to focus on and such a thing for a child specifically. Rio, on the other hand, chuckles. He holds out one of his hands, palm up. “Can I tell you some secrets?”
“Secrets?” Jane asks, instantly sounding better as she places her hand in Rio’s. “I love secrets!”
“I hug your mom when she’s sad,” he tells her and Beth shifts a little so that her back is to them, suddenly feeling like she shouldn’t be listening to this (not that that really stops her from hearing it anyway). “But I also hug her ‘cause it makes me feel good.” Out of the corner of her eye, Beth spots Jane nodding her head like that should be obvious. “And sometimes it’s just ‘cause she smells good.”
Her little head tilts to one side like she’s absorbing that information and with a slight furrow of her brow, she asks, “are you my mom’s boyfriend?”
And Beth is about to move, about to open her mouth to interrupt, when Rio shrugs his shoulders. “Would that be a bad thing?” Even if that wasn’t enough to send her heart racing, Jane shaking her head and letting out a soft ‘no’, definitely is. “Well, I ain’t her boyfriend but we spending a lot of time together.”
“Okay,” Jane says like that makes perfect sense and she begins to fiddle with the end of her t-shirt and Beth knows she’s gearing up to ask more questions but Rio doesn’t give her a chance.
“Now, little one,” he says. “What did you need your mama for?”
She leans in a little so she can whisper to him. “I heard a noise. She needs to check under my bed and rub my back.”
Rio says something back to her, only his really is a whisper and Beth doesn’t catch a word of it. A moment later, Jane grins as he stands up straight. As he comes over to the back of the couch, Beth finally turns and she catches Jane’s eye, blowing her a kiss and receiving one in return.
“You okay with me going up to check under her bed?” he asks, leaning on the back of the couch.
And Beth just blinks at him. She was sure he would think it was stupid, probably tell her that she shouldn’t be indulging this and checking under beds and whatnot. “I… You want to?”
He shrugs. “Done it for Marcus. I’m sure both of them will outgrow it soon but ain’t nothing wrong with needing a little back-up.”
She covers her mouth so as not to laugh and inevitably draw more questions out of Jane. “If you really want to, that would be okay. I’ll make you a fresh cup of tea.”
Rio grins, about which part she’s not entirely sure, as he heads back to the stairs, not even pausing as he scoops Jane up and throws her over his shoulder causing her to start giggling. It’s all enough to leave Beth sitting there, heart beating so loud that it’s all she can hear.
By the time he comes back downstairs, Beth has moved to the kitchen. She’s standing at the island counter and she’s been drinking the coffee she poured herself while she made some fresh tea for him. It’s cooled enough that as soon as he picks it up, he’s able to start drinking. As he puts it back down on the counter, he’s got a remnant of a smile on his face and she knows it’s because of Jane.
“Did she go back to sleep okay?” Beth asks as he moves to stand behind her, his arms wrapping around and pulling her gently back against his chest.
“I checked under the bed,” he informs. “And she was out as soon as her head hit the pillow.”
She sets her cup down and leans back against him. “Thank you. You really didn’t have to.”
He shrugs. “She’s cute. Actually reminds me of your sister.”
Beth shifts and when his grip loosens ever so slightly, she turns to face him, brow raised. “You do realise you just called Annie cute, right?”
His face scrunches up almost immediately and she tries to suppress the giggle bubbling up but to no avail. “That ain’t what I meant.”
“Sure, sure,” she says, nodding her head. “It’s okay. I really don’t mind.”
There’s a moment where he narrows his eyes right before he pinches at her side, causing that giggle to turn into full-blown laughter as she tries to get away from him. It’s not until she starts to concede that he lets up.
“I meant, she got the same attitude.”
Beth groans. “Okay, that I do mind. God , imagine when she’s a teenager. Annie was a lot as a teenager.”
“Least you know what you’re gonna be dealing with.”
When she looks at him, he’s grinning and it makes her roll her eyes as she leans into him a little. She wraps her arms around him, tilting her head back enough so she can keep looking at him.
“I mean it though, thank you. And not just for checking under her bed but for how you spoke to her and just for…” She sighs. “ Thank you .”
He kisses her and, as he rubs a hand against her back, he mumbles, “I’m with you, you know that,” against her lips. She shivers, kissing him gently in response. “I know you didn’t ask for this.”
Beth leans away from him. “I didn’t ask for what?”
“The pharmacy,” Rio supplies. “You didn’t even want to help me with Jacob.”
And she remembers. Remembers telling him that washing his fake cash was one thing and how she tried to convince him that he didn’t need her. But who was she kidding? It’s not like she was staying away from crime and even if she was, when had she ever been able to keep that up? Something always brought her back and all she wants to do is tell him that she’s asking now, asking to be completely and utterly involved with him in every possible way.
Instead, she kisses the corner of his mouth. “Do you mind sticking around to keep me warm?”
He licks at his lips, nodding ever so slightly as he drops his arms from around her. She grins, slipping her hand into his and tugging him towards to her bedroom.
The following night, Beth put together an impromptu girls night. Rio had slipped away that morning although it didn't stop Jane from asking a whole lot of questions that got the others asking some as well. It had been an interesting talk, to say the least. To try and explain to them that she and Rio were spending time with each other but that was it. She promptly tried to avoid giving any specific answers, only promising that they could all see and speak to him next time he was over and because he was the most observant, she had promised Kenny that she wasn’t lying about Rio not being her new boyfriend. Something that she was only just able to feel okay about because they weren’t doing labels and she had told Kenny that they were sort of dating. ( We’re trying to figure it out, honey, Beth had said. We’re very busy people so he’s not my boyfriend but if it gets serious, I promise I won’t keep it from you). Which brought her to girls night.
She’s sat on the couch with Ruby, getting all the much-needed updates on Sara and Harry while Annie’s upstairs putting the kids to bed after they - mostly Jane and Emma - roped her into doing it. They’re still chatting away when she finally comes down and flops onto the couch, letting out a frustrated breath.
“They cause any hassle?” Beth asks, as she and Ruby both grin at each other.
“According to Jane, I’m not good at checking for monsters.” Annie scoffs before turning her attention to Ruby. “ Gang friend is better.”
Beth looks away as her best friend’s eyes snap up to hers, mouth already wide open. “And how would Jane know that?”
She downs the rest of her bourbon, still refusing to look at them. “He came over to see me and Jane woke up. He checked the room for monsters.”
“Apparently they’re all very excited to see him next time.”
“They are?” Beth asks, eyes immediately going to her sister. “I mean, I know they want to see him but they told you that as well?”
“Uh-huh.” Annie’s sitting up to grab her drink from the coffee table. “So, do they know about you guys?”
“No, yes. Kind of .”
“Okay, B,” Ruby starts. “We’re gonna need a whole lot more than that.”
“He told Jane that we were spending time together but that he wasn’t my boyfriend,” Beth offers up. “I told the kids the same thing this morning but I promised Kenny if that changed, I would tell them.”
“And is it?” Ruby asks, brow raised. “Going to change?”
“There is just something about him.”
Annie groans. “ Sis .”
Beth’s not entirely sure what the frustration is aimed at specifically. Is it the fact that it doesn’t necessarily answer the question? Or does it and Annie simply doesn’t like the outcome? She looks between her sister and Ruby, debating how to pick her next words.
“It might do.”
“Okay,” Ruby says slowly. “And you’ve thought it through?”
And really, it’s the same answer - yes, no, kind of - but the thing is, Beth doesn’t want to think it through. Having no labels has worked and it’ll most likely continue to if she let it and that had come around because she didn’t overthink it. If she had, she would have fussed over what they were and how to define it until she started climbing the walls. The only difference now was that she had more information to process now.
“I never knew it could be this way,” Beth explains, gaze shifting to the stairs. “Finding out he has a son, that changed a lot. So did our first kiss and the first time we had sex in my bed and…” She sucks in a breath. “There was a lot that told me he wasn’t just the guy we robbed, who had a gun put to my head, who might not have even blinked before he killed me but last night? The way he spoke to Jane and took the time to make sure she got back to sleep and there were no monsters. It reminded me of when he got her dubby back and how he didn’t even know what he was getting back in the first place. I thought maybe that was a blip, just him knowing what it’s like, parent to parent.”
“And what?” Annie asks. “Last night with Jane changed that?”
“Yeah,” she admits because that’s definitely part of it. “Even under normal circumstances, it takes a lot to get serious with someone who has four kids. I always felt a little hesitant on how to proceed because I didn’t think I could see it. See us outside of work. See us with the kids.”
Annie gapes at her. “Like a family?”
In a lot of ways, it really is too early for that but… “Maybe?”
“And what about his son?” Ruby asks.
“Marcus,” Beth says quietly, having never really had much opportunity to say it herself. “I know it’s all a lot and it’s sudden and I’m thinking several steps ahead. I’ve spent so much time the last couple of weeks stressing about everything being perfect so nothing goes wrong and I can finally have some balance in my life. I want to factor Rio into that.”
Ruby’s brow furrows. “What does that mean?”
“It means, I’m not asking for a full-blown commitment right now but I want to know it’s going somewhere between us.” She stands up, glass in hand. The point of asking them over was to catch up but also to get their advice only now, Beth realises, she already knows what she’s going to do next. “I’m going to tell him I want to go all-in with him.”
Before either of them can respond, she moves to go and pour herself another drink. It’s a gamble but if she wants that balancing act to work in every aspect of her life, she needs to factor everything in. Despite the limited amount of time that’s passed, she does have hope that this will only move things forward. The only thing that scares her is that if it doesn’t, if Rio decides he doesn’t want to go all-in with her, she might have to cut ties for good just to make it easier to cope. Somehow having to face him every day after that seems far worse than not seeing him at all. As she pours some bourbon into her glass, Beth begins to wonder when exactly she had begun to fall so hard.
I changed a couple of things last minute so hopefully, I caught everything and there are no obvious mistakes (feel free to let me know if there is!) but that being said, the next chapter is the last one 🥰
Chapter 8: The Pay Off
This final chapter chronicles the last 7 days of the pharmacy’s trial and reaches that point where Beth and Rio decide their future.
Just because Beth hadn’t given Annie or Ruby the chance to respond when she told them she wanted to go all-in with Rio, that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to. Despite questions coming down on her so hard and fast she could barely keep up or even understand them sometimes, Beth remained calm and, when she could get a word in, she didn’t offer up information. She realised she had to navigate it all on her own if she was truly genuine about making things more serious with her and Rio, although she did ask them where they stood on the matter.
“I don’t know if this is better or worse than you just sleeping with him,” Annie admitted.
" After everything?” Ruby started. “I’m a little worried, sure, but I remember you telling me that you’d never looked at Dean the way I look at Stan.”
Beth rubbed at the back of her neck, remembering when she had said that. Her eyes snapped to Annie as she groaned, sinking further into the couch. “You’re so right. That’s where I’ve seen that look before.”
“What do you mean?” Beth frowned, looking to Ruby who seemed to understand because she nodded and just- “Guys.”
“The way you look at gang friend,” Annie supplied, gesturing vaguely. “Ruby gets the same one whenever Stan does something sickeningly sweet.”
That had turned into a little bit of playful bickering between Annie and Ruby but ultimately the point stood and, once the realisation had hit, even her sister seemed to be on board with the direction things could go in. After that, girls night had gotten back on track and talk stayed firmly away from Rio and anything business-related. Not that it was easy for Beth. How had she missed it? It was so easy for her to realise that she and Dean weren’t anywhere on the level that Ruby and Stan were but somehow she had completely missed something as simple as the way she looks at Rio. She was so sure she would know it when it happened. That she would be able to pinpoint that feeling of wonderment and pure happiness she always saw on Ruby’s face. Had she really been so oblivious to her own reactions to Rio? But then maybe that was it, the thing that potentially makes it so real between them, how seemingly effortless it all is.
Luckily, even though the whole thing was hard to forget at girls night, two days later the final week of the trial began and Beth decided to throw herself all in. By the end of it, she would throw caution to the wind and talk to Rio.
Beth’s phone calls with Jacob, while being fairly frequent, were always relatively short in length and they were careful not to give specific details over the phone. With him actually working legally in the particular areas he handled, it wasn’t hard to keep their conversations from sounding suspicious. This time around she had two things on her agenda: catching up on what would happen once the trial was up and making sure he knew that communication would be much more limited afterwards.
“So, now that the month is nearly up, where’s your mind at?” Beth asks as she finishes checking her orders for the week and marking off which cakes she can take with her to the market. She had deliberately called Jacob at a time when she knew she couldn’t stay on the phone for long. They’ve already gotten most of the business talk out of the way.
He laughs. “When it’s officially over, will I still be working with you?”
“Of course,” she supplies. “I’ll probably continue to be your point of call but Rio tends to handle a lot of the in-person stuff if there’s any major problems.”
“So you being onboard wasn’t just about getting me to work with Rio again?”
She swallows. It really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that he caught on and he doesn’t sound particularly upset or angry so maybe it’s not that big of a deal. She opts to go with an answer that’s as close to the truth as she can get it.
“No, Rio and I are partners and so we wanted to move into this together,” Beth tells him. “I, admittedly, wasn’t sure if I was going to stick around in the long run. This month has been about letting you and everyone else see how it’s going to work but it’s also been that for me as well.”
He hums a little. “And what’s your verdict?”
“You’re stuck with me.” Because he is. She’s staying because she wants to and because of Rio but the reality is, Jacob will continue to work with her even if he didn’t want to (although she’s sure he does want to). Even if things go sideways with Rio in a more personal aspect, she’ll still be part of the pharmacy until she can phase herself out. There can’t be any hiccups this time around.
Jacob chuckles. “You know, it wasn’t hard to figure out. There’s no way Rio would have gotten me on board so easily by himself and well, I would have been more surprised if you weren’t considering moving on.”
She frowns, brows bunching together, forgetting for a moment that he can’t see her. “What do you mean?”
“At the fundraiser, I said I knew who you were and about the raid on your dealership,” Jacob starts and she nods, remembering, before making a noise for him to continue. “However, when it comes to who you are in this world, I didn’t know very much at all. Talking with you, it grabbed my attention and I was curious to see what working with you would be like but it’s funny, I never would have worked with Rio if it was just him but knowing he was partnering up with you? That spoke volumes.” Beth just blinks, not entirely sure what to say but Jacob keeps talking anyway. “I was intrigued because you had his backing but this trial period? I almost forgot you were working with Rio, almost forgot that the only thing I could pin down on you in this world, was him. You held your own. You impressed me.”
For a moment, Beth just stares down at the island counter, unable to speak and thankfully, Jacob doesn’t push her. Everything he said is basically what Rio had said to her before and they’re not wrong, she realises. Trial period or not, she’s held her own so far with the new pharmacy and it’s like her past mistakes (and successes) have prepared her for this. There was a time, not that long ago either, where the thought of being able to branch out on her own might have been a thrill, a desire even. But now? Now, it’s the last thing she wants.
“Well, I’m not going anywhere,” she tells him.
When he speaks next, his tone is light and she can imagine that he’s smiling. “Things still going smoothly with you and Rio?”
And Beth knows exactly what he means, so she smiles. “They are.”
“Damn.” But she can tell from his voice that it’s good-natured. “You’ll call me if that changes, yeah?”
This time she laughs. “So, does that mean you’re on board?”
“Alright, alright, don’t tell me,” he says, tone light, teasing almost. “But yes. So long as you and Rio can guarantee things will continue to run like this, I’m in.”
“We won’t be communicating as much as we have been,” Beth points out. “You’ll get the information you need and that’ll pretty much be it.”
“Unless there are problems.”
“Yes,” she agrees. “Will there be?”
“No, we should be good,” he assures. “I’ll meet with the both of you - in person - to talk over it all properly.”
“We’ll be in contact.”
With that, they hang up and Beth lets out a breath. So long as things continue to go well, that’s one thing already ticked off her list. She just has to hope that everyone else is willing to stay on board.
When Beth gets to the market, Annie and Ruby are just finishing setting up the stall with the latter rearranging the cakes she made. Beth adds her brownies, chocolate-chip cookies (some with milk chocolate, some with dark), and peanut butter cookies. She doesn’t miss the way they both keep looking at her, even as she makes sure everything is appropriately labelled.
“You don’t have to be here,” Annie supplies when Beth still doesn’t say anything. “We know your other work has deadlines.”
“Yeah, B,” Ruby agrees. “We’ll both be here to handle things.”
She takes a moment to use her hand sanitiser before she turns to them. “No, it’s okay. I have a list of things I need to get done.”
“Of course you do,” Annie says under her breath and Beth rolls her eyes, electing to ignore her.
“And I got one of those things done already so I’m still on track.” She turns to Ruby. “Have you been okay with doing the baking that I can’t?”
“It’s been great and Stan’s been helping me here and there,” she admits.
Beth just blinks. She’s always paid her (and Annie too), even paying more since the pharmacy started up and they both started doing more to keep the bakery alive. Now she makes a mental note to talk things over and potentially increase the money she gives them even more.
“And what about all things online?” she asks, turning to her sister.
Annie nods eagerly. “It’s going great! Admittedly I needed Sadie’s help a little but your website is pretty kick-ass if I do say so myself.”
It’s true. Beth had a fairly simple website before. Just enough to show people what she could bake and a way for them to make orders (which was basically her phone number). Now there were menus that included pictures and detailed information about each item. Each item had a link that would take them to a page where customers could actually order them without even needing to speak to her. The website had multiple galleries of past creations that were custom orders as well as a page dedicated entirely to dealing with customers enquiries. Bit by bit things had been added to it and Beth had been checking in now and then.
“It does,” she agrees. “And it’s been okay to keep updating my spreadsheets with the new orders?”
“Yeah, it’s been fine.” Annie sighs happily. “I love technology.”
Beth and Ruby both start laughing. And it’s a relief more than anything. They’ve both been helping her since the beginning but just knowing they’ve adjusted to her split attention has Beth hopeful that she can convince them to help with the bakery on a more regular basis when the pharmacy becomes an even bigger commitment.
It’s Tuesday when Beth sees Rio again and although she’s not expecting it when he walks through the side door and into her kitchen without any kind of warning (not that he ever really gives one anyway), she doesn’t have it in her to protest. Especially not when he’s walking right up to her and kissing her as his arm wraps around her waist to pull her in closer.
“Hi,” she whispers against his lips.
“Hey.” He grins right before he kisses her once more, this time short and sweet, then he’s pulling away and leaning back against the counter. “We’re almost at the end.”
She busies herself with stacking the kids' lunch boxes up on the island counter just for something to do. “Technically we’re almost at the beginning.”
Beth hates it the second she says it because there really is a thin line between whether or not this will be an ending or a beginning for them. She opens her mouth to clarify but Rio seems to have considered her answer and hums in agreement. When she looks back at him, he’s smiling.
“So, Jacob still good?” he asks.
Taking a breath, she nods. “He wants to meet with us both in person before he officially agrees to anything but so long as we can ensure things will continue to run as they have been, he’s in.”
“Good, good.” But then there’s that signature smirk. “How’d he take it when he found out you won’t be checking in as much?”
And just, Beth decides that maybe she could have a little fun. “Maybe I want to keep checking in on him. He asked me if things were still going well with us.”
Rio’s moving then, positioning himself so he can cage her in against the island counter and she wills herself not to smile, instead she tilts her head a little to one side. He leans in just enough that his lips are hovering dangerously close to hers and his breath fanning out over her skin is almost enough to make her fold.
“And what’d you say?”
She gives him the most innocent look she can muster. “Who says I answered?”
He practically growls then, his lips brushing against the corner of her mouth and she thinks about how, if she were to turn her head to the side, she could kiss him. Only, he pulls back enough to look at her properly and he grins in that way he does when he knows he’s right about something. “You told him we’re good.”
Her mouth opens and closes as her eyes give him a once over. “What makes you so sure?”
And, even though she wouldn’t think it possible, the smile on his face only grows. “You just told me.” Beth rolls her eyes because that hardly seems fair (although, she’ll admit it’s mostly because of how pleased with himself he is). He gently grasps the hem of her sweater and tugs her in close to him. “But maybe I can make sure we’re really good, yeah?”
Before she can respond, he’s kissing her neck, even nipping at her skin here and there in a way that makes her curl away from him as she tries not to laugh. It only serves to make him tighten his grip on her until she’s flush against him and unable to escape as he buries his face against her neck.
She’s giving in to him, bit by bit, laughing harder than before when it suddenly sounds like a herd of elephants coming down the stairs and Rio finally stops. He pulls away and leans against the counter, smooth as anything, just as the kids come into view. Beth straightens her sweater and shakes her head a little as if that’s going to make her look any less flustered. Still, the kids don’t seem to notice anything because all of them stop dead and just stare at Rio before Jane breaks out into a wide smile and runs right for him.
Luckily, he’s quick. Stooping down as she rounds the island counter and picking her up easily, throwing her over his shoulder. She immediately starts to giggle and that rids Emma of any hesitancy as she also runs forward, stopping only when she’s close enough to look right up at Rio. He raises a brow at her and she raises her arms into the air to be lifted up. Rolling his eyes good-naturedly, he uses his free arm to lift her up over his other shoulder. As both girls start giggling and whispering to each other behind his back, he glances to Beth briefly before stepping around the island counter to where Danny and Kenny are.
From where she’s standing, Beth has a pretty good view of them all. She can mostly see Danny and Kenny’s face but she can catch glimpses of Rio’s. The girls’ faces move in and out of view because they’re moving so much and usually they’re looking at each other. She stays where she is, wanting to know what will happen next but knowing, like the last time with Jane, she should probably stay out of it as much as possible.
Rio looks down at both boys, not even flinching as Emma and Jane keep moving against his shoulders. “Hey.”
“Mom says you’re not her boyfriend,” Kenny says.
“But you’re spending a lot of time together.”
“Also true.” And after a moment, Kenny nods like that’s satisfying enough for now. “Good, now, I’m sure I saw two little girls when you came down, you seen them?”
“We’re right here!” Emma calls.
“Yeah!” Jane agrees.
Rio whips around dramatically. “Where?” That only causes them to start laughing more so he turns back quickly to face Kenny and Danny. “Seriously, this ain’t funny.”
Now Danny is grinning and he points. “They’re behind you.”
At that, Rio half turns to look behind him and then turns the other way when Emma’s hand grips at his shirt and pulls a little. He gasps dramatically. “What you doing hanging upside down?”
Jane giggles and grabs at his shirt as well. “You put us upside down!”
“No.” He shakes his head as he pulls them over his shoulder and sets them both down on the ground, the two of them falling into each other a little. “I wouldn’t do that.”
“You did,” Emma protests, jumping a little excitedly on the spot.
“You sure?” He gives them both a suspicious look before his focus shifts to the boys. “You agree with them?”
Beth’s surprised when Kenny shakes his head, actually getting involved in the ridiculousness of it all. “I don’t agree with them.”
And it should lead to arguments between her four kids but it doesn’t. Somehow it just all leads to more laughter and Rio smiling as he continues to mess with them a little and out of nowhere, Beth feels like her heart may have actually melted.
With nothing to do after school the next day, Beth took all four kids to the park. It’s not really planned when Rio shows up ten minutes after her. He spots her instantly, in a way that makes her wonder if he’s got some kind of sixth sense. Both he and Marcus head right over to her but, once they’re close enough, Rio hangs back.
She can’t help but smile as Marcus stops almost right in front of her and holds his hands behind his back. “Hi.”
“Hello,” Beth says,
“I’m Marcus,” he tells her, holding one hand out to her.
And of course she already knows this but she nods her head a little nonetheless and reaches out to shake his hand. “I’m Beth.”
“My daddy doesn’t call you that.”
That surprises her, she wasn’t sure he’d mention her at all. The only times she ever saw Marcus was at the park. Only, the park was for business while the kids played and whenever Marcus came closer, Rio would change topics and he rarely even acknowledged her while he talked to his son. At that, her eyes dart over to Rio briefly. He’s looking out over the park, eyes moving from each of her kids.
“I bet he calls me Elizabeth, right?”
Marcus nods his head, smiling now. “Yeah.”
“That’s my name but not many people call me that,” she explains as she moves her handbag from the spot beside her and settles it on the ground between her feet.
With the spot not vacant, Marcus climbs up onto the bench to sit beside her. He swings his legs for a moment before he leans back. “What should I call you?”
She puts her arm along the back of the bench and looks down at him. “What do you want to call me?”
He seems to think about it for a moment, brows knitting together. “I like Beth.”
And he doesn’t elaborate or explain why he prefers that name. He just sits there, looking out over the park, seemingly in no rush to move. This, Beth realises, is the first time she’s been this close to him and it’s the only time she’s ever been somewhat alone with him. He looks just like Rio, a thought that always crosses her mind whenever she sees the two of them together.
“Did your dad tell you to come over and say hello to me?”
He shakes his head. “I wanted to.”
This time when her eyes go to him, Rio is making his way over. Without a word, he sits down on Marcus’ other side and looks over his head at her. She smiles - which he returns - and the three of them simply sit there in comfortable silence.
Beth can see all four of her kids. Kenny and Danny kicking a soccer ball around and Emma, who seems to have been attempting to get involved, is wondering over to the climb framing where Jane is already hanging upside down. It doesn’t take very long for Marcus to spot her as well and he immediately gets down from the bench, only pausing long enough to look back at Rio.
“Can I go play?”
“Sure,” Rio says, eyes darting to the climbing frame. “You best be careful though.”
“I will,” Marcus promises as he starts running towards it.
Once he makes it to the climbing frame, Rio slides over to fill the gap between them and Beth immediately removes her arm from the back of the bench and settles more comfortably beside him. He motions out towards Jane who swings so she’s right side up, only one hand still holding onto the bar, and she lets go suddenly to drop down onto her feet beside Marcus.
“Surprised you ain’t freaking out,” he comments.
“Oh, I did the first few times she did it,” Beth says which makes him laugh a little. “I kept thinking about all of the ways she could get hurt if she accidentally slipped or didn’t hold on tight enough but honestly? She’s so good. It’s partly why I was more than happy to encourage her dancing when she asked to do it.”
“Bet she still gives you a heart attack sometimes.”
“Yeah,” she admits. “But I practically raised Annie who was even worse sometimes and to be fair, Jane giving me a heart attack is a daily occurrence. At least on the climbing frame there’s a soft landing and it’s actually a skill of some kind.”
He raises a brow. “As opposed to what?”
“Well, I don’t think she’s going to be able to do much with wondering what slime tastes like or running across wooden floors in her socks.”
This time he laughs properly, loud and genuine as his eyes dart over to the climbing. It almost floors Beth when she spots the look of affection he has as he watches both Jane and Marcus climb towards the top of the frame, her stopping now and then to wait for him to catch up. Jane’s not stupid, Beth knows that, she’s just curious and is rarely afraid of anything but God , if she had been her first child then constant heart attacks might not be just a joke.
“You wanted Marcus to introduce himself to me,” Beth points out.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “He said he wanted to say hi so I let him. Figured if I didn’t come with he’d tell you his name.”
“We’ve never officially met.”
Rio looks sideways at her. “He does know who you are.”
“Yeah, and my kids technically knew you.”
“He started asking questions after a while,” Rio comments. “After you decided you was out.”
Beth frowns, glancing over at Marcus. “What did he asked?”
“At first he wanted to know where you all were then he asked who you were.” Rio smiles, glancing down at his lap before looking at her. “How I know you, do I see you a lot, kid was on a fishing expedition for sure.”
“He was curious,” she says. “It’s natural.”
“That mean yours were?”
She shrugs. “Jane and Emma a little but they were around the most and they’re always curious about stuff. I don’t think Kenny wants to be involved and Danny, well, he just seems to be somewhere in the middle.”
“They ask again if I'm your boyfriend?”
Beth hums a little. “I told them you weren’t but that I would let them know if that ever changed.”
“So, how’d you want to do this?” When she looks at him, he smiles, motioning between the two of them. “You still got time to decide with the business but with the kids asking question…”
He gives her a look as he trails off and Beth sighs. He’s right. And it seems like Marcus’ questions might have gone down a similar route. Technically she isn’t lying to her kids but the longer she keeps defining it as spending time with each other, the more chance there is of at least Kenny finding out more and there being a big fallout.
“We get this week out of the way before we do anything,” she decides, wanting to stick with her original plan to sit down with him at the end of the week. “But I think we’ll definitely need to tell them something. I mean, if any of them had seen us in the kitchen yeserday, it would have been a disaster.”
“It might not have been.”
Beth shakes her head. “Oh, it would.”
She looks towards the climbing frame again, Marcus and Jane are perched on top of it and they’re calling down to Emma who is climbing up. Off to the side, Kenny throws his hands up in a cheer as Danny scores a goal against a couple of kids they’ve roped into playing with them. And Rio, well, he sits slouched ever so slightly on the bench, looking completely at ease as his eyes go from kid to kid. It could be her chance to just talk to him now but it doesn’t seem worth it to risk ruining the moment, so Beth keeps quiet.
Maybe she’s just a coward.
She certainly feels like one when his knee knocks into hers and he says, “we’ll figure it out.”
The next day is more work-related than Beth expected. When she’s not doing all sorts for her bakery business, she’s doing the paperwork for the pharmacy. None of it’s hard per se, just time consuming so, long after the kids have gone to bed, she’s startled by how dark it is in the house when she glances up from her spot on the couch.
She’s in the living room, papers spread out around her and all over the coffee table. After baking, she switched to doing the paperwork for that as well and the only source of light is the nearby lamp that she had put on earlier. Standing up, she stretches her arms above her head, moving a little as her body cracks in a few different places before she wanders into the kitchen, flipping on the light as she goes.
It’s as she reaches into the sink to grab her glass from earlier that Beth spots Rio out in the garden, sitting on the table part of the picnic bench just like he had been when he came to her a few weeks ago. She abandons her original intent to get a drink and instead heads outside.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were here?” she asks once she’s close enough.
He leans back on his arms. “Just got here.”
Beth pulls the sleeves of her sweater over her hands. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I got some news earlier and seen as I was passing, I figured I’d share.” She steps closer, motioning for him to continue. “You still want to meet with the suppliers?”
She nods, perhaps a little too eagerly and pauses as she coughs a little. “Yes. I do. Yes.”
Rio smiles. “A’ight, you best be free on Sunday then.”
Beth just gawks at him. “Wait, you already set it up?”
“Nah, they did. And that means they’re impressed.” He runs a hand over his face. “But that also means you gotta know for sure how involved you’re gonna be before we met them.”
“I want to keep being involved,” she tells him. “Things have been going well and I definitely think I can handle things better this time around.”
At that, he gets down from the table and closes the gap between them. His hand coming up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “Just be sure, yeah? You can’t give more than yourself and if you meet with them, it might be harder for you to get out later or for me to cover for you.” She frowns at him and he chuckles, that same hand moving down to settle against her waist, bunching her sweater a little. “Before you was mostly a face. Anything went wrong, they came to me but after this week, they’re gonna know your face too.”
“If any mess is on my side of things, they’ll know who to come to,” Beth says, grasping the idea. “I still want to meet them.”
“Yeah,” he says, tongue running along his bottom lip as he begins to smile. “Figures.”
Beth’s not sure how to take that. She promptly decides she doesn’t much care as he kisses her.
Beth settles down onto the coffee table, hands wrapped around a glass of bourbon that she sips slowly. Annie and Ruby both sit on the couch across from her. Each of them began sharing looks as soon as they walked in the door ten minutes earlier and only started to do it more once she led them into the living room and poured them both a drink.
“Look, if it’s bad,” Annie starts. “I would just like to know.”
“I wouldn’t,” Ruby interjects but her brow quickly begins to furrow and she sighs, looking towards Beth. “Do I want to know?”
Setting her glass down beside her, Beth can’t help but smile. “It’s nothing bad.”
Suddenly, Annie sits bolt upright and grins. “ Oh , is this about Rio?”
“Yes and no.”
Ruby groans. “I know you chickened out so this has got to be business-related.”
“I did not chicken out.”
Annie makes a noise of disbelieve as she falls back against the couch. “You totally chickened out.”
Beth rolls her eyes. “I did not, okay? I’m going to talk to him but he had an update for me.” They both share another look before nodding at her to continue. “The suppliers want to meet with me and him on Sunday.”
“So that means you’re in right?”
“Yes,” she agrees, eyes darting from her sister to Ruby. “He says he wants me to be sure so he’ll probably ask again by the end of the week.”
“I take it that’s when you’re going to talk to him?” Annie questions.
“I’m actually going to talk to him tomorrow,” she tells them. “So far everything is going good with the pharmacy and, if things change between us, it should be plenty of time for him to tell the suppliers I won’t be going to the meeting.”
“Come on, B,” Ruby says. “We all know what homeboy is like. You can’t just say you’re done and then leave.”
“She’s right, that didn’t exactly work before.”
“I won’t just leave ,” Beth says, promptly ignoring the way Annie is bobbing her head a little. “Jacob figured I might not stick around so it’ll be easy to sell him on it and the suppliers trust Rio more than me so I shouldn’t have any issue transitioning out. I’ll stay long enough to make sure that I don’t mess any of this up for him.”
“This is all presuming he doesn’t want to go all-in,” Annie points out. “I mean, you did say he wasn’t seeing anyone else.”
“Right,” Beth agrees. “But that just brings me on to why I brought you here..”
Ruby groans. “Oh, God.”
“If this goes well, I want you guys to take over the day to day running of the bakery.”
Once again they both look at each other, Ruby suddenly looking less distressed and more confused. The two of them slowly turn back to her, Annie being the one to speak, “you want us to what now?”
“Well, Rio won’t be washing fake cash anymore so it’s all going to be one hundred percent legit,” Beth clarifies. “If you guys help run things, I’ll make sure the pharmacy doesn’t touch it.”
Ruby downs the rest of her bourbon and sits forward. “Slow down, B, I don’t understand.”
“I’ll still do stuff,” Beth explains. “I’ll make some of the orders, especially a lot of those specials we get in. I’ll be the face if I have to and do any future meetings or anything like that. But Ruby, you’ve been great so far at helping me with the orders and Annie, you’ve got a great handle of the online stuff. Both of you know how to run things at the market and I’ll be there to help with that as much as possible.”
“What about our jobs?”
“Yeah,” Annie agrees. “Fine and frugal isn’t exactly my dream place but it’s work. I can’t just leave like that.”
Beth nods. “And I don’t want you to. I’m hoping to put together enough money to start renting a space. Depending on the money, I don’t know if we’ll be able to actually bake there but it should be big enough to at least sell out of and even have a little area to sit down.”
“Could get one of those fancy coffee machines,” Ruby muses, sounding much more at ease than she had earlier.
“It’s been a long time since the FBI was on our backs but I don’t want to risk anything so it’ll be a while before it happens. Business has been building and the only reason I’ve put a limit on orders is because I don’t have the time or space.”
“But if we work full time with you,” Annie starts. “That’ll solve some problems.”
“Yes,” Beth agrees. “And it’ll be open more days than we have the market so hopefully, that’ll mean more customers. Of course, there’ll be an increase in the pay you get and I can top you up with part of my share from the pharmacy.”
“You don’t have to do that, B.”
“No, I want to,” Beth says, waving Ruby off. “And don’t worry, it won’t be much.”
Ruby nods a little. “And the pharmacy really won’t touch it?”
“No,” she promises. “At most, if we have an office, I might do some paperwork while I’m there but it won’t stay there and no deals or meetings will ever take place inside the bakery. This will be a piece of legitimate income.”
“ If we can make it work then I’m in.”
Annie nods vigorously in agreement. “Me too. I’d much rather work with you than at Fine and Frugal.”
Letting out a breath she didn’t realise she’d be holding, Beth stands, gathering all three of their glasses. “I’m going to top these up. Why don’t you guys grab snacks and see what shows we need to catch up on? We can come back to this topic when I know more.”
Both of them seem much happier about that change of events and waste no time in hurrying to the kitchen. Once they’re gone, Beth carries the glasses over to the bar cart and sets them down on top. Pulling out her phone, she gets up her text thread with Rio and sends him a message.
B: I need to see you tomorrow.
R: Am I in trouble?
Beth rolls her eyes. Even with a lack of emojis, she knows he probably has that all too familiar smirk on his face.
B: It’s important.
A second later her phone begins to ring and she immediately picks it up. “Can I see you tomorrow or not?”
There’s a pause on the other end. “I’m guessing this ain’t business otherwise you’d have called or asked to meet now. And this definitely don’t sound like you got something good to talk about.”
“It could end up being business-related,” Beth tells him. “But for now, it’s personal and I want to make sure we have a chance to properly talk.”
“You really ain’t gonna tell me what this is about?”
“It’s nothing bad, okay? I just think we should talk before this week is up, especially before the meeting on Sunday.”
“You still good for that?”
Even though she can’t actually say for sure, she backs a little noise in the back of the throat. “Yes.”
After a moment, he sighs. “A’ight, I’ll be round tomorrow once your kids are out of the house.”
With that, they both hang up. Beth knocks back what’s left in her glass before topping all three up.
After dropping the kids off at the various Saturday activities, it’s no surprise to Beth that Rio is already waiting for her at the house. She spots his car as she drives onto her street and so, instead of going through the front door, she makes her way around the side instead.
“You’re prompt,” she says as she steps into the kitchen and shuts the door behind her.
“Thought it was important.”
He’s over by the coffee pot, having seemingly just poured himself a fresh cup. It’s clasped between both hands as he leans back against the counter and watches her, clearly waiting to find out what it is she needed him for. His expression and the way he holds himself don’t give anything away.
“Yes, I admit it,” Beth starts as she walks towards him, stopping where he’s only just out of reach. “You were right.”
“Usually am,” Rio agrees as he sets his coffee down and pushes away from the counter to close the gap between them until they’re impossibly close. He looks down at her, hand coming up to tuck her hair behind her ear. When it drops back to his side, he smiles. “What am I right about this time?”
She scoffs, eyes darting away briefly. “What you said in Canada, about how we could have a chance.” If the startled look he gives is anything to go by, that clearly wasn’t what he was expecting to hear and Beth suddenly wishes she could take it back but she takes a breath and forces herself to keep talking. “With things changing, I got to thinking.” She motions between them. “About us.”
“Us?” And his face is impassive once again.
“I know there’s already a plan to talk to the kids about us because they’ve been asking questions but before, back with the old pharmacy,” she says, gesturing vaguely. “I had so many eggs in so many different baskets. There was the dealership as well as the other stuff happening there, not to mention all of the book club things that happened outside of the dealership. And then were my kids and God, I still had Dean to deal with. I just kept creating all these different spaces in my head and…” She takes a breath. “This time I only want two spaces. I want everything that’s legal and personal in one box and everything that’s illegal in another.”
Rio nods like he agrees but he’s got that look on his face that he gets whenever he’s about to pick apart something she’s said. “A’ight, so which one are we in?”
And it’s a valid question, one she had thought about long and hard herself. What they do and a good chunk of their relationship is built on crime. She felt that way before and that should have put him in the same space as all of their illegal activities but she always knew that he didn’t really belong in that box which led to her making a separate place for him in her life. Now she had to put him in the only place she knew he would fit without her life splintering off in too many directions.
“Personal,” she says, tapping her temple. “You belong in the same space as my kids and Annie and Ruby.” His arms wrap around her waist and she keeps talking before he even gets the chance to open his mouth. “But the thing is, I need us to be all in.”
“You’re already my partner.”
She tenses up a little. “You know what I mean. I know you don’t like labels, it’s not like I’m asking you to call me your girlfriend or anything, but I want to know that this is genuine and we’re both serious about making this - us - work in the long run.”
Out of nowhere, Rio begins to laugh. She can’t stop the surprised look that crosses her face but it only makes him laugh harder. When he is able to stop, he kisses her softly. “I’ll be right back.”
With that, he lets go of her completely and slips past her to the side door. By the time she turns around, it’s closing shut behind him. She stares, brow slightly furrowed, feeling more confused than she has in a long time. His laughter plays on repeat in her mind and she can’t figure out whether she should be offended or not.
To distract herself, she makes a fresh pot of coffee. She’s just poured herself a cup and is sipping on it when he comes back into the kitchen. He’s carrying something big and rectangle in shape, it takes her a moment to realise it’s a picture frame. She frowns, setting the coffee down on the counter beside her before moving closer to where he still stands by the door. From the way he’s holding it, she can only see the back of it.
There’s a beat where neither of them moves so he holds it up higher and turns it around to reveal a painting - oil, if she had to guess - and it’s of various fall leaves. There are a few orange ones that are clearly the focal point with various light yellow leaves and dark red leaves to create some definition. Her eyes go to the fridge and then up to Rio.
“It’s yours,” he says. “Friend of mine owns a gallery. He put me in contact with one of his up and coming artists.”
“And you got them to paint this?”
“Paid more than she was gonna charge,” Rio says, looking down at the painting.
She reaches out to touch the corner of the frame and runs her fingers down the side. “When?”
“After I saw that leaf on your fridge.”
And right , she’d actually figured that much herself. The orange leaves in the painting are too much like the one he had brought in from outside, the one he had found pinned to her fridge and stared at for far too long, “Why?”
“Been waiting for it to get finished,” he explains, setting it down on the bench beside the door. “It’s actually still wet in places. You know that shit can take ages to dry?”
Beth lets out a breath because yes , she did know that but that’s beside the point. “ Rio .”
He’s not looking at her when he says, “when you said you wanted to talk about something important and personal, I thought you might be putting up some walls.” She just blinks in surprise and when he finally does look at her, he sighs, stepping towards her and wrapping his arm around her like he had before he went outside to get the painting. “Thought you might be setting some limits. Got the painting ‘cause I figured it’d be a good gesture.”
She looks at the painting and thinks about the fact that it’s still in the process of drying. “And you brought it to me today because...?”
“If you was gonna build those walls up, I wanted to make sure you had it. We kind of started this thing with a leaf.” Rio leans in briefly to brush his lips lightly against her cheek. “Figured it’d be a good gesture.”
Beth frowns. “A good gesture?”
“Everything you just said to me?” This time, when he leans in briefly, he kisses the corner of her mouth. “About us being in it for the long run? I was gonna talk to you about the same things.”
“ You wanted to go all in?” Beth asks in disbelief. “And you were going to ask me with a painting?”
“Realised I wanted it a while back but especially when I watched you and Marcus at the park on Wednesday,” he comments and it turns her stomach into knots and she can’t decide if that feeling is good or not. “Plus, ain’t like we’ve been seeing other people. Figured we might as well make it more official.
“And that means...?”
Rio roll his eyes and tries to suppress a smile. “I still don’t know about labels. We,” he motions between them, “ain’t exactly straight forward. I think ‘partners’ is still the best we got but use whatever words you want to tell the kids so they understand.”
“I can work with that,” she agrees. “So, you’re alright with telling them that we’re in a relationship?”
He hums in agreement. “But I wanna tell Marcus on my own first.”
She nods, talking to her kids alone is something she’d been thinking about too. “We could all get together afterwards. That way they can ask us questions if they have them.”
He smiles a little at the suggestion. “Look, I’m in this for the long run but I’ve told you before, it’s lonely at the top and that’s for a good reason.”
“I know the risks.” And she does. On the one hand, working together while being in a relationship could just cause too much strain and, if certain people in their line of work found out, there’s no telling what sort of trouble that could bring.
“People already make assumptions,” Rio says, motioning a little between them. “Just now a lot of it’ll be true but if shit ever goes wrong I can’t always cover for you or make excuses.”
Beth scoffs. “I wouldn’t want you to.” He gives her a disbelieving look and she rolls her eyes. “I want you to have my back but I don’t want a free pass just because we’re together.”
“A’ight.” But he’s smiling like he doesn’t believe her. “Speaking of work though, how you feel about us meeting with Jacob later?”
“Yeah,” she agrees. “I can set that up for tonight.”
“Good.” He grins at her. “Y’know, this now means I can kiss you whenever I want, right?”
Beth’s trying not to smile as she shakes her head at him. “Is that so?”
He hums in agreement. “Other things I’d like to do more often too.”
From the way he smirks, eyes dropping down to take her in, she knows exactly what he means but instead, she looks off to the side like she’s debating it. “Hmm, I don’t know about that.
Rio narrows his eyes a little at her before he pinches her side, causing Beth to laugh and try to move out of his reach. At first, she can’t, but then she pokes his side causing him to release his grip and she twirls away from him. He watches her carefully and she starts walking backwards out of the kitchen. “I might give you the chance to try and convince me though.”
And he does. Not that she really needs it. When they get to her bedroom, she happily settles back onto the bed and lets him do whatever he wants to her. Afterwards, while she’s putting the painting in her bedroom out of harms ways, Beth calls Ruby and convinces her to let all four kids stay over for the night and then sets up that meeting with Jacob.
When the meeting is over and things are, metaphorically speaking, signed on the dotted line, she and Rio head right back to her house, stumbling in through the front door with their hands all over each other, already kissing. They’re almost at her bedroom, leaving a trail of clothes behind them when he decides he can’t wait longer.
They have sex there, right beside her bedroom door, Beth’s legs wrapped around his waist as he holds her up against the wall.
The sun has barely begun to rise when Beth wakes up. Eventually, they had made it to her room but that didn’t slow them down. They both decided they wanted to shower and, after settling on going in together, that only served to make them more hot and bothered. Beth quickly lost count of how many times he made her come and, the second time they had sex since getting back to the house, things were much slower and afterwards she curled up against him.
She rolls over, eyes falling on the painting that’s still against one of her chairs and she studies it for a moment as she goes over the events of the night before. When she knows there’s no way she’s going to fall back to sleep - and with the upcoming drive to Canada - Beth tries to get up but Rio’s arms pull on her until she has no choice but to fall back onto the bed again.
“Where you going?”
“I need to get ready,” she says, rolling over to face him and they’re so close to one another that she’s thankful he’s still got his eyes closed. “We have a meeting remember?”
“Ain’t till later,” he says. “We got time.”
“We can stay in bed another day,” Beth points out. “I really don’t want to be late.”
He scoffs a little. “You won’t be, quit worrying.”
She shoves him gently and he finally opens his eyes a little. “I am not worrying. It’s just good to be prompt so can we please get up.”
When Beth tries to lean away, Rio holds her tightly and shakes his head as best as he can, his nose brushing lightly against hers. “No.”
She can’t help the pout she gives him. “Well, I don’t care, I might just get up anyway.”
“Yeah, well, I might just kiss you.”
And with that, he does.
Beth can’t help but kiss him back and they both know he’s won. When he pulls away, he just smirks at her and with a huff, she turns onto her other side. Rio promptly pulls her back against his chest, letting out a soft laugh before he buries his face in her hair. As her attention settles on the painting, Beth lets her eyes drift shut, finding it hard to deny that five more minutes might not be so bad.
Ooft, okay, so I knew I wasn't going to get this done by the end of October because I've been kind of busy but I really wanted it to be completed by the end of November. Now, I'm cutting it pretty close (it's like 11:40pm on the last day of the month here in the UK), so I apologise if I missed any obvious mistakes in this chapter during my editing. Otherwise, I hope you all enjoyed this random little piece. I'm pretty sure I managed to include every prompt but one so yay! And, as always, thank you to any of you that decided to read and an extra thanks to those who decided to leave a kudos and/or comment as well 🥰