Lost and found sisters, p.16
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.16

          

  she was breathless by the time he pulled back.

  And so was he.

  “Bye, Quinn,” he said quietly, and then he and Coop were gone.

  She told herself she was fine with that. Hell, she’d said so many good-byes lately, she was a pro.

  Chapter 16

  Are you there, God? It’s me, what the actual fuck?

  —from “The Mixed-Up Files of Tilly Adams’s Journal”

  It took Quinn two days of being back in L.A. to realize that Beth wasn’t going to show up on her TV, or from inside her closet, or anywhere in her condo.

  It made her ache deep in her heart.

  It took another two days to unpack from Wildstone, but once she did, she realized she still had the Jetpack Mick had loaned her. She scrolled through her contacts to his name and stared at it a moment, her entire body softening as she remembered how she’d felt through the hours of the night they’d spent together in her bed. And her shower. And on the chair . . .

  She heard a soft laugh and realized it was her own as something popped into her mind and it was unnerving.

  She’d been frustrated over the lack of Internet service in Wildstone and Mick had done something about it for her.

  Just because he could.

  She stared at the Jetpack, uncomfortably aware of how often things had been handed to her in her narrow world. Her adopted parents had done that for her. Been there. Always and without fail, even after Cliff had shown up and pulled the rug out from beneath all of their feet. In fact, her mom had been helicopter parenting since she’d gotten home, showing up with flowers and soup—the only thing her mom could cook, and by cook she meant heat up—like Quinn had been through an illness.

  Smothering was how she showed love, and right now, Quinn would take it.

  Because she was lucky. So lucky. Who did Tilly have other than her mom’s attorney and a neighbor?

  No one but Quinn.

  At that thought, she tried calling her again and got sent right to voice mail.

  Right.

  Message received.

  So she texted Mick.

  QUINN:

  Just found your Jetpack. Oops.

  MICK:

  Maybe you stole it as an excuse to text me.

  QUINN:

  You wish.

  MICK:

  I do wish. I wish hard. Hey, how do you tell the difference between a snowman and a snowwoman?

  QUINN:

  I don’t know, how?

  MICK:

  Snow balls.

  Quinn stared at her screen and found herself laughing out loud. He was ridiculous and she told him so.

  And thus began an ongoing texting conversation sharing stupid jokes back and forth, him from the Bay Area and her from L.A. Lots of physical distance, lots of sexy, light texts.

  Right up her emotionally stunted alley.

  Over the next week they continued in that vein and his stupid jokes became the highlights of her days.

  As everything else began to unravel, so did work. It was crazy busy. That was nothing new, and in fact, in many ways she’d always loved that. Preparing food for people in a hot kitchen under pressure and coming through . . . that fueled her.

  Being frozen out by Marcel and the staff he’d managed to turn against her in the time she’d been gone, not so much.

  “Don’t pay any attention to them,” Skye said. “They just know that he has Chef Wade’s ear, so they’re afraid to cross him. Tell me about your men.”

  “My men?”

  “Brock and Mick.”

  “There’s nothing to tell,” Quinn said. “They’re both past tense.”

  “I knew Brock was, but Mick too?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Dammit,” Skye said. “Did he keep his Tinder app? Play Pokémon in the middle of dinner? Like his car better than you? What?”

  Quinn choked out a laugh. “None of those things. I like him. I like him a lot. It’s me. I’m not . . . a whole lot of fun.”

  “That’s ridiculous,” Skye said. “You’re lots of fun. But I get it. I mean, my post-college life’s a lot less Beyoncé than I’d planned.”

  Quinn thought about that and at the end of a particularly insane shift, she finally put her finger on the problem. She hadn’t realized just how much she hadn’t been feeling, but being back in L.A. was like watching a movie of her life, without sound.

  In other words, the job was just a job.

  Her condo was just a condo.

  As for her parents, they were thrilled she was back. Her mom had suggested more than once that she go get Tilly and move her to L.A., that she and her dad would help Quinn raise her.

  But Quinn knew Tilly wouldn’t be happy here, not the way Quinn was. And truthfully, Quinn loved L.A., she did, but being here felt a little bit like wearing a pair of jeans that no longer quite fit.

  Quinn was pragmatic enough to realize she had to forgive herself for moving on the best she could after Beth’s death. But it turned out she couldn’t forgive herself for something else—walking away from Tilly.

  Not that Tilly cared, from all the response she’d gotten to her calls and texts, which made the small, nagging thought that kept popping into Quinn’s head all the more ridiculous, but it wouldn’t go away.

  The thought that kept whispering in her ear that maybe, just maybe, she should be the one watching over Tilly.

  As if that would ever happen. Resorting to calling Cliff for intel, Quinn was somewhat reassured by the news that Tilly was the same, bad ’tude and all.

  And then there was Brock. He brought Thai takeout one night, which was unusual because he wasn’t crazy about Thai.

  “You’re buttering me up for something,” she said, digging in.

  The flash of guilt on his face said she’d hit it right on the head and she set down her food. “What?”

  “It’s a surprise,” he said, flashing that smile she’d rarely if ever been able to resist.

  “I’ve had more than a few of those lately.” No longer amused, she just looked at him. “What is it, Brock?”

  His smile had faded. “I’m sorry. I said that without thinking. Come here.”

  She resisted, but he pulled her in for a warm hug anyway, and she found herself relaxing into him.

  “I just wanted to make sure we were okay,” he said. “You’ve been different since Wildstone.” He stroked a hand down her hair. “What’s wrong, Quinn?”

  She let out a mirthless laugh. “What’s wrong? Are you kidding me?”

  “You chose to come back,” he said. “I figured that meant you’d made peace with it.”

  “I came back because I wasn’t needed in Wildstone, and also because I thought my life was here.”

  “It is,” he said. “You’ve got a great job that you love in spite of Marcel the Shit, and parents who’d do anything for you.”

  Except be honest . . .

  “And you have me,” he said.

  She met his gaze.

  “You do,” he said. “I’d do anything for you, surely the past twenty years have told you that.”

  “Yes, and I for you,” she said.

  “Then come with me to London. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve got a work trip. I’ll be there for two weeks, but we could extend it another week and take some time off.”

  “London,” she repeated.

  “You’ll love London.”

  She was sure. But though it had only been a week since she’d been home, she was fighting the urge to go back to Wildstone. She wanted to check on Tilly. She wanted to see if Greta and Trinee were doing okay with the café, or if they needed help.

  Brock cupped her face. “Think I lost you there for a beat. Where did you go?”

  Wildstone . . . “I just got back, Brock. I need to stay at work, not ask for more time off. Chef Wade isn’t super happy with me right now. I’m afraid I’ll lose the job.”

  His eyes dialed into frustrated. “You know you could get your parents to talk to him, they’re good friends. They could get you the time off if you wanted.”

  She stared at him, disappointed that he didn’t get it. “I don’t want to ask my parents to talk to my boss, Brock. Would you do that?”

  He grimaced and stood up. “Look, I get it. You got your world rocked. But so did I, Quinn. Beth died and I lost you. I miss you, dammit. I’m no longer important to you.”

  “Okay, that’s not fair,” she said quietly. “You’re one of the most important people in my life. But it can’t always be about you and your schedule. You travel all the time, and I’m supposed to just drop everything if you happen to need a plus one?”

  “Yes, that’s what we do. Or did.”

  “You could take the blonde I saw you with on your brother’s Instagram,” she suggested.

  He sighed and looked down at his shoes. She had no idea if he was struggling with the urge to strangle her, or laugh. When he lifted his head, his eyes were smiling but his mouth was serious. “You’re still my favorite.”

  She smiled back, relieved they weren’t going to fight. “Good to know.”

  “Quinn.” He stepped close and pulled her into him. Cupping her jaw he brushed his mouth over hers.

  She stilled, willing herself to feel something, the shockingly sensual, erotic explosion of lust she’d experienced in Mick’s arms, or even just a flash of the long-lost spark she’d once had with Brock.

  Neither happened.

  He pulled back. “You’re not coming to London, are you?”

  Her heart squeezed. “No,” she whispered.

  “Fine. But this isn’t over, Quinn. I won’t let it be. Go sow your wild oats too, babe. Then we’ll regroup.”

  She could still feel Mick’s hard, tough body holding hers down on the bed, moving against her in a way that had driven her crazy, along with his mouth whispering dirty hot nothings in her ear . . .

  He hadn’t felt like a wild oat.

  Brock was looking at her oddly. “Or maybe you’ve already done so.”

  She wouldn’t lie, but if he wanted answers, she didn’t have them. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

  He hesitated and then he pulled her in and kissed her.

  And then he was gone.

  The new theme of her life, apparently . . .

  THAT NIGHT, TILLY stood at her bedroom window, staring out into the night wishing Dylan would materialize.

  He didn’t.

  But that wasn’t what scared her. She hadn’t seen him all week. She’d called and texted until she had a blister on her finger and finally, he’d texted her back.

  TILLY, STOP. WE CAN’T BE FRIENDS ANYMORE.

  We can’t be anything.

  Don’t call or text me again.

  She stared down at her phone in shock and disbelief. Pain sliced through her and she actually had to sink to the floor because her legs wouldn’t hold her up.

  We can’t be friends anymore . . .

  She pressed her fist against the ache in her chest. Since when weren’t they friends? Something was wrong, she was sure of it, and what told her so, more than his harsh text, was that he hadn’t been in school. He was a smart guy and knew his only ticket out of this town was grades, which would hopefully equal a scholarship.

  He’d never miss school, not on purpose anyway.

  She’d burned the mac and cheese she cooked Chuck for dinner because she was so distracted and worried.

  And freaked.

  Where was he? Was he okay?

  “What’s your problem tonight?” Chuck asked.

  “No problem. I’m going out,” she said.

  “Out where?”

  She wanted to catch a bus to Paso Robles, where Dylan’s dad lived and see if Dylan was there. She had to know if he was okay. “Just to the movies with friends.”

  “You’re in danger of failing science,” he said. “Stay home and study to bring your grade up.”

  She stood up. “I saved my money to go tonight.”

  “And I said no.”

  “You’re not my mom,” she said, and horrified at the words she’d just flung at him, she covered her mouth.

  They stared at each other.

  Finally Chuck sighed and set his spoon down.

  Oh great. He was going to tell her a story, and his stories were long. Days long. But all she could think about was Dylan—not that she could tell Chuck that because he hated Dylan, said he was a bad influence on her.

  “Your mom and I,” Chuck said slowly. “We . . .”

  God. Please don’t tell me about your sex life with my mom . . .

  “I loved her. And you’re a part of her, you know?”

  Dammit. Dammit, her throat tightened. “Chuck—”

  “But this isn’t about me, Tilly. It’s about you. You need to get back into your schoolwork.”

  Like she cared about that. Her mom was dead. She was living on a futon. Her best friend in the whole world had vanished . . . “I’m going to the movies, Chuck.”

  “No way in hell.”

  She walked away and tried to slam herself into her room but she’d slammed into it one too many times and the doorjamb was warped. The door couldn’t slam. She had to turn back to even shut it, and then managed to catch her shirt so she had to open it yet again.

  Chuck stood there, eyes flashing with temper. “Don’t slam my doors.”

  Compounding her errors—hey, look at her with the big words, take that school!—she shut it on his nose.

  Then she sat on her bed and waited. It didn’t take long. When Chuck got stressed, which was all the time, his choice of an anti-anxiety med was alcohol. In forty minutes, he would put away a six-pack and be snoring on the couch, louder than the TV.

  She watched an episode of Say Yes to the Dress, checked her watch, and peeked beyond her door.

  Yep, Chuck was out.

  Tilly nodded to herself and tiptoed out the front door, stopping to cover him with a blanket first.

 
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