Lost and found sisters, p.18
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.18

          

  middle of the room feeling helpless. Feeling horribly out of her depth and out of her comfort zone. Hell, she thought, thinking about how she was still stinging from discovering her parents owned half the restaurant where she worked, she didn’t even know what her comfort zone was anymore.

  “It’s me,” Beth said. Clear as day. “I’m your comfort zone.” She was back on the TV, this time in Quinn’s favorite sandals, eating a bowl of ice cream.

  “Where’ve you been?” Quinn demanded. “I kept waiting for you to come visit when I was home in L.A.”

  Beth just smiled and ate her ice cream.

  “The least you could’ve done was bring some for me.”

  “Maybe next time.” Beth’s mouth was curved, but her eyes were serious. “You’re okay, you know.”

  “Am I? Because I’m talking to my dead sister in the middle of the night.”

  There was a knock at her door and Quinn nearly jumped out of her own skin. She glanced back at Beth, but she was gone. Shaking her head at herself, she looked through the peephole.

  Mick held up a brown bag that smelled amazing. “Food,” he said. “And—”

  And nothing because she yanked the door open and walked right into his arms, never more happy to see anyone in her life.

  “Is this because I brought you food?” he asked, setting the food down and pulling her in close, wrapping her up in his warm, strong grip that felt like her only anchor in a world gone crazy. “Yes,” she said and burrowed in, desperate for comfort, which he offered in spades.

  With a low, wordless murmur of reassurance, he nudged them both inside, kicked the door shut and locked it, all without losing contact. “Who were you talking to?”

  She lifted her head and looked at him. “You heard voices?”

  “Just yours.”

  She sighed. “I was talking to Beth.”

  He gave her a long once-over but didn’t tell her that was ridiculous. “Any word on Tilly?”

  “No. How did you hear?”

  “It’s Wildstone,” he said. “The Twitter account sends out texts from the police scans. It’s almost always about a drunken brawl or a bunch of deer eating someone’s crops. But tonight it was about Tilly.”

  Quinn thought of how in L.A. a missing teen wouldn’t even have caused anyone to blink. Chalk one up on the pro column for Wildstone . . . Then she blinked. “So you saw it and drove down from the Bay Area?”

  He lifted a shoulder. “Thought you might need some help.”

  “You knew I’d come.”

  “Of course.”

  Of course. She let out a low laugh. Seemed he knew her even better than she knew herself.

  “You should eat,” he said, mouth against hers. “You need—”

  “This,” she said. Turned out adrenaline and fear could be its own kind of foreplay, and this was one of those times. “I need you.”

  When he opened his mouth to speak, probably to gently push her away, she put her fingers over his mouth. “It’s my birthday,” she admitted. “Or was until an hour ago. I want you to be my present.”

  Their gazes met. He hadn’t shaved that morning, maybe not the morning before either, and there was a darkness to his gaze that suggested she wasn’t the only one spiraling.

  But he shed his sweatshirt and boots without another word and helped her do the same. Then he stripped the rest of his clothing off, making her realize three things. One, he wasn’t remotely shy about being naked. Two, he had no reason to be. And three, he still took her breath away.

  She must have made some sort of sound of approval because he smiled and then divested her of the rest of her clothing as well. And then he tumbled her to the bed.

  She snuggled in close, trying to climb him like a tree, desperate for the contact. His arms closed hard around her as a groan rumbled up from deep in his throat. “Missed this, Quinn. Missed you.” Then he rolled her to her back and kissed her until she clung to him before working his way down her body, down every single inch, so that by the time he got to her personal favorite inch, she was more than halfway gone. He easily nudged her over, and then after protecting them both with a condom, sank into her, taking her outside herself, to a place where there was nothing but this. Him.

  Them.

  IN HINDSIGHT, TILLY would’ve said she wasn’t good in an emergency of any sort. She tended to panic first, think later. And in a way, that’s just what she did at Dylan’s dad’s house. She panicked. Didn’t think. And hit the man over the head with her glass soda bottle.

  He went down like a sack of rocks.

  “Dylan,” she said on a sob as her legs finally gave way. “Oh my God.” Her vision wavered.

  When she blinked the cobwebs clear, she was outside, Dylan tugging her down the street. A hundred yards from the house, he finally stopped.

  Trembling all over, she sank to the wild grass. Dylan did too, on his knees in front of her, still bleeding and looking pissed.

  “I told you to stay away,” he said grimly. “I told you I didn’t need you or your help.”

  “But you did need me,” she said and reached out to touch the cut over his eye.

  He flinched away. “How did you get here?”

  “Bus.”

  “Christ,” he muttered and swiped his arm over his bleeding lip. “You’re going to have to go back the same way, and do it now in case anyone calls the cops.”

  “Dylan—”

  “Now, Tilly. Go now.”

  “Why?” She gasped and covered her mouth. “Omigod. Did I kill him?”

  “No.” He pulled her up to her feet and gave her a little push. “You were never here, got it?”

  “But . . .”

  “No, Tilly, for once in your fucking life, listen. I know you have a crush on me, but I’m wrong for you. All wrong. And I’m always going to be wrong for you.” His gaze was fiercely intense, and scared her.

  She shook her head vehemently. “Dylan—”

  “I’m seeing someone else, Tilly, okay? I’m going to handle this, but you’ve got to go and don’t look back.” He turned her away from him and gave her another push. “You don’t know me and I don’t know you. We’re not friends anymore. And remember, you were never here.”

  Her heart had stopped. Just stopped as his words messed with her head. Seeing someone else . . . They weren’t friends anymore . . .

  Fear and hurt filled her, consumed her. She couldn’t leave him. “I can’t, Dylan. I can’t just leave you to take the blame—” She whirled back to him—but he was gone.

  Having no idea what to do or who to call, she pulled out her phone and stared at it.

  You need anything, anything at all, you call me. Day or night.

  Tilly let out a shaky breath and hoped that Quinn had meant it as she hit her number.

  She didn’t know what she expected to happen. She’d ignored all of Quinn’s calls and texts, not to mention Quinn was still in L.A., a lifetime and a galaxy away from here—

  “Tilly,” Quinn answered, sounding worried and yet somehow relieved at the same time. “Are you all right?”

  Was she? She thought about the one time she’d asked Quinn that and she’d said, “Always.” It had stuck with her, that dogged determination, and even, she could admit, impressed her. “Always,” she tried to say but nothing came out.

  “Tilly?” Quinn’s voice was tight. “You there?”

  “Yes.”

  “Are you all right?”

  “Always,” Tilly whispered.

  “You don’t sound all right. Talk to me.”

  Where did she start? Her mom had died. She’d had to leave the only home she’d ever known. Dylan, who was supposed to be her best friend, had pushed her out of his life and she had no one left to turn to. A sob escaped and she put her hand over her mouth to keep the next one in.

  “Where are you?” Quinn demanded quietly.

  “Paso Robles,” Tilly said. “I . . . need you.”

  “I’m twenty minutes away, getting into my car now. Are you safe?”

  “How are you going to get here in twenty minutes?” Tilly asked, confused. “A spaceship?”

  “When you turned up missing, Cliff called me. I drove up to Wildstone.”

  Tilly was stunned at the realization that her sister had done such a thing.

  Stunned and . . . grateful beyond measure.

  “Are you safe?” Quinn repeated, and Tilly could hear a car door slam and an engine kick over.

  Quinn, backing up her promises with actions . . . “I think so.”

  “Good. Stay that way.”

  Chapter 20

  Becoming an adult is a lot like when you’re trying to get one ice cube from a cup into your mouth and they all fall on your face.

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

  Mick drove, for which Quinn was grateful. By the time they got to Paso Robles, Tilly had walked the few blocks to a convenience store and was sitting on the curb, looking pissed off.

  Quinn jumped out of Mick’s truck and ran to her, looking her over carefully. No outward injuries, none that were obvious anyway. She stepped into the girl to pull her in close in a hug, but Tilly took a big step back.

  “I changed my mind about needing a ride,” she said, apparently having found her bad ’tude.

  Or maybe she’d been alone just long enough to realize she was in trouble and didn’t want to explain it. “What happened?” Quinn asked.

  “Long story.” Tilly turned to walk away but Quinn caught her hand.

  And held on when Tilly tried to tug free. “Let me go.”

  “Soon as you tell me what the hell is going on.”

  “Nothing’s going on! I don’t need you!”

  “Tilly, it’s two in the morning. You’ve been missing for hours.”

  “Like anyone cares.”

  “I care,” Quinn said. From the corner of her eye she could see that Mick had parked the truck and gotten out. He was leaning back against it, giving them privacy but watching closely.

  “Is there a problem here?” This was asked by the store clerk, who’d poked his head out of the store. “What’s going on?”

  “This woman is stalking me,” Tilly said, jabbing a finger at Quinn.

  The store clerk pulled out his cell phone. “I’m calling the cops.”

  “No!” both Tilly and Quinn said in unison.

  Look at that, the first thing they’d ever agreed on.

  “I’m her sister,” Quinn told the guy. “And her legal guardian. We’re just having a family disagreement.”

  The clerk looked reluctant to believe her.

  Tilly looked stunned.

  “I can give you the name and number of our attorney,” Quinn said. “You can call and verify this with him.”

  The guy looked at Tilly. “Is this true?”

  Quinn held her breath, because it was true—well, except for the legal guardian thing. But to her shock, Tilly didn’t call her out. Instead, she nodded.

  “It’s true,” she said.

  Looking annoyed, the clerk went back inside.

  They got into Mick’s truck. Mick got in as well, not saying anything, for which Quinn was hugely grateful. She called Cliff. “I’ve got her safe and sound,” she said.

  “Bring her here,” Cliff said. “To my office. We can talk and make our next move.”

  “It’s the middle of the night,” Quinn said.

  “You’ve got a better idea?”

  Good point. “We’ll be there.” She disconnected and turned to Tilly. “What brought you to Paso Robles?”

  “A friend,” Tilly said. “He was in trouble.”

  “He?”

  “Dylan.” She closed her eyes, looking so much younger than her fifteen years all of a sudden. “My best friend. But he walked away from me and just left me there.”

  Quinn’s heart split in two. Just cracked wide open and exposed itself. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.

  “He’s been pushing me away, acting mean, but I thought it was because of all he was going through.”

  “If it has tires or testicles, it’s gonna give you trouble,” Quinn said without thinking, repeating Skye’s favorite mantra.

  Mick’s eyebrows shot up an inch.

  Tilly looked at her as well. “Please never say testicles again.” She paused. “And you lied to that clerk. You’re not my legal guardian. Which I’m glad about, ’cause maybe I don’t want to live with you either.”

  “Maybe?” Quinn asked. “I thought it was a for sure you don’t want to live with me.” She liked the maybe. It meant there was a chance . . .

  “Whatever,” Tilly said, and worked at trying to swipe away some of the makeup that had pooled beneath her eyes, giving her a raccoon look. She’d worn a lot of makeup tonight, unlike any other time Quinn had seen her.

  “I never saw Carolyn wear any makeup,” Quinn said. “Did she mind when you did?”

  Tilly stopped running her fingers beneath her eyes and stared at her. “You saw our mom what, once?”

  The barb stung, but she’d just referred to Carolyn as “our mom,” so Quinn let it go. “To be clear, you’re saying you didn’t run away, you were just going after your friend Dylan?”

  Tilly hesitated a beat too long, a look of vulnerability flashing on her face before she morphed back into the tough-girl act, which haunted Quinn.

  “Tilly,” she said gently. “I thought you were happy at Chuck’s.”

  “I was happy before my mom died.”

  Quinn’s heart squeezed and she started to speak, but Tilly cut her off. “Don’t even try to tell me that time heals all wounds,” she said, arms crossed tightly over her skinny form, face turned to the window now. “Because people who say that are full of shit.”

  Something else they agreed on. Look at that. “I get that,” she said.

  “How could you? You’ve never been in my shoes. You’ve never had—literally—no one and nothing to your name. You’ve got a fancy car, a fancy job, and probably a fancy boyfriend too.”

  Quinn, exhausted after the scene at her parents’ house, the long drive, the worry and fear for the teenager who hated her, felt something snap inside her head. “You really think you’re the only one who’s ever been hurt or disappointed?”

  “The only one in this truck at least.”

  Quinn stared at her in disbelief. “Hello, dead sister, remember? And Carolyn gave me away at birth, like yesterday’s trash. So please, say again that you’re the only one hurting here.”

  Tilly blinked, like maybe she was possibly looking at it from Quinn’s perspective for the first time, and then retreated into silence.

  At the moment, Quinn would take it.

  Mick drove them straight to Cliff’s office. Quinn was surprised
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