Lost and found sisters, p.25
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.25

          

  Coop—ears still low—slowly lay down, never taking his eyes off the cat.

  Mick laughed softly. “She’s harmless, bud. Look.” He crouched down low and held out his hand.

  The cat sniffed at it. Seemed to accept him. So he tried to pet her and . . . she sank her teeth into him.

  “Jesus.” He snatched his hand back.

  Coop gave him a look like and here I thought you were the smart one.

  Quinn came up behind the cat, wearing a white sundress, no shoes, no makeup, hair down and wild, and a soft smile. “My boys are back.”

  Coop perked right up.

  So did Mick.

  He rose to his feet, his eyes on hers. Leaning in past his silly dog and the Gestapo cat, he kissed her. Soft at first, and then when she made a soft little sound of acquiescence, he deepened their connection, feeling the stress of the day float away, feeling everything float away but the taste of her.

  Smiling, she pulled back. “Thanks for the bed. Come on in.”

  Both man and dog looked down at the cat.

  “It’s okay, Tink,” she said. “They’re with me.”

  The cat didn’t budge or take her eyes off them, and both man and dog hesitated.

  “Come here, pretty girl,” Quinn said and scooped up the cat. And just like that, the fierce-looking cat went boneless and set her head on Quinn’s shoulder.

  “Aw, isn’t she sweet?” Quinn asked and turned away to lead them into the house as over her shoulder, Tink sent them both the evil eye.

  “Sweet,” Mick repeated and exchanged a wary glance with Coop as they followed.

  Chapter 26

  I miss when I was little and I didn’t worry about grades, clothes, my weight, if someone liked me, or if my mom was going to up and die on me.

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

  It took negotiation and strategy to maneuver and then wrestle the new bed down the narrow hallway and into the tiny craft room. By the time they got the bed set up, Quinn felt like she’d just gone to the gym. “Not sure how I can thank you,” she said.

  He just smiled. “I’ve got a few ideas.” He pulled her into him. “You’re all sweaty.” His voice made “sweaty” sound like the sexiest condition on earth.

  She was breathless again. Still. He had her all worked up. “And you’re all . . . hard.”

  “Watching you swear while working your ass off to get the bed in here turned me on.”

  Pleased laughter bubbled up in her chest. “Everything turns you on.”

  “Actually, it’s you. You turn me on.” And then he tumbled her to the mattress, tucking her beneath him, pressing her into the bed as he made himself at home between her legs.

  And quite possibly in her heart.

  FOR HER AP classes, Tilly was bussed with other kids from her high school to the city college and back. As she got off the bus at the end of her day, she looked around for Dylan.

  Sometimes he came out to meet her off the bus and he’d walk her home. Sometimes they stopped for snacks at the convenience store first and went to the tree house.

  Those were her favorite afternoons.

  But he’d been busy lately. Too busy for her. Working, she knew, not messing around, but she missed him.

  She missed a lot of things . . .

  Because she was pouting and concentrating on her pity party for one, she didn’t pay attention and got caught by her home ec teacher, wanting to talk to her about her grades.

  “I know you’ve had a hard time, Tilly,” Mrs. Bazio said. “And I’m prepared to give you some leniency because of that, but if you’re not careful you’re going to fail home ec and I know you don’t want that.”

  Really? ’Cause maybe she did totally want that . . .

  “If I offer you extra credit, are you going to try?” Mrs. Bazio asked.

  She said yes. Actually, her mouth had said yes. Her brain, numb, hadn’t given a shit.

  She turned and looked around for Quinn’s car. She didn’t have to look hard, the pretty Lexus stuck out like a sore thumb.

  Quinn had parked facing away from the school under an oak tree, probably for the shade from the setting sun. But the joke was on Quinn because there was a reason no one parked there. The tree dropped acorns, which were sticky and a bitch to get off vehicles. The windows were down, all four of them, and at first Tilly thought her sister had her radio turned up, but realized she was just on the phone via her Bluetooth.

  “My London trip’s been postponed,” a guy said, “and my sister’s birthday party is this weekend. She was hoping for some of your spicy-chicken lettuce wraps, which you love to make almost as much as you love to come to my family’s parties.”

  “I do love to make spicy-chicken lettuce wraps,” Quinn said with a smile in her voice. She was both on her phone and thumbing through it at the same time. “And I also love to visit your family parties.”

  “You know we consider you one of us,” he said fondly. “Although I’m pretty sure they’re still hoping you show up with a diamond on your finger.”

  Quinn made a sound of regret. “Brock—”

  “Look, I’m not trying to start a fight. I’m just letting you know, reminding you, that they love you.”

  “I know,” Quinn said, suddenly sounding sad. “And it means a lot to me that they love me like their own, given that at the moment I’m feeling like I belong nowhere and to no one.”

  Tilly stilled. If she’d wanted proof that she was completely alone, here it was. Not even her sister considered her real family.

  “Come back to L.A., Quinn,” the guy said quietly, and there was something in his voice, something warm and coaxing, making Tilly realize that whoever this Brock was, Quinn meant a lot to him.

  “And God help us all,” he said, “but my dad found the karaoke machine, the one that we hid at the last party, so—”

  “Brock.”

  He stopped talking. Blew out a breath. “You’re not coming, are you?”

  “I can’t.”

  “It’s still five days away, Q. How much longer are you going to stay up there?”

  Quinn seemed to hold her breath at that one.

  And there behind the car, Tilly did the same. Yes, Quinn, just how long are you going to stay here and play house before you run back home and forget all about me?

  “Good question,” Quinn finally said.

  Tilly still wasn’t breathing. She needed more. Except that when she got it, she wished she could unhear it.

  “It’s Tilly,” Quinn said.

  Tilly tried to keep holding her breath, but she couldn’t, she had to gulp in air.

  “You could just make the decision for her,” Brock said.

  “What, and drag her to L.A. kicking and screaming? How do you think that’ll go?”

  Nothing from the Brock dude on that.

  “No, really, Brock,” Quinn said. “I’m asking. Because I’ve no idea, okay? I’m out of my depth and out of my comfort zone. In fact, I’m so far out of my comfort zone I can’t even see the zone.”

  “Quinn—”

  “Do you think I don’t want to come home? Because I do, badly. But I can’t, okay? Not yet. I’m not going to just leave her here.”

  Tilly took a step back, and then another. No one was making any decisions for her, no one. Nor would she be dragged to L.A. Her heart was pounding so hard that at first she didn’t register the fact that Quinn had gotten out of her car and waved at her, clearly completely unaware that Tilly had just overheard her.

  “Come on,” Quinn said, smiling like she was Tilly’s friend. “What took you so long?”

  Tilly got into the car and stared out her passenger window.

  “Well hi to you too,” Quinn said.

  “Can you just drive?” Tilly knew she was being a complete bag of dicks but she couldn’t muster up the capacity to care.

  Quinn sighed and started the car. Tilly didn’t pay any attention to where they were going until Quinn turned off the car and she realized they were at the beach.

  Since it was dusk, cloudy, and barely seventy degrees, there wasn’t another person in sight. Quinn pulled out her keys, grabbed a bag, and got out of the car. Without looking back, she started walking down to the water.

  Tilly let out a rude sound of disbelief. Who did she think she was, just walking away like that without a word? And why would she assume Tilly even wanted to come here? She sat there stewing in her own negativity for a few more minutes, amusing herself by making a list of everything she hated.

  The beach.

  Her sister.

  Her mom.

  Chuck.

  Cliff.

  Girls who selfied all day long.

  Girls with perfect hair.

  Science.

  Cooking.

  Mrs. Bazio.

  After a few minutes she ran out of things to hate and she got bored. She could barely see Quinn now, she’d sat on the sand, close to the water. Which was dumb because the tide was going to start rising and she’d ruin her really cute sandals.

  “Dammit,” Tilly said to the car and got out. She walked to where Quinn sat staring out at the water. “You’re going to get wet.”

  Quinn shrugged.

  She looked . . . sad. Like, really sad. Tilly sighed again and sat at her side. She played with the sand, running it through her fingers, letting the sound of the pounding surf ease her busy mind. “Do you miss L.A.?” she finally asked Quinn.

  “Some.”

  Tilly’s stomach hurt at that. As soon as Quinn decided she missed L.A. enough, she’d be gone. “What’s your life there like?”

  Quinn looked surprised at the question. “Well . . . I work a lot.”

  “At the fancy restaurant.”

  “It’s fancy on the outside, yeah,” Quinn said. “But on the inside, it’s not nearly as nice as the café.”

  Tilly snorted. “Right.”

  “I meant on the inside, inside,” Quinn said and put her hand to her heart. “The feeling you get standing in the kitchen there is very different from the feeling you get standing inside Caro’s Café.”

  “Probably because there’s no Greta yelling at you.”

  Quinn laughed at that. Laughed until she snorted and then laughed some more. The kind of laugh that might really be crying, and Tilly’s heart felt tight. “I’m sorry,” she finally said. “I’m sorry that my mom gave you away.” She shook her head. “I don’t get it, to be honest. She wasn’t like that.”

  Quinn nodded but didn’t say anything.

  After sitting in silence for several minutes, listening and watching the waves, Tilly admitted something else that had been bothering her. “I’m mad at her too.”

  Quinn turned her head and met her gaze. “For what?”

  “Dying.”

  Quinn let out a breath and reached for Tilly’s hand.

  “And for not telling me as soon as she knew she was sick,” Tilly added. “For not telling me about you.” She shrugged. “For a lot of things, I guess.” She put her free hand to her chest. “I’m so angry it hurts.”

  Quinn squeezed her fingers gently. “She really had planned to tell you about me. Cliff told me that, and he seems like a man who values the truth.”

  Tilly swiped angrily at the few tears that had leaked out. “Or a man who just wants to smooth things over.”

  Quinn turned back to the water. “And Chuck? He’s really a good guy?”

  “Yeah.” Tilly shrugged. “He’s not my dad or anything but . . . well, he’s been more of a dad than anyone else, I guess.”

  They stared at each other.

  “Did you know him?” Quinn asked. “Our dad?”

  Tilly felt an unwanted but undeniable tug of affection for this person she’d thought she hated, who was in the same boat she was. “I saw him once. He came to visit Mom. When he realized I was there, he took off.”

  “Maybe it was your sunny sweet nature,” Quinn said.

  Tilly, appreciating the dark humor, found a laugh. “No doubt.”

  They fell silent again. Quinn went through her bag and came up with two wrapped sandwiches. Grilled turkey from the café.

  “Wow, Greta’s getting better,” Tilly said, munching hers.

  “They’re mine.” Quinn lifted a shoulder. “I bought avocados. Greta was horrified.”

  Tilly laughed. “It’s a kick-ass sandwich. You should add it to the menu.”

  Quinn looked pleased. “Yeah?”

  “Yeah.” She sighed. “I’m failing home ec. Specifically the baking part of home ec.”

  Quinn blinked at her and then laughed.

  “Not funny,” Tilly said. “If I fail, I have to take Mrs. Bazio for another whole semester and I’d rather—”

  She broke off.

  Because she’d been about to say she’d rather die.

  But suddenly, that saying was no longer funny.

  Quinn’s smile faded. “I can help you. Not fail. Even though I suck at baking too.”

  Tilly met her gaze. “You do?”

  “So much suckage, I can’t even tell you.”

  Tilly laughed a little at this odd thing they had in common.

  They were silent some more. No sounds other than the relentless waves crashing onto the sand and seagulls making sweeps to see if there were any leftovers.

  “So can we put an end to this trial period?” Quinn asked after a long time. “Will you accept me as your guardian?”

  Tilly hesitated. She didn’t hate Quinn anymore, but she was pretty certain her sister wouldn’t be sticking around Wildstone. The fact was, staying at Chuck’s wasn’t all that bad, and she had no rules there. Or very few.

  She could tell Quinn would have a lot of rules.

  The way Tilly figured it, she’d do better with Chuck until she turned eighteen, because if Quinn left, Tilly could get stuck in foster care and she didn’t want that. “I think Chuck needs the money. So I was thinking . . . maybe I could float back and forth.”

  Quinn slid her a look. “So you can avoid any sort of real authority?”

  Busted. “I wouldn’t stay with him every night or anything, but he needs me to help him cook and stuff sometimes.”

  “Tilly,” Quinn said gently. “It’s his job to take care of you, not the other way around.”

  “Yeah, well, not everyone is good at that.”

  Quinn sighed. “Let’s see how it goes. You’ve got to stay honest
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