Lost and found sisters, p.26
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.26
 

           Jill Shalvis

  with me, okay?”

  “Okay, and on the subject of honesty, I’m going camping tomorrow night with my friend Katie and her parents.”

  “Says who?”

  Tilly sighed. “You going to be difficult about this too?”

  “Maybe. I’m pretty good at it.” Quinn looked at her. “What would your mom have said about the camping?”

  Tilly went back to playing with the sand. “My mom knew Katie and her mom. She’d have had no problem with it. But it’s no big deal, I’m not sure I want to go anyway.”

  “Why not?”

  Tilly hesitated.

  “Because you’re not really going camping?” Quinn asked.

  “No, it’s really a camping trip, jeez!” Tilly had to laugh. “Suspicious much?”

  “Hello, remember the park?” Quinn asked. “But do go on.”

  Tilly watched the sand sift through her fingers, catching the sunlight, looking like a million little crystals. Her mom had loved this beach. “I’m pretty sure the trip was planned just to cheer me up and get me away for a night, but Katie won’t admit to it.”

  Quinn studied her for a long beat.

  “What?” Tilly asked.

  “I’m just wondering if I was ever this present and mature at your age. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t.” She sighed. “Honestly? It’s up to you if you want to go or not, but whatever your decision, I’m trusting you, so don’t blow it.”

  “No pressure or anything.”

  Quinn smiled. “Welcome to adulting. It sucks, by the way.”

  Tilly was starting to get that.

  “And this reminds me,” Quinn said. “I need a schedule of your normal routine, including the racetrack.”

  “I’ve only done that a few times,” Tilly admitted. “Chuck needed the help because his back hurt. Also I’m good at picking winners. He uses the winnings to help keep paying his mom’s bills.”

  “He shouldn’t take you gambling, Tilly.”

  “Right,” she said. “And my dad shouldn’t have walked away from me before I was born. And my mom shouldn’t have lied to me. And while we’re on things that aren’t fair, I’m only five foot two, but everyone else in the family is at least five foot seven, you included. I mean, what if I’d wanted to play volleyball?”

  “Do you?”

  She shuddered. “God, no. The girls on the team are total bitches.” She sighed. “He’s a cowboy, you know.”

  “Who?”

  “Our dad.” She felt Quinn turn to her, but she didn’t look. Just kept playing with the sand. “On the rodeo circuit. Mom loved him.” She paused. “I think about him sometimes. Wonder if he thinks about me. Us.”

  “I asked Cliff about him,” Quinn said. “He gave up parental rights to each of us.”

  Tilly had dropped her head to her bent knees and turned only her face to look at Quinn. “Think he’s ever regretted that?”

  “I don’t know.”

  But Quinn had hesitated in telling Tilly that she did know, or at least suspected that no, their father had never regretted his decision. But what if? What if he did? Tilly wondered. And what if they contacted him and he showed up and admitted he did? What if he wanted to stay and be with them? Would it fill the little tiny hole deep inside Tilly that had been there ever since she’d been old enough to understand he’d walked away from her?

  And was this how Quinn felt about their mom? The thought stopped her in her tracks, brought her out of herself and reminded her that . . . she wasn’t the only person who’d been abandoned.

  Only Quinn had it double-fold.

  “We should e-mail him,” Tilly said. “Ask him if he’s interested in seeing us.”

  Quinn didn’t look as if this seemed like a good idea but she didn’t say so. “Is that what you want to do?”

  No, what Tilly wanted to do was have her mom back. But other than that, then . . . “Yes,” she said softly.

  Quinn nodded. “Okay. But not e-mail. We’ll do it certified mail so we can see when he gets it. I think Cliff probably has an address for him.”

  Tilly nodded too, confident that their dad would get the letter, realize his daughters needed him, and he’d drop everything and come home. Because that’s what dads did. Well, at least that’s what they did in the movies and on TV. She had no other frame of reference, but she wanted to believe.

  Chapter 27

  I’m never sure if I actually have free time or if I’m just forgetting everything I’m supposed to be doing.

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

  They wrote the letter as soon as they got back. Quinn had mixed feelings about it but it seemed to give Tilly some peace, so there was that.

  Then Quinn sat at the kitchen table to go through her bank account and make sure some bills got paid. Her bank account balance wasn’t happy.

  She was draining her funds at an alarming rate.

  There were solutions. She could use a credit card. She could borrow money.

  Neither appealed.

  She could sell her expensive car, the one she’d never felt comfortable with in the first place, and use the money to make improvements in the café and house. In the meantime, she could use Carolyn’s old Bronco, or buy herself something small and cheap.

  Thinking it was a great idea and as good a place to start as any, she did some research on pricing, and listed the car online.

  She and Tilly were standing in the kitchen arguing over dinner when her phone buzzed with an incoming FaceTime call from her parents.

  “Oh, crap,” Quinn said, not sure any of them were ready for this, a “family” video call.

  “Are they mean?” Tilly asked.

  It was that which decided Quinn. “No. The opposite. Brace yourself,” she warned.

  “For what?”

  “My mom. She asks a lot of questions but she’s all heart, so grin and bear it.” She hit answer and her parents’ faces, way too close to her mom’s phone, came into focus, large pores and all. “Hey,” Quinn said. “Before you start on the inquisition, Tilly’s here.”

  Her parents both immediately beamed. “Show me!” her mom demanded.

  Quinn turned to Tilly, who was standing on the other side of the kitchen shaking her head and miming a finger across her throat.

  Quinn merely walked over there with the phone, went shoulder to shoulder with Tilly, and smiled into the screen. “Here she is. Fifteen in all her glory. Tilly, meet my mom, Lucinda, and my dad, James.”

  “Oh, honey,” her mom said to Tilly, bringing trembling fingers up to her mouth as her eyes filled. “You look just like my baby! Which makes you also my baby! You’re both too thin. What have you been eating? Are you getting to bed early enough? If you’re like Quinn, you’re absolutely not. That girl used to sneak out and—”

  “Mom,” Quinn said on a laugh. “I’m trying to curtail the sneaking-out thing . . .”

  Her mom smiled. “Ah. Karma has come around to bite you on the tush. About time.” She looked at Tilly. “You doing okay, do you need anything? I’ve been dying to come up, but Quinn thought I’d overwhelm you, which is ridiculous.”

  Tilly looked at Quinn.

  Quinn looked at her right back, daring her to misbehave.

  Then Tilly smiled the sweetest smile Quinn had ever seen. “It’s so nice to meet you,” she said kindly. Kindly! “Quinn’s mean, keeping you away. You should come visit sometime.”

  Her mom beamed.

  Quinn groaned.

  “We can’t wait to do that!” her mom said. “In the meantime, you keep Quinn in line, you hear me?”

  Tilly laughed in genuine delight while Quinn groaned again. “Oh, I will absolutely keep her in line,” Tilly promised.

  Looking thrilled at having a coconspirator, her mom smiled. “Good. Now what can you tell me about this Mick—”

  “Mom, we’ve got to go. Love you,” Quinn said and disconnected.

  “You hung up on your mom. That’s bad karma.” Tilly, looking s
mug, went to the fridge. “They’re very nice.”

  “Uh-huh. Don’t snack, let’s eat a real meal.”

  “So you can tell your mom you’re taking good care of me?”

  “I am taking good care of you.”

  They were arguing over dinner choices when someone knocked on the front door.

  The cat, who’d been sitting near Quinn’s feet as was her habit, bolted. Tink didn’t like visitors.

  Quinn opened the door to Coop and Mick. Mick held a casserole dish that smelled amazing and she fell a little bit in love.

  “Wuff,” Coop said and nudged his big head into Quinn’s hand. She dropped to her knees and gave him a proper hug, for which she was rewarded with a face lick from chin to forehead. She laughed and stood up.

  Mick smiled. “He took my move.” But he leaned in and kissed her too.

  “If it helps,” she whispered against his mouth. “I like your move better.”

  “Good to know. My mom cooked something for you and Tilly.”

  “It smells like heaven,” she said.

  “Meat loaf, potatoes, and green beans.”

  “Comfort food,” Quinn said with a smile.

  “Or a heart attack in a pan,” Mick said. “Whichever works for you.”

  The three of them sat and ate together—with Coop beneath the table lying in wait for scraps—talking, and even laughing. Until Tilly dropped a bomb.

  “Are you two going to sleep together tonight?” she asked.

  Quinn choked on a green bean.

  Mick patted her on the back and handed her over a glass of water. When she finally collected herself, Quinn looked at Tilly. “Of course not.”

  “Because you two never sleep together, right?” Tilly rolled her eyes. “I’m fifteen, you know. Not five.” She stood up and gathered the plates. “I’m just asking if you could not make a lot of noise so I don’t have to keep the TV up loud.”

  Quinn was horrified. “Is that what you have to do at Chuck’s?”

  “Not every night,” she said. “Sometimes he’s too tired and Kendall sleeps in her own bedroom.”

  Good God.

  Quinn tried to kick Mick out as soon as possible after that, but the man—as she’d already learned in bed—couldn’t be rushed. First they did dishes. Then they had to go for ice cream because apparently Tilly couldn’t go on without ice cream. Then they walked Coop around the block to do his business, which since he was like his master and couldn’t be rushed, took a while.

  When they came back, Tilly plopped herself down on the center of the sofa and proceeded to flip through the channels on the TV with the same intensity and concentration that a brain surgeon might show in the operating room. Certainly more intensity and concentration than she showed for her homework.

  Or cleaning her room.

  Or washing dishes . . .

  Mick sat down next to her. Quinn tried to catch his gaze but he ignored her. She finally gave up and joined them, staring over Tilly’s head at Mick. He wasn’t afraid of bugs, women who saw ghosts, fistfights with his best friend, or going up against the city manager. And now he wasn’t afraid of teenage girls either. Who was he, Superman?

  Tilly had pulled up Hulu and was staring in horror at the history. “Say Yes to the Dress?” She jabbed a finger at the screen and then looked at Quinn.

  “Are you Hulu judging?” Quinn asked.

  “Oh my God, yes!”

  Quinn squirmed and very purposely didn’t look at Mick. “When I clean, I watch wedding shows. So what?”

  “So you might want to seek help for that,” Tilly said. “There’s nothing new to watch.”

  “We could watch a movie,” Mick said. “I brought a couple.” He tossed a few on the coffee table.

  Tilly snorted. “DVDs,” she mused disdainfully.

  “Got popcorn?” Mick asked, unruffled by the teen ’tude.

  Coop’s ears perked up at the word popcorn.

  “Yeah,” Tilly said, her ears perking up too. “We’ve got popcorn.”

  And then to Quinn’s shock—they’d all eaten dinner, even had seconds, and then ice cream—Mick and Tilly inhaled popcorn while watching one of the DVDs—that they agreed on without argument.

  When a kissing scene came on at the very end of the movie, Mick playfully reached out and covered Tilly’s “tender” eyes.

  “Fine by me,” Tilly said. “Old people kissing is gross.”

  Mick got up and pulled Quinn to her feet and then kissed her right in front of Tilly.

  “Ohmigod,” Tilly moaned, covering her own eyes now. “Gross.”

  “Deal with it,” he said. He gave Quinn one more smooch and then headed to the door. “’Night, ladies.”

  Quinn followed him, shutting the door behind her. “What was that?” she asked.

  “Me saying good night?”

  “No, it was you making it clear we’re a thing.”

  He looked at her, his amusement fading. “Actually, given what we talked about, your concerns about Tilly, it was me trying to show her that good guys do exist—as well as good relationships.”

  She stared at him, her belly pinched as an irrational fear gutted her. “But you and I aren’t—”

  He arched a brow.

  “I mean . . .” She trailed off, unsure of herself, in uncharted territory. “We started off just as fun. We both said that.”

  “Yes,” he agreed. “And it was fun, a hell of a lot of fun. Still is. It’s also evolved into something more over the past month.” He let out a mirthless laugh. “Which you obviously noticed or you wouldn’t be freaking out right now over a perfectly great evening that didn’t end badly.”

  “Are you suggesting I need drama in my life?”

  “I’m suggesting you’re scared.”

  Her heart was pounding against her ribs now. Because he was right. She was scared, scared he was going to want to define what they had, put a label on them, when she didn’t even know who she was. And the thought of coming up with one made her feel anxious enough for a stroke. Why were they doing this? Why couldn’t they just leave a good thing alone? “I’ve got to go in.”

  “Okay,” he said, nodding his head like he wasn’t surprised, and she felt like a coward. He started to go and then paused and looked right into her heart and soul with those deep, melting chocolate eyes. “Being scared is one thing, and in a lot of cases, it’s smart. Probably in this case, it’s smart. But if you’re looking for an excuse to not have a relationship, it’s fine. Just own it.”

  Her chest ached. “It’s just that my life, it’s . . . complicated.”

  “And?” he asked, not impressed. “Because everyone’s is, Quinn. Mine included. But one thing I know, it’s too short to be with someone who doesn’t know if she wants me.”

  “I don’t know what I want,” she admitted.

  He looked at her for a long moment, disappointment etched into his face as he nodded. “Can’t fight that. You know how to get hold of me if you figure it out.”

  And then he and Coop were gone.

  Quinn stared after the taillights of his truck, standing there long after they’d vanished. Finally she walked inside, feeling like
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