Lost and found sisters, p.27
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.27
 

           Jill Shalvis

  she was clinging to the edge of a cliff with no safety net. In 150-mile-per-hour winds. With blocks of cement on her feet . . .

  Tilly stood in the kitchen eating more ice cream right out of the container.

  “He’s very tall. Mick.”

  “Yes,” Quinn managed.

  “And he thinks he’s funny,” Tilly said, obviously having no idea that Quinn’s entire world felt like it was shrinking in on her.

  “Yes. He does think he’s funny.”

  Another silence, and then Tilly said, “But he’s okay, I guess. For a guy.”

  He was. And Quinn liked him. Way too much, clearly, as she’d just let her overwhelming feelings and emotions destroy everything.

  Guess Lena wasn’t the only one who could self-destruct her own happiness.

  “What’s your problem?” Tilly asked.

  “I’m . . . not sure Mick and I are together like you think.”

  “Why not?”

  Yeah, Quinn, why not? “Because he . . . likes me,” she said. “A lot. And I . . .”

  Tilly raised a brow.

  “I’m not ready for that.”

  Tilly’s eyes shuttered. “So you’re, what, moving on? My mom did that too, you know. Hurt the people who loved her. Who’s next? Me?”

  “Tilly, no—”

  But Tilly walked out of the kitchen and a moment later her bedroom door shut, hard.

  Quinn walked around shutting off lights, getting ready for bed, and . . . tripped over Tink.

  “Mew.”

  “Hey,” Quinn said. “You done hiding?”

  With no one around, the cat seemed to have let down her guard-dog stance. She looked somehow smaller, quieter.

  Lonely.

  Dammit. Quinn picked her up and the thing went completely boneless. She also shed enough fur to make a pillow. Quinn looked down at her black T-shirt, now streaked with brown hair, and sighed.

  Tink sighed too and cuddled in more, pressing her face in the crook of Quinn’s neck and then there was a sort of rumbling sound, like a motor starting up far, far away, one that hadn’t been used in a long time and was maybe rusty. And about to break down.

  Tink was purring.

  “Glad you approve,” Quinn said past a thick throat. “Right now you just might be the only one who does.”

  Tink purred some more.

  “I’m really screwing things up,” Quinn admitted into the fur. “Bad.”

  Tink nuzzled in a little, drooling on Quinn’s neck.

  “If only life came with an instruction manual. Then I could just look up all the right answers.” She sighed and hugged the damn cat. “You’re a good listener.” Carefully, she set down the cat. “But it’s time for bed.” She opened the back door for Tink.

  But with her ruffled head and tail high, the cat turned and headed down the hall instead.

  “Uh—”

  Tink jumped onto Quinn’s new bed. And didn’t quite make it. Halfway up, she clung to the side of the mattress by her claws, having to make an effort to climb the rest of the way. At the top, she seemed quite pleased with herself, and also exhausted. She plopped down and began kneading the blanket like she was making biscuits.

  At least one of them felt comfortable in her own skin.

  THE REST OF the week both flew by and crawled. Quinn and Tilly—and Tilly and the cat—were all in some sort of uneasy alliance, a temporary one.

  The story of her life lately.

  They did find a routine—of sorts. Quinn and Tilly always got up early and went to the café, where Tilly got the eggs and Quinn cooked.

  Then Tilly went off to school and Quinn stayed to cook through the lunch crowd. Quinn heard a lot of things at the café, learning more about the people in Wildstone than she’d ever wanted to know. Things like the fact that Big Hank had been married four times—to twins, and each had dumped him twice. Also, Cliff sometimes dated Lena’s sister, who, apparently, was not crazy. Oh, and Carolyn had also dated Lou’s second cousin’s best friend’s brother, who was the owner of the Whiskey River, and that she had a sandwich named after her there.

  But most interestingly, she heard rumblings of Mick going toe to toe with the city manager—who was, as it turned out—Boomer’s dad. There was a city meeting in a few days, and some of the old-timers were gleefully looking forward to watching Mick give the city manager an “ass whooping.”

  “It’s not a wrestling match,” Quinn said, hoping to get them to change the subject.

  “No,” Lou said. “It’s going to be better.”

  This worried Quinn. From what she’d heard of the city manager, he wouldn’t take anything Mick dished up lying down. When she got a quick break, she called Lena.

  “You ready for me to fix your hair again?” Lena asked.

  “Ha-ha, and no. I want to know what’s going on with Mick and Boomer’s dad.”

  Lena was silent for a beat. “Why?”

  “Because you’re mean and a little bit crazy, but you’re also a solid judge of character.”

  Lena snorted. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”

  “It’s not flattery,” Quinn said. “It’s the truth.”

  “Huh,” Lena said with what sounded like grudging respect. “Okay. So about Boomer’s dad. He’s a complete asshat.”

  That’s what Quinn was afraid of. “What will happen if Mick goes up against him publicly?”

  “Whatever he can get away with,” Lena said. “But don’t worry, you can count on me.”

  “What—What does that even mean?”

  But Lena had disconnected.

  After school, Tilly called, checking in as Quinn had made her promise to do. Neither of them had talked about what would happen when school let out in a few weeks.

  “How you doing?” Quinn asked.

  “Heard you screwed up with Mick.”

  “You heard that at school?” Quinn asked, horrified.

  “So it’s true?” Tilly asked, sounding oddly disappointed.

  “Only a little bit,” Quinn said and tried to put on a good, brave front. “But look, I’m fine, okay? And we don’t need a man anyway.”

  “Well, duh.”

  Quinn disconnected and sighed. She and Mick were . . . she had no idea. She’d heard from Greta, who’d heard from his mom that he was back in the Bay Area.

  Living his not-temporary life.

  And he was doing it without her, because she hadn’t straightened out her head, and in fact, had no idea what her life was even going to look like past this week.

  ON SATURDAY MORNING, Quinn woke up to some clattering in the kitchen. She moved down the hall, yawning. “What’s going on?”

  Tilly came out of the kitchen, holding her backpack, wearing a frown.

  “What?” Quinn asked.

  “I tracked our certified letter to Dad. It was delivered on Thursday.”

  “Okay,” Quinn said. “And . . .?”

  “And he hasn’t answered.”

  Quinn sighed. She’d been afraid of this. “We don’t know that he will.”

  “I do. I know that he isn’t going to.”

  “Tilly—”

  “No, I get it. Message received loud and clear, right?”

  “It was a long shot,” Quinn said quietly.

  “Yeah. I get it. My entire life is a long shot. Whatever.” She pretended to shrug it off with the talent only a teenager could and turned away. She was wearing cutoff jeans, a tank top, and a backpack and Quinn pointed at her. “Where are you going?”

  “Camping with Katie and her parents, remember?”

  “Are you going to promise not to run away again? Because I don’t want to chase you through the woods where there are probably bears and Big Foot and stuff.”

  Tilly laughed, and the sound was so unusual and nice that Quinn smiled too as she realized that sisters, whether by heart or by blood, were to be cherished for as long as you had them in your life.

  “You’re such a city girl,” Tilly said. “And no, I’m
not planning to run away while camping.”

  The qualifier didn’t escape Quinn, but she’d take what she could get. “You going to be okay out there?”

  “We’re camping on the bluffs over the water.”

  “Same question,” Quinn said.

  Tilly nodded. “Yeah. I’m going to be fine.”

  “So you’ll come back in one piece?”

  “Sure. Whatever.”

  “Wow,” Quinn said dryly. “Look at us having a bonding moment.”

  Tilly rolled her eyes. “Long as it doesn’t come with a hug.”

  “Oh, but it does.” Quinn lifted her arms and walked toward her sister like Frankenstein.

  Tilly snorted and backed up.

  “Ah, come on,” Quinn said, following. “Hug me.”

  “No way!” Tilly dodged Quinn, but was at least laughing a little as she did so.

  “Come on, we’re doing so well.”

  “Yeah, well, don’t get cocky,” Tilly said. “Teenage girls are unpredictable.”

  “No kidding. I was one, you know.”

  “A million years ago, maybe,” Tilly said.

  “Yuck it up, Funny Girl. But one day you’ll be on the wrong side of thirty and—”

  “I didn’t realize people lived that long.”

  “Okay, that’s it,” Quinn said and hugged her. And then when Tilly was squealing and trying to escape, she kissed her face all over.

  Tilly finally gave up fighting it and sighed. “You’re so weird.”

  “I know,” Quinn whispered, and she held on tight.

  So did Tilly.

  Chapter 28

  If thought bubbles appeared above my head, I’d be so screwed.

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

  Mick had been back in San Francisco a week, working his ass off. When he wasn’t busy working his ass off, he slept. Or tried to.

  It was crazy to him that after spending most of his life dreaming about getting out of Wildstone, all he wanted to do now was go back.

  He’d known he was in deep with Quinn. He just hadn’t realized exactly how deep, or that she’d stayed in the shallow end of the pool. He understood it, he did. She’d been hit hard by life several times over and she honestly believed she couldn’t let herself love again.

  But getting that and accepting that were two entirely different things. He knew it was probably foolish, not to mention stupid on his part, to think he could just be patient with her and wait her out.

  But that’s exactly what his plan was because when he was with her, he felt more alive, more happy, more . . . everything than he’d been in a long time.

  And he wasn’t ready to walk away from that.

  But she needed space, and that he could do. At least he thought so, until he saw her ad to sell her car.

  She needed money. He hated the thought. Thinking a text would be less likely to freak her out, he went with that.

  MICK:

  Hey.

  QUINN:

  Hey! Heard you were in SF.

  MICK:

  Yeah. Working. How are you?

  QUINN:

  You already know the answer to that. Screwed up.

  MICK:

  Knowing it is half the battle. You’re selling your car?

  QUINN:

  How did you hear that . . .?

  MICK:

  It’s Wildstone. Do you need money?

  QUINN:

  No! Well, yes, but I’m fine.

  MICK:

  Quinn.

  QUINN:

  I want to make some home improvements, and I want to do it on my own. And I thought we weren’t speaking.

  MICK:

  We’re speaking. For future reference, we’re always speaking. If you won’t take money from me, then take a loan.

  QUINN:

  Sweet, but no thank you. I’ve got this.

  MICK:

  I’m the furthest thing from sweet you’ve ever seen and if you’d get over your fear of letting go, you’d let me prove it to you.

  She sent him back an emoji of a laughing, smiling face and a blue heart. He had no idea why it was blue and not red, but he’d take it.

  AFTER QUINN DROVE Tilly to her friend’s house for camping and met the parentals, she worked the breakfast shift at the café.

  Greta took one look at her and did a double take. “You back together with Mick?”

  Quinn blinked. “Um, what?”

  “You’re smiling.”

  “Grinning from ear to ear, actually,” Trinee said, coming into the kitchen.

  Quinn turned and eyeballed her reflection in the steel refrigerator door. Yep. She was grinning from ear to ear. It’d been Mick’s texts.

  She missed him.

  “Maybe I’m just smiling because it’s a nice day out,” she said.

  “Maybe,” Greta said. “But I wouldn’t mind having a smile like that.”

  “Later,” Trinee promised her with a wink.

 
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