Lost and found sisters, p.28
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.28
 

           Jill Shalvis

  Quinn finished up her shift by two in the afternoon. In hindsight, with Tilly gone she should’ve gone home to L.A. for an overnight visit. She wasn’t sure what it said about her that she hadn’t even thought about it.

  But then Skye blew her away by showing up to surprise her.

  With her parents.

  It was the very best kind of surprise.

  Her parents were so disappointed to miss seeing Tilly—and meeting Mick—but they were happy to see where Quinn was staying. “It’s beautiful here,” her mom said.

  “Not a bad place to build a life,” her dad said.

  Her mom took his hand, and looking both happy and a little bit sad, nodded. “I’m so proud of you, Quinn,” she said quietly. “So happy to see you being so strong and building yourself a life, one that wasn’t handed to you.”

  “Mom.” Quinn hugged her, realizing that no matter how overprotective they’d been at times, they really did love her. They loved her every bit as much as they had Beth.

  Which she also realized meant she could love Tilly every bit as much as she’d loved Beth too. “I want you to know that I’m grateful for everything you and Dad gave me. I should say that more.”

  Her mom nodded and squeezed her tight. Then she pulled free, swiped her tears from her face, and said, “I want to see the chickens.”

  So they visited the evil chickens.

  And no surprise, Tink loved her mom. The cat rubbed herself all over her mom’s black pants, leaving behind some brown fur clumps.

  “It’s okay,” her mom said, much to Quinn’s and her dad’s shock. The woman felt faint if she found so much as a stray thread on her clothes. “She’s a sweet thing.”

  Quinn watched her mom pet Tink. “Careful, Mom. You can pet her twice, but on the third time she’s going to bite you.”

  Her mom stroked Tink a third time and . . . Tink’s eyes drifted shut in bliss.

  Quinn just shook her head.

  The four of them went to the Whiskey River for dinner and the Bartender’s Special. They laughed, talked, laughed some more, and when it was time for Skye and Quinn’s parents to leave, they all hugged good-bye.

  “You should stay for a couple of days,” Quinn said, not wanting to let them go. “Or at least stay the night since it’s so late and it’s a long drive.”

  “Your dad has a golf game tomorrow.”

  “It’s a tournament,” her dad said. “I’m finally going to kick Ted’s ass.”

  Ted was the district attorney, and they’d been battling it out on the course for years.

  Her dad pointed at her. “Check your car fluids.”

  Quinn let out a low laugh and nodded as her heart tightened. “I will.”

  “I have to work tomorrow anyway,” Skye said. “I don’t want to come into Marcel’s crosshairs.” She paused and met Quinn’s gaze. “I didn’t want to ruin our day, but I don’t feel right not telling you. Word is Chef Wade’s looking for a new sous-chef.”

  It was a direct hit to the gut. But she didn’t blame him. Not in the least. “It’s okay,” she told Skye. “It’s going to be okay.” Somehow . . .

  Skye smiled and nodded, but she didn’t look like she was sure.

  Which was fair because Quinn wasn’t sure either.

  QUINN DIDN’T SLEEP well. Correction: at all. She was worried about her job. Worried about whether Tilly was okay while camping. Worried about how much time she spent thinking about Mick . . . She’d held back with him because they didn’t have a future.

  But was she doing the right thing?

  “No,” Beth said. “You’re not doing the right thing at all. But please, carry on as you will, like you always do.”

  Quinn nearly leaped out of her skin. She flipped on the light and found Beth sitting on the end of her bed. “Jesus.”

  Beth smiled. “The answer is still no. But don’t let that stop you. You’re the most stubborn woman I’ve ever met, and you’ll figure it out eventually. Hopefully.”

  “What?” Quinn demanded. “What will I figure out?”

  But of course, Beth was gone. “Dammit!” she yelled. “I really hate it when you do that!”

  “Mew.”

  Tink was perched on top of the extra pillow. The cat came and went, but mostly came, staying near Quinn as often as possible.

  Tink stood up, stretched, and made herself comfortable—on Quinn.

  They cuddled through the rest of the night. The next morning, Quinn woke up and called Chef Wade. Yes, he was thinking he needed to hire someone, and she absolutely 100 percent understood. She had mixed feelings about her job in the first place. But . . . she wasn’t ready to let go of it. She told him school would be out in two weeks and that if he hadn’t found someone to replace her by then, she’d love to come back. And stay.

  He was so hugely relieved by that, she utterly believed him when he told her he didn’t want anyone else and that they could make do until she returned.

  With that weight off her chest, she once again worked at the café and then went back to Carolyn’s house and tried to take simple pleasure in the small changes she’d made, removing some of the clutter to the attic, clearing out a little bit more from the craft room to make her feel more at home.

  She eyed the small desk and gave in to temptation, unlocking it and removing Carolyn’s journal.

  Tilly came home smiling today.

  Smiling.

  She got a B in her history class, and after the struggle she’s had over grades for the past several years before we discovered she was dyslexic, this is a miracle.

  Of course we owe it all to Dylan, who tutors her as often as he can, which is less now since his parents’ messy divorce. Tilly took that hard.

  And then came my diagnosis, which she took even harder.

  She’s had so much to deal with, so very much, that I don’t have the heart to tell her just how bad it is.

  People leave her; her father, Dylan, and now, though she doesn’t yet know it, me.

  I’m so scared for her. Terrified, really. So much so that I’m willing to do something I promised I wouldn’t.

  I’m going to find Quinn.

  Quinn slowly shut the journal. So now she had the answer to the question of why Carolyn had come looking for her.

  She’d needed someone to look after Tilly.

  However Quinn felt about that, the fact remained that without her, Tilly was far too alone. She blew out a breath and put the journal back, shutting the drawer a little harder than necessary.

  She headed through the house to the living room, Tink on her heels.

  The sun beat in windows that were old and not dual paned, so the house was hot. The air conditioner had apparently gone on the fritz a long time ago. A fast, cheap fix would be some quality window shades to keep out the afternoon sun. Then there was the fact that of the two bathrooms, only one shower worked, and that one only trickled out tepid water.

  She missed hot water. A lot.

  The dishwasher was broken. And so was the lock on the back door. The list went on and on.

  Whether they kept this house and rented it out, or sold it and the café, either way there needed to be some serious upgrades. Before they left for L.A., which they still needed to talk about.

  The problem about fixing the house was money. Chef Wade paid her decently—when she was working there, that is. But the pay scale at the café wasn’t exactly comparable and she was wracking up her own personal bills, including the last of her school debt. Her parents had offered to pay her school loans off several times, but it had been a point of pride with her.

  She’d wanted to do something for herself.

  She wouldn’t ask them for help with this. She couldn’t.

  Which meant it was time for some tough decisions. She’d just lowered the price on her car in her ad when the front door slammed.

  Quinn turned and looked at Tilly as she stepped into the living room. She wondered when would be the right time to bring up the whole moving to L.A. thin
g when school got out. Now?

  The girl was subdued, standing there clutching a backpack and a big paper bag with clothes in it, looking . . . hollow.

  Okay, so maybe they wouldn’t talk about L.A. right now . . . maybe after a tub of ice cream. “How was camping?”

  “It was camping,” Tilly said. She looked around, eyes sharp.

  Quinn had barely changed anything in the entire house; most of the changes had occurred only in the craft room. The only thing that she’d done out here was add a plant to the coffee table.

  And a cat.

  Tilly’s glare zoomed in on the plant and narrowed. “What did you do in here?”

  “Added a plant.”

  “You also stacked up the magazines.”

  “Yes,” Quinn said, setting down Tink. “When I dusted.”

  Tilly looked at the cat.

  Tink looked back, seeming as displeased by this new intrusion as the teenager herself.

  “The stray’s still here,” Tilly said.

  “Yes, and she’s good at it, she hasn’t strayed at all,” Quinn quipped.

  And speaking of that, neither had Tilly. She’d made sure she had the option to stay here or at Chuck’s and yet from the day Quinn had started sleeping here, Tilly had done the same.

  Surely Quinn could take some comfort in that.

  “Mom didn’t like cats, you know,” Tilly said.

  Quinn refrained from pointing out that no, she didn’t know. “She’s homeless. And her name is Tink.”

  Tilly stared at the cat some more.

  The cat continued to stare back.

  Bitchy teen versus bitchy cat in a standoff. Quinn wondered how long it could possibly go on. Who’d lose patience first?

  Turned out it was her. “So . . . you going to tell me about camping or not?”

  Tilly lifted a shoulder. “It was hot, dusty, and there were huge spiders in the bathrooms. Whatever.”

  “Okay then. So a good time was had by all.”

  Tilly rolled her eyes and headed toward the hall, slowing because the cat was in her way.

  Another showdown began, and tired of it, Quinn moved in and picked up the cat.

  Tink immediately went boneless in her arms, setting her head on Quinn’s shoulder and snuggling in.

  Quinn’s heart did a slow melt as she hugged the skinny cat, who was less skinny now after a week of Quinn feeding her regularly. “She’ll warm up to you,” she murmured as Tilly vanished down the hall. “Probably we should give her a little space right now—”

  “What the hell?” came Tilly’s unhappy voice.

  Still holding Tink, Quinn moved down the hall to find Tilly standing in the middle of the craft room staring at the room like a bomb had gone off.

  “I was tripping over boxes getting in and out of bed,” Quinn said. “I simply pushed some stuff over to make more room.”

  “You moved my mom’s things.”

  “No, I purposely left your mom’s bedroom alone. I just moved some of the craft and sewing stuff—”

  “You had no right!”

  “Tilly—”

  “Some of that stuff was mine, did you think of that?” Tilly asked, voice raised but also quavering, like she was near tears.

  “Honey, listen,” Quinn said, “I didn’t throw anything away, not a single thing. I just piled some of it up a little bit and put a few things in the attic—”

  “The attic? There’re mice in the attic!”

  “Tilly—”

  But the girl was gone, running down the hall to her room, where she—shocker—slammed the door hard enough to rattle the windows and every thought in Quinn’s head.

  Okay, so maybe a tub of ice cream wasn’t going to do it either.

  “Well,” she said to Tink. “That went well.” She’d hoped to show Tilly her mom’s journal, but instead, knowing the teen needed some space, she worked on her laptop in the kitchen.

  No offers on the car ad.

  No sexy texts from Mick.

  She checked in at home. Her parents were fine. Brock was still in London and sounded in his element. Skye told her Marcel horror stories.

  When Tilly didn’t come out, Quinn left a note on the kitchen table that she’d be back in time to cook dinner and got into her car.

  Fifteen minutes later she was on the bluffs that she’d visited her first day in Wildstone. She kicked off her shoes and climbed down to walk along the shore. It was foggy and she felt like she was alone in the world.

  Except she wasn’t. A lone figure came out of the fog. Quinn sighed, more than a little irritated to have her solitude disturbed, especially by Lena.

  Who looked no less thrilled than she.

  “What are you doing?” Quinn asked, sounding as grumpy as Tilly and Tink. It must be contagious. “Don’t tell me you’re out here exercising.”

  Lena smiled. “The first time I see a jogger smiling, I’ll consider taking it up. I’m just walking off some tension before I end up in jail for murder one.”

  “Who’re you looking to kill?”

  Lena just looked at her.

  Quinn choked out a laugh. “Right. Me. Got it.”

  Lena sighed. “Okay, not you. Life.”

  “Join the club. But just remember that if you go to jail for murder, I don’t think you get a full range of hair products in there.”

  Lena shuddered. “People would see my roots. Can you imagine?”

  “This from the woman who gave me blue highlights.”

  Lena looked over her hair, coming close to do so, having no compunction about putting her hands in it to check it over. “And they still look fucking fantastic on you too. Bitch.”

  Quinn sighed and sat on the sand. When Lena didn’t sit, she craned her neck, shielding her eyes from the setting sun with her hand. “You joining me or not?”

  “Why would I?”

  “Because like it or not, you need a friend. And so do I.”

  Lena hesitated. “I’m not very good at being a friend.”

  “Just sit.”

  “I’m wearing linen.”

  “Fine,” Quinn said. “Suit yourself. But I was going to open up to you and whine, and make you feel really good about yourself.”

  “Well, hell, if you’re going to make me feel good about myself . . .” Lena gingerly sat, carefully brushing off her hands. “Go ahead. Compliment me.”

  Quinn laughed. “Compliment you? Are you serious? You hijacked my hair, have used every opportunity to make fun of me, and you actively tried to steal away the guy I was seeing . . .”

  “You said you were going to make me feel good about myself—Wait. Was? Did Mick dump you on your annoyingly great ass?”

  “I dumped him,” Quinn said miserably. “But it was totally accidental.”

  Lena stared at her and then tipped her head back and laughed.

  “It gets worse,” Quinn said miserably. “I’m blowing it with Tilly. If you know anything about teenage girls, now is the time to tell me. All advice is welcome.”

 
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