Lost and found sisters, p.3
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.3
 

           Jill Shalvis

  anything to do with any inheritance, especially not from someone who’d apparently thrown her away without so much as looking back.

  Not that she was happy with her parents right now either. They should’ve told her the truth a long time ago. Instead they’d hidden it and even now had tried to underplay everything, encouraging her to get on with her nice, comfortable life.

  But it suddenly didn’t feel so nice or comfortable at all.

  Feeling shockingly alone, she looked at her phone. She wanted to call Beth. God, how she wanted that, but instead she called Brock.

  “Hey,” he said when he picked up, his voice brisk and rushed. “I’m in a meeting. Leave a message and I’ll get right back to you.”

  His voice mail. Disappointment washing over her, she tried to tell herself she was fine, she didn’t need anyone. But her heart was racing and it didn’t seem to fit in her rib cage anymore. Everything felt tight and she couldn’t breathe because she had no one else left to call.

  Well, except one person.

  Harry Potter, aka Cliff Porter.

  Chapter 3

  I’d give up being a bitch, but I’m not a quitter.

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

  Mick Hennessey stood on the sand dunes, the evening sun still strong enough to beat down on his head, the waves crashing over the shore loud enough to drown out his own thoughts.

  Which was just as well since they weren’t good.

  He’d grown up here in Wildstone, which was literally an old wild, wild west town that sat in a bowl between the mid-California coast and the rolling hills that lined that coast.

  He no longer lived here, but his mom had needed him, so he was back.

  Temporarily.

  Which didn’t stop him from feeling like a worthless kid all over again in spite of the fact that he’d worked his ass off to make something of himself.

  Wildstone had done the same, several times over in fact. In the 1890s, it had been nothing more than a clapboard sidewalk and a row of saloons and whorehouses, supported by local silver mines and logging mills. In the mid 1900s, the town had attempted to legitimize itself and had done away with most of the whorehouses—though the saloons had stubbornly remained. Then the county had discovered wine making and ranching, and the hills had become dotted with wineries and ranches. In the 1970s, the bad economy had forced Wildstone to put on yet another hat, and for a while the town fathers had played up their infamous past, marketing the place as a wild west ghost town, using the historic downtown buildings to do so, claiming them haunted to gather interest.

  Mostly the only people who’d taken note were ghost hunters, although Mick’s own mother still swore that her shed was haunted.

  In the 1980s, surfers had found the little-known beaches to be perfect, and so Wildstone had added tourism to the roster, pulling in vacationers. Ten years ago they’d been in the running to make the list of California’s Top-Ten Best-Kept Secrets.

  They’d come in at number eleven and hadn’t been featured. Without that boost, Wildstone’s economy had continued to suffer beyond the recession.

  It was still struggling.

  Mick found the place as constricting and stifling as his bullheaded father, so he’d fled the minute he’d graduated from high school. He’d spent almost no time here in the years since, and had been a happier man for it.

  Until his dad had stroked out on the throne early one morning four months ago.

  Coop whined and Mick looked down at the twelve-year-old golden retriever, ball in his mouth. Coop panted happily and dropped the ball at Mick’s feet, his rheumy brown eyes ever hopeful.

  Mick shook his head. “Last time I threw it, you decided you didn’t mean it.”

  Coop gave a talkative “woo woo woo.”

  Translation: Mick was full of shit. “I had to go get it myself,” he reminded the dog. “Remember that?”

  This bought him another “woo woo woo.”

  “Okay, okay.” Mick picked up the ball, and because there was a lot of old-man dog pride on the line here, he gave it a dramatic throw, making sure it went only about twenty feet.

  Coop gave an energetic leap. A single energetic leap. After that, he eyeballed the sea of sand ahead of him, huffed out a sigh, and sat. Then he craned his big, fuzzy golden head and gave Mick a sad-eyed look.

  “Are you kidding me?” Mick asked him.

  Coop lay down, set his head on his front paws, and stared forlornly out at the ball that his brain wanted to chase but his sore joints and tired body wouldn’t allow. It was a daily reminder for the dog, who in his own mind clearly wasn’t elderly, forgetful, or more than half deaf. Nope, in Coop’s opinion, he was still a rambunctious, energetic puppy.

  Mick blew out a sigh and fetched the damn ball. When he came back, the dog sat up, eyes bright, tongue lolling.

  “Not a chance,” Mick said on a laugh. “I’m not throwing it again. This was about your exercise, not mine. I already had my run today.”

  A Lexus pulled up. A woman sat behind the wheel and stared out at the dunes and the ocean. All Mick could see of her was a cloud of whiskey-colored waves of hair and a pale face. She stared at the water and then set her head to the steering wheel and banged it a few times.

  Then, head still down, she went utterly still.

  Coop whined about the ball and nudged Mick’s knee, eyes pleading.

  With a head shake, Mick threw the ball five feet.

  Coop happily pounced on it.

  While his dog pranced around proudly, ball in his mouth, Mick turned back to the car. The woman hadn’t moved. Had she knocked herself out? Was she still breathing? “What do you think?” he asked Coop. “Stay out of it, or ask her if she’s okay?”

  Coop, who’d never been impressed by a single one of the women in Mick’s social life, yawned.

  “Right,” he said. “Stay out of it.”

  But the woman suddenly sat up straight and fumbled her way out of the car, falling to her knees on the rough gravelly asphalt, gulping in air like she was suffocating.

  Realizing she was hyperventilating, Mick rushed to her and crouched at her side, having to push Coop back from making her acquaintance—which he tended to do with a rude nose push to the crotch. “Stay,” he ordered and looked the woman over.

  Young. Late twenties maybe. Definitely having a panic attack of some kind. Not touching her, he spoke quietly and calmly. “Take a deep breath through your nose.”

  She had to quiet herself to hear him, but she did as he said. She took a deep breath, shuddery as it was.

  “Good,” he said, still holding Coop back from trying to say hello. “Stay.”

  “What?” she gasped.

  “Sorry, not you. My nosy-ass dog. Keep breathing. That’s it,” he said when she worked at it.

  When she had it under control, she met his gaze, her own eyes hooded and clearly embarrassed. “I’m sorry.”

  “Don’t be.”

  Coop, tired of being held back, shoved his big old head between them and licked her from chin to forehead. Mick palmed the dog’s face and pushed his head away from the woman whose shoulders were now shaking.

  Aw, hell. He patted his pockets—for what, he had no idea. It wasn’t like he carried tissues or napkins on him to offer her. He rose to his feet to go search the truck, which was when she lifted her face and he saw that she was shaking with laughter, not tears.

  She was laughing at his ridiculous dog.

  Then she ran a hand down Coop’s back and that was it. The dog fell in love, sliding bonelessly to the ground to roll over, exposing his belly and all his manly bits—well, the bits he still had after the vet had finished with him years and years ago now.

  “Ignore him,” Mick said and offered her a hand to pull her up to her feet.

  Instead, she bent over Coop, stroking his belly. “What a good boy,” she murmured softly. “You’re just the sweetest thing, aren’t you?”

  Coop ate it up, sighing in
utter bliss, and . . . farted.

  “Sorry,” Mick said, fanning the air with his hand. “He’s old.”

  Coop sent him a reproachful look and then went back to smiling at the woman, who laughed softly and kissed his dog right on the snout. “Don’t worry about it,” she whispered. “You’re still the sweetest thing. Yes, you are.”

  Coop agreed with an ongoing tail wag, stirring up the sand.

  The woman stood on her own and sighed before meeting Mick’s eyes. “Thanks.”

  “You okay?”

  “Always.”

  He arched a brow and she shrugged. “Sometimes you have to fake it until you make it, you know?”

  As he did indeed know, he nodded.

  “And sometimes in the faking, I panic.” She looked away, taking in the now-setting sun. “What you saw was just a long overdue panic attack, but I’ve got it handled now.” She bent and kissed Coop again, on top of his head this time. “And thanks to you too,” she whispered. Then she got into her car and drove off.

  Sitting at his feet, Coop watched her go and let out a soft whine.

  Mick, who at the ripe old age of thirty-two was far too jaded and cynical to whine after a woman, opened the door to the truck. “Can you make it?”

  Coop tap-danced on his paws like he was going to jump, but didn’t. Instead he whined at Mick.

  “You don’t want to even try?”

  The dog took a step toward the truck as if to jump, but limped now as he looked back at Mick.

  Mick sighed and picked up the hundred-and-fifty-pound oaf. “You’re going on a diet,” he said and buckled Coop in.

  An hour later, Mick stood in the garage of his childhood home, trying to shrug off his frustration. Hard to do when just being here exhumed all his deeply buried resentments.

  There were tools, boxes of decades-old crap, outdated cans of dried-up paint stacked high, and pretty much every garden hose his dad had ever bought, despite half of them being cracked or riddled with holes. The old man hadn’t thrown a single thing away in all the years he’d lived here.

  And now Mick was stuck with straightening out every mess the guy had left, including his sorry finances.

  Mick kicked aside a tarp and found a stack of kindling for the woodstove they’d had in the living room—twenty years ago. It had long ago been converted to gas and he’d bet that under the wood lived a very large, very fat family of field mice who probably spent their days wreaking havoc in the walls.

  Perfect.

  “Honey? Where are you?”

  The sound of his mom’s voice flashed him back to when he’d been twelve, hiding out in here, stealing materials for the bike track he’d built in the field behind the house, complete with the ramps and jumps he’d used to shatter his collarbone with that summer.

  “Micky?”

  With a grimace for the nickname he hated almost as much as this house, he called out to her. “In the garage.”

  Audra Hennessey appeared in the opened door holding two tall glasses of what he knew to be her fresh lemonade. Hers would be liberally laced with her also homemade moonshine.

  She’d been working hard at pickling her internal organs for a couple of months now. Four, to be exact.

  She handed him a glass and Coop lifted his big, heavy head from the nap he’d been taking on a pile of old rags. He gave a soft “wuff” in happiness and staggered to his feet. This took him a minute because his hips were really bothering him today, but he shook it off and trotted over to greet the love of his life.

  Mick’s mom’s face lit up as well. “Oh look at you, my handsome boy!” She pulled a doggy treat from her pocket. “Don’t tell your daddy,” she whispered. “He thinks you’re getting fat.”

  “He is getting fat,” Mick said as Coop wolfed the treat down without so much as tasting it.

  Coop slid him a look.

  Mick shook his head. “The vet said you had to lose ten pounds, man. Don’t blame me.”

  Mick’s mom squatted down and gave Coop a big hug, whispering in his ear that she’d made dinner and saved him some.

  Mick gave up. He couldn’t win all the battles. Plus, it was good to see her smiling. Between his father’s death and his sister Wendy’s vanishing act, she’d had it rough.

  “Watch out,” he said, dragging a heavy box of crap to the driveway, tossing it into the back of his dad’s old truck, which Mick had been driving around while in town so he could dump the trash at the end of the day and also pick up supplies as needed.

  She looked at the big pile of things in the driveway that Mick still had to discard, more stuff he’d dragged out of the garage to get to the dump, and frowned. “That’s my old rocking chair,” she said.

  “Old being the key word.”

  “I want it back, Mick.”

  “Mom, it’s broken beyond repair.” He nudged it with his toe and another rung from the armrest fell off. “See? And admit it, you’d completely forgotten about the thing until you saw it just now.”

  “Not true,” she said. “I know more than you give me credit for.”

  He set his empty glass down to take her gently by the shoulders. She was frail, and he hated that. He turned her around to face him, looking up at him with dark brown eyes identical to his own. “I want you to tell me—without looking,” he said, “which stuff in that pile are things you want to keep.”

  She bit her lower lip, trying to hide a smile.

  “Just one thing, Mom,” he said, and had to laugh when she rolled her eyes.

  “You always were too smart for your own good,” she said. “An answer for everything. No wonder you and your dad never got along.”

  True story. Mick had been born with an insatiable curiosity. He’d questioned everything, and his dad, a manual laborer all his life with only an eighth-grade education, hadn’t had the answers, which had brought out his temper, hating that Mick’s questions made him feel small. Adding to the unpinned grenade was the fact that his dad always had to be right.

  “All of these things are memories to me,” his mom said, looking around them. “I know you don’t understand that because, like Wendy, you were always so unhappy here.”

  “Wendy was born unhappy,” he said and she smiled sadly because it was true. Wendy had always had big plans. She’d wanted to be an esthetician, so Mick had sent her to school. Twice. Neither time had stuck. Her latest plan was to become rich and famous, and Mick wished her nothing but good luck on that. “And I wasn’t always unhappy.”

  “When?” she asked with a hopefulness that stabbed him in the chest. “When were you happy here?”

  He slung an arm around her. “When you baked strawberry pies.”

  She snorted and pushed him away. “I made those pies to sell at the farmers’ market and you’d steal them. You were always hungry. A bottomless pit.” And then, as if the memories were all too much, her smile faded and suddenly she looked every bit of her sixty years as she sipped her “lemonade.” Her eyes were too glassy and she was flushed.

  “Mom,” he said quietly. “This is all too much for you. Running the house by yourself, keeping it and the yard up. I want you to reconsider—”

  “No,” she said. “I don’t want to sell and move.”

  Mick lived and worked in San Francisco, two and a half hours north. The commute to check in on her every week since his dad’s death was starting to hurt his business. He was a structural engineer in a firm with three partners, although he’d recently turned his attention to buying up properties and leasing them out to a wide assortment of businesses. But even without his crazy-busy schedule, the five-hour weekly round-trip to Wildstone was killing him.

  When he was in town, he stayed at the Wild West B & B, a property he was actively looking at buying since the owners were in financial trouble. Mick’s mom wanted him to stay here in his old bedroom, but luckily for him it was still stuffed to the gills with more old stuff he hadn’t gotten to yet.

  His mom was a Hoarders episode waiting to happen.
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br />   Normally, he came on the weekends, but he was staying all week
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