Lost and found sisters, p.31
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.31
 

           Jill Shalvis

  thought until recently.

  Very recently.

  Such as last night while holding a sleepy, practically purring Quinn in his arms, thinking he’d be happy doing so every single night for the rest of his life.

  “Look at you,” Boomer said. “Growing up.” His smile faded. “I guess it’s time for both of us to do so. I’m going to rehab, Mick.”

  “I know.”

  “I’m going to be gone for ninety days and I want to know if when I get back we could start over.”

  “No,” Mick said.

  Boomer’s smile dropped.

  “There’s no need to start over,” Mick said. “Because we’re still friends.”

  Chapter 31

  Potato chips always remind me that there are good things in this world.

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

  Quinn was in the café kitchen, trying not to pay attention to how heavy her heart felt about Mick letting her walk away.

  You’re either in or out with someone . . .

  She had a pit in her gut. Because why couldn’t she just tell him? Why couldn’t she just say I’m in, like all the way in? Why did she have to push him away?

  Feeling sick about her seeming inability to follow her heart, she looked out the window.

  Lena pulled up and headed toward the chicken coop. Quinn called out, “Hey, grab us some too, would you?”

  Lena shrugged like the motion required almost too much energy. Quinn watched her and told herself not to do it. Don’t interfere. Don’t ask her what’s wrong.

  But she called Greta in to take over and went out back. “You okay?” Quinn asked.

  “Sure,” Lena said.

  Quinn had her hands on her hips. “Okay, now you’re scaring me. No sassy comebacks. No sarcasm. What’s wrong?”

  “Nothing.”

  “Spit it out.”

  “You know, your compassionate tone needs a little work.” But Lena must not have been too offended because she sighed. “Not that you care,” she said, “but it’s my birthday tomorrow. My thirtieth.” She said this like thirtieth was a bad word. “I’m single on my thirtieth birthday, which means my life is officially over.”

  “I hit thirty this year and I’m single,” Quinn said, “and my life isn’t over.”

  Lena gave her a sideways look. “You sure about that?”

  Quinn had to bite her tongue. “Okay, listen. Come to the café tomorrow night. I’ll make you dinner.”

  Lena shrugged.

  “It’s better than being alone, right?”

  “I guess.” Lena looked at her. “Why are you being so nice to me? Do I have something in my teeth and you feel sorry for me?”

  “Why can’t I just be a nice person?” Quinn asked.

  Lena looked at her.

  Quinn laughed. “Fine. My parents taught me to be nice first because you can always be mean later, but once you’ve been mean to someone, they won’t believe the nice anymore. So be nice. Be nice until it’s time to stop being nice. Then destroy them.”

  Lena stared at her and then grinned. “Damn. That’s good. I should try that sometime.”

  “Maybe you can try it on me.”

  Lena shrugged. “Will there be cake?”

  “Do you want there to be?”

  “It’s not a birthday without cake,” Lena said.

  “Fine,” Quinn said, even though she was a crap baker. “There will be cake.”

  “With chocolate?”

  “Sure,” Quinn said. “With chocolate.”

  “And male strippers?”

  “Definitely not,” Quinn said.

  “Well, I guess I can’t have everything . . .”

  TILLY WATCHED OUT the window until she saw Dylan show up for work. She’d texted him to come a little early but he hadn’t. She had to be quick to catch him getting out of his car before he entered the café.

  “Thought you’d come over and see me,” she said.

  “Can’t. I’ve got work. And you have to study for finals this week.”

  “I’m taking a day off from studying,” she said.

  “No, you’re not.”

  She stared at his back as he turned away, hurt to the core that he didn’t want to be with her. “What do you care?”

  He turned to face her again, eyes dark, expression dark. Hell, his life was dark. “You think I don’t care?”

  She swallowed as he strode back to her and glared down into her eyes. “I spend more time on your schoolwork than mine,” he said. “I check on you every single night that I can get away. I’m working more hours than I have in a day so that after I give most of my pay to my mom to cover her rent, I can put a little bit away for a future that I’m not even sure exists.”

  Tilly felt her throat burn. “It does.”

  His face softened. “I’m going to go to work, Tee. And you’re going to study. We need the money and the education.”

  She held her breath. “We?”

  “Yeah.” And then he did something he rarely did—he touched her. He cupped her face in his big, callused hands and dropped his forehead to hers. “It’s all about the we,” he murmured. “Don’t ever think otherwise.”

  So Tilly went inside to study. After several hours of that, she got up and stood in the doorway of Quinn’s room staring at her mom’s things, now shoved against one wall.

  A small part of her could admit she appreciated that Quinn hadn’t thrown it all in the attic. Or in her mom’s room. Instead she’d left the master bedroom completely alone.

  Tilly knew she should be grateful but instead she just felt . . . sad. She didn’t know why she’d lashed out at Quinn about the things she’d moved. The truth was, nothing in this sewing/craft room belonged to her. Not a single thing. She just hadn’t wanted Quinn touching her mom’s things.

  Their mom’s things . . .

  Her feet took her over to the wall and she nudged a foot against a few boxes. There was one that looked like a small chest. She couldn’t remember ever seeing it before. Dropping to her knees, she pulled the chest to her and opened it.

  It was handmade baby clothes—crocheted booties, a small blanket, a lopsided sweater, all things her mom had made.

  But not for her. She was sure of it. She had a box of some of her baby stuff and it was mostly hand-me-downs or from discount stores. In fact, her mom had never made her anything. She’d mended the holes in her jeans, but that was about it. She’d taught Tilly to replace her own buttons, and that was the extent of the sewing that had gone on in this house.

  Tilly explored the little clothes. The sweater had a homemade label on it.

  MADE FOR . . .

  And in that spot, someone had handwritten in a name.

  Quinn.

  These clothes had been made for Quinn, before she’d been born.

  And given up.

  Tilly shoved everything back in the box, and heart pounding funny and a sick feeling in her gut, took it to her room and shoved it under the bed where she kept her own, very private journal. She flopped onto the mattress and closed her eyes to think.

  Sometime later, she came awake to her phone buzzing. Night had fallen and she had a text from Quinn: I turned off your light and left dinner for you in the fridge. Hitting the sack myself. Night.

  Another text came in, this one from Dylan.

  Meet at the park?

  Her heart did a little happy dance. Hell yes, she’d meet him in the park. She tiptoed out of the quiet house and made it to the park in a record-breaking three minutes.

  The place was deserted. No one on the swings. So she walked past the swing set to their tree, and the tree house. In the dark, she could see the glow of a phone screen. She climbed up and found a tall, lanky figure sitting there and her pulse sped up even as her smile faded.

  He was hiding from the world and that meant he was hurting.

  She plopped down next to him. “Hey.”

  Dylan lay flat on his back and stared up at the s
tars. “Wouldn’t mind being an astronaut.”

  Her heart caught. He had the grades for it. Or he would’ve had the grades for it if he hadn’t had to work his ass off on top of school. “You could totally do it,” she said, lying down next to him so that their arms brushed. She touched his fingers with hers. “You could do whatever you want.”

  He snorted and she wondered what had happened to upset him. She’d ask, but he wouldn’t tell her so she did her best to look him over to see if he had new injuries. Thankfully, she didn’t see any. “You can,” she whispered. “Be an astronaut.”

  “Says who?”

  “My mom.” Her breath caught. “My mom always told me that.”

  He rolled to his side and propped his head up with his hand as he studied her in the dark. “She was trying to be nice,” he said. “Nobody gets to do what they want. When school’s out, I’m going to have to dig trenches for my dad.”

  He already worked as many hours a week as he could spare to help his mom cover expenses, she knew. And she hated that for him. “It’s just for the summer. When you graduate, you can do whatever you want,” she said.

  “Don’t be naive.”

  She pulled her fingers from his and sat up. She hated when he acted like he was so much older than she was. Hated when he made her feel like a stupid little kid. “I’m not naive.” She pulled her knees in and pressed her forehead to them. “But sometimes, you just have to believe in something.”

  He blew out a sigh and sat up beside her. She felt his hand brush over her hair and wrap around her and he pulled her in closer. “I’m sorry, Tee. I’m an asshole.”

  “You’re not.” She turned her face to look up at him. “You aren’t like your dad, Dylan.”

  His expression hardened at the thought. “And I’m never going to be.”

  “Good.” She hesitated because he didn’t like to be told what to do. Hated it actually, because so many of his choices had been taken from him. And she didn’t want to make things worse but she really wanted to say something. “And just as you don’t have to be the dick your dad is,” she said carefully, “you also don’t have to follow his chosen profession. You do whatever the hell you want to do. And you’ve got me at your back. You know I’ve been helping out at the café in the mornings and Quinn insists on paying me. I’m going to save every penny in case you need it. Do you hear me?”

  A ghost of a smile twitched at his mouth. “I hear you. So do the people in China. But I’m not going to take your money, ever. I’m saving mine too, I’ll be okay.”

  “So why would you go be a laborer when summer hits? Why wouldn’t you do something you love? Like work at the rec center and help coach the little kids in baseball?” He’d been a baseball superstar until he’d had to quit the team for his job. “Or you could be a lifeguard. Lots of kids are doing that this summer and they’re hiring.”

  “The class to become a certified lifeguard is three hundred bucks,” he said. “The rec center won’t hire me because I had to have a recommendation from my coach and the principal, and though the coach said I would be great in the job, the principal said I had a bad attitude and a temper.”

  This pissed her off. “That’s not fair.”

  “I trashed his office when he accused me of stealing money from the cafeteria,” he reminded her.

  “Wrongly accused.”

  Dylan lifted a shoulder. Didn’t matter. The damage was done. And now he would be digging ditches for his macho, sadistic father all summer and she’d be worried for him every single second of every single day.

  “Did you study?” he asked.

  In spite of wanting to cry, she smiled at him because he cared about her so much it hurt. “Yes.”

  “Good.” He stood and pulled her up. “You’ve got to go home before you get in trouble.”

  She stood close to him, very close; the toes of their battered sneakers touched. But since he was so much taller than she was, that was about all that lined up and she ached, ached, to be as tall because then she could feel him, thigh to thigh, chest to chest. Her breathing hitched just thinking about it.

  Kiss me, she wished with all her might. Please for once, kiss me . . .

  And maybe it was her turn for a miracle because he did. He bent and kissed the top of her head.

  “Dylan,” she whispered with all the longing in her heart that felt like it might burst.

  He stilled. “Tee—”

  “Please?” she whispered, tipping back her head.

  He groaned and crushed her to him. For the most perfect moment in all the moments of her entire life, he lowered his mouth to hers. Soft. Gentle. Patient.

  But Tilly wasn’t feeling any of those things, so she tugged him in even closer. Then, on a mission, she touched her tongue to his and . . . the kiss exploded.

  It was like nothing she’d ever felt in her entire life as he hauled her in tight and kissed her deep. Her heart pounded, her skin felt too tight for her body, and she loved it.

  But then he pulled away.

  With a little mewl of protest, she tried to wrap herself around him, but he gripped her arms and held her off. “Tee. Tee, stop. We’re not doing this.”

  “Why?” she demanded, and if he said it was because she was too young for him, she was going to—

  “You deserve more.”

  “I don’t. You’re all I want,” she told him with all the fierceness of her entire soul. “I love you, Dylan. You’re mine, and you know what else? I’m yours.”

  He sucked in a hard breath and she realized he was shaking. Shaking with the effort to not kiss her again. Her hands came up to his chest and she fisted her fingers in his shirt, aching, aching . . . for more.

  But it wasn’t going to come because he gently wrapped his fingers around her wrists and brought her hands down and stepped back. “’Night, Tee.”

  “’Night,” she whispered. Dammit. She took longer going home, dragging it out another good ten minutes, in spite of everything smiling to herself the whole time.

  He’d finally kissed her! It had been a life-changing kiss, the kiss of all kisses, and no matter what he said, there’d be more.

  Because he loved her too.

  She knew that now, and because she did, she could wait for the rest.

  She moved around back to the kitchen door, which was much quieter than the front door. Not wanting to wake up Quinn and alert her sister to the fact that she’d sneaked out, she quietly tiptoed in and . . .

  Found Quinn leaning against the counter eating out of a gallon ice cream container with a wooden spoon.

  Chapter 32

  I made it through the day without beating anyone with a chair. I’d say my people skills are improving.

 
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