Lost and found sisters, p.33
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.33
 

           Jill Shalvis

  feat and there were more than a few squabbles.

  “Get off me!” Big Hank said to Not-Big-Hank.

  “Why is your hand on my ass?” Greta asked Lou.

  “That’s not my hand . . .”

  Which caused a tussle until Trinee put her fingers to her mouth and let out an ear-piercing whistle that had everyone shutting up.

  “Better,” she said.

  Fifteen minutes later, there was still no sign of Lena, so Quinn went to the kitchen and called her. “Where are you?” she demanded.

  “At home,” Lena said. “In my pj’s having a Real Housewives marathon with a pizza. Happy birthday to me.”

  Quinn pressed her fingers to her eye sockets. “You were supposed to come here at seven. To have dinner with me.”

  “Yeah,” she said. “I’m tired. And coming down with a cold. So I’m not coming.”

  Dammit. “Listen to me,” Quinn said. “I put together a party for you. It’s supposed to be a surprise—”

  “Oh, I know all about it.”

  Quinn pulled the phone from her ear and stared at it before bringing it back up. “If you knew, then why aren’t you here?”

  “I already told you,” Lena said casually. “I don’t want to. I’m not coming to a pity party.”

  “It’s not a pity party!”

  “Swear it,” Lena said. “Swear that your plan wasn’t to be nice to me because you felt sorry for me.”

  Quinn closed her eyes and counted to five. “How about I swear not to be nice to you?”

  Lena paused. “That might work.”

  Quinn ground her back teeth into powder. “Okay, then I swear not to be nice to you. Now get your skinny ass dressed and down here right now or—”

  “I’m going through a tunnel,” Lena said. “About to lose reception—”

  “Lena, I swear to God—”

  Disconnect.

  Quinn growled and texted her.

  QUINN:

  You’ll never guess who just pulled into town for gas on his way home to Hollywood and needs a haircut from Wildstone’s best hairdresser. I’m holding him hostage here. If you don’t show up, I’ll do his hair myself and tell him you trained me.

  LENA:

  You’re such a bitch.

  QUINN:

  I come by it naturally. You’ve got ten minutes.

  Quinn shoved her phone away and drew a deep breath for calm. It didn’t work. She walked outside to draw in some better air. Still no calm to be had. She played a few games of Words With Friends—Skye was kicking her ass.

  When she could breathe without chest pain, she moved around to the front of the café and found more people had arrived, including Mick if his dad’s truck was any indication. All of which ensured that she was no better composed when she walked in the front door.

  Everyone jumped up and yelled, “Surprise!” and “Happy birthday!” . . . until they saw it was her.

  Quinn sighed. “Good news,” she said. “We can eat the cake now.”

  Mick broke from the crowd and came to her, reaching for her hand and pulling her into him.

  Her body went, like it was made to be pressed up against his.

  “There’s bad news and good news,” he said.

  Eyes closed, she snuggled in. She didn’t care what it was, as long as he didn’t let go. “Tell me.”

  When he didn’t speak, she pulled back enough to meet his gaze. “Bad news first.”

  His mouth twitched, so she knew it couldn’t be worse than being stood up by Lena.

  “We already ate the cake,” he said.

  “And the good news?”

  “I hid away a piece for you.”

  She stared up at him and it just popped out, utterly without conscious thought or guile. “God, I love you.”

  There was a beat of stunned disbelief on his part—and okay, on her part too because she had no idea where the words had come from. Horrified, she tried to pull free but Mick tightened his grip on her. “Quinn.” His voice was low and gruff with some emotion she wasn’t capable of translating at the moment.

  “Hey, you two,” Greta said, coming up to their side with Trinee. “We can always turn this party into my surprise party.”

  “Your birthday’s not for two more months,” Trinee said.

  “So?”

  “No one’s stealing my party,” Lena said from behind them as she walked into the café.

  Not in pj’s.

  Not looking sick or tired.

  In fact, she wore a killer dress and looked perfectly made up, not a hair out of place.

  Quinn couldn’t decide whether to strangle her or hug her. Scratch that. She didn’t have the brain power for that, or anything beyond what she’d just said to Mick.

  “So where is he?” Lena asked, looking around. “The Hollywood star who needs his hair done?”

  “I lied,” Quinn said.

  Lena stared at her, the very slightest bit of admiration in her gaze. “I must say, as the queen of bullshitting, I respect what you’ve done. But also, I hate you.”

  “Right back at you,” Quinn said.

  Lena turned to the crowd. “What’s a birthday girl got to do to get a piece of cake around here?”

  They gave her the last piece of cake and poured drinks—apple cider in deference to Boomer’s attendance—and when everyone had a glass, they lifted it in a toast but no one spoke. They all looked around at each other awkwardly.

  No one had anything nice to say to the birthday girl.

  Quinn hadn’t seen this coming but she should have, so she drew in a deep breath to speak and . . . met Lena’s dark and getting darker gaze, daring her to go back on her word.

  I swear not to be nice to you.

  Okay, then. Here went nothing. She cleared her throat. “When I came to Wildstone, Lena was one of the first people I met. She was . . .”

  Lena’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

  “. . . possibly the scariest woman I’d ever talked to,” Quinn said, and everyone looked nervously at Lena to see how she’d take this.

  Lena smiled.

  Quinn lifted her glass a little bit higher. “She told me that the best things in life either make you fat, drunk, or pregnant . . .”

  Everyone burst out laughing, including Lena.

  “And,” Quinn went on, “not to stroke her ego, but she’s probably right.”

  “Always am,” Lena said and toasted Quinn back, nodding her head in acceptance of the un-friend toast.

  And thus cemented one of the oddest friendships Quinn had ever had. The oddest and yet the most real since Beth had been alive.

  Chapter 33

  No matter how much you eat, there’s always room for dessert. Dessert doesn’t go to the stomach, dessert goes to the heart. Learned that from my mom and it’s true.

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

  That night Tilly was in bed, lights off, on her phone playing a game when she suddenly remembered the box she’d hidden under her bed. The one filled with the baby things her mom had made for Quinn before she’d given her up for adoption.

  Guilt swamped her for keeping the box a secret, but her mom had made them, painstakingly, meticulously, and they’d clearly meant a lot to her. It was the one last little piece of her that Tilly had all to herself. God, she wanted her back, but more than that, she felt the clock ticking.

  She was afraid.

  She had no idea when her and Quinn’s “trial” period was up and she refused to ask, but knew the end had to be barreling down on her and she had no idea how to stop it from coming. She was locked in anxiety over that when she heard a soft knock at the front door. She paused her game and cocked her head, hearing a low murmur of voices.

  Quinn’s.

  And . . . Mick’s.

  Tilly tiptoed to her bedroom door and put her ear to it. Nothing. She couldn’t hear a thing. Very quietly she cracked it open and . . .

  The cat pushed her way in.

 
Hey,” Tilly whispered. “Get out.”

  Instead the scrawny old lady wound its way through her feet. “Mew.”

  Here was the thing. Tilly wasn’t a fan of cats. They were bitchy and they thought they were the top tier of the food chain. Tink might’ve wormed her way into Quinn’s heart, but as near as Tilly could tell, everyone wormed their way into Quinn’s heart.

  Tilly’s own heart was much more discerning.

  And impenetrable.

  But not wanting to give away the fact that she was blatantly eavesdropping on Mick and Quinn, she picked up Tink and went nose to nose with her. “Shh.”

  The cat stared at her from her one good eye, the other one doing its own thing, and the oddest thing happened.

  She started to purr, a rough start-stop rumble, and then the cat did what Tilly had seen her do to Quinn—she set her cat head on Tilly’s shoulder.

  It was ridiculous. Clearly a blatant attempt to manipulate the stupid human, but Tilly fell for it hook, line, and sinker, hugging the cat a little tighter.

  As meanwhile, in the hall, Quinn and Mick stared at each other, unaware of Tilly and Tink, their audience.

  “Thought you were leaving,” Quinn said quietly to Mick. “We said good-bye. Twice.”

  “We said a lot of things,” Mick said cryptically, voice pitched so low that Tilly had to lean out into the dark hallway to hear. “But one thing neither of us mentioned is not wanting each other anymore.”

  Tilly rolled her eyes. “Cheesy,” she mouthed to the cat, and then the traitor, who’d caught sight of her beloved Quinn, began wiggling to get to her.

  “No,” Tilly whispered. “Hold on, you’re caught on my sweater—”

  “Mew!”

  And with that, Tink took a flying leap out of Tilly’s arms, ripping her favorite sweater as she did, landing with a loud thump that rivaled an earthquake. The windows of the house practically shuddered.

  Both Quinn and Mick, who were in an embrace by now and—gross—kissing with what looked like way too much tongue, turned in shock to stare at her.

  “Hey,” Tilly said, lifting her hands. “Don’t look at me. For once I’m not the one sneaking around.”

  Quinn had backed away from Mick pretty quickly, but he was much slower to drop his hands from her. Tilly watched, amused, as Quinn pushed her hair back and looked guilty.

  “Maybe we should have the birds and bees talk,” Tilly said. “Do you know your options? Do you know that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do?”

  Quinn rolled her eyes but also blushed. “Funny. And the difference is that I’m not fifteen.”

  “Right. You’re forty.”

  “Thirty! And just barely!”

  Tilly smiled. “Speaking defensively is a sign that you’re feeling pressured. Don’t ever let a boy pressure you.”

  “Oh my God,” Quinn moaned, covering her face. “Tell me I didn’t sound that condescending.”

  Tilly held up her forefinger and thumb, only a little space between them. “And btdubs, Mick doesn’t have to sneak in and out. I don’t care if he spends the night.”

  With that, she went to bed, where she had to admit to herself that if there had to be a guy around here, Mick wasn’t a bad one to have. Quinn should probably keep him.

  Quinn should keep both of them and at that thought, Tilly flopped to her back. “Talk about cheesy,” she muttered.

  MICK SLID OUT of Quinn’s bed. It was crowded with him, Quinn, Coop, and Tink.

  Especially since Tink was taking up more room than anyone else, mostly because Coop didn’t want to get within hissing range.

  Behind him, only Quinn stirred and sat up, looking heart-stoppingly gorgeous in the puddle of moonlight and wearing nothing but a sated glow and some whisker burn at her throat, breasts, and between her thighs. Just the sight stirred him again, but he’d delayed long enough already.

  “You’re leaving?” she murmured.

  He pulled up his jeans and left them unfastened as he searched around for his shirt, finding it on top of her lamp. Shaking his head, he snatched it and pulled it on. Then he met her gaze and her smile faded.

  “Yeah,” she said. “You’re leaving.”

  That had been the plan. Especially since Quinn had so clearly pulled away and he’d promised himself to respect her barriers.

  But that had been before her “I love you,” the one she hadn’t meant to say but that he couldn’t un-hear because it had given him something he hadn’t had all that much of in his life—hope.

  All he had to do was give her the space and time she needed to catch up to him. He could do that.

  He would do that.

  “I’ve got a meeting in the morning,” he said.

  “So you’re going to drive home in the middle of the night?”

  “I don’t mind.” He planted a hand on either side of her hips and leaned in to kiss her.

  She kissed him back, which was gratifying. As was the way she wrapped her arms around him without hesitation, deepening the kiss. When he reluctantly pulled back, he wasn’t the only one breathless. He gently touched his forehead to hers. “Quinn.”

  She made a soft sound and kissed him some more, until he wanted to strip back down and climb into bed again, but before he could, she gave him a push. “You’ve gotta go.”

  What else could he say to that?

  IT WAS THREE in the morning when he finally got home to his high-rise condo in the city. He grabbed a few hours of sleep in the bed that felt too big to be in alone.

  His phone woke him at six thirty.

  “Your gut’s right, as usual,” Colin said. “The construction companies contracted to build the two new Wildstone motels and the brand-spanking-new community center that’s about to break ground were the only companies contacted. The locals weren’t given a chance to bid. I went snooping into the city manager’s finances.”

  “And?”

  “Over the past two years, he’s paid off his rather large mortgage, put in a pool, bought himself a new car, a motor home, and a motorcycle. All high end. All paid for up front. He also went to Cabo, Maui, and the Bahamas. No credit card debt.”

  “Kickbacks?”

  “Unless he won the lotto.”

  That Mick’s suspicions were true didn’t make him feel any better. First of all, Wildstone was still in trouble. It couldn’t
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