Lost and found sisters, p.34
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.34

          

  really sustain two new motels, and it wasn’t a good time to build a community center when so many businesses were in trouble. It was an unnecessary expense in uncertain times. “This isn’t good.”

  “Not for the city manager, no,” Colin said. “You going to stir up the hornet’s nest?”

  Mick had already done so, intentionally or not, first by buying up the properties and leasing them back to the current businesses, and then at the city hall meeting when all that had become public knowledge.

  “You still going to buy the Wild West B and B you’re staying at, the one that’s going under?” Colin asked. “I mean, that is the reason you’re staying there and not somewhere nicer down the highway, right?”

  Mick blew out a breath. The building itself was a historical monument, which meant that hopefully it couldn’t be destroyed, but Mick didn’t want to take a chance on that if the B & B went under. “Probably,” he said.

  “I figured.” Colin sounded amused. “Sucker.”

  Mick disconnected and shook his head. Colin didn’t know the half of it. Because if Quinn had trouble managing the café or the house and ran into financial problems, he’d do what he could there as well.

  The definition of sucker.

  Shit. He had it bad. He looked at his phone and realized he had a missed call and a message that he played back.

  “Mick Hennessey,” came a voice he knew all too well. It was rougher than his son Boomer’s, but Tom had the same sarcastic, wry tone. “You’ve been busy, butting into my business. Too bad you didn’t stick around to see it through. You always did run away like a little girl.”

  Mick hit redial before he thought it through and when Tom answered with a knowing low laugh, Mick knew he’d made a mistake.

  He’d shown his hand. After all these years of learning the hard way how to hide his emotions and feelings, one voice mail had turned him back into an idiot teenager who put it all out there for the world to see.

  But if Mick had shown his hand—and his weakness—then so had Tom. “Don’t mistake my absence for running,” he said. “Because I’m not gone.”

  “You hate this town,” Tom said. “Stay out of it or you’ll regret it.”

  “Was that a threat?”

  “A promise,” Tom said, and disconnected.

  Chapter 34

  I miss when my mom would come into my room and ask why everything was on the floor and I’d say gravity.

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

  To celebrate Tilly surviving the first day of finals, Quinn bought them pizza for dinner and then . . . gave Tilly her mom’s journal.

  They were sitting on the couch in the living room and Tilly stared down at the bound book in her hands. “I forgot all about this.”

  Quinn blinked. “You knew about it?”

  “I used to watch Mom write in it all the time. She’d sit at the kitchen table with some hot tea and write down all her secrets.” Tilly ran her fingers over the cover, not opening it. “She used to say that when she died, I should sell it to Hollywood and insist on the starring role because I’d win an Oscar.” She lifted her gaze to Quinn’s and her eyes were damp. “She didn’t want me to read it, not until . . .” She shrugged and then shook her head and swiped an arm under her nose. “It’s what made me start my own journal.”

  Quinn’s gut squeezed and she scooted closer, wrapping her arms around her sister. “I didn’t know you had a journal.”

  “Yeah.” Tilly held herself still, hugging the journal as Quinn hugged her. And then slowly, she let her head drop to Quinn’s shoulder.

  Just like Tink, and it broke Quinn’s heart. “You don’t have to read it now,” she said quietly. “You can hold on to it until you’re ready.”

  Face still pressed into Quinn’s throat, Tilly nodded. And then let go of her two-handed grip on the journal to wrap an arm around Quinn to keep her close.

  AN HOUR LATER, Quinn lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. She needed to talk to Tilly about their plans, but things kept derailing that conversation. Tilly wanted to play summer league softball. Greta and Trinee wanted a vacation, and Quinn would need to fill in. They needed more staff and she’d have to do the hiring. And then there was the fact that she hadn’t yet sold her car, so none of the house updates had been done.

  Lots of loose ends.

  “Liar. You’re still afraid to admit that you want to stay.”

  This from Beth, who was sitting on the top of a stack of craft supplies in a bathrobe, eating a bowl of cereal.

  Quinn sat up. “I’m not afraid.” She was petrified. “Tilly’s going to turn eighteen in less than three years. Maybe she’ll take off. You ever think of that?”

  “And you’re worried about where that would leave you?”

  “Yes!”

  Beth snapped her fingers and her bowl of cereal vanished. “You know where it’d leave you.”

  Yes, here in Wildstone . . .

  “You’re happy here, Q.”

  She was. She loved working at the café. Maybe not in the same way that she loved the restaurant, but in a different way. A better way, actually. It wasn’t as creative as the restaurant, but there was no tension. Any criticism was given with a dose of laughter. It was . . . freeing.

  As was Wildstone in general. “I am happy here,” she said softly. Feeling in control and proud of herself, she looked up.

  Beth was smiling from ear to ear and . . . fading away.

  “No!” Quinn said. “Don’t go!”

  “You should go to L.A. and break the news to Mom and Dad in person,” Beth said, her smile so beautiful. “I’d say do the same to Chef Wade but he already replaced you.”

  “What?”

  “Yeah, he just hasn’t found the nerve to break it to you yet.” She blew Quinn a kiss. “Love you. Stay happy. It suits you . . .”

  “No!” Quinn said, panicking because Beth’s voice was somehow different. This was good-bye. For real. Well, as real as a ghost got anyway. She jumped up. “Don’t you leave me again!”

  But Beth was gone.

  TILLY WAS LYING in bed using Snapchat to take a selfie with horns coming out of her head when Quinn knocked and came in.

  Quinn looked at the pic with the horns and snorted. “There’s a stretch.”

  “Ha-ha,” Tilly said, embarrassed to be caught doing the selfie thing. Not that she was about to admit to that.

  Quinn leaned against the dresser, trying to look casual, but the expression on her face was anything but.

  “What’s wrong?” Tilly asked.

  “Do you ever . . .” She grimaced. “See your mom?”

  Tilly blinked. “You mean my dead mom?”

  Quinn shifted uncomfortably. “I’m talking about her . . . spirit. Do you ever see her . . . spirit?”

  Tilly took a beat. “Like . . . a ghost?”

  “Never mind.” Quinn ran a hand over her face.

  “Do you see my mom?” Tilly asked her carefully, feeling a little bit absurd but oddly hopeful at the same time.

  Quinn dropped her hands and sighed. “I see my sister.”

  Tilly’s gut tightened. Beth. Of course. Because Quinn didn’t really think of Tilly as her sister. “You see Beth’s ghost.”

  “I said never mind!”

  “Dude.” Tilly paused. “Maybe you need a vacation.”

  “I can’t afford one,” Quinn said and shook her head. “Forget all that. I need to talk to you about something else.”

  At this, everything inside Tilly went still. Never let ’em see you sweat . . . She forced her muscles to relax and met Quinn’s gaze. “You do realize nothing good has ever come from that sentence, right?”

  “It’s nothing bad,” Quinn said. “I need to go see my parents. How do you feel about this weekend? We could make a shopping trip out of it, get some new clothes or something.”

  “I thought you were broke,” Tilly said.

  Quinn blew out a breath. “Well, there’s broke and then there’s broke.”

  Tilly drew in a careful breath. “So . . . you want to go shopping.”

  “I realize I’m resorting to blatant bribery, but I need to talk to my parents and my boss.” She paused. “We’re doing okay, the two of us, right?”

  Tilly shrugged, not ready, or willing, to comment.

  Quinn searched her expression. “I just don’t want to jeopardize that by leaving you here to remember how much you loved living at Chuck’s.”

  Tilly let out a low laugh that wasn’t really a laugh.

  “So . . . you’ll come?”

  Tilly shook her head. “I don’t like L.A.”

  “You ever been there?”

  “No,” Tilly admitted.

  “You don’t have to come, I won’t make you. I just have some business to take care of and thought you might enjoy the trip.”

  Tilly shook her head.

  Quinn looked disappointed, but turned to the door. Tilly warred with herself and lost.

  “Quinn?”

  “Yeah?”

  “You’re still going?”

  “Yes. We’ll talk to Chuck tomorrow.” Her phone buzzed. “Cliff returning my call,” she said and stepped out of the room.

  Tilly stared at the door Quinn shut behind her and then leaped out of bed and pressed her ear to the wood.

  “Thanks for finishing up the paperwork,” she heard Quinn say. “I can’t keep Tilly floating adrift like this any longer, a toe in each world. She’s got roots here and she’s not interested in L.A.”

  Tilly froze. So with or without her, Quinn was leaving. The betrayal of that cut deep but she’d gotten good at operating from a place of pain. Real good.

  Time to make her own plans.

  QUINN STARED AT her phone. She’d changed her mind. She didn’t need to go to L.A. This was about Tilly. So even though it was ten o’clock at night, she’d called her parents. She’d called Brock.

  None of them had been surprised at her decision to stay.

  She’d called Chef Wade, who had reluctantly confirmed that yes, he’d hired someone. It was a temp but she was working out so well he’d like to make it permanent. Quinn told him she didn’t blame him one bit, she completely understood, and she was sorry that she hadn’t come clean about not wanting to come back sooner. He told her the door was always open for further discussion.

  She sat there for a few moments after the call, wondering how, if Beth’s ghost was just a figment of her imagination, she’d known Wade had hired someone . . .

  But since that hurt her brain, she moved forward and called Skye, who had squealed in excitement.

  “You do realize I just told you I’m moving away,” Quinn said.

  “Yes, but you’re following your heart!” Skye sounded like she was grinning. “I’m so proud of you. And so happy. You’ve got the right temperament to live in that crazy-ass, old wild west ghost town.”

  Quinn laughed. “Thanks. I think.” Smiling, she disconnected and texted Mick with a simple: I’m staying.

  When she didn’t get an immediate response, she slid into bed, not sure if she was confused or hurt. She was asleep when her phone finally buzzed with an incoming call.

  Mick.

  “Hey,” she said. “Thought maybe I scared you into a coma or something.”

  “I’m on my way home.” His voice was low and gruff, and just the sound of it brought her an aching smile, so it took her a moment to absorb his words.

  “I thought you were already in the Bay Area,” she said, confused.

  “I meant home to Wildstone. To you.”

  She sat straight up in bed, her heart starting to drum. “What does that mean?”

  “I’m not doing this over the phone. I’ll be there in a few hours. Try to get some sleep.”

  Was he kidding? “Mick—”

  “I love you, Quinn.” And with that shocking statement, he disconnected.

  Quinn stared at her phone, emotions she hadn’t felt in too long welling up and out of her chest, spilling into every corner of her being.

  Hope.

  Excitement.

  Completely unable to sleep, she got up. Now that she’d made the hard decisions—which hadn’t been hard at all—she felt an inner peace fill her. A calm. She was 100 percent certain she was doing the right thing, just as Carolyn had somehow known she would.

  She couldn’t wait for Mick to get here. Couldn’t wait to wake Tilly up in the morning and tell her it was official. In the meantime, she prowled to the kitchen. She and Mick were going to be a team and she was hoping like hell she and Tilly were going to be a team too. Trying to keep as quiet as possible, she went through the cabinets. She needed to cook something. No, this was a celebration, which meant she needed to bake something, even though that was out of her comfort zone. But hell, her entire life was out of her comfort zone, so it felt oddly symbolic.

  She found the ingredients she needed for a cake and was in the middle of it when her phone buzzed again. Thinking it was Mick, she pulled it from her pocket with a smile, but it was an unknown number. “Hello?” she asked, wondering who the hell was calling her at midnight.

  “Is this Quinn Weller?”

  “Yes,” she said. “Who’s this?”

  “California Highway Patrol, ma’am. There’s been a car accident with a minor who says she lives with you.”

  Quinn gasped. “Tilly?”

  “Yes, we want to let you know that she’s at County Hospital—”

  “What? Is she hurt?”

  “Minor injuries. We need you to come down here.”

  “I’m already out the door,” Quinn said even though she had no idea how Tilly had gotten in an accident when she’d been supposedly asleep in her room. She ran down the hallway and flung Tilly’s door open, flipping on the light.

  The room was empty of one sullen teenager.

  Oh, God. Still holding the phone to her ear, Quinn ran back into the living room and grabbed her purse, yanking open the door, only half-listening to the CHP officer.

  “—was in a Lexus that’s registered to you—”

  “But that’s impossible.” Quinn moved to the living room to peer out the window. “My car’s right here—” But it wasn’t.

  Tilly had stolen her car.

  Chapter 35

  Why is it that it’s only after an argument when I think of the awesome things I should have said?

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

  Tilly closed her eyes. “She’s going to kill me.”

  “She’s not going to kill you,” Dylan said calmly.

  He was always calm.

 
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