Lost and found sisters, p.36
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.36
 

           Jill Shalvis

  But apparently it was Tilly’s turn to lose her collective shit. She was crying so hard she was shaking and still talking nonsense, something about their deal and how she’d messed everything up.

  “It’s okay,” Quinn told her, stroking her back, pressing a kiss to her temple. “You’re safe, and the rest will fall into place. It’s going to be okay.”

  Tilly managed to subside into hiccups. “How?” she asked soggily. “How will it fall into place? I’ve ruined your car and your life. You’ll un-sign the papers and go back to L.A.”

  Quinn pulled back just enough to look into Tilly’s face. “Is that what you think? That I’d just walk away from you?” But she could see by Tilly’s expression that she truly feared exactly that.

  And why wouldn’t she? Her dad had walked away. Her mom had left her too, albeit very unwillingly . . . So why shouldn’t Quinn? “Tilly,” she said quietly but with utter steel, as she meant every single word. “I would never leave you. You’re my sister. You’re stuck with me, okay? Through thick and thin. That’s what family means.”

  Tilly stared at her, eyes searching so desperately that Quinn could scarcely breathe. “You really want to stay?”

  “Yes.”

  “With me.”

  “Yes.”

  “In Wildstone.”

  Quinn laughed. “Yes! Especially now that I know you’ve got cleaning skills.” She looked around. “You’ve been holding out on me.”

  “You’re choosing Wildstone over L.A.,” Tilly repeated, refusing to be drawn into a good mood.

  Quinn let her smile fade. “I’m choosing you.”

  “But—”

  “No buts. It’s you and me,” Quinn said. “It’s also your choice. If you wanted to go to L.A., we’d do that. We’d live in my condo or figure something else out. But if you want to stay here, that’s fine too. And actually . . .” She met Tilly’s gaze. “So do I.”

  “For reals?”

  “For reals,” Quinn said with a smile.

  “What if you change your mind?”

  “I won’t.”

  “Dad did.”

  “His loss,” Quinn said quietly. “But neither of us is built that way. We don’t walk away from those we love. Ever. And I do love you, Tilly.”

  Tilly eyes spilled over again, but this time Quinn was pretty sure it was relief, not worry or anxiety.

  “I have something for you,” Tilly whispered.

  “A promise to never scare me again?” Quinn asked.

  Tilly grimaced. “I can work on that, but no.”

  “A promise to make me coffee every morning?”

  “A box of your baby clothes,” Tilly said. “My mom—our mom—made them for you.” She gestured to the small chest. “I found it a while ago, which was mean and selfish of me. I’m sorry about that too.”

  Quinn opened the chest and gasped softly. “These are mine?”

  “Handmade,” Tilly said. “She was excited about being pregnant with you. Happy. I don’t know what happened or why that changed, but she was really young.” She met Quinn’s gaze. “I mean if it was me, I wouldn’t be grown up enough to be able to keep a baby, you know?”

  Quinn nodded.

  “I thought you’d want to know that she did want you.”

  Quinn’s eyes shimmered brilliantly and she nodded. “Thanks,” she whispered. “You’re a good sister.”

  Tilly chewed on her lower lip, her gaze saying she hadn’t been a good sister and she knew it. “I wanted to end our trial period a long time ago,” she burst out with. “I just didn’t know how.”

  Sometimes it was the big things. Death. Love. Life. But sometimes it was the small things. A hug. A few words. Quinn set aside the chest of clothes and smiled. “Took you long enough.”

  Tilly let out a low laugh. “We’re not going to have to hug again, are we?”

  “Yes,” Quinn said and hauled her in.

  Her face smushed into Quinn’s shoulder, she asked, “Are we going to have to hug a lot?”

  “Yes. Deal with it,” Quinn said and Tilly smiled against her neck and knew everything was going to work out. Messily, no doubt, but they’d be okay.

  Far more okay than she could’ve hoped for.

  MICK WAS KNEE-DEEP in negotiations with the owner of the Wild West B & B when he got a call from Tom. Mick stepped outside to take it, knowing it wasn’t going to be anything good. Colin had sent him the evidence he’d alluded to in their phone call. A full accounting of expenses Tom had incurred in the past year—which didn’t come close to matching up with his salary. The discrepancy was more than a million dollars.

  He could give it to the county prosecutor’s office and Tom’s fate would be in their hands.

  “Heard you and your girlfriend had an exciting night,” Tom said.

  “What do you want, Tom?”

  “I want what I’ve always wanted. You to go the fuck away and stay away. You were a shitty influence on Boomer all those years ago and you still are. He was doing fine until you came back and now he’s in rehab for fuck’s sake.”

  It took everything Mick had to not refute that statement but he did because Tom didn’t understood Boomer and never would.

  Boomer deserved better.

  “I know that you think you’ve got something on me,” Tom said. “You’re wrong.”

  “If that was true,” Mick said, “you wouldn’t be calling.”

  “Fine. Then let me spell things out for you. If you don’t drop this vendetta against me, you’re going to be sorry.”

  “Am I?” Mick asked, squatting to rub Coop’s belly.

  “You will be when I have Quinn deemed an unfit guardian, and then have Tilly taken away from her and put in foster care.”

  Mick rose to his feet. “Try proving Quinn unfit. She’s an amazing guardian.”

  “Let me remind you that not once but twice now, Tilly’s run away. She’s driven without a license, crashed a car, and damaged county property—while under Quinn’s care. And I’m sure if I think real hard, I can come up with even more charges. I’ve got a lot of influence and pull in this county and you damn well know it.”

  “What I know,” Mick said evenly, “is that you’ve been taking kickbacks instead of providing jobs to this town. That’s on you and no one else.”

  “Even if you manage to prove that and take me down, facts are facts. The girl’s been acting out while under Quinn’s care. On top of everything else, there’s also evidence she’s been shoplifting.”

  “Bullshit,” Mick said. “Where and when?”

  “Let’s just say that if there isn’t evidence of it yet, there will be,” the slimy bastard said. “So stand down, or I take you and yours down with me. Oh, and one more thing. You’re going to stand up at the next town meeting and announce that you’ve reconsidered your position and you’re backing me and my projects one hundred percent.”

  Mick wanted to reach through the phone and punch his smug face. Because now he was faced with either letting his old friends and neighbors down, or watching Quinn be publicly deemed unfit and lose Tilly.

  Neither of which he could let happen.

  QUINN KNEW SOMETHING was wrong when she got a call from Cliff that afternoon. “What’s up?” she asked, immediately moving down the hall to peek into Tilly’s room.

  When she saw the teenager sprawled out on her bed, lost in her own world with headphones on, she took a deep breath.

  No one had run away, stolen the car, crashed the car . . .

  “I just had an odd phone call,” Cliff said. “I was questioned about you and Tilly by someone at the county.”

  “Questioned?”

  “About the legality of your taking guardianship of Tilly,” Cliff said. “Something doesn’t feel right to me. I’m going to look into it, but I wanted to warn you that I think something’s up.”

  Her stomach tightened. She’d had just about all the drama she could take. “Like what?”

  “I don’t know. I’ll call you back tom
orrow, sit tight.”

  But Quinn didn’t do sit tight very well. She waved at Tilly, who sat up and pulled the headphones away from her ears. “What?”

  “I need to go talk to Mick,” Quinn said.

  “Is that what the kids are calling it these days?”

  “It’s a real talk! Jeez. I’ll be back in a few,” Quinn said and went to the garage. She cranked over Carolyn’s old Bronco, drove to the Wild West B & B, and knocked on the door of the room Mick always used when he was in town.

  He opened the door wearing a pair of low-slung basketball shorts and a set of headphones around his neck. His laptop was open. Clearly he was working, and just as clearly, he was surprised to see her. “Hey,” he said. “I was coming to you in a little bit.”

  “Beat you to it.” She ducked under his arm and let herself in.

  “Is this a booty call?” he asked hopefully.

  She wished. “No, I have to get back to make Tilly dinner.”

  “You know, if you wait long enough to make dinner, people will just eat cereal. It’s science.”

  She laughed, but the smile fell quickly from her face. “I just got an odd call from Cliff. Someone’s questioning my guardianship.”

  Mick’s eyes darkened with anger, but not, she couldn’t help but notice, surprise. She let out a breath and sat on the edge of the bed. “What’s going on, Mick?”

  He hesitated and then came to sit down next to her. “Tom Nichols called me,” he said and then told her the rest, what Tom had sworn to do if he didn’t back down.

  “But you’re not going to back down, right?” she asked.

  Mick looked at her as if she’d lost her mind. “Quinn, there’s no way in hell I’m letting you get caught in the crosshairs.”

  She jumped up, unable to sit. “Are you kidding me? There’s no way in hell I’m letting you back down and eat crow before that horrible man! I mean it,” she said, choked up as he rose and slid his hands up and down her suddenly chilled arms. “Over my dead body, Mick.”

  He held fast and gently reeled her in even though her feet had turned to lead. “Quinn, he’s going to destroy you, which will destroy me.”

  “You’re not the one who did illegal things!”

  “Listen to me.” He cupped her face and tilted it up to his. “It’s not too late. If you stay away from me, make it clear that I don’t mean anything to you, he’ll find another angle to try and hurt me.”

  She stared at him. “You want me to walk away?” Because hell no. “I’ve already tried that, Mick, and I won’t do it again.”

  “Quinn,” he breathed softly, his voice achingly full of emotion. “I don’t want whatever happens to be the end of us. I want to keep you if you’ll have me. But this is your decision, your last chance to avoid more heartbreak.”

  Her forehead dropped to his chest as an escape from the intensity of his gaze. She knew he was right. Despite all the wonderful things about the man, he came with flaws. But so did she. If she wasn’t already in love with him, she would’ve fallen in love with him for giving her the time to think it through.

  As if she needed any time at all.

  She turned her head to rest her cheek against a warm, hard pec, thoughts racing. She couldn’t lose Tilly now, she just couldn’t. She’d fought tooth and nail for her.

  The way Mick fought tooth and nail to help his mom, and anyone else he cared about. The way Skye had driven up to Wildstone for one day just to make sure she was okay. The way Greta and Trinee had each other’s backs.

  The way her own mom had spent her life just wanting Quinn to be happy, when they both knew that emotion was elusive as hell. A lump formed in her throat. Love wasn’t in the words, love was in the deeds, trying to give your daughter everything you’d never had, including buying a restaurant just to give her the job she wanted.

  Or in Tilly’s case, giving up a chest of things that her mom had made with her own hands in order to give someone else some peace. And in Mick’s . . . lending her a Jetpack, saving her from bugs, buying her a damn bed so she wouldn’t have to sleep on the couch, among so many other things she couldn’t even count them all. She struggled to take it in and came to a conclusion.

  Happiness was real. It was a state of mind. So was love, and she had more than her fair share of that.

  Time to give some back.

  She lifted her head. “I want you to fight for Wildstone, and the people in it.”

  “But—”

  She put a finger over his lips. “I can handle the fallout. I won’t let anyone take Tilly from me, even if I have to sell my condo or borrow money from my parents to get a good attorney who’ll make mincemeat out of the city manager.”

  “Quinn, this is my fight. I’ve got this.”

  Stupid, wonderful man. She looked into his eyes and echoed back his own words from when he’d been angry over Brock’s visit. “You might be having trouble understanding what constitutes a relationship,” she said. “But I’m happy to explain it to you. It means I’ll be standing at your side, no matter what, no matter who we have to take down.”

  He tugged her in closer. “Bloodlust. I like it.”

  “I mean it, Mick. I don’t have a lot of people in my life, but the ones I do have, I feel very protective of and would fight to the death for.”

  “Now you’re just trying to turn me on.”

  She gave him a little, teasing smile. “Gonna kick ass and take names.”

  He slid a hand into her hair and lightly tugged her face up to his. “I love you, Quinn.” His voice was gruff and honest. A promise, and more than she’d ever dreamed of.

  “I’m not going to let anything happen to you or Tilly,” he said. “Do you believe me?”

  Did she?

  Could she?

  The answer was simple. Yes. She believed him and she believed in him.

  His eyes warmed and his smile was a balm on her aching heart. “I like the way you’re looking at me,” he said.

  “Yeah?”

  “Yeah.” He shifted closer and ran his hands up her back and then down again to cup her sweet ass in his palms. But just as he leaned over her with fierce intent, there was a knock at the door.

  Mick groaned. “Ignore it.”

  That was a good plan and she pressed her face into his throat and inhaled deep, feeling like she needed the scent of him to survive.

  There was a second knock, and with a sigh, Mick went to the door.

  Joe, the old-timer who owned the gas station, stood there with a few of his cronies behind him. Lou, Not-Big-Hank, and Big Hank.

  “I’ve got your problem solved,” Joe said in a been-smoking-for-five-decades voice.

  “What problem?” Mick asked.

  “Your city manager problem.”

  Quinn could only see Mick’s back and broad shoulders, but she sensed his surprise.

  “How do you know I have a city manager problem?” he asked.

  “We’ve got eyes in our head, don’t we?” Lou asked.

  Mick just leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed, deceptively casual. “And?”

  “And . . . we planted a spy kit,” Joe said. “No, hear us out,” he added quickly when Mick shook his head and started to speak. “We bought it on the interweb and bugged Tom’s office. We caught him admitting everything to you on the phone earlier.”

  “You bugged his office,” Mick said.

  “Yep.”

  “That’s . . .” Mick shook his head. “Disturbing. Not to mention illegal.”

  “It’s okay,” Joe said. “Let ’em throw the book at me. What’ll I get, five years in the big house?” He glanced behind him at the others, who all nodded like a row of geriatric bobbleheads.

 
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