Lost and found sisters, p.4
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.4

          

  to expedite necessary renovations on the house. “The guys I hired to haul some of this stuff away should’ve been here today.”

  She bit her lower lip.

  “What?” he asked.

  “They showed up a little while ago and I turned them away. I don’t need help,” she said when he groaned. “I’ve got you.”

  “Mom.” He rubbed his temples, but it didn’t ease the headache. “It took me three weeks to get them here.”

  She crossed her arms, her face set. “I didn’t like the look of them.”

  He had to laugh, but honestly there was no way he was going to even try to squash her ’tude. His dad has been a stern and dominating force that Mick had never managed to get along with. But if his mom wanted to grow a backbone at her age, he was all for it. “Fine,” he said. “You win. You’re never going to be serious about selling this place anyway.”

  “Now you’re catching on.” She patted him on the cheek. “I love it here, honey. I just wish you loved it here too.” She paused, waiting for his reaction.

  But he couldn’t give her the one she wanted.

  She sighed. “You spent the last two weekends renovating my kitchen, and you know what? I think you secretly enjoyed it. You handled it far more capably than I could ever have imagined.”

  “Guess the old man taught me something after all, huh?”

  Her smile faded and he felt like an asshole.

  “You’re not being fair,” she said quietly. “Yes, he was tough and demanding, but it’s not like you suffered for it. Look how well you turned out.”

  Still sticking up for the bastard.

  “He was hard on you,” she said, “because he saw your potential early on.”

  If his dad had seen Mick’s potential, this was news to him. All he could remember was being refused every request to do anything, even though he’d been a decent kid who’d stayed out of trouble.

  His mom looked at the shovel and rake hanging from hooks on the wall. Beside them were painted outlines of other tools that were now either lying on the floor or missing entirely, and she smiled sadly. “I’m surprised you haven’t painted over those outlines.”

  Mick shrugged. He was trying to do things methodically and not let his emotions get the best him. “I’ve got to clear things out before I can paint.” But the truth was, he couldn’t wait to obliterate the physical proof of his father’s need for complete control. He straightened and felt the ache in his back and shoulders from the work. “I’m going to knock off for the day. I want to go shower.”

  “It’s ridiculous, you coming from San Francisco so often and staying at the Wild West B and B instead of here.”

  The Wild West B & B was so named because it had been there since the sidewalks were clapboard. It was rumored to be haunted, something he was certain the owners perpetuated to bring in business.

  “You know you could move your office here,” his mom said. “Wildstone could use a man like you. You belong here, Mick.”

  But that was just it. He didn’t.

  And he never had.

  Chapter 4

  Sometimes my life feels like a test I didn’t study for.

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

  After the humiliating panic attack on the beach in front of the dark-haired, dark-eyed, apparently unflappable stranger and his big, adorable dog, Quinn drove away just far enough that she couldn’t be seen by said unflappable stranger and adorable dog before she pulled over again to gather herself.

  Probably an impossible task.

  It hurt to think her birth mom had lived only two hundred miles north of her and she’d never known. And what about her birth father? Who was he? Did she have grandparents? Aunts? Uncles? Anyone else?

  Why hadn’t she thought to ask Harry Potter?

  She pulled back out into the street, and her GPS—programmed to find the town of Wildstone—wasn’t sure what to do with itself now that they were here. “In half a mile turn right,” it intoned in an irritated female voice that insinuated Quinn was an idiot.

  Once she’d attempted to change the voice to male. She’d been hoping for an Aussie or British accent. Unfortunately, her tech skills didn’t extend that far and she’d ended up with this very stern, disapproving female voice.

  But she turned right. Mostly because it felt good not to think.

  “At the intersection, turn left.”

  Quinn flicked a gaze to her silent phone. It was silent because it was off. She’d gotten in her car and driven here without telling anyone. Well, except Cliff, who’d seemed hugely relieved to hear she was on her way. He’d made an appointment to see her first thing tomorrow morning.

  But in the end, she hadn’t waited for morning to make the drive. She was here and lead sat heavy in her gut with panic clogging her throat again, making it hard to breathe. Her head pounded in a way that was reminiscent of the night Beth had died, leaving Quinn alone and adrift and devastated without her best friend and confidante.

  She missed the intersection.

  “Recalculating,” the GPS said, judgment heavy in her tone.

  Quinn reached out and turned the app off. In blissful silence, she pulled into a gas station and filled up on both gas and snacks. When she dumped her loot on the counter to pay, the clerk raised a brow. “Skipped dinner, huh? That’s rough.”

  She’d stopped an hour ago and grabbed a sandwich that had served as her meal, which meant that this was actually dinner number two—not something she wanted to admit. “Yeah,” she said. “Real rough. Do you know of any good hotels in town?”

  He grinned. “Hotels? No.”

  “Motels?”

  “Sure. There’s the Wild West B and B just up the street. It’s only two point five stars but it’s haunted, which is cool.”

  Uh-huh. Thirty minutes later Quinn had checked into the place that claimed it was a “slice of heaven.”

  She stood in the middle of her tiny room—which, for the record, was not exactly a slice of heaven—and looked around. The lower half of the walls were lined with wood that had come from fencing slats, the upper walls covered in floral print wallpaper that instantly brought to mind the old, wild west. The furniture looked like pieces from a wagon, and the room was decorated with flowers in rustic milk cans and wanted posters on the walls, all dated around 1900. Cheesy but cute.

  The walls were clearly thin, as sound carried like nobody’s business. She could hear the bathroom sink dripping and the couple in the next room arguing.

  “You’re watching TV?” a woman yelled. “We’ve got my mom watching the kids for a whole night and you’re watching baseball?”

  “It’s the playoffs,” a man said.

  “I can’t believe I wore my fun underwear for this!”

  Quinn remoted the TV on and turned up the volume to give them some privacy and also to distract her from the drip, drip, dripping coming from the bathroom. She moved to the closet, which was a pretty antique armoire. It squeaked ominously as she opened it and peered into the dark cabinet.

  Spooky, she decided, and shut it again. Besides, she wasn’t staying long enough to unpack. She wanted to go to sleep, then wake up and meet with Cliff in the morning for some answers to her questions. Then she was out.

  Too keyed up to hit the sack, she sat on the bed and read the B & B’s brochure, which playfully warned her about their ghost. Apparently in 1892, this building had been a saloon and the madam had been murdered here. Hmm. Not exactly a good bedtime story.

  Tossing the brochure aside, she looked around for a coffeemaker.

  The fact that there wasn’t one nearly brought on another panic attack.

  Next, she opened her laptop, where she came up against another problem. No Wi-Fi. She called the front desk and asked about it, and was laughed right off the phone.

  Fine. She’d take a bath and soak her problems away. It might take all night but it was worth a try. Except . . .

  She stifled a scream and jumped out of the bathroom.

  There was a bug with a whole lot of legs in the tub.

  She felt the panic creeping in on her again, a big, fat knot in her throat, blocking her air pipe because everyone knew that bugs traveled in packs. Only the stupid ones got caught. The smart ones lay in wait for her to go to sleep so they could attack.

  On shaky legs, she sank to the bed and then plopped back to stare up at the ceiling. Exhaustion, probably nerve based, crept in on her and she lay there thinking that maybe what she needed more than anything was a drink. A stiff one.

  She closed her eyes and had actually started to drift off, but there was that drip, drip, dripping.

  And God knew how many bugs were mobilizing . . .

  Jerking upright, she grabbed her phone. She knew it made her seem weak, but she was going to call Brock. She needed to let him know she’d run away anyway, but . . . oh yeah—no service. She moved around the room, holding up her phone like she was making an offering to the cell-service god.

  Nothing.

  This was crazy. It was the twenty-first century, who didn’t have service? But hold on . . . at the window, she caught a flicker of a single bar. Gotcha. Dragging the lone chair over to the window, she stood on it, keeping the phone held up high.

  Two whole bars.

  Score!

  Standing there carefully balanced on the chair, with her head, arm, and phone hanging out the window, she hit Brock’s number.

  It rang three times before he picked up, sounding winded. “Busy,” he said. “I’ll call you back—”

  “Brock, wait!”

  “Okay,” he said, sounding surprised at her vehemence. “What’s the matter?”

  “Did you read my texts?”

  There was a pause. “Hang on,” he said and she rolled her eyes.

  She’d sent him a series of texts telling him her entire sordid, woeful tale and he hadn’t even read them. That was Brock.

  He came back. “Holy shit,” he said.

  “Yeah. So . . . I’m in Wildstone.”

  “What?”

  “I sort of drove up here earlier today,” she said.

  “You just up and drove there? By yourself? What the hell for?”

  She let out a mirthless laugh. “Did you not understand the texts?”

  “I understood them, but, Quinn, your family, your real family, is here in L.A., including me. We have that stupid fancy work dinner to go to tomorrow night, and you promised to be my plus one and hang all over me like I’m the best thing since streaming.”

  She actually pulled her phone away from her face and stared at it, nearly falling out the window in the process. “I don’t think you’re listening. I’m not Quinn Weller!”

  He sighed. “Babe, you are. You’re Quinn Weller to the bone.”

  “Don’t you get it? It’s like I’ve been living my life from chapter two of my own story! I missed chapter one entirely! And the prologue!”

  “You can’t let this derail you,” he said. “And if you’d waited until after that work party I’ve got to attend, I’d have gone with you.”

  No, he wouldn’t have. The only thing that Brock ever left L.A. for was work, and only when he had to. “Would you still feel this way if this was you and your parents we were talking about?” she asked. “And your adoption?”

  Brock laughed softly. “You mean Mr. and Mrs. Robot? I used to dream of being adopted.”

  She closed her eyes. “Yeah, well, I didn’t.”

  He sighed. “I know, Q. And I’m sorry, they should’ve told you, but it doesn’t change anything about who you are. It doesn’t. You’re still smart, funny, and . . . amazing.”

  That was sweet and she started to tell him so when he spoke again.

  “Now get your cute ass home,” he said. “I need you here.”

  “I’m not—” she started, but he was already gone, either dumped by her barely there service or because he’d disconnected.

  She’d started to pull herself back in the window where she was precariously perched, but she caught sight of a guy getting out of an old beater truck filled with tools parked right in front of the office. The maintenance guy. But hold the phone—she recognized the long denim-covered legs and the big old retriever.

  It was her mysterious panic-attack rescuer. “Hey,” she called down to him.

  He stopped on the curb beneath a lamppost and looked up at her, his expression shielded by the ambient lighting.

  “Hi,” she said, possibly never so happy to see someone in her life. “Remember me?”

  His lips quirked.

  Yep. He remembered her all right. “I’ve got a problem,” she said.

  His smile faded. “You okay?”

  She exhaled, feeling like an idiot. “There’s a big bug in my tub and the sink is dripping. Do you have time to help or are you off the clock?”

  He studied her for a beat. “I’ll grab some tools and be right up,” he finally said.

  She watched him stride off. Maybe she couldn’t find her feels, but apparently she could still appreciate a nice ass.

  Good to know.

  Five minutes later there was a simple, firm knock at her door. She opened it and stood back to let him in, but he remained on his side of the doorway, toolbox in hand.

  “I’m Mick Hennessey,” he said.

  Great, but she had no time for introductions. Bug in her tub! “Nice to formally meet you, Mick, but . . .” She pointed to the bathroom.

  With a mock salute, he ambled in there.

  Quinn remained right where she was, counting off the seconds while she heard nothing. “Did you get him?” she finally called out.

  “The bug?” he asked.

  “No, the president of the United States! Yes, the bug!”

  The only response was the sound of the toilet flushing and she panicked. “You squished him first, right?”

  Mick stuck his head out of the bathroom and flashed her a smile. “Worried he’s going to swim his way back up and bite you on the—”

  “No!” Yes . . .

  He vanished back into the bathroom. Quinn heard some other sounds that were hopefully related to him working on the sink. Unable to stop herself, she made her way over there and peered in. “Where’s your dog?”

  “Coop? With my mom. She lives here in town and made stew. Apparently, I don’t rate on the same scale as beef stew.” He was on his back, head and shoulders wedged beneath the sink, legs bent at the knees because he was longer than the bathroom. He wore a T-shirt advertising some pub in San Francisco named O’Riley’s, that had risen up, revealing his low-slung jeans and some impressive abs, including those V muscles that made women so stupid. “Can you fix it?” she asked.

  His hands looked confident working the wrench before he pulled his head from beneath the sink and sent her a slow smile.

  At the barely recognizable flutter low in Quinn’s belly, and also decidedly south of her belly, she froze in shock. She’d felt next to nothing for a very long time, but it hadn’t been so long that she couldn’t place this for what it was.

  Lust.

  She staggered out of the bathroom to get a grip. But there was no grip to be had. With no idea of what was happening, or why now, she moved to her suitcase on the bed just to keep herself busy. She’d come here to Wildstone on mindless adrenaline, not planning on staying past her tomorrow’s morning meeting.

  But suddenly she realized that what she really needed was time to process her new reality. Pulling her suitcase across the bed toward her, she entered the code to unlock it and . . . nothing happened. It wouldn’t open. She tried again.

  Still nothing.

 
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