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The Best Goodbye

Abbi Glines

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  To Heather Howell, for always making me laugh until my side hurts, having my back in all things, and coming along in my life when I needed someone as badass as you by my side. Love you lots, girl.


  Being short sucks. There was never a time in my life when I thought, Gee, being short is awesome. Not once. I could never reach things in high-up places. Which was what was happening now. I’d been sent by Elle to unpack the glasses and line them up on the shelves behind the bar, but I was struggling more than I cared to admit.

  I wasn’t a fan of the head server. She was gorgeous and mean, not to mention tall. She had no idea how hard it was for someone who was only five foot four to balance on a bar stool on her tiptoes with her hands full of glasses. Or maybe she did know, and she was doing this just to be cruel.

  Leaning forward, I slipped another glass safely into one of the slots built into the wall for just this purpose. The stool wobbled, and I stilled, holding my breath. Easing back slowly, I managed to keep my balance. Only two more boxes to unpack, I thought, wishing that each box didn’t hold ten glasses.

  “You break those glasses, and the cost comes out of your paycheck. I don’t have room in the budget for broken inventory,” a deep voice drawled behind me. I knew that voice. I didn’t hear it often, but when I did, it was usually annoyed with me.

  Once, it hadn’t been that way. Once, that voice had eased my fears, protected me, and given me a safe place to go. Now all I got were cold, detached words from him. I kept thinking the pain would ease up eventually. But it never did.

  Time had changed both of us. Instead of loving him until I was breathless, I just wanted to slap his handsome face and leave town.

  “Get down, Rose,” River ordered harshly. “Go do something useful. I’ll get someone who can manage this.”

  At least he remembered my name this time. Last week, he had referred to me as Rachel, Daisy, and Rhonda on three separate occasions. My constant corrections must have stuck. I got that the man had a restaurant full of new employees, and the stress of the grand opening in just two weeks’ time was weighing on him. But still. The boy I once knew had been kind, thoughtful, and a hero. My hero.

  At some point over the past ten years, River had changed his name to Captain and had become hard. Untouchable. Even his girlfriend, the oh-so-nice Elle, didn’t seem to have access to a softer side of River. The side I’d once known best. No one had that. I didn’t believe it existed anymore.

  “Elle told me to put the glasses away,” I said, jumping down from the stool and standing up as straight as I could. River was well over six foot two now, and he’d always towered over me. Even when we were sixteen.

  He didn’t comment on that. Instead, he nodded toward the kitchen. “Brad needs help with the cooking supplies that just came in. Go help him. I’ll find someone who isn’t vertically challenged to finish this.”

  My face flushed hot from embarrassment. It wasn’t like I’d messed up or broken anything. I had done just fine. I was doing the job slowly, but I was getting it done.

  “I’m fine. My height isn’t affecting my ability to do this job, if that’s what you mean,” I snapped at him.

  He didn’t even glance back at me as he sauntered toward the door. “We open in two weeks. I’d like the glasses to be up by then.” He walked out.

  “Jerk,” I muttered. I had a good mind to finish putting those glasses up myself anyway. But with my luck, I’d end up breaking an entire box of them. I couldn’t afford to lose this job. I had packed up my life and come down to Rosemary Beach, Florida, once I found out that this was where I could find River. I hadn’t thought past that. I had searched for him for years with no luck.

  This lead had been the first real one I’d had. So I’d taken it. Getting this job had been easier than I thought, and I needed it. This town wasn’t big, and it was hard to find employment. The house I’d found for rent was just outside the town limits—and it was tiny—but it was safe and affordable. That was all we needed.

  We were living in the guest house of one of the massive beach homes that lined the shore. The only resident in the main house was an elderly lady, Diana Baylor, who seemed thrilled to have us right outside her back door. It was a good fit for all of us.

  Without this job, I would have no reason to get close to River. And I had a mission. One I was no longer so sure of. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t doing this for me. My needs and desires had taken a backseat nine years ago when Ann Frances had entered the world and become my reason for living.

  The day Franny had turned five, she’d asked for one thing: to meet her father. Every year since then, that was all she ever asked for, on her birthday and on Christmas Day, without fail. She wanted to know her dad like her friends knew theirs. I’d made excuses and tried to compensate for the fact that she only had me. But then I had begun looking for the boy I had loved so much, then one I’d sacrificed everything for to keep him safe.

  Looking back, I wondered if my sacrifice was a mistake. Franny’s plea to meet her father made me feel I’d failed her while trying to save River. But I’d been a kid myself then, with choices to make that affected the only people in the world I loved.

  “Are you going to finish the job I gave you or stand there and do nothing?” Elle’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts. Her long dark hair was draped over her shoulders, and those catlike green eyes of hers glared at me. I wasn’t sure why she had decided to hate me, but she had.

  “Captain told me to stop and help Brad in the kitchen,” I replied, trying not to let my dislike for her lace through my tone. If she complained to River, I was sure he’d fire me.

  Elle was one of the biggest obstacles to my plan. I didn’t want anyone so vicious in Franny’s world. As much as my daughter wanted to know her father, I had to decide if that man was worthy of Franny. Sadly, I’d found after two weeks of working for him that he wasn’t exactly measuring up. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to fulfill my daughter’s one request.

  “Fine. Then go. You’re wasting time. We have things to do,” she ordered, pointing toward the kitchen as if I didn’t know where it was.

  With a sharp nod, I headed that way. No reason to stay in her presence any longer than necessary.


  Nothing was running on schedule. We should have been closer to opening than we were, but I’d waited too long to hire the full staff. That mistake was on me. But now I was beginning to question my choice of employees. Fixing what was wrong with a restaurant was one thing; opening a whole new joint was another. This wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I was questioning how much effort I wanted to pour into this place.

  I was done with my past, but facing the future wasn’t proving to be easy or promising. Maybe I needed a new direction. Once this place was up and running, I’d leave it in someone else’s hands to operate and go find a fishing town somewhere with a bar on a pier that I could buy. Running a bar for a bunch of local fishermen seemed more my speed.

  Getting this place open and running successfully had to happen first. Not just because I owed it to Arthur Stout, the owner, but because I always finished what I started. What Arthur was paying me would allow me to find that bar on a pier so I could finally enjoy the easy life.

  “We need to fire that redhead. She’s not cut out for this,” Elle announced, as she walked into my office.

  I did
n’t have to ask her who she was referring to; I already knew. Rose Henderson was petite, with curves that could stop traffic and the face of an angel. The cute pair of glasses she wore didn’t hinder her looks, either; they just made her eyes stand out. That only made Elle hate her more. She didn’t like competition, and I could tell she saw Rose as a threat. Not because I’d given her any reason but because every male who worked here clearly noticed Rose. She was hard to miss.

  “Which redhead would that be?” I asked, not looking up from my unfilled orders.

  “The short one. The one who can’t do shit. I told her to put those bar glasses away, and she complained to you. I’m head server, Captain. She can’t go over my head.”

  I’d hired Elle as head server because she’d come highly recommended by someone Arthur trusted. I agreed to it soon after meeting and interviewing her. Fucking her in my office the next day hadn’t been planned, but she’d come on to me hard, and she was hot. I didn’t see an issue with it. I liked tall, willowy women. She fit the bill. But she also confused the fact that she was sleeping in my bed with having some kind of control over me, and I needed to fix that.

  “We didn’t hire Rose, Elle. I did. And we won’t be firing anyone. She didn’t go over your head. She couldn’t reach the shelves. She was going to fall and break something. I gave her something else to do.”

  Although I wasn’t looking up at her, I could feel her frustration building. She didn’t like my answer. Elle had a bit of a control problem. But she gave excellent head.

  “I don’t want her here.” She pouted.

  Finally, I looked up at her. She had her full lips puckered out like she was going to cry. It would have looked ridiculous, but she knew how to pull it off in just the right way. Pushing back from the table, I patted my thigh. “Come here, Elle,” I demanded, keeping my face serious.

  She moved slowly around my desk, slipping her bottom lip between her teeth. Excitement flared in her eyes. That was the one thing I could count on. If I needed to calm Elle down, sex would do it.

  “If you want to use that sexy mouth to turn me on, then you need to use it to get me off,” I told her when she stopped in front of me.

  “Where do you want me?” she asked breathlessly.

  “On your knees,” I ordered. She went down quickly and began to unbuckle my pants.

  I wrapped a strand of her dark hair around my finger and let the silky texture tease me while she tugged my jeans down, then my boxers, until my cock was in her hands.

  “As far down your throat as you can take it,” I told her, as I started caressing her exposed neck.

  She made a whimpering sound that went straight to my dick. Bending her head, she pulled me into her mouth like a fucking vacuum, and I tilted my head back and groaned. I needed this today. Best stress reliever there was.

  “That’s it, baby, suck it hard,” I encouraged her, placing a hand on the back of her head and pushing her gently so that I slid farther down her throat.

  The gagging noise only made me hotter. I loved it when she choked around my dick.

  “Good girl. So fucking good.” I praised her, knowing she’d only get better with the praise. “Suck that dick. Deeper, baby. So good.”

  A knock on my office door caused her to freeze, but I held her head still so she couldn’t pull away.

  “I’m busy. Go away,” I called out.

  When the person said nothing, I patted her head for her to finish. Which she did.

  • • •

  An hour after Elle left my office, I headed to the kitchen to see if Brad had gotten everything in his order. My stress levels were down, and Elle seemed more secure and less anxious to get rid of Rose. Reminding Elle that she was the one I was fucking had done wonders for her attitude.

  Laughter was the first thing I heard when I walked into the kitchen, Brad’s deep chuckle followed by a feminine one. I followed the sound to the back of the kitchen and found Brad covered in what looked like flour, while Rose held her stomach and laughed to the point of breathlessness. Rose turned to look at me.

  A tightness in my chest hit me as her eyes danced with laughter. The clear blue of them was familiar, but it was more than that. It was as if I’d seen her laugh before. Heard her laugh. Watching her made my chest ache in a way that didn’t make sense. As if I . . . missed her. But I didn’t even know her.

  All too soon, her smile fell, and she wiped away the tears that had formed from laughing so hard. She shifted her gaze to Brad. I made her nervous, but then I’d never been nice to her, exactly. She was just an employee I’d hired. I’d be leaving soon enough. I wasn’t here to make friends.

  “Sorry, boss. I was reaching for a box on that shelf over there, and a bag of flour fell over, and, well, you can see what happened,” Brad explained, still chuckling. I tore my gaze from Rose and looked at Brad. He winked at her and began a futile attempt to dust the flour off. He needed a shower. I wouldn’t mind if he put some distance between himself and Rose.


  Franny’s blond curls bounced as she ran from the edge of the water toward me. Mrs. Baylor sat under an oak tree with a fruity drink in her hand and a wide-brimmed straw hat on her head. The two of them had bonded, and Mrs. Baylor had offered to watch Franny while I worked. She said it gave her something to do and someone to spend time with.

  Franny had never had any kind of grandparent in her life, but she wanted a family. It was something she’d always noticed about other kids—the way they were surrounded by a mom, a dad, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles—and she longed for the same thing. But it was the one thing I couldn’t give her, because I hadn’t had a family, either. As a foster child from the time I was five years old until I ran away at sixteen, I only had one person in my life whom I considered family. The only family Franny had, too: River.

  She had my hair, or at least my natural color, and my eyes, and bless her heart, she seemed to have inherited my short stature, too. The only thing about her that wasn’t a complete replica of me was her complexion. I was fair, while Franny turned a golden brown from being out in the sun, even for just a little while. She got that from her father. She also had his sense of humor and his smile. But those were things only a mother would notice. To everyone else, she was just like me.

  “I caught a fish, Mommy! A real live fish. Except I had to take the hook out of its mouth and throw it back before it died. I didn’t want to kill it. I hope the hook didn’t hurt it too badly. Mrs. Diana said it was OK. Fish are supposed to be eaten, but I wanted it to find its family. They could have been missing her.”

  Franny hardly took a breath in her long explanation, then she threw her arms around my waist and hugged me tightly. “I missed you today, but we had fun. We made chocolate fudge brownies.”

  I bent down to kiss the top of her head and turned to look over at Mrs. Baylor. She smiled warmly and stood up. The long strapless dress she wore danced in the wind around her legs as she walked toward us. She always looked so put together and glamorous.

  “How was work today, Rose?” she asked.

  “Good, thank you,” I replied, smiling. “I hear the two of you had a full day of fun.”

  Mrs. Baylor grinned at Franny fondly. “This one makes the days brighter. But a fisherman she is not.”

  Franny giggled and tugged on my hand. “Let’s go inside and have some brownies and milk.”

  “Yes, let’s all spoil our dinner with the decadence of chocolate fudge,” Mrs. Baylor agreed, gesturing toward the main house. She never seemed anxious for us to go back to our own cottage. I wondered if she was going to miss Franny once school started next week. They had gotten so close. At least I knew that when Franny got off the school bus every day, she’d have a treat and a hug waiting for her.

  It made everything so much easier. I had struggled with the decision to leave Oklahoma, where we were settled in and safe. Franny had friends there, and my job as the secretary at her school had kept me close to her. Moving here had been
a major leap for us, but I had done it for Franny. And deep down, I had done it for River.

  I didn’t want to regret this decision, although the more I saw of River, the more I wished we had stayed in Oklahoma.

  Fourteen years ago

  Another foster home. I didn’t get attached to any of them. I’d stopped wishing for a family years ago. Now I just hoped that no one would hurt me and that I’d get fed every day. Because I knew what being hurt and not getting fed felt like.

  Cora stood beside me, with her hard frown and tense stance. She didn’t expect me to last here, either. We had been through this before. I’d been moved from home to home over the past eight years, ever since my mother had left me in a grocery-store parking lot. Cora Harper was my social worker and had been in charge of placing me in each new home.

  “You be good here, Addison. Don’t argue with them. Don’t complain. When you’re told to do something, then do it. Get good grades, and no fighting in school. This home could be the one for you. They want a daughter. You just have to be good.”

  I was always good. At least, I tried to be. I didn’t argue. I asked for food when my stomach hurt because I was hungry, and I only got into a fight that one time at school because the other girl had pushed me down and called me names. I tried my best to be good. I just realized that my best wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t hope it would be different here.

  “Yes, ma’am,” I replied politely.

  Cora glanced down at me and let out a small sigh. “You’re a beautiful child. If you’d just act right, you’d find a home you could stay in.”

  I had the urge to tell her that I did act right. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I bit it back and only nodded. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied again.

  I followed Cora up the steps to the pretty yellow house with a big white porch wrapped around it. I liked the look of this place. The other houses I had lived in didn’t look anything like this. They were usually old and smelled funny.