The Best Goodbye, Page 2Abbi Glines
Before Cora could knock on the door, it opened slowly. A tall boy stood there. He had blond hair that was a little too long and shaggy. His green eyes went from Cora to me. Then he frowned. I had never really seen a boy I thought was beautiful until now, and he was frowning at me. I hadn’t even messed up yet.
“You’re little. Thought you were my age,” he said, staring at me.
I hated being called short. Everyone talked about me being small for my age. I got teased about it at school enough. Straightening my shoulders, I tried to stand taller. “Maybe you’re just too tall,” I snapped in response.
Cora’s hand wrapped around my shoulder, and she squeezed so hard I winced. Her long nails bit into my skin, reminding me that I had to make this work. If I didn’t, I would be taken to a girls’ home next, and I knew the nightmares that happened there. I’d heard stories.
“Sorry,” I murmured through the pain in my shoulder, where Cora hadn’t let go of me.
“Let her go. You’re hurting her,” the boy said angrily, jerking my attention back up to his handsome face. He was glaring at Cora like he was ready to remove her hand himself. “Jesus, she’s tiny. You don’t have to squeeze the hell out of her,” he said, scowling.
“River Kipling! Watch your language,” a voice called out, just before the figure of the woman who would become my worst enemy filled the doorway.
My eyes flew open, and I threw off the blanket, bolting up and sliding to the edge of the bed before taking a deep breath. I was covered in cold sweat, and my heart was still pounding. This dream was one I knew well, but it had been a while since I’d had it. From the time I was sixteen, I’d been fighting one demon—the one that tore my heart out and never gave it back again.
Fucking death. I had killed men. So many men. Men who deserved to die. Men who had abused children. Men who didn’t belong on this earth. With each one, I was saving her. The one I had failed. The one I hadn’t been able to save. I had tried to conquer that horror in so many ways, yet ten years later, I still dreamed about her. On other nights, I dreamed about how I had lost her. How I hadn’t been strong enough to save her. Screwing my eyes shut, I inhaled deeply and buried my face in my hands. Each breath burned, and my chest cracked open.
Addy’s beautiful face looking up at me, smiling, while her blond hair danced around her in the wind. The image made me feel complete, but it was just a tease. A sweet memory. One of the last memories I had of her. But the dream always turned so quickly. Blood everywhere. Addy in a pool of it, and all I could see was her. The woman who had raised me laughing as she watched Addy die. I screamed each time, but I was unable to get near her. I was frozen. Unable to save her in the dream or even to hold her.
She had been my soul mate. My other half. Even when we were kids, I had known she was the best friend I’d ever have. It hadn’t taken long for me to realize I loved her. Once, I feared I loved her too much.
Thinking about Addy hurt more than I could describe. I kept waiting for it to ease, for the day when I would be able to think of our time together with a smile. But I knew I’d never do that. She had lost her life because of me. So beautiful and delicate. All I had ever wanted to do was protect her and hold her close.
I had to shake this before I went to work. It had been months since I’d dreamed of Addy. Usually, it was because something spurred a memory. I wasn’t sure what it was this time. Why she was back in my dreams, which so often turned into nightmares. But something was making me think of her.
It wasn’t Elle. That much I was sure of. I was careful never to date anyone who reminded me of Addy. Blondes and petite women were off my radar. I had tried that once, and the memories had hit me so hard I almost broke down and went for professional help. Memories of her had been killing me slowly, for a while. Making me wish I’d gone with her. Life seemed pointless without her smile.
But I was tougher than that, and I had found a way to live.
Even if that way had been to take the lives of others. My past wasn’t something I regretted, though. I had done what needed to be done to save myself and stop perverts from hurting other children. It wasn’t legal, but I wasn’t one to give a shit about the law.
I got up and went to take a shower and find a way to push the memories back into the recesses of my mind.
Two hours later, when I walked into my office, Major Colt was sitting on the sofa across from my desk, with that ever-present smirk on his face. If the guy wasn’t so good at what he did, I wouldn’t have hooked him up with Benedetto DeCarlo. Anyone who could pull off that easygoing playboy facade and kill people for cash in his spare time was impressive. I appeared to be what I was: an asshole. I didn’t have his charm. I didn’t fucking want it, either.
“Why you here, Colt?” I asked, tossing my keys onto the desk.
“Seems my next target is attached to someone around here. So I get to have a little Rosemary Beach fun while working. You seen the legs on some of these babes?”
I couldn’t imagine why Benedetto would send him to Rosemary Beach. Unless it wasn’t Benedetto. Lately, he was giving more and more power to the man he was grooming to take over: Cope. No one knew the guy’s last name. We just knew he was in charge. And no one argued with him.
“Cope send you?” I asked.
“Yep. He’s the only one I deal with now. DeCarlo doesn’t call the shots much anymore. He leaves it up to Cope.”
I suspected I was the only one Benedetto still dealt with personally. He was the closest thing I’d had to a father figure in my life. He’d grabbed me when I was a scared kid and given me a purpose.
“Don’t piss him off,” I warned Colt. I’d seen Cope kill just because he could. And that shit was scary. The dude didn’t ask questions; he just finished the game and left. It was what someone like Benedetto had to do—but not me. I agreed to one thing only: I’d take them out if they deserved it. Not in the eyes of the law but in the eyes of me. That was all that mattered to me. If I thought I was saving someone who needed it, then I pulled the trigger.
Major chuckled. “Yeah, I got you. He’s the king of badass.”
He was more than that, but Major would figure that out soon enough.
“I’ve got work to do, Colt. You got a point to this?”
Major stood up and shrugged. “Naw, just wanted to say hi and I’m here for a while.”
Great. Fantastic. Shit.
A knock on the door turned my attention away from Major. “Come in,” I called out, hoping it wasn’t more bullshit this early in the morning.
Those glasses caught my attention first. Her laughter from yesterday came back to me, and my stomach clenched. Had she been what made the nightmare come back? I fucking hoped not. I didn’t want to fire her over this. But I couldn’t work with her if she was going to raise my demons.
“Can I help you?” I asked, trying not to get flustered by the sight of her.
She glanced nervously at Major and then back to me. “My daughter’s sick. She woke up with a fever this morning, and the caregiver I have for her is an elderly lady. I can’t expect her to expose herself to whatever Franny has. I also need to take Franny to see a doctor.”
Relief that I wouldn’t have to see her today washed over me. “How long you think this’ll take?”
Her entire body tensed up, and it was as if she was physically trying to restrain herself from snapping at me for my callous response. I almost grinned.
“Hopefully, I’ll get a prescription from the doctor for her, and she’ll be well enough for me to come in tomorrow,” she said, in a tone that communicated exactly what her body was trying not to say. She was pissed at me.
“Kid doesn’t have a father?” I replied, wanting to see her snap for some insane reason.
But instead of her getting defensive and smarting off at me, her face went pale. I heard Major mutter a curse word that I knew was meant for me. Fuck, was the kid’s father dead or something? Damn my stupid mouth.
“I don’t th
ink so . . . no,” she replied in a whisper, before stepping back and closing the door.
“You’re a Grade A asshole,” Major mumbled, sounding irritated. “She looks like a sweet thing. A very sexy sweet thing. And she’s a single mom.”
He was right, so I didn’t argue. I owed her an apology.
Strep throat. This wasn’t going to be better in twenty-four hours. I would need to stay home with Franny for two days, at the very least, before the antibiotics did their job well enough for me to return to work. However, letting my boss know that made me want to cringe.
River’s—no, Captain’s—words had been it for me. There was no reason for us to stay. I couldn’t say this was a mistake. At least I knew what had become of the boy I had carried around in my heart for all these years. I wasn’t depriving Franny of a good father. Captain was an asshole. She didn’t need to know him. Besides, I wondered if he’d even believe me. I couldn’t take that from him. This was enough.
I peeked into the bedroom we shared, and Franny was sleeping peacefully, thanks to the medicine they’d given her. I collected the cup of melted ice beside the bed, before tiptoeing back out of the room. Calling Captain was next on my list. If he gave me a hard time about it, then I’d just quit before he could fire me. There were other jobs to be had in this town. I could get one of them until we had enough money saved up to move yet again.
Taking care of us was what I did, and I was good at it. This would not end in regret. This was simply a door that I could finally close so I could move on. The guilt I felt about dating other guys wouldn’t haunt me any longer. I wouldn’t see River’s face smiling at me every time a guy asked me out. From now on, I would say yes if I liked the guy. I wouldn’t live with self-blame and guilt another day.
I went outside to make the call so I wouldn’t wake Franny. If I was lucky, I’d get Elle, and she’d handle it incorrectly. Then I could just quit. Easy.
“Hello?” Captain’s deep voice vibrated over the phone. I hated the fact that I liked his stupid voice.
“Captain, this is Rose. My daughter has strep throat, and I’m going to need to stay with her for two days.” I blurted it out quickly and then tensed, ready for his response.
“OK, yeah. Take however long you need,” he replied.
I forgot to breathe a moment and stood there with my mouth hanging open. Had I heard the man correctly?
“And about my comment today,” he said. “I’m sorry. It was rude and shitty. I shouldn’t have asked you that. I respect the fact that you’re a hardworking single mom.”
Words I had been ready to shout at him all but evaporated as I stood in silent awe at what I was hearing.
“You there?” he asked. I managed to nod my head, although he couldn’t see that.
Swallowing, I opened my mouth again and managed to squeak out, “Thank you.”
Captain let out a heavy sigh and waited a moment.
Was he waiting for me to say more? He’d shocked me. I didn’t know what to say.
“Just give me a call when you know you can come back in. We’ll manage without you while you take care of your daughter,” he said, before ending the call. He didn’t wait for me to say more, but I figured he had given up on me replying.
I held the phone in my hand and stared at it blankly. Had that really just happened?
“Mommy,” Franny called from inside. I hurried back to her. I’d figure out Captain’s motives later.
Fourteen years ago
“You like to eat, don’t you?” he drawled, with an amused grin, from across the table.
If he wasn’t so nice to look at, I’d ignore him, but I liked seeing him smile. Even if he was teasing me. My cheeks felt warm with embarrassment for inhaling my food so quickly. I never knew when food was going to stop coming. As long as full plates were set in front of me, I intended to enjoy them.
I just nodded my reply.
“They won’t stop feeding you,” he assured me, as if he’d read my mind.
This kid, who had been given this life, didn’t know what it was like to be hungry. I did. I also knew that good things didn’t last. You had to soak it up as it was happening.
“I kinda thought they might eat with us tonight, but Dad didn’t come home in time for dinner. Mom’s off pouting. This happens a lot. You’ll get used to it.”
I put another forkful of mashed potatoes into my mouth. As long as they fed me, I didn’t care where they ate.
“You aren’t a big talker.”
I swallowed and put down my fork.
He was nice enough, although he liked teasing me. Maybe we could be friends while I stayed here, if I gave him a chance to get to know me.
“I like the chicken,” I finally said, because I wasn’t sure what else to say.
His face went from a grin to a full-blown smile, and he started laughing. My face burned this time, and he started shaking his head while he laughed. “No, that’s”—he let loose another cackle of laughter—“that’s good. I’m glad you like the chicken, Addison.”
“It’s Addy,” I replied in a whisper.
He went silent and leaned in closer. “What did you say?”
I pushed my embarrassment away and met his gaze. “My name is Addy.”
The corners of his mouth lifted, and the green of his eyes sparkled. “I like that. Addy.”
“Thanks. Me, too. Addison’s too long and sounds old.”
His smile stayed in place, and he shrugged. “I don’t think it sounds old, but Addy fits you.”
“My mom called me Addy,” I admitted, surprising myself. I’d never talked about her.
“What happened to your mom?”
I wanted to tell him. I never wanted to tell anyone, but I wanted to tell this boy. “She left me a long time ago . . . in a grocery-store parking lot . . .”
When my office door opened without a knock, I assumed it was Elle. She continued to confuse our having a sex life with her having some kind of power around here. “Knock next time,” I snapped without looking up. She’d pout, and I wasn’t in the mood.
“My hands were full with your coffee. I intercepted that tall, dark-haired girl you keep bringing around,” Blaire replied.
I jerked my gaze up to see my sister standing in the doorway with a smirk and a cup of coffee.
“But I’m thinking with that attitude, I might keep this coffee for myself.”
I had only met my sister a few years ago. I hadn’t even known she existed until my biological father came and found me. But from the moment we met, she’d gone out of her way to make sure we became a family. And she’d succeeded. Blaire Finlay was hard to say no to.
“I’m sorry. I thought you were Elle,” I explained.
Understanding lit her eyes, so similar to my own, as she walked over and set the cup on my desk. “In that case, I completely understand. She’s annoying.” Leave it to Blaire to be blunt. She always said what she was thinking.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” I asked, taking my coffee and leaning back to study my sister, who was making herself comfortable in the chair across from my desk.
“Just missed you. I thought your moving to Rosemary Beach meant we would see each other more often, but you work all the time. I was complaining this morning, and Rush suggested I come see you and invite you over for dinner.”
Rush Finlay was her husband and the son of the drummer of the world’s most renowned rock band, Slacker Demon. They’d started releasing number one hits twenty years ago and were still at it. The world Rush came from was very different from Blaire’s, but they worked together. He worshipped the ground she walked on and was a surprisingly great dad to their son.
“This place has consumed every last second. This is my first time actually starting up a restaurant, and it’s more than I bargained for.”
Blaire tilted her head, and her pale blond hair fell over one shoulder. “So is this a no to dinner?”
I was busy, but I knew
if I told her no, she’d be sad, and I’d feel like shit. Then I’d get another visit today. From Rush. That visit wouldn’t be friendly at all. I relented. “I’ll be there. Tell me when.”
She beamed at me, and I figured making her smile like that was worth finding the time to hang out with her family. “Great! How about tomorrow night?” she asked, clapping her hands together as if I’d just given her the best news ever.
“I can do tomorrow night.”
“Perfect. Seven o’clock. And don’t bring that girl. You can bring someone if you want, just not her. Or I can invite a friend or something . . .” She trailed off. I didn’t know any of Blaire’s friends who might be single, but I wasn’t about to trust her not to try to set me up.
“I won’t bring Elle, but I don’t want you to invite anyone else, either. It’ll just be a family thing.”
Blaire smiled as she stood, and something about that smile made me nervous. Her mind was already spinning. Dammit. “I’ll see you then,” she said. “Don’t overdo it. The place looks great, and I’m sure it’ll be a success. Just take some time for yourself.”
I nodded. In my entire life, only one other person had ever cared enough to give me these pointless little talks. I shoved the memory of her away. I was already dreaming about Addy again; I couldn’t let her into my daily life, too.
“Got it,” I assured her, just so she’d stop with the caring and leave. I didn’t want her to care. Not when I was so raw emotionally.
“Tomorrow night, then,” she repeated, as if I was going to forget. Then she left.
I took a long drink of my coffee and let it burn all the way down. There was paperwork to do and calls to make.
Moments after the door closed behind Blaire, someone knocked. Biting back a curse, I looked up. “Come in,” I said, louder than necessary.
It slowly opened, and Rose’s face peeked inside. “Sorry if I’m interrupting you. I just . . . I wanted to let you know I’m back and to thank you for understanding about Franny being sick. I’ll work extra hours the rest of the week.”