Holiday wishes, p.3
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       Holiday Wishes, p.3

         Part #4.5 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
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  hard at making his brother happy.

  That night she watched from the sidelines as he ran the bachelor/bachelorette party like he’d been born a host, with natural charm and easy laughter.

  And the way the others clearly loved him . . . It made her happy to know that he’d made it, that he’d turned out okay and had so much love and light in his life.

  Just as it made her feel slightly alone and a little . . . sad. Because she didn’t have that. She had her mom. Her cousin Garrett McGrath. And a few good friends. But her relationships definitely seemed to fall a little short of what Sean had with this group of tight-knit family and friends.

  Sunday morning, she woke up before dawn. There was so much to do. She made breakfast, telling herself she was relieved it was check-out day. Soon, Sean would march out of her life again and she’d go to Cabo and forget him.

  Okay, so she’d never been able to forget him, but it was past time to learn.

  Chapter Three

  It was barely dawn when Sean sat up in his bed and looked at his phone’s notifications. “Shit.”

  The mound under the covers of the second bed moved. Groaned. Then Joe flopped to his back and gave Sean a bleary-eyed look. “Unless there are two really hot women at our door wanting to jump our bones, it’s way too early to be up.”

  “The storm worsened,” Sean said. “There’s flooding and mudslides up and down the entire state of California. The roads in and out of here are closed.”

  “Then why the hell are you waking me up?”

  “Because mudslides closed Finn and Pru’s wedding venue down. Indefinitely.”

  “Okay, that sucks,” Joe said on a wide yawn. “But I think the wedding panic can wait until daylight, yeah?” And without waiting for an answer, he rolled over and went back to sleep.

  Sean dressed and went down the hall, knocking on the first guest room he came to. Tina opened the door. The six-foot-plus dark-skinned goddess was in only a towel, damp from the shower. Behind her, he could see both beds, one tousled but empty, the other holding a sleeping Kylie.

  “What’s up, Sugar?” Tina asked. “I’m halfway through applying my mascara and it’s a process. I need to get back to it.”

  Sean repeated his spiel. “The storm worsened,” he said. “There’s mudslides everywhere between here and home. We’re not getting out for a while.”

  Tina smiled. “A few extra days away from the city and work? Love it.”

  “The wedding venue closed.”

  “Well damn,” Tina said. “But we’ll help Pru and Finn figure it out. Later, when I have all my lashes on.”

  Behind Tina, Kylie sat up, looking confused. Her hair was rioted all around her head as she narrowed her eyes at Sean. “Why are you interrupting my beauty sleep?”

  “The weather—”

  “—Sean,” she said, holding up a hand. “I love you. I do. But this bed’s amazing. In fact, I plan to marry the next guy that makes me feel even half as good as this bed does. So please go away.”

  Sean moved to the next door. Neither Archer nor Elle bothered to answer to his knock so he texted Archer.

  Sean: It’s me. Open up.

  Archer: Keep knocking and die. Painfully.

  Okay then. Since Archer wasn’t much of a joker, Sean kept moving. But at Spence and Colbie’s room, it was more of the same, although they at least answered the door. Both had clearly been otherwise preoccupied. Spence told Sean not to expect him and Colbie until much, much later.

  Giving up on riling anyone else up besides himself, Sean made his way downstairs. He sat at one of the three round dining room tables. The power had gone out again and stayed off this time, so the only light came from a few well-placed lanterns and candles. He checked his phone but nothing had changed.

  They were still screwed.

  In fact, most of Northern California was, and now also in a newly declared state of emergency. Overnight there’d been three inches of rain causing mudslides, sinkholes, and massive road closures. People couldn’t get out of Napa Valley. And they couldn’t get into Napa Valley—not that that mattered with the wedding venue closed down. It’d be months, their site said, before they recovered from the devastating mudslides and were operating again.

  “It’s a nightmare,” Finn said, plopping down next to him. He had a plate full of food from the sideboard buffet.

  Sean slid his gaze to his brother as he shoved in some French toast and bacon. “Real upset over it, are you?”

  “Devastated,” Finn said and craned his neck to eyeball the food platters. “Think we can go back up there for seconds?”

  “Are you serious?”

  “Yeah. The French toast’s amazing here. That innkeeper, Lotti? She’s incredible. She’s got a small generator and she used it to cook for us. Have you eaten yet?”

  “No,” Sean said. “I haven’t. Because I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to save your wedding. Where’s Pru?”

  “She and the girls are about to go have mimosas in the thankfully gas-powered hot tub.”

  Sean stared at him. “Does she know about the flooding and mudslides closing down her wedding venue?”

  “Yep.”

  “And she’s okay?”

  “No,” Finn said. “Which is why she’s inhaling alcohol at the asscrack of dawn. Listen, she’s trying to have a good attitude about this and so am I.” He shoved in more French toast. “She said as long as we’re in the same place with the people we love, that’s good enough. I have to believe her. She waited a long time for this and now there’s nothing else open all year. We might have to hit up the courthouse to tie the knot and throw a party. Whatever she wants.” Finn wolfed down the rest of his food and sighed, scrubbing a hand down his face, revealing his tension and stress.

  For years the guy had been taking care of Sean. When their parents had died, Sean had been a fourteen-year-old punk-ass kid, but Finn hadn’t hesitated. At twenty-one, he’d stepped into the role of mom and dad and brother, and for a lot of days also judge and jury and jailer.

  He’d never once failed Sean.

  But Sean had failed Finn. Way too many times to count. He owed Finn everything, including the fact that he was even still here to tell the tale, because there’d been more than a few times where his stupidity should’ve gotten him killed.

  And during that time, Finn hadn’t once given up on him. He hadn’t even let Sean see the strain it’d surely taken on his own life, taking care of a perpetually pissed-off-at-the-world teenager.

  But this, today . . . it was a strain. It was in the tightness of Finn’s shoulders and the grim set to his mouth.

  His older brother wasn’t okay.

  And Sean was going to have his back, no matter what. He clasped a hand on Finn’s shoulder. “I’m going to work this out for you guys,” he said.

  Finn smiled and shook his head. “Not your problem, man. Don’t worry about it.”

  Something Finn had been saying to Sean since day one. Don’t worry about it, I’ll handle it. And he had. No matter what Sean had thrown at him.

  Finn got to his feet.

  “Where are you going?” Sean asked.

  “To join my hopefully soon-to-be wife in the hot tub.”

  “Finn, we still have to check out of here this morning.”

  Finn shook his head. “You said it yourself, the roads are closed. We’re not going anywhere.”

  “Did anyone actually check in with Lotti about the fact that we have to extend our stay?”

  Finn stopped. “Shit. No.”

  “Don’t worry about it,” Sean said. “I’ll handle it.” And with that, he got up and moved out to the front room to deal with the problems for once.

  There was no sign of Lotti at the front desk so he walked around it and peered into her office, hitting the jackpot.

  Lotti was in the corner, sitting on top of a very overstuffed suitcase, bouncing up and down on it trying to get it closed while simultaneously listening to a call she had on
speaker.

  A female voice was saying “. . . I can’t believe you talked me into this, a cruise through the Greek islands with Aunt Judie, but we’re having a ball, honey. I just want you to remember your promise to me before I left, that you’re going to use your honeymoon tickets and go to Cabo. You need a breather from the past year, first losing your daddy and then breaking off your wedding—”

  “Mom.” Lotti closed her eyes. “I’m fine.”

  “Are you?”

  “Yes,” Lotti said firmly. “I mean, I did wake up this morning to realize I’m still not a billionaire rock star rocket scientist martial arts master, but hey, it could be worse, right?”

  “Honey. I worry about you. If you don’t leave your past in the past, it’ll destroy your future. You’ve got to live for what today’s offering, not for what yesterday took away from you.”

  “You sound like a Hallmark card.”

  “They don’t make cards for this, Lotti.”

  “I’m okay, Mom. Really,” Lotti said firmly. “Tell me about you.”

  “Well . . . are you ready for this? I’m wearing sunscreen and a very cute new dress that I couldn’t pair a bra with, and there’s a gentleman who keeps sending me drinks. I think I’m about to have a very good time.”

  “Be safe,” Lotti said softly. “Love you.”

  “Love you too!”

  Lotti tapped the screen of her phone and disconnected. Then she looked down at the suitcase beneath her and sighed before going back to bouncing on it to try to get it zipped. “Come on you, fu—”

  “Here,” Sean said, coming into the office to crouch in front of her, taking over possession of the zipper. “Let me.”

  Lotti had gone Bambi in the headlights. “Where did you come from?” she asked.

  “Well when a mommy and daddy love each other very much they—”

  “Were you eavesdropping?” she demanded, not amused.

  “No.”

  “So . . . you heard nothing?” she asked suspiciously. “Nothing at all?”

  He lifted his attention from the suitcase that was not going to zip and met her gaze.

  She searched his face and closed her eyes. “Dammit.”

  He put a hand on her leg. “I’m sorry—”

  “No. You don’t get to say that to me.”

  “I lost my dad too, Lotti. And my mom. No one understands how that feels except someone who’s been through it.”

  She chewed on that for a minute. Trying to get her emotions under control, he realized.

  “Are you also going to tell me that you’ve been dumped by a fiancé a week before your wedding?” she finally asked.

  “Well no, but—

  “No buts.” She shoved his hand from her. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

  “Lotti—”

  “Ever,” she said firmly. “New subject.”

  “Okay. How about the fact that there’s no way your suitcase is going to close.”

  “Dammit.” She hopped off the suitcase and kneeled in front of it, pulling out some of the clothes. “I tried to pack light. But it was hard to decide on what to wear . . .”

  “Depends on what you want to get out of the trip,” he said.

  She bit her lower lip and blushed, and he went brows up. “Ah,” he said. “You want to get laid.”

  “No,” she said but even her ears were deep red now.

  “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said.

  She met his eyes and then rolled hers. “Well gee, thanks for the permission.” She pulled something else from her suitcase and held it up to herself. A white strappy sundress. “Would this dress make you want me?”

  He had to laugh. “Lotti, when I first met you, you were in PE class wearing a baggy T-shirt and sweats and I wanted you.”

  “I’m being serious, Sean.”

  “So am I.”

  She shook her head. “Back then was a lot of years ago and I’m not that same skinny kid. Be honest, is the dress too much? I don’t want to look desperate, even though I am.”

  “The dress is perfect,” he said, not liking that she believed she needed the dress to attract a man. All she needed to do was lay those heart-stopping eyes on someone and it’d be over. All the rest; her smile, her brain, her bod . . . it was all gravy. “On second thought,” he said and snatched the sundress and tossed it aside.

  She snorted and tried again to get the zipper closed, bouncing up and down on the suitcase again. “Is this helping?”

  Sean tried not to watch her lovely breasts jiggle and failed. “Helps a lot.”

  She followed his gaze to her chest and snorted again. “You’re impossible.”

  He got the suitcase closed and rose to his feet to help her to hers. “Just trying to take your mind off your troubles.” And he meant that. He wanted to take her mind off the phone call, something he himself couldn’t do.

  She’d been left by her fiancé.

  Her dad had died.

  And she’d needed this Cabo getaway more than he’d known. “I’m sorry about today, Lotti.”

  Startled, her dark eyes met his. “What about it?”

  “Well, for starters, about us not checking out—”

  “Oh, you don’t have to check out,” she said. “It’s automatic. All you have to do is leave.”

  “Yeah, about that . . . Have you checked the news or weather?”

  She stared at him and then shook her head. “Not yet. I got sidetracked trying to get my suitcase closed.”

  “We can’t leave, Lotti.”

  “Sure you can,” she said. “You just get in your vehicle and go.” She gave him a little push toward the door for emphasis. “Okay, then. Thanks for coming, buh-bye . . .”

  But Sean wasn’t walking away. Not that this stopped her from trying to get him to. She put her hands on his chest and pushed again. It seemed to take her a second to realize that he wasn’t going to be moved. Finally, she went hands on hips and gave him a long look. “You’re leaving, and so am I. I’ve got big plans.”

  Yeah, he knew. Plans that had nearly involved the sexy white sundress he couldn’t get his mind off of.

  “I mean it,” she said. “I’m heading straight to the airport and Cabo. So if you’re about to give me any sort of news to the contrary, I don’t want to hear it.”

  She was spoiling for a fight, but he wasn’t going to give it to her, not with that vulnerable look on her face and his realization that she needed this get away so much more than he’d even realized. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I really am. But you need to bring up your flight app. Or your weather or news app.”

  She looked out the window where the rain and wind had actually died down for the time being. “Why? What don’t I know?”

  “The highways are closed.”

  Her head whipped back to face him. “What?”

  “Which means people can’t get out,” he said. “People like us. And you.”

  “No.”

  “Yes.”

 
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