This morning came too early. The sun isn’t up yet, but I’m already in the shower. Even Hope, thankfully, is still asleep. I might actually not smell like a mommy today. Not that anyone will get close enough to smell me, but I’d rather not chance it.
The sunrise this morning was beautiful. Not a cloud in the perfectly blue sky, as streaks of pinks and oranges raced across the horizon, saying good morning to the moon that was just fading beyond the ocean, when I stepped into my shower. Setting a stunning stage for a magical day. I hope it’s a good sign.
It’s a big day. My brother, Beckett, is getting married today. He found the perfect woman for him. Aubrey is caring, funny, private and so like Beckett. I’m happy for them. They’ve been through so much lately, they deserve to have some happiness.
I know a good part of their trouble is because of me. When I decided to show up here a few months ago, I brought all my baggage with me. Because of that, Aubrey never would have been hurt, her dog, Lump, wouldn’t have been stabbed, and they wouldn’t have lost their baby. If Fitz hadn’t come looking for me, they never would have had trouble. I carry a lot of blame for what’s happened.
Not that Beckett or Aubrey blame me. They don’t. I shoulder the blame all by myself. But selfishly I don’t want to be anywhere else. I enjoyed my solitude at the beach house. At the time, I needed it, to lick my bruised ego and put myself back together. It was a stepping stone to where I am today.
There’s good things that have happened too. The Inn that Georgia bought is finally finished. With the wedding today, it will open and I know it will be a huge success. Everyone in the town has been talking about it. And I get to be a part of it as the Innkeeper of Inn Moss Bluff.
I’m excited about this move. I’ve got a beautiful house thanks to Beckett and his friends, I’ve got a job I’m excited about, a family that is happy to include me and I’ve made new friends in Aubrey and her friend, Brynn. Beckett’s crew that he works with now Cole, Ethan, and Leo have also taken me under wing.
Leo has been wonderful helping me get settled in. He’s done everything without so much as a blink of his gorgeous eyes. I know Georgia asked him to make me feel welcome. He’s done that and more. I don’t expect him to continue keeping an eye on us. I’m sure he has plenty of women waiting for his attention.
I’m not looking for anything like that anyway. My priority is Hope. My little girl is growing so fast. I can’t believe that in just a few months, she’s going to be a year old. Time has flown by. She was the main reason I agreed to move here. I want her to have what I didn’t. A stable home, family surrounding her, who loves her, and a future with that support behind her.
Beckett and Aubrey are a big part of that. They accepted us without a question of why I was hiding. They stood for me when Fitz decided to go mental on us. And they want us here, with Georgia reminding me of something I tend to forget: family matters.
I only hope today goes smoothly. Last week, when the family came back to help Beckett out after the fire, they got a good idea of who was behind it. Aubrey is sure she even saw the person watching us at Georgia’s house. It scares me to think someone is watching us this way. It reminds me of what happened to Laney in college.
I met her that last year of school. Laney was a foreign exchange student from Ireland, she still has the most beautiful accent. She needed a place to stay for the school year and I offered my dorm. It’s strange how everything worked out. Laney is now married to Breyden, The Playmaker from school and now Georgia’s step son. Somehow we all became Bradford’s, one way or another.
Except for Fitz. He’s just lost. He burned his bridge with Breyden and Cameron. His sister, Regan, Cam’s wife, has also lost hope. No one blames me for leaving and keeping Hope from him. Laney and Regan understand why I did it. Even if Beckett thinks I should have told Fitz sooner, he understands why I won’t let him into our lives.
Still I feel guilty. I offered to help Fitz. Pay for his rehabilitation, get him healthy and on the right track. I didn’t do it because of the guilt. I did it for Hope. So one day if she wants to know who her father is, she can see he’s someone she can be proud of. So that she can hold her head high and like the person he is. And if she can’t both of us will know it’s not because of something we did. If he fails it’s not on our shoulders.
Coming out of the bathroom, rubbing the towel over my wet dark hair I’ve chopped off to a chin length bob, I look over at the crib and see my baby girl sitting up watching me. Nine months old and she’s sitting up and raring to crawl all over the place. She’ll be trying to escape the confines of the crib soon.
“Good morning, sunshine!” I smile, wrapping my hair into the towel and twisting it up on my head.
My little bundle kicks her legs in the air, before rolling over and begins doing her rocking motion on her hands and knees. I have a feeling once she starts walking, I’ll be running to catch up with her.
Scooping her up out of the crib, I kiss her face and blow raspberries on her belly making her giggle and kick even more. At least none of the drama that has stressed out the family has affected her. She’s still the happiest baby I’ve ever seen.
Settling her into the bouncer, I’ve set up in my room, I go into the bathroom and with my eye on her in the mirror, I begin pulling myself somewhat together. A little makeup for the moment and a quick blow dry and I’ll get us over to the Inn.
I can set up Hope in the portable crib over there, and feed her while I wait. I’ll need to open up the Inn for Mia, the florist, and Brynn, who is catering, to start setting up. The makeup and hair people that Georgia has called in won’t be there until afternoon.
Brushing on a bit of foundation and a couple strokes of mascara is enough for now. Enough so I don’t look like a zombie bridesmaid. Just as I reach for my hair dryer, when there’s a faint knock on the front door. “Well, someone else is up early this morning, huh? Let’s go see who it is.”
Grabbing my fluffy green robe from the back of the door, I toss the towel from my hair into the hamper. Tying the sash of my robe, I scoop up my little girl. We hurried down the stairs and opened the door.
“Oh! Hi!” Gripping the top of my robe, I squeeze the fuzzy material in my fist, making sure I’m covered. I wasn’t expecting him.
Hope sees our visitor and immediately stretches out of my arms for her favorite guy. Laughing at her, Leo slips his hands around her and pulls her from my arms, he settles my girl on his hip. He pays her close attention as she babbles happily in his arms. Lucky little bugger.
“Really? You’ve had a busy morning, sunshine. Morning, Quinn. I thought you might like some breakfast.” He offers, holding up a brown bag and shaking it. “It’s gonna be a busy day for all of us. I stopped by the diner earlier to help Brynn get going, she had breakfast quiches ready for everyone. I brought you some.”
“Oh, thank you.” Stepping back to allow him in, I take the offered bag, smelling the tasty goodness inside. “I, um, was just getting ready to head over to the Inn. I know Mia and Brynn need to get in early.”
“Don’t rush. Cole is over there already. He figured he could help Mia out. And from what Blake said an hour ago, he’ll have Beckett over there shortly. Georgia wanted breakfast with her boys before they started over.” Leo fills me in as he sets Hope in her high chair and goes to the refrigerator for a bottle.
He gives her the bottle and heads to the counter for the coffee I made earlier. Pouring two mugs, he doctors one and pushes it my way before fixing his own.
Why hasn’t someone scooped him up?
“Brynn had Aubrey with her last night and dropped her off at Paige’s this morning. Paige is spending the morning with them getting a massage Georgia arranged for them, I guess. They’ll meet you at at the Inn at
Noon and the rest is on you to get you girls all sassed up.” Leo is well informed.
I know the fire last week put a huge damper on everything. Georgia, of course, is a force you don’t mess with. She got all the balls rolling and in no time had everything right back on schedule. Nothing is going to stop this wedding, not if she has something to say about it.
I wonder if the person who set the fire is still around here. Nothing else has happened and I know Aubrey and Beckett are worried. I just don’t understand why anyone would be so destructive. It's not like Aubrey and Beckett are hurting anyone. It makes no sense.
But then the suspect list isn’t long. There’s the mayor’s daughter, Lindsey. She’s top of the list after everything she has done. And Fitz, he threatened Beckett the same night of the fire. We suspected Aubrey’s Dad too, but Georgia swears he was in jail at the time. There’s only one other person Beckett is worried about. Sadie, our mom.
Of all of those people, she is the one I wouldn’t put it past. She’s got a mean streak and a lust for vengeance against the Bradford’s a mile long. I know from experience Sadie would do something like this. That’s what scares me.
I feel a little out of it suddenly. Worrying again about this. What if she is the person who did this and comes after Hope? What if she takes my baby? I know Beckett would protect us. And Leo, he’s been protecting us since Fitz came to town. He’s been so great with both of us.
Leo knows what Hope needs, he pays attention to her, adores her really and acts like this is all normal. Why don’t I feel like that? What’s wrong with me, that I feel like Leo is wasting his time on us? Like he can do better? I know my baby girl is absolutely perfect. It’s not her, it’s me.
“Quinn? Are you okay?” Leo gets my attention standing in front of me but doesn’t touch me. He keeps his eye on Hope while checking on me.
Yikes, once again I’m flaking on him. Why would he want to spend time with me when I act like such a fool?
“I think I’m still waking up. Sorry. What did you say?” I have to stop this.
“I said I’ll stay with Hope so you can get ready. I don’t mind having another quiche, if you don’t mind sharing?” Leo winks at me, frazzling my brain more than it is.
“Oh, okay. I’ll be fast.” I step back as Leo digs into the bags and pulls out a delicious looking quiche.
“She made a few different ones. Ham and cheese, green chili and red pepper and a crab and onion. What would you like 'cause I’ll eat all of them?” Grinning up, he flashes his dimple at me.
“He really is handsome.”
His eyes twinkle and his smile goes a little surprised, when I realize I said that out loud. Wishing for a cupboard I could climb into and hide, I give him an apologetic smile. My face blooms a lovely shade of pink as I bite down on my lip and stare at the floor, wishing I could just sink into it.
“You’re pretty beautiful, yourself, but I think you might want to get dressed before we head out.” His easy dismissal of my word vomit makes me even more nervous.
“I’ll have any of them. I’m going to…” pointing up toward the ceiling, I begin stepping backwards out of the room. I don’t think I can make a bigger fool of myself. “Ham, save me the ham.”
“You got it.” Leo sorts through the bag and sets a ham quiche on a plate for me, then gets his own out. Noticing I haven’t moved, Leo smirks over his shoulder, raising his eyebrows at me. “Do you want another one?”
“No. No one is plenty. I’m… yeah.” Turning around to walk out, I end up smacking my face right into the door jam. “Damn it! Why can’t I just not be a fool?” Muttering to myself, I disappear down the hall and hurry up the stairs.
That was classy, Quinn. Real classy.
I got here too early. I thought Quinn would be up by now with the baby. Hope is an early riser I discovered when they were staying at my place. I just assumed that they’d be moving sooner than this.
I didn’t expect Quinn to open the door in just her robe. Talk about a shock to my system. I’m used to Old Mr Wilson or even Mitzi, to greet me at the door in their robes or curlers for Mitzi. But Quinn, that was a vision I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
She cut her hair. It was the first thing I noticed when my brain decided to start working again. All that long dark hair is gone and now she’s got this short sassy swing going on that shows off the sexy line of her neck.
She reminds me of a ballerina. The long neck and graceful arms. I don’t dare look at her legs. Although I’m getting a nice peek of them as she moves and her leg appears through the split of her robe. Nice!
Quinn isn’t all grace, I see her fumble with her step and run into walls. She talks to herself too. Which is a cute and funny habit she has. It gives me a peek into that constantly working mind of hers. She’s always thinking about something and tends to space out on me as her mind wanders.
It shows how smart she is. She’s always got something going in that busy head, only someone with a lot to think about does that. I’ve dated my share of girls who can’t put a logical sentence together, not Quinn. She’s got the sentence, the why, how and reason behind it. It’s impressive.
Eating my share of the quiches, I occupy my best girl and listen to Quinn talking to herself upstairs through the monitor she left down here.
“I’m an idiot! Leo, save me a ham and hey, watch me walk into the wall! God, can I look any stupider?” She chastises herself, making me laugh.
There’s nothing stupid about Quinn Eldren Bradford. The only stupid thing was getting involved with that numb nut Fitz. The guy needs to take a flying leap off a high cliff. Quinn offered to help him and all he could do was thumb his nose at her.
Dumbass is what he is.
He ruined his career, and the kid had a bright one ahead of him according to Blake and Matt. He messed up his relationship with everyone, not just with Quinn but his buddies too. Then he got into drugs. He was given a second chance and he tossed it away.
Talk about stupid.
“Shit! Shit! Damn it!” Frowning at the monitor I wonder if I should go up and try to help Quinn. “Great now I’m a fricking klutz that looks like a raccoon! This is supposed to be a good day!”
Looking at the little pumpkin thoroughly enjoying her breakfast of applesauce and milk, I laugh again.
“I think your mama needs to relax a bit. She’s been too stressed out and worried lately, huh? How can we get her to relax around me? You know your mama better than anyone, huh? I know you like me. You’re my best girl. What should I do? What do you think, sugar? You think your mama could ever look at me like Aubrey looks at Beck?” The question shouldn’t have come out of my mouth. It was a thought that should have just stayed in the back of my mind.
“And what makes you think she doesn’t?” Turning around, I hunch my shoulders getting caught telling secrets with my favorite girl.
“I didn’t hear you come in.” I keep my eyes on Hope and avoid looking at our visitor.
“Because I know Quinn pretty well, I know she doesn’t leave her little girl with just anyone. What are you doing here so early?” The inquisition begins. “Or did you spend the night?”
Spinning around, I glare at her then. “No! I didn’t spend the night with her! God!” Shit this is bad. This is so bad. “I came over to take Quinn and Hope to the Inn. That’s all. She’s upstairs getting dressed. Who are you anyway?”
“Save me the ham, maybe I can use it for my black eye! You’re an idiot, Quinn! Leo doesn’t think of you that way and you shouldn’t be thinking of how sweet and gorgeous he is.” Quinn continues her monologue.
Rubbing my forehead, I take a chance on glancing up at the redhead. There’s a knowing smirk staring at me. I'd really like to wipe it off her face. She smiles, like she’s got the goods on me. She probably does if she heard that entire conversation I had with myself.
“Hope is the priority. You think with your hormones you get pregnant and nobody wants that to happen again. No, you have too much baggage for anyone to take on. It is you and Hope. That’s the plan.” Quinn continues her pep talk to herself.
“I think she answered your question. I’m Regan, by the way. I went to college with Quinn. I thought I could help her out this morning with Hope but it looks like you’ve got this.” She steps back like she’s going to leave.
“Hey! I’m Leo, I work with Beckett. I’m sure Quinn would like your help.” Getting up, I head for the door. “Let her know I’ll see her at the Inn.”
“You’re not staying?” Regan looks confused as she stops me.
“You just heard Quinn as clearly as I did. She doesn’t want me. I’m in a permanent friend zone. I understand why and I respect her choice.” Explaining myself to a virtual stranger isn’t that simple. “Ask her to save me a dance, okay?”
Walking out, I head over to Dad’s sedan I borrowed because it has the baby seat in it and I thought it would be easier for Quinn to get into if she’s wearing a dress. I should have known better than to come here this morning. Quinn has more important things to think about than me.
Driving off, I see a familiar truck parked down the street and shake my head as I look at the remains of Aubrey’s house. Beckett will rebuild it bigger and more for a family home both of them want. But it wasn’t necessary.
I know he’s got his suspicions about who did it. They even tried to set a trap right after. No one took the bait though. Oh, there were a few to come looking around, including those we suspect had something to do with it. But they kept their distance. Like the idea of taking on all the Bradford’s was too daunting of a task.
Apparently the person is just crazy not stupid. I’d be scared too. Georgia alone could be a terror. That woman is not to be messed with. Put the rest of that family in the mix, you’d have to be nuts to take that on.
Turning into town, I head straight to the Inn. Parking in the back, I walk around the old brick building to the main door of the Inn. Looking across the square, I see old Mr Wilson sitting outside the barbershop. Brynn is bustling around the diner getting her food together for this afternoon. And Lindsey is swinging on the swings at the park and there’s a guy with her I’ve never seen before.
He’s probably here with the Bradford’s. Someone better warn him to stay away from that one. Lindsey is nothing but trouble with a capital T. Hearing her laugh, it’s like nails on a chalkboard.
Huh! Looks like she found herself a new victim. At least she’ll keep away from the wedding today. The last thing Beck and Aubrey want is for her to crash their wedding.