Bringing Maddie Home - Page 82

“I’d better go,” she said finally, even though neither had said anything very important. “I love you, Colin.”

A stab of emotion made his voice gruff. “I love you, too, Cait. You know, I’m here if you need me.”

“I do know.” She said that so quietly, he barely heard. “Goodbye.”

She was gone, leaving him to continue brooding about why she’d called. My sister, the stranger, he thought.

All he could think was, Cait had felt lonely. She’d needed a connection, and he’d gotten elected. Maybe she’d had a fight with their mother. Or with the boyfriend. Or both.

He didn’t like to think of her lonely, but didn’t see what else he could have said.

Disconcerted, he realized that a month ago he’d have been as lonely as she sounded. Now he wasn’t.

He looked at the clock, wishing it was time to meet Nell.

* * *

“THE KID BROTHER,” Hailey said with a grin when Nell and Felix arrived at the bistro. “And so much better-looking than you were back then.”

He snorted. “You were the fat girl then.”

She only laughed. “Now I’m the fat chef.”

“Nah.” One eyebrow rose as he appraised her. “Now you’re pleasingly plump. A peach.”

Watching the flirtatious byplay, Nell found herself laughing, too. Her brother must have women lined up. As if she’d ever see him if he did move to Seattle.

“As it happens, I have a lovely peach tart available today. I think you’ve earned a freebie,” Hailey told Felix. “In a manner of speaking. Ah. Here comes Captain Sexy.”

Nell turned as she heard the creak of the door and felt a rush of cold air. He appraised the room in one sweep, as he always did new surroundings, then had eyes only for her. She suspected that, despite the brevity of that survey, he could have described every single person in the room down to the color of nail polish or the tattoo peeking out of one shirt collar. Her heart drummed at the sight of him, tall and strong in one of his well-cut suits, today’s a dark gray.

“Safe and sound,” she informed him.

Menus in her hands, Hailey was already heading for a table at the back, Felix following. Nell basked in Colin’s smile as the two of them trailed behind.

“Did he have to throw his body between you and danger?” Colin asked.

“No, but he did whisk me out of the house before Mom came downstairs,” she confessed with wrinkled nose.

“Good enough,” he murmured in her ear. She thought he nuzzled her slightly, the contact still enough to send electricity through her sensitized body.

Too late, she saw that Felix had turned and was watching quizzically.

He didn’t comment, though, and once they were seated she and Felix described their morning—a drive out to the Nordic Center, then some shopping downtown.

Not until they had ordered did she ask about Colin’s morning.

“I did some wandering at your dad’s resort.”

“Why?” she asked, puzzled. Felix, too, she saw, was looking at him in surprise.

“It just seems the resort is at the center of too much. I’ve been out there, but not really taken a look around. Somehow, I hadn’t quite realized how sprawling it is. I think it’s expanded since the last time I was there.”

Felix told them both about the stages of expansion, starting with the airfield not long before Maddie disappeared. “That was pure genius,” he said, admiration in his voice. “It’s an attraction for people with real money. They wanted more luxury, so Dad tore down some of the old cabins and added the monster places. That’s when he decided to go time-share with them and, later, some of the smaller cabins. Brought in solid capital and the yearly maintenance fees besides.”

Hailey herself delivered their lunches and bantered with Felix again. Nell might have thought they were interested in each other, even though he was three years younger. But maybe, it occurred to her, the difference in age didn’t matter much now that both were in their twenties.

She was still thinking about the spark her friend and her brother had as they all dug in to their food.

Colin and Felix had continued to talk about her father’s resort.

“I’m surprised your father didn’t talk Duane into ditching law enforcement and going to work for him,” Colin commented. “He’d have made a hell of a lot more money.”

“Uncle Duane moonlights as security out there sometimes.” Felix grimaced. “Who’d want to work for Dad full-time?”

Colin frowned at Nell. “You still haven’t seen Duane, have you? He took it as hard as your parents did when you disappeared. Harder, maybe, because he insisted on taking charge of the investigation and then felt like a failure when we didn’t find you.”

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