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Authors: MJ Fredrick

Leaving Bluestone

BOOK: Leaving Bluestone
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Leaving Bluestone

 

By MJ Fredrick

 

 

 

 

Kindle Edition

Copyright 2012 by MJ Fredrick

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Quinn Alden stretched out on top of his bed and stared at the ceiling, cracking his knuckles. Little did he know when he started the day dressing for his role of best man that he’d end the day punching an old man for attacking his favorite waitress.

He hadn’t done violence to someone in more than two years and was surprised at the tension it released, especially after watching his best girl Lily dance with another man.

Okay, not fair, since he hadn’t told her she was his best girl. He couldn’t. Lily Prater had been Gerry’s girl. Already he was living Gerry’s life, owning the bar, fishing the lake. He couldn’t take Lily.

He needed to get out of this place. It made him want things he didn’t deserve. Gerry was dead and Quinn had come home. It wasn’t fair.

He rubbed a hand over the tattoo on his bicep and sat up. He wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight. He’d get an early start on the fishing.

He made his way down the dock to his boat. He’d spent extra on a quiet motor for just this reason, not wanting to wake up the whole town when he went out in the middle of the night. His insomnia was always bad, but the short nights in the summer made it easier for him to ease his restlessness. Dawn would break in a little over an hour. He just wanted to be out on the water. Maybe when he sold the bar, he’d find a place in Florida or someplace, as close to the beach as he could get. And he wouldn’t have to deal with these hellacious winters. The summers in Bluestone, Minnesota made up for it, and the place was ideal for someone who loved the sportsman life, but living here in the winter was a lot of work.

His gaze drifted to the landing, where Lily slept. Maybe if he’d go to her, let her take him in her arms, he might be able to sleep. But that wasn’t fair to either of them.

So he’d fish. He turned the motor on, wincing at the soft whapping sound that echoed off the water and the houses on the shore, and guided the boat out on the lake.

 

***

 

He arrived at the dock later that morning, just in time to see Adam Lapointe walk out of the landing with Lily. Adam kissed Lily’s lips lightly.

Quinn’s gut twisted. They’d clearly spent the night together. He hadn’t thought their relationship had progressed to sex. Hell. It was none of his business, even if he had danced with her last night, held her in his arms. He wasn’t putting down roots. He gave them a nod and headed toward the bar across the street, toting his cooler.

He heard Adam pull off, then footsteps on the street behind him.

“Hey.” Lily caught up to him, ponytail swinging, and nodded to the cooler. “Catch anything?”

“A couple of walleye.”

“Breakfast?”

He heard the hopeful tone in her voice and looked over his shoulder at her. “Sure.”

“I’ll make the potatoes. You don’t put enough salt on them.”

“Put salt on your own damn potatoes.” Why was she wanting breakfast with him when she’d just gotten out of bed with Adam?

She ignored him, like she always did. “You were awesome last night, the way you took charge.”

“Shouldn’t you be saying that to Adam?”

She was silent a moment—unusual for her. “I didn’t sleep with him. He slept on the couch.”

He grunted.

“Are you jealous?” she demanded.

“What the hell for?” He headed up the steps to the bar.

“Because the way you danced with me at the wedding—”

“You were the maid of honor. I was the best man. I had to dance with you.”

“Seemed to me you liked it.”

“I used to like to dance.” What wasn’t to like? Music, a woman’s soft body pressed against his, all sweet-smelling, more often than not leading to sex. Maybe he needed to get laid. Maybe that would ease his emotions around Lily, who was always around, always beautiful even in her ratty sweatshirt and cap. Maybe then he could sleep and stop thinking of what-if.

“Why don’t you anymore?” She took his invitation to walk through the door first and led the way to the kitchen. “Oh, right, you don’t enjoy anything that has to do with other people. Strange for a guy who owns a bar.”

“And you don’t know how to not be around other people.”

As usual, she ignored him and pulled out a filleting knife from the butcher block. Because she’d grown up on the lake, she was faster and better at filleting than he was. So he got out the pan and the potatoes. He started heating the first and dicing the second.

“You like having me around, for no other reason than you can bitch at me,” she said.

“If you weren’t so goddamned cheerful all the time, it wouldn’t be so tempting.” He continued chopping potatoes. “I guess Trinity and Leo are off on their honeymoon.”

“Mmm. Washington, D.C. The least romantic place I can think of. But Trinity always wanted to go, and Leo used to be based out of there, so he’ll show her around. I think they’re going to a Nationals game, too.” When he didn’t say anything, she continued. “Not like I can say anything. For my honeymoon, I want to go to Yellowstone.”

“I’ll be sure to let Adam know.”

She snorted. “Not likely.”

“Why not? You’ve been spending a lot of time together.”

“He’s fun, and all that, but he’s from—out there.” She waved her hand over her head.

“Space?”

“Funny. No, I mean, he made his escape from Bluestone and coming back here feels confining to him.”

And this place was her lifeblood. The knot in his stomach loosened a bit, which was stupid. Why would he be glad she wasn’t involved with someone who was leaving when the reason he wouldn’t get involved with her was because he was leaving? Eventually.

She passed over the fillets and took the potatoes from him. “I want lemon pepper on mine.”

They worked well together, in a rhythm that came from long-time friendship, and before long the fish and potatoes were plated. She carried them to the bar while he poured coffee. She chose a table by the window closest to the lake and was looking out when he joined her.

“You’re thinking about something,” he accused.

“Fourth of July day after tomorrow. Parade, fireworks. Lots of work ahead.”

“You’re not shooting them off.”

“No, but I’m running concessions, which won’t be easy without Trinity.”

“Get Adam to help you. Don’t you even think about batting those eyelashes in this direction.” She turned to him, a smile curling her lips. He sat back and scowled. “I’m already short a waitress. I don’t have time for you.”

She lowered her lashes then lifted them again.

“And a bus girl.”

“Okay,” she said with a shrug, and tucked into her dinner. “No problem.”

He tucked into his fish, his chest tightening with the realization that he’d do anything she asked of him. Damn it. So this was what it felt like to be twisted around someone’s little finger.

 

***

 

Good thing he didn’t sleep, because he was up at the crack of dawn on the Fourth. Instead of fishing, he was hauling tables and unraveling electric cords and finding outlets. Lily was ordering some women around, telling them which table would be selling what. Quinn wouldn’t be surprised if she’d put the parade in a particular order, so that she could keep patriotism at an all-time high. He’d heard rumors that she’d designed a float, and he knew she’d wanted to make the shoreline part of the parade route. She’d apparently run out of time, thank God. He was sure he’d be drafted to be part of that, too, probably piloting a float or something.

Though it would be kind of cool. And Fourth of July was one of his favorite holidays, though admittedly he wasn’t looking forward to the fireworks part. Reminded him too much of that night when Gerry was killed.

Still, he liked the scent of the barbecue, started down on the other side of the launch, where Trinity’s brother and Leo’s dad were manning the grills. Hamburgers, hot dogs and roasted corn would be there, another booth would have funnel cakes, another ice cream sundaes. He didn’t think there were enough people in town to eat all this food.

But in a matter of minutes, people started driving in, parking, lining the streets in anticipation of the parade. Well, hell. This might be a good idea, after all.

Despite his better judgment, he looked for Lily, thinking to join her to watch the parade, knowing full well if he did, she would put him to work when it was over. But when he found her, Adam was with her, his hand at the small of her back, possessive. Quinn stopped, considered, then pivoted toward the bar and headed up the stairs.

 

***

 

The Fourth of July parade never failed to bring tears to Lily’s eyes. She remembered the parades from her childhood, people on tractors, on decorated boat trailers, in classic cars, all dressed in red, white and blue, with crepe paper streamers and flowers, waving at the crowds and throwing candy. She’d always wanted to be on one of the floats, but now that desire had passed. She just wanted to continue the tradition. She hoped the kids in town got as much out of it as she did.

Now that she had a moment to breathe, she looked for Quinn. Where had he gone? She hadn’t told him the other part of the plan, because of course he wouldn’t go along with it, and now he’d disappeared. She had a pretty good idea where he’d gone, though. Excusing herself from Adam, she crossed the street between a 1970s era convertible and an ATV and ran up the steps to the bar. She pushed open the door.

And there he was, behind the bar, two older guys sitting in front of him nursing beers.

“Quinn, I need you.”

He dropped the bar towel to the counter and heaved a sigh. “Now what?”

“I need you to come out to the parade.”

“Lily, I have customers.”

She rolled her eyes. “And it’s awfully early for beer. Come on. They’ll wait for you.”

He huffed, and addressed the man directly in front of him. “I know my inventory down to the ounce, so don’t think you can pull one over on me.” He shut off the tap and followed Lily out the door.

“What is it you need me to lift, carry, haul or rewire?”

“Actually, I need you to ride.”

He blinked. “To ride?”

“One of the vehicles is a tribute to vets.”

He rocked back, shaking his head, which is why she hadn’t told him in the first place. “Vets are old guys. And besides, I’m not the smile and wave type.”

“Don’t I know it,” she muttered. “But it’s important. It’s important people honor you for what you did over there.”

“I don’t want them to. I don’t care.”

“But they know you served, and they’ll wonder why you’re not on the float.”

“Lily, it’s not a float. It’s somebody’s trailer.”

“Okay, it’s a trailer, but all the town’s veterans will be there.”

“I don’t usually associate with them, you know. Our experiences were—different.”

“How do you know that if you don’t associate with them?” she countered. She knew she’d face a fight, but she saw herself winning. She always did with him. This time, though, looked doubtful.

He stepped back and spread his arms. “Tell me, do I look like a soldier?”

What he looked was delicious, his hair just long enough to flip up in curls above his ears and his neck. His ubiquitous white T-shirt stretched across his broad shoulders, and it had shrunk just enough that it exposed the bottom of the tattoo on his bicep, the boots and the barrel of the rifle. He wore jeans that hugged his narrow hips, and hiking boots. His usual uniform.

“You don’t have a hat or a sash with your medals or anything?”

He set his jaw. “I’m not digging that shit out.”

“Well, then, just you. Come on. They’re going to be getting ready to go soon. You need to get out there. We want to honor you.”

He grunted. “Gerry was the one we should be honoring. He was the hero.”

She drew in a breath. She knew only a little about that day when Gerry died, but she knew that Quinn hadn’t left his friend’s side until the body was recovered. Of course he wouldn’t want to remember that. Of course he wouldn’t see himself as a hero for that. She rested her hand over his tattoo, the one she’d never seen all of, but the one that she knew was a memorial to Gerry, empty boots, a gun buried in the ground between them, with a helmet resting on the butt.

“Okay. I won’t push.”

He snorted.

“I won’t. This is me, walking away. See? Out the door.” She held it for a moment and he followed, as if to make sure she made good on her word. “Down the steps.”

He stayed where he was.

 

***

 

What the hell was he doing? The trailer with the vets on it wasn’t hard to find. It had more crepe paper than the rest of the floats combined, and flags flying from each corner, and the emblem of each branch of the service hand drawn on poster board. He paused for a moment to inspect the detail included. Not too bad.

It also was the one with a bunch of gray-haired guys, most wearing VFW caps. A couple guys had POW emblems, which made him feel very small. But every man grinned when he approached, wearing his camouflage Army cap low over his eyes, the only thing he hadn’t packed away, never to be seen again. One of the old guys held out a hand, like he needed help getting onto the trailer, and he sat as far in the center as he could get, away from the attention of the crowd.

BOOK: Leaving Bluestone
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