The Good Luck Sister (Wildstone #1.5)(7)

Heart lodged in her throat, she looked around for something to protect herself with. Nothing. She glanced down at her hands and realized she was still clutching the soda bottle she’d bought while waiting for her bus.

The hallway ended all too fast and then she stood in the doorway of a bedroom. Dylan was in the corner, down like he’d just fallen, blood coming from his nose and mouth, one eye swollen nearly shut, shirt ripped, watching a man twice his size come at him.

The following Monday, Tilly watched Dylan walk into her classroom and she couldn’t even say she was surprised. He’d once been the most stubborn person on the planet and apparently not much had changed there.

He sat in the front row again. On one side of him was a surfer stoner. “Dude,” the guy said. “Think she’s going to tell you to bite her again?”

The girl on the other side of Dylan smiled at him. “You can bite me if you’d like.”

Oh for God’s sake, Tilly thought. And yet . . . a small part of her could admit that getting her mouth on him would be . . . extremely satisfying.

Ignoring the thought and Dylan, she concentrated on the class plan, which involved incorporating traditional sketching into graphic art. Because she believed that the two went hand in hand, they were starting with a basic drawing lesson. She had all her students sketching a bowl of fruit that was on display in the center of the room in the lap of a male model who was posed eating an apple.

The model was Mason, a good friend and sort of ex, who was in need of work and doing Tilly a favor. She walked around the class speaking to her students about technique, all of which appeared to be going over the head of the one student she’d really hoped wouldn’t show up.

Dylan. She’d stayed up late last night working on logos and branding for Wildstone Air Tours and had emailed him everything this morning to avoid the face to face. She realized he was watching her watch him and with a sigh, headed over there. “Problem?”

“I can’t draw,” he admitted.

She looked at his paper. The apple was there. That was it. “Maybe it’s because you’re staring at me instead of listening.”

“I’m staring because today you look so much like sixteen-year-old Tilly, it’s making me crazy.”

When he said stuff like that, she had to close her eyes and take a breath. She was wearing a black cotton sundress that was modest and comfortable, but she could admit it might be a throwback to her emo days. Her white beat-up sneakers were speckled with paint, but too perfectly worn in to toss. So yeah, okay, maybe she looked sixteen . . . “I’m not that same Tilly,” she said.

He nodded. “I’m getting that.”

“Are you? Because I told you not to come back and yet here you are.”

“I got your email with the logo and branding,” he said. “You nailed it and I wanted to thank you.”

This gave her a flash of relief and pleasure. “Now see, that’s something where you could have hit reply and emailed instead of telling me in person. Especially since we decided this was going to be business only.”

“Actually,” he said, “that was you. I haven’t decided any such thing.”

The class was filled with whispers now. Some “oohs” and “ahhs” and a teasing “teacher’s gotta pet.” One of the girls muttered, “I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers . . .”

“Me either,” a guy said.

“Come on, Ms. Adams,” someone called out. “Give him a chance. It gives the rest of us hope.”

Tilly made a show of glancing at the clock on the wall and the students settled.

At the end of class, Dylan managed to dawdle until it was just the two of them in the room.

“Where’s Leo today?” he asked.

“My niece is watching him.” She’d hoped to avoid getting peed on at work.

He nodded. “Art’s not my strong suit,” he said showing her his rather pathetic stick figure drawing.

“I don’t get it,” she said. “I don’t get why you don’t just stay away from me. You managed to do it for all those years, so why are you having trouble doing it now?”

“That question’s above my pay grade.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Okay, fine,” he said and shrugged. “I can’t seem to help myself.”

She stared at him. “Don’t even try to tell me that after you left town without saying good-bye you pined away for me.”

“I didn’t.”

Okay, ouch.

“I’m telling you I moved you out of my heart so I could function,” he said.

She took a beat to process that. “Did you . . . ‘function’ with other women?”

He didn’t look away. Instead he held eye contact with no sign that this conversation was as uncomfortable for him as it was for her. “It’s been eight years since we were together, Tee.”

Tee. His childhood nickname for her. She knew it’d rolled off his tongue without him even thinking about it, that it didn’t mean anything, but it made her ache. “So yes, you did.”

“As did you.”

Their gazes held and bunches of unwanted and unwelcome longing and nostalgia welled up inside her, damn him. When he’d been in her life, she’d been . . . well, a mess. After her mom’s death, she’d learned she’d had a sister she hadn’t known about, Quinn, who’d willingly stepped in to be her guardian, and it’d been the most anxiety-ridden, stressful, traumatic time of her life. The only reason she’d gotten through any of it was because of Dylan. But he’d left her.

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