Lucky Baby by Taryn Quinn
This moment was perfection.
The suspicious part of me wondered if it was too perfect.
Leaves crunched under my boots as ghostly swirls of steam rose from my oversized mug of coffee. The hazelnut blend, with whatever secret ingredient Brewed Awakening’s mistress had added, was my favorite way to start the day. Even if I never quite got the milk to coffee ratio magic Macy seemed to do so effortlessly. However, it was my coffee blend alone.
That thrilled me more than it should, but I could own it in my own head, if nowhere else. Since my particular genius turned into one-of-a-kind car and motorcycle parts, it was only right I got a kick out of someone else’s talents when it came to my coffee. Especially considering the liquid gold was my soulmate.
Coffee had kept me alive even when food had been scarce. Being a woman in the car business wasn’t for the faint of heart, and I’d had to claw my way up to a living wage before I’d been able to start calling my own shots. Fast forward ten years—with quite a few crash and burns—and here I was, making an actual home in a little nowhere town as quaint as a postcard and just as family-centric.
Maybe a little too family-centric. I was tempted to get an IUD and birth control. My doctor had actually laughed when I’d tried—until she looked at my address.
Crescent Cove was legion when it came to babies.
So not in my ten year plan, thanks.
I flipped my collar up on my battered motorcycle jacket against the wind racing off the water. The sun peeked from Crescent Lake’s still surface, turning the sky gold and misty blue. The air had a chilly bite that warned of the long winter coming, but the burn in my lungs made me smile over the rim of my mug. It was almost as good as the cigarettes I’d miss until my dying day.
Okay, not as good, but it was definitely invigorating.
I picked my way across the uneven spots of my lawn—my lawn. God, that felt good to say. Apartments and hand-me-downs or thrift finds had been my life for twenty-six years.
A year ago, I would have been happy with that. I never stayed in one place long enough to care about what I plunked my ass on or laid my head on at night as long as it was clean. I’d lived a transient life by choice. Job in Seattle? Yep, I was there. Car show in Miami? Sure, I could make it. Sturgis Rally? Hell yeah, I’d be there.
Now I was one-third owner in an actual company. People came to me now instead of me doing guest spots in various shops. I’d been in demand before I was legal to drink. I had an uncanny ability to fabricate just about anything. If a client dreamed up something, I could pluck it out of their mind. For years, I’d worked with any and all machines at my fingertips to make it happen. Now I had my own fabricator I’d created, down to the proprietary specs.
And I’d patented it. I’d learned the hard way that loyalty was for dreamers, not for the cold hard reality of business.
That lesson had been tattooed on my back with a blade, leaving a bonus scar that I hadn’t seen coming.
But those moments had only made me stronger. Now I could charge whatever the hell I wanted for jobs. And I did. Shamelessly. I even had a company begging to license my machine. They hadn’t quite come up to my number yet.
To be fair, I had a disgustingly high number in my head. I had a feeling Ramsey Inc. would get there eventually. He had a serious hard-on for Hilda, my baby.
I had a waiting list three years out to get time on my bench. They were all curated projects suited to me. I said no to people all the damn time. Did I feel bad about it? Nope. I’d worked hard to create a name for myself since I was sixteen years old.
And now I had two workshops I could outfit however I wanted.
Part of my contract with Dare and Gage Kramer had included absolute autonomy when it came to how I worked. Unique jobs were eighty percent of our income at Kramer & Burns Custom, but Dare had a special affinity for the town so we still took care of the locals.
The Kramer boys had been involved in NASCAR in a former life. Now they were happily settled with kids, but our combined reputations had resulted in a constant stream of clients and word of mouth that had only grown with each car that rolled out of our bays. Our customs had blown up so much we were looking to take over the building behind the garage to extend the space and hire on a few general mechanics. But getting Dare to move on anything was like asking a glacier to put some hustle into it.
Mostly I didn’t care about that part of the company. I was more involved with the specialty projects than the everyday labor of tows and oily fingers. Unless you asked me to rebuild a British motorcycle, then I was more than willing to get my overalls on.
Like the sweet ’69 Triumph Bonneville sitting in my home garage right now. I’d spent the last few months acquiring the perfect pieces, tools, and even a lift to make my home garage as effective as the one in town. To be truthful, it was the only thing I’d actually completed in my fixer-upper farmhouse.
My bedroom was as bare bones as a clichéd bachelor pad. It included my mom’s old dresser my dad had shipped me, a mattress, and the badass four poster bed. Admittedly, I’d overpaid for it from August Beck, a local carpentry artist. It was a damn work of art, and I didn’t mind paying for the unique, especially since sleeping was my favorite hobby.
I was still eating off a TV tray in front of my seventy-inch television in my living room three months later. My house echoed it was so damn empty, but that was a problem for future Tish.
Right now, I was going to enjoy the view and my coffee. I climbed up on my picnic table and sat on the uneven slats of the top. It was rickety as hell and probably wouldn’t last the winter. Because dear God, this town was no joke when it came to winter.
The blazing summer had been full to the brim with work and somehow October had snuck in with its cool mornings made for warm coffee, and silence save for some badass birds. Just how I liked it.
I’d impulsively bought this property on the lake thanks to a little bit of right-time-right-place. Mr. and Mrs. Slide had been tired of the snow and bitter cold of Upstate New York and looking to sell the house to someone who would appreciate it. I’d lucked into the whole damn thing because I’d fabricated a hard to get part for Gary Slide’s pristine all-glass hatch Pinto.
A Pinto, for fuck’s sake. No one made parts for that damn car anymore, but the guy loved it—maybe even more than his wife. I was pretty sure she knew it too.
I’d volunteered to make the crazy part after he and Dare had tried to find it from one of the parts dealers we worked with. The look on the old guy’s face had broken me. Actual tears because they couldn’t find the rare hydraulic kit for his baby.
I’d made an exception and let him bump the line, then spent seven hours creating a new kit and actually improving the seal on the weirdly shaped glass hatch that made up the trunk. It ended up being a fun project, probably one of the best decisions I’d ever made.
Because Gary couldn’t stand to be away from his baby, he sat with me as I worked on it. Once my annoyance cleared about being watched, I’d settled in and been treated to his life story.
It should have been boring, but Gary was a born storyteller and entertained me well into the night. Over a pair of hoagies from Jersey Angel’s, he told me about wanting to sell his property.
After the way he’d described it, I’d ended up offering him a cash settlement for the damn thing. And now here I was, with a view that most people would kill for.
Arthur Maitland had raged at the bank as I was signing my papers. Evidently, I’d ruined his plans for another set of condos on the lake courtesy of Maitland Enterprises.
My gaze skimmed over the water to the east side where condos had been in progress for the last six months. I was pretty sure Maitland was still having a kitten about me buying up this piece of land.
I couldn’t say I minded. The man was a dick.
A little meow was my only warning before a ball of fluff leaped onto the table beside me. I gave my cat a quick scratch under the chin before Dusty sprawled onto his back to play with the fringe on my jacket.
I waggled the fringe above his head and laughed at his crazy eyes and Wolverine-esque nails trying to catch them. The wind kicked up, reminding me I really did need to get a proper winter coat before the first snowfall.
“Keep Ya Head Up” blared out of my jacket pocket, startling Dusty. He flew off the table and headed for the garage for safety.
I laughed and pulled out my phone. Only one person had that ringtone. My older brother loved 2Pac.
“What do you want?”
“I can’t call my baby sister?”
I spun on the picnic table and stretched out my legs, praying I wouldn’t end up with a splinter in my ass. “Nope. You text, not call. Why you’re usually my favorite brother.”
Ezra Burns was the eldest of the Burns pack of wild dogs—my dad’s name for us, not mine. But truly, he wasn’t far off. Especially when we all got together, which had been harder and harder to do over the years. All of us had scattered to the four corners of the country.
“Glad I still have favorite status.”
His whisky-dark voice rolled through me. A pang hit my chest like a kickback from a wrench. My brother really didn’t call unless something was going on. “Depends on how this conversation goes, Ez.”
“Guess I can’t check in either.”
I crossed my legs at the ankle. “Is that what you’re doing?”
“You know me too well, Ging.”
I winced. “Really?”
“You’re the only redhead in the bunch.”
“Because I’m the special one.” The usual back and forth seemed a little forced and nerves skated up my neck, leaving bunched muscles in its wake.
“Yeah, we’ll go with special.”
I picked a piece of leaf off my jeans. “Not like you to try to do the small talk, bud.”
He sighed. “Yeah. I suck at it.”
“You bought a house, right?”
I sat up and swung my feet back onto the faded wood bench. “Yeah. You gave me nothing but grief about it.”
“Roots aren’t for me, Ging.”
“I didn’t think so either.” I glanced out on the lake. “They don’t seem so bad these days.”
Ezra was quiet for a moment. I could hear something on the other end of the line as if he’d muffled the speaker. My shoulders hunched and I braced my elbows on my knees.
I was not getting a good feeling.
“How would you feel about all of us crashing there for Christmas?”
I sat up straight. “God, why?”
He laughed. “Well, you’re the first one to buy a house. You win.”
“No. That’s not how this works. Besides, weren’t you the first one to bust my balls about my ‘money pit’, as you called it?”
“Well, it is.”
I glanced over at the old house. The porch had seen better days, but the inside wasn’t too bad. Just dated. It probably hadn’t been updated since the seventies. And while I enjoyed the music, I did not love the decor.
“It’s a work in progress.”
“Well, can it be ready for the week of Christmas?”
“Since when do we do Christmas?” I pinched the bridge of my nose. Ez was being far too friendly. He had a soft spot for me, but my eldest brother was usually moving at warp speed, and niceties weren’t his forte. “What happened?”
“Nothing. Well, not exactly.”
“Ezra David Burns.”
I could see his shoulders hunching in my head. My brother was a famous photo journalist, but I was one of the few people who could crack the whip on him. Not that he’d admit it.
“Look, it’s not a big deal. Don’t freak out.”
“Freak out?” I put my mug down, jumped off the picnic table, and stalked down to the rocky shore off the lake. “Why would I freak out?”
“I said don’t freak. I can hear you stomping from here, you know.”
“Then just tell me. Is it Dad?” The mere idea of my larger than life father being sick had me bending at the waist to drag in a breath.
“No, it’s not Dad.”
Relief left me with black dots in my vision.
“I am,” I growled before I took a deep breath. “Then what’s going on?”
Every terrible scenario blasted through my brain. My middle brother was a smoke jumper in California. He’d always been the daredevil in our family, even more so than Ezra. He’d channeled that into saving people instead of doing stunts on his dirt bike on the dangerous tracks he’d rode on during his teen years. He’d always picked out the most challenging ones to give us all nightmares.
“He’s fine, Tish, I promise. Just a little messed up.” He went quiet for a moment. “Okay, more than a little. He lost Jimmy on the job.”
“Oh, God.” I fell back on my butt on the rocks. The flash of pain up my tailbone had nothing on the vise around my heart.
Immediately, I pictured Jimmy’s cocky swagger with his sunny hair flowing down his back. Those thick, myriad shades of blond strands had been my favorite thing to tangle my fingers in.
And then to pull when the hot fever of need had blown wild and fierce between us for that secret month in July.
He’d been my brother’s best friend since they’d met during smoke jumper training. They were the youngest guys to be added to the Alpha team for his unit.
Jimmy and Cohen had been inseparable until that summer we’d had a very ill-advised fling that had ended in a blade I hadn’t seen coming. I’d nursed the wound alone in the mountains of Colorado.
My family didn’t know what he’d done. Now they never would.
And it didn’t matter.
I sucked back the sob that was trapped in my chest like a frightened bird. The only thing that mattered was my brother.
Ezra’s voice dragged me back from the past. “Cohen isn’t doing great. We had to kick his ass to even get him into rehab.”
Get it together, Burns. “Why the hell didn’t you call me sooner?”
“He didn’t want to worry you.”
“Damn idiot.” They still treated me like I was twelve. “How bad is he?”
“Just a busted leg, but it was a serious fracture so he’s gotta do the whole physical therapy thing. He should be done the first week of December. I figured your place would be a good place to plant him for awhile.”
The words came out before I could think better of it. I mean, of course I’d take in my brother and my family, but my place was definitely not ready for them.
At all. And neither was I.
I pushed away the memory of Jimmy’s startlingly blue eyes. His laughter and the arctic chill of his deception vied for dominance. I slammed those memories back into the metal box I’d put them in years ago then hauled myself to my feet and crunched my way back over the shoreline stones to the grass strewn with leaves.
The half acre of land between the water and my house was a quick trip. It wasn’t a large farmhouse by any means. In fact, it was only a three-bedroom place. Not nearly enough room for all my roughhousing brothers. Even if one was laid up and probably hurting far more than he’d let on.
“We won’t need much.”
“Ha.” I snorted. “Right.”
“Hey, you’re the one who was crowing about how amazing your house was. Now I’m going to hold you to it.”
Relief warred with sorrow as I tried to get my mind working again. “Yeah, yeah.” I wished I could say I hadn’t. But being the baby of the family and being the first to buy a house had left my ego a little unchecked. “Is Dad coming too?”
“Yep. The Burns family will be back together, baby. I’ll check in later, Ging.”
“Okay. Talk soon.”
I shoved my phone into my pocket then tipped back my head. Tears threatened, but I wouldn’t let them fall for Jimmy. Not ever again. I had one focus right now. And it was a freaking big problem because there was no way I could get this place in shape for them in less than two months on my own.
The old barn beside my garage caught my eye.
I’d had plans to call in my chip from Lucky Roberts in the spring. The dude owed me for his harebrained last minute scheme for his best friend’s proposal last month.
The man was obnoxiously loud, had player stamped on his forehead in neon green, and was far too attractive for his own good.
He thought he could charm his way out of any problem. I knew firsthand how charm could hide a person’s dark side and could even make you think you’d imagined things that weren’t there.
But I needed Lucky—well, not Lucky specifically, just his hands and his carpentry skills. I was on a budget, so I’d damn well be cashing in any favors I could to fix up the barn.
It would be the perfect place to house my brothers, otherwise known as the animals. And fixing up a guest room for my dad in my house was doable with a bit of spit and grit.
I held open the door for my cat as he zipped around my ankles. Even he seemed uncharacteristically feisty.
Did he sense that change was in the air?
No. No change. This was just a temporary speed bump. I could handle this. My brother needed me, and it just so happened I wanted to fix up my place.
If that meant I needed to deal with Lucky to get it done, then that was what I’d do. I’d make up a plan, get supplies together, and thank God I’d already started the ball rolling when it came to permits.
Now I just had to go inform Lucky it was time to pay up.