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Hopeless: Chapter 24

Bailey

I worry my lip between my bottom teeth and then force myself to stop fidgeting.

Then I tug at the bottom hem of my blazer.

The woman behind the counter eyes me, but not in an appreciative way like Beau. It’s judgmental, noting my flaws with every inch her eyes roam. They catch on my oversized engagement ring.

“I can work weekends. My shifts at the bar don’t usually start until five.”

The woman still says nothing, the sheet of paper in her hand crinkling beneath her grip. Based on the name tag attached to her shirt, her name is Mary. As I would expect from someone who owns a hair salon, Mary has perfect hair. It’s a warm gold color, with shades of blonde laced throughout.

I wipe a clammy hand down my locks as she peeks at my resume. My hair may be plain dark brown, but I consider it one of my better features. Thick and falling past my shoulders—mostly because I go as long as possible before springing for a haircut. I drive to the city every time because I love my hair and I’m too paranoid to let anyone in Chestnut Springs cut it.

Maybe if Mary got to know me she’d be okay with—

“We’re not hiring.” She smiles in a way that looks painful to her as she hands the paper back to me. I’m too stunned to even lift my arm and take it back.

“But there’s a sign in the window. It says you’re looking for a receptionist.” Emotion bleeds into my voice. Anger? Frustration? Pleading? It’s some combination of them all.

Her head flips toward the window and the plastic sign leaning against the glass. “Oh.” That oh is all it takes for me to know Mary is full of shit.

“I must have forgotten to take that down.” On platform sandals, she totters over to the front window, swipes the sign, and brings it back to the front desk. “There,” she finishes brightly.

I can barely make eye contact with her, but I force myself to do it because I refuse to be anything less than kind, level-headed, and professional. That way, people can say anything they want about me, but they’ll never have proof.

They can say my family is rotten. They can refuse to hire me. But the onus will always be on them, because they’re the ones who have to live with knowing they hate me for no good reason.

“Thank you for your time,” I say evenly as I turn toward the door. It’s when my palms press against the cold metal push bar that I turn back and add, “You’ll want to take the online ad down too. Since you filled the position.” My lips tip up, but my head tilts in a way that tells her I can smell her bullshit from here.

I push out the door, and as soon as I hit the street, my smile falls away.

The sun is bright. The pavement is hot. And for some stupid reason, I thought wearing a pantsuit I bought at the thrift store would make me appesar more hireable.

Sometimes I’m adorably naive, even to myself.

“Ugh!” The noise comes out angry and sharp as I tug at the top buttons of my blouse. I buttoned it to my throat—as though that would make me look less like a harlot—to cover the hickey from the man who was already up and gone to work on the ranch this morning.

Someone walking by literally flinches as I undo three fucking buttons so I can breathe, get a little airflow.

I’m tired and frustrated and on the verge of tears.

Had I been tired the night before?

Yes.

Had the most electric kiss of my life been the magic ticket to put me to sleep?

Hell no.

I’m more tired than I already was, and I need a coffee. I shove into Le Pamplemousse, the quaint Parisian café. Ellen, who owns it, is always kind to me. I’m sure she’d hire me, except she doesn’t need anyone. She works the place exclusively with her husband. I think it’s adorable they can work together all day and not want to kill one another.

I feel flustered as I enter the bustling space. My skin heats to volcano levels as I get in line and sense eyes on me, but I keep my chin up, staring ahead, pretending to be oblivious.

“ … dad is back in town.” When I hear the whisper from a table beside me, I absorb a full-body flinch.

My dad is in town? Not that it matters. He’s never paid much attention to me, other than blaming me for shit that wasn’t my fault as a child. In adulthood, though? Hasn’t had much use for me. The only useful thing he does is keep my brothers in check.

Someone cuts in front of me. As if I’m not in line at all. As if I don’t even exist. I shift my focus away, as though the art available for purchase on the wall has suddenly piqued my interest. If I were someone else, I’d tap this guy on the shoulder and give them a piece of my—

“My dude.” My head snaps toward the voice I recognize. Willa, Cade Eaton’s fiancée, is standing beside me. She has her baby slung on her hip, wild red mane flowing around her stunning face, and indignation rolling off of her in waves. “I know you did not just cut my sister-in-law off and pretend like you didn’t see her.”

Her voice. It’s loud. And everyone hears it. I swear a pin could drop in the place. I want to fold in on myself, like a tidy little piece of origami. Transform into something else entirely. Something that no one can see or recognize. Maybe even with wings so I could fly away.

“Seriously?” The guy gives Willa an annoyed look. “She’s a Jan—”

“She’s an Eaton. But further to that, she’s a human. A woman. And you, my friend, are an asshole.”

The man’s brows shoot up on his forehead. First Mary and now him. It never fails to impress me that in a small town big enough for me to not know everyone’s name, they all know mine.

The man still doesn’t move. To be fair, I think she’s shocked him into stillness.

Willa’s arm shoots out, pointing behind me. “Back of the bus, dickhead. Who’s your mama? I’d like to call her and ask how she raised you so I can file it away under what not to do.”

I glance down at the floor, hoping a hole might open beneath me. A rocky maw that swallows me whole. I’ve been kissed by Beau and now rescued by Willa, and this is all so fucking embarrassing that now might be the time to go.

But Willa just links her baby-less arm through mine and walks me ahead, cutting the dickhead off the way he did me. Then she turns and grins at me conspiratorially, looking a little unhinged and a lot pleased with herself. “Good morning, Bailey.”

At first, I stare at her blankly, and then I blurt, “You’re nuts.”

“I know.” She grins wider. “Cade says it’s one of my best qualities. Well”—her head tilts in consideration—“and my tits.”

I can’t help it. All my tension bubbles over and I laugh.

“There we go. That’s what we like to hear, isn’t it, Emma?”

The little girl with a mop of dark hair claps her hands with excitement and it’s impossible not to smile.

“She’s adorable.”

“Yeah, thanks. I agree.” The expression on Willa’s face as she stares at her baby is pure wonder. Pure love. It pinches a spot in my chest.

The line moves, and so does Willa, arm still linked with mine as we step forward. “So, did Beau manage to fix your stuffed horse?”

I flush, thinking about the sweet gift he gave me last night. Or regifted? Upcycled? I don’t know what to call it. But he sewed it meticulously. When I crawled back into bed with Peaches, I squeezed her to my chest and took a huge inhale. She didn’t smell musty or like the garbage she no doubt spent some time next to in that black bag.

She smelled like Beau’s citronella soap. I’m almost positive he washed and dried her after restuffing and mending her.

She smelled like home.

I clear my throat, realizing I checked out for a minute. “Yeah, he did. She’s pretty much good as new. Just a cool badass scar and a wild story to tell.”

The smile that touches Willa’s lips now is soft, not the maniacal grin from before.

“Kinda like Beau.”


“I mean, he speaks in these superior dirty looks that he’s been giving me since we were kids. But then he turns around and does nice things for me. Like bringing Skylar Stone to perform at our wedding?”

Willa walked me all the way to the till, chatting my ear off, even though Summer and Sloane were already waiting at a table for her. I ordered my coffee, and she ordered me a mimosa. Now I’m sitting at a table by the window double fisting with them all on a Friday morning.

Life is a wild ride.

“Ford is so extra.” Summer laughs.

“Wait, so he’s not … insane like you?” Sloane smirks from behind her champagne glass, still dressed in a tank and tight shorts from dancing this morning.

“I resent that,” Willa volleys dryly.

I’m having some sort of out-of-body experience. It feels like I got invited to hang out with the cool kids at school. And now they’re sitting here, talking about personal stuff, razzing each other, like there’s nothing weird about me being here at all.

“But it’s true.” Willa sips her mimosa. “We are opposites. I think my mom’s body saved all the personality for me and gave all the nerdy, overachiever drive to Ford. He probably ran numbers and created business plans in the womb. If he ever meets someone, she’s going to have to speak bitch. Because he can be a real bitch. Sometimes I miss working for him. Driving him nuts was the best.”

That gets a round of chuckles from the table.

“But he is a good guy,” Summer says. “I think you’re giving them the wrong impression. You two have the whole sibling thing going on. And I know you go out of your way to annoy him.”

Willa just shrugs, a mischievous glint in her eye.

Summer turns to Sloane and me now. “You’ll meet him at the wedding and realize Willa is exaggerating.”

The way they talk about me is just … like it’s a given I’ll be there. These women don’t make me feel like they’re doing me some huge favor by having me along. They act like it’s perfectly normal to include me, and I let myself sink into that.

After all that’s transpired today, it’s nice to be wanted.

“Another round?” Willa glances around at us, already nodding her head.

“Another?” Sloane doesn’t sound quite so sure. Her mimosa appears to be completely untouched. “It’s a Friday morning. Just get me an orange juice.”

“It’s boozy brunch, Sloane. It’s tradition. Put your big girl tutu on and chug that. You got somewhere to be? Or are you wussing out because your new bestie Winter is busy with her new boy toy?”

A pout forms on Sloane’s lips. “No, Jasper is at training camp in Rose Hill and so I’m pretty much just dancing to pass the time.”

“Perfect!” Willa slaps her leg, plops her baby into Summer’s lap, and says, “I always dance better when I’m drunk.” She stands and waltzes toward the counter without a care in the world.

There’s something inspiring about Willa.

“I want to be her when I grow up.” I didn’t mean to say it out loud, but the words slip out in a moment of wonder.

“I think we all do,” Sloane says softly, nodding.

“Speaking of when we grow up,” Summer ventures in, “what are your plans? You don’t strike me as a lifer at the bar, Bailey.”

“Ha!” The champagne has me feeling loose and a laugh bursts from me loud enough that people turn to stare. I’ve mostly stopped caring about judgmental eyes on me. But Summer has always been kind to me, so I know she means well with the question. She’s probably looking out for Beau. “How could you tell?”

She smiles at me but offers nothing. She’s always treated me normally, the way any stranger who doesn’t know a person would treat someone new. But now she’s been in Chestnut Springs long enough to know the stories about my family, and she still hasn’t changed her tune.

Maybe I want to be Summer when I grow up.

“Yeah, my ultimate plan is to get outta here and go to school in the city. Probably kinesiology and then chiropractic school.”

“Oh my god, I would love to be related to a chiropractor.” Sloane moans the words. “I could ask you to fix my back any time I want.”

Summer’s chocolate eyes stay on mine. “You’d be great at that.”

“Thanks.” I smile and lift my mimosa.

“How does Beau feel about you moving to the city?”

I freeze as it hits me how thoroughly I’ve stepped in it. Why the hell would two newly engaged people be planning to part ways so soon? Or does she think Beau is planning to move with me and hasn’t told his family?

I cover by finishing the sip and then smiling as I carefully place the flute back on the table. “We’re going to cross that bridge when we get there. It’s not that far to commute. Right now, with his hours plus mine at the bar, we’re sometimes ships in the night anyway.” My head wobbles. “And if I ever pick up another job, I imagine our schedules will be even more chaotic.”

Sloane shrugs while Summer analyzes me, far too closely for my taste. “Makes sense to me. Jasper and I are always busy during hockey season. School semesters would be the same.”

“What do you mean if you ever manage to pick up another job?” Summer asks.

I sigh, averting my gaze out the window to hide my embarrassment. “No one in town wants to hire me, thanks to my dad and brothers. The bar is the only place I’ve been able to hold down a job. But I need more shifts, and there aren’t any available because everyone who works there loves the money.”

Talking about my problems to two women who remind me of Disney princesses feels odd, but I continue. “The manager likes me, but I guess he can’t fire other employees to make work for me. He offered cleaning the bar for extra money when I told him I was in a bind, so I do that a few times a week too. I’ve moved up and into better shifts over time, but it’s not enough to save for university.”

“Oh, Bailey.” Sloane reaches across the table to hold my hand. Everything about her is soft and sweet. I momentarily want to ask her for a hug. I bet she gives superb hugs.

“I’ll hire you.”

I jolt in my seat, hand turning to clamp onto Sloane’s as I stare at Summer. “What?”

“At the gym. I barely have time to do my own workouts anymore. I’m always at the front desk, or answering emails, or ordering this thing or that thing. Why don’t you just tell me what time of day is good for you and I’ll work with that.”

I straighten, my shoulders shimmying as I hold myself tall. “I don’t want you to pity hire me. That wasn’t what I was trying to do by telling you this.”

Summer shrugs and leans back in her seat. “I know. I asked you.”

My brows furrow. “Did Beau put you up to this?”

“You kidding me? Beau works all day and then rushes home or to the bar to hang out with you. I barely see him, let alone talk to him. He doesn’t even bring you around to the main house that often. He’s hogging you, if you ask me. This will be fun. We’re going to be sisters-in-law. We stick together now.”

A pang of guilt hits me hard and fast. She might not be singing this tune when Beau and I come to an end.

Come to an end.

That has a twinge of pain landing straight in my gut.

But I ignore every sensation and forge ahead with a cheerful smile. “I would love that.”

Summer smiles brightly, holding her champagne flute up to cheers me. “You’re hired!”

I need this. I need this to get out. I need this to survive, and I’ll get over the guilt eventually.

Leaving Beau behind, though?

It feels like I’ll never get over that.


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