Kendra grinned from ear to ear. The two of them had been raised in foster homes until only a few months ago, when their father had relocated in order to take care of them. There was precious little money in their household, but Lucky Harbor did its best to take care of its own. There’d been clothing and food donations. The rec center provided after-school care. Becca brought them in for Drama Days.
It was reason number 1,000,003 that Olivia loved Lucky Harbor. “We’ll do something Halloweeny over the next two weeks to celebrate the rest of October.”
Pink clasped her hands together under her chin, her face a mask of sheer delight. “We never got to have Halloween before! Daddy says he’s going to try to get us costumes this year!”
Kendra nodded her matching enthusiasm without saying a word. She very rarely spoke, which would make it interesting if she was going to be the lead in Cinderella today.
The moms had been looking through the store, and several had laid items on the checkout counter to purchase. Kids were wandering around, girls chattering excitedly, boys looking for trouble. Their energy ramped up even more when Olivia opened her trunk.
The kids gathered in close. The first time they’d done this, there’d been more than a few catfights over the costumes. Olivia had put a quick end to it by promising that the costumes were meant for sharing, that they’d seen a lot of wear over the years and they enjoyed being passed around. No one would be left out, ever. They’d reenact the short play over and over, until everyone got a turn at whatever part they wanted.
And she’d always kept that promise.
“So much stuff!” one of the girls said reverently.
It was true. Olivia had a lot of stuff. Tamilyn had always said she was one box of stuff away from a Hoarders Very Special Episode.
That might be true, too.
The next two hours flew by. They ran the “script” four times, enough to give everyone who wanted a shot at Cinderella a turn. Kendra went last, she insisted on it. Not with words. In fact, she never spoke at all, just gently pushed each of the girls ahead of her.
Finally she got her turn, and she glowed through the whole thing, even if she did make Pink speak her lines for her.
Afterward, as they filed through the door, Olivia hugged each kid as they left. They were all beaming, happy, and it meant so much to her that she’d given them that. She wondered if any of the people in her life—her agent, manager, director, acting coach, set dresser, tutor, any of them—had ever felt the same about what they’d given her.
But she knew they hadn’t. Couldn’t have. Not with the way they’d all vanished from her life the moment the show had been canceled.
Kendra was last to leave, and she wrapped her thin arms around Olivia’s waist and pressed close, trustingly, sweetly, smelling like the chocolate chip cookies they’d consumed.
Unlike the others, the girl didn’t say thank you—she didn’t say anything. But as her gaze met Olivia’s, she didn’t have to. It was all there in her eyes: the gratitude, the joy, the relief that life was different for her these days, which was to say much better.
“You had fun?” Olivia asked, already knowing the answer.
“You enjoyed the costume?”
Kendra’s grip tightened and she nodded again, even more emphatically.
“Good.” She squeezed the little girl, then concentrated on cleanup, dropping to her knees in the center of the Drama Days rug. When she picked up the Cinderella costume, she paused.
And then draped it over the front of her and looked down at herself. It would never fit her now but she could remember vividly when it had.
“I’d have guessed you were more the Xena, Warrior Princess, type than pink satin and lace.”
Olivia whirled around and found Cole standing in the doorway to the shop, watching her hold the costume to herself.
Cole flashed that smile of his, the one that made Olivia’s stomach feel like a butterfly sanctuary.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, rising to her feet.
The same exact words she’d given him on the dock for the reason she’d been out so early.
A lie, of course. She’d been watching him work on the big, impressive boat that seemed as tough as he was, fascinated by the give and play of his muscles, the fluid, easy way he moved as if he was so sure in his own skin.
“You want to model that?” he asked.
She looked down at the Cinderella gown in her hands and snorted. “No.”
She gazed at him speculatively. He was toying with her. But two could play at that game, she thought. “You have a princess fetish?”
“No fetish, but I’m never opposed to roleplaying.”
Her entire body hummed. Note to self: Not quite ready for prime time with Cole Donovan.
Laughing softly at whatever he saw on her face, Cole came all the way into the shop, letting the door close behind him.
“I’m closed,” she said.
He helpfully flicked the lock, which resisted his efforts. He turned to eyeball it and then manhandled it the way she had to every single day.
“I could fix that,” he said.
“That’s okay,” she said, looking at his sling. No way would she risk hurting him again. “I don’t want you to spend your time. And besides, I have a handyman guy.” She totally didn’t have anything of the sort.
“It’d take me less than two minutes,” he said. “And no charge.”