He looked up Not Again, Hailey!
He vaguely remembered the show, though he’d never seen it. He hit Wikipedia first. Holy shit, Wikipedia was a veritable cornucopia of…shit. The pictures and YouTube clips he found numbered in the tens of thousands, and he just started at the beginning, working his way through some of the interviews and clips of the cast and crew.
As he flipped through hundreds of pics and articles, watching clips of Olivia singing and dancing and acting her little heart out, he got grim, and more grim.
She’d been plucked out of obscurity by a pushy stage mom. She’d carried an entire show from the age of seven until she’d hit sixteen. With that birthday had come a maturity that could no longer be hidden. And then it’d come to an end. Everything and everyone she’d known had scattered.
She hadn’t handled it like an adult, but she hadn’t been an adult. And ouch on the DUI, but he forced himself to keep watching and reading. It was like a train wreck, and he couldn’t look away. In the pictures and clips from after the show had ended, her smile was all wrong.
No one had seemed to notice. How had no one noticed? She’d had all those people around, but they’d been looking out for numero uno—themselves. Who’d had her back? Who’d protected her?
She’d been forced to do that herself, and she had—by burying her past. Her right, he realized.
He wished he could kick his own ass.
He tried calling her again, and just as it rang once, his phone shut off and went dead as a doornail, whatever the fuck that meant. Dead as he’d felt after Gil’s death, after his dad’s death…
But there was something that was no longer dead.
And he knew who to thank for that. The person he’d walked away from, and God, he couldn’t believe he’d done that to her, when all her life, people had walked away from her.
He didn’t deserve a second chance with her, he knew this, but he was going to ask for one anyway, and spend the rest of his life trying to make it up to her.
Unfortunately for Cole, the “storm of the year” blew in and made itself at home along the entire Pacific Coast, socking in fifteen hundred miles of the west.
It carried on the drama for two days, during which time he—holed up in the motel room—ground his back teeth into powder, ate a whole lot of Mickey D’s, and stalked the unstocked, trampled aisles of a convenience store.
When he finally got back into Lucky Harbor two days later, it was six in the morning and so cold he had no choice but to be thinking painfully and clearly.
There was no doubt he’d screwed things up. He was hoping that could be fixed. After all, he was good at fixing things.
With that one silver lining in mind, he drove straight to Olivia’s.
She didn’t answer.
Probably she didn’t want to get out of her warm bed and answer the door. And because he knew that about her, knew too that her heater was probably not even on so she could save money, he didn’t hesitate to take out a slim tool from a pocket and help himself by picking her lock.
Her place was empty.
Shit. He slid behind the wheel of his truck and picked up his cell phone, which was finally charged and going off.
Nothing from Olivia, but he had twenty-five texts from Cindy. With a sigh, he headed over to her house and found his sister trying to feed the baby with one hand and working her tablet and her cell phone with the other.
“Where the hell have you been?” she demanded, trying to shove a spoonful of applesauce into Kyle’s mouth.
Kyle tightened his mouth and shook his head back and forth, sending a happy, drooling coo in Cole’s direction.
Cole smiled at him. “Hey, tiger.”
Kyle bounced up and down in his seat and blew raspberries, trying to entice Cole to scoop him up.
Cole bent low, lifted the kid’s shirt, and blew an answering raspberry on the baby’s belly, eliciting a gut laugh and some serious leg kicking.
“Both of you cool it,” Cindy said. “Trying to feed him here.”
Cole took the spoon from her and promptly made like a plane with it for Kyle, complete with sound effects.
Kyle opened his mouth like a bird and swallowed the whole bite. Then he smiled like an angel at his mama.
Cindy rolled her eyes.
“So what’s the emergency?” Cole asked.
“I screwed up my laptop.”
“And,” she said, frowning at him, “you always fix it when I screw it up. And also you told me last time that I shouldn’t dare attempt to fix it myself, or ever let anyone else touch it, or you’d toss it into the harbor.”
“I shouldn’t have said that,” he said. “That was…rigid of me.”
She narrowed her eyes. “What’s the matter with you today?”
“Uh-huh,” she said. “So can you fix it or not?”
He stared down at the offending piece of technology. “You didn’t deny the rigid thing.”
Craning her head, she blew a strand of hair from her harried face. “Huh?”
“Do you think of me as rigid?”
She paused. “Define rigid.”
“Doesn’t stray from a routine,” he said. “Unbending. Rigid.”
She blinked, then clearly bit back a smile. “And you want me to tell you that you’re not those things?”
“Shit.” He stood up and headed to the door.