“You should be,” she said. “First of all, no one let me go—I left. And second, being here …” She swallowed hard. “I don’t know, Jonathan,” she whispered. “I’m not sure I can do this.”
“Well, pull on your big girl panties, because you’re already doing it.” He softened his voice. “Listen, I get it. I lived next door to you, remember? But it’s been a long time, sweetheart. It’s okay to move on, to have a life for you. It’s okay to be happy back here, and maybe even rediscover your love of this place.”
There was so much there that she couldn’t touch. So much. Mostly because it was all true. So she concentrated on the part she could control. “But what if what happened in San Diego follows me—”
“It won’t. You were thrown under the bus by your boss and boyfriend. No one would do that to you here, not even an opportunist like me. I’ve got your back. You’re the sweetest, kindest person I know, Lily.”
“You need to get out more,” she said, uncomfortable with the praise.
“Shh. I know of what I speak. So … how did he look?”
“No, the tooth fairy,” Jonathan said. “Yes, Aidan. How did he look?”
“Sexier than sin on a stick,” she admitted miserably. “The bastard.”
Jonathan laughed in agreement. When it came to all matters sexual, Jonathan was a free agent, playing for whatever team suited him in the moment.
“It was like time reversed itself,” she said. “It took me right back to when … when I left. I want to blame him, but of course I can’t. Especially since it was all my fault.”
Jonathan stopped sounding amused. “Nothing about what happened was your fault,” he said fiercely. “Not Ashley dying on the mountain, not your dad’s heart attack, nothing.”
Lily nodded, which was dumb, since he couldn’t see her. But her throat was too tight to talk.
“Lily? Tell me you didn’t stay away all this time because you think you’re responsible.”
She opened her mouth and then shut it.
Jonathan swore with impressive skill. “You’re no more responsible than the mountain itself,” he said.
“Not true.” Everything had been a dare between Lily and Ashley, a challenge. God forbid they play Barbies or have a tea party together, like so many other little girls. Nope, they’d goaded each other through life at full speed, fighting for their parents’ attention, grades, skiing, climbing, and once upon a time, Aidan.
“Listen, I’ve gotta go,” she said, unable to discuss it. “I’m heading into a tunnel, bad connection.”
“There are no tunnels in Cedar Ridge.”
Committed to her lie, Lily used the back of her throat to fake static. “Hello? Sorry, Jonathan, I’m losing you.”
“Uh-huh,” he said dryly. “You need more phlegm in that static, babe.”
With a grimace, Lily disconnected. She pulled back onto the road. A few minutes later she passed by the resort, which looked busy.
They were in the middle of high summer season, which drew in everyone from bikers to kayakers to climbers to office dwellers on vacay.
Just past the resort, her GPS binged, letting her know that she’d come to the address that Jonathan had given her for housing. He’d told her that the efficiency apartment came with the job, and when she pulled up in front of a large barracks-like building, she got why.
It was employee housing for the resort.
Lily’s unit was on the second floor, and she’d gotten a one-room apartment. She’d assumed that meant one bedroom, but nope. It meant one room. As in the kitchen, dining room, living room, and bedroom were all one big open space.
Big being a bit of a stretch.
Out the back window, she had a view of the lake. From the front window, her view was the parking lot of the resort and the base building.
And the mountain.
She could see most of Cedar Ridge from here, including Dead Man’s Cliff far off to the right. Technically it wasn’t part of the Cedar Ridge Resort property. In fact, Dead Man’s Cliff was closed off to climbers and skiers alike, having been deemed too dangerous since the early 1960s. The only thing allowed there was on-trail hiking.
This hadn’t stopped the daredevils from going up and attempting to free-climb the face. But true to its name, it’d killed more than one adventure-seeking idiot.
Ten years ago that idiot had been her sister.
Lily’s chest tightened. Well, what did she expect? She’d known she would stir up all sorts of emotions by coming back here. Still, it was harder than she’d imagined.
Turning away from the window, she changed her shoes and her intentions. Suddenly she needed to show the mountain she wasn’t afraid. She was going to go for a hike. Not a climb. Just a simple, easy hike. And if she got to the spot where Ashley had left the trail and tried to climb across the face of Dead Man’s Cliff and fallen to her death, then she’d stare that place down and … hell. She had no idea.
But since she had nothing pressing other than obsessing about how she’d ever thought coming back here might be a good idea, she geared up and headed out.
It took her a good half hour to force her feet to move past the trailhead. Twice she turned back but stopped herself.
She could do this.
It was another two hours before she got to the well-known fork in the trail at the base between Cedar Ridge and Dead Man’s Cliff, and she was breathing heavily from exertion by the time she did.
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