A lie, as it turned out, because the thing dropped from the wood in her arms and slithered across her boots.
She screamed even louder than before, tossed the wood, and started to run away, her feet scrambling like a cat on linoleum.
She jerked to a halt in shock. No. But sure enough when she turned around, there Aidan stood in the parking lot, framed by the morning light and looking gorgeous, the bastard. He wore dark sunglasses and a long-sleeved Henley with a Cedar Ridge Resort emblem on one pec. And his faded jeans, low slung on his hips, had a rip in one knee that she’d bet was genuine and not manufactured that way. Leaning back on his truck, arms casually crossed, he seemed amused by her snake dance, but not particularly happy to see her.
Well, the feeling was entirely mutual, she thought grimly.
“Need a snake inspection?” he asked.
Yes. If she was being honest, she wanted a serious snake inspection and also, at least in her dreams, she wanted it to involve his hands on her. All over her—Gah. “No.”
At her emphatic tone, he went brows up.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, not having to fake the irritation in her voice. She was irritated, starting to sweat, and—dammit—also a little turned on. Stupid sexy guy jeans.
“I was on my way to my office,” he said.
She slid a look at the resort’s office building and met his gaze again. “You work here too?”
“I help Gray run the place.”
This was curious. “You used to say you’d join your father’s business when you were cold and dead. Or when he was cold and dead,” she said, “whichever came last.”
He lifted a broad shoulder. “Things change.”
That simmered between them for a moment, past and present commingling uncomfortably.
“You find what you were looking for up there on the mountain yesterday?” he asked casually.
What was it about him that made her want to both kiss him and yell at him at the same time? Because once upon a time you wanted him and he … wanted your sister. Oh, yeah, it was all coming back to her now, and her spine snapped straighter. “I told you,” she said. “I was just trying to get my sea legs.”
He wasn’t polite enough to just nod and let her have the lie. Instead he called her out on it. “Or you were thinking of Ashley,” he said with a gentle directness that nearly broke her.
She paused a moment to swallow hard. “I guess I just wanted to say good-bye,” she finally said.
His expression tightened a little at this. “You were going to free-climb the face?”
“No. I’m not in any sort of climbing shape,” she said. “Nor used to the altitude either. I was just going to hike to the top. But as it turns out, I’m not in shape for that either.”
He studied her a long moment. “I’m surprised.”
She wasn’t sure how to take that. “I’ve been stress eating and not exercising like I should—”
“No,” he said. “I meant I’m surprised you’re back. When you left, you vowed to never return.”
Oh. That. “Things change,” she parried softly. Back then she’d lived for the outdoors, suffering through school and work, counting the minutes until she could escape. In the winter she’d been required to be on the ski team for the resort her father managed—not as fun as it might seem. In fact, it’d been brutally competitive and incredibly demanding, to the point that she’d had no life.
But in the off-season, she’d been free.
So she’d hiked and had discovered her first real joy—being alone on the mountain. She’d quickly gotten bored with the trails and had begun challenging herself with rock climbing instead, using no ropes just her fingers, toes, and wits, until there’d been no place on or near Cedar Ridge that she hadn’t explored, including the aptly named Dead Man’s Cliff.
Looking back on it now, it was a miracle that she’d lived to tell the tale. But she hadn’t been the only one enjoying her solitude.
She’d often come across Aidan out there. In fact, if anyone had known that terrain better than she did, it was him. After that night at the summer festival, she’d thought that maybe they’d explore the mountain together.
And then each other.
But then Ashley had claimed him first, and he was the one thing Lily had hoped to never compete with her sister for. Especially after she’d died.
Aidan was watching her from those dark glasses, thoughts hidden, though she had the feeling her own thoughts were as clear to him as crystal. “Tell me about the resort,” she said, before he could ask her any questions.
He shrugged. “Not much to tell. Gray took over the management. It took a few years, but he runs a good ship and we turned it around.”
“We?” she asked.
He smiled grimly. “Turns out we Kincaids are good at pulling ourselves out of the gutter. We’re like cats, nine lives and all that.”
“And good at landing on your feet,” she said.
He bowed his head in silent agreement.
“You’re a busy guy,” she said. “Firefighting, and the resort.”
“And Search and Rescue.”
It all made perfect sense for him. He’d always been at his best on the mountain, and that he’d made a real life for himself on it in every way gave her both a sense of pleasure for him and an ache for herself, one she couldn’t put her finger on. “And the other Musketeers?” she asked, referring to his half siblings, Hudson and Jacob, and their reputation for trouble.
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