Aidan smirked at the “Musketeers” and said, “Hudson works ski patrol in the winter and works with me at S&R as well. And he’s a cop in the off-season—”
She laughed, she couldn’t help it. Hudson, the scourge of Cedar Ridge, becoming a cop of all things.
And Aidan actually flashed a grin as well. “Yeah, I know. Go figure, Hud on the right side of the law. He takes a lot of shit for that. I think he likes it.”
“And Jacob?” she asked. “Don’t tell me he’s a cop too.”
His smile faded. “No. At least I doubt it.” He paused, then shoved his fingers through his hair. “He hasn’t been home in a while. A long while.”
There was pain in his gaze now, and regret. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, and dropping the subject that was none of her business, directed her attention back to the wood.
“Need some help?” he asked.
Need? No. Want? Yes. But she’d never been good at admitting that. “I’m fine.” Tearing her gaze off of him she glared down at a piece of wood. She kicked it again, not once but twice.
She gingerly picked it back up.
“You forget how to survive out here?” he asked.
She glanced at him over her shoulder. “What are you talking about?”
He gave her a slow once-over, gaze lingering on her bare legs, which had certain body parts leaping to life that had no business doing so.
“Loading wood in …” He looked her over again, and his lips quirked. “PJ’s and no gloves. Not the Lily I remember.”
“Well, if one thing’s true, it’s that I’m definitely not that same girl you knew.” She kicked the second piece twice too.
She picked it up, carefully, because Aidan was right. She should be wearing gloves. Spiders lurked in the wood stacks as well as snakes, and the last thing she needed was a bite. She carried the two pieces of wood up the stairs, nearly tripping when she heard his muffled snort of laughter behind her.
“Kiss it?” he asked.
Remembering her shorts, she felt her face flame. Ignoring that, and him, she moved to her front door, dropped the wood in a little stack, turned for more, and—
Ran straight into Aidan, who also had a full armload of wood. “Door,” he directed.
She had no idea how it was that she was both annoyed and yet turned on by his bossy, take-charge tone, but she obediently shifted aside and opened the door. Aidan carried it all into her place and neatly stacked it next to the woodstove. “More?” he asked.
“No.” She watched as he rose to his full height and felt her good parts quiver again. Dammit. “Thanks.”
The air between them thickened. “So,” she said. “You were surprised to see me.”
“Yeah. I was surprised to see you.”
“No one told you I was coming?” she asked.
He met her gaze. “No, though it would’ve been nice to hear it from you.”
“We hadn’t communicated since …” She trailed off. Since Ashley’s death.
No, that wasn’t quite true. He’d tried to get ahold of her after the service. She’d picked up one of his calls, and neither of them had known what to say.
The awkwardness of that conversation had stuck with her enough to cut the ties entirely.
“You got in to Boulder,” he said, referring to the University of Colorado’s pursuit of her. “Onto their ski team. A huge big deal.”
“Yes,” she said, trying not to grimace at the memory of being accepted into the one and only school Ashley had desperately wanted to ski for. It was guilt that had kept her from going, plain and simple. “So?”
“So you didn’t go. Instead you became a cosmetologist.”
She paused and arched a brow, going for a misdirect. “You think I’m beneath being a … cosmetologist?”
“I’m just curious about the transition,” he said easily.
“I decided Boulder wasn’t for me.”
She wasn’t used to the questions. It’d been a long time since anyone had gotten close enough to want to know about her personal life at all. Yeah, there’d been her ex, Michael, but it’d been more about work with him, and they’d never really gotten into each other’s pasts at all. And now she wasn’t sure how to answer Aidan’s question. “I was never a great student, we both know that.”
“Did you think Ashley would be upset at you for going?” he asked.
She had no idea how he did it, how he always put his finger right on her thoughts. Her private thoughts. “Maybe at first.”
“Lily,” he said with devastating gentleness.
“She was the one who wanted to go to college, Aidan. She was meant for it, not me.”
“Bullshit.” He was leaning back against the doorjamb, feet crossed, hands in his pockets, a casual pose, but there was nothing casual about his expression.
He didn’t like where she was going with this.
“I’m not stating an opinion here,” she said. “I’m stating fact.”
“So Ashley was smart,” he said. “So what? So are you. Boulder wouldn’t have accepted you otherwise. Tell me you’ve since realized that, Lily.”
She shrugged. “It took awhile, but after cosmetology school, I started working full-time at the spa, as low on the totem pole as I could possibly get, of course. That frustrated me,” she allowed. “I did all the grunt work and then finally was given more to do but didn’t get any of the credit for it. So I went back to school at night and took some business classes. By the end I was practically running the spa myself.” Not that she’d gotten credit for that either …
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