Chapter 9

Lily managed to get to the Mane Attraction at nine a.m. on the dot, half an hour earlier than her official start time. She liked to be prepared. Unlike, say, how it felt to run into Aidan again. Nope, she was as unprepared for that as one could get …

The salon was located in the bottom floor of the big lodge at the resort, next to an equipment rental and sales shop. The place itself was small and cluttered but warm and welcoming nevertheless. There was one client room for waxing, and everything else was done out in the main room of the salon.

In other words, no real privacy.

“Not what you’re used to, I’m sure,” Jonathan said as he walked her around.

True enough. The place was nothing like Lily was used to. In San Diego they’d had 10,000 fabulous square feet, every inch designed to soothe and calm and rejuvenate the spirit.

They’d been a five-star salon and proud as hell of it.

Jonathan gestured to the three hair stations. “Pick your spot.”

Pick her spot? “Don’t you have more staff coming in?” she asked.

“Today it’s just you and me, Lily Pad.”

She stared at him.

He sighed. “Cassandra’s not supposed to be on her feet for more than a half hour at a time, so she’s not working anymore until after she pops. And then there’s my part-timers, Terika and Rosa, but they’re not in today either.”

“What days are they in?”

“Well¸” he said with a grimace. “That varies. Terika’s mad at me right now.”

“Why?”

“Something to do with a late night, too much Jack Daniel’s, and a really awkward morning after.” He sighed. “It’s complicated.”

I bet. “And Rosa?”

“She scares me.”

Lily laughed, but Jonathan didn’t. “You serious?” she asked.

“As a midget at a nudist colony,” he said.

Lily shook her head and spent a few minutes selecting a station and getting her stuff all set up. They shared a wash station, and everyone had to answer phones, since they didn’t have a receptionist. Definitely not five star, but then again this wasn’t SoCal. Needs here were different. Things were simpler.

For the last ten years, she’d thrown herself headlong into the San Diego culture and lifestyle. But the Rocky Mountain way of life came back to her in less than fifteen minutes. The lack of fake niceties, the laid-back atmosphere … all of it.

It took her about five more minutes to realize that the Mane Attraction needed some major modernizing: new supplies, brighter lighting, new equipment, and a better system all around.

Which became obvious two hours into her shift, when she blew a fuse after attempting to straighten a client’s hair while another client sat under a dryer. She found Jonathan in the back office grabbing a snack. Chips and dip, and her mouth watered.

“Damn,” he said. “It’s a sad moment when you lose a chip in the dip and you send in a recon chip but that breaks too.”

“Stop it, you’re making me hungry,” she said, and grabbed a chip. “What kind of dip?”

“Ranch.”

“Low fat?”

“Hell no,” he said. “Life’s too short for fake butter, dip, or people. Call the landlord about the blown fuse. The number’s programmed into the phone.”

Knowing full well who the landlord was, Lily balked. “I don’t think—”

“It won’t be him,” Jonathan said. “It’ll be Gray.”

So she made the call, and indeed got Gray, who was calm and efficient. She had no idea if that was because he could hear the panic in her voice that he might try to strike up a conversation or because he just didn’t care. In either case, he didn’t try to make the call personal. He simply promised to send someone within the hour.

The front door opened, and Jonathan’s next client walked in. Char Kincaid—Aidan’s mom. She gave Lily a big hello hug and seemed genuinely happy to see her.

“You look great,” Lily said.

Jonathan smiled at Char. “For a feeble old woman, she sure does.”

“Jonathan,” Lily gasped in horror.

Char laughed and spoke in the soft Southern accent she’d never lost, not even after living in Colorado for forty years. “No, he’s just making fun of my boys because that’s what they think.”

Lily stared at her. Char was in her late fifties and trim with lovely chestnut-colored hair and warm chocolate-brown eyes that matched Aidan’s. She walked with a cane, but otherwise seemed fine. “They think you’re feeble?”

Char laughed. “Well, to be fair to them, you’re seeing me on a good day. I’ve had some hip trouble again. Took a fall and needed surgery. But I’m on the mend. Unless you ask Aidan and Gray. I tripped last week and they nearly sent for an ambulance. They worry like a couple of grannies. Baby,” she said to Jonathan, “would you mind if Lily fixed me up today?”

“Not even a little,” Jonathan said.

Lily smiled as she went to work on Char’s hair even as a part of her ached. The Kincaids stuck together through thick and thin. For the last ten years she’d been independent. On her own. No one counted on her, and she didn’t count on anyone either.

It was best that way.

Or so she’d told herself. But she couldn’t deny just a little bit of envy at what the Kincaids had in one another. “They worry because they love you and want you to be happy and safe,” she said.

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