“Hey, talking to Mom was your bright idea,” Aidan said.
“Yeah but you’re the one who screwed it up.”
Aidan blew out a breath. “Whatever, man. Get out of my way.”
“Fine.” Gray lifted his hands in surrender. “Apparently you haven’t gotten in enough trouble tonight. You need more. Go for it.”
Aidan shoulder-checked him on his way toward the front door and then was stopped again. He turned, ready to rumble, but it wasn’t his brother, it was Jonathan. “Listen, about Lily,” he started.
Shit. Aidan liked Jonathan, he really did. But if the guy was about to try to lay some kind of claim on Lily and then ask Aidan to back off, they were going to have a problem.
He got that such a thing made no sense at all. He didn’t have any plans to go after Lily for himself, so it shouldn’t matter one little bit if Jonathan did.
But it did matter.
A whole hell of a lot. “What about her?”
Jonathan paused, searched Aidan’s gaze, and smiled. “Never mind. You already answered my question.”
“Wasn’t aware you asked one.”
Jonathan looked away and then back to Aidan. “I’m about to overstep my friendship boundaries with her to tell you something because I think you need to know it. Don’t disappoint me, okay?”
Aidan narrowed his eyes. “Is she in some sort of trouble?”
Jonathan relaxed his shoulders and smiled. “Yeah, you’re not going to disappoint me. You do know why she’s back, right?”
“She lost her job.”
“And to face her past,” Jonathan said. “Which we both know sucked. She blames herself for what happened to Ashley.”
“She shouldn’t,” Aidan said.
“No shit.” Jonathan slid his hands into his pockets. “But have you ever successfully talked a woman out of believing something she wanted to believe?”
Aidan huffed out a barely there laugh. “No.”
“Yeah. So good luck with this one.”
“Wait—What?” But Jonathan was already walking back to the bar, whistling to himself like he had no care in the world.
Aidan was pretty sure he’d just been tasked with relieving Lily of her guilt, which was a bad idea.
The worst of bad ideas.
He stepped outside into a summer night mist and found Lily in the parking lot on her bare knees fighting with the lug nuts on her back left tire, which was flat. When she couldn’t get them loose, she smacked the tire with the wrench.
“Yeah, that’s not exactly how to fix it,” he said.
Her back to him, she went still and tipped her head back to stare up at the misting sky. “Seriously?” she asked it. “What have I ever done to you?”
“Who are you talking to?” he asked.
“Karma. Fate. God.” Getting to her feet, she swiped the rain from her face with a forearm and turned to face him. “Whoever’s listening.”
Walk away, he told himself. Just walk away.
But he couldn’t. One, because he was an idiot. Two, because she had muddy knees and that, combined with the killer dress, did him in. He loved a woman who could get down and dirty.
And three, because there was something in her voice he hadn’t heard earlier. A sadness that gripped him by the throat. He hated this for her. She was carrying way too big of a burden, one she didn’t deserve.
Christ, Kincaid, don’t do it.
But he did. He stepped closer. “Lily—”
“No. Stay back,” she said, pointing a finger at him.
He went still. “Why?”
“Because when you come close I do stupid things.”
“Like let you kiss me.”
“Let me?” He laughed ruefully. “Lily, you just about crawled up my body to get at these lips.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Like I said. Stupid.” Turning away, she hugged herself tight.
And he felt like a first-class asshole. “What’s wrong?” he asked her quietly.
“Other than my tire’s flat and not one person has responded to any of my resumes and I’ve gained five pounds in a few days?” she asked on a mirthless laugh. “Nothing at all is wrong.”
“I’m going to fix your tire,” he said. “And you’ll find the right job soon, you will. And you look …”
She glanced up when he trailed off.
“Amazing,” he said.
She blushed and then remained quiet so long he was sure she had no intention of speaking to him again. Then, so softly he had to move closer to hear her, she said, “Today’s her birthday.”
Aw, hell. He didn’t need to ask whose. Ashley’s, of course.
Lily didn’t fall apart often. She’d made it through the public humiliation of being fired and having to come back to her hometown a big failure without losing her collective shit.
But after seeing everyone at The Slippery Slope tonight, so close and comfortable with each other, she realized that their lives had gone on without her, almost like she didn’t even exist.
That’s when she’d realized she was … lost. Lost and unsure where she belonged. Especially right now standing next to the hottest guy she knew in a light mist staring down a flat tire and another endless, sleepless night in front of her.
“I’m sorry it’s so hard for you to be here,” Aidan said quietly.
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