She closed her eyes. “It’s not that.” Although it’d be a lot easier if she had any job—or life—prospects. Or an umbrella. She swallowed past the football-size lump in her throat. “It’s that I miss her. I miss her so much.”
“Aw, Lily,” he breathed and when he held out his arms she was just wrecked enough to walk into them. He opened his jacket for her to get closer and she snuggled inside, finding him dry and warm and smelling like heaven.
A sigh escaped her as those strong arms closed around her. And she pressed her face into his chest, letting him hold her up for a moment. For just a moment … “I feel so alone,” she whispered, hating that the words escaped, though they were the utter truth and she was tired of holding on to them.
Because she did feel alone. Alone and sad and restless, like maybe she was missing the boat that was her life.
“But you’re not alone¸” Aidan said, stroking a big hand down her back. “There are people here in Cedar Ridge who care about you.”
She didn’t say anything to this. Mostly because she was remembering how she’d felt like such an outsider at The Slippery Slope. Maybe he was talking about himself caring about her. That would be nice. Yes, she was crazy. She blamed the fact that he smelled delicious and had to tell her hopeful body that she was not going to kiss him again. She couldn’t. Not and live with herself. “You want to hear something stupid?”
“Always,” Aidan said, voice low, a little rough and a whole lot sexy.
“I pictured Cedar Ridge as standing still the whole time I was gone.” She shook her head and leaned back to see his face. “I expected it to be the same, but it’s not. Everything’s different, everyone’s changed.”
As if adding an exclamation point to this sentence, Mother Nature chose that moment to turn the mist into rain. Lily let out another mirthless laugh.
Aidan tugged off his jacket and wrapped her up in it. “Come on, I’ll drive you home.”
“Is Shelly your ex-girlfriend?” Not the question she’d meant to ask, not even close, but she hugged his jacket close and bit her tongue, not willing to take it back.
If Aidan was surprised by the question, he didn’t show it. “We saw each other on and off, mostly off, but she was never a girlfriend,” he said.
“So there’s no … relationship?”
“I haven’t had time to be in a relationship,” he said. “Now let’s go. I’ll come back to fix your tire and get the car to you.”
That all sounded good, but there was more sympathy in his gaze than she was comfortable with. “Why?” she asked.
He looked confused at the question, like it didn’t compute. And for a guy whose job was, literally, to help people, to save them from whatever situation they’d found themselves in, it probably didn’t compute. He was programmed to help people, to save their asses, no matter how pathetic the situation.
“Why would I help you?” he repeated slowly, obviously still baffled by her. “Because I can. Because I want to.”
But she didn’t want to need saving. Not by him, not by anyone. She did her own saving, thank you very much. And if she could’ve budged those lug nuts, she’d have changed her own stupid tire. “But I don’t need saving.”
“I hear you,” he said, calm and quiet, like maybe he was talking her off a ledge, and in some ways she supposed he was. “But it’s raining,” he reminded her. “And you’re wearing a pretty dress, which you’d get dirty changing your own tire.”
She looked down at herself. She’d almost forgotten she was dressed up. Her knees were a mess. And the dress was clinging to her thighs a little bit. Aidan’s clothes were doing the same now. He looked good wet. Too good.
“Come on,” he said, grabbing her hand, pulling her across the lot before she could think of stopping him.
When he pulled open the passenger door of his truck, she met his gaze. “Okay,” she said. “But I want to note that this isn’t a rescue. This is a favor that you’ll let me return.”
“Sure,” he said. “Just get out of the rain and in the damn truck.”
“No, I mean it, Aidan. You have to let me pay you back somehow.”
He dropped his head and muttered something beneath his breath about the entire female race being more stubborn than a pack of Kincaids. “Fine,” he said, meeting her gaze again. “You owe me a favor. Get in.”
“And you’ll let me repay you.”
One brow shot up.
“Say it,” she said. She was probably proving his point about her being stubborn, but she didn’t care. “Say you will, or no go.”
He gave her a long, hard alpha-man look she imagined usually worked for him, but she held her ground. It was the one thing she knew about him more than anything else—he was strong, inside and out. Strong willed, strong minded, and she needed to be the same to stand up to him.
Finally he let out a low laugh and shook his head. “You’re something else, you know that?”
“I do know,” she assured him. “And …?”
His gaze dropped to her mouth and his voice dropped too. “And I’ll let you repay the damn favor.” Apparently done indulging her, he practically hoisted her into the truck, then leaned in to do her seat belt for her, like that might keep her from running. When she was locked in, he came around to the driver’s seat and slid in behind the wheel. He shook his head and sent a myriad of raindrops flying before turning over the engine and cranking the heater. “You warm enough?” he asked.
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