“But you watched me. Which means that I was never really by myself at all.”

He ran a finger along her temple, tucking a strand of wet hair behind her ear. He loved the silkiness of her hair and how when she was outside, it always caught the sun, a thousand different colors that he couldn’t possibly name. “No, you were never alone,” he said, purposely switching up the words.

She studied him, her eyes softening. “I didn’t ask for you to watch over me.”

“I know. I wanted to,” he said, and stroked a finger over her temple again. “I loved watching you up on the mountain, whether on the trail or taking years off my life when you went rock climbing. I saw the love of the place all over your face. We had that in common, Lily. I thought it was just a friendship only. And then that night at the dance when I kissed you and you kissed me back like I was the greatest thing that had ever happened to you …” He smiled a little at the memory. “Best day ever.” Lifting his other hand, he slid his fingers into her hair, letting his thumb lightly glide over her.

And damn, he needed to taste her again. Slowly, knowing she’d be stopping him any second, he backed her to the wall and then lowered his head.

She didn’t stop him.

Instead she gripped his biceps and tugged him the rest of the way to her, closing the distance to kiss him.

And kiss him …

Slow.

Sweet.

Achingly so.

He told himself he would stand there and let her have her way with him for as long as she wanted, but he underestimated the speed with which she could decimate his self-control. Still he hung on until he knew he was close to scooping her up and tossing her on her bed, from which there would be no going back.

And he wanted that.

God, how he wanted that.

But he wouldn’t take it there. He couldn’t. Because soon enough she was going to leave. And he didn’t want to feel that pain ever again. Heart heavy with regret, he caught her wandering hands in his and slowed the kiss, gentling it. A good-night kiss now, one that was still sexy as hell but not going anywhere.

Lily stilled as if her wits had just come back to her. She blinked and stepped back. “Crap. That … shouldn’t have happened. Again.” She shook her head. “Especially on her birthday.” She paused. “You should go.”

He wasn’t sure he understood the significance of kissing her on Ashley’s birthday, but she was right about one thing—he needed to go. He stepped outside and turned back … just as she shut the door.

Smart girl.

Welcoming the cold wet air slapping him in the face, Aidan jogged down the stairs and to his truck.

As he started the engine, he looked up and saw Lily at the window, watching him. But then she must have hit the light because the room went dark.

And he drove off, telling himself it was for the best.

Chapter 12

On the days where there were no morning calls, Aidan and his fire crew had a routine. First they trained, hard. This was usually a four-mile run in full gear. After that they cleaned the station and their gear.

Their captain was new this year and still working on earning the guys’ respect. He was five foot six in shoes and a hundred and fifty pounds soaking wet, and was not so affectionately referred to as Captain Tyrant.

For a few days the fire calls had been few and far between, thanks in part to some heavy rainfall leaving everything so wet nothing could catch fire.

Which meant Captain Tyrant was on the loose. This morning he’d made them run five miles in full gear and then decided that they’d go straight into washing the rigs before hitting the showers.

Not a popular call. Hot and sticky from the workout, everyone immediately began to bitch.

But the captain’s jaw was set, which meant there’d be no changing his mind.

So they went to work cleaning. Well, everyone except for Mitch, who’d gone to the shower without hearing the captain’s decree.

When the captain heard the shower running he muttered something about “that cocky son of a bitch” and stormed off to the showers, yelling through the glass doors for Mitch to “get your ass out here and help clean the station right this very minute unless you want to run another five miles in full gear and then clean the place by yourself!”

Mitch, who was six foot four and, at two hundred and twenty pounds, quite an imposing figure, strode out wearing nothing but his fire boots.

Well, and a few soapsuds.

He ambled over to the big bay windows, grabbed a squeegee, and went to work scrubbing the glass, his twig and berries swinging in the wind.

The entire crew doubled over, dying of laughter. Everyone, that is, except for the captain, who was looking apoplectic. “What the hell are you doing?” he bellowed.

“Cleaning like you ordered. Sir,” Mitch added politely, scrubbing with a whole new level of vigor.

The bay windows stretched from ceiling to floor and faced a restaurant across the street. The restaurant was busy with the breakfast crowd, lots of people going in and out.

And there stood Mitch in all his glory, washing the windows.

He was gathering quite the audience.

“Are you trying to get me fired?” the captain yelled.

Probably this wasn’t actually Mitch’s endgame, but going by the considering look that crossed his face, it was clear he wasn’t opposed.

By this time the rest of the crew was practically on the floor rolling while Mitch just carried on, his personal attack hose right there if he needed it.

“Get your ass back in that shower!” the captain roared.

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