“Buck up, Lily Pad,” he said. “Things are about to get better. I promise.”
“Yeah.” She shook her head. “And how exactly is that going to happen again?”
“Because you’ve got me at your back now,” he said, a smile in his voice. “Trust me.”
She could trust him, she reminded herself, warming a little as she sighed. Besides, what choice did she have? “Okay, but you’d better be right.”
“Always am,” he said. “Always am. See you soon.”
Lily disconnected and started to get out of the car but realized her feet were bare. She looked around, but apparently along with her city shell she’d also lost one of her wedge sandals. Maybe it was wearing an invisibility cloak. The search led to some swearing and a lot of digging into the luggage in the backseat, and she finally grabbed the next thing she came to.
A pair of Uggs.
She had to laugh as she slid her feet into them. Uggs with a sundress. In San Diego dressing this way would have raised eyebrows, but it was par for the course in Cedar Ridge. Or at least it had been. Torn between hoping things hadn’t changed and that they had, she headed into the convenience store, planning on getting in and out without seeing anyone she knew.
There were a handful of other customers in the place, but no one looked familiar. Grateful for small favors, she grabbed an armful of her two favorite food groups—chocolate and salt—then made her way to the front counter to check out.
The convenience store clerk gave her a big eyebrow raise as she dumped her loot on the counter, but either he had sisters or a girlfriend because he didn’t say anything as he started to ring her up.
She didn’t recognize him, but that didn’t surprise her. Ten years was a long time. The thought brought a new wave of anxiety and had her grabbing one more thing that she didn’t need—a package of cookies from the counter display.
“Nice,” the clerk said without a smidgeon of judgment in his voice as he rang her up. “I especially like the way you’ve got the entire junk food pyramid represented here. That’s not easy to do.”
She had a pack of donuts, two pies—one lemon, one cherry—a pint of caramel delight ice cream, a family-size bag of chips, and now cookies as well.
“Bad breakup?” the clerk asked.
“No.” Only a little bit of a lie. Because there was bad and then there was bad bad. And hers had definitely been the latter.
“Smoking too much wacky-tobacky?” he asked.
She could one hundred percent understand why he might think so, but she again shook her head in the negative. No, she was attributing this junk food fest to getting fired from the upscale San Diego salon where she’d worked until three weeks ago.
Apparently she was going to eat her feels about that whole situation.
“Maybe you’re having a party?” the clerk asked and flashed a smile. “FYI, my name is Cliff, and I like parties.”
“Sorry,” she said. “No party.” She took a moment to eyeball the rack of candy bars on display.
Cliff laughed. “Listen, don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but you have repeat customer all over you, so you should know that we’re open twenty-four seven. Which means you really don’t have to buy us out of stock right this very minute. Also, at midnight the candy bars go on sale—two for one.”
“Do I look like the sort of person who’d go out at midnight for a sale on candy bars?” she asked.
She sighed and handed over her debit card, aware that a line had formed behind her. Not glancing back, she said a quick little prayer that her card went through the first time and let out a breath of relief when it did.
Getting fired sure had put a crimp in her style.
“Do you want a bag?” Cliff asked. “We charge for them now. Ten cents each.”
She had at least a dozen bags in the back of her car. Not that she’d remember them. “Not necessary.” Since she always forgot her bags, she was an expert and scooped the loot into her arms. Everything fit but the bag of chips.
Cliff helpfully added them to the top of the pile. Lily thanked him, pressing her chin down on the chips so as to not lose any of her precious cargo. “Got it,” she assured him.
Cliff lifted his hands and she started to leave, sidestepping to avoid bumping into the customer coming up to the register. Lily was halfway to the door when something made her glance back at the line.
Which was how she saw the very last person on earth a woman wanted to see when she felt like roadkill, didn’t have on her good moisturizer or her lucky lip gloss …
The guy who’d once upon a time starred in all her fantasies as the man of her dreams: Aidan Kincaid, wearing cargo pants and a dark blue T-shirt with a Search-and-Rescue emblem on the pec, a radio on his hip, looking dusty and hot and tired and sexy as hell.
Her heart began a slow and way too heavy beat, and she whipped her head around to face forward again.
“Lily? Lily, is that you?” a woman just in front of her asked.
Lily blinked at her.
“Mrs. Myers,” the fiftyish woman said helpfully. “Your high school English teacher.” She beamed. “Why, I haven’t seen you in years. How are you doing, dear?”
Lily’s mind raced, leaving her unable to formulate a thought past her instinct to flee. She’d hated English. She’d paid her sister to read the books and write her papers, and in return, Lily had done all of Ashley’s math and science and taken on her work hours at the resort their dad had run. “Uh …”
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