He looked at her reflection in the mirror for a long moment, but didn’t respond as he folded his long body into the chair.

“So,” she said, hands on his shoulders. “Buzz cut? Or maybe a new color? Both?”

He actually paled.

“Aw, don’t worry. I hardly ever nick an ear or screw up a color.”

He stared at her. “This is the worst repaid favor in the history of forever.”

She laughed again.

“A trim,” he allowed, trying to not be moved by her laughter. “That’s it. You hear me?”

Oh, she heard him. And she supposed it was wrong that she was enjoying this so much, but she didn’t care. She shook out her cape and wrapped it around him.

“Lily.”

“Sure,” she said. “A trim. Whatever you want.”

He sat there, long legs stretched out in front of him, his body loose and relaxed, though his eyes tracked her every movement as she stood over him. “You don’t trust me,” she murmured.

He didn’t respond to this and she had to admit, that one stung a little bit. But she gave him a trim and then led him to the private client room. “For our facial.”

“Lily—”

“Painless, I pinky swear.”

He eyed the bed. “Be gentle with me.”

“Lie down, Aidan.”

He stretched out on his back on the bed, feet casually crossed, his hands up behind his head. “My safe word’s more.”

She tried to ignore him, but that was all but impossible. She moved to the sink and mixed up their organic facial product—a recipe she was proud to have brought to this salon—and slathered it on his face. She nearly jumped when he spoke.

“So how are you doing?”

She stared down at him and his eyes opened, locking on hers. Not cynical or amused. Just genuinely curious.

“Truth?” she asked.

“Always.”

She slowly shook her head.

Making a sound of regret, he reached out and took her hand. “Can I help?”

She didn’t want to say the first thought that came to her mind, that by just being there for her, he’d already helped. “This is on me,” she finally said. “But thanks.”

“You know you’re not alone, right? Even if I look like an idiot with shit all over my face?”

“Yeah.” She smiled at him. “And it’s not shit, it’s magic. You’re going to have great skin when this is over. And you’re the one who’s supposed to be spilling your guts, remember? What’s this I keep hearing about saving the resort? Can you save it?”

He gave her a bland look. “My mom again, I take it.”

“She’s worried about you guys. She’s worried you’re going to lose the place.”

“There’s a lot we can do before that happens.” He blew out a sigh. “Might have to cut staff, but we’re going to try really hard not to do that.” He slid her a look. “That’s extremely confidential information, by the way.”

“Understood.” She didn’t mention Char had already told her that, not wanting to get her in trouble.

“My mom blames herself,” he said. “She shouldn’t. She didn’t walk away from her family, leaving them powerless and broken.”

Lily put her hand on his arm. “I knew you then. Knew all of you. I never saw you powerless or broken.”

The corner of his mouth twitched in a grim smile and he shook his head. “You saw what I let you see, what I let everyone see. We were fucked up, Lily, and in some ways still are. But this place means everything to Gray, and he means everything to me. Jacob, Hudson, Kenna too. It keeps us together—or mostly,” he added. “And it’s ours.”

“You’ve earned it,” she said.

He nodded. “And we’ll find a way to keep it. We have to, if nothing else to prove that Richard Kincaid didn’t take it away from us. He didn’t win.”

She got that he and the rest of the Kincaids had their self-worth, their very identity tied up in this place. Saving the place was so much more than just saving a family business to them.

So much more.

But she wished that Aidan could see that they had worth with or without the resort. “You work your butt off,” she said. “No one can say you all didn’t try hard enough. Have you thought about getting your dad to help, seeing as this is his mess?”

“Not happening,” he said in a tight tone she’d rarely heard him use. A tone that said drop it.

She got it. He didn’t want to go there. In any case, she believed they would save the resort, because she wanted it to be true, for him. And because she believed in him. She always had. That had never been the problem.

Their gazes locked and held.

“It killed me when you left,” he said quietly. “Not as much as letting you put this ridiculous mud on my face, but close.”

She stilled and stared at him, a little dizzy with the abrupt subject change.

Not to mention the frankness of the statement in spite of the infused humor.

It killed me when you left. “You … you never said.”

“Didn’t get a chance, but believe it. You going without a word devastated me. I kept imagining you trying to get over Ashley’s and your dad’s deaths on your own.” He shook his head. “But you made it clear you weren’t looking back. Even now it’s like that. You’re here for the job, but you still have one foot out the door, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice when the next, better job comes along.”

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