She smiled. “Of course not.”
Uh-huh. “So you’re not mad at me anymore?”
“Oh, I’m still mad. But the boss is here tonight.” She nodded her head to the tall, dark, and tough guy at the other end of the bar. Mason. He and Aidan went way back. Mason ran a tight ship and had an extremely low tolerance for bullshit.
Shelly moved off and Aidan turned to Hudson. “So what’s up?”
“Besides your skin resembling a newborn’s ass?” Hudson grinned but it faded quick. “I did some digging.”
“And what did you dig up?”
Everything inside Aidan stilled as he tried to read into Hud’s flat voice, but Hud was good at not giving anything away when he didn’t want to.
Jacob had been gone for eight years now. No one knew why he’d left, or at least no one was talking. If Hud knew, he’d kept it close to the vest. But Jacob had left after finishing high school. He had joined the army.
And had never come back.
“Turns out he was injured,” Hudson said now. “He stayed in Germany at a military hospital there and was released, but I can’t get any specifics or his location.”
“Any indication on how bad he was hurt?” Aidan asked.
“No.” Hudson looked quiet and stoic, so when he slammed a fist down onto the bar it startled everyone within hearing distance. Except Aidan.
He put a hand on Hudson’s forearm and leaned in close to speak, because the place had gone quiet. “Hey, let’s go home and—”
“Don’t. Don’t do that.”
“Be the calm, rational older brother just because I’m losing it,” Hudson said. “I hate when you’re the calm, rational one. I’m not losing it.”
“Whatever you say.” Aidan squeezed Hud’s shoulder. “Come on, man, let’s go. We’ll grab a pizza and—”
“Jesus, I don’t need you to baby me. I’m fine.”
“Fine? You’ve got fifty people staring at you right now wondering when the barstools are going to start flying. Not that I mind a good brawl now and then, but it’s been awhile and I’m out of practice.”
Not amused, not even close, Hudson met his gaze, his own hard. “If you’re looking for someone to save, maybe you should look in your own damn mirror.”
Aidan eased back. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re just as fucked up as me and you know it.”
“We’re the middle brothers, man.”
“You’re a twin.”
“I’m talking about all five of us, you idiot. But if you want to get technical, I was born seven whole minutes ahead of Jacob,” Hud said. “That makes me a middle brother, like you. And as such, we’re the pleasers. The fixers.”
“Fuck you, I’m not a pleaser,” Aidan said. “Or a fixer, whatever the hell that means.”
Hudson smiled grimly. “You know what it means, and you know what I’m getting at. You’ll do anything for someone you love or care about. You’ll help Gray save the resort, a place that, thanks to Dad, leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But you’ll do it for Gray, because he’s everything to you.”
Aidan made a point of looking around. “What, are we filming a chick flick? What’s with all the feels?”
But Hudson was on a roll, and once the guy had a bone he never let go. “And even though you think Jacob wants to be left alone, you’ll help me find him for the sole reason that I need to. And then there’s Kenna. You brought her here to Cedar Ridge when she crashed and burned even though she was afraid of being an imposition—which she was—but you never let her feel it.”
“You done?” Aidan asked.
“No. Because then there’s whatever it is you’re shoving deep down and pretending isn’t eating at you.”
“That’s a load of bullshit,” Aidan said, even though he knew. Christ, he knew.
Hud shook his head. “It’s not, and you know it. So do me a favor and remember how screwed up you are too the next time you feel the urge to save me.”
Aidan felt his temper rise, but he reminded himself that’s what Hudson wanted. A diversion away from himself. He wasn’t going to get it. “This isn’t about saving you. It’s about Jacob.” Or it had been before he and Hud had provided the evening’s entertainment for the bar patrons. “We’ll find him and bring him home,” Aidan promised.
Hudson’s eyes darkened with his own temper that barely hid his grief. “And if we can’t?”
“What if we’re too late?”
“We won’t be,” Aidan said grimly, and prayed to God that would be true as he pulled out cash to cover their bill.
“I still want to knock your ass into next week,” Hudson said as he stood.
“Ditto,” Aidan assured him.
It was noon a few days later when Lily took a break from waxes and facials and hairdos for a quick escape to the back room that was office, staff room, and kitchen all in one. Gray must have approved the renovations she’d requested. They’d picked out paint colors and she was getting new shelving in as well. She’d been working on a new layout and, over a sandwich, she played with it some more on the computer. Then she checked her phone and found exactly zero emails—sigh—and a missed call from her mom that brought panic. She and her mom talked about once a month—unless there was an emergency. And as there’d been a few of those—Ashley, her dad—Lily still felt her heart drop whenever her mom showed up on her phone screen.
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