“No,” Gray said, his voice low and rough with emotion he rarely allowed to show. “You listen to me, A. Dad should’ve protected us. And failing that, Mom should’ve—”
“Don’t you blame her.”
“I don’t.” Gray shook his head. “It was a seriously messed-up situation that no kid should’ve been caught in. And I originally thought he should have to fix this, but now—”
“He can’t come here. Mom’s doing good, she’s happy. If he comes—”
“He won’t,” Gray said tightly. “If he does, I’ll kill him.”
“The resort is ours now. We’re going to save it. He’s not going to win, Gray.” He started to move away, but Gray caught him and pulled him back around.
“One more thing,” Gray said. “I’d give anything to be able to go back and protect you. I’m your big brother.”
“I can out-bench-press you. I don’t need protection.”
“Too bad,” Gray said. “I’m right here standing at your back and always will be. Got it?”
Aidan stared into Gray’s very serious eyes and nodded.
“Good,” Gray said. “So. We do this the way we’ve done everything. Without him.”
The relief almost knocked Aidan on his ass. “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me for that. We’re a family. And speaking of that, I know you only stick around here for me.”
This was way too deep to handle on utter exhaustion. “Well, and also to watch Penny boss you around,” Aidan said, trying to lighten the mood.
Gray let out a rough laugh and dropped his head for a beat before lifting it and looking at Aidan. “I don’t want you to stay just because you feel you have to.”
“I don’t,” Aidan said. “I stay for you. And Mom. And Hud and Kenna. You guys mean something to me. I stay because I believe in us, dammit. We belong here. Together.”
Gray started to step into Aidan, no doubt to hug him, but Aidan slapped a hand on his brother’s chest. “What’s with you and Hud and all the chick flick moments?”
“Suck it up,” Gray said, and hauled him in anyway. And then for good measure he lifted Aidan off his feet and shook him like he used to do when they were kids, proving Gray could at least tie Aidan in a bench-press competition after all.
Aidan sighed. “We’re right on the side of the road for chrissakes,” he grumbled. “Anyone can see us.”
Gray laughed and tightened his arms, refusing to let him go until Aidan managed to give him a head noogie and they shoved clear of each other.
A few minutes later they were back on the road, their silence much more comfortable now. Aidan was the first to break it. “How much of a shot do we really have at handling this ourselves?”
“We have a year,” Gray said. “And there’s nothing us Kincaids are good at if it’s not saving our own asses in the home stretch.”
Aidan nodded and hoped that was really true. But he was too tired to give it much thought. He rested his head back and closed his eyes until Gray pulled up in front of their building, his gaze locking on the sight of Penny’s car parked in the lot. “Nothing like coming home to a good woman.”
They got out and Aidan stared at the building, wishing that he had even a half a percent chance at finding Lily in his bed waiting for him. “You’re a lucky son of a bitch, having Penny decide on you way back in middle school, when you were actually decent-looking.”
Gray laughed. “I know exactly how lucky I am. Especially given what an idiot I was.”
“Was?” Aidan asked.
Gray wrapped an arm around Aidan’s neck and returned the painful noogie.
Aidan gave Gray a push in front of him and then tripped his brother up the stairs.
Then they walked into the building together and went their separate ways. Aidan walked into his and Hud’s place starving and exhausted. He wanted a huge breakfast spread that included eggs rancheros and a mountain of French toast and Lily in his bed.
Naked and willing.
None of the above was waiting for him. He opened his fridge and was staring at slim pickings when his phone rang.
“Problem,” Hudson said.
Aidan closed his eyes. “Dude, I just got home and am on three hours of sleep. Solve your own problems.”
“I’m at Gray’s desk staring at a monitor and I’ve got Lily sitting on a north-facing rock staring down Dead Man’s Cliff.”
“Shit,” Aidan said.
“Want me to go out there?”
“No.” Aidan shoved his hand through his hair. “I’ve got her.”
He drove up the hill and jogged the rest of the way, and was at the trailhead in under seven minutes. He tried calling Lily. He went straight to voice mail. Blowing out a breath, he hit the trail. It wasn’t often he did this. In the winter, he often skied every part of this hill, but in the summer months if he ended up out here in any capacity, it was because he was looking for someone, or fighting a blaze.
He was halfway up when he heard Lily coming down. And sure enough around the next turn she nearly plowed right into him.
She was flat out running for her life.
So that she didn’t take them over the edge he grabbed her arms and absorbed the impact.
With a gasp she stilled. Out of breath, damp with sweat, she stared up at him. “What are you doing here?”
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