“You first,” he said.
She backed from him and gulped in air. “I’m running.”
She stared at him for a beat and then laughed. She had to bend over and put her hands on her knees, and he took the moment to soak up the sight of her in a T-shirt and spandex shorts, both revealing lots of smooth, gorgeous skin and mouthwatering curves.
Finally she straightened.
“You going to tell me what’s so funny?” he asked.
“You, thinking the only reason I’d be running is because something’s chasing me.” She smiled. “I’ve spent the past month eating my emotions. The only thing I’m running from is the calories I’ve consumed.”
“Oh.” He relaxed. “I thought maybe—”
“I needed rescuing?”
“Well … yeah,” he said, and rubbed his jaw, watching her closely to see if she was going to fall apart.
He should’ve known better.
Her smile gone, she shook her head. “I don’t need rescuing.” Then she gnawed on her lip. “Okay, so not counting the snake and the tire, I don’t need rescuing.”
“No,” he agreed. “You don’t. You’re one of the strongest women I know. You bury your shit deep. I know a little about that, Lily, and it never works out well. I can promise you that.”
“And just what do you think I’m burying?” she asked.
“Just about everything … including your feelings for me,” he said.
She stared at him. He waited for her to laugh and deny it, or throw the words back in his face, but she did neither.
“This is my battle to fight,” she said. “Alone.”
This was an alien concept for Aidan, who never felt alone. Hell, his siblings lived right on top of him. “But you’re not alone.”
“I need to be for this,” she said stubbornly.
Independent to the end. And God forbid she accept help or support from anyone, especially him. “Lily, you’ve been on your own a long time, but you don’t have to be—”
“The past is the past. It plays no part in the here and now.”
“If that was really true, you wouldn’t be harboring a mad at me,” he said.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not mad at you.”
“You sure about that?” he asked.
She held his gaze for only a beat before looking away.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
“Oh, goodie,” she said. “Sounds like fun.” And then she took off down the trail on her own.
Lily slept poorly that night, thinking of what Aidan had said. She was mad at him, she realized. Not because of Ashley. It wasn’t his fault her sister had fallen for him. No, Lily was mad because he’d made her want him again, with no effort at all.
Also not his fault, a small part of her brain said.
She didn’t care. She wanted him, quite badly as it turned out, and irrational or not, it made her mad. Being back in Cedar Ridge was hard. Being on the mountain was even harder. But she was working on all of that.
But to fall for Aidan and even consider sticking around as she did in the deep dark of the night?
And now she was getting somewhere, she had to admit. Her anger was a cover-up for the real emotion that was clogging her throat—fear. Fear for her, because she wasn’t good at needing and wanting someone, and that made her vulnerable. She hated being vulnerable.
And in any case, she was much better at being independent and alone.
But that wasn’t all she was afraid of. She was also afraid for Aidan. It was his job to go up on the mountain that had claimed half of her family, and he did it in the worst, most dangerous situations possible, risking his life to save others. It changed nothing.
She worked all day, and when she got home, tired and out of sorts, it was to find her apartment the temperature of a refrigerator.
She’d left the windows open.
Only a few hours earlier it’d been in the nineties and so hot and dry the air had crackled and she’d given herself electroshocks every time she touched anything. But this was the Rockies, and often the temps dropped drastically with the sun.
She blew out a breath and eyed the cute little framed pic of her and Ashley that her mom had sent. Ashley was smiling.
“Let me guess, it’s because you don’t have to load wood anymore,” Lily said, picking up the baby-blue cashmere scarf that she’d left alongside the photo. She wrapped it around her neck, feeling the incredible softness of it like it was a hug from above. Lily buried her face in the cashmere, remembering the last time she’d seen Ashley wear it. They’d been on bikes—racing each other, of course. Ashley had been in the lead and she’d glanced back at Lily, laughing wildly, the blue cashmere flying out behind her.
For a long moment Lily stood there, lost in the memory. Then, needing to feel her fingertips and toes, she kicked off her sandals and shoved her feet into her boots and went outside and down the stairs to the woodpile.
She stood and stared at it, trying to will any snakes away.
A car drove up and stopped. The window rolled down.
It was Penny. She was beautiful, deceptively petite, even dainty, and though Lily didn’t know Penny all that well, she did know that Gray’s wife could kick some serious ass.
“Long time no see,” she said to Lily. “Nice look.”
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