They both eyed Lily’s cute sundress and Uggs. “I’m freezing my parts off. I forgot how cold it gets at night here in Timbuktu.”
“Yeah,” Penny said. “But since it’s so gorgeous here, I tend to forgive it.”
“I’m working on that.”
Penny’s smile faded. “You doing okay?”
“I’m not just being polite,” Penny said. “I really want to know. Are you doing okay being back? It’s got to be hard—or so I’m guessing, since it took you ten years to do it.”
Lily sighed. “Yeah. I’m sorry I didn’t keep in touch.”
“No apology necessary. You’re making some changes at the salon, I hear. That facial you gave Aidan made his face look smoother than a baby’s butt. If I come in, can you make my face look smoother than a baby’s butt?”
“Absolutely,” Lily said.
“And maybe while you work your magic, you’ll tell me all about what’s going on between you and my brother-in-law,” Penny said in a casual tone that was in direct opposition to her obscene brow waggle.
Lily kept her cool. “That won’t take long, since there’s nothing going on.”
Penny studied her a beat and then smiled. “Do you know what I do for a living these days?”
“I’m an investigator for an insurance company, and I happen to specialize in reading people. That’s how I know you’ve told me two lies in two minutes.”
“I …” Lily shifted her weight. “Well, not two whole lies.”
“First lie,” Penny said, holding up a finger. “You’re not fine. And the second …” She added another finger to the first. “There is something going on between you and Aidan, some sort of relationship. I just don’t know what.”
Lily managed a laugh. “You know as well as I do, Aidan isn’t all that interested in relationships.”
“You’re wrong there,” Penny said. “He’s actually extremely attached to the people in his life and protects his relationships with them like a dog with a bone.” She let that sink in a beat. “I’ve got to go, but I’ll come into the Mane Attraction this week. Maybe we can have drinks after and count the ways in which the Kincaids drive us crazy.”
“You’re married to one of them,” Lily pointed out.
“Which makes me an expert on counting the ways …”
Lily laughed, and when Penny drove off she went back to the woodpile. All she needed were two, maybe three logs. That would warm the place up enough to get going. She carefully chose her logs, surprised at how heavy they were with last night’s rain soaked in. Damn, maybe she needed to lift fewer cookies and more weights.
She stacked the logs in her arms and climbed the stairs. At the top, something dropped from her load and hit the landing. Then it ran over her feet and vanished.
She screamed, took a step back, and—
Fell backward down the stairs.
The logs went with her, hitting each stair with a thump, making the entire fall—which seemed to happen in slow motion—super noisy.
She landed in a heap at the bottom, stunned.
There were a few beats of utter silence during which the only thing she could hear was the thunder of her heartbeat in her ears. Then—
“Don’t move!” A face swam into her focus. Lenny. “Jesus, are you all right?” he asked.
“Are you here for a haircut?” she asked a little woozily and a whole lot confused.
“No, I live in your building,” he said. “Are you all right?”
The truth was, she had no idea. Her pride was cracked in half, and possibly her ass as well. She tried to sit up but he stopped her. “Wait,” he said. “Give yourself a minute. That was a bad wipeout.”
She groaned. Great.
“Anything feel broken?” he asked.
“No.” She didn’t care if that was a lie, she wanted to get up on her feet, preferably with no witnesses. Pushing Lenny’s hands away, she sat up and looked down at herself.
Dirty but surprisingly very little blood. With various aches and pains already starting to make themselves known, she staggered to her feet.
“Hey, wait,” Lenny said. “You’re not supposed to move. If you broke your neck, your head could fall off.”
She gave him a long look.
“I saw it on CSI once,” he said.
“I didn’t break my neck.”
“Just let me call for help.”
“Honestly, it’s not necessary. I’m perfectly fine.” If not completely mortified. She waved at him and then with him watching her, she forced herself not to limp back up the stairs and into her place.
In the privacy of her own apartment, she immediately sagged and whimpered as she slowly limped to her bed.
Her knees and palms were torn up, and she suspected her hind end had suffered a similar fate, but she wasn’t ready to look. Nope. She was going back to bed and staying there until the day went away. And maybe tomorrow too. She stripped out of her dress and pulled a big T-shirt over her head.
She’d just crawled beneath the sheets when she heard her front door open. Normally she’d jump up, grab a baseball bat from beneath her bed, and kung-fu her way into the living room to kick some ass.
But she was too sore.
So instead of playing Superwoman, she tried to become invisible and pulled the covers over her head. She was still huddled there hoping she wasn’t about to star in her very own horror flick when the covers were yanked down.
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