The slow-mo screeched to a complete halt and then it was real time again. She’d turned her back and was looking at him over her shoulder like he was a half-wit.
He shook himself and zipped her, covering up the creamy, smooth skin of her back, which was the opposite of what he wanted to do. The dress still bared her shoulders, however, and he stared down at the delicate tat of an infinity sign, unable to stop himself from running his finger slowly over it.
She shivered and he turned her to face him. “Lily, I—”
“I want to be done talking now,” she said.
Yeah, him too. But this was important. He felt like they were teetering on the edge, flirting with something deep. There were two choices here, two very different options—ignore what was happening and just sleep together, or take the plunge.
And then sleep together.
His body voted for whatever option got her naked the fastest, because damn she looked hot, and he knew with one kiss that she would melt for him.
But his brain … it wouldn’t shut up. He needed to know what her problem was so that he could fix it, once and for all. “This is too important to ignore,” he managed.
She dropped her head to his chest.
He lifted her chin. “You’re too important. What we’re working on here is too important.”
Her gaze skittered away. “What we’re working on?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Us.”
Now she met his gaze again, hers confused. “I wasn’t even aware there was an us.”
Yeah, he hadn’t been sure until right about now, either, but he was sure. Shockingly so. “Feels like there’s a big us,” he said.
Lily shook her head, and just before she closed her eyes he saw the truth. “You’re running from me again.”
“You know that my being here is temporary,” she said. “Soon as I get a job offer …”
No, that wasn’t it. Well, it might be part of it, but geographical issues were just a matter of logistics. Then the real reason occurred to him and his gut hit his toes. “You don’t feel like you deserve to be loved,” he said.
More stillness from her. Hell, he wasn’t even sure she was breathing. He stroked a hand up her back. “Lily—”
“I’m working on that,” she said softly. “I am. But you make me feel things I’m not ready for. I’ve been really good at keeping myself isolated so I wouldn’t engage my heart. So good that I’m not sure I can stop. I’m really talented at not feelings things anymore, Aidan.”
“I don’t buy it,” he said. “You’re warm and open and caring. You can’t be those things without feeling something. You give so much to everyone—”
She shook her head.
“You do. Jonathan,” he said. “Your clients …” He gently wrapped his hand up in her ponytail and tugged her head back to see her eyes. “Me.”
She snorted. “I don’t give to you. You give to me. Constantly rescuing me like one of your five-alarm calls.”
“I care about you.”
“You care about all your calls.”
“I care for you differently,” he said, narrowing his eyes, wanting to force her to believe this. “With a fire call, I don’t get a terrifying fear gripping me like I do whenever I hear that you’re on the trail heading up to Dead Man’s Cliff, or that you’ve fallen down a flight of stairs. You’re not a job to me, Lily. Not even close. You’re more. And I think I’m more to you too. You want to know what I think?”
“I’d say no, but I’m getting that it wouldn’t stop you from telling me anyway.”
He smiled grimly. “I think it’s not that you don’t feel anything, it’s that you feel too much. I scare you.”
“Your life scares me,” she said, and seemed shocked that she’d admitted such a thing.
His heart squeezed, hard. He’d never really given any thought at all to what the people who cared about him went through while he was working. The anxiety and worry. And for someone like Lily, who’d lost her sister so tragically, it would be worse, so much worse. “I get that,” he said quietly. “I do. And I can’t promise I’ll rein it in—it’s my job. But I can promise you that safety is of the upmost importance to me and everyone working with me. Always. But I don’t think that’s what this is. I think the real issue is that you’re afraid of loving someone and letting them love you.”
The look on her face said he’d hit bingo. But he could also tell that she wasn’t ready to go there, wasn’t ready to admit her feelings yet at all.
But at least he could show her his. Especially since he was more of a show-don’t-tell kind of guy anyway. “Come here,” he said.
“I’m right here.”
She walked into his arms. He pulled her in and kissed her. He kissed her until he knew he’d taken it as far as he could without tearing off that pretty sundress right then and there, and only then did he lift his head.
“Oh,” she breathed, staggering back a step, clearly trying to play it cool—which might have worked if her eyes weren’t dilated and the pulse at the base of her throat wasn’t going apeshit crazy.
He gave a slow smile and pulled her back in, not hard for him to do, since she already had a grip on his shirt like he was her lifeline and she was going down for the count.
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