He stared at her for a beat and then let out a rough laugh. “Okay, I can’t compete with that.” He moved to her and pulled her into his arms, burying his face in her hair and inhaling deep like he couldn’t get enough of her.

It gave her a warm fuzzy all over.

“I’ll take you,” he said.

“You don’t have to—”

“It’s late, it’s dark, I’ll take you. You can text me when you’re done and I’ll come back for you.” He kissed her when she started to protest. Then he pulled back, cupped her face, and looked into her eyes. “Thanks for tonight.”

She laughed. “Are you thanking me for all the sex?”

“Yes,” he said. “Although, as previously discussed, we both know it was more than just that, hot as it was.”

She opened her mouth but he kissed her again, effectively shutting her up.

“I love you, Lily,” he said easily against her lips.

She went still in utter shock, not at the words—though they were pretty shocking, but at the casual ease he had in saying them.

I love you, Lily.

Like he was just stating a fact, no big deal.

With a light smile—and no apparent expectations from her—he handed her a towel and then brought her some of his sweats to wear before taking her to work.

Chapter 23

Aidan got to the station at the usual seven a.m. Unlike usual, he was already tired. Probably because he hadn’t gotten much sleep. At the thought of what—who—had kept him up, he was smiling when he clocked in.

He’d picked Lily up from the salon an hour after he’d dropped her off, and they’d spent the night at her place.

In her bed.

He’d known his words had thrown her. Hell, they’d thrown him. But he wouldn’t take them back—after all, they were the truth—and he wouldn’t hide from them either.

So he’d done his best to keep the rest of their hours together light and sexy and fun. No pressure.

Because no way was he going to rush her.

Ten seconds later, the first call of the shift came in, and he had to set aside his thoughts on what they’d done in her bed to each other.

The call was an accidental death, and they arrived first on scene to a screaming woman.

She’d found her husband in the garage, and he was indeed dead. He’d gone to get something out of the garage refrigerator in a robe and lightweight slippers. Near as they could tell, he’d inadvertently stepped into a puddle of water just as he’d opened the fridge and electrocuted himself.

Sheer, dumb bad luck.

An hour later Aidan and Mitch were still on-site, sitting in the rig working on the report, when a uniformed Hudson climbed up into the shotgun seat and met Aidan’s gaze.

They hadn’t spoken since several nights ago, when tempers had gotten hot and Hudson had called him a damn hypocrite.

“Need a minute,” Hudson said.

“Later.” Aidan tried to get around his brother, who swore beneath his breath and blocked Aidan’s path.

“I shouldn’t have called you a hypocrite,” Hudson said quietly. “Or implied that you don’t think of me and Jacob as family.”

Shit. When Hudson got a stick up his ass to discuss something, he never cared who was listening. But Aidan was very aware of Mitch trying to eavesdrop, because the lot of them were like a bunch of schoolgirls. “Okay,” he said. “Good talk, thanks.”

Hudson didn’t budge.

“We can do this later,” Aidan said grimly.

Hudson dropped his head, swore again, and then looked up. “How about a peace offering?”

None was needed but Aidan was hungry. “Sure. A loaded breakfast burrito would do it.”

“I’ve got something better. I’m not going to make you drop trou and prove you’re not wearing the latest delivery.”

“Shit,” Aidan said. “I completely forgot.”

“—because you spent the night at Lily’s.”

Behind Aidan came Mitch’s intake of breath.

“Okay,” Aidan said, and he shoved Hudson out of the truck. “Turns out I do have a moment. A moment to kick your ass. What makes you think I spent the night with Lily?”

“Heard it,” Hudson said smugly, all remorse gone.

“From who?” Aidan demanded. “Who’s talking about what I do on my own damn time?”

Hudson flashed a grin. “Me. You didn’t come home. And I saw your truck in front of her building when I did a drive-by last night.”

Shit. “Oh,” he said brilliantly.

“So I assume you’ve been working on letting her in, showing her by example?”

“Seriously,” Aidan said. “You need to stop taking those night classes.”

Hudson smiled, but the smile quickly faded. “Now that you’re talking to me … let’s hit on why I’m here.”

“Oh, for chrissakes—”

“I need to know why you don’t want me to contact Dad.”

“Not this shit again—”

“I went to Gray,” Hud said.

Aidan tensed. “What?”

“Yeah. And he told me it’s your story to tell, not his.”

Aidan relaxed marginally.

“But,” Hudson went on. “This isn’t a damn monarchy. You can’t just lay down the law like I’m some little kid. I’m asking you for just one reason. And when you give it, I’ll be on your side no matter what.”

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