Aidan closed his eyes. “I don’t want to do this.”

“Because he hurt your mom, right?” Hudson asked quietly. “Is that it? He hurt Char and … also you?”

Aidan’s eyes flew open. “Why? Did he ever lay his hands on you?”

Hudson’s entire demeanor changed. He tensed and his eyes went dark with fury. “Shit. So he did,” he breathed. “He beat you. And you never said a word.”

When Aidan didn’t respond, Hudson’s hands fisted. “Because you were protecting us. Goddammit, Aidan.” He let out a purposeful breath. “Okay. Okay.” He nodded. “So we keep him clear of here at all costs.”

“Not for me,” Aidan managed to say. “But for my mom. She …” He shook his head. “I don’t want him within a thousand miles of her.”

“Ten-four on that,” Hudson said tightly. He nodded, his eyes still hot but also softer now, with an understanding Aidan had hoped to never see. “I’ll let you get back to it,” he said quietly, but didn’t move.

“If you try to hug me …,” Aidan started.

“Hell no,” Hud said. “We’re on the street in broad daylight.” He paused. “But we’re okay, right?”

“Aren’t we always?” And then to lighten the mood he said, “And maybe I was at Lily’s last night for a late dinner. You ever think of that?”

Hud went brows up. “At three a.m.?”

“Fine,” Aidan said. “You caught me. I’m a grown-ass man sleeping with a grown-ass woman.”

Hudson grinned. “Does Char know?”

“No. And we’re going to keep it that way, you hear me?” Aidan asked warningly. “If she found out, she’d probably start planning some big, fancy wedding and then I’d have to kill you dead. You get me?”

Hudson laughed.

“What?”

“You just said wedding without getting hives,” Hud said.

“I’m not allergic to weddings, you dumbass.”

“No, you’re allergic to letting someone love you,” Hudson said.

This stunned Aidan into momentary silence. “You don’t know shit,” he finally said. “I’m perfectly willing to let Lily love me.” He made a point of looking at himself in the sideview mirror of the truck. “Look, Ma, no hives. Now don’t go away mad, just go away.”

“Not yet,” Hudson said, studying Aidan. “Because there’s something else bugging you, I can feel it. And I’m not leaving until you tell me. I’ll never make that mistake again.”

Aidan took in the tension lining Hudson’s mouth and felt like a complete asshole. Hudson blamed himself for Jacob’s vanishing act, thinking if he’d only gotten Jacob to open up, he might have been able to stop him from leaving.

Which was complete bullshit, but the Kincaids never had been much on common sense. Still, he wasn’t going to let Hudson feel responsible for anyone else in this family, ever. “It’s about Lily. It’s not important right now.”

“Humor me.”

Aidan sighed. “I’m just not sure she’s ever going to let herself …”

“What?”

“Be loved. She’s been independent and on her own all this time and she’s gotten good at it. She doesn’t see herself as worthy of letting anyone in.”

Hudson nodded and then, proving he wasn’t just a pretty face, came up with a shockingly simply and brilliant solution. “So show her otherwise.”

Lily rushed toward the salon at ten minutes past nine, gulping down some desperately needed caffeine to wake herself up after not enough sleep. This was directly related to how she’d spent the rest of the night, and not the waxing emergency.

Aidan hadn’t said “I love you” again, and she hadn’t said anything at all, but as magical as his place had been, her bed was just as good. Her bed, her shower, her kitchen counter …

A few feet from the door of the salon she fumbled with her purse to put away her sunglasses and ran right into a hard chest that belonged to—

“Aidan,” she gasped as he easily caught her, steadying her coffee as he did.

He felt amazing, but when she lifted her face to see his, she frowned at the tension she saw there. “What’s wrong?”

For a beat he looked startled, like he hadn’t realized that she could read him so well. Then he cleared his face of all expression.

“Aidan,” she said softly. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Just been a long morning already.”

She’d sought comfort from him before. She’d sought his help as well. But he’d never asked her for either of those things. He’d never asked her for anything at all and probably never would. So she stepped into him, into his warm, hard body.

He hesitated before moving into her, wrapping his arms around her waist and burying his face in her neck.

“What’s going on?” she asked softly, stroking a hand up his back, past the nape of his neck, tunneling her fingers into his hair.

“It’s nothing,” he said, and then paused like he was struggling with whether or not to share.

“Nothing.” He paused. “Hud and I’ve been fighting about our dad,” he finally said. “He wanted to bring him here, make him help us clean up the mess he left.”

Lily didn’t know much about Richard Kincaid, other than he was deadbeat dad of the century for starting and deserting not one but three families. “And you don’t want him to come,” she guessed.

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