“No,” he said. “This had nothing to do with Lenny. Or San Diego—at all. San Diego was the last thing on my mind, actually. It was about my family and how hard I’ve had to fight to keep them from falling apart. And sometimes it makes me go stupid. Seriously, I’m a complete dumbass, okay? I shouldn’t have come in here hot like I did. I’m sorry, Lily.”
She felt herself soften a little bit in spite of herself. But only because she got it about his family. “I don’t know much about being a part of a family unit anymore,” she said, “but I can still understand that part.” With the water warm now, she went to work washing his hair. He sighed and closed his eyes, like he couldn’t help himself.
Which made two of them because she couldn’t help but run her fingers through his hair for far longer than required.
Which changed nothing. She’d long ago learned there were things she could control and things she couldn’t, and whatever Aidan thought of her, that fell into the latter. She had to let go of the things she couldn’t control. It hurt too much otherwise. When she finished washing his hair, she moved him to her workstation and met his gaze in the mirror.
He opened his mouth to speak and she turned on the blow-dryer. She really did get that he hadn’t meant to hurt her. She even got that he felt bad about it.
But though she could forgive, she couldn’t quite forget. Not this.
“I’ll book you for another hour to keep you talking to me,” he said, as soon as she was done blow-drying his hair. “Hell, I’ll go along with whatever torture you’re dealing out, even a”—he shuddered—“bro-zilian.”
He was teasing, but she couldn’t turn it off like that. Maybe she couldn’t make him take this seriously, but she was serious—she couldn’t forget. Not this. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m done,” she said very quietly. And with that, she walked away, heading to the back.
He got there first, placing one of his big hands flat on the door above her. She dropped her forehead to the wood.
“As in stick a fork in me,” she said tightly. “Are you going to go or should I?”
He turned her to face him and looked down into her eyes. “Let me get this straight. I have a question, I come to you, you get pissed about it, and you what, just walk away again? Is that it? Is that how this is going to work, Lily?”
“Yes, and speaking of work,” she said past a burning throat. “I have to go. Or am I fired?”
He stared at her. “I’m not your boss. And I’d never fire you. Lily—” His radio beeped. He turned it down but she could tell by the look on his face that he was up.
“You’d better go,” she said, weary from the fight. Weary and surprised at how sad she felt that something she couldn’t even name was truly over. She headed back to the front.
Rosa was waiting for her. They’d arranged for Lily to cut her hair when she had a break. “You okay?” Rosa whispered when Aidan had left, her gaze searching.
“Never better,” Lily said with a calmness she absolutely didn’t feel.
Rosa reached out and patted Lily’s hand. “Men can be so stupid, but in his defense I don’t think he meant to be stupid.”
Lily choked out a laugh. Better than crying.
“No, really,” Rosa said. “I mean honestly, they think with their wrong head when they think at all, but he looked pretty devastated. What happened?”
“He asked me if I was sleeping with someone else. And he also thought maybe I’d said some private stuff about him.”
Rosa bit her lower lip.
“Well, I’m not an expert on the good guys,” she said. “But I am somewhat of an expert on the rotten ones. And they never ask. They tell, or worse yet, they don’t ever call or text. They take what they want and then they vanish. No talking at all. Seems to me if Aidan was asking, that’s better than nothing, right? Maybe he wanted to make sure. Or maybe he just wanted to hear how you feel about him. I mean, I know we think we’re obvious with our feelings, but we’re not.” She chewed on her lower lip. “Please don’t give me a bad haircut.”
“Lily Pad,” Jonathan said. “You did tell him about Lenny being here intoxicated like I asked you to, right? And the way he spoke to you? You told Aidan all that?”
“No. I didn’t want to be the rat fink.” But she stared at them as their words sank in, especially Rosa’s. Because Rosa had been right. Aidan had never made it a secret how he felt for her. He’d been open and frank. Always.
And in return she’d … been neither of those things. “Oh, my God,” she said.
“What?” Alarmed, Rosa looked around. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s me,” Lily said, turning to look at Jonathan. “It’s all me,” she said to him.
“This doesn’t change the fact that he was an ass,” Lily said to the room at large.
“Absolutely not,” Jonathan’s client said. “But just so you know, they all have their asshat days.” She smiled at Jonathan. “Present company excluded, of course.”
“Of course,” he said demurely.
Aidan got stuck on a ranch fire that went long into the night. By the time he got back to the station, he was losing his shit and not in the mood for anyone. Especially not Gray, who stopped by at six in the morning with some papers for him to sign before Gray went in to the office.
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