“She didn’t tell Lenny anything. I’m the one who’s been talking to anyone who would listen, commiserating on how much we hope the worst doesn’t happen, you know?”

“Mom—”

“I didn’t realize Lenny was a bigmouth.” She sniffed and sounding watery said, “I’m so sorry, Aidan.”

Aw, shit. He blew out a sigh. “Please don’t cry—”

“But I made a mess of things and you fired Lenny and yelled at Lily, and then she dumped you, and—”

“Lenny was fired because he’d had his three strikes, Mom. Not your fault. And I didn’t yell at Lily. I’d never yell at Lily.”

But he’d hurt her feelings, and that was all on him.

Char sniffed again. “I’ll go talk to her for you and—”

“No.” Aidan had to force himself to soften his voice. “Don’t do anything, Mom. This is between me and Lily.”

“But honey, you’ll just make things worse.”

Very likely, and again he had to rub the stress spot between his eyes. “I need you to stay out of it. Promise me,” he said.

She hesitated.

“Mom.”

“Fine,” she finally said. “But you almost had a lovely thing going with her, Aidan. Don’t blow it for the second time.”

“The second time?”

“Well, yeah. You let her leave town all those years ago without a fight, remember?”

He let out a low laugh and resisted thunking his head against the steering wheel. Yeah. He vaguely remembered. “Gotta go, Mom. I’ve got a meeting.”

“But—”

“Love you,” he said, and hit end. This time he tossed his phone into the backseat, so he wouldn’t be tempted to access any more texts, and drove home. Except his body must have disconnected from his brain because he didn’t go home at all.

He went to Lily’s. He needed to talk to her. And/or grovel.

He knocked on her door and then leaned on it because damn, his side hurt and he was suddenly so bone tired he could barely stand. She wasn’t going to answer, and why should she? He was a complete dumbass.

When the door opened, he nearly fell inside.

Lily gasped and wrapped her arms around him. “Aidan?”

Chapter 26

Lily was as surprised and shocked to see Aidan as she was to find herself wrapped up in him. She hadn’t heard from him. Not that she’d expected to after their last conversation, but she’d been having more than a few regrets on how she’d left things. In fact, she’d been about to go hunt him down and tell him so.

“I know you said you didn’t want to see me anymore,” he muttered. “But my truck drove me here.” He buried his face in her hair. “God, Lily, you always smell so good. So fuckin’ good …”

Something was off, and she tried to pull back to get a good look at him, but he tightened his grip. And more than that, he was really leaning over her.

“Sorry,” he said when they almost toppled to their asses together in her doorway. “I’m really tired.”

“You’ve been fighting fires,” she said, smelling it on him. “How long have you been without sleep?”

“Two days,” he said, and straightened. “I’ve never resented the job before, but all I wanted was to get here. To you.”

Not wanting to read anything into that, she refused to react. “Why?”

“Because I was a dick, Lily. I overreacted. I was pissed off at Lenny because he’s been in my life a damn long time and I thought—” He shook his head and scrubbed a hand down his face. “Shit. I was wrong about him and I didn’t take that very well. I thought I could trust him.”

She knew a little something about that. “Not your fault,” she whispered.

“Maybe not, but that I accused you of talking out of turn most definitely is my fault. Christ, Lily, I’m an idiot. A damned sorry idiot. My mom came clean and told me what happened, that it was her doing the talking—which I think you know.”

She bit her lower lip, not about to throw Char under the bus.

Aidan gently stroked his thumb over her lip. “But even when I threw it in your face,” he said softly, “you never said anything. You protected her.”

“She’s your mom,” Lily said, just as quietly. “She’s so worried about you guys, and she didn’t mean to let loose state secrets.”

He nodded. “I know. But that you knew it and never repeated it, not even to me, speaks volumes about who you are. So you think about that, Lily, the next time you tell me you don’t know what to do with family. Because you know exactly. It’s about loyalty and kindness and unconditional love, and you are more than capable of all that.”

She remembered what Rosa had told her. 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.

“Neither of us is all that good with trust,” she said now. “I get that.”

Aidan shook his head. “Don’t let me off the hook so easily here, Lily. I don’t deserve it. I came into the salon furious, and I took it out on you because—”

“Because we’re both head cases?” she asked.

He let out a short laugh. “Yeah, but I hurt you.” His voice softened. “I’m so sorry for that, Lily.”

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