“That was my question to you,” she said.
“I meant about what happened, and where,” he said. “There’s going to always be risky rescues, dangerous fire conditions—”
“I know,” she said softly.
“I don’t know how to ask you to be with someone who—”
“You’re not asking,” she said. “It’s my decision. I want to be with you, Aidan, just as you are, whatever your job is, whatever you do. I just hate that you got hurt—”
Her fingers ran lightly over the splint holding his arm to his chest while her gaze settled on the side of his face, currently burning like fire. Didn’t need a mirror to know what he must look like.
“Are you?” she breathed. “Okay?”
“One hundred percent.”
She arched a brow and he couldn’t help it, he smiled, and … split his lip again. “Dammit,” he said, and brought his fingers up to it.
She caught his hand. “If you’re fine, and I’m fine … are we fine?”
“You still love me?” he asked.
“So you do remember,” she breathed.
“Did you think I wouldn’t?”
“I wasn’t sure,” she admitted, and he realized she was tense with nerves.
With some serious effort he lifted the covers in silent invitation.
She bit her lip. “It’s a hospital bed, I can’t—”
She glanced at Hudson, found him still snoring, and then kicked off her shoes. “Are you sure I won’t hurt you?”
“He’s fine,” Hudson muttered, eyes still closed, body not moving a muscle. “But you’re killing me. Shut the hell up, the both of you. No talking until …” He opened one eye, looked at his watch, groaned, and said “until much later than seven a.m.”
They both ignored him.
“I remember everything,” Aidan told Lily, tucking her into him. “But you should tell me again just to be sure.”
She smiled. “Well, for starters, I love what happens to you in the morning.” She wriggled against the part of him that did seem to enjoy mornings more than any other part of him.
“Christ,” Hudson muttered. “Get a room.”
“We’re in a room,” Aidan said, sliding his one good arm around Lily. “You were saying?” he asked her. “Something about my good parts?”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Hudson pushed to his feet, glared at them, and strode out of the room.
“Thought he’d never leave,” Aidan said with a grin.
“He was worried about you,” Lily said. “We all worried about you. Aidan, I’m sorry I was so slow about things. But I meant every word I said to you last night. I want to stay in Cedar Ridge. I want to give us a real shot. I want to love you.”
He nodded, serious now. “For how long?”
“As long as you’ll have me.”
“Every day for the rest of my life,” he said immediately. “Does that work for you?”
Her eyes misted. “Works perfectly.”
Three months later
A little out of breath—more from nerves than exertion, Lily staggered to the top of Dead Man’s Cliff and went still.
“I did it,” she whispered. “I got here.”
Two warm, strong hands settled on her hips as Aidan pressed in behind her. “And you beat me while you were at it.”
She leaned back into him, staring out at the vista before her. Rugged mountain peaks in all their fall glory, a volatile blanket of green laced with blue ribbons of rivers and tributaries.
Closer, in fact directly beneath her, lay the jagged rocky cliffs where all too many had found their end.
Her heart squeezed. Ashley had been one of them. She pulled the scarf from around her neck, hugged it to her heart, and then tossed it into the chasm. The wind caught it, held it aloft for a few heartbeats, and then it vanished from view.
Lily closed her eyes a moment, letting the emotion wash over her. Good-bye, Ashley, I’ll never forget you …
She let the sun warm her face, let the mountain air fill her lungs. Let the ever-steady, amazing man at her back make her feel strong. “Thanks for helping me get here.”
“I didn’t help you,” he said, his voice a low, warm rumble in her ear. “But I enjoyed the hike, and the company.”
She smiled. She always did with him.
“Can you feel it?” he asked.
“Winter on the air. You did this just in time, babe. Snow’s coming.”
“Haven’t seen snow here in a long time,” she said, feeling a nostalgic yearning to do just that, to watch it come down in snowflakes the size of dinner plates, watch as it accumulated into twenty-foot drifts, covering everything, making the trees appear as two-hundred-foot-tall ghosts.
And since Cassandra had decided not to come back to work after having her baby, Lily had a job at the salon for as long as she wanted it. Jonathan had given her carte blanche to continue to fix the place up, especially since it wasn’t coming out of his bank account.
Aidan’s arms came around her, warm and sure. “You’re okay?” he asked.
She took one last look at the view that had dogged her memories and dreams for a decade and then turned in the circle of Aidan’s arms to face him. “More than okay. I’m … at peace. Excited for whatever comes next.” Going up on tiptoes, she kissed him softly before pulling back to look at him.
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