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Shaking the bottle of powdered formula and water, she turned and leaned on the counter. “It’s not really any of your business, Alexander.”

No, it wasn’t, but men should take care of their responsibilities. And Ivy was a responsibility that Rose was shouldering alone. “Sasha,” he corrected, adjusting his hold on Ivy. “Hand me the bottle and I’ll feed her.” When she hesitated, he said, “You look dead on your feet, love. Let me help you.”

Thankfully, she was a woman who didn’t want to cut off her nose to spite her face and handed him the plastic bottle and a cloth. “Feed her half and then burp her. Then feed her the rest and burp her again.” She showed him how to hold the bottle so Ivy didn’t suck in air and have a tummy ache. Wanting her to stay close, he began to make up ridiculous questions.

“What if she wants something stronger like bourbon? Or what if she demands I take her shopping? I can’t stand Baby Gap. The clothes are juvenile.”

“They’re supposed to be,” Rose laughed as she straightened. She walked to the living room and sat down on a sofa that had seen better days. “Just do what I showed you and you’ll be fine. I’m going to be right here if you need me.”

The next thing he knew, Ivy had sucked down half of the formula and soft snores were coming from the direction of the couch. “Looks like mummy needed to sleep.”

Ivy burped her agreement.

***

The sound of shouting woke him up from a dead sleep. Blackbeard dug his claws into his chest and hissed.

“Off, damn cat,” he growled. Blackbeard jumped off the bed, using his pectorals as a spring board. That would leave some marks. He rubbed his chest before sitting up and rolling his shoulders.

Rose shrieked his name.

He jumped up and ran out of his room, nearly colliding with her.

“What did you do with my baby?” she sobbed.

“Jesus, Rose, calm down.” He gently grabbed her shoulders.

“Calm down?” She jerked out of his grasp. “I wake up to find Ivy missing, and—”

“She’s in her crib.”

Rose brushed past him and he followed.

“She was here the whole time?” she asked as he entered the room. Rose stood at the side of Ivy’s crib, her hand at her throat and rubbing her cross pendant.

He nodded. “You fell asleep, she fell asleep and then I fell asleep with that damned cat of yours. It all seemed appropriate at the time. However, I refuse to do it again. Blackbeard’s an unaccountable and unrepentant bed-hog.”

Rose looked as if she couldn’t decide between crying some more or laughing. Possibly she was mulling over how to best kill him. “You did this so I could take a nap?”

“It was nothing,” he said with a quick shrug of his shoulders.

She nearly toppled him over with her hug. “Thank you,” she breathed, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s done for me in the longest time.” Her hands wound tighter around his neck and he lifted his own to hug her back. To feel her sweet curves. To pull her closer , wanting to sweep her up into his arms. Into his bed.

Get a hold of yourself, man. She’s not for you. “You’re welcome.”

“I’m sorry I thought you took Ivy.”

“And I’m sorry I didn’t leave you a map with an ‘Ivy is here’ sticker on it.”

She giggled and sniffed, tightening her grip even more.

He gently pried her arms from around his neck. Or at least tried to. “You can let go of me now, Rose. I have a great affinity for oxygen.”

“Huh?”

“I can’t breathe,” he wheezed.

“Oh!” Cheeks pinkening, Rose stepped away and pulled him out of the room. “Close the door,” she whispered and he laughed. “What’s so funny?”

He closed the door gently and turned to face her. “You charge up here, screaming and carrying-on, and now you’re worried about being loud.” He shook his head, a smile playing on his lips.

Tonight, I’m going to fix you the nicest sup-dinner ever.” Rose felt so well rested that she wanted to sing and dance. Amazing what a few hours of good sleep did for a person who’d been living on adrenaline alone for over a month.

The sun shined brightly through the window near the stairs, highlighting the wall behind Sasha.

“Can’t,” he said, his eyes avoiding hers. “I have plans.”

Plans? Then it hit her. “Oh! You have a date.” She gave him her brightest smile. “I hope you have a great time. You should go to Wilmington. They have lots of great restaurants there, but you already know that. The one you took me to was really good. So was the view.” She clamped her mouth shut to stop babbling.

“It’s a business dinner,” he said. “I’m looking for a silent partner.”

“For what?” she asked, not really believing him. She had seen pictures on the internet of him at parties with very important people. People who controlled banks and industries, according to the articles beneath those pictures. So who in the world would he want to talk to in Holland Springs? And she still couldn’t figure out why he was here in the first place.

Sasha did have family living here, but it made no sense that a man like him would actually choose to be in a small town like hers.

“I do plan to have some old friends down, but in the meantime, I want to get some local support from the town’s leaders.”

Local support? Her stomach roiled. “Like who?”

He placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her down the hall. “Mayor Jackson for one, and Harrison Collins.”

She forced herself to keep walking at a reasonable pace. “You’re meeting with Harrison Collins tonight?”

“And the mayor. Extremely nice lady. Must be where Jemma Leigh gets it,” he said, not seeming to notice her extreme discomfort. “Aren’t you the least bit curious about what I’m going to do with Retro Dayz?” He paused at the top of the stairs and looked at her, expectation written on his face.

“Tell me what you’re planning,” she replied lamely. She was more concerned about who he was meeting with tonight. A very specific who.

A wry grin appeared. “Don’t get too excited, Rosebud.”

She grabbed the cross at her throat and rubbed. His eyes narrowed in on her actions and she let go of it. It fell back into place, the heated gold warming her skin. “Skye said you were opening a bridal store.”

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