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Page 14 of Third Time's a Charm (Holland Springs 3)

He looked up at her. “Baby shower present?”

“Skye and I went in together and bought it for her—Ivy, that is.” Her pretty eyes gazed into his for a moment, then looked away.

“How old is she?”

“Why?” She stepped back and he stood, watching as she began vigorously wiping down the cracked-top kitchen table with a dish cloth.

“Just curious,” he said lightly, shadowing her.

“Would you like some cheesecake?” She made her way back to the cabinets, tossing the cloth on the counter and pulling out plates.

“Why won’t you answer me? State secret?” He touched her shoulder. A fork clattered to the floor. Well-worn jeans tightened over her perfect bum as she bent to scoop it up. Then she tossed it into the sink and yanked open the silverware drawer, pulling out a clean fork.

Black corkscrew curls tumbled down her back and around her shoulders, shielding her face from him as she opened and cut into one of the cheesecakes. “Almost five months,” she said quietly.

There was no way the baby could be hers, not biologically anyway. “So Ivy is your what?”

Blackbeard jumped on the counter and Rose scooped him up in her arms, turning to face Sasha as a wealth of emotions played across her face. Without knowing it, she was beginning to trust him. This was going to be easier than he’d thought.

At that very moment Sasha didn’t know who he hated more: himself, his uncle, or the townspeople willing to sell out one of their own.

“Summer’s daughter. I’m taking care of Ivy for her.”

Of course she was. Hell, Blackbeard had probably been some half-dead animal she found on the side of the road and nursed back to health. She supported her family. She’d taken him in to spare Jemma Leigh’s feelings.

Men like him shouldn’t be allowed to roam the earth. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Is there anything else you’re keeping secret—a cure for world hunger? Energy crisis? Perhaps you run an orphanage in the greenhouse?”

She shrugged lightly, but her face was somber. “It’s what family does. Summer wasn’t ready to have a baby.”

He walked up to her and gently tugged at a loose curl. It wrapped around his finger. “But you were?”

“Sometimes life doesn’t give you a choice. Besides, I love my sisters, even when their choices affect me.”

“Does everyone assume Ivy’s yours?”

Rose shook her head. “Most people know.”

“And the rest?”

A broom propped against the wall fell to the floor. Blackbeard hissed and Rose jumped. “Oh no,” she whispered and grabbed her cross.

Sasha carefully unwound the lock of hair from around his finger. “Falling housekeeping equipment means something, I take it?”

“Company’s coming.” Impossibly wide eyes narrowed. “Who did you invite to my house?”

Only the town board’s lawyer, Jason Everett, but Sasha hadn’t actually invited him to her house. He was joining Sasha’s business dinner. “I had to get your Jeep back here somehow.”

“Why would you need to get someone to drive it?”

“I bought a car.”

“And?” Gone was the sweet smile that minutes earlier had him happy as a lunatic. Thinking like one, too.

He crossed his arms over his chest and moved to the side, leaning one hip against the counter. “I drove it here. Got your money as well. Want it? All you have to do is pick the right pocket of my trousers. I recommend starting with the front one.” He winked at her, but she didn’t say a word.

Instead, she placed Blackbeard on the floor and reached for Ivy, her movements jerky and hurried. She muttered something under her breath, but he couldn’t understand what she was saying. Then she left the kitchen. Without the damned cheesecake he’d brought her.

He followed, his long strides easily keeping up with her much shorter ones. “Will you tell me what this is all about?”

Black hair streamed out from her head as she turned a corner, her palm supporting Ivy’s neck. “Don’t you have a dinner to go to?” She jogged up the stairs.

He glanced at his watch before taking the stairs two at a time. “I have an hour.”

“It’ll take you longer than that to get ready,” she said, opening Ivy’s door.

He rolled his eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with looking good. Now slow down and talk to me.” He stopped in the doorway and watched as she changed the baby, put pajamas on her, and sat down in the rocking chair.

The wooden floor creaked as it moved.

“Tell me,” she said, the vulnerable look on her face making him blurt out the truth.

“Jason Everett.”

She blinked twice rapidly then looked away. “I need to get Ivy down for the night. Please, close the door behind you.”

Oh, hell.

Chapter Six

Sasha shrugged into a cashmere overcoat as a knock sounded on the door. He opened it and Jason Everett slipped inside before Sasha could stop him.

Jason scanned the foyer as if he was expecting something—or someone. “Where’s Rose?” he asked, confirming Sasha’s suspicions.

“Above stairs.”

“I’ll go say hi.”

Jason started for the staircase, but Sasha put a hand up to stop him. He flashed an easy grin that didn’t match the rising tide of jealousy flooding his body. “She’s trying to get her baby to bed.”

“Her baby?” Jason laughed. “I know for a fact that it’s her sister, Summer’s.”

Sasha clenched his jaw. Ivy wasn’t an it. “Ivy is the baby’s name.”

“Whatever,” he said with a shrug. “Ready to go? We’re meeting Brenda and Harrison at Market House.”

“Fantastic.”

But Jason made no move to leave, only lingered in the foyer, his dark eyes never straying from the top of the stairs. “You sure she won’t be coming down?”

“Quite.” Sasha fished his keys out of his pocket and pressed the unlock button on his key fob several times.

“This place is like a living nightmare, but the perks of living here have to be worth it.” A knowing smile covered the lawyer’s face.

Sasha managed to maneuver Jason outside before he locked and shut the door behind him. “If by that you mean a cat that hogs the bed and a house out to get me—yes.”

***

The Mercedes easily handled the twists and turns of the back roads as they made their way to Wilmington. Sasha tried to keep the conversation light, but all he could think about was the hunger he’d seen in Jason’s eyes. That damned smile.

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