“Please, Harrison, people have been coming to the Hollands for years and paying them for their services.” Brenda grabbed a roll and smeared some butter on it. “Heck, Lake Holland sent me and Nolan to the springs. We’ve been married for thirty-five years now.”
“I can’t believe you think that love potion, mumbo-jumbo crap they put out there is real, Brenda.” Jason shook his head.
She looked affronted. “Rose Holland helped my little girl catch a nice man. One that loves her and owns a business.”
“And smells like fish,” Jason sneered.
“No one’s above a decent day of work,” Harrison said.
“Thank you,” Brenda said, flashing a smile at the bank president.
“So smelling bad equals decency?” Jason said with a smirk. “Guess I’ll never be decent.”
Shaking his head, Harrison signaled the waiter for another drink.
Placing his glass down, Sasha rubbed the back of his neck. How a woman like Rose had ever become involved with a man like Jason blew his mind. The lawyer was a transparent snob and womanizer. “Are you from Holland Springs, Mr. Everett?”
“Call me Jason, and no, I’m from a town fifty miles south.” He wiped his mouth with his cloth napkin. “I moved here about a year and a half ago.”
Sasha could picture it: A new guy in town, presumably unaware of her family’s history, with an easy smile and charm. Takes her out, gets to know her, seduces her, and then leaves her. But could he really hate Jason for the exact same thing he’d done to Rose? Did it matter that his only redeeming quality was that he hadn’t had sex with her?
The waiter placed their food in front of them, but Sasha wasn’t remotely hungry.
Harrison pierced a small piece of salmon with his fork. “How did you talk Rose into letting a complete stranger stay at her home?”
“I knew her from before.” Sasha took a quick bite of his shrimp and grits. “And I’m renting a room, not merely staying there.”
Brenda’s brows drew together. “Before?”
“The first time I visited your lovely town, I had the pleasure of meeting Rose at her shop.”
“Oh.” The mayor’s brows relaxed, but she wasn’t convinced. “Still, Rose isn’t what most would call outgoing. She keeps to herself.”
“All Rose needs is the right kind of incentive,” Jason chimed in, “Out of the three of them, Summer’s the most…hospitable.”
Sasha swallowed, imagining his fist connecting with the lawyer’s nose. “Rose is very giving of herself.”
“I’ll say.” Jason tracked a woman wearing a tight red skirt as she sauntered across the room. He winked at her and she flung her hair over a shoulder, giving him a flirtatious smile.
“Azalea was like that, never turned someone in need away,” Harrison said.
Sasha raised his brows. “I assume you’re speaking of their mother.”
Harrison nodded. “She took off seven years ago, right after Rose turned sixteen. Skye couldn’t have been more than thirteen, and Summer eighteen, but she was playing house with Patrick Johnson.”
Why would Collins bother to know the personal details of three women who were outcasts in their own town? If anyone else thought that comment to be strange, they didn’t voice it.
Jason made a noise of disgust. “Sixty-five year old Patrick Johnson or his son, Junior?”
“Now I’m not one to spread gossip, but she lived with both of them,” Brenda said, shifting in her chair, then patted a stray hair back in place. “But who knows?”
“What I do know is that Summer Holland made off with five thousand dollars and Junior’s Mustang when she was done with them.” Disapproval was written all over Harrison’s face. “Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in that family.”
“Except Rose and Skye,” Sasha pointed out.
Harrison turned steel eyes on him, but Sasha didn’t waver. “Time will tell.”
Jason rapped his knuckles on the table, garnering everyone’s attention. He leaned forward in his chair. “Let’s focus on the issue at hand. I’ve got an idea that’s been running in my mind. Destroy her business—make people think her stuff is no good. If she doesn’t have the income to pay off her back taxes, well, she’ll have no choice but to sell.”
Brenda rose to her feet. “Either get her to sell her home the legal and honest way, or count me out of this scheme.” She left the table and headed to the front of the restaurant with her purse.
“Is she going to be a problem?” Sasha wiped his mouth with his napkin and placed it beside his plate, unable to force down another bite.
Harrison threw back the last of his Jack and Coke. “Brenda will come around.”
Sasha hoped to God she wouldn’t. If the deal fell through because of the mayor’s guilty conscience, then the blame couldn’t be placed on him and his mother was still safe. “I have to go.” He rose to his feet in one fluid motion. He needed a drink. Hell, he needed the whole damn bar.
Harrison and Jason looked at him in obvious surprise. “I thought we were going out after dinner,” the younger man said, then a gleam entered his eyes. “Perks of your living arrangement?”
“No, I’m meeting a friend,” Sasha said, reaching for his wallet.
Harrison held up a hand. “This is on me.”
“My thanks.” Sasha grabbed his coat from the back of the chair and shoved his arms inside, thankful for once that there hadn’t been a coat checker.
“I can give you some pointers on how to loosen her up on the way back.” Jason offered a conspiratorial smile and stood as well. He fumbled for his coat.
“Much appreciated, but not needed.” For the love of God, did this ass**le ever shut up about his Rose? No, not Sasha’s Rose. She belonged to no one, especially not to him. “Gentlemen, have a fantastic evening.”
“Wait! You can’t leave me here,” Jason protested as he pulled the navy material over his shoulders.
Harrison waved him away. “Let him go. You can ride with me.”
“Fantastic,” Sasha said, then strolled through the dining room and out the entrance as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
Cold October air greeted him, working its way inside his bones. Finding all of his vulnerable spots. He welcomed it. A man like him didn’t deserve warmth or softness.
He watched as couples holding hands waited for their cars. As they kissed and looked at each other with dreamy eyes and talked about their bloody feelings. They would be headed home. Together. Talking about their past and their futures.