“Dr. Reed said kids do that. One minute they’re sick, and the next they’re bouncing off the walls. Or trying to eat socks.” She patted Ivy’s diaper-covered bottom affectionately before settling back against the sofa.
Unable to help himself, he shifted his hips so that they were fully touching hers. She didn’t move away.
A log in the fireplace popped loudly, and the fire grew brighter, hotter. As did his skin. His desire for her.
He clutched the stuffed rabbit in his hand like his life depended on it. She wasn’t looking for a lover; she wanted a friend. Someone to talk to. There were many things he didn’t know about Rose, but he knew for certain she was a lonely woman raising a child that wasn’t hers. He also knew she was sweet, strong, and smart. And lovely. So lovely it made his gut clench every time he looked at her.
He hadn’t been lying when he told her that she was all he could see. Half the time he wasn’t aware she wore clothes. He was too busy trying not to do something spectacularly stupid like kiss her. Or pay off her back taxes and flee the country.
She leaned her head against his shoulder as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The scent of jasmine filled his senses and for a moment he belonged to her. To Ivy. To this house.
They turned toward each other at the same time, her breast brushing his arm. He became impossibly hard. Cherry lips parted and her lids half closed. The sweetest invitation to a kiss. And, God help them both, he wanted to pull her beneath him and kiss her until time ceased to exist.
“Sasha,” she breathed and leaned forward, tilting her chin up.
The barest touch of her lips to his froze him in place. Feathery kisses became more substantial, more urgent. Yes, his body seemed to sigh, this is the woman for you.
He murmured her name against her mouth and she took advantage, sliding her tongue inside and rubbing it against his. She tasted of tea and mint, and of all things Rose. All things good and pure. Everything he’d never be, no matter how hard he tried.
Her hands slowly moved up his thighs, the pressure light and tantalizing. She slid them under his wool sweater, brushing his abdomen and making it contract. Her very clever—he groaned—fingers found his nipple rings and tugged. His c**k surged, growing harder, thicker, and longer against the zipper of his trousers.
She kissed along the side of his jaw and down to his neck, his pulse beating rapidly as her tongue lightly flicked him there. Every muscle in his body was on high alert, ready to spring into action. Cool air hit his pecs as his sweater went over his head and was tossed on the sofa behind him. Silky curls glided over his bare skin and he moaned.
She licked his nipple, circled it with her tongue and licked him again before drawing it and his piercing into her mouth. She nibbled at him with her teeth and soothed the pleasurable pain with her tongue.
“Touch me.” Her breath was a hot whisper against his wet flesh.
This was so wrong. So incredibly, fantastically wrong. He would be the biggest bastard in the world if he took advantage of her. He scooted away before she could do more, before he could do more, still holding the bunny. He was…shaken—as if that had been his first time with a woman.
“I have to go,” he said, jumping to his feet and tossing the stuffed animal in Rose’s lap. Striding over to the back door, he yanked his coat off of a hook on the wall.
“You don’t have on your sweater.”
“Don’t need it.”
She joined him at the door. “But it’s cold and nasty outside.” She put her hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it away.
Where the hell were his shoes? “Doesn’t matter.”
“I don’t understand,” she said softly, her elegant brows drawing together.
He rubbed the back of his neck. He owed her an explanation, but there was no way he’d jeopardize his mother. He was treading a fine line as it were. “I shouldn’t have let that happen.”
“Is there someone else?”
God, he wished that were the problem. No matter how hard he tried to talk himself into a relationship with another woman, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not one damn time. “No.”
“Then, I…” Her eyes became shadowed.
A decent man would have told her the truth, or at least said something along the lines of ‘I’m not taking advantage of you when you’re vulnerable.’ But he wasn’t a decent man. “You just think you’re supposed to act like this,” he said in frustration, and she jerked back as if he’d physically wounded her.
“He told you, didn’t he?” When he didn’t answer she smacked her hand against her pajama bottoms. Ones that had small cats with Santa hats on them. They were too short for her, riding up at the ankles. He didn’t want to know how long she’d had them. He didn’t want to know that she didn’t have a soul in this world willing to stand up for her.
“Jason alluded to it, but—”
Her eyes rounded and her mouth fell open. “You believed him.”
“He indicated that Summer is the, er, popular one.”
“Why didn’t you defend her?”
For the love of God. He waved his coat at her, then threw it on the countertop. “Jesus, Rose, you’re taking care of her baby. One that was abandoned by your sister. According to you, she doesn’t know who the bloody father is.”
She fisted her hands on her sweet hips. “I meant I didn’t know where he was, not who he was.”
“Well, do you?”
“Summer didn’t say, and I didn’t ask.”
As if that made it any better. As if he had any right to judge. He let his head fall back for a moment, then groaned. “This is so f**ked up.”
“Why, because you got the wrong Holland?”
“It didn’t matter which one of you I got,” he shouted and Ivy let out a cry. Feeling like a complete ass, he practically ran to the baby, lifting her gently and holding her close. “There’s a girl. It’s okay,” he whispered, trying to soothe her.
“Give her to me.”
He turned and handed her Ivy. “How about we keep our contact limited, yes? You be my landlord and I’ll be your tenant. That way there’s no confusion or kisses or any other misunderstandings that haven’t happened yet.” He snagged his sweater and jerked it over his head.
“Fine.” Stormy eyes pinned him with her glare. The wind kicked up, gusting hard against the house. Cold air seeped through the floorboards. “As your landlord, I’m telling you to park your Mercedes on the left side of the porch. The right side is mine.”