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Rose took a step forward, wringing her hands together. “She likes to be rocked to sleep. And don’t forget to do tummy time with her. Oh, and lay her on her back to—”

“Don’t worry, Rose. We’ve got it covered,” Skye said with a smile, then turned to her companion. “Right?”

When he didn’t answer Skye elbowed him in the gut and Rose’s eyes widened. Her sister was an unapologetic pacifist. Even going so far as to releasing water bugs that would sneak into the house during dry summers. Rose’s preferred method was a good stomping with the nearest heavy object.

“Right,” Tristan grunted and crossed his muscular arms.

They made the oddest couple, Rose thought. Not necessarily in looks. Tristan was as lean and tall as Skye was curvy and short. His face severely handsome while Skye’s freckled one glowed with an innate happiness.

Skye was so alive. Always in motion. She spoke with her hands, and laughed easily while Tristan’s movements seemed to be guarded and efficient. Rose couldn’t have asked for a better doctor—not for Ivy and certainly not for herself.

“What time is Alexander supposed to pick you up?” Skye gently swayed back and forth with Ivy in her arms, making little popping noises with her lips.

Rose opened her mouth to answer and then quickly shut it, her brow creasing. Sasha had never given her a time. In fact he’d never said where they were going. Heat crept up her neck. Good thing she’d worn her favorite lavender colored turtleneck today. “After he’s done for the day,” she said vaguely, then directed her attention to Tristan. “How are you going to manage your patients and help Skye?”

“Luke Ambrose joined my practice,” he said, his silvery eyes roamed over her sister. In fact he’d barely glanced away from Skye the entire time. Rose looked away before she smiled. Unfortunately, she found Jason staring at her from across the street. What was he doing down here and why was he by Sasha’s front door? It wasn’t like he needed help in the job department and Jason sure as hell wasn’t going to donate his money or clothes to a good cause. Actually, the only one he invested in was the get-him-to-the-top-as-fast-as-possible cause. A seriously worthy endeavor.

Skye squealed and Rose started. “Good grief, Skye. You scared the crud out of me!”

After handing the baby to Tristan, Skye caught Rose up in a big hug. “I’m so excited for you,” she whispered in her ear. “Try to have fun.”

Rose fought back the ridiculous tears caught in her throat. This was so unlike her. She never got emotional over silly little things, or big things for that matter. “I’ll do my best.”

After Skye and Tristan left, Jason was nowhere to be found. Thank God. It was a short walk to the bank and she had about fifteen minutes to spare. Maybe she should pop on over to Sasha’s store and see what time he wanted her ready. Being on time would be the least she could do in return.

Taking a deep breath, she pressed down on the handle. Nothing happened. She frowned. Maybe she should knock. After a couple of minutes, she quit knocking and leaned to one side to take a quick peek in the window. Well, that should’ve been her first clue. The place was completely dark inside.

Her insides danced, tripped and crashed against each other.

It didn’t matter. He lived with her. She’d see him tonight. Keeping her expression neutral, she walked up the street and made her way to the only bank in town. Rose couldn’t help but notice that quite a few people crossed to the other side of the street to avoid walking past her. A couple of guys she knew to be friends with Jason leered at her, raking her body up and down with a smirk on their faces as they grew closer, but they let her pass between them without incident.

Unlike the greeting that every other customer got when he or she walked in, Rose was met with stony stares and judging eyes. Like usual she ignored them all, holding her head high as she passed the teller’s counter and customer service desk. She didn’t stop until Harrison Collins’ secretary met her halfway and ushered her inside the president’s office.

Harrison, ever the southern gentleman, stood as Rose entered the room. He was all business and no smiles as he gestured to the closest chair. “Ms. Holland, it always behooves a person to be early. Something many of your generation have yet to learn.”

“I’m not being punctual. I’m ready to get this over with.” She sat down.

The door click shut behind her and his expression softened. “Is that any way to talk to me, sugar?” He came around the desk and held open his arms.

Fighting back the nausea, Rose stood, giving him a one-sided hug. “Sorry.”

Harrison tsked and leaned back. “Rose Holland, your momma raised you better than that.”

She stiffened. “That’s right. She raised me.”

“Rose.”

She knew what he wanted. What he wanted every damn time she came to his office and the door shut. The same damn thing she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. But now that she knew better, now that she wasn’t so eager to please him, he held the note on her loan and owned her silence.

“Let’s try this again, honey,” he said, stepping back and holding out his arms.

She hesitated and his gray eyes turned stormy. “I’m sorry I was rude.” She hugged him again and his strong arms wrapped around her. When she was younger, she would carry his hugs home with her and add them to her nightly ritual. But now she knew him, and he cared more about his standing in the community than the bastard child he’d fathered with the town’s most notorious resident, Azalea Poppy Holland.

“I’m sorry, what?” he prompted.

Why did the men in her life feel a need to humiliate her? She closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of his crisp aftershave. “Daddy. I’m sorry, daddy.”

***

Sasha jogged through the woods, taking the path that veered off to the right. The trees grew thicker here and cast long shadows on the forest floor. The pungent smell of decaying pine needles greeted him as he dodge low hanging bushes and jumped over logs. Sweat trickled down his back, soaking the waistband of his nylon running pants.

As a young boy, he’d done this with his father. Getting up at the crack of dawn to go running through the forest. Maks Romanov had been a Cross Country Olympic Silver medalist in his youth and even without that accomplishment Sasha had idolized his father. He’d had drive, a purpose, and a wife that adored him. Everything that Sasha lacked.

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