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Page 38 of Third Time's a Charm (Holland Springs 3)

“I’ll go.”

She turned to him, making a face. “You will?”

“Don’t get too excited,” Gabriel laughed. “Look, it’s not your problem; it’s mine. I’ll be your date. What time does it start and what should I wear?”

Placing her arms along the box’s edge, she tried to remember the exact wording on the invitation. “Eight p.m. Wear a mask with your costume.” Raising her brows conspiratorially, she said, “It’s on All Hallow’s Eve. I’ll be going as myself.”

“An angel?” A slow grin slid on his handsome face and his indigo eyes glinted with amusement.

Oh Lord, was Gabriel flirting with her? “Poppy Holland.”

He bit at his lip again and lowered his lashes. “The Witch of Strawberry Grove. Don’t suppose you’d share some of your special wine with me?”

He was! Everyone knew that Poppy Holland only drank strawberry wine with her lovers. “I…” she began, not sure how to gently turn him down. But honestly why should she tell him no? She’d practically grown up with Gabriel and trusted him. And she wasn’t dating Sasha. Even if she’d—they’d…Good grief. She was hopeless.

“I was only kidding, honey.” Gabriel smiled, flashing a dimple in his left cheek.

Chagrined, she picked up the closest shampoo bottle and placed it with the conditioners. “Of course you were.”

“How about I bring over dinner and a movie tonight?”

Startled at his offer, Rose could only stare at him.

“If you have other plans, don’t worry about,” he said softly.

“As long as you don’t mind Ivy.”

“I love kids.”

He stepped closer and her heartbeat stayed steady. This was so unfair. Gabriel was a nice guy, a good-looking guy. A stand-up kind of guy that a girl took home to meet her parents. He was a guy that took girls home to meet his. What was wrong with her? Taking a deep breath, she said, “I’ll cook supper and you bring the DVD. Be at my house by 6:30.”

The bells on the front door jingled.

“Okay, so dinner and movie for tonight, be there t at 6:30. Then Friday night pick you up by seven. Got it.” He stepped away from her, picked up another box and placed it on the counter. “Would you like to eat first?”

Skye breezed in with Ivy. She gave Rose a what-the-hell-is-going-on look, but didn’t interrupt their conversation.

“They’re serving heavy hors d’oeuvres. I think we’ll be fine,” she replied, lifting her chin. She didn’t care what her sister thought.

“Sounds good,” he said with a nod. “See you later, then. Nice to see you, Skye.”

“Bye,” Rose said, frowning at Skye when she remained silent.

The bells on the front door jingled as Gabriel opened and closed it behind him.

“I didn’t know he was allowed to celebrate pagan holidays,” Skye said as she handed over Ivy.

Starfish-shaped hands opened and closed, reaching for her and Rose held her close. She breathed in Ivy’s sweet baby scent and ignored her sister’s barb. “I’ve missed you so, so much.”

“Rose.”

Eying Skye over Ivy’s curly head, she said, “How was she?”

“Fine.” Skye crossed her arms, fairly dancing with energy. And curiosity. “How was your date with Alexander?”

Two could play at this. “Fine. Thank you for keeping her.”

“Where is he by the way?”

Rose blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Family emergency.”

“When’s he coming back?”

“I don’t know.”

“Really?” Skye raised her brows.

“Really.”

Skye stared at her and Rose did the same right back.

“Tristan’s parked his truck in the back. Where are your keys?” Skye finally asked.

Bouncing the baby in her arms, Rose placed kisses along her cheeks. “On my desk.”

A couple of minutes later, Skye handed Rose her keys back and kissed Ivy on the head. “I’ll see you Friday.”

“Great.” Now she only had to find a last minute babysitter. Gabriel’s mother had offered before, but Rose had turned her down. Maybe she should call her later and ask if the offer still stood.

“It shouldn’t be too hard to for him to dress as holier-than-thou. He’s got the market cornered,” Skye tossed out over her shoulder.

“Look, he apologized about what happened between him and Summer. Stop holding a grudge.”

“Whatever,” Skye muttered.

Rose snapped. “God forbid you ever have to deal with people not liking you. Or thinking the worst of you. And I believe I speak for all of us that don’t have that luxury by saying: kiss my butt.”

Skye stopped mid-stride and whirled around, her hazel eyes huge. “How do you know what people think of me? Or you? All you and Summer have ever done is assume the worst.”

“Summer and I never assumed. We were reminded day after day.” Grabbing a blanket from a nearby basket, Rose spread it out on the floor and placed the baby on it.

“You never talk to anyone, not even me. You never go out. You have no friends, Rose. None.”

Turning to Skye, she said, “When am I supposed to make friends? Should I do it before or after work? Before or after taking care of Ivy? Before or after paying for you to go to school, the light bill, the food bill, or car insurance? Before or after working my ass off cleaning someone else’s house? Making it look beautiful while ours rots. While I can’t afford to pay someone to fix it because they want more than money. Because no decent man around here will look at me twice. All you do is smile and the town’s doctor is panting after you, ready to jump as high as you tell him. He’s taking you out, helping you keep someone else’s kid, and most important of all, Tristan’s not dating you because he made a bet with his buddies that he could make the ice princess thaw.”

Rose slapped her hand over her mouth, horrified. She’d never told anyone about that stupid bet Jason had made. The one she’d “accidentally” found out about on their last date when one of his buddies stopped by the table to pay up, after Jason broken things off with her. She’d been unable to say a thing, too mortified to make a scene in such a nice restaurant.

“Rose, I didn’t know.” Skye ran back to her, giving her a tight hug. “I’m sorry.”

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