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Page 40 of Third Time's a Charm (Holland Springs 3)

“Gabriel Edwards.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Why?” Her stubborn chin tilted as she crossed her arms. “He’s too good for someone like me?”

Sasha silently counted to ten and then did it twice more before he answered. “He’s nothing like what you deserve.” The temperature in the store suddenly felt as if it had gotten twenty degrees cooler. He shivered, but Rose didn’t appear to be affected at all. In fact, her pretty eyes fairly blazed at him.

“You mean someone like you—a liar and a user? That’s what you think I deserve?”

“Don’t twist my words.” His breath came out in steady white puffs of air as he spoke.

“Says the man who twists everything to his advantage.”

If only she knew what a disadvantage his entire life was. If only she could see his mother, laying helpless and colorless in a hospital with a gun in her mouth. If , if, if.

Rage filled him, heating his body until the goose bumps that had begun to dot his skin disappeared and his hands clenched into fists. He jerked his gaze around the room until he found the thermostat and strode to it, nearly breaking the plastic tab as he shoved it to seventy–five.

“Leave my things alone,” she said, ducking under his arm and wresting his hand away.

The back of her sweater collided with the front of his shirt. He cupped her shoulders to steady them both, but it only served to throw him off-balance. He had the insane notion to sweep her hair aside and drink in the jasmine perfume she wore behind her ears. To nibble on her neck until breathy moans filled the air.

Another blast of cold air hit him and he dropped his hands as if he’d been scalded. “While your Holland hocus-pocus seems to scare everyone else, might I remind you that not only am I wholly unimpressed, but you’ve Ivy to consider.”

She stiffened her spine. “And let me remind you, Alexander, that who I choose to spend time with is none of your concern.”

He made an inarticulate noise and turned on his heel, marching to the door he didn’t remember leaving open, and out of her store.

***

The last person Sasha expected to see sitting on the sofa with Rose was Gabriel Edwards. Her bloody date to his party. His party. And the son of a bitch was holding Ivy.

The baby stared at the man holding her in his arms, her little mouth puckered. His clever girl was not happy.

Rose gave Gabriel one of her rare smiles and it took all of Sasha’s self-control not to walk in there and bodily throw Gabriel out of the house. Breathing deeply, pressed the heel of his hand against his chest and rubbed. The last time she’d smiled at him he’d run like a first-rate coward out of her house.

Walking up behind them, he cleared his throat. Ivy looked up at him, her puckered lips spreading into a toothless smile while Rose and Gabriel jumped apart like teenagers caught making out by their parents.

Sasha leaned over and plucked Ivy out of Gabriel’s arms before anyone could say a word. Ivy raised her brows and he kissed her on the nose. “Hullo, darling.”

Rose looked up at him, her eyes narrowing. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Sasha gently bounced Ivy and smiled at her, ignoring Rose’s irritated expression. “Has Aunt Rose fed you? I’m starving.” He walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, looking for a bottle of formula to heat.

Rose’s footsteps sounded behind him.

“I’ve already fed her and you can’t just waltz in here like—”

“Like I live here?” he supplied, hitting the door with his elbow and turning around.

Briefly, Rose impersonated a fish gasping for air, then held out her arms. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to hug him. However, she wasn’t wielding a knife in order to cut out his heart and feed it to Blackbeard. Speaking of which, where was that damn cat? Usually the beast tried to trip Sasha as soon as he walked in the door.

Taking Ivy from him, she gave him the smallest smile he’d ever seen. “I fixed a plate for you. It’s on the second shelf of the fridge.”

He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “I’m sorry, love.”

“For not being here when I cooked?” she asked, tilting her head to the side in an attempt at guilelessness, but he wasn’t fooled. “It’s not required in your lease.”

Lowering his chin, he looked at her from under his brows and crossed his arms. “That, too. But actually, I was referring to Friday night—the whole damn weekend—”

“Rose, honey,” Gabriel called out, “the previews are almost over and the movie’s getting ready to start.”

Sasha clenched his jaw tight to keep from telling Gabriel to shut it.

“Coming,” Rose said, her voice perfectly sweet.

Sasha didn’t think he could be more jealous, but as usual he was wrong. “What’s Edwards doing here?”

“Gabriel brought over a movie for us to watch.”

“And what does he have planned for later?”

Fury flashed in her eyes. “He’s a gentlemen.”

“He’s bloody boring.” And everything a woman like Rose needed. Everything she deserved. Everything Sasha would never be.

She pressed a kiss to Ivy’s head before saying, “Grow up, Sasha.” She turned to walk away.

Catching her arm, he prevented her from leaving, but she wouldn’t face him. “Is this a real date?”

“Jealous?”

A part of him demanded he lie, but he was done playing games. “Yes.”

“You had your chance,” she whispered.

So he had. Reluctantly he let go of her, but he sure as hell wasn’t leaving. He lived here.

***

Rose glanced out of the corner of her eyes at Sasha and then at Gabriel. She was sandwiched between the two of them as they watched the DVD Gabriel had brought over. Their broad shoulders and muscular thighs took up most of the couch.

Wriggling didn’t help. It only served to remind her of the one man who made her hot. The one who made her body tense in anticipation as his fingers brushed her arm. As he leaned over and whispered the most ridiculous rumors about the people they were watching.

“Hates Gummy Bears, that one. Can’t abide a man who doesn’t like sweets.” Sasha brushed her hair away from her neck. Her skin began to tingle so sharply that it hurt.

“I don’t like them either,” she said, turning slightly to face him. Maybe that would make him leave her alone. Maybe she should join Ivy upstairs in her crib.

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