Crossing the room, he gently nudged her bare shoulder and whispered, “Rosebud, wake up.”
Her forehead wrinkled and her lips puckered, reminding him of Ivy when she was displeased. “I’m sleeping.”
The mattress dipped under his weight as he crawled in beside her, gathering her in his arms. She was deliciously warm, her body pliant as she burrowed into him. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “It can’t wait ‘til morning, sweetheart,” he said against her curls. “Open those beautiful eyes and look at me.”
Black lashes slowly lifted, revealing slumberous blue eyes. At the center he could see his reflection and he swallowed. “I haven’t been entirely honest with you.”
Slumberous gave way to wary as her body began to tense against his and her hands came between them. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t push me away, love,” he said, but she moved to a sitting position and hiked the sheets over her br**sts. “It’s not what you think—”
“I should’ve known.” She grabbed the cross pendant and looked away.
Sharp runners of pain unfurled in his chest, cutting into his heart. “Will you give me the chance to explain?”
“Sure, why not? At least I don’t have an audience this time,” she said, her voice flat.
He clenched his fists so tightly that his knuckles cracked. “I’m not breaking up with—”
“We’re not in a relationship to begin with, so you don’t have to.”
Closing his eyes, he counted to fifty. This was going so horribly wrong. No matter what he said, she would take it the wrong way. Not that there was a right way. He exhaled and opened his eyes. “This isn’t a one-night-stand. It’s…we’re more than that.” When she didn’t respond, he leaned over the side of the bed, dug through his trouser pocket and found his cell phone. Quickly searching through his text messages, he found the one from his uncle and held out his phone. “Look at this.”
The slightest shake of her head had what was left of his heart in his throat. “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not interested in more of your lies.”
“Here me out, Rosebud.”
“Don’t call me that, Alexander,” she said sharply.
Swallowing his pride, he tried pleading with her. “Please. One look and then I’ll leave. Or stay. Whatever you want.”
Turning slowly, her black curls slid over her shoulders and swung against his chest, cool silk against his overheated skin. Lashes lowered, she took the phone from him. After a moment, the tight lines around her mouth relaxed and she met his gaze, her eyes glittering with unshed tears.
“Is that your mom?”
He scooted closer to her, relieved she didn’t move away. “Yes.”
“So you really weren’t joking when you said Ivy took after her.”
“My dad’s Russian and my mum’s Zimbabwean—African. That a problem for you?”
She gave him an odd look. “No.”
He hadn’t thought it would be for her, but this was the South and some things weren’t so easily accepted, even in the twenty-first century. “My mum’s parents sent her to London for boarding school. Education was really important to them.”
“Is that where she met your dad?”
He nodded. “According to him, it was love at first sight.”
“How long were they together?”
“I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be able to be so close to her, but entirely helpless,” she said, her voice soft and compassionate.
A silky thigh brushed his and he had to make himself not touch her, to not press her back against the mattress and make love to her again. “What about your mother?”
“She left the night I turned sixteen,” she said, her tone so matter of fact that he wanted to take her in his arms. “The next morning, Skye and I came downstairs to an empty house. Summer wasn’t around, so…” She shrugged. “I took over everything.”
“That must have been tough to do with school.”
“I dropped out.” She exhaled, her breath shaky. “It was too exhausting trying to work and keep up with my grades. And I was afraid that if I asked for help that Skye would be taken away from me. Later, I studied my tail off and got my GED.”
Breaking his own rule, he captured one of her capable hands. Despite the work she did, they were soft and supple. He admired the hell out of her. Not many sixteen year olds would have bothered to try to keep their family together. “That’s amazing, Rose. What about university…sorry, college?”
“Not everyone’s meant for college,” she said, her fingers curling around his. “Besides, I have a business to run.”
His admiration for her grew. Such an intelligent, sexy woman he had in his bed right now. “Do you miss your mother?”
“Sometimes,” she said. “Mostly when I needed advice on how to take care of a baby. Contrary to popular belief, women aren’t born with the knowledge.”
Pressing a kiss to her knuckles, he placed her hand back in safer territory. “You’re a good provider, love.”
“I try to be.”
“Is your dad around?” He knew absolutely nothing about the man, not even a name. His uncle’s lawyers had informed him that there wasn’t a father listed on Rose’s birth certificate.
“He’s not someone I want in my life.”
He wanted to ask her more, but she looked so uncomfortable that he refrained. There was the possibility she had no idea who her father was. “There’s no shame in your mother raising the three of you by herself.”
“That would be the last thing I’d be ashamed about.” She slid away so that her thigh no longer touched his. “Who’s that man hovering beside your mom?”
The bane of his existence. “My Uncle Vladimir.”
“He looks menacing.” She handed the phone back to him and brushed a strand of hair behind one ear. “I’d already made up my mind to believe you about your mom, even before you showed me this.”
“That’s not why I shared it. I want total honesty with you.”
An elegant black brow arched. “I’m listening.”
“The first time we met was no accident. I came to your store to talk to one of the Holland women. My uncle sent me here after reading about the legend of the spring.”