“But isn’t this the part where you kick me out?”
“Curse me with impotence?”
One side of her perfect lips lifted at the corner, her gaze sliding over his body and arousing him to madness. Tempting him to jump out of bed, only to get right back in it with her.
“Why should I deprive myself?” she asked in her soft drawl, and the fine hair on the back of his neck rose.
He gulped. “Why are you helping me?”
Laying one hand against her chest, her fingers began to toy with a button. “Because your momma needs it. You need it, too.” Her head dipped. When she lifted it, a wealth of emotion filled her eyes. “I know what it’s like to have the people who should be looking out for you leave you to fend for yourself. Or worse.”
Her words were entirely meaningful and kind. And extremely Rose. But his humiliation couldn’t have been more glaring in his mind. “Don’t pity me, sweetheart, I chose this life. Never forget that. Never forget that I am a very bad man.”
“Who does very nice things to try to make up for it. A very bad man wouldn’t bother.” She let her arm fall to the side.
“Don’t afflict me with qualities I can’t possibly survive.” He raised his knee and rested his arm on it, looking around the room. The idea of someone helping him was foreign. It was almost too much, but like any other drowning man, he would grab on tight and never let go. “When everything is said and done, I’ll have to leave. But I’ll come back to…Holland Springs if you want me to.” Ask me, he silently commanded. Ask me to stay with you and we’ll…He mentally shook his head. They would do nothing, because his mother would never be safe. It would be damned unfair to ask her to wait two years for him. Like a valiant soldier going off to war. As if he’d ever had that noble of a purpose. Hell, his entire life was purposeless.
Rose swallowed, her body alternately flashing hot and cold. “I understand, but come back here because you want to, not because you feel like you have to,” she said as her heart broke into a thousand pieces and her soul screamed no. She wanted him to stay with her. Forever. However, for them and every Poppy Holland before her, the third time was not going to be the charm. It never was, according to her mother. Not since Marcus Summersby had a man stuck around for a Holland woman.
This time it wasn’t because of her reputation or wanting to keep up good town appearances like her deadbeat father. It was all because a vindictive, evil man threatened Sasha’s mother. And would keep threatening her until she either died or Sasha turned thirty. There was no way she could leave a helpless woman to that fate, not if it meant Phoebe remaining where she was for a few months longer.
A few months more bearable for the man Rose loved. A man that she’d never tell, because she was afraid it would destroy her. As if to say those words out loud gave them power.
“I do, but—”
“Get some clothes on and I’ll grab the baby monitor.” She didn’t want to hear his reasons for why he couldn’t or wouldn’t come back.
She shot him a confused look.
“We don’t have to go right this instance.” He rose from the bed, all graceful masculine lines as he walked across the room. In a matter of seconds, he was standing in front of her. Slowly and very deliberately, he unbuttoned her shirt as he stared into her eyes.
“Has this ever been something you’ve done before?” Another button slid out of its constraints and her breath hitched.
He gave her a wicked smile, his knuckles brushing her skin. Goose bumps rose and her ni**les tightened. “I might have undressed a woman a time or two before.”
She wanted to laugh, but she just couldn’t. “You know what I meant.”
His eyes grew serious. “I make it a priority to never get intimately involved.” His large hands cupped her shoulders, sliding the rich material over them. He dropped a kiss on the side of her neck, then ran his hands down the curves of her body.
A small hum of pleasure began to vibrate through her formerly sated body. Reaching out, she ran her fingers over his muscular chest, through the light sifting of hair and over his pierced ni**les. Leaning forward, she licked one and smiled against his skin as his body lightly convulsed. She looked up and her heart tripled its beat.
A predator’s smile covered his face. “I mean to have you again.”
“The spring,” she said and nipped his chin.
His hand found the small of her back and pressed her closer, his hard body flush against hers. Her knees dissolved like sugar in hot tea. “Later, Rosebud,” he said and claimed her mouth.
Drowsy and content (and much, much later), Rose found herself tangled up with Sasha. His legs entwined with hers, his fingers in her hair as he pressed kiss after kiss to her upturned face. Silly kisses, hot open-mouthed kisses down her throat and soft, sweet kisses pressed to her lips that stole her breath away.
“You’re making me wet,” she scolded and tucked her nose into his throat.
He laughed, a deep rumbling sound that made his chest vibrate. “A permanent condition when you’re around me.”
“Hopeless man.” She closed her eyes, feeling safer and more secure than she had in years. There was something about lying in bed with him that made her feel cherished and protected. Sasha’s personality was larger than life and at times, one she believed could help fight all of her battles.
Blackbeard meowed and jumped on the bed.
“Watch it,” Sasha growled.
Rose opened her eyes in time to see her kitty knead his claws into Sasha chest.
Sasha tried to shove the cat off of him. “I’m not a bloody scratching post.”
“Maybe he thinks you smell like catnip.” She giggled as Blackbeard deigned to flop on his side, flicking his tail so that the tip smacked Sasha in the mouth.
“Beastly little bugger.” The cat purred as Sasha stroked him, a rueful smile on his face. “Sell any cat protection charms in your store? Hell, I’d settle for a protection charm of any kind.”
The cross at her throat slid to her collarbone, the metal hot against her skin. She had to get it off. She had… Quickly sitting up, she reached for the clasp on the necklace she wore.
Sasha laid a hand on her arm. “I was only teasing, love. Blackbeard can scratch me up as much as he likes.”
A brief moment later she held the chain in front of her, the gold cross throwing a shadow across the bed covers. She turned to him, unsure of what to say.