“Liar.” A slight smile played on his cousin’s face.
“Coming to my party?” Sasha asked, steering the conversation back into the safe zone.
“Wouldn’t miss it.” This time Christian’s lips broke out in a full smile. “Still trying to figure out the angle you’re working.”
“No worries, mate. My angle’s all worked out. The benefit is exactly what it seems to be and I’ll be leaving next Wednesday.” But not before he found a way to help Rose, whether she wanted it or not.
Rose unloaded the last empty box from the back of her Jeep and took it in the house. The task of sorting what was precious to her was overwhelming. How was she supposed to decide what should go and what should stay? She had three days to pack and only Skye to help.
“At least we have the apartment over the store,” Skye took the box from Rose. “You can stay there until everything gets sorted out.”
“No, it’s been rented out. Can Ivy and I come stay with you? I checked on the cottage, but it’s in bad shape and I won’t get any money from Barbara’s Bugs until they receive their first shipment. I mailed it out when I went to town to get these boxes from storage.” Rose glanced at Ivy. The baby played on a large quilt in the middle of the foyer, the stuffed rabbit clutched in her hand with Blackbeard close by.
Skye’s face fell. “God, I wish y’all could, but I have four roommates and I can’t kick them out. The lease is in Bailey’s name.”
“Four? But it’s only a two bedroom.”
“Bailey’s boyfriend and his roommate moved in two days ago.” Skye scrunched her nose in displeasure. “They’re such pervs. I constantly feel the need to wear at least four layers of clothes when they’re around.”
Well, sleeping at Skye’s place was out. Maybe she would take up David and Missy’s offer after all. “Never mind. I can get a hotel room.”
Skye set the box down on the second step and took Rose’s hand, squeezing it. “I know it doesn’t seem like this is a good thing, but maybe it is. Out of all of us, you felt the most tied to Strawberry Grove. Maybe this is your chance to be your own person. Go do whatever you want.”
Hope dared to spread its wings inside of her, but she caged it in. “I have Ivy to think about.”
Skye smiled sadly. “Not forever.”
Rose sucked in a breath, knowing it was true but the words hurt all the same. “How are things with you and Tristan?”
“There is no me and Tristan.” Skye pursed her lips. “Never was. We were…friends. Since he can’t go tonight, I’ll babysit Ivy for you instead of Gabriel’s momma.”
“At the apartment with four roommates?” Rose asked in disbelief and a hint of horror that overshadowed her concern for her sister’s love life.
“No, I’m staying over at Jemma Leigh’s, but she won’t mind. She’s paying me to cleanse her aura and feng shui her house,” her sister said with a rueful smile. “I don’t have the heart to tell her I’m not that kind of—”
“Witch?” Rose wiggled her brows.
Skye giggled and let go of Rose’s hand. “Healer.” Her sister’s face grew serious. “I’ve been meaning to tell you, but yesterday I got an email saying that I’ve been taken off the waiting list for their midwifery program and awarded a scholarship to Colorado U.”
Rose sat down on the bottom step, trying to think of something encouraging to say. “But it’s so far away.”
“I know, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.” Skye sat down beside her. “I tutored some football players on the side, did some mommy’s morning outs and a bunch of other odd jobs. I tucked away enough money for a one-way plane ticket with enough left over to get me started.”
Guilt sprouted inside of Rose. She’d always thought Skye had it so easy living in Greenville, able to come and go as she pleased. Able to sleep in or go out with her friends. God, how wrong she’d been, and now she’d run out of time to change things. “When do you leave?”
Rose blinked and sucked in a breath. “That soon?”
“I need to line up a job, find a place to live, and get my bearings.” Skye linked her hands with Rose’s. “Don’t worry, I’ll visit over Skype and email you every day. I bet we’ll talk as much as we do now.”
Another pang of guilt hit Rose, and her heart pounded hard in her chest. “How long is the program or whatever you call it?”
“Two years.” Skye laughed at the look on her face. “It’s not forever.”
“Tell that to Blackbeard. He’ll be a thousand years old by the time you come back,” Rose said as the cat licked its paw.
Skye picked at the lint on her sweater, her freckled cheeks pinkening. “I’m not sure I want to come back.”
In her heart Rose had known this day would come. Skye had always wanted to travel and loved meeting new people. She loved talking to them, listening to their every ache and pain while searching her mental file cabinet for ways to help them.
“Whatever you decide, I’ll support you.” And miss her every day, because Rose knew that after this weekend Skye wouldn’t be back for a very long time, if ever.
“Did you love him? Alexander, I mean.”
Rose opened and closed her mouth a couple times before settling on saying, “I gave him my necklace.”
“Oh.” Surprise showed in her sister’s hazel eyes before they dropped to Rose’s neck.
“I don’t know what got into me. I only knew it belonged to him.”
“Did you ever feel that way with Jason?”
Shaking her head, Rose grabbed the nearest box and stood. “Never.” She marched up the stairs, aware of her sister watching her the entire way.
Rose had never been one to run away from what life threw at her, but tonight—as soon as she walked into her father’s house—she’d been ready to bewitch the nearest broom and fly away.
Any minute now, someone would slide right up to her with their most charming smile and ask her to leave. Any minute now, her mask would be ripped away and the entire town would laugh at her, knowing she’d been played for a fool.
Oh, why hadn’t she stayed at home with Ivy?
A helpless noise escaped her lips and she clutched Gabriel’s arm tighter. He patted her hand reassuringly and shifted his stance so that she could lean on him for support. She almost wished that his touch did something, anything for her. A slight tingle, a rise of goose bumps…something. But of course, it didn’t happen. Never had and never would. He wasn’t the man for her.