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Page 58 of Third Time's a Charm (Holland Springs 3)

Was that where her mother had gotten her name? Not from her birthmark like she’d thought.

“Don’t worry, Rose, everything will work out for the best. The devil will finally get his due.”

The door opened, preventing Rose from asking her sister exactly what she meant by that.

“So this is where you’ve been hiding from everyone,” Gabriel said, his dark eyes flashing.

“Only you, angel.” Summer smirked.

“Can you take Summer home for me?” Rose asked him. “I’ll get another ride home.”

Summer’s lip curled. “He’s your date?”

“Better than any other man in town.” Except for one, her heart reminded her.

“So you say.” Summer twisted her lips and raked her eyes over him. “Some would find him…lacking in certain departments.”

Rose gave Gabriel an apologetic smile. “Sorry, she’s not herself right now.”

“Oh, I am completely myself.” Summer stood, her hips swaying with purpose as she approached Gabriel. She ran a hand over one of his broad shoulders and his face flushed. “Still wearing that chastity belt, preacher boy?”

“Why are you so concerned about my private life?” The lines of his body were stiff, tense.

Rose couldn’t help but feel as if this was a renewed conversation.

Blonde hair slid over Summer’s slender shoulders like a waterfall over dangerous rocks and his indigo eyes tracked every movement. “Don’t you mean lack of one?”

“I’m not in the mood for this, Summer,” he warned, but her sister stepped closer and her smile became hypnotic.

The fire blazed higher and a bead of sweat trickled between Rose’s br**sts.

Summer stood on the balls of her feet, her lips almost touching Gabriel’s. “I can get you in the mood, angel.”

“Be quiet,” Rose cried, wanting to knock them both over the head. She grabbed Gabriel’s arm and pulled him away. “Can you take Summer home or not?”

***

Harrison Collins had taken it upon himself to give Sasha the grand tour.

Curious as to the house’s history, Sasha had agreed. Only he’d found a painting, small and definitely not fit for public consumption, in the billiards room of the mansion. A very blond ancestor of Rose Holland reclining upon a fainting couch wearing little more than a scrap of fabric and a birthmark on her inner thigh—in the familiar shape of a rose bud.

“Every Poppy Holland bears that mark,” Harrison said, the end of his cigar bright red. “It’s to warn the men away. Women like her aren’t fit for good society.”

“Is this little speech to warn me away?”

Harrison clapped him on the back. “Why would I need to do that?”

“All my parts are in proper working order and I’m male. Two requirements for seduction of or by Poppy Holland.”

“Thought you liked men.” Harrison clamped the cigar between his teeth.

If the banker thought to insult him, he had another thing coming. “Are you flirting with me, Harrison? I’m flattered, but unfortunately my affections are engaged elsewhere.”

Harrison’s eyes grew so wide that Sasha could only see the whites. “God, no.”

Sasha stepped forward, inches from Harrison’s face. “What a shame.” He smoothed the front of Harrison’s jacket. “I’ve always had a thing for men like you: powerful, horrid dresser…”

“Tour’s over,” Harrison snapped.

“But I wasn’t finished.” Before Sasha could spook him further, Harrison sprinted from the room, not bothering to close the door behind him. “Good riddance.”

Poppy Holland’s seductive smile mocked him. “But you m’dear…oh, what plans I have for you.” He removed the painting from the wall and tucked it under his arm. He made a quick trip to his car and secured it in the back seat before heading back inside.

As he retraced Rose’s steps, he heard voices and opened the door. The trio turned in perfect sync. His jaw threatened to clench, but he forced a charming smile and let his gaze rest on Rose. Or should he call her Poppy? Her hand clutched Gabriel’s arm.

“Very bad form to have a private party and not invite me.” Sasha adjusted his stance as the trio stared at him. Though he leaned casually against the door frame, blood pounded furiously in his ears as he focused on the little witch in the middle.

Rose’s hand fell away from Gabriel and Sasha began to breathe easier. Then he noticed the woman above the fireplace. He blinked. Was this some kind of sick joke?

Sasha strode to the painting and read the placard underneath, then stared up at the portrait. Same curly black hair, same beautiful blue eyes, and same last name as the man who owned the place. Sasha’s gut clenched and a minuscule amount of fury ebbed away. That was why Harrison Collins had looked so familiar to him at Market House. What a bastard the man was to prey on his daughter’s vulnerabilities.

Honestly, should he be surprised at anything anyone did?

“You never did introduce us, Rose,” Summer purred and Sasha turned to regard the blonde.

He’d recognized Ivy’s mother as soon as she sauntered in, hell-bent on embarrassing Rose or herself, he wasn’t sure. However, two things were very clear: one, Summer was extremely beautiful, a fashion designer’s dream with her long legs, torso and arms. Two, he wouldn’t touch her with his pinky finger—not only because she was Rose’s sister, but because he’d seen that look before.

Every morning for the past five years it had stared back at him in the mirror.

“Alexander Romanov,” Rose said, gesturing toward him, then her sister. “This is my sister, Summer.”

“Charmed, I’m sure,” he drawled.

Summer brushed past Gabriel, her hips saying ‘come closer’ while her eyes screamed ‘run like hell in the opposite direction’. Crimson nails tipped in black trailed down Sasha’s coat sleeve and he repressed a shudder.

She leaned closer, whispering, “Performing curses may not be in my sister’s repertoire, but it is in mine.”

Halloween really did bring out the best in people. He leaned back and looked her in the eye, pulling out the cross necklace. “Sorry, dear, but you can’t touch me.”

Summer’s lips peeled back from her teeth, but before she could curse him or bite his ear off, Gabriel pulled her away.

“Let’s go home,” Gabriel urged.

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