“I said we’d talk later.”
Skye snorted. “You just want to have the last word.”
Rose made a face. “I do not.”
“Ladies, can we agree to disagree?” They both opened their mouths, but he raised a finger. “With a nod, if you please, my head is about to explode.”
To his relief they did as he asked.
He glanced to the right and groaned. Just what he needed—Jemma Leigh Jackson sashaying her way across the street. It had been relatively easy to chat her up, and she’d been a veritable treasure trove of information as she filled him in on all the gossip he’d missed since the last time he was in this backwards little town.
“I’ve never seen a man look at Jemma Leigh like that before,” Skye said.
He swung his gaze back, Rose’s lovely face filling his vision. “If one is going to pretend to wear designer, one must get a decent knock-off.”
Rose gave him a skeptical look. “Jemma Leigh is a former Miss North Carolina and all you can say is that she needs better clothes?”
“Just calling it like I see it, dear.” And he could always see the flaws in others. Clothing, make-up, personality…It didn’t matter. He appraised Rose, watching as her beautiful eyes glittered and narrowed at him. Well, not always.
“I hate it when a man’s all—”
She snorted. “Try egotistical.”
He shifted his stance and heard the click of heels on the sidewalk. “Let the insanity commence,” he mumbled.
“Be nice, Alexander,” Rose warned.
“Hi, girls.” Jemma Leigh pranced inside Carolina Dreams with a friendly smile on her face as she waved. Then she waved at him and he waved back before he could help himself. “Yoo-hoo, Alexander! You didn’t say what time you’d pick me up Saturday night, silly man!”
He hadn’t said because he hadn’t agreed to anything. He didn’t have the time or inclination to get involved with anyone. For the past six months he hadn’t been involved with anyone but a woman with eyes the color of the Mediterranean at dawn, until he came to his senses and left before things could go further.
“Oh, that. Right, well...” He shot her a sheepish smile. “Currently, I find myself in need of permanent transportation.” That much was true. His driver would be leaving town this evening.
Jemma Leigh laughed like that was the funniest thing she’d ever heard in her life. Skye muttered something about needing to do some office work. Rose said nothing, merely faded into the background. Or at least tried to. There was no way he’d ever forget she was in the room. He could identify her by scent alone. Night blooming jasmine. Subtle but powerful.
“Oh you! I’ll pick you up in my truck. Daddy just had it painted for me. Bright pink with my name written on the tailgate.” She leaned forward and pressed her hand beside her lip-glossed mouth. “Just in case I lose it in the Wal-Mart parking lot.” Jemma Leigh winked.
Oh, good God. “Wasn’t that brilliant of him.” Searching for the best possible way out, he thought of a few choice phrases that could nip this in the bud. But none were very nice. And Jemma Leigh struck him as a genuinely nice person.
“Sorry, Jemma Leigh, but Alexander is moving this weekend. He’s our new renter,” Rose said, surprising the hell out of him. She moved to stand beside him, so close that her arm brushed against his.
“Knew you couldn’t resist me,” he murmured while mentally reviewing the list of all the reasons why he shouldn’t touch her, shouldn’t kiss her plump lips when they parted for her sweet tongue to dart out and lick at the bottom.
“Jemma Leigh doesn’t need another heartbreak,” she whispered. Then she raised her voice and said, “Don’t you have plans with Jeremy Stafford that night? I heard he was taking you out to eat at Owen’s.”
Jemma Leigh’s smile faded. “But he smells like fish.”
Rose sighed. “That’s because he’s a fisherman.”
“I know.” Jemma Leigh’s sigh echoed hers.
“I bet if you gave him this—” Rose walked to a display case and grabbed a sage green bottle, “—and told him you’d love if he wore it for you Saturday night, he’d smell heavenly.”
Jemma Leigh squealed and hugged Rose so hard Sasha heard her grunt. “You’re the bestest. How much do I owe you?”
Rose stepped back and gave her a shy smile. “Consider it a gift.”
“I never did believe all those rumors about your family,” Jemma Leigh said, pulling out her cell. “I’m going to tweet this right now.” With another wave, she sashayed out the way she came in.
The sound of a baby crying interrupted the ensuing silence.
“I’ll get her,” Skye called, walking to the back of the store.
About a million things passed through his mind at once, but the only thing that came out of his mouth was, “Who’s ‘her’?”
Skye held the baby in her arms and walked to Rose.
Rose lifted her chin and took the infant. “This is Ivy and she’s mine.”
If there had ever been a time he’d have liked to reconsider his current occupation as executive assistant to the destroyer of lives, this was it. Sasha resisted the urge to bang his head on the counter. Not only was Rose responsible for this store’s success and her sister’s college tuition, but she had a baby to support. A baby. With black curls and skin the color of cinnamon.
“Your daughter?” Probably the most ridiculous question he could come up with, but it would have to serve.
Rose nodded, their eyes meeting. Unable to withstand the questions lingering in his gaze, she looked away and pressed a kiss to the top of Ivy’s head. The baby blinked up at her with sleepy brown eyes.
Skye jiggled some keys. “As entertaining as you two are, I’ve got to get back to Greenville. My shift starts at seven.” She quickly gave Rose and Ivy a kiss and hug before slipping out the back.
“Alone at last,” Sasha drawled, a self-satisfied smile on his handsome face.
“Why are you really here?” Shifting Ivy in her arms, she reached for the open sign, flipped it around and locked the door.
“Because you’ve locked me in.” He took a step closer and she took one back. “Planning to keep me as your love slave, Rosebud?”
“Stop calling me that, Alexander.” Her birthmark throbbed as if in anticipation. She could still feel his wicked tongue tracing the outline of it.