“Ivy likes it a little hotter than lukewarm, but make sure you test it first,” Rose said, then looked down at the baby in her arms, feeling guilty and happy when Ivy’s eyes crinkled at her like they always did when she was happy.
“See, that’s something a mother should know, and I’m not cut out to be one—just like mine.”
Rose leaned forward, wanting to take Summer’s hand, but something in her sister’s face stopped her. “Yes, you are. It takes time to learn what to do.”
“No.” Summer stood and moved to the fireplace. “Gabriel told me that if I really wanted what was best for Ivy that I should let you adopt her.”
“He said that?” Stunned, Rose stared at her sister. Summer was going to let her adopt Ivy? She forced down the hope that dared to take flight in her body. This had to be a dream.
“Among other things.” Summer crossed her arms, a frown marring her face. “I think he’s half in love with you.”
Rose shook her head. “No, he’s not.”
“He’s all the way then.”
“Summer, he’s not the one for me and you know it,” Rose reminded her.
Her sister lifted her nose a little. “Zoe Ambrose?”
“Oh, honey, you know they weren’t meant to be. It’s not your fault he didn’t listen.”
“That’s because she said it was right. She was the one who claimed they belonged together and I—”
“Momma got most things right,” Rose said. “There are plenty of people in this town who—”
“Stop defending her.” Summer banged her fist on the mantle and the fire roared to life. “She left you Rose. She left you, me and Skye to fend for ourselves.”
“I know, but she paid off the back taxes, and gave us Strawberry Grove.” The look on Summer’s face kept her from sharing the conversation Rose had had with Azalea.
“Don’t let her fool you. She’s still the same woman.”
Rose couldn’t agree more. Azalea was the woman who’d raised her, Summer and Skye, but in the end, Azalea had chosen a new life. One that didn’t include any of them, no matter what kind of business deals they did in the future.
Ivy toppled over to one side and Rose grabbed a pillow, placing it beside the baby. Summer placed another one on the opposite side.
“Where’s her rabbit?” Rose asked, trying to dispel the tension.
“Diaper bag.” Summer moved to the dresser, rummaged through the bag and threw the stuffed animal into her lap.
Ivy began babbling and Rose handed it to her. The stuffed animal went straight into the baby’s mouth.
“Gabriel said he knows a lawyer in Wilmington that can help us get through the adoption paperwork. He said the guy’s decent and to leave him alone.” The mattress dipped slightly under her sister’s weight.
“Gabriel or the lawyer?”
Chipped black and red fingernails drew a pattern on the pillow beside Ivy. “I think it’s all-encompassing. Don’t get too close to the decent ones, they might dump Mary Sue Perfect and where would she be?”
Sympathy for her sister flooded her body. Summer had never had it easy. She had taken on the role of the most popular Holland. Until this moment, Rose thought her sister had enjoyed it. But the bitterness infusing her tone was telling. “Who wants Ms. Perfect?”
Summer flashed her a little smile. “Yeah. I need to get going.”
“You’re welcome to stay here with me and Ivy.” Rose meant it. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her sisters.
“There’s nothing for me in Holland Springs.”
Rose thought of the woman she’d seen in her mind’s eye while talking with Gabriel. “Don’t be too sure about that.”
“I’ll have my lawyer contact you.”
Enormous relief filled her, hope tangling with it and making her insides dance joyously. Ivy was going to be hers. Forever. Tears spilled over and she didn’t bother to hide them. “Thank you. I’ll take such good care of her,” she managed to choke out. Then a smidgen of guilt pricked her heart. “You sure about this?”
“Do you really think I would’ve driven Gabriel’s truck back to Holland Springs if I wasn’t?”
“You stole his truck!” Rose’s mouth fell open, then she shut it and wiped the wetness off her cheeks.
Summer gave her a look. “The keys were in the ignition and the tank was full. He went inside to pay for the gas and took too long. Don’t worry, I’ll give it back. Eventually.”
There was really nothing she could do to change her sister’s ways and there were many ways about Summer that she had no desire to change. Shaking her head, Rose scooped up Ivy. “Want to kiss her good-bye? Not that you’re not welcome to visit.”
Summer leaned forward and ruffled the curls on the baby’s head. “Send me pictures, okay?”
Ivy latched onto Rose’s thumb. “Love you, Summer Rain.”
Her sister stood and blew her a kiss. “You, too, Rosebud.” She started for the door, then paused. “It wasn’t Alexander’s fault.”
Summer turned to face her. “He didn’t have anything to do with the fire—that was his uncle. Someone working for him approached me and I needed the money. I made sure everyone was safe before I did it.”
Rose’s hands began to shake. Relief and hope giving way to rage and fury. The wind began to blow, shaking the walls. Thunder boomed. “You purposefully ruined my life?”
Defiant to the end, Summer tipped her nose in the air. “I set you free.”
“I didn’t want to be free,” Rose shot back, then shook her head. “I mean, I’m not a prisoner. I can leave at whenever I want.”
“But you won’t. If I couldn’t dy***ite your ass away from here, what chance does anyone else have?” Summer gave her a side-eyed glance and frowned. “He asked you to go away with him and you said no.”
“He said he owed me,” Rose pointed out as the wind settled down. “It was his only reason for asking me to go with him.”
“Owed, loved…same thing in my book.” Summer strode from the room, closing the door behind her.
Much to Rose’s shock (and chagrin at lumping everyone together), over the coming weeks people were still stopping by Carolina Dreams, but not to buy her products (which most did anyway). Couples she helped “push” together brought her homemade casseroles, baby furniture and clothes for Ivy; they brought her thank you cards and cheesecake (once word got around from Daisy).