The red truck took off, leaving her behind. She gripped the steering wheel, staring after the tail lights until she couldn’t see them anymore.
“One day I’ll pay you back, angel,” she said softly, with absolutely no malice in her words or meaning. “One day you’ll see me and only smile, then go on with your life.”
Pellum & Foster was the newest and smallest law office in Holland Springs, but had an extremely large and powerful branch down in Wilmington, which was exactly why Summer had chosen to make an appointment with them.
“I’ve reviewed the adoption paperwork, and frankly, Ms. Holland, you don’t have a case,” Ms. Foster began. “The minor child—”
“Ivy,” Summer corrected.
Ms. Foster smiled. “Ivy has been visited by DSS over the years, and they’ve found no evidence of neglect or abuse. In fact, the—Ivy is very-well taken care of, but I suppose this isn’t news to you.”
“No, it’s not.” Summer shook her head. “I wouldn’t have asked Rose for help if I’d thought otherwise. But I was desperate and most likely suffering from post-partum depression.” At least, that was what Gabriel had told her. He had also given her the name of a therapist, but she’d torn that card into pieces. Why should she go talk to someone when she was perfectly able to solve her own problem?
“Be that as it may, you have limited resources, no place to stay, and you’re unmarried. Three very big strikes against you.” Ms. Foster wasn’t unkind as she said this. She was to the point, which was exactly what Summer had wanted. “You also swore you weren’t under duress when you signed away your parental rights to Ivy.”
She’d lied. Oh God, she had lied. She had been under so much duress that she was about to crack, but at the time, it was the right thing to do for Ivy and for herself.
“I realize that, but you can see for yourself that I’ve never been fired from a job, and I only quit when I had to move.” Summer brushed a piece of hair out of her eyes. “My references are all there, and they’re really good. Finding a permanent place to stay shouldn’t be a problem, and it’s not like I want to take my daughter away from here. I plan to live in Holland Springs, but as Ivy’s mother, not her aunt.”
Ms. Foster said nothing.
“Please, just give me the best case scenario of getting Ivy back. What would I have to do on my end?”
“Find a permanent residence, one that you don’t mind being inspected by DSS, the Fire Chief, and a whole host of people who will work in the best interest of Ivy. You already have a job, but do you think Mrs. Holland will allow you to keep working there once she finds out what you’re planning?”
“Rose made me co-owner.” Ms. Foster blinked, and Summer had the grace to blush. “I helped start the company.”
“Interesting,” the woman said, and then continued. “Even with all of those taken care of, there is still the matter of your relationship status.”
“Single women raise children all the time.”
“The court isn’t concerned with other single women. They will be concerned with you. Short of finding a man who walks on water to be your husband, I’m afraid your odds of getting custody of Ivy are slim to none. Honestly, your odds are practically non-existent, no matter what you do.”
A man who walked on water? Summer smiled. There was only one man who fit the bill—Gabriel Edwards. And she didn’t care about practically non-existent odds, because practically mean there was still a chance she could prevail. “That shouldn’t be difficult at all.”
Without missing a beat, Ms. Foster said, “Can’t wait to meet him.”
Summer shook the woman’s hand and headed outside, her mind full of plots to get Gabriel to help her.
She could trick him into marrying her. No, that was too 1800s.
She could pay him to marry her. With what money? Besides, he wouldn’t take it anyway.
So deep in thought, that she almost walked past the man she was plotting against.
“Summer,” he said, in that deep voice of his that sounded like a caress.
Unfortunately, he’d caught her off-guard, and she had no time to put on her mental armor. “Gabriel.”
“Join me for lunch?” He gestured to the empty spot on the park bench. “I packed extra.”
Wary, she sat down, but as far away from him as possible. “I am hungry. My meeting took longer than expected.”
A dark brow rose. “Meeting?”
Crap, she should’ve kept her mouth shut. “Yeah, my monthly home-wreckers not so anonymous meeting. Though can one call it a meeting when I’m the only member?”
He scowled at her. “Stop putting yourself down like that.”
“I’m just saying what everyone else does.”
Gabriel handed her half of his sandwich. “Honey, you haven’t lived her in almost three years. So, how do you know what anyone around here is saying?”
He had a point, and Harrison had said the same thing. “Do you remember when we used to meet under the second set of entwined dogwoods, and eat lunch during the summer?”
He smiled, a far-off look appearing in his beautiful eyes. “You’d always bring me lemon pound cake.”
“You’d bring me Pringles—the cheese flavored ones.”
“Azalea wouldn’t allow processed foods in the house,” he said with a grin. “I remember your fingers and mouth would be yellow-orange by the time you were finished.”
“And you tasted like lemons,” she giggled, and then smashed her lips together. Why did she have to bring that up?
“Cheese and lemons, who would have thought it?”
“Sorry, that was—”
“Nothing wrong with reminiscing. We were childhood sweethearts, Summer, no matter how much you wish it wasn’t true.”
“I never said that.” She’d never wished that either.
He smiled sadly at her. “You didn’t have to.”
Summer fell silent, and Gabriel did the same. It wasn’t uncomfortable, and that bothered her all the more. It was easy and sweet and—
“I need your help,” she blurted.
His blue eyes turned hard. “I’m listening, but I’m not promising anything. Elise needs my full attention.”
“I want you to help me get Ivy back.”
Was Summer out of her mind? Of course she was. How else could they have had a civil conversation for longer than a minute, besides insanity or divine intervention?