She wore a pale yellow dress with small beads on the hem. Her hair was braided in a crown around her head, with a sprig of flowers nestled in the back. Jemma Leigh should have become a stylist instead of real estate agent. The woman had major talent in his opinion.
“Will you keep letting Jemma Leigh dress you after we get married?” he asked as they walked hand and hand to the front porch.
“You want Jemma Leigh to come on our honeymoon?” she asked, and he had to fight to keep from doing a little victory dance when he heard the teasing tone of her voice.
“I’m thinking neither of us will need much clothes for that,” he said, not surprised his voice got all husky. Hell, he was arousing himself with thoughts of her nude and in bed with him.
She paused on the last step and stood on her tiptoes, putting her mouth against his ear. The sensations of her br**sts rubbing his arm made him hard. “I always thought you’d like to see me wearing nothing but a tiny pair of thongs and some silk stockings.”
His hands shot out, and he dug his fingers into the posts that flanked either side of the steps. “Are you trying to kill me before the honeymoon?”
She tugged his ear between her teeth and then said, “Just giving you something to look forward to.”
“If I looked anymore forward to it, we’d already be on it.”
He didn’t miss the little smile of satisfaction on her face, and he couldn’t stop his mouth from kicking up at the corners in response. Breathing in and out a few time to get control of his body, he finally moved to the front door.
Taking a deep breath, he glanced at Summer. “Ready?”
“Don’t leave me… my side, I mean.” But he caught her slip.
“I’m never leaving you again, and you can’t make me go away,” he promised and then he opened the door and stepped inside.
The first thing Summer noticed about the Edwards house was the noise.
It was loud, full of laughter, of music, and conversations. Lots and lots of conversations. Overwhelmed, she shrank back a little and gripped Gabriel’s hand.
The second thing she noticed was all the kids.
They were everywhere, and so were their toys as they played. As a child, Summer had never been allowed to have store-bought toys. She and her sisters had played with century-old dolls, which had been made over every few years, and smelled of dried flowers. Painted-on faces were smudged from kisses and sticky fingers. They had tea sets and old dress-up clothes. They had each other.
She smiled a little at the bittersweet memory.
“Sorry, I didn’t know the twins would have friends over this evening,” Gabriel said. “I would have waited until Sunday if I had.”
“It’s okay. I knew you had a lot of brothers and sisters, but this… wow. I don’t know how your mother does it,” she said, genuinely offering up a compliment.
A little girl toddled over to Summer, Isabella holding her hand the entire time. The child had light brown skin and big hazel eyes, her hair in little puffs on each side of her head. When she smiled, Summer couldn’t help but think of Ivy, and her heart stuttered.
“This is Irene,” Isabella said. “She’s staying here for a little while, until her momma can get back on her feet.”
“Hi Irene,” Gabriel said, kneeling beside her.
Summer remained standing, unable to do more than stare at the not-so-subtle reminder of what she’d given up.
“Remember me?” he asked.
The little girl nodded, biting her lip.
“Remember the pretty lady I told you about?” he asked, and again Irene nodded. “This is Summer, and she wanted to come meet you and everyone else tonight.”
Irene let go of Isabella long enough to wrap her little arms around Summer’s waist. Summer awkwardly patted her back, tears pricking at her eyes so hard that she was sure blood would flow.
“I have to… please excuse me.” Blindly, she stepped out of the little girl’s reach and headed in the opposite direction of Gabriel, Isabella, and Irene. Especially Irene.
The first door she came to, she barreled inside and closed behind her, bursting into tears. Eventually, those tears turned to sobs, great heaving sobs that racked her body.
A soft click made her look up, but it was too late. She had been found. Tipping up her chin, she dared the intruder to say anything to her, but all Isabella did was take her in her arms and hug her.
At first, Summer didn’t know what to do, so she simply let her arm dangle limply by her sides, but then she felt Isabella’s body tremble, and her arms automatically went around the younger woman.
Summer had been hugged more in the past few weeks than she had in her entire life. Pretty sad, if she thought about it. So she pushed it out of her mind. She had enough sadness for a dozen people, without adding to it.
“I know I should be comforting you, but I’ve been a mess lately, and seeing your reaction to Irene…it just broke my heart,” Isabella said with a sniff.
Summer swallowed. “So you only hugged me to get a hug back?” That made absolutely no sense to Summer. Gabriel was one of the most affectionate men she knew.
“No. I wanted to talk to you,” she said. “I had no idea you were crying, until I heard you.”
Summer felt her body go rigid. Who else had heard her? And if Gabriel had heard her, then why hadn’t he come to comfort her? Not that she needed his comfort.
Stop lying to yourself.
“Don’t worry. No one else heard. Dad came in with a couple of lizards, and all the kids rushed him, making one lizard go up his sleeve and another down his pants. It’s a regular madhouse as Gabriel and Momma try to contain the excitement.”
“There goes the other one,” a child squealed.
“It’s in Gabe’s pants now!”
“Get it out!”
A giggle burst from Summer’s mouth. She couldn’t help it.
“See what I mean?” Isabella sighed.
Finally, she let go of her, and Summer stepped back. She glanced around the room, taking note of the frilly bedcovers on the twin beds, the pink walls, and multiple posters of One Direction that plastered the closet doors. “Was this your room?”
“Gosh, no.” Isabella made a face. “I wouldn’t have been caught dead with a pink room.”
“Tell me how you really feel,” Summer muttered, and Isabella laughed.
“Sorry, I was really, really obsessed with all things turquoise when I was this age.” Isabella’s expression turned serious. “Can I ask you a question?”