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Dread clawed at her. “Yes.” Isabella knew. Somehow, she knew of Summer’s plan to marry Gabriel, sue for custody of Ivy, and then divorce him for his own good, so he could be with a woman who deserved him.

“How hard was it to give up Ivy?”

Her insides were twisted once more, harder this time. “I don’t think that’s very nice,” Summer managed to choke out.

A fresh round of tears welled in Isabella’s eyes. “I’m not asking you to be nice. I’m asking you, because, in about six months, I’ll be doing the same thing.”

Chapter Sixteen

Isabella’s confession was so unexpected that Summer had to sit down on one of the beds in the room.

“I didn’t mean to shock you.”

“I’m not shocked,” Summer said slowly. “I’m stunned, because… because…” How could she say that she thought Isabella was exactly like Gabriel and had planned to wait for marriage, without making things worse?

“Because I’m the perfect preacher’s daughter who’s always done everything everyone’s always told her?” Isabella finished for her.

Summer smiled faintly. “I was going to say a really nice girl, from a really nice family, who had her future planned a little differently.”

Isabella snorted. “Are you sure you’re Summer Holland, because the one I heard about and last saw at the Collins’ Halloween Party wouldn’t be this nice.”

Well, Isabella had her there, didn’t she?

Summer had made to sure to cause a scene, to imply that she’d slept with some woman’s husband, and threatened to do the same with anyone else who was interested as well. In a word, she cemented every ugly thought that every long-time resident of Holland Springs had ever had about her family.

“Probably not, but I was going through some things at the time.” That was putting it lightly. She was depressed, barely holding on to a job, and living in a women’s shelter.

Only the promise of enough money to live on for years to come had given her extra incentive to burn down Strawberry Grove and take back the baby she’d left in her sister’s temporary care.

In the end, she’d brought Ivy back, ill-equipped to take care of herself, much less a baby who no longer knew her. Not that any of those events mattered now.

She was healthy, and soon to be engaged and married to the most perfect man on the planet.

Isabella moved to the bed and sat down beside her. “Was it hard?”

“Harder than anything I’ve ever done,” Summer answered truthfully. Including coming back to Holland Springs and once again asking Gabriel to help her. “But at the time, it wasn’t about me. It was about what was best for her.” Just like this time, it was about what was best for her daughter, and Ivy belonged with her mother.

Isabella placed a hand over her abdomen. “Every day I work with women who are put between a rock and a hard place by thoughtless men, or their own thoughtless choices. Never in a million years did I think I’d be one of them by… by hooking up with a guy I barely knew, after drinking too much at a wedding.”

“I’m sure that sounds pretty tame to you,” Isabella added, not unkindly though.

“You’d be surprised,” Summer said. She’d never had a one-night stand, drunken or sober, but besides Isabelle most likely not believing her, and most likely feeling worse about herself if she did, Summer kept that to herself. “Why don’t you go to the father and talk to him?”

“Because he’s half a world away.”

Immediately, sympathy flooded Summer. “Ivy’s Dad was in Afghanistan when I found out. He’d come home on mid-tour and things… broke. Not long after, I broke, too, when I found out he’d been killed in a roadside bomb.”

“I’m so sorry.” Isabella grabbed her hand, squeezing it. “The father isn’t a soldier. I doubt he’d ever go to war, much less join the military, because of his political beliefs.” She groaned. “The one guy I decide to be wild with turns out to be the exact opposite of me in every way it counts”

“Opposites attract.”

“He doesn’t believe in God, and I’m a missionary for goodness’ sake.”

Summer frowned. “That is a problem.”

“The only thing we have in common is an attraction to one another, but that wouldn’t last, would it?” Isabella stood and began pacing the room. “Being with someone just because they make you feel good and attractive, like there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, is incredibly stupid, don’t you think? I mean, what will you have later—a summertime fling?”

Would that be what her marriage to Gabriel would become—a summertime fling? Because they certainly had nothing in common but chemistry. Heck, there were times when she questioned God, but he usually smacked her upside the head with something that made her want to say just kidding. So she just thought it, in case He was listening.

According to Gabriel, He was always listening.

“A summer fling could be the start of something permanent, if you went and talked to him,” Summer said, unable to believe what was coming out of her mouth. The women in her family certainly wouldn’t have suggested such a thing. “Does he want the baby?”

Isabella stopped pacing long enough to flush. “He doesn’t know, and since he’s a big proponent of choice, I’m making the choice not to tell him.”

“But is that who you really are, Isabella? If you disagree with him, then talk to him. Don’t hide behind your beliefs and preconceived notions.” Like she had with Gabriel, and like he had with her. Oh God, talking with his sister was making everything worse. It was like holding up a mirror.

There was a knock on the door, and then it opened. Summer quickly ran her fingers under eyes and patted her hair. Isabelle did the same.

Gabriel poked his head inside the room and grinned, his smile faltering when he saw Summer’s face. What looked like tracks of tears streaked her cheeks. He glared at his sister, who also had the same pattern on her face.

“Are you okay, Summer?” He didn’t care who had started it, or if anything had been started at all, but for once, he was going to automatically assume that Summer was the innocent party.

The tremulous smile she rewarded him with let him know he had made the right decision. “We’re okay. Your sister was being very kind to me. I had a little panic attack, and she helped me calm down. It’s nothing to worry about.”

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