Jemma Leigh waved a hand in the air. “Three sisters, always hanging out with each other, always leaning on each other… I’m an only child, and I was in awe. The three of you were like your own little clique, and gorgeous to boot. I wanted to be a part of that.” She gave Summer a shy smile. “Sorry it took me so long to try to be your friend.”
Would the people of Holland Springs ever quit surprising her? Besides, Summer had grown fond of Jemma Leigh. She acted like an older sister, looking after her like she did, and always waiting with her for Gabriel to pick her up. It was like she actually cared about Summer’s feelings.
Summer tentatively reach out her hand and covered Jemma Leigh’s. The woman’s eyes rounded a little, and Summer could have sworn that tears glistened in them. From now on, she would be a true friend to Jemma Leigh, instead of merely putting up with her, or at least telling herself that she was putting up with her.
“Better late than never, right?” Summer said with a smile.
Jemma Leigh smiled right back at her. “Darn right.”
The next evening, Gabriel brought her to his house, like he had promised, but he didn’t take her inside. Instead, he led her to the back, to where his view of the Pamlico Sound was best.
Water lapped at the edges of the small beach, fireflies danced in the yard, and the heady scent of gardenias swirled around her. Stars were starting to twinkle in the sky.
“Do you remember this place?”
She turned this way and that, taking in the large backyard, the massive live oaks, and the Low Country-styled house.
“It looks a little familiar, but no.” She gave him an apologetic grin. “Sorry.”
He turned her to the right, pointing at the forest. “We built our teepee over there.”
Summer gasped. “You bought the Simmons’ place?” She and Gabriel had spent so much time here as children, year after year, until he’d given Summer her first kiss. Then, things had started to change between them.
“I had to.”
Summer slipped her hand in his. “You had to?”
“Yes,” he answered simply, and it was then she remembered.
This had been the house of her dreams. Before Gabriel had moved to Holland Springs, a family had lived in that house, a mom, dad, and three kids—all boys. Curious, she would watch them, laughing at their antics and smiling wistfully at the parents who loved them.
Eventually, they moved away and the house became rundown, but she hadn’t stopped coming here. At least, not until the first time she ran away from Holland Springs, with a pocket full of cash and a stolen car, payment from Patrick Johnson’s father when he’d caught his son with her.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t structurally sound, so I had to spend a lot of time and money having it shored up and redesigned, but it was worth it,” he said, unaware of her less-than-happy thoughts. “I wasn’t even able to move in, until a month ago.”
“Still living out of boxes?” she asked, trying to push them away, but not quick enough to escape Gabriel’s notice.
“Why are you so sad right now?”
He exhaled, and then pulled something out of his pocket. “I hoped by bringing you here would make you happy, and be something we could tell our kids about in the future.” He opened his hand. A ring with a single diamond lay in the center of his palm. She didn’t know enough about jewelry, except to think that it was pretty and she didn’t deserve it.
“Jemma Leigh gave us her blessing,” he added.
Her heart stuttered. “It’s just a marriage of convenience,” she said without thinking.
“It’s more than that, and you know it.” He slipped the ring on her finger. “Marry me, Summer Holland and make me the ha—”
She kissed him before he could say happy, because she couldn’t bear to hear the word. There was no way she’d ever make him happy, at least not permanently. But she could offer him moments of happiness, moments of pleasure that would make him not regret helping her.
He stood there, not kissing her back.
For a moment, she was worried that she’d done the wrong things, but then his arms wrapped around her, holding her tight. His mouth fastened to hers, tongue slipping inside to touch hers.
She ran her hands down his back, slipping them under the hem of his polo shirt and gliding up the hard planes.
He groaned in pleasure. She’d heard the sound often enough to recognize it. Lightly, she let her nails rake the skin, and he murmured her name. He tore his mouth away from hers, kissing up the side of her neck.
“I want to take you inside so badly,” he whispered.
She let her head fall to one side to give him better access. “No one’s stopping you.”
“I’m stopping me. I can wait a few more days.”
“How about tomorrow?” she asked, shivering in pleasure as he bit the lobe of her ear.
“Think of what we could be doing by tomorrow night.” She grabbed his hand and placed it on her breast. “What you could be touching again.”
“You’re killing me. Killing. Me.”
Peering at him through her lashes, she unbuttoned the tiny fastenings in the middle of her dress and let it gape open. “Will these bring you back to life?”
With a groan, he fell to his knees, burying his face in her chest. She threaded her fingers in his hair, holding him close. “You smell so good,” he murmured. His lips teased the skin on her left breast, and she almost fell to her knees. “You feel so good.”
“So do you.” The fabric of her dress pooled around her waist and he looked up at her, desire glittering in his eyes. “Your turn.”
He stood, and she thought he would, in fact, take off his shirt, but all he did was lightly kiss her mouth while adjusting her dress. “I have limits, Summer.”
“I wouldn’t think less of you, if we had sex, right now,” she said. There would be no gloating on her part, no satisfaction had at making him so desperate for her that he would give up everything he believed. “I want you to make love to me, Gabriel.” She trailed the backs of her fingers down the center of her chest, and then cupped her br**sts. His nostrils flared, and she felt a thrill of pleasure run though her at the sight of raw need. “Please don’t keep me waiting.”
“We’ll get married this weekend.”
Somehow, Gabriel had talked the town’s clerk into expediting the marriage license, which is why she stood in the middle of the guest bedroom, at Gabriel’s parents’ house at the beach, while she waited for Jemma Leigh to bring her a glass of water.