“From the wedding?” Her brow wrinkled as she pulled away the last of the paper. “Oh my… angel,” she breathed, her gaze going from the art set he’d bought her, to his face, and then back again. “You remembered?”
“I remember the blue ribbon you won for your painting of a field of wildflowers. Town Hall had it on display for days.” He rubbed his jaw. “It has everything you could need, except paint. I thought we could go to one of those hobby stores in Wilmington to pick some out, and anything else you might need.”
She hugged it to her chest. “Thank you.”
“Did you ever wonder what happened to your painting?”
Her face fell a little. “I heard they threw it away.”
“Nope.” He gestured to the painting over the bed, and her eyes widened before she giggled. “I found it in one of the storage rooms a few years back when they needed help searching through old documents. Jemma Leigh’s mother said I could keep it, since the town didn’t own it.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t notice.” Her attention was fully on the swirls of green, red, yellow, blue, purple, and pink. It was actually a really good painting, almost lifelike. He’d always thought she had a talent for art.
“I’d be offended if you’d noticed,” he teased. “I’ve been working very hard to dispel the myth that waiting until you get married to have sex is a bad thing.”
She rolled her eyes, and then leaned over to kiss him sweetly on the cheek. “Your turn.”
He opened his present, just as careful with the paper as she had been, to find that she’d bought him a book on astronomy. It was one he’d been eyeing for a while, but hadn’t bought yet. “Now who’s the one remembering?”
Biting the side of her lip, she shrugged and then said, “I’m happy you like it. Maybe you can show me how to use your telescope.”
“You know, I read an article about using feather brushes during sex,” he said.
“Tell me more.” She held out the box. “Preferably with a demonstration.”
He tackled her to the bed instead, laughing and kissing her.
Summer couldn’t face Gabriel or herself the next morning when she woke up, and certainly not after showering and finding him sleeping so peacefully. Instead, she wrapped a quilt around her body and stepped outside, walking down to the end of the pier and sitting down.
The sun had barely risen in the sky, but she couldn’t welcome the dawn of a new day, because today was not only the last day of their honeymoon, it was also the last day she would allow herself to feel vulnerable, to surrender completely, and believe what he insisted on telling her.
I love you.
We belong together.
Lies. All lies. Though he didn’t know it.
Gabriel actually believed those pretty lies, with his entire heart and soul. She knew this about him. She knew he didn’t give his love lightly to her, and that’s what made it all the worse for both of them, because she would leave him. He knew from the start what her goal was, and what would happen once she met it.
After she got Ivy back, everything would be right in the world again. She would be whole once more, the aching part of her heart that had been missing for so long finally filled. It didn’t matter that the lawyer didn’t think she had a chance in hell of getting her back, because Summer was confident she could make Rose see things her way.
She could make Rose acknowledge that she, Ivy’s biological mother, was who was best for her. She could make Gabriel see that she wasn’t who was best for him.
The art kit had been the final straw.
She could—her vision blurred. Hot tears spilled down her cheeks.
“I can do this,” she whispered fiercely.
Gabriel stretched and rolled over in bed, searching for his wife. “Wife,” he said with a smile, then his smile fell when his hand encountered nothing but cold sheets. Cold sheets meant she’d been up for hours, without waking him.
“Summer?” He rose from bed, rubbing his chest and yawning before he grabbed a pair old of pajama pants.
She didn’t answer, so he tried again. “Summer?”
The cold from the sheets seemed seep inside him from across the room when silence met him, but he tried not to let that bother him. Summer had always been an early riser. Striding to the back door, he opened it and went outside. Warm relief flooded him when he spotted her at the end of the pier, wrapped in a quilt.
Warm relief turned to hot desire when she dropped the quilt. He would never get used to the sight of her, all golden skin and soft curves.
The last time she had been in Holland Springs, her body had been almost as sharp as her words. Her body had felt bony and brittle. It had worried him so much that he’d made her get something to eat before taking her to Ivy, but now that she’d filled out again, her skin no longer looked stretched tight over muscle and bones.
Still, she wasn’t as strong as she would have him and everyone else believe. Like the graceful willow tree he had planted in his yard, if too much strain and pressure were applied, eventually she would break.
Summer turned slowly, the look on her face both heartbreaking and heart racing. He’d seen it often enough to know she was determined to prove she had control. It wasn’t a matter of controlling him; it was a matter of controlling her situation.
“Not again,” he muttered.
Instead of waiting for her to come to him, he went to her first. The grass was cold and dewy under his feet, but he didn’t care. All he could think and feel and see was her—standing there, waiting for him. He had to save her.
She thrust out her br**sts, raised her arms over her head, and stretched. “Morning,” she said as he stopped a couple of feet away.
“Missed you this morning.”
“Did you?” She took a small step toward him before running a hand up his bare chest. “Want me to make it up to you?”
“If that’s what you think you should do.”
A flash of annoyance appeared in her eyes. Gracefully, she kneeled in front of him and pulled down his pants, freeing his erection. His vision sparked, a hot flash of white light, when she wrapped her mouth around the tip of him.
His hands went to her hair, burying his finger and wrapping the blond strands around them. “You don’t have to—”
“I delight in the taste of my lover,” she said, and then licked the length of him.