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Jemma Leigh clapped. “You remembered my birthday!”

No. “Yes.”

“But I don’t remember telling you, and we’re not Facebook friends.” She frowned.

Summer had been wanting to buy Jemma Leigh something to thank her for all of her help, but it wasn’t until a day after Gabriel had shown her Corona Borealis that it hit her what she could get Jemma Leigh.

“Actually, I didn’t know it was your birthday.” Summer handed the scroll to Jemma Leigh. “I bought this just because.”

The squee that came from Jemma Leigh’s mouth made the birds that had been pecking near their feet fly away. “You named a star after me!” She placed a hand over her heart, giving Summer a beatific smile. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Nothing to say,” Summer began nervously, “because don’t best friends do stuff like this all the time?”

Fat tears rolled down Jemma Leigh’s face. “Yes, they do.”

Summer shifted in her seat. “I’m glad you like it.”

“I love it.” Jemma Leigh carefully rolled the scroll back up and secured the bow. “Now I have a favor to ask.”

“Anything.”

“Help Jeremy plan my surprise party? Maybe even go shopping with him?” Jemma Leigh bit her lip. “He’s very sweet, but he’s not a party planner.”

Summer’s heart fell to her toes. “You trust me to spend time with your husband?”

Jemma Leigh rolled her eyes and threw back her shoulders. “No offense to the Hollands, but I’m pretty sure you’re not his type.”

“Oh, well, in that case—”

“And the sacred bond of our friendship prevents you from even thinking about him that way, or acting on it.”

“Which you wouldn’t, because you’re not like that anyway,” Jemma Leigh hastily added.

Summer blew out a breath and grabbed her coffee mug. “I’d be happy to help him.”

“I’ll text him your number,” Jemma Leigh said. “So, what are yours and Gabriel’s plans this afternoon?”

“He’s volunteering at The Center, so I’m doing a movie marathon of all the Back to the Future movies until he gets home. He’s cooking salmon tonight.”

“You’re not going to see your sister?”

Summer almost dropped her coffee.

Chapter Twenty-Five

It wasn’t the first time Summer had ever sneaked around a house, but it was the first time since she’d been married that she had lied to Gabriel about what she was doing.

But it couldn’t be helped, she rationalized. She had to do this on her own, without him. No matter how much it hurt. No matter how bad of an idea this was.

She crept up the back porch, and then peered in a window with lacey curtains. Inside, she saw her sister, Rose, and her sister’s husband, Alexander, sitting at the kitchen table. Ivy sat between the two of them in a hot pink booster seat, her hand over her mouth as Alexander tried to feed her.

“But you like sweet potatoes,” he said, a frown marring the perfection of his lips. He turned to Rose. “Honestly, woman, I blame you.”

Rose’s black brows shot up, but her voice was as calm as the still waters of the Pamlico Sound. “I’m not the one who fed her dessert before supper.”

“Careful, or you might be the one not getting any dessert tonight.”

What was it with men and desserts? Summer thought with a roll of her eyes.

“Maybe I’m not in the mood for dessert tonight,” her sister said, and then laughed at the expression of horror on her husband’s face. “Poor thing, I’ll feed you dessert instead.”

Summer couldn’t help but stare at her sister in rapt amazement. Growing up, Rose had been the serious one. The responsible one. The one who never flirted or laughed. Yet, there she sat, giving a gorgeous man, who made every other woman in Holland Springs tongue-tied, heavy-lidded looks while calling his bluff.

His gaze turned so hot, Summer thought her clothes were going to catch fire.

Turning away, she flattened herself against the wall. For long minutes, she listened to Rose and Alexander talk, planning their week and Ivy’s schedule. One that included dance, art lessons, and Daddy’s morning out. Trips for the three of them. In every outing, Ivy was not just included or accommodated, but wanted. They wanted to take her new places and to teach her new things. Ivy wasn’t a burden to them.

Not that she imagined her baby girl was being neglected or even ignored. But she guessed she’d hoped to see that Ivy looked as though she was missing something in her life. She’d hoped to see her daughter missing her.

Hope was a double-edge sword that skewered her heart.

A cat meowed and twined around her legs.

Dropping to her knees, she scooped up Blackbeard and rubbed her nose in his fur. She had missed him while she’d been living with Gabriel, despite his former reluctance to let her pet him. “Have you been keeping an eye on my baby?”

Blackbeard meowed again.

“I’ll get him,” Alexander said through a sigh.

The sound of his chair scraping against the hardwood floor had her gently dropping the family cat to the ground.

“Damned beast still hogs my side of the bed. Yet I’m the one forced to endure his whims.”

Summer took off, managing to get around the corner of the house before the back door opened. She began walking away, thinking she’d come back tomorrow night to spy on them and make doubly sure Ivy was being taken care of by her “parents.”

“Kitty.” Ivy giggled, and Summer’s heart pinched.

“Careful, sweet girl, the mangy cur hasn’t had a bath for weeks.”

Rose gasped. “My sweet kitty is neither a dog nor filthy.”

Ivy giggled again. “Mommy, I want the kitty.”

Summer’s knees gave out, sending her to the ground. She couldn’t catch her breath. Blood pounded in her ears. Tears ran down her cheeks. She buried her face in her hands, and then clamped them over her ears.

Mommy. Ivy had called Rose Mommy, not her. Rocking back and forth, she bit her bottom lip so hard she tasted blood.

The wind picked up. Lightning flashed in the sky, jagged as it struck. The ground vibrated in response.

Mommy.

She was stronger than this, stronger than a word. Rising on unsteady legs, she ran from the house. A house that had been rebuilt to its former glory. A house now filled with love, more love than had been there before.

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