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“Utter nonsense.” He threaded his fingers through her wet hair and kissed her.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Summer didn’t bother going to Carolina Dreams the next day. Rose would most likely be at the store, and she did not want to face her right now. Instead, she met with Ms. Foster, informed the woman of her plans, and then walked out again.

She trudged up the street, not wanting to notice the blue sky or the bright sun. She certainly didn’t want to smell the flowers.

She was in no mood for any of it.

There was no reason for her to stay in Holland Springs any longer. Her purpose for coming back was no longer a goal. She had no purpose, much less a goal.

She had no job, no place to live, and no car, because she refused to take Gabriel’s thoughtful gift with her.

Her only choice was to clean out her checking account, and purchase a bus ticket to the other side of the country. This time, she would make herself stay away. She would give Gabriel the divorce he deserved, so he could be with a woman who deserved him.

She swallowed a sob, then another, until she had to sit down on the nearest bench. Breathing deeply, she tried to get her emotions under control. It wouldn’t do for anyone to see her like this.

Not that anyone would care to see her like this.

Well, Jemma Leigh would care and Gabriel, maybe even Gabriel’s family.

Out of the corner of her eye, a flash of red caught her attention. She turned, watching in disbelief as Gabriel practically danced through the park. He didn’t see her. She stood, shrinking back into the shadows and behind a tree.

He looked so happy, so pleased with life, that she couldn’t help but smile with him. A tear trickled down her face.

Suddenly, Elise appeared, bumping into Gabriel, and Summer’s heart leapt into her throat.

Gabriel turned around, looking sheepish and apologetic. Elise burst into tears, and Gabriel’s arms automatically went around her, pulling her closer. He said something to his ex-girlfriend, most likely words of comfort, because that’s just who he was.

A watery smile appeared on Elise’s face.

Summer couldn’t take anymore. She had to leave, and not because she thought Gabriel was wrong or he would cheat, but because Elise was the woman he deserved.

The faster she left town, the better it would be for everyone.

She marched out of her hiding place, not bothering to answer when Gabriel called out her name, even as her heart screamed at her to stop.

Tears ran down her face, but she didn’t bother to scrub them away. She wanted to remember this moment, this decision to be selfless for the third time, and let the one she loved have a better life. Without her.

“Hey you!” Jemma Leigh called from their usual table at Muffin Top.

“I really can’t, Jemma Leigh,” Summer said, trying in vain to keep the blonde from seeing her tears. Jemma Leigh would be nice and concerned, and make Summer feel a million times worse.

She’d miss Jemma Leigh, and the knowledge hurt almost as bad as leaving Gabriel to Elise.

“What in the world happened?” Jemma Leigh said, quickly catching up with her.

“I’m leaving.” Summer stopped walking, and Jemma Leigh did the same.

Jemma Leigh pursed her lips, nodding. “I see that.”

“It’s for the best.”

“That darn Bernice. I told her I didn’t believe a word she was saying about you and Jeremy.” Jemma Leigh tossed her head. “As if my best friend would ever mess with my husband.”

Summer’s eyes grew huge. “Someone told you I was messing around with Jeremy?”

“Just Bernice, but no one ever takes her seriously,” Jemma Leigh said. “She wears white after Labor Day and thinks college football is boring.”

Summer laid her hand on Jemma Leigh’s arm. “I would never, ever sleep with your husband, or anyone’s husband, for that matter.”

Jemma Leigh rolled her eyes and huffed. “Silly woman. I know. We had an entire conversation about it. Gosh, I didn’t fall off the turnip truck last night. You’re my best friend, Summer Jean Holland Edwards, and nothing’s more sacred a bond between women.”

Summer threw her arms around the taller woman. “I love you, Jemma Leigh Stratford, and you’re the best friend a woman could ever have.” Then she let go of her and did what she did best.

Summer ran away.

After lunch with Carlos, Gabriel strolled through the park with a smile on his face and lightness in his step. He wanted to sing and dance, and give praise. He felt like King David, when he’d brought home the ark, and his joy couldn’t be contained, so he’d stripped down and led all his people into rejoicing.

Only he wasn’t King David, he didn’t have any people, and he was pretty sure he’d be arrested for stripping in the middle of the park.

Still…

Summer Holland loved him. She loved him. Wait. Make that Summer Holland Edwards loved him.

Had the sun ever been any brighter? Had the sky ever been as blue? Had the flowers ever smelled so sweet?

The answer to all his questions was a big, resounding no.

Whistling, he did a little shuffle dance by a tree and almost bumped into another person.

“I’m so sorry,” he began, turning around and finding Elise there. “What’s wrong?”

Tears streaked her face. “I’ve made a mistake, but now it’s too late, because I know—I know...” She burst into tears.

Immediately, he hugged Elise. She looked so lost and forlorn that he couldn’t help himself. “It’s okay. Tell me what I can do.”

“I need a friend, someone to talk to,” she sniffed and he got a funny feeling in his stomach. “Can we go somewhere private?”

That funny feeling turned right back into the off feeling he’d had when they had been a couple. But he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, not when she was obviously hurting again. “There’s hardly anyone in the park,” he said into her hair. He lifted his head and set her away from him, gently smiling. “Why don’t we sit down on the nearest bench and talk?”

Elise looked at the bench, and then at him. “Summer’s cheating on you.”

Gabriel clenched his jaw. “Oh really?”

“Yes. I have it on good authority that she’s cheating with some man named Jeremy Stratford.” Elise dabbed at her eyes with a lace handkerchief. She looked sincere enough, but Gabriel didn’t care.

What he did care about—people running their mouths about Summer.

“My wife is sleeping with her best friend’s husband?” he asked tightly.

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