Claws of jealousy ripped at her heart.
Trudging to the front of the store, she let the pain overtake her. How could he do this to her? How could he have let her found out like this? Usually, Gabriel would have been here on the first day she made an appearance, but after three days and counting, she had come to the conclusion he wasn’t coming.
Now she knew he wasn’t coming—not that it mattered.
He didn’t matter, she reminded herself. She ignored the pain in her heart. The only thing that mattered was family, and he wasn’t family. He would never be her family.
But Gabriel used to be your family, a little voice in her head reminded her. She told that voice to shut the hell up.
After flipping the ‘open’ sign to ‘closed’ in the window, she moved to the door and slumped against it, rubbing her temples. She needed to take the rest of the week off, and think long and hard about what had prompted her to come back to Holland Springs in the first place.
A knock almost made her jump out of her skin. “I’m closed.”
The knock came more vigorously this time, and Summer’s lip curled. She managed to unlock and yank open the door at the same time, ready to curse the person behind it.
“What the he—?” The curse died on her lips.
Jemma Leigh stood there, smile on her face. “Ready for that muffin?”
Dumbstruck, Summer stared.
“You thought I forgot, didn’t you?” Jemma Leigh asked, but she wasn’t looking for an answer. “I have been looking forward to this all week. Janie Leigh is at Momma’s and Jeremy’s on the boat, so I don’t have to be in a hurry. Isn’t that great?”
Summer had two choices.
One, she could slam the door in Jemma Leigh’s face and ruin any chance of a potential friendship, a friendship that Jemma Leigh seemed determined to start. Or two, she could go eat a muffin and catch up on all the town’s gossip, especially on one resident of Holland Springs in particular.
Though it wasn’t the best reason to befriend Jemma Leigh, it was an honest one—for Summer at least.
“Let me get my purse,” Summer heard herself say.
Jemma Leigh did a little jumpy clap and wrapped her arms around Summer’s neck.
Summer grunted, her hands fluttering in the air, uncertain where to land. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had hugged her.
Letting go, Jemma Leigh stepped back. “We’re going to be such great friends, Summer Holland. I know it. The Hollands aren’t the only ones with the sight.” She winked at her, looking pleased as anything with herself.
And just like that, Summer would never let Jemma Leigh know the only reason she agreed to have coffee was so that she could pump the town’s sweetest gossip for information.
It wasn’t easy to sit in full public view of everyone in town, but Jemma Leigh had insisted on being seated outside. A large, yellow umbrella kept them nicely shaded, and the poppy seed muffin Summer ordered was delicious.
“My momma always said, A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips,” Jemma Leigh sighed, and then ate another bite. “But she’s not here, and I don’t even care.”
Summer glanced at her. “Why should you? You look great.”
Jemma Leigh blinked, and Summer wanted to snatch the words back. She never willingly complimented anyone. If she wasn’t a hardass, then who would she be—sweet, kind, and loving? Ha. Fat chance of that ever happening again.
“I do work out every day,” Jemma Leigh said. “And Jeremy is very happy with how I look, too.”
Summer nodded and kept her mouth fully occupied with eating instead of being complimentary.
“So much has changed since you’ve been gone. Daisy Barnes landed herself an honest-to-goodness earl. She’s a countess now—have you ever?”
No, Summer hadn’t ever, but she could bet Rose had seen that one coming a mile away.
“She’s moved to England, and then Zoe Ambrose is expecting. Those Romanovs are something else, but I think our local boys are good enough for us, don’t you?”
Summer thought she should nod, so she did, and that encouraged Jemma Leigh to keep talking. She talked about everything and anything. About her daughter, her dog who wouldn’t listen, and how the real estate market had picked up a titch—what kind of measurement a titch was, Summer had no idea, but up was good. The only person Jemma Leigh didn’t talk about was Gabriel, but that spoke volumes in Summer’s opinion.
“I met Elise Dumas,” Summer finally blurted, unable to take it any longer.
“Oh?” Jemma Leigh glanced away, taking a deep sip of coffee. “She’s nice.”
Nice wouldn’t be how Summer would describe her. “She’s dating Gabriel. Seriously dating him, and warned me to stay away.” For the second time in a matter of minutes, Summer wished she could snatch her words back. Why was she telling this to Jemma Leigh of all people?
Because you once actually liked the thought of friends.
When she’d been with Darius, the other soldiers’ wives had been friendly to her, none of them thought the worst about her, or if they had, they’d never said it. So, it wasn’t as though Summer didn’t know how to make friends. She was just really rusty at it. And wary.
Completely, absolutely wary, because in this town, everyone knew her by reputation only, and the women here let her know it by shunning her and her family.
A frown marred Jemma Leigh’s forehead. “That’s pretty direct, and a little presumptuous, but she’s a Yankee, so she’s a little different, and we have to take that into account. Bless her heart. And far as I know, none of you Holland girls, with the exception of your momma, have ever been involved with men who were married or otherwise engaged.” Her brow smoothed. “I’d be happy to have a talk with Elise and—”
“Thank you, but no.” Tears pricked at Summer’s eyes, and she couldn’t claim not to know why. Jemma Leigh wanted to defend her. Her throat grew thick. She needed to leave before she did something dumb, like promise to have coffee again or trade phone numbers.
“I have to go let Blackbeard out,” Summer said, jumping to her feet. She grabbed her purse and sunglasses, shielding her eyes with the latter.
Jemma Leigh tipped back her head. “It was really nice having coffee with you. Most people think I’m nothing but boobs and blond hair—which I am, but you listened to me. Well, Jeremy does too, but he also likes boobs and blond hair so he might be a little biased.”