Could this day get any worse?
Summer didn’t want to be thanked. She’d been purposefully quiet to keep their one-sided conversation going. She’d been a user, like Gabriel had always accused her of being, when they’d get into a particularly nasty fight. So she did what any Holland woman would have done in the same situation.
“Let’s have coffee again tomorrow.”
Jemma Leigh smile was brighter than the sun when she accepted.
Gabriel scrubbed his hand across his face, stood up, walked to the door of his office, and then made himself go sit down behind his desk.
He wouldn’t go down there. No way, no how. There was no way he’d walk the two blocks to Carolina Dreams and confront Summer, mostly because he wanted to confront her.
It was best he didn’t concern himself with her at all. He’d made a promise to Elise, and he was determined to keep it. He owed it to her.
“Yeah, because only doing something because you think you owe them has always worked out so well for you, Edwards,” he muttered.
Noah Sawyer walked in Gabriel’s office, sitting in the nearest chair. “You look amazingly happy right now.”
Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”
“Care to go out with Carlos and me tonight? Sort of a pre-bachelor party before the bachelor party.”
“You can’t wait two more days?”
“Might make hump day better.” Noah rubbed his chin. “This morning, Stacey decided to break things off to go find herself.”
“With the pool guy.”
Gabriel sucked in air through his teeth. “Ouch.”
“Better to find out now, then years down the road, I guess,” Noah said. “Rose Holland warned me.”
“Everyone warned you,” Gabriel pointed out. Noah’s ex had never wanted an exclusive relationship, but she’d tried. And failed, apparently. “Who did Rose recommend?”
Noah grunted. “You first.”
“I don’t need Rose’s advice.”
“Says the guy who used to date her sister and then tried to date Rose herself,” Noah reminded him.
“I never dated Rose. I just didn’t like Romanov sniffing around her,” Gabriel snapped.
Noah held up his hands, palms facing out. “Sorry for bringing up a sore point. But yeah, I get you on the Romanovs. First your ex, and then your other ex’s sister. Don’t suppose you ever dated Daisy Barnes?”
Gabriel laughed. He couldn’t help it. “No. Even if I had wanted to, I think Bella would have kicked my butt.”
“Speaking of little sisters, would you be upset if I asked her out?”
Gabriel leveled Noah with a look. He’d known his buddy since freshman year of college, and Noah had moved to Holland Springs from Charlotte to help start up their software company. Originally, Noah had been the money behind their company, Gabriel the people person, and Carlos the main brain.
“If your intentions are good, then no, I wouldn’t mind. But if you’re looking for a rebound, I’d appreciate it if you’d stay away and find someone whose fiancé didn’t run off to marry another woman the day before he and Bella were supposed to secretly elope.” There were very few times Gabriel had been driven to the brink of violence since he’d been adopted by the Edwards’ family. Peter leaving Gabriel’s sister to marry his own father’s widow was one of them.
Noah’s eyes widened. “Thanks for the warning. I’ll think of a different way to get over Stacey.”
“Serving others always makes me forget about my problems,” Gabriel said.
Noah grinned, green eyes gleaming with humor. “I have something really dirty to say to that, but since it would be wasted on you, I’ll keep it to myself.”
Wait, he couldn’t take a racy joke now? “Since when?”
“Since I’ve known you. Dude, you’re slightly uptight.”
Gabriel made a face. “And you’re slightly too old to call anyone dude.”
That only made Noah laugh. “Damn, I’d hoped Elise would loosen you up, but I guess my fantasy of uptight librarian/wildcat in the bedroom is just that—a fantasy.”
“You’ve been fantasizing about Elise?” The thought made him a little jealous.
“Nah, not your librarian. More of a general librarian fantasy,” Noah clarified. He ran a hand through his short, dark hair. “I think I’m going to knock off early. Did I tell you I’m building my first house?”
“Only three times yesterday, twice this morning, and now, but I’m not keeping count.”
Noah grabbed a piece of paper from Gabriel’s desk, balled it up, and threw it at him. With a laugh, Gabriel ducked and caught it, tossing it back at him.
“All right, I’m done.” Noah stood, made to leave, and then paused. “Look, I know Summer’s back in town, and if you—”
“I can handle Summer.” Famous last words. Gabriel grimaced.
Noah eyed him for a moment, before saying, “Are you sure, because if she needs anything, I can take care of it, in a totally responsible, non-creepy manner.”
“Thanks, but I’m good.”
“You know where to find me, if you change your mind.” Noah finally walked away.
Gabriel stayed seated at his desk, staring at nothing outside the window, until she appeared. A lone butterfly seemed to follow her as she walked. He strode to the window, opening the blinds a little wider.
Summer wore a simple dress with short sleeves. Her pale hair was caught up in a long ponytail, and she looked to be deep in thought.
Probably wondering how to best use him.
He banished the dark thought. It wasn’t her fault that she came to him for things. It was a pattern they’d repeated for so long that it had become second nature.
Pushing her sunglasses up to the top of her head, she lifted her face to the sky and smiled. He sucked in a breath at her beauty, at the vulnerability he knew still existed inside, but that she refused to let anyone see.
Out of nowhere, dozens of butterflies enveloped Summer, their delicate wings transporting him back to the day he’d fallen in love with her. Real love, not the crush he’d been harboring since he was ten.
“Aren’t they beautiful, Gabriel?” she whispered, her eyes dark and rich. Sweet, just like her. “Have you ever seen anything so pretty in your life?”
“No,” he whispered and wrapped his arms around her body. Her dark gaze grew shy even as he grew bold. She was only thirteen to his fifteen. He had to remember that.