Third Time's a Charm
"Rose, honey," Gabriel called out, "the previews are almost over and the movie's getting ready to start."
Sasha clenched his jaw tight to keep from telling Gabriel to shut it.
"Coming," Rose said, her voice perfectly sweet.
Sasha didn't think he could be more jealous, but as usual he was wrong. "What's Edwards doing here?"
"Gabriel brought over a movie for us to watch."
"And what does he have planned for later?"
Fury flashed in her eyes. "He's a gentlemen."
"He's bloody boring." And everything a woman like Rose needed. Everything she deserved. Everything Sasha would never be.
She pressed a kiss to Ivy's head before saying, "Grow up, Sasha." She turned to walk away.
Catching her arm, he prevented her from leaving, but she wouldn't face him. "Is this a real date?"
A part of him demanded he lie, but he was done playing games. "Yes."
"You had your chance," she whispered.
So he had. Reluctantly he let go of her, but he sure as hell wasn't leaving. He lived here.
Rose glanced out of the corner of her eyes at Sasha and then at Gabriel. She was sandwiched between the two of them as they watched the DVD Gabriel had brought over. Their broad shoulders and muscular thighs took up most of the couch.
Wriggling didn't help. It only served to remind her of the one man who made her hot. The one who made her body tense in anticipation as his fingers brushed her arm. As he leaned over and whispered the most ridiculous rumors about the people they were watching.
"Hates Gummy Bears, that one. Can't abide a man who doesn't like sweets." Sasha brushed her hair away from her neck. Her skin began to tingle so sharply that it hurt.
"I don't like them either," she said, turning slightly to face him. Maybe that would make him leave her alone. Maybe she should join Ivy upstairs in her crib.
A slow grin tilted his lips at the corner and she became really thankful she was sitting down, because her knees were non-existent. "That's because you're already sweet enough."
"I am not sweet."
"Is that so?" He leaned closer, his lips grazing her neck. "Mmm-delicious."
"Did you just lick me?" she hissed, furtively glancing at Gabriel. He rested his chin in his hand as he leaned to one side, thoroughly engrossed in the movie.
"I'll taste you again, shall I," Sasha said, his golden head titling to the side. "Just to be sure." This time his lips didn't brush against her skin. He actually sucked on her neck and nipped at the spot with his teeth.
Oh God! She clenched her thighs together and tried focusing on the movie, but her vision was too foggy. Everything was blurred and she was having a hot flash. The fire in the fireplace leapt higher and a log snapped. "Behave yourself."
"Oh, believe me, love, I am." Sasha eased an arm behind her shoulders.
"You okay, Rose?" Gabriel asked, thankfully paying more attention to the bowl of popcorn in his lap than anything else.
No, she was not okay. She needed to leave. She wanted to run away. Away from her traitorous body so she could focus on the pain Sasha had caused.
"Er, Rose?" Gabriel repeated.
"Aren't you going to answer him?" Sasha murmured, his sexy voice purring in her ear. He bit down gently on the lobe and she elbowed him, relishing his grunt of pain.
Why was she allowing this? This was so not her. This was something Summer would do. Suddenly, someone-she really didn't want to know who-grabbed her hand and she shot to her feet. "I have to go to bed."
Gabriel copied her, his tall and lean form blocking her view of the movie's ending. Which was fine with her because she couldn't remember the name of the darn thing-much less the plot or major characters.
"Thanks for having me over. You're a great cook, Rose," Gabriel said.
Sasha rolled his eyes, not bothering to stand. He sprawled on the sofa with a lazy grace that made her want to throw a pillow at him. "Ass-kisser," he mumbled.
"Stop it," she mouthed.
"Make me," he mouthed in answer and clasped his hands behind his head.
She shook her head at Sasha before grabbing Gabriel by the arm and dragging him out of the room. "Let me walk you out."
"Don't be too long, dear. I need you to tuck me in," Sasha called out as Rose and Gabriel entered the foyer.
She glanced up at Gabriel and fiddled with the door handle. "He's joking."
A wry smile played on his lips. "Is he always like that?"
On the verge of answering yes, she stopped and reconsidered. "Well, no-sometimes he's…him," she finished lamely. As if that could sum up a man like Sasha. A man who brought her cheesecake. A man who got up at five in the morning to help her clean and had gotten her chickens back. A man who'd claimed Ivy was his and shunned any store that tried to do the same to Rose.
But it didn't matter.
She didn't trust him and the one promise he'd made to her, he'd broken without a second thought. Even if it was for his mother. He could've called. She deserved a phone call at least. She would have understood, would have offered her help or something to make it easier on him.
Gabriel brushed a lock of hair over her ear. The same ear Sasha had whispered in and bitten.
Gabriel's hand fell to his side and his indigo eyes gleamed. "Looks like I've got competition."
"What…you-I," she floundered for words.
Biting the side of his lip for a moment, Gabriel leaned in and said quietly, "Don't worry, honey, I'm just teasing you again. Romanov needs to see your worth. Women come too easy for a man like him."
She furrowed her brow. "You mean you're not-"
"Who wouldn't be?" Gabriel cheeks flushed. "You're sweet, hard-working, and one of the prettiest girls in Holland Springs, but it was over as soon as he walked in the door. You two lit up like twin Christmas Trees."
Blinking, Rose could barely get out her next words. "But he stood me up."
A dark look covered Gabriel's face. "Did he apologize or give a reason?"
My mother isn't getting any better, or worse for that matter.
"Maybe you should give him another chance. If you want to go with him Friday, I'm okay with that."
Another chance? She'd already given him too many as it was. "No, I asked you to be my date."
"Then I'm your date. I'm going out of town tomorrow for a meeting, so I'll see you Thursday," Gabriel said.
She nodded and opened the front door. "Bring Miguel over around four."
"No problem." He looked over her shoulder and his eyes gleamed again.
Suddenly, he bent down and kissed her at the corner of her mouth. "You're welcome," he whispered before he stood. "'Night Romanov."
"Sod off, Edwards," Sasha growled from behind Rose.
She closed the door and whirled to face him. "Could you be more rude?"
"Let me have a go at him and you can judge for yourself."
Fisting her hands on her hips, she glared at Sasha. "You- you spoiled-"
Sasha pounced, backing her up against the door and placing a palm along each side of her head. "Yes, I'm spoiled. I'm ruined and it's all your fault."
She gaped at him. "My fault?"
"Yes, yours-the woman who drives me insane. The woman I dream about kissing. The woman I hunger to be inside." His head dipped down, full lips and sexy beauty mark at the corner dangerously close. "Right now, I'm so damn jealous that I want to..." He turned away but she placed her hand on his jaw and forced his face back to hers.
The heat in his eyes made her legs tremble. "I want to lock you in my bedroom with me and not let you out until, until…"
She licked her lips. "Until when?" she prompted. A small part of her reveled in this, his torture. She wanted him to hurt. To feel something.
He laughed, but it was mirthless. "Never, I never want to let you out."
"Why?" she demanded. "What's changed between last week and tonight?"
"Nothing. Everything. Christ, Rose. I'm so damn sorry and...and I don't know what to do or say." He looked as though he truly meant it. Regret seemed to fill his green eyes and she couldn't make herself look away. This was the real him.
"You made me cry," she whispered.
He rested his head against her forehead, his golden hair soft and silky. "I'm a bastard."
"I waited up for you. I put on my prettiest dress." Tears grew thick in throat. She would not cry in front of him. She only wanted him to know how badly he hurt her. But honestly, if he'd cared, he wouldn't have been so cruel in the first place. Lifting her shaking hands, she tried to push him away, but he wrapped his arms around her and held her close.
"Forgive me," he said, his breath hot in her hair. He kissed the side of her neck, her jaw and her cheek.
"I need your forgiveness, Rosebud."
Turning before he could find her mouth and she lost all self-control, she said, "I'll give you another chance."
She wriggled out of his embrace, running upstairs to her room and shutting the door behind her. Pressing cold fingers to her heated cheeks, she closed her eyes and sank to the floor. What had she done?
Sasha shot out the front door, wrenching the passenger side door open before she put the Jeep in park. "You grab the diaper bag. I'll grab Ivy, then come 'round to get you. It's a wee bit slippery out here."
Rose didn't wait for him to come get her. She parked the Jeep, grabbed her keys and stuffed them in the diaper bag before she got out. They met in the middle and he grabbed her hand. She ran beside him, dodging the fat rain drops that had followed her home.
"Why are we running if it's slippery outside?"
Yesterday he'd weeded the garden, cleaned her house and collected eggs from the chickens. All she had to do when she got home was cook supper and put Ivy (and herself) to bed after thanking a very subdued Sasha. One that kept his hands and everything else to himself.
But tonight, she'd never seen him so excited.
He tightened his grip. "You'll see."
As she walked in the foyer, Sasha kept glancing over his shoulder with a boyish smile on his face. After the third time, she finally asked, "What are you so happy about?" But before he could answer, the sight of her kitchen and family room made her stop in her tracks.
Ivy's diaper bag fell to the floor with a thud.
The kitchen table was covered a white tablecloth and a large vase of violets. Strawberry Grove's fanciest china held their supper. The set of dishes was one that the fourth Poppy Holland's aristocratic lover had gifted her with before sailing back home to Italy.
The small family room had been transformed with white sheets draped over the couch, new fluffy pillows in tasteful shades of green and blue.
The sound of water bubbling caught her attention and she rose up on her tiptoes, amazed to see a foot bath sitting on the floor. Like the kind that they sold at big box discount stores with settings for heat, bubbles, and massage. It was placed directly in front of a chair that normally sat to the left of the massive fireplace in the formal living room.
"What is all this?"
He gestured at the two rooms and gave a silly bow. "Welcome to Strawberry Grove's day, er, night spa." He set Ivy's car seat on the floor and had her out in seconds, pressing a swift kiss to her forehead. "Sit and eat first."
No man had ever cooked her dinner before. She shook her head, unable to keep the smile off of her face. "You thought this would butter me up?"
He flashed a heart-stopping grin her way. "Working, is it?"
As they sat and ate, or rather as she ate while he fed Ivy, her eyes kept straying over to the family room. The fireplace blazed, casting cheery shadows along the walls. Blackbeard sauntered in, making his way to the sofa and jumping on one of the pillows. He circled a couple of times before laying down, purring contentedly.
"What made you think to do this?"
"Your hands and feet, or rather your nails," Sasha said as he propped Ivy against his shoulder and began to pat her back with an ease that didn't surprise her.
Hovering her hands above her lap, she examined her nails. They weren't that bad. She kicked off her flats and rubbed her feet together under the table. "You want me to paint them?"
He stood and walked over to Ivy's swing, strapping her in and turning on the musical mobile. Immediately the baby's eyes left Sasha and locked on the slowly turning animals. Then he grabbing a two-chambered bucket, sat down on the floor and pulled off Ivy's socks. He selected a bottle and held it up to the light.
"You want to paint Ivy's nails?"
He scrunched his nose and twisted his lips. "No, you daft woman, I did it to paint yours, but honestly, why should she miss out on the fun?"
"Haven't you noticed how she tries to put everything in her mouth?"
"Erm, yes. Quite so. Sorry, darling." He quickly put Ivy's socks back on her feet. He set the small bottle of polish down and took off his shoes and socks. "I'll do mine first. Venom looks promising."