As they waited at a deserted intersection for the light to change, Sasha turned to him and asked, “How well do you know Rose?”

“Intimately.” Jason grimaced. “Although that ugly-ass birthmark on her thigh was almost enough to make me reconsider.”

Sasha quickly calculated how much recovery time he would need if he drove his car into the nearest tree, making sure that the passenger side took the brunt of the crash. Unfortunately, the car’s safety features would prevent Jason from being seriously hurt.

“Yet you persevered.”

“More than one way to screw a Holland.” Jason leaned forward to fiddle with the multiple buttons of the sound system.

“Obviously things didn’t work out.”

“For one of us.” Jason pulled out his cell, running his finger over the screen.

Sasha’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white. “Cried yourself to sleep over the break-up, did you?”

“Got away just in time. She thought it was more serious than it was. I had to stop her from embarrassing herself with the L-word.” Jason shuddered. “Enough time’s passed since then, and judging by her lack of dates, it’s obvious she’s not over me.”

“Obviously.” Sasha clenched his teeth.

“I’d figured I’d try to patch things up. Take her flowers or some kind of shit women like. Shouldn’t be too hard to convince her, since I was nice about the whole thing.”

“What a gentleman.”

“Yeah.” Jason nodded. “I even took her to a real nice restaurant on our last date to break the news to her.”

Yeah, he bet the bugger did. “So she wouldn’t cause a scene,” Sasha murmured. Would the bloody light change already? He had to get to dinner before he did bodily harm to his lawyer.

“Exactly. Rose wasn’t living up to her reputation. You do know about the Hollands’ reputation?”

The slowest light in history finally changed to green and Sasha hit the gas. “Sorry, not up-to-date on all the gossip.”

Jason laughed. Too bad it wasn’t one that sounded creepy and warned women away from an ass like him. Everett was tall, fit and had a mega-watt smile. “Let’s just say that the Holland women have always had a way with men. Married, single—it doesn’t matter. They never marry the babies’ daddies. Hell, I’m willing to bet Summer doesn’t even know who her kid’s dad is.”

According to Rose, Jason would win that bet. “Lots of women make a go of it alone.”

“Every Holland woman makes a go of it alone. No strings and no emotional attachment. It’s the best damn thing about them.”

“Except for Rose,” Sasha said.

“There’s a weird one in every bunch.”

“And Skye?”

“Not a chubby chaser.”

Sasha glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. “A what?”

“I’m not into fat girls,” Jason clarified. He cracked his knuckles. “Rose was pushing it, but Summer wasn’t around. So I settled.”

The lawyer would never know how close he came to needing an oral surgeon tonight. Just as Sasha applied the brakes and began looking for a secluded spot, Jason pointed out Market House. Sasha pulled the Mercedes up to the curve and parked.

Two valets rushed over, opening their doors.

“There’s a bar on Fifth that has the hottest cocktail waitresses. We should hit it up after dinner,” Jason said.

Sasha nodded, tipped the valet, and followed Jason into the restaurant. “We should.” But they wouldn’t. If Sasha had his way, Jason Everett would be walking home tonight. There wasn’t a chance in hell Sasha would spend the rest of his night with the ass**le.

Jason checked in with the hostess, then turned to Sasha. “Looks like they beat us here.” He craned his neck. “There they are. Brenda’s the blonde in the corner sitting with the guy wearing glasses.”

Brenda Jackson, the mayor of Holland Springs, rose to her feet as soon as she spied them, waving Sasha and Jason to her table. Tall and willowy like her daughter Jemma Leigh, she exuded warmth and charm. “Alexander Romanov, what a delight,” she said, her friendly smile reaching her eyes. “It’s so good to put a face with a voice.”

“Lovely to meet you in person, Brenda.” Sasha extended his hand and shook the mayor’s, then the bank president’s. Harrison Collins removed his glasses and tucked them into the inside pocket of his jacket. Sasha couldn’t help but think that he’d met him before. It didn’t matter. He had a job to do. He gave his dinner companions a brief smile and said, “Let’s get down to business, shall we?”

“The Hollands won’t sell Strawberry Grove,” Harrison said, his gray eyes emotionless in the candlelight as Sasha and Jason sat down at the table.

A guilty flush covered the mayor’s face. “I still don’t like the idea of putting those poor girls out on the street. Where would they go?”

Jason tipped his glass back and took a swallow of wine. “They can live in the apartment over the store. It’s only Rose and that kid of Summer’s living in the house, anyhow.”

Brenda frowned and picked at her salad.

“We haven’t heard a job count yet. How do we know that they won’t build the plant and bring their own people over? I’m not taking it to my board for consideration until we have concrete numbers,” Harrison said.

“Good point. It’s hard to persuade people to get behind seizing someone’s land for the ‘common good’ if there aren’t any jobs. Looks bad to the press, too, and I wouldn’t be able to advise the town council to vote for it without good reason.” Jason looked at Sasha. “What’s the latest?”

“Nahalah is guaranteeing five hundred jobs. Ones that pay well and have excellent benefits,” Sasha said, ignoring the sharp stabs of guilt.

Harrison smiled. Something started to click in Sasha brain, but the man’s next words obliterated the thought. “Looks like Rose’s loan is coming due soon—in full—and if she can’t pay…” He raised his brows and shrugged.

“Loan?” Sasha asked, his glass of water hovering inches from his mouth. This was quickly becoming ridiculous. First he’d been caught unaware about the former job, then the baby, and now a business loan.

“How do you think she got the money to start Carolina Dreams?”