Rose sucked in air. Not since high school had anyone outside of her family defended her. Her heart did several little flips as she searched through the diaper bag one-handed. After mixing the formula, she stood and passed the empty mug back to Gillian.
Sasha held out his hand. “Let me feed her this time, sweetheart.”
Rose passed him the bottle. Ivy latched on eagerly, sucking like crazy on the nipple.
“Eat your fill, darling,” he said with a smile and the baby reached up with one hand to touch his jaw.
“Anything else?” Gillian crossed her arms over her ample chest.
He looked at Rose. “Is there another place you and I can eat?”
Rose glanced at the woman scowling at her. Lifting her chin, she said, “I’m starving and so are you. We’re eating here.”
“I’ll not have her insult you and profit from it,” he murmured into Ivy’s curls.
A little smile formed on her lips. “Then you’ll be extremely limited with where you shop and eat around Holland Springs.”
Leaning down, he gave the appearance of kissing her cheek, but did no more than rub his jaw against her as he whispered in her ear. “Make a list, love.”
Rose’s heart sprinted, stuttered, and then passed out.
That evening, after putting Ivy to bed, Rose made her way down to the family room and found Sasha watching re-runs of Paula Dean’s cooking show.
“Paula, you naughty minx, there can never be too much butter.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
She cleared her throat and sat down beside him on the sofa, drawing her knees up and her legs over to the side. “If you see something you’d like for me to fix for supper one night, let me know.”
“Hullo, sweetheart.” He gave her a friendly smile. “I might take you up on that very delicious offer.”
A warmth that had nothing to do with desire spilled into her. It was nice to have someone to talk to besides Blackbeard, after Ivy went to bed. Heck, it was nice to talk to anyone that could talk back in complete sentences. “Thank you for supper and…well, everything you did today. Yesterday, too. My nap. I was really sleepy.” Great. She sounded like a complete moron.
Clicking off the T.V., he turned to her and laid an arm across the back of the sofa. Although he wasn’t touching her, it was as if she could feel the tips of his fingers brush against her shoulder. He tilted his head to one side, studying her.
She looked away and picked at the fuzz on the arm of the sofa.
“It was my pleasure. If you’d like, I’ll help you clean next Saturday, too.” Just as she glanced up, a wry smile covered his face. “Since I have nothing better to do.”
The back of her neck heated. At the time, she had meant what she’d said, but now… “I’m sorry for saying that. I was angry—”
“Don’t.” He leaned into her. The clean, male scent of his body invaded her senses His golden hair was dark where it was still damp from his shower. She wanted to run her fingers through it and almost had to sit on her hands to stop herself.
“Still, it wasn’t nice,” she insisted.
He raised a brow. “I’m not a nice man.”
Rose lifted her own brow. “Really? So not-nice men get up at the crack of dawn to help clean? Not-nice men let sleep-deprived aunts get naps? Not-nice men bring cheesecake?” She placed her hand on his knee. “Not-nice—”
He shot to his feet, dislodging her hand, and she blinked.
“I’m tired,” he said, his voice gruff. “Massively so.”
Searching his face, she found shadows under his eyes and weariness in the lines around his mouth. Despite his meeting and late night, he had worked his tail off for her and hadn’t complained once. Well, if she didn’t count his constant need to point out the huge flaw in decorating a house at the beach with beachy items.
“Do vacationers really need to be reminded where they are?” he had said, shuddering at a living room decorated with fishermen’s nets and buoys. “Sand in awkward places not enough?
“I need to turn in for the night, too. I have lots to do around the house tomorrow,” she said with a crooked smile.
“Need some help?”
She nodded. “Some of those are things that I can’t do myself.”
Briefly his eyes closed. When they opened, they were completely guarded. “I’ll see you in the morning. Good night.” He strode from the room.
Rose sighed and stretched out on the cushions of the sofa, flexing her toes and calves. Blackbeard jumped on her stomach and meowed. She teased his whiskers. “What do you think of him?”
Blackbeard kneaded her sweater and purred, completely content.
“Me, too,” she said, stroking his back.
“If you clean that one more time, the finish is going to come off.”
The pot fell into the sink with a loud bang.
Crap, she’d been caught. For the past thirty minutes, Rose had been staring out of the window over the kitchen sink while Sasha chopped wood. Ten minutes ago, he’d taken off his shirt and her mouth had dried out. Five minutes ago he’d stretched and flexed his arms and her knees had gone weak.
Cheeks heating, she dried her hands on the kitchen towel and turned to face her sister. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough.” Skye moved to stand beside her, giving Rose a quick hug. “Can’t say I blame you. The view is amazing.”
Rose couldn’t fight the giggle. “Yes, it is.”
Sasha’s arms and shoulders glistened in the noon sun. The ax made a perfect arc before it split another piece of wood in half.
They both sighed.
“Man-candy Sunday,” Skye said dreamily, “We should sell tickets.”
“Skye!” Rose smacked her sister with the towel.
“Ouch!” Skye held up her hands and scooted away. “I’m just trying to think of ways to pay off our back taxes.”
“Oh, honey, don’t. Concentrate on school instead.”
A slight flush filled Skye’s freckled face. “I want to apologize for the other day. You and Summer have always taken care of me, and I sounded like an ungrateful brat.”
“I’d already forgotten about it, but thank you. Besides, you’re the baby and it’s our job to take care of you.” Rose tapped her sister’s nose.
Skye rolled her eyes.
They both turned back to the amazing view of Sasha doing shirtless manual labor.