He gave her a mocking bow. “Consider it done.”

After she left the room, he had the absurd notion to chase her down and lie prostrate at her feet while begging for forgiveness. In under five minutes, he’d managed to wipe out a budding friendship. A tentative trust. The look in her beautiful eyes would haunt him until he was old and gray.

He sat down heavily in a chair at the kitchen table and propped his head up in his hands. “Less of a guilty conscience, mate,” he told himself.

Too bad it didn’t make him feel any better.

Chapter Nine

For the past week, it had been raining in a freezing, steady flow from gray skies. Cars and trucks carefully inched along Broad Street, water high on each side as it splashed the sidewalks. No one ventured out much to do any shopping or eating. Carolina Dreams had had its slowest week yet which should have bothered Rose, but she was too hurt and angry to care.

The dismal weather matched her mood to a T. Looking back on that night, she knew she shouldn’t have kissed him. Shouldn’t have put her hands on his muscular, lean body and taken his nipple rings in her mouth.

She dropped her head into her hands, her cheeks heating. But she had ached for him. He had tasted so good. So male. So Sasha.

Only he had rejected her. Heck, he hadn’t even touched her. He’d sat there unmoving, unaffected. Well, not completely unaffected. Her fingers had glided past the shape of his penis. His very hard and enormous erection.

She let her head fall to her desk with a thud. What was worse, he’d confirmed her biggest fear. Her biggest insecurity. He hadn’t cared which Holland he’d found, and a small part of her wondered if he’d actually wanted Summer all along, but like Jason, had settled for Rose. The average sister. The one who didn’t live up to her reputation.

Maybe that had been the real reason why she and Sasha had never finished what they started. Only he’d been too polite to say it.

So far she’d managed to avoid Sasha, making sure she left before he did in the morning. No small feat since they lived together and she had to pack up the entire house to travel anywhere with Ivy.

She’d eaten dinner in Ivy’s nursery, then headed downstairs to clean up after she’d heard him turn in for the night. Only he‘d beaten her to it. Then he’d come with her to Palm Island again, helping her clean and playing with the baby.

Despite this, their conversations were whittled down to innocuous statements like, “I’ll clean the kitchen while you vacuum the living room,” or, “Pass the salt.”

Of course he talked to Ivy. He made silly faces and had the most ridiculous conversations with her. And of course, Ivy babbled and kicked her feet at his attentions. He even sat in the back of the car beside her on the way there and back.

A small ding coming from her computer’s speakers made her head snap up. She clicked on her inbox, read the new message, and blinked. Then she read it again and jumped up, sending her chair sliding across the room.

She danced around the office with the biggest smile on her face while Ivy watched in fascination. “I can pay my back taxes,” she said in a sing-song voice. “We get to keep everything!”

She had to tell Skye. After two years of submitting her information and jumping through hoop after hoop, the biggest natural supplier of beauty products on the East Coast was offering her a contract. A huge one. All she had to do was meet their deadline.

The bells hanging on the front door of Carolina Dreams rang and Rose quickly stepped to the counter. She smiled at the sight of her sister and then frowned at Skye’s anxious face. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not here,” Skye said, then ducked into the office.

Tristan Reed barged in, his gray eyes glittering. “Skye Holland, get your red head in here and tell me why you drove off another one of my patients.”

Open-mouthed, Rose stared at him. His jet black eyebrows drew together in frustration when he found the store empty.

“Where is she?” he growled, his usually starched shirt rumpled and his hair sticking out all over his head like little ebony spikes. “I saw her run in.”

“Um, well—”

“Tell him I’m not here,” Skye said in a loud stage whisper, and Rose winced.

“She’s not here,” Rose said lamely.

Tristan’s jaw worked. “Has she always been like this?”

“Like what?”

“A pig-headed, stubborn-ass woman.”

Skye gasped and popped out of the office. “Just because you have too much water in your spirit doesn’t mean you can take out your imbalance on me.”

Tristan scrubbed his face. “And just because I’m half Chinese doesn’t mean I believe that superstitious stuff. Or eat sushi and do karaoke.”

“But you took me on a date to Mr. Lee’s All You Can Eat Sushi and Karaoke Bar last week,” Skye pointed out, oblivious to the visible tic forming on Tristan’s forehead. “You ate salmon rolls and sang an old Backstreet Boys song.” She turned to Rose and added, “I think it might have been the sake.”

Tristan’s face grew dark and he spun on his heel, striding to the front of the store. He slammed the door behind him.

“What was that all about?” Rose asked. How in the world had she not known that Skye and Tristan were dating?

“A little misunderstanding, that’s all. He’ll be over it by supper time,” Skye said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

Suddenly giddy as she remembered the email, Rose motioned Skye back to the office and pointed to her computer screen. “Read this.”

“Oh my God,” she squealed, and hugged Rose tight. “This is awesome.”

They danced around the room, taking turns re-reading the email out loud, and laughing until tears were falling from their eyes.

“This is the best day ever,” Rose said, picking up Ivy and kissing her head. “Well, almost.”

“You’ll need to ship out our back supplies and make some more of your cellulite cream and body butter. Shampoo. Conditioner. Bubble bath. Everything,” Skye said with a laugh.

The bells rang again.

Luke Ambrose strode inside. The handsome doctor was back in town, finally finished with his reality series called ‘Dr. LA’, even though it was filmed in Miami. According to his sister, Zoe, it was a running joke in their family.

“Hi, Luke. How are—”

“Stop making Lily’s shower stuff for Carson Russell.”

“Carson Russell doesn’t shop here.”

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