“Beautiful,” he insisted, holding her face with his fingertips as his mouth covered hers again. Her lips parted immediately. Eagerly. His tongue stroked the inside of her mouth. He’d never get enough of this. Her.

Groaning low in his throat, he gently pushed her to the floor and covered her body with his, never breaking their kiss. Her legs wrapped around his waist, her soaked panties rubbing at his sensitized erection until he was hard again. Despite the mind-reeling orgasm he’d just had, he wanted her again. Shoving up her thin sweater, he kissed a path down her throat to her chest. Desperate to taste her. Desperate to have her bare br**sts in his hands, his mouth.

He brushed his lips over her fabric-covered breast, then took the tip into his mouth and sucked. Deep. Her nipple hardened and a muted scream left her throat.

Frantically, he searched for the clasp. “Dammit,” he muttered against her breast. What was wrong with him? Usually, he had more finesse.

“It opens in the front.” Rose massaged the nape of his neck.

“Thank God.” He all but ripped it away, and was treated to the sight of her full br**sts. Red ni**les tightened in the cool air and he hovered over one, teasing the peak with his breath. She arched beneath him, a wordless plea escaping her lips.

Suddenly, the sound of Ivy crying filled the small space.

Rose froze. “I have to go to her.”

“Of course.” He helped her to her feet even as his body told him to sweep her off of them. Sasha could still taste her. He wanted to lose himself inside of Rose’s sweet body. Over and over, until he found…something. Shaky hands buttoned his shirt and fastened his trousers.

A pink stain infused her cheeks as she smoothed her green sweater over the top of her hips. “I—um, we…” She knelt down and picked up the monitor, black curls skimming the floor.

He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, drew her close, and kissed her once last time. “We’re not finished.”

“I’ll come to your room later.” Rose gave him a sweet smile, slipped out of his arms and walked down the hall.

“I’ll be waiting.”

Sasha listened as she washed up at the sink, as she soothed the baby, as she walked out of the kitchen and up the steps of the grand staircase.

Blowing out the breath he’d been holding, he rolled his shoulders. What had he done? All he’d intended to do was take her out to some place nice. Where no one knew her name or her family’s history and could make her uncomfortable. Where no one gave a damn about hidden springs.

Except he couldn't forget about it.

Turning, he eyed the staircase, unable to do more. "Quit being a plank and bloody move.” He started toward the stairs.

Blackbeard appeared out of nowhere, purring and rubbing against his legs. His eerie blue eyes stared straight through Sasha and a shiver rippled down his spine.

“Fine, you win. Damn cat,” he muttered, and headed in the opposite direction. He grabbed his coat and keys. “I’ll be back,” he shouted and bolted out the front door before he could change his mind. Before he stopped this madness overtaking him. Making him want to be that man. The one who always did right. The one who was killing his mother with every minute it took him to find this damned spring. With every attempt at being a hero.

Gravel crunched under his boots as his long strides ate up the distance between the house and his Mercedes. He couldn’t start his car fast enough. He couldn’t pull out of the drive fast enough.

It didn’t matter that the leather seats were ruined and the interior smelled like chicken shit. It didn’t matter that David Turner would haul his ass to jail for even thinking about speeding. Glancing up at the rear view mirror, the lights of the dashboard gave him an evil glow. This was why he’d never be a hero. Heroes left in defeat and smelling like chicken manure.

While villains…villains snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. They got the job done and went off to their lair to plot their next moves while minions awaited their decisions. And villains never, ever worried about getting the girl in the end.

Not even one who smelled of jasmine and let him chase her with chicken feathers. Not even one whose greatest desires in life were uninterrupted sleep, friends and cheesecake. One whose infrequent smiles made his gut clench and his heart beat faster.

Looming on the right was the familiar red octagon whose message he wanted to ignore, but he stopped anyway and let his head fall to the steering wheel. His cell vibrated and he picked it up, touching the screen and scanning his latest messages. The last one made his blood run cold.

Time’s running out.

The picture attached was of his mother, lying unconscious and helpless in a hospital, while his Uncle Vladimir sat by her side, somehow managing to look menacing and caring all in one.

Lead coated his guts and his palms began to sweat. His vision blurred and he couldn’t take in enough air, his throat closing.

Breathe, he silently ordered.

“Bugger it.” He stomped on the accelerator.

Chapter Eleven

Unlike her baby sister, Rose had never been a morning person. She was, for all intents and purposes, a creature of the night. Long after the moon made its journey in the midnight sky, she would still be hard at work in their basement kitchen, adding and subtracting ingredients until it was perfect. Whipping up creams and lotions to keep a woman’s skin glowing, smelling heavenly. All to capture the object of her desire.

As a small child she had learned that every Holland woman was practically born with the knowledge. Still Rose was completely grateful that in 1885 the fourth Poppy Holland had decided to preserve her most successful concoctions for future generations and had written down the recipes in a large, heavy tome. There were two main ingredients for every Holland product: the first, specially grown flowers and herbs from the forcing house. The second was such a well-kept secret that only Rose knew of its existence. Not even Skye and sure as hell not Summer.

Four nights before her sixteenth birthday, Rose’s mother had taken her down to the basement kitchen and into the passage ways carved by former slaves and the third Poppy Holland to assist in the Underground Railroad effort. There were three different routes that shot out from the house. One led to the greenhouse, the second to a cottage and the third to a place Rose had never been.

A place she had considered sharing with Sasha before he’d kissed her. Before he had touched her so intimately and with such blissful skill that she could still feel him within her. His elegant fingers sliding over her thigh, not even skipping over the birthmark on the inside. Not like…She shook her head. She wouldn’t think of her former lover and his dislikes. His preferences.

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