Lifting her arms above her head, she stretched and sighed lustily. Morning had never been greeted so eagerly before. Sunlight poured through the French doors and long, narrow windows of her room. A room that at one time she hated. Hated what it meant. What it stood for. But now in the morning light, it looked like a woman’s room. A woman who was completely and whole heartedly in—

Ivy gurgled and rolled around in the middle of the large bed, distracting Rose and making her smile. “Oh you, sweet, sweet thing.” She scooped her up. “I’m going on a date tonight. It’s going to be an honest-to-goodness real one, with music and amazing food. Knowing his royal snobbiness, it won’t be around here.”

Ivy’s brows raised, her little lips pursed.

Rose snorted. “You’re as bad as Blackbeard over Sasha. All he has to do is walk in the room and you light up.” As did she. Even if she had to hide it most of the time. “Maybe I’ll ask him to take me dancing.” The last time she’d danced with the opposite sex had been in middle school when they were learning how to Square Dance during P.E.. It had been forced upon both parties by a man wearing shorts so tight and short that it should have been illegal, or students should have been allowed to wear blinders so as to not look at him directly.

She gazed dreamily out the window. Autumn leaves in every color imaginable greeted her and if she sat up straighter she could see the carefully tended garden surrounding the forcing house. Familiar sights. Ones that always welcomed her home, and now Sasha was a part of that.

Last night had been amazing. So amazing that she’d fallen asleep in her bed with Ivy on her chest, she reflected ruefully. The baby had fussed the rest of the evening, so much so that Rose hadn’t heard Sasha return. She’d spent most of the time pacing and patting Ivy’s back before finally settling down in bed with her. Only on what seemed like the hundredth rendition of “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean”, a song that Azalea had sung to her and her sisters at night, had Ivy’s eyes finally drooped.

She bit her bottom lip. Sometimes she missed Azalea more than words could say. There was so much she wanted to say. To ask. What was it that had driven their mother to leave them?

There was a loud crash. One of the windows flew open. A chill permeated the air, seeping through the thin cotton of her nightgown. “What in the world?”

To Rose’s horror, a crow flew inside. It landed on her vanity and cawed, sending shivers down her spine. She turned, shielding Ivy with her body. Glancing over her shoulder, beady black eyes regarded her. She grabbed her necklace with one hand, rubbing the cross as she tried to figure out the best way to get the bad omen out of her house.

Suddenly, it flapped its wings and took off. Three inky feathers floated lazily about the room before settling on the oriental rug covering the hardwoods in front of the fireplace.

Letting go of her necklace, she clutched Ivy tighter. Her heart pounded and her stomach tightened as deeply rooted superstitions threatened her modern world. “It doesn’t mean anything,” she said, knocking on the wooden headboard three times with her elbow for good luck. “There. That should fix it.”

But it didn’t.

Even though Sasha wasn’t there to greet her with a confident grin and a cup of coffee that was more cream and sugar than anything else, she went about her daily Friday routine of cleaning and completing her own honey-do list.

All morning long, she knocked over the salt shaker, let the milk on the stove boil over; she went in one door and used a completely different one to come back inside; she found a penny and picked it tail side up without thinking about it.

But the absolute worst happened while she was gathering everything she needed to go to town. The grandfather clock that hadn’t worked in the past fifty years suddenly chimed in the sitting room.

Ivy’s diaper bag fell from her slack fingers.

Death was coming.

“Get a hold of yourself, Rose. This is why people think the crap they do about your family,” she scolded. Reputations as the town whores notwithstanding. Trembling hands grabbed the car keys, the diaper bag (again) and hefted the baby carrier into the crook of her elbow. She headed outside to her Jeep.

Skye was meeting her at Carolina Dreams and would be taking Ivy with her for the whole weekend. Not only that, Skye was cleaning for her, too. With Tristan.

It took her a good ten minutes to load everything she thought Skye would need. She gave Ivy a quick kiss on the nose and double-checked to make sure the car seat was secure, then got out of the backseat and closed the door.

Briefly, Rose wondered how in the world her sister had gotten the doctor to agree—and not because he gave off the impression of being too good for it. He was a war veteran and had lived in conditions a million times worse. But Tristan hadn’t been very happy with her sister yesterday.

She gave a little shrug, got in her Jeep and started it up. It would all work out in the end. And she had almost three glorious days of no responsibility. Two mornings to sleep in as late as she wanted. Two nights to stay up as late as she wanted. With a man she wanted. With Sasha.

Warmth and happiness coursed through her veins like caffeinated coffee as she turned onto highway thirteen and sped up. Desire gathered in places no longer dormant. It might be autumn, but inside of her, spring had come. Good grief. She glanced up at the rear view mirror and rolled her eyes at the silly grin she discovered on her face.

The handle of Ivy’s carrier reflected in it and immediately she felt guilty. Guilty for leaving Ivy. Guilty for wanting to have fun. To be a woman and go on a date. Was this how all mothers felt?

Her eyes snapped back to the road, tears pricking at the backs. She wasn’t anyone’s mother. She was Ivy’s aunt, and until Summer came back, Ivy’s caregiver.

She made a left on Ivy Lane, parking in front of her store and next to Tristan’s truck. As soon as she turned off the engine, Skye and Tristan immediately began to help her transfer everything.

“Anything else?” Skye asked after they finished packing the bed of his truck with Ivy’s suitcase, swing, and every accessory known to a woman that an infant needed.

Rose inclined her head to one side, hesitating to hand over the last of the baby’s things. Her sister had sounded excited when she’d talked to her on the phone last night about keeping Ivy, but this was the first time anyone other than Rose had looked after the baby.

“I don’t think—”

“Then don’t.” Skye snatched the diaper bag and squeaky bunny out of Rose’s hands.