Blackbeard hissed and backed away.

A man’s low laugh sounded to the left of him and he quickly moved behind a wide fern. Company—fantastic. Peering between the fronds, he watched Jemma Leigh kiss and stroke the side of her lover’s face. What was his name? Jeremy Stafford, the fisherman who no longer smelled like fish. Courtesy of Rose Holland.

Would everything in his life always come back to her?

The ring on Jemma Leigh’s left hand caught the light, reflecting rainbows on their skin as they moved into a spotlight of sunshine.

Sasha’s eyes widened when he realized they were completely nude. Quickly looking over at the spring, he concentrated on the pink blossoms floating all along the top of the water. What the hell? They hadn’t been there five seconds ago. He must have hit his head when he’d fallen. Or the water contained a hallucinogenic.

“Cherry blossoms,” Jemma Leigh sighed as she bent down to scoop a handful up, her br**sts bouncing.

Holy hell! Sasha turned away, leaning against the thick base of a palmetto.

“Did you tell Rose to put in special order for me?” Jemma Leigh asked, her voice no longer the seemingly ditzy debutant.

“Darlin’, I’d reel in rainbows from the sky for you,” Jeremy said.

Sasha glanced heavenward. Reel in rainbows? Seriously? If he ever said something so stupid, so treacle as that, he hoped to God someone would shoot him.

Jemma Leigh giggled.

Water splashed.

Sasha sneaked another glance. The lovers were immersed in the spring and rubbing their noses together. Good God.

“You know what this means, JL?” Jeremy asked, his voice husky.

“Please, for the love of God, don’t start talking about your bloody feelings,” Sasha muttered under breath. He’d rather listen to them snog. It really was a shame he’d left his iPod at home—at Rose’s. He glanced up at the sky in annoyance. Wherever.

“Did you hear something?” Jemma Leigh asked.

He flattened himself on the ground. Pine needles tickled and poked at his bare chest. Not wearing a shirt was a brilliant idea.

“All I hear is you,” Jeremy said, “Now, honey, tell me what finding this secret place means for us.”

Sasha’s stomach roiled. It couldn’t be, it just couldn’t.

“It means this is true love and we’ll be together forever,” Jemma Leigh sighed, sounding like the most in-love woman in existence. Well, the second most if he counted his cousin’s wife. The woman actually cooed at her husband and he seemed to enjoy it. Hell, Sasha knew Christian loved it.

“And ever,” Jeremy finished.

Christ. It was the wrong spring.

Sitting up, Sasha closed his eyes and shook his head. It didn’t matter, he’d lie and say he found it. That should buy him some time, until he could figure out his next move. He dug in his pocket for his cell phone and texted his uncle.

His phone vibrated and there were the words he’d been waiting for:

It’s time to come home. You may visit Phoebe. Be at the airport in thirty minutes.

His muscles eased. Finally, he could see his mother. If he drove exceptionally fast, he could make it to the airport in twenty. He could shower and change on the plane. Everything he could possible need would be on it. But first he had to call Rose and explain.

Another vibration from his phone.

Tell no one.

Why the hell not, he wanted to text back, but his uncle’s message was clear. He expected him to go in, get the job done and walk away. Make no friends and leave no one that would care about him being gone behind.

Except Rose.

He’d promised to take her out. Promised to finish what they started. He could ignore his uncle’s instruction and do just that.

Sasha banged his fist in the dirt. What kind of son put his sick mother last? Grabbing the nearest rock, he clenched it so tightly in his fist that his knuckles started to ache. There were so many things he wanted to do with that rock. So many words he wanted to shout.

But his situation, much like his life, was futile.

Chapter Twelve

Rose put on her best dress—one that Skye had given her last year at Christmas. Slightly funky and more her baby sister’s style than hers with its bold print and little belt that had an alligator as a buckle, she felt young and pretty. It hit her at the knee, but the tall boots she borrowed from Summer’s closet looked perfect with it. No one had to know she’d stuffed tissue paper in the toes for them to fit.

Quickly checking the time, she gave herself a once over in the mirror. The cross necklace looked worn and old-fashioned. Maybe she should take it off? Her hands went to the back of her neck and she hesitated. There wasn’t a time that she hadn’t worn this necklace. This reminder of who she was and where she came from.

“Just this once,” she said to her reflection and smiled, taking off the necklace before she lost her nerve. After placing it in her jewelry box, she left her room.

She practically glided down the stairs and floated across the hardwoods, ultimately deciding to wait for him in the small living room. She glanced at the clock over the mantle. Twenty minutes until seven. No reason to panic or get upset.

Seven was a lucky number and people went on dates at seven. Even Jason hadn’t picked her up until after seven.

She grabbed the remote and after turning on the television, clicked through all nine channels only to find nothing on. Blackbeard wandered in and out of the room, meowing plaintively until Rose took pity on him and picked him up. “I was trying to not get cat hair on me,” she scolded as the cat made himself at home in her lap and purred.

Minutes turned to half hours as Rose waited. Half hours to hours. Each subsequent tick of the clock making her heart beat faster until she had to stand up and pace the room. She carried Blackbeard in her arms, lowering her head and rubbing her cheek against his soft fur every so often.

By nine o’clock her stomach felt funny—not exactly butterflies and not exactly cramps. Maybe he’d gotten in a car accident. Maybe he’d gotten abducted by aliens. Maybe the aliens ran over him with their spaceship. She sat back down and checked the stations for any breaking news of a hot British guy being kidnapped by horny women.


Again she stood, dumping Blackbeard out of her lap, and started for the phone. Pride made her stop and sit back down. She apologized to the unforgiving cat who ran out of the room with his tail standing straight up.

At ten-fifteen, she thought she heard a car pull into the driveway and ran to the front door, flinging it wide open. A sharp retort and a kiss ready for her very fashionably late date. But the driveway was empty. Slowly, she shut the heavy door and locked it, trudging up the grand staircase. Her shoulders drooped and her eyes stung, but she refused to cry.