She threw down the dust cloth and crossed her arms. But really, what could she expect from someone like him, someone allergic to honesty and decency?
The afternoon sun slanted through the autumn leaves of the ornamental trees lining the street, highlighting his head like a halo. As if he was an angel sent to her small town. All the single women (and quite a few of the married ones) would be completely thrilled he was back.
But only if one liked disheveled golden hair, sexy green eyes and bronze skin accentuating lean muscles wrapped up in the latest Tom Ford creation. And Rose, most certainly, did not.
Liar, a little voice inside her head whispered.
Rose rubbed the gold cross she always wore, stroking it between her thumb and forefinger. It had been in her family for generations. Local legend claimed that in 1795, Poppy Holland had bewitched a visiting preacher with her violet eyes and special brew of strawberry wine. Only a woman in league with the devil would be gifted with jewelry from a married man, making the first witch with the last name Holland thusly tagged.
That had been the start of the whispers, innuendos and flat out name-calling. Just last week, Maisy Perry had referred to Rose as a home-wrecking witch for looking at her fiancé and declared that she would never, ever step foot in Carolina Dreams again.
But just like always, Maisy had been forced to eat her words when she’d needed love advice. (And her monthly supply of cellulite vanishing cream.)
Rose hadn’t gloated. She never gloated. She never cried or yelled. She never insulted anyone back. But she wasn’t a damn saint. She did it privately, where no one could hear her. Where not even her sisters could hear her. Well, Skye anyway. Summer had taken off—again.
Rose’s family was falling apart. Whether by distance or death, everyone she’d grown up with was disappearing. Most likely the women here were thanking their lucky stars Summer was gone. Most of the upstanding citizens of Holland Springs viewed her family as a necessary evil. After all, the town was named for them and the legend of the springs was a draw for tourists. Not to mention that said spring was located on Holland land.
Sasha laughed, his white teeth flashing as Jemma Leigh Jackson preened and flirted. Tall and curvy with blonde chunks of hair framing her face, the bubbly real estate agent wore a plaid kilt and high heels that showcased her long legs to perfection. Jemma Leigh was beautiful, fashionable, and every other –able word that a man like Sasha would appreciate. Words that summed up a woman like Rose could never be. Her body was average everything, she didn’t care that much about fashion, and generally styled her hair to stay out of her face.
The tinkling of a bell snapped her out of her daze and Rose turned to see her baby sister, Skye, breeze through the front entrance, apparently finished with her morning visit to the retirement center. She stopped to prop their sunny yellow door open.
“Guess who bought Retro Dayz?” Skye asked, her hazel eyes shining. She smoothed the blue sweater she wore over the waistband of her flowery, ankle-length skirt.
Rose let her necklace fall back in place. “Zoe Ambrose?” The novelist was the clothing store’s biggest customer. Maybe its only one. But because of Zoe’s successful career and unflagging loyalty, the shop had stayed open far longer than anyone thought possible. Hippie chic wasn’t exactly all the rage here.
Skye laughed. “No. It’s someone you’d never guess. Not in a million years.” Her dark eyes slanted to the side and Rose followed her line of sight. Jemma Leigh placed a manicured paw on the sleeve on Sasha’s tailored button-down. Of course, he gazed at her like she was the only woman in the world.
Rose had the urge to throw something at them.
Suddenly, Jemma Leigh winced and rubbed the top of her head. Then Sasha did the same. They began dancing around as acorns started falling like rain from the tree. A little gray squirrel ran down the trunk, twitching its tail as a second, larger squirrel chased it.
Suppressing a satisfied smile, Rose cast a cool look at her sister. “Actually, I don’t care who buys it as long as it doesn’t interfere with our bottom line.”
“Then you won’t mind that Alexander Romanov bought it,” her sister said with a sly smile. “Rumor has it he’s going to open a bridal store.”
Rose’s tongue grew thick in her mouth and she had to swallow a few times before she could speak. “What?” she croaked.
“And guess who’s looking for a place to live around here, too?”
Rose grabbed her cross and rubbed it like her life was depending on it. “Why don’t you tell me since I suck at guessing.”
Skye’s brow wrinkled. “I hope you don’t mind, but I saw Alexander this morning at Daisy’s bakery and he happened to mention that he was looking for a place to rent. So, I told him—”
“Please say you didn’t—”
“We had a furnished room available at Strawberry Grove—and it included meals,” her sister finished with a satisfied smile. She recoiled at the look on Rose’s face. “What?”
“You—we don’t know him…well,” she replied lamely, schooling her features. Sasha tended to make her forget who she was and how she was supposed to act. And Skye didn’t know they’d been on a date. Heck, no one knew, and Rose intended to keep it that way.
“I’m sure you could get Christian Romanov to vouch for him.” Skye brushed a thick fall of auburn hair off her shoulder and lifted her brows a couple of times. “Besides, I would think you’d like a British invasion.”
Actually, she’d already been invaded by him. Almost. “Why would you?”
Skye grinned. “You’re not as discreet as you think you are.”
“You spied on me?” Rose couldn’t keep her cool façade from slipping.
“No, one of my roommates texted me a picture of the hottest guy she’d ever waited on in her life. Guess who was his date?”
“You didn’t think to mention that?” Rose pressed her fingers to her eyelids, then let her hands fall to her sides.
“I thought that if you wanted me to know, then you’d tell me.” Skye swatted at one of the wind chimes hanging from the ceiling.
A happy tune played, then abruptly stopped as Rose glared at it.
Skye frowned. “Sorry, I was only trying to help.”
Help her what—find a man, or pay the bills? Rose sighed, then smiled gently at her sister. “Don’t worry about it. Besides, I doubt it would meet his standards.” She silently prayed that she was right.