“On the contrary, I think your place would be absolutely perfect,” a low male voice drawled.
Sasha grinned at the back of Rose’s curly black head, watching as her spine stiffened and her shoulders squared. She turned and he braced for the impact.
Rose’s ocean-blue eyes stared right through him, her pretty face making him suck in a breath. He was at a loss as to what to say next. So, as to not look like a complete and utter fool, he stayed silent.
As did she.
“Okay…I’ll just be over here rearranging something.” Skye strolled over to an antique hutch and began to move the merchandise around.
Sasha blinked in surprise. He’d nearly forgotten the youngest Holland sister was in the room. Hell, he forgot everything when Rose was anywhere near him—especially when she was in his arms. She was…dangerous.
“Why don’t you go stay with your cousin,” Rose suggested, her stubborn jaw clenching.
“The newlyweds are currently in Majorca, blissfully happy. And even if they were home, I’m not about to put up with all the bloody talking about their feelings. It’s not healthy for a man.” He peered at her through his lashes.“Looks like your place is the only one that will meet my needs.”
“The room’s no longer for rent,” she said flatly.
“A shame, really. I was looking forward to playing house with you, Rosebud,” he said.
She blinked twice in rapid succession, the only indicator that what he said had bothered her. “You said you were leaving for good.” Her fingers went to the necklace at her throat. And there was the second sign.
“You must have misunderstood.”
“No, you said—”
“I know what I said.” He also knew she had a wine-colored birthmark in the shape of her namesake that rested on her inner right thigh. He’d traced its outline with his tongue until she’d pleaded with him to stop teasing her.
Rose frowned. “But—”
“And it didn’t include the words: I’m leaving for good.” Although he would have preferred that to be true.
Her perfect lips thinned and she let go of her necklace. “Why are you here?”
He inclined his head to the side, trying to convey all innocence. “I’m being punished for helping right a wrong,” he lied. Okay, so the helping right a wrong and being punished wasn’t a lie. However, it wasn’t the real reason he was here, not by a long shot.
“Karma works that way,” Rose said.
He shrugged. “It’s rarely Karma, more like the powers that be.”
The town’s sheriff, David Turner, walked into the store, tipping his hat at the sisters. “Ladies.” He barely acknowledged Sasha. “Romanov.”
“Sheriff,” Sasha said. It was rare that a minion did anything on time, but maybe David Turner wanted to get this rather nasty deed over with.
Rose’s brow wrinkled. “I thought Missy didn’t need any more body butter for at least another month.”
Skye gave the sheriff a big grin. “Have you been eating it again, David?”
“Missy’s fine.” He tugged at his collar, an uneasy look passing over his face. “This is for you,” he added, handing Rose a white envelope. “Sorry, honey.”
The sheriff made a hasty exit and took off in his patrol car.
Sasha watched Rose closely as she opened it and read the official letter—one that he had his family’s attorneys craft—from the town’s tax administrator. Her face went white as the paper she was holding before color suffused her cheeks with bright pink.
“What’s wrong?” Skye asked, her voice rising.
Wordlessly, Rose handed it to her. She looked past him, out into the street and he felt the urge to comfort her. Guilt sprouted inside of his gut, threatening to grow before he ruthlessly squashed it. It was one of many emotions he couldn’t afford.
“How’s this possible?” Skye’s lips were bloodless. She crumpled up the paper and threw it at the door. “Ten years worth of back taxes because of a mistake in status. How can they do this?” She leaned against the antique hutch, her hazel eyes overflowing with tears. “How can we make next month’s tuition payment, the rent, and everything else?”
Rose opened and closed her mouth. Her eyes followed suit. When they opened again, Sasha was startled to see resigned defeat in them. He’d expected her to take charge. To march down to the tax office and demand they fix it.
“I’ll get a job cleaning McMansions at the beach again.” She stared at the window.
Again? When had she ever done that?
Skye shook her head. “What about Ivy?”
“Who’s Ivy?” He really should have investigated her family himself. Relying on others for information was proving to be mistake.
“I guess we’ll have to find a renter after all,” Rose said with a defeated sigh.
“What about him?” Skye gestured in his direction, but Rose was already shaking her head.
He leaned his hip against the nearest counter and tried to take control of the conversation. “I’m the quiet sort. No pets and I don’t smoke.”
The two women ignored him.
He cleared his throat. “I’m excellent at meal preparations. Never leave the seat up either.”
Skye crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Rose. “Why aren’t you surprised about this letter?”
Rose said nothing.
Her sister’s hazel eyes rounded. “I can’t believe you’d keep something like this from me!”
Rose planted her hands on her hips. “You would’ve dropped out and God knows one of us needs to have a college degree. One of us needs to have a future away from here.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Rose—”
Jumping in, he said, “I agree. I’m willing to pay whatever—”
“Get off your high-horse and rent the damn room to Alexander!”
“My high-horse? I’m the one who’s been supporting this damn family since I was sixteen,” Rose said, her cheeks flushing.
Skye lifted her brows slightly. “No one asked you.”
“Let’s talk about this later, okay?” Rose asked through clenched teeth. He was surprised that she had any enamel left with the way she ground them into each other.
“Fine,” Skye huffed.
“Good,” Rose agreed.
“I just don’t see why—”