“I’m not asking you to give me another chance, because I know I don’t deserve it. But you deserve the truth. All of it,” he added softly.
Another chunk of ice melted. “Thank you.”
“I’ll be leaving next week.”
She missed a step and stumbled, only his strong arms kept her from falling. “But I thought you were staying for six months and you were going to help people. Oh, more lies.”
“That’s everything, sweetheart.”
Struggling for breath, she placed her palm against his chest. It shouldn’t hurt so much he was leaving. She should be glad that someone so manipulative would be out of her life. But she wasn’t. A fist grabbed her lungs and squeezed them tight. “I can’t do this.”
“Let’s go out on the balcony,” he murmured and escorted her outside.
Once there he let go of her and she collapsed in the nearest seat, her hands covering her mask. She wrenched it off and threw it over the railing.
“You’re unmasking a tad early, but when in Rome…” His mask followed hers.
“Stop making jokes.”
“I leave my baby with you and you’re out partying?”
Rose stood so quickly that she stepped on Sasha’s foot and he grunted. “Sorry.” Her gaze never left her sister’s face. “Summer?”
“We’ll talk later, Rosebud,” Sasha said, pressing a kiss to her cheek.
“Okay,” was all she was able to manage.
Her sister’s brown eyes narrowed as he passed by, then she smiled. “Miss me?” Not waiting for an answer, Summer turned and sauntered into the ballroom.
Unable to believe her eyes or ears, Rose followed. Her sister was here. Oh God. Ivy.
Summer tossed her hair over her shoulder, casting a seductive smile at the closest male. “I’m back in town,” she called out, “Hold on to your men, ladies.”
“Will you stop?” Rose glanced around the room. Formerly smiling faces were frowning, lips whispered and fingers pointed.
“I’ll stop when I’m good and ready. And we all know I’ll never be good, but I’m always ready. Ain’t that right, Robert?” Summer blew a kiss to the former mayor of Holland Springs.
Rose grabbed her sister by the arm, trying to pull her into a private corner. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Not a damn thing.” Summer shook out of her grasp.
Rose looked over her sister’s shoulder and found what looked to be an empty hallway. “Come with me.”
“You always were a bossy thing.” Summer snagged a glass of champagne and sashayed across the room, garnering male attention that Rose had no desire to bask in. She’d already done enough tonight.
Rose ran to the first door, jiggling the knob without success. “It’s locked.”
“Move, little sister.” Summer bumped her with her hip. She placed the glass of champagne on the floor and began to work at the lock. A few seconds and a small click later, Summer stood, turning the knob with a flourish. Picking up her glass, she entered first.
The lights fairly blazed in the room, one filled with floor to ceiling shelves of books. Closing the door behind her, Rose leaned against it and took as deep of a breath as her costume would allow.
“Aren’t you happy to see me?” Summer drained the glass and threw it at the fireplace. Glass shattered as flames leapt into the air, dancing happily.
“Of course I am.” Rose wrapped her arms around her sister, surprised at how frail Summer felt. “You need to take better care of yourself. A strong wind could blow you away.”
Quick as lightening, Summer stepped back and crossed her arms over her mostly bare chest. The black dress she’d poured herself into clung to every curve of her willowy body. “I’ve come to get Ivy. Where is she? No one was at Strawberry Grove but Blackbeard. And he wasn’t telling.”
“Right this minute?”
“Why does it matter?”
Because Rose loved Ivy as her own. “Skye’s taking care of her at Jemma Leigh’s house.”
“Give me the address and I’ll go now.”
“No.” Summer gave her a funny look and Rose quickly added, “It’s after nine and she’s asleep. Better to wait until morning.”
“I’m leaving tonight. I have an apartment in Wilmington.”
“You’re taking Ivy away from here?” Rose blindly reached behind her and grabbed hold of the door knob, her palms damp and her heart in her throat.
“Of course I am. Did you really think I’d let my daughter grow up in Holland Springs?”
Rose opened and shut her mouth a couple of times before speaking. “I’d hoped we’d all be a family.” First Skye, now Ivy and Summer. Sasha. Her knees almost gave out, but she firmed them. Despite this her legs began to shake.
Summer glanced around the room, seemingly taking stock of it. “This is pretty.” She ran a finger over an ornate vase and pushed it over. Rose jumped as it crashed, hitting the rug and not breaking into a thousand pieces, thank God.
“Are you trying to get us thrown out?” Rose snatched up the vase and placed it carefully back in its spot on the bookshelf.
“I bet Lorelei isn’t happy you’re here.”
“Contrary to popular belief, I don’t visit Harrison to screw him in his office.”
Her sister laughed and flames shot higher in the fireplace. “Harrison Collins is capable of many things, but incest isn’t one of them.”
Rose’s mouth dropped open. “Who told you?”
“I figured it out on my own.” Summer sat down on the leather sofa, sifted her fingers through a tasseled throw and looked over her shoulder. “Well, not entirely on my own.”
She followed her sister’s line of vision and she sagged against the desk. “Is that—”
“Your great-great grand-something or another.”
“Crashed one of their yearly balls. They put me in this room as punishment until the sheriff came,” Summer said. “There’s a safe in the second bookcase, third down, fifth book from the left. It’s full of money and jewelry. Or was.”
Rose couldn’t take her eyes of the enormous portrait. The woman was dressed in pale pink, her black hair piled fashionably on top of her head. Laughing, vibrant blue eyes dominated her very pretty face as a demure smile titled her lips at the corners. At the bottom was a gold placard with the engraving Rosalyn Collins, 1822.