“Asking me to spend the night, angel?” Summer cooed, brown eyes wide as her lashes fluttered.
Gabriel steered her toward the door. “You think that’s the first time someone’s tried giving me that nickname? You’re starting to slip, honey.”
Summer’s smile never faltered. “I’m sure a man like you would catch me if I did. Show me the errors of my ways so I could get down on my knees for you and confess my sins. Maybe demonstrate the ones I’m most proud of.”
“Your mascara’s smeared.” Gabriel pulled a tissue from his pocket and held it out to her.
Summer stared down at his hand for a long minute before taking it from him. Her shoulders drooped a little. “Drive me home, angel.”
After the door shut behind the couple, Rose said, “I can’t believe she let him get the last word.”
What in the hell was she talking about? “Your sister ordered him to take her home.” Shimmering blue eyes met his, and he sucked in a breath. Jesus. Summer was here for Ivy. “Sweetheart, will you be all right?”
“Yes-no…I don’t know.”She dropped her head into her hands, her shoulders rigid. “I need to leave, but I can’t.”
Whatever he’d been about to say slipped from his mind as her entire body began to shake. He crossed the small distance between them and guided her to the leather sofa by the fireplace, pulling her into his lap. Rubbing her back, he waited for her to cry. But the tears never came. Instead she remained rigid as ever, even as great shudders racked her delicate frame.
After many minutes had passed, she finally relaxed against him, burying her face into his neck and rubbing the chain around it with the tips of her fingers. He wrapped a cautious arm around her, welcoming the sweet warmth of her body. “You know, you’re the first person—outside of my family—that knows the truth about me. I haven’t been able to trust anyone in a very long time.”
“I trusted you, too.”
Her words shattered him. Wounded him as they should. Thinking of the painting in his car, he said, “Not entirely.”
“I trusted you with the important things: My family and my—me.”
He wanted her trust again. He needed it. Hell, he needed her. Playing with the tendrils of hair that had escaped its confines, he trailed his lips down the line of her stubborn jaw. “I tainted the samples this afternoon—with what I’m not telling, but I swear to God my uncle can’t hurt you now.” He nibbled at her bottom lip. “No one can take away your land. The spring is worthless.”
“Don’t,” she exhaled on a ragged breath. “I can’t think straight around you.”
Cursing himself for being a million times a fool, he lifted her away from him so that she reclined against the side of the sofa.
Ocean-blue eyes met his and as her plump lips parted, he was lost to any semblance of reasoning. He moved over her, skimming his knuckles across her cheek while her gaze never wavered from his.
“And I can’t help myself around you,” he said softly.
Her gaze fell to his lips.
Heat coiled inside of him, ready to invade every part of his body. Ready to invade hers. “Your costume becomes you.”
“I’m Poppy Holland,” she said.
At that moment he didn’t care if she was the granddaughter of Anastasia or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She was entrusting him with one of her most guarded secrets, and he wasn’t going to ruin it by saying something so incredibly stupid as I know.
She frowned. “No, you don’t understand. I’m Poppy—legendary bewitcher of men.”
“That you are.” He wriggled his eyebrows at her and she groaned. “It solves a problem for me, actually.”
Her nose wrinkled. “It does?”
“I couldn’t decide on who I was tonight, but the answer is obvious.”
“It is?” She blinked and blinked again.
“Have I told you how particularly adorable you are when you answer in two word sentences?” he asked with a laugh.
“Sasha.” Her br**sts rose above the neckline as she moved into a sitting position.
“What are you wearing underneath?” He traced the curve of one soft mound and her breath hitched.
“Never heard of that particular line.”
“Harrison Collins is my dad,” she said and he looked up in time to see her lashes sweep down, hiding her eyes from him.
“I don’t know.”
“What about Summer?”
Black lashes flickered. “Summer is my cousin, not my sister. But she—we—let everyone think she’s the oldest.”
Summer’s warning rang in his ear. “To protect you.”
Rose covered her mouth with her hand and then let it fall to her throat. “Oh, God, Sasha—I have to go. I don’t care what Harrison does to me. I need to see Ivy before Summer leaves with her.”
Why would her sister leave? It didn’t matter. In this he could help. He pulled her to her feet. “Need my car?”
He handed her the keys. “Need help out of that dress?”
“You can’t drive in that.”
“But I don’t have anything else to wear.” She looked down at her costume and then back at him, panic filling her eyes.
He unbuttoned his jacket and slung it over the sofa. “I have an idea.”
“We can’t make love right now.”
He fingers hovered above the third button. “Later?” Danger gleamed in her eyes and he quickly added, “I’m giving you my shirt and jacket to wear. They should be long enough to cover your very luscious derrière. ”
Rose’s cheeks flushed bright pink.
His cuff links were next to go. “The sight of my glorious chest shouldn’t cause too many women to swoon.”
She rolled her eyes. “Just the women?”
“Quite right—the men, too.” The shirt joined his jacket and he caught Rose staring at him. More specifically at his chest. After having his ni**les pierced for over six years, he usually wasn’t aware of them, but at this moment he was conscious of everything. The way his ni**les tightened around the metal rings. His c**k stirring to life as she moved closer.
“When I first saw you tonight, all I could think about was getting my necklace back.” She blinked twice and he suppressed a grin.