That was not the first thing she thought. He could feel the connection between them as soon as their eyes locked. He’d been sure she felt it, too. But it wasn’t enough. He’d betrayed Rose by withholding information from her. And he had nothing to offer her.
With a heavy sigh, he reached for the clasp at the back of his neck. Even if was the right thing to do, it was the last thing he wanted. Last night, as he counted cracks in the ceiling of the room he’d rented from the local bed and breakfast, his fingers wouldn’t leave the damn thing alone. It was as if she were in bed with him, comforting and making him ache for her at the same time.
“It doesn’t belong to me anymore.” She pushed a stray curl behind her ear. “I thought it did, but it’s yours.”
“Turn around, love,” he said, his voice hoarse as he tucked the pendant under his collar. Thankfully she did as he asked and he set to work on the tiny buttons running down the back. The dress slid off of her shoulders and fell to the floor. After catching sight of what it had revealed, he nearly did the same. She was wearing a corset—laced up the sides—that constricted her waist into waspish proportions and a garter belt.
He flexed his fingers and stepped back. Shapely legs encased in nude stockings with silver threads weaving up the sides caught the firelight. His mouth went dry and a cross between a moan and a groan left his throat.
“Consequences,” Rose said as she bent over to grab his shirt.
To hell with consequences. He cupped her elbow, turning her face him and tilted her chin up. He bent his head, already tasting her kiss.
The door burst open and they jumped apart.
David Turner poked his head in, disgust filling his face. But Sasha knew it wasn’t directed at Rose. Only him. Always him. Not that he could blame the bloke.
“This isn’t what it looks like.” Rose jerked his shirt around her, a guilty flush creeping up her neck.
It was exactly what it looked like, Sasha wanted to say. Or it would’ve been. He cast a critical eye on the Sheriff’s costume. Of course the man was in uniform. “Originality not your strong point either?” Sasha asked, silently daring the man to say something.
“I need to speak with Rose. Alone.”
“Give me a minute.” Turning Rose to face him, Sasha helped her with the buttons, then draped his jacket around her slender shoulders. “I’ll go wait in the hall.”
“It’s okay, David.” She gave Sasha a tremulous smile. “Sasha can stay.”
“What time did you get here?” David asked, ruining Sasha’s moment of sweet victory.
“Eight. My date was very punctual,” she said with a raise of her brows.
Sasha rolled his eyes and mumbled, “Of course he was.”
“Romanov come with you?” The sheriff gave him a pointed look.
“What’s with this line of questioning?” Sasha asked, annoyed and mildly panicked.
“I really need to go to Jemma Leigh’s and get Ivy. Summer’s back.”
David cursed. “You really don’t know about the explosion, do you?”
Her eyes widened until the blue was a thin line around the black. “What explosion?”
“I kinda hoped you’d been the one to do it,” the sheriff muttered.
“Do what?” Rose asked, her voice rising as she turned around to face the sheriff. She grabbed Sasha’s hand and squeezed.
David shifted his stance and took off his hat. “I don’t know how to tell you, honey.”
“For the love of God man, spit it out,” Sasha growled.
“An explosion from your greenhouse made Strawberry Grove catch on fire. Hayden Laws said he’d never seen a house go up that fast—not without help.”
The room went silent, not even the clock on the mantle dared tick.
Hysterical laughter came from Rose’s mouth and Sasha tried to soothe her, but she pushed him away. “I don’t need your comfort.”
“The fire department’s doing the best that they can, but it’s out of control.”
A gust of wind blew the windows open, lifting the drapes as lightning split the sky. Thunder boomed, shaking the entire house. The party-goers let out shouts of laughter, thinking this was part of their entertainment.
Thunder boomed again, books and expensive vases falling to the floor.
Rose turned, shoes silent on the hardwoods as she stalked to the closest window. Her hands were fisted at her side.
Sasha stared at her back, the fine hair on his neck rising as his jacket seemed to float off of her and land on the sofa. But it was only the gust of wind. It lifted his hair at the roots. “You need to come away from the window, Rosebud.”
“When I’m done.” Her voice was strangely calm.
Suddenly, the heavens opened and rain poured from the sky.
“That should help,” she said.
“Who set your house on fire?” David shouted over the next boom of thunder. “Nobody would blame you if you were the one that did it. But if someone else were to blame, I’d—”
“I didn’t do it,” Sasha blurted, the need to convince her that he had absolutely nothing to do with destroying her home imperative. “I swear on my mother’s life—”
“I know you didn’t, Sasha.”
He nearly dropped to his knees at her easy acceptance. Just like before, when he told her about his uncle’s schemes. Whatever it took, he’d make it up to her.
She cast a glance over her shoulder, her blue eyes glowing eerily as lightening flashed. “Go home to Missy, David. She’s about to go in labor.”
David smacked his hat against his thigh. “Don’t you start that crap with me. Tell me who set your damn house on fire so I can arrest his ass.”
The lights went out and lightening flashed again, gifting Sasha with her silhouette.
“Sasha?” Her voice was reedy thin.
“Yes,” he croaked.
“I need you.” As if in slow motion her knees gave away and her body began to crumple to the floor. He managed to catch her before she hit the hardwood floor, her sweet frame soaked by the rain and ice cold where their skin touched.
“Does that answer your question, Sheriff?”
Turner worked his mouth for a moment and swiped his hand over his face. “Not by a long shot.”
“Bloody right,” Sasha agreed.
“Want to tell me what happened back there?” Sasha turned the heat up in the car, giving her a sidelong glance. He fiddled with the controls, turning the radio up. The volume was low enough for conversation, but loud enough to hear the local DJ share what costume was the most popular this year.