Because it was a message. The Hollands had finally been purged from Holland Springs. At least her sisters and Ivy hadn’t been home. Fury gave way to panic.

Rose grabbed Sasha’s arm. “I need to go to Jemma Leigh’s. Now.”

“Summer’s gone.” Gabriel stopped a few feet in front of her, his face highlighted by the fire behind her.

“Gone?” Rose whispered.

Sasha muttered something under his breath.

“She took off about fifteen minutes ago.” Gabriel held out a piece of torn notebook paper. “She left this for you.”

Rose took the paper. “I need more light.”

David shined his flashlight on it.

She read the note, then looked up at Gabriel. “An address—that’s it? I didn’t even get to say good-bye.” Covering her mouth with her hand, she tried not to cry. Tried to remain furious, but a piece of her was gone. Her baby girl was gone.

“Why didn’t you stop her?” Sasha stepped in front of her. The pain in his voice undeniable. “You know how much Ivy means to Rose.”

“What I know is that Summer’s her mother and it’s not up to me,” Gabriel countered. He sighed. “She loves her daughter.”

“But I love Ivy, too,” Rose whispered brokenly.

Sasha turned around, grasping her upper arms. “We’ll get her back. My uncle has a massive legal team at his disposal.”

She looked up at the night sky, stars playing hide and seek with smoky clouds. Out of habit she searched for her star, resigned when she didn’t find it. Apparently everything that mattered to her was gone. When she came back to earth, Sasha was frowning.

“Did you hear what I said?” He gave her a little shake, then let go.

“Everything’s as it should be.” But it wasn’t. She shuffled to Sasha’s car, climbing into the passenger side and staring at the windshield, staring at nothing.

Sasha joined her, a few minutes or hours later, she wasn’t sure. He started up the car and covered her hand with his. “I texted Skye and assured her that you were okay. She said she’ll see you in the morning.”

“Take me to my store. I can sleep there.”

He shook his head. “No, I’m taking you home with me.”

She was too drained to argue. “Fine.” Taking one last lingering look at her home, Rose placed her palm on the window. Condensation gathered around the outline, blurring the colors.

Mercifully, the image faded as they drove away.


“Do you need help getting your corset off?” Sasha asked as he slid past her, turning on lights and opening doors.

Rose blinked, realizing they were in his room at the B&B. She couldn’t remember how she got there. Letting the blankets fall to the floor, she set to work on the buttons of Sasha’s shirt. Somehow it’d gotten wet, and the blankets had done very little to soak up the moisture.

She heard rain falling and turned to the window, but the part in the lace curtains showed a perfectly lovely night.

“Shower’s going. Let’s get this off of you, yes?” Waiting for her consent, he smiled gently.

She nodded and he turned her, each tug sending a bigger rush of air into her lungs. The pretty lingerie fell to the floor in a small heap. Her panties and stockings were next to go. Sasha had been quick, efficient. Touching her only when necessary. There hadn’t been any lingering, or hot kisses, not like the night he’d fed her dinner.

Had that only been last night?

Sasha led her to the bathroom, joining Rose in the shower and pulling her close. “We smell like eau de smoke, love.”

“Could be worse.”

Haunted blue eyes met his and Sasha wanted to howl at the unfairness of her situation, because in his mind it couldn’t get any worse. Rose had lost her house, the supply to her business and most importantly, Ivy. All in one night.

“I’ll take care of you this time. Wash you up and tuck you in bed.” He kissed her eyes closed and let hot water soak her hair before massaging in shampoo. Curls slipped through his fingers as he rinsed her hair, a sweet flowery scent replacing the smell of smoke and despair.

He soaped up a washcloth, tenderly running the material over the smooth skin of her face, her neck and shoulders. He followed the graceful lines of her back, the generous swell of her hips and the perfect br**sts that tempted him to kiss the ni**les.

Shaking his head, he mentally scolded himself for being the worst sort of cad.

He let his hand drift lower, closing his eyes as his fingers brushed her stomach and lower, then lower still as the cloth dropped to the floor. Damp hair slid on his knuckles and he jerked his hand away.

There had to be a safe place on her body that he could wash. Feet. And legs—or at least the calves. Although her calves were shapely—like her thighs—and the curve of her birthmark on her inner thigh drove him crazy.

This was his penance, he thought. For every bad deed, thought or look. Hell wasn’t fires burning bright, melting your flesh while you lived through the torment. No, hell was two consenting adults, bare skin, soapy palms and hot water while being forbidden to touch the woman of your dreams in the way you wanted.

Or perhaps this would be the closest he’d ever get to heaven.

Bracing her against him, he bent down on one knee and lifted her foot to rest on it. Every delicate fold of her intimate flesh was bared to him. He swallowed a groan.

“The polish job doesn’t look half bad,” he said, trying to distract himself. Concentrating on her needs, he kept the cloth between them, a shield from his entirely inappropriate and unruly body. Each pass humbling him, unable to fathom why she would allow him of all people to care for her. To touch her when she was the most vulnerable.

He wanted to fall to his knees and thank her. Worship her.

Managing to angle the shower head so that water would hit them both, he washed his hair and body, then turned off the water.

Fluffy towels hanging from warm hangers waited for them as he stepped out of the shower. Grabbing two, he wrapped one around her sweet body and the second around her hair.

“Feeling more yourself?”

Wordlessly she nodded and handed him a towel.

He wrapped it around his hips and helped her out of the tub. She toweled herself off and grabbed the comb by the sink to run it through her hair.

When she was done, he gathered the wet mass and braided it for her, wringing the end out with a towel. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to wash your back?”

A ghost of a smile flickered in her reflection.