Rose had ended up donating the Jeep to an organization that took old cars that no longer worked, after Carter Ambrose had pronounced it not fit to drive. That same day a delivery van, with the words ‘Carolina Dreams’ painted on one side had shown up in front of her store. Not even an hour later, a minivan was delivered.

She wasn’t sure who’d given her the vehicles, but she was beyond thankful and extremely pleased to be wrong about the people of Holland Springs. Although most of the time she wanted to hide in the office in the back of the store when it got really crowded and everyone started sharing stories of Rose’s match-making advice.

Slowly, but surely things were changing for her. For whatever reason, Jason Everett avoided her at all costs (most likely he was afraid she’d comment on his sex skills.). She found herself actually smiling at people when she walked down the street, or did a little shopping in their stores. Many acted like they were genuinely happy to see her and Ivy.

Whether it was her attitude or a realization that not everyone in Holland Springs hated her family, she wasn’t quite sure. Maybe a combination of the two.

“Oh no, Ms. Holland, you let these people help you out,” Jemma Leigh teased when she walked in and caught her gathering items to donate to Goodwill.

Sage Caswell walked in behind her, soft gray eyes shining. “We brought lunch.” She held up a large bag and shook it. “And no Bernice.”

The three of them sat on a blanket behind the counter, eating sandwiches and watching Ivy trying to crawl.

Jemma Leigh grinned at her, then tucked a chunk of blonde hair behind her ear. “How does it feel to have Ivy back?”

“Like my family’s complete.” Well, almost. She wished both of her sisters were with her…and sometimes, late at night, she wished Sasha was with her, too. Yesterday she had received a package in the mail. When she had opened it, she had been shocked to find a half-nude painting of Poppy Holland. The note accompanying it, however, had erased her shock and pinched her heart.

For your eyes only, it had read. She had known exactly who it was from. Although how he’d found it was a mystery she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to solve.

“You shouldn’t feel bad about people helping you,” Sage said, thankfully misinterpreting her melancholy mood. “Everyone wanted to do something.”

Rose tilted her head to the side. “Everyone?”

“Everyone who counts.” Jemma Leigh clarified with a smile and Sage nodded. “People you’ve helped and then some.” She finished the last of her sandwich and washed it down with a bottle of water.

“Not Nahalah Industries,” Jemma Leigh added, when she noticed Rose eying the bottle.

“I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“You didn’t have to,” Jemma Leigh laughed and began to clean up. “Momma said to tell you that anytime you need a babysitter to call her.”

“Or me,” Sage volunteered. She leaned over and gave Ivy her stuffed rabbit. “I love babies.”

“Tell her thank you.” Rose smiled, then turned to Sage. “You, too.”

Sage made a little noise. “But you won’t take the offers, will you?”

Rose bit her lip and shook her head.

“But you’ll have to for my bachelorette party,” Jemma Leigh declared. “Bernice’s not invited, because it’s my only day without bitchy women.”

Rose laughed and Sage cheered.

Soon, too soon really, their lunch was over and Ivy’s eyes had drifted shut. The baby’s tummy was full and her shirt sleeve had the dried remnants of pureed peas on it. Cheerios from a game called ‘watch Ivy try to fit as many as possible in her mouth at one time’ littered the outer edges of her blanket. But Rose didn’t mind. A mess made by Ivy meant Ivy was still here, still hers and with the way things were going, forever hers.

Her life was complete. It was exactly as it should be—except for the ache in her heart.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

November faded into December. The autumn leaves fell to the ground, leaving bare limbs in their place.

Most days Rose’s life was so filled with piecing everything back together and tending to Ivy that she barely had time to herself. But when she did, Sasha filled every nook and cranny of her mind. He was a constant dream, one that hadn’t faded with time. Her traitorous heart still yearned for him.

She missed his energy, his humor…his kisses. The way he dressed and how he talked to Ivy like an adult.

The way he had gazed at her the first time they made love.

“Want a slice to go?” Daisy asked, jolting Rose out of her daydreaming.

“No thanks.”

“I’m closing in about ten minutes but you two feel free to stay in here as long as you like,” the baker offered, a friendly smile on her face. “I need to finish making a menu for a wedding reception I’m catering.”

Rose smiled back. She had always liked Daisy and had admired her for keeping her business open through a struggling economy. “That’s wonderful.”

“It’ll be even more wonderful when I hire someone to be my assistant.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for you,” Rose said as Daisy moved behind the counter and called out her thanks.

Rose looked at Ivy. The baby sat in a highchair, gnawing on a bagel and drooling like crazy. Just last week her first tooth had popped through, but she still hadn’t said her first word. Mainly Ivy liked to coo and babble at the rabbit Sasha had bought her.

A hunk of bagel fell to the floor and Ivy leaned over to look at the mess. Grinning, she threw the rest after it and gurgled with glee.

Rose smiled. “Guess you’re done with that.” She used a paper napkin to clean up the baby’s mess.

After wishing Daisy a Merry Christmas, Rose bundled Ivy up and headed outside. She walked along Broad Street, stopping every so often to point out holiday displays to Ivy.

Turning onto Ivy Lane, she squared her shoulders and adjusted the baby on her hip, trying not to notice Sasha’s fake store. It was an empty space except a ‘for sale’ sign had been in the window since the end of November. The clothes and money he raised had been split between Gabriel’s organization and the women’s shelter.

According to Jemma Leigh, that had been Sasha’s doing and he wanted to keep things quiet. So, of course, the realtor told everyone. Jemma Leigh Jackson had never kept a secret in her life.

Rose’s heart pinched as she thought of Sasha. What he was doing for Christmas? Who would he spend it with? The woman inside of her shouted that it should be Rose. That Rose should woman up, find out where Sasha was and go to him. Obviously, the woman inside of her had lost her mind.