Like a man caught in a riptide, he had no choice but to be swept along. The door closed behind him. He risked a backwards glance. The cat now sat by the door, its tail twitching.

The antique stairs groaned with his every step as he made he followed her. The interior of Rose’s house was in better shape than the outside. Marginally. Faded wallpaper peeled at corners. Washed out carpets covered the second story landing. Ornate sconces flickered on and off as they ascended. He stopped to take a look out of a porthole-shaped window. A crescent moon reflected in the still black waters of the sound.

“Are you coming?” Rose asked and he nearly jumped out of his skin.

Jesus. This house was making him mental. He gave Rose a wicked smile. “Not for months—at least with a partner.”

Her mouth dropped open, then she closed it with a distinctive snap. Turning away from him, she said, “Your room is at the end of the hall. There’s a bathroom two doors down.”

“Shall I wash your back first, dear?” he couldn’t help but ask now that he was in control of the situation.

She didn’t falter in her stride, nor did she glance back. “We eat supper at six thirty. There’s no cable or internet, but there’s a land line in the kitchen.”

“Don’t need it. My phone has all the apps I need.”

“There’s no signal out here,” she said, and he could have sworn there was a smile in her voice.

How the hell was he supposed to communicate with the outside world? Oh, right, he was in the middle of nowhere and shouldn’t expect modern conveniences like running water or fire. “I could buy one of those boosters, and—”

“They’re bad for us.”

“Yes, technology is the very devil,” he muttered under his breath.

She moved gracefully down the hall, her arm rising and falling every so often. More lights magically illuminated as she passed. He spied a switch plate on the wall. He touched it with the tip of one finger as he passed by. A sharp stab made him jerk it back. Faulty wiring at its finest.

Ivy let out a whimper and the black cat following Rose turned back to look at him. “What? You think I made her cry?” he asked, tilting his head down to stare into eyes that were remarkably like its owner.

“Blackbeard won’t answer you,” Rose said.

He snapped his head up, but he hadn’t been aware she’d stopped. She reached out to grab him. He managed to place the carrier on the floor as he stumbled, the weight of his body pushing her back against the wall. Night blooming jasmine filled his senses and he leaned closer, seeking the softness of her skin. The tips of her fingers pressed into his arm and he welcomed the dull bite of her nails.

Her eyes drew him in, calling to him as he pressed his body against hers. Full br**sts flattened against his chest and the cradle of her rounded hips welcomed his.

Desire flared. He grew hard and instinctively rocked against her. She undulated against him. The smallest of movements but it felt as if she had caressed his entire body. His erection surged. He cupped the back of her neck, her loose curls like the finest of silks against his palm.

“Rose,” he whispered, inching closer to her mouth.

She sighed, her plump lips parting as she lifted her mouth in offering. Her luminous eyes closed, the thick lashes fanning her perfect cheeks. He was almost there. Almost could taste the sweetness of her lips.

He traced the curve of her jaw with his thumb.

Ivy cried out.

Jerking back, he said, “I think she wants—needs—you.”

As though in a daze, Rose slowly blinked up at him, her eyes heavy-lidded. The baby let out an ear piercing wail and Rose started. “I-I have to feed her,” she stammered as a dull flush crept up her face. She slid past him, the sound of her retreating footsteps echoing in the hallway.

Breathing heavily, he rubbed the back of his neck. What the hell had he been thinking? Oh, that was too easy. He hadn’t. Instead he’d gone full-out caveman on her. Again. Although in her store, he’d done it to shake her up a little. Okay, to be really honest he’d done it because of pure male ego. He’d had to know if she was still attracted to him.

He leaned his head to one side and then the other, trying to relieve the pent-up tension. His raging hard-on let him know that it wasn’t working. He’d been celibate by choice for months now.

Brilliant forethought.

A door shut. Rose’s? He wondered if it was locked. Of course it would be locked, especially to him. He’d already hurt her once before, and it didn’t matter he’d apologized, because he had lied to her about coming back and he was lying to her still. She was right not to trust him.

That would have to change.

Sasha scrubbed his face with his hand. Dinner, or supper as she called it, would be him at his best. At his non-groping or -ogling best. He would eat, make small talk, help with the washing up, get his luggage from her Jeep and go straight to his room. Alone.

He wasn’t here to seduce her. Hell, he wasn’t here to get laid by anyone. He had a job to do. One that turned his stomach when he’d been given all the details. One that had kept him up at night when he’d made his own suggestions to help further things along. Never before had he loathed his talent for manipulation—at least not at this magnitude.

From now on, it would be pure business for everyone involved. It would require a little finesse and a whole lot of double-talking, but there were some things a man needed to do. Some things a man needed to stand up for.

God, he needed a lie down.

He turned the glass doorknob and went into his room.


Rose took a deep breath and then another, trying to steady her nerves as she fixed a bottle for Ivy. Sasha living here wasn’t going to work. It couldn’t. He was too damn male, too damn attractive, and she was too much of a damn fool when it came to him.

She’d almost let him kiss her.

Agreeing to let him live here had so not been because of jealousy (or so she tried to convince herself.). It was because she needed the money and because she couldn’t let Jemma Leigh get hurt for the hundredth time. Plus, Rose knew without a doubt that Jemma Leigh and Jeremy belonged together.

As a Holland, it was Rose’s duty to give love advice. To nudge it along. Even if she’d rather bash them over the head and yell, “Wake up, you idiots!”.

Ivy wailed.

Rose shook the bottle, mixing the warm water and powder together. “It’s coming, honey.” Scooping her up from the crib, Rose pressed a kiss to the baby’s forehead and teased the silicon nipple into Ivy’s mouth. Love and a deep commitment to giving this child the stability she never had swelled inside of her.