“The salads look good,” she said, trying to keep the conversation pleasant, yet neutral.

“Steak and lobster look better.”

“Hmm.” Her gaze travelled to the other side of the menu. “Too many to choose from.”

“What do you think of Bluebelle?” he asked, setting his menu to the side.

“Looking for some utter nonsense for me spout?” she couldn’t help but say, and then quickly turned her attention back to the menu. It wouldn’t do for her to flirt with him. Kissing was one thing, but flirting was extremely bad for both of them.

Oh, who was she kidding? It was all bad, because it all felt so very good to do with Gabriel.

“Maybe. Too bad I can’t read your mind,” he said, raising his brows.

She looked at him over her menu, thinking it was a lucky thing he couldn’t read her wayward thoughts, but she still couldn’t help but ask, “Why is that?”

Another one of those wicked grins covered his face, stealing her breath and making her pulse race. “Because I’m ninety-nine percent sure your lips would look all bee-stung when I was done with you.”

She sucked in a breath, her br**sts rising to the neckline of her dress, and Gabriel noticed. His gaze actually dropped there, for only a couple of seconds, before his blue eyes found hers. “Saw something you liked?”

“I did.”

The server chose that moment to take their order. Summer had no idea what she told the man, only that Gabriel’s heavy-lidded gaze never left her face. His knee brushed hers as she handed the menu to the server, and she gasped.

Emotionally off-balance, she slid her chair back.

Gabriel frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine.” She swallowed that lie, and then spouted off another one. “Just thought you needed more leg room, is all.” What was wrong with her? This wasn’t how she handled Gabriel. This wasn’t how she kept him at a distance. She should be the one touching his knee. The one running her foot up his leg.

He made a noise, his frown deepening, before he excused himself from the table. She watched him go, watched him cross the room, and head to the front of the restaurant where the restrooms were located.

After a couple of minutes of people watching, she stared at the ocean, at the waves as they rolled onto the shore, wishing she could be a part of it. Wishing she could dive in and float away. She could practically feel the cool water lap at her body, the weightlessness… the blessed quiet. Would anyone notice if she drifted away? Would anyone care if she had never come back to Holland Springs?

Rose hadn’t known the exact day Summer would appear at Strawberry Grove. Jemma Leigh confessed she’d made the whole thing up, but that whenever Rose and her husband would go out of town, the letter and key were placed in Jemma Leigh’s hands just in case.

Certainly if her sister had known, then Rose would have also known what Summer’s plans were all along, and wouldn’t have been so welcoming or forgiving. Summer wouldn’t have been, not one bit.

Or would she? Would either of them? Maybe the bonds of sisterhood were stronger than their past, than the reasons why Summer did what she did, and her sisters would accept her for it. Though, Skye still hadn’t returned from Colorado and no one knew when or if she ever would.

Maybe Skye had been the smartest of them all by moving away to pursue her dreams, while Summer and Rose couldn’t help but come back to Holland Springs, no matter what lay before them.

She sighed.

The flame of the candle danced and she held her hand over it, palm facing down. Burn my past away. Burn all that used to be me. Burn it all away. The candle seemed to grow hotter and brighter as she chanted the words in her head.

Burn the old me to the ground.

Gabriel returned to the table just in time to save Summer’s hand from catching on fire. Leaning over the table, he grabbed her wrist and moved her hand away.

She jumped, her brown eyes going wide at the sight of him. “Angel,” she breathed, and for once, the word sounded like an endearment.

“Are you hurt?” Turning her palm over, he tenderly brushed his thumb over the red spot in the middle. He kneeled beside her, bringing her hand to his mouth and kissing the center. “Playing with fire will always leave a mark.”

“I wasn’t playing.” She removed her hand from his grip, but he didn’t move from his spot.

“What were you thinking? I watched you for a full minute, before rushing over here.”

Her dark eyes turned wary. “Nothing to get me kissed.”

Yet another reason he’d excused himself from the table. He was acting like a teenager with self-control issues. Summer deserved more than to be pawed by him at every opportunity. She deserved more than him finding any excuse to touch her hair, her shoulder, or hand. She deserved a gentleman, in every way, and it was his job to be one.

“Are you having a good time?”


Another one-word answer. He exhaled and stood. As he sat in his chair, he asked, “After dinner, would you like to go for a walk on the beach?”

She nodded, and his heart sank more.

Thankfully, the server brought the appetizers, and then the entrees as soon as they had finished the seafood bisques.

Gabriel had never had such a quiet meal with a date, and not just any date, but Summer, the woman who was his childhood sweetheart. The woman, who at one time, he’d wanted to spend the rest of his life with, and the woman he’d thought he’d never see again, after he’d helped her through the heart-breaking decision of giving up Ivy.

He paid the bill, and began to say something to Summer, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her complete attention was on the ocean, as the sky faded from pale blue to gold and orange, then violet and indigo. She’d always been a lover of nature.

He simply gazed at her, at the rapturous, yet vulnerable look on her face. This was the girl he remembered. This was the girl who held him spellbound, not the woman who’d become hard and cynical, without joy.

A pale curl shifted, drawing his attention to her neck. It was slender and strong, like her. Everything about her looks had that duality about it. Slender yet strong, soft yet unyielding… sex kitten yet girl-next-door with her big, brown eyes and pouty lips…his best friend yet his worst enemy.

And now…now she would become his wife.

His wife.

“I’m ready to walk on the beach and talk about our favorite positions, and what turns us on,” she said, her smile so sweet it gave him a toothache.

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