Oh, my heart. This book ripped it out and repaired it again all in a matter of hours. What a wonderful story of love and redemption, not to mention second chances, revenge, trauma, growth, and healing.
I loved this beautifully crafted journey. I couldn’t put the book down, Samantha Young’s eloquent words spun such a web around me. I felt so deeply for Jane and Jamie as they grew from traumatized adolescents to broken adults and their path to healing was just magical.
It was sweet and sexy, hopeful and heartbreaking – everything you could want in a novel. This one is going to stick with me for a long long time. 5 stars!
To my siblings, Jane was a friend. A pseudo-sister, the girl we grew up with.
To me? She was everything.
Our passion consumed us.
When our world fell apart, I thought our love would be the thing that held us together.
She was the love of my life. But she abandoned me when I needed her most.
And I’ll never forgive her.
For years I’ve been planning my revenge against the people who took everything from me.
Jane won’t be an exception. I’m coming for her.
She knows it.
She says she wants to help me serve my version of justice on the people who hurt me.
I’ll let her.
She probably thinks it will save her from me.
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I stared dully at my painting. My creative mood had left the building, under the weight of the many questions going around and around in my head. Adrenaline made it hard for me to sit still. Cursing Jamie under my breath, I grabbed my laundry basket and headed toward the front door. Peering through the peephole, I double-checked his door was shut before I left my apartment. Glowering at his door as I passed, I hurried downstairs. How the hell had he maneuvered himself into my building? And why?
To my gratitude, the laundry room was empty as I crashed around inside it. I hauled out my stash of detergent and softener from my allocated locker and started separating my whites. That rat bastard. My heart raced, sweat gathered under my arms, and it agitated me. An encounter with Jamie was the equivalent of fifteen shots of caffeine.
And I hated that he knew I was lying to Asher. Something he could easily hold over my head.
“You are a very angry laundry doer.”
Jamie’s deep, rich voice startled me. Trying to control my breathing, I glared over at him standing in the doorway. Arms and ankles crossed as he leaned casually against the jamb. He wore a T-shirt and jeans. Nothing had changed there.
He was still the sexiest man I’d ever seen.
God, I hate him.
“What the hell are you doing in this building?” I turned my back on him, marching over to the stacked washers and dryers.
“I had no idea you lived here,” he lied, his voice growing closer as he crossed the room toward me.
Attempting not to react physically, to not hunch my shoulders in tension, I stared unseeing at the machines. What was I in the middle of doing again?
“What a surprise to find out you’re my neighbor.”
I snorted in disbelief and turned around, shocked to find him already in my personal space. “Liar.” I dragged my gaze insolently down his body and back up. “Move away. And I mean that in more ways than one.”
“Oh, does my presence bother you?” His wicked smile caused somersaults in my belly.
“What are you doing here?” I ignored his proximity. Okay, I tried to ignore his proximity.
In answer, he stepped into me and I stumbled against the machines at my back. Jamie pressed the palms of his hands on the dryer, caging me in. My breath caught and held as his scent flooded me. That dark, earthy scent was enticing, and my body betrayed my emotions.
Feeling panic rise, I pushed at his chest, but he wouldn’t budge. “Jamie?”
Those ocean eyes wandered over my face, cold, calculating. “He doesn’t know who I am. You haven’t told him.”
I lowered my hands. Touching him was even more discombobulating. “No.”
He bent his head toward mine until our noses almost touched. I sucked in a breath. “I wonder why you’re keeping it from him?”
Determined not to let him see how much he affected me, I glared up at him. He’d only have to touch me, hold my hand, to realize I was trembling. His face was so familiar. His lips were lips I’d thought I’d kiss for the rest of my life. Why did the pain of it never dull? Why did it still feel like a shard of glass through my chest? “Did you leak those tapes of Foster Steadman to Asher’s mom?”
Something menacing flashed in his eyes before he banked it. “And if I did?”
“Are you being smart, Jamie?”
“Are you asking out of concern for me or for your billionaire boy toy?”
“Never mind. I don’t care.” The bastard dipped his nose to my throat, and I tensed against the stacked machines. He inhaled, his nose brushing my skin, and my fingers bit into the washer behind me. “You smell different,” he whispered, lifting his head to my ear. “Expensive perfume. You’ve come up in the world.”
I felt his breath caress my skin seconds before his teeth touched my earlobe. Gasping, I instinctively pushed my palms against his stomach as he bit down hard, causing a flush of heat between my legs.
With a dark chuckle, Jamie released my ear after one last nibble and whispered, “Is he the jealous type, Jane?”
About S. Young:
Samantha Young is a New York Times and #1 International bestselling author from Stirlingshire, Scotland. On Dublin Street was Samantha’s first adult contemporary romance series and has sold in thirty countries. She has since published over thirteen romance titles including the New York Times Bestsellers Into the Deep, Hero, and her most recent contemporary romance Fight or Flight. When writing Adult Paranormal romance she writes under the pen name S. Young.
Unforgettable, an all-new swoon-worthy not-to-be-missed second chance romance from USA Today bestselling author Melanie Harlow, is out now!
My Take: WAHHHH I don’t want it to be over! I love this series so much. Each sister’s story has been perfection, I wish there were more Sawyer siblings skulking around so we could get more Cloverleigh Farms.
Finally we get April’s story. Her very tough choice has been touched on through the series, but now we get the full story of her decision to put up her baby for adoption at age 18 and how she learns to move on. She has to learn to put the guilt and secrecy of her past behind her so she can move forward as an adult to have healthy relationships.
Tyler is flawed but understandably so. Once lauded for his talents, he crashed and burned in the most public of ways. He goes on a journey to figure out how to get over his disappointment and learn to put someone else first.
I love them together, I loved their history, I love this book, I love Melanie Harlow. 5 enthusiastic stars!
Blurb: Back then, I had it all. Wicked fastball. Killer instinct. Cocky grin. Full package. (And believe me, I knew how to score.) My senior year, I was a first round draft pick with a two-million-dollar signing bonus. Before I could even legally buy myself a beer, I made my Major League debut. Point is, I was invincible. Until one day I wasn’t. After tanking my career—during the World Series, no less—the last thing I want to do is return to my hometown, where every jerk in a ball cap has an opinion about what went wrong with my arm. So when my sister drags me back to town for her wedding, I vow to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. Then I run into April Sawyer.
In high school we were just friends, but I’d always wanted her, and I’d never forgotten her—the red hair, the incredible smile, the crazy, reckless thing we did in the back of my truck the night we said goodbye. It’s been eighteen years, but one look at her and I feel like my old self again. I can still make her laugh, she can still take me down a notch, and when the chemistry between us explodes, it’s even hotter this time around—and I don’t want it to end. But just when I think I’m ready to let go of the past and get back in the game, life throws me a curveball I never saw coming.
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“Baseball was the only thing I ever did that made my dad proud. Without it, what’s left?” I swallowed hard. “How about the rest of your life? All the amazing things you’re going to do and be? Maybe you can’t see them yet, but I can.” He turned around and looked at me. Took my face in his hands. “No one has ever seen me the way you do.” I smiled. “Maybe no one ever bothered to look beyond the surface—I mean, you’re Tyler Shaw. The surface is pretty nice to look at.” He kissed me hard then, and deep, his tongue penetrating my lips, his hands sliding into my hair. The kiss grew hotter as he moved me backward toward the bed, shoving his pants down, and lifting me onto the sheets.
“God, April,” he whispered as his mouth traveled down my throat and his hands roamed over my skin. “I want you so much. I want you so much it scares me.” “Why?” I arched beneath his lips and tongue and teeth and palms and fingers as they moved over my body. I put my hands in his hair. “Because I keep imagining this life with you, this life full of things I’ve never wanted before.” “What kinds of things?” As much as I loved his dirty mouth, his sweet words were just as thrilling, and I wanted to hear them all. “I want to share a bed with you every night. And wake up to you every morning. I want to make breakfast for you, see you in the stands at Central High baseball games, reach all the stuff in the high cupboards in the kitchen. I want to be the one you come home to.” I smiled. “Don’t be scared. I want all those things too.” “But what if I fuck it up?” He kissed his way up the center of my chest and braced himself above me. “What if I’m not good at it? What if I don’t deserve it?” “Tyler.” I took his face in my hands. “You deserve it. Do you hear me? You deserve to be loved the way I’m going to love you.” Then his mouth was crushing mine and we were pressed chest to chest, rolling sideways with our arms and legs tangled as we tried to get under each other’s skin. He left my side only for the twenty seconds it took to put a condom on, and then he was back, easing into my body. When he was buried deep, he stopped and looked down at me. “I don’t know what the second act of my life is going to look like, but I know you’re the best part of it.”
My heart, already beating hard, threatened to burst right out of my chest. “Really?” “Yes.” Tell me again, I wanted to say, even as his mouth possessed mine once more and he began rocking into me with deep, steady strokes. Let me hear those words again, because they meant I didn’t have to be alone anymore. They meant the risk was worth it. They meant that finally I could say to myself . . . This is what it feels like to fall in love.
USA Today bestselling author Melanie Harlow likes her martinis dry, her heels high, and her history with the naughty bits left in. When she’s not writing or reading, she gets her kicks from TV series like Schitt’s Creek, Homeland, and Fleabag. She occasionally runs three miles, but only so she can have more gin and steak.
Melanie is the author of the CLOVERLEIGH FARMS series, the ONE & ONLY series, AFTER WE FALL series, the HAPPY CRAZY LOVE series, the FRENCHED series, and the sexy historical SPEAK EASY duet, set in the 1920s. She lifts her glass to romance readers and writers from her home near Detroit, MI, where she lives with her husband,
Under The Rose returns us to the thrilling world of Codex, an elite private detective agency that excels at finding stolen literary property, whether it be books or letters. The story follows Freya, whom we met in Behind the Veil, as she reunites with her old college nemesis and current FBI agent Sam. They are forced to work together to uncover stolen love letters … and possibly crumble a secret society while they are at it.
I love this book! Enemies to lovers is my absolute JAM and it’s done expertly here. There is so much steam and so much pent up emotion and passion … with a hefty side of mystery, intrigue, humor, suspense, and romance. Seriously what more could you want? Freya is a badass, unafraid to take a man down all while battling very relatable struggles. Sam is strong, devoted, responsible, and willing to put it all on the line for love. 5 stars!
She’s about to go undercover with her arch-nemesis…
From the outside, the gorgeous Freya Evandale seems like a quirky bookworm with a taco addiction. Most people would never guess she’s a proud drop-out of the FBI’s training academy and a highly-skilled computer nerd. These days, she’s happy as a private detective at Codex, specializing in stolen rare books.
That is until an old nemesis with an arrogant smirk and superhero shoulders ends up in her office.
Special Agent Sam Byrne is a tightly-wound workaholic with a secret…or ten. When a betrayal leaves him questioning his career with the Bureau, consulting for Codex seems like the perfect place to hide. But he certainly never expected to see Freya again. At the academy, their rivalry was legendary. And their sparring sessions resembled an actual battle, or worse… foreplay.
Now these enemies are forced to play nice as they go undercover to infiltrate a secret society. It’s a dangerous world of power, wealth, and shifting alliances. The higher the stakes, the harder it is to resist the true reason behind their rivalry. But surrendering to years of pent-up lust is a direct threat to their mission…and their safety.
Author’s Note: If smoldering enemies-to-lovers, volcanic repressed lust, secret tunnels, gun-toting bad guys, and delicious slow burns are your jam, Under the Rose is for you!
Get it here!
Under the Rose links:
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Under-Rose-Kathryn-Nolan-ebook/dp/B086HVT6F1
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B086HVT6F1
Goodreads TBR link: http://bit.ly/2IWn8MR
Kathryn Nolan links:
Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/2UNSJFW
Reader Group: https://bit.ly/341uaty
Gunnar Erickson has moved to Green Valley to train at his older brother Cage’s MMA gym. After a freak accident he finds himself at the hospital, where he meets ER nurse Frankie. Frankie hates violence and complications, and doesn’t want to fall for Gunnar’s charms. Can he prove to her he’s not an uneducated brute, despite his violent career?
Oh man oh man Gunnar Erickson is perfection. Patient, understanding, sensitive, strong, sweet, thoughtful, I could go on and on. Maybe a little more patient and thoughtful than a 22 year old dude normally is, but hey- it’s a romance novel, things can be unrealistic and still enjoyable.
There is such a good balance of really difficult topics and humor. Some heavy, emotional things happen and it’s written with a delicate hand. It doesn’t rely on overly kooky plot lines, its a simple story of two people falling in love while dealing with past trauma.
If you’re familiar with the Green Valley universe you’ll recognize some of the secondary characters and locations, but I truly don’t think you would need to read the rest to understand this book (you should read them anyway though). This was such a great way to kick off the spring SmartyPants Romance launch!
If opposites do actually attract, then Gunnar Erickson and Frankie Reeves take the cake.
Frankie Reeves is complicated, even though she won’t admit it. She fills her days working as an ER nurse, taking care of her mom, and searching for the father she never knew. Anything else has no place in her perfectly compartmentalized, purposefully simple life. Attachments? No thank you. She has no time for that.
Gunnar Erickson recently moved to Green Valley to train at Viking MMA with his brother Cage. Being the youngest of the Erickson clan, he’s always felt like he has something to prove, and now that he’s finished with college, it’s his time to shine. But before he can step into the ring, a freak accident sends him to the ER and into the care of one Frankie Reeves.
While he’s immediately smitten, she pretends to be unfazed by this six-foot-three, two hundred and thirty-pound beef cake. Gunnar sets out to prove to Frankie that, not only does she like him more than she wants to admit, but he’s not the uneducated, brute she assumes he is. To Frankie, he’s the worst kind of complication, but that doesn’t make it easy to stay away.
‘Beef Cake’ is a full-length contemporary romance, can be read as a standalone, and is book #4 in the Donner Bakery series, Green Valley World, Penny Reid Book Universe.
“I wanted to see you,” I admit. There’s no sense in beating around the bush. If she doesn’t know I’m into her, then I really need to reevaluate my strategy, or up my game.
Opening the door, she turns her back to me and I see the way her shoulders lift then fall, and when she speaks, she sounds distracted. “Can you just—I can’t deal with this. I don’t have time to deal with you, okay? I’m not interested. Leave me alone.”
I feel my entire body deflate. She wants me to leave her alone, I’ll leave her alone. But since we’re here, talking, and this might be my last chance, a part of me I can’t ignore wants to make sure her disinterest isn’t because I’m a fighter.
“Okay. Fine. But do you mind if I ask why?” I get the feeling she has her guard up all the time. I get it, I do. She’s a beautiful woman, but it’s got to be exhausting. Somehow, I’d still like to prove that it’s not necessary with me.
She slowly turns back around. “Why what?” It’s obvious she’s trying to avoid answering, so I spell it out for her.
“Why aren’t you interested?” I ask, keeping it casual and relaxed as I take a step back until my back is flush with the side of the truck. I don’t want her to feel threatened or pressured, but I do want her to talk. So, I’m hoping if I give her a little space, she’ll open up.
“You can be honest, it’s cool.” I shrug. “I’m just looking for some constructive feedback here. So, do you not find me attractive?” I ask, unable to keep from smiling. “Or are you just not into blondes? Or muscles?” I continue, trying a more playful approach, and it works. The side of her mouth pulls as she fights back a smile, her cheeks heating.
“I—you know I find you attractive,” she mumbles reluctantly, the stain on her cheeks warming to red.
I nearly sigh in relief but stop myself, because this means her disinterest has its root in my fear. “Frankie,” I continue softly, “is it because I’m a fighter?”
Her gaze cuts to mine and she presses her lips together, and that’s all the answer I need. My stomach drops.
We stand there like that, watching each other, and she sways toward me, her eyes conflicted.
“Listen,” I tell her, sighing, putting my hands in my pockets. “Go on one date with me, pretend I’m a lawyer, a doctor—”
She snorts, rolling her eyes. “I wouldn’t go on a date with a doctor either.”
“Fine, pretend I’m a window washer.”
Now her lips twist to the side to hide a new smile.
“I promise I won’t talk about MMA or cage fighting. Just one date. If you’re still not interested, I’ll leave you alone. And I’ll leave you alone now if that’s really what you want. All I’m asking for is a chance . . . and a date.”
She eyes me and I can tell she’s giving it some thought, which is hopeful.
Patiently, I wait for the final verdict, hoping it’s not a no.
“You’re incredibly persistent.” Still struggling with her smile, she sighs in mock exasperation.
Am I proud of the fact I’ve convinced her to give me a shot in such a short time? Yes. And no. Yes, because I set out to do something and nothing makes me happier than accomplishing a goal. No, because I hate that I had to do it in the first place. I’ve never had to convince someone to talk to me or go out with me. But her misconceptions about me based on what I do don’t sit right.
Thumbing my bottom lip, I give her a smirk. “I’ve been told my persistence is an attractive quality.”
She finally—fucking finally—fully smiles, and it’s everything. The sun, the moon, the stars. I swear it just lit up this dark-as-fuck parking lot. “Is that so?” Her tone is different. She’s losing the chill and I’m thinking there might be a warm, soft center under that thick layer of ice.
And, fuck if I don’t want to find out.
“Tomorrow morning,” she announces, interrupting the fantasy of her curves under my hands.
“Morning?” I ask, not sure I heard her correctly. With the blood leaving my brain and flowing to my dick, it’s possible I wasn’t paying attention.
Crossing her arms, she copies my stance, leaning against her car. “Yes, tomorrow morning. Daisy’s Nut House. If we’re doing this, we’re doing it on my terms, and I’m busy. That’s my only offer. Take it or leave it.”
I get the feeling she thinks her offer is going to scare me off or change my mind, but she’s badly mistaken. “Tomorrow morning,” I confirm. “What time?” She could tell me two o’clock on the moon and I’d make that shit happen.
Again, the quirk of her head tells me it’s a challenge. One I gladly accept.
“I’ll be there at six thirty,” I counter.
There’s an air of skepticism whirling around, but I’ll be happy to see her look of surprise when I’m sitting in the parking lot of Daisy’s Nut House tomorrow morning when she arrives. Shit, I might drive over there now and sleep in the truck, just to make sure I’m early.
Her laugh, although disbelieving, is music to my ears. It might also be my new favorite sound.
Shaking her head, she gets into her car without another word and I stay put, watching her buckle up and drive off. I’m pretty sure she stops and looks back at me before turning out on the street. Could be my wishful thinking, but I’m going to roll with it.
About Jiffy Kate
Jiffy Kate is the joint pen name for Jiff Simpson and Jenny Kate Altman. They’re co-writing besties who share a brain. They also share a love of cute boys, stiff drinks, and fun times.
Together, they’ve written over twenty stories. Their first published book, Finding Focus, was released in November 2015. Since then, they’ve continued to write what they know–southern settings full of swoony heroes and strong heroines.
Trouble brings us back to the wonderful world of Dogwood Lane, and it is my favorite book in the series so far! Each book gets better and better. Flirtatious carpenter Penn Etling is knocked for a loop when new-in-town Avery Perry doesn’t fall for his many charms. Not used to being turned down, Penn finds he can’t let Avery walk away. Avery has a secret: She’s already experienced Penn’s charms many years ago but he doesn’t remember. She knows that she can’t let history repeat, but fate (or her aunt) keeps throwing them together.
I loved the relationship between Penn and Avery, and Penn and Matt, and Penn and Dane, and Penn and… okay maybe I just loved Penn once he stopped the constant innuendo. He takes a real journey on the love train to find out his views of himself and relationships maybe aren’t as hard coded as he thought. There is hilarious banter, serious sparks, and lots of familiar favorites from the previous books. 5 stars
She wants something real. He wants something now. Together they’re trouble in USA Today bestselling author Adriana Locke’s sexy and funny twice-in-a-lifetime love story.
With his shameless grin and let’s-play swagger, carpenter Penn Etling leaves women wanting in Dogwood Lane. What do they get? Avery Perry knows: a one-night stand. She’s been there. She remembers every hot pulse as if it were yesterday. But Penn? He doesn’t remember a thing. Now he’s making new moves, and Avery’s not falling for trouble…again. Is she?
How could the beautiful stranger resist him? Avery is going to be a challenge for the bad boy. She’s the kind of woman who digs deep—deep enough to see there’s more to Penn than meets the eye. But first she has to give him a chance. She has to say yes. Could she also be the woman to make him change his playboy ways?
When these two come together, it’s hard to pull them apart. But with love and trust on the line, can Avery and Penn get what they both want? This time for keeps?
My Take: I loved it! This is a great addition to the Washington Wolves family, and the Ward family as well. It’s always fun to see characters we’ve met and loved already, and this sets up a new world for the Ward sisters. This could absolutely be read as a standalone, since its “next gen”.
I loved the relationship between Molly and Noah and how it changed and evolved from when we first met them. I love a grumpy leading man, and Noah did not disappoint. Plenty of sparks, humor, and just a small amount of sports talk- just how I like a sports romance. 5/5 stars
If you’ve ever seen your teenage crush ten years later, and he turns out to be a complete jerk, then you know how Molly Ward feels.
The last time she saw Noah Griffin was the regrettable day that she decided to climb into his bedroom window and turn her unrequited crush into something more.
That day was bad enough, but things are about to get worse.
Noah has become one of the best football players in the country, and he’s just landed on Molly’s front step.
As a new addition to the Washington Wolves roster, Noah’s presence is the key to Molly’s promotion in the front office.
The problem is, Noah wants nothing to do with Molly, and his surly attitude is making her job very difficult.
But he’s got another thing coming if he thinks Molly will be intimidated by one grumpy football player, no matter how much he hates being around her.
Once these two go head to head, their mutual dislike explodes into undeniable chemistry. But with what they have at stake, they just might detonate everything else along with it.
Michelle Claypot_reads “All the stars in the world for this! What a way to kick off my reading for 2020!! Oh my heart! This was absolute perfection.”
The Overflowing Bookcase “A wonderful novel that will become one I will re-read time and time again.”
PP’s Bookshelf “I just love when authors make me feel every single confusing, infuriating, breathtaking and heartbreaking feeling right in my heart. And Karla Sorensen did exactly that in Focused.”
Well, let’s see … I’m a wife and a mother. If the things that I write bring a smile to someone’s face, then I’ve done my job. I am obsessed with Outlander (both the books and the show). I’m almost exclusively a romance reader, which means some people will never consider me a literary snob. If I could meet one historical figure, it would be Jane Austen. I received my Bachelors in Public Relations and worked in health care marketing before I had my babies. I hate Twitter. I do it, but I hate it. Also, if you want to get on my good side, bring me wine and I’ll love you forever.
My Take: This book is a wonderful example of what romance novels can be- full of humor, love, heat, drama, but most of all romance. It’s pure poetry combined with the occasional dick joke. There was section after section I had to reread because it was so enchantingly written I didn’t want to miss one single word or intention. Truly this is Staci’s most beautifully written novel so far, and I was already a giant fan.
I tried highlighting my favorite lines but I found I was just highlighting multiple pages at a time, which defeats the purpose of a highlight. I guess the whole thing was my favorite part. It is a book to take your time with, curl up with, let it take over and make you fall in love.
The wait is over! Gilded Lily, the second standalone in Staci Hart’s Bennet Brothers Series, is LIVE! Trust me when I say you do NOT want to miss this one! Lila & Kash are everything. Grab your copy today on Amazon or snag this beauty in Kindle Unlimited today!
They say there’s no such thing as perfect. But I’ve built my life to perfection—the perfect boyfriend, the perfect apartment, the perfect career planning celebrity weddings. My job—my only job—is to make sure every event is absolutely and completely perfect. What’s not perfect? Kash Bennet. And I wish I didn’t find that so appealing. I could have told you every perfectly imperfect thing about the gardener at Longbourne. Like his hair, lush and black and far too long. Or his nose, the flat bridge of a Greek god, bent a little like it’s been broken. Or his size. Beastly. Roped and corded with muscles, gleaming with sweat and peppered with dirt. There’s no escaping him, not if I’m going to use his family’s flower shop for my events. But nothing is what it seems. And in the span of a heartbeat, my perfect life is turned inside out. They say the best way to get over somebody is to get under somebody new. When Kash offers his services to the cause, it sounds like the perfect plan. What’s not part of the plan? Falling in love with the gardener. But they were right—there’s no such thing as perfect. And I’m the fool who finds out the hard way.
A SPADE’S A SPADE
Heaven existed within the walls of our greenhouse.
The shuck of my shovel against the iron wheelbarrow was the second hand on my day. Rich soil mounded on my spade, and I transferred it into the bed of Black-eyed Susans, turning it to feed the sleepy dirt already gathered at the flowers’ feet.
I caught sight of the snowy top of my father’s head between stalks of amber amaranth down the row where he knelt, hands in the earth. He hummed along with the music playing from the portable speaker on our work cart, and with another shuck, I drove my shovel back into the wheelbarrow.
It was peaceful and familiar, the rhythm of our day, the slanting sun, the humid air and smell of flowers. I’d worked in my family’s greenhouse during high school—as had all my siblings—but where they made their way into the world, I hung back, content to hang back at Longbourne with Dad, unable to leave Mom without anyone to fuss over. And if there was one thing Mrs. Bennet required from life, it was someone to fuss over.
I found myself smiling at the thought. She’d see us all married off—in fact, she played the matchmaker like it was her full time job—but I had to wonder what she’d do with herself once we were all gone. Press us for grandchildren and divert her attention to them, if the rest of the Bennet brood was lucky.
The crack of the swinging metal door against the wall wiped that smile off my face. I shot up from my task with a hard look, appalled and accusing, prepared to smite whoever had disturbed our sanctuary.
Lila Parker blew in like a gale, heels clicking like hammers against the cement floor. At the sight of her, my fury abated, replaced by a curious wonder and the incremental slowing of time that always accompanied her entrance.
She was a study in white, pristine and stern in a pantsuit that belonged in some fancy lady’s luncheon, not a greenhouse. Her legs were ten miles long in those white pants, the matching jacket cut low. A sliver of silken nude fabric was the only thing to mar the line of her cleavage, which my eyes followed before climbing up her lily-white skin, up the long column of her neck, to the set of her uncompromising little jaw.
God, she was pretty when she was mad. Shame she had a boyfriend.
I’d known Lila since high school, the notorious rule follower and teacher’s pet, thumbing her nose at the trouble the rest of us got in and refusing invitations to parties in favor of SAT prep. Her sister, Ivy, worked here then and stuck around like I had, and though Lila’d had every opportunity to join the gang, she’d happily declined. She’d ignored me then, and she ignored me now, outside of storming into our flower shop to get onto us—or me specifically—for whatever wedding we had, were, or would provide flowers for. As a high-profile wedding planner, I supposed that was her right.
The only bearable thing about it was the chance to give her just a little hell, simply because I knew she could take it and I could take whatever she gave back.
As she approached, her lips set in a firm line, red as blood against the milk of her skin. The bridge of her nose was short, though long enough to look down at everyone from her high horse—or high heels, as it were—but her eyes always struck me beyond all else, cool and gray as a winter’s afternoon, tight with suspicion, hard with the bite of demand. Incongruent to the impeccable, pallid shades of snow was her hair, a shining crimson too bright for all that ivory. It was as perfectly right as it was utterly unnatural, the only indicator that she ran on hot coals and gasoline, just waiting for a match to strike so she could ignite. Just as she had once a week—typically in my direction—since she’d started using Longbourne’s flowers for her events.
That red hair bounced with every click of her heels as she rounded the corner of the aisle and marched toward me, her eyes narrowing another tick when they met mine. Tess, our lead florist, followed with an apologetic look on her face.
My lips tilted higher on one side. And with a shield of calm, unaffected charm in place, I leaned on the handle of my shovel, ready to catch whatever Lila threw at me.
“Coral,” she snapped as she approached. “You were supposed to give me coral chrysanthemums for the Berkshire wedding, and you sent pink.” She stopped a few feet in front of me, crossing her arms.
I offered an easy smile. “I cut those flowers myself, picked the best stock from our Gigi mums, just like you asked.”
“Then why were they the wrong color? Do you have any idea the tantrum Johanna Berkshire threw over those flowers? She tried to get me fired.”
A chuckle through my nose. “Sounds like she needs to get some real problems.”
She eyed me as she drew a breath to fuel her furnace. “For years, my sister has begged me to bring Longbourne business, and I refused for exactly this reason. If it hadn’t been for all your recent press, I never would have put my ass on the line. But if I say coral, I expect coral. Not pink. Not fuchsia. Not goddamn watermelon or flamingo or anything but coral.”
“Sorry, Ms. Parker,” I answered lazily. “Won’t happen again.”
“You’re damn right it won’t.”
“How about we issue the Berkshires a partial refund for the trouble?”
Suspicion sparked in her gaze. “I’m sure that would help.”
“Then consider it done.”
Those cool eyes narrowed even more. “I need someone to come to a venue in Midtown to measure for arbors and garlands. They’ve requested an archway, and one of you needs to come take the measurements.”
Dad cast me a glance that said not it. The way Tess glared at the back of Lila’s head, I figured she’d just as soon claw her in the back with a hand rake than help her measure anything. Lila’s sister Ivy—who was a florist at Longbourne—was entirely too pregnant to measure anything but her uterus, and Wendy, our newest addition, just wasn’t experienced enough.
My brother Luke might have done it, but something told me I wanted to be the one to handle Lila Parker.
“Sure. When and where?”
“Tomorrow, if you can manage it. I can meet you at three, 49th and 5th. I’m going to need an archway long enough for the wedding party to stand inside, and the arbor will need a special design built in the shape of a triangle. It’s at the—” She paused, lips flattening. “Shouldn’t you be taking notes?”
I tapped my temple. “Got it all right here.”
Color rose in her cheeks as she drew a slow breath through her nose. “I really think you should write it down.”
“What, don’t trust me?”
“I don’t know what instills more faith—that you can’t tell the difference between shades of pink or that your shirt says Can You Dig It? on the front.”
I glanced down at my chest, flicking at a streak of dirt like I gave a shit what she thought. “Listen, Priss. I’ll be where you say, when you say, ready and at your service.”
A pause while she stared me down, seeming to weigh her options. “All right, Filthy. Can you at least wear a clean shirt? This venue books for two-hundred-thousand per event, and I don’t want to have to get you in through the service entrance.”
“Deal,” I said, extending a hand in challenge. It was as filthy like she’d said, with crescents of dirt under my nails and enough soil in the creases of my palms to grow zucchinis.
Her eyes dropped to my hand, and for a moment, I was positive she’d refuse. But somewhere in that pretty little head of hers existed some form of manners and a healthy helping of pride, so she slipped that spotless, manicured hand into my dirty, callused one.
It was soft and warm, though her fingers were strong, gripping my hand and pumping it once, firm and definitive, before taking it back.
Instantly, I felt guilty for daring her—her skin was spoiled with streaks and flecks of dirt. To her credit, she didn’t even dust it off. Instead, she held up her chin and gave me a quietly confrontational glare.
“I’ll give Ivy the exact address. At least I know she’ll write it down.”
“Whatever you have to do,” I said, returning my forearm to the handle of the shovel, not missing the flick of her eyes to my shoulders and the cross of my arms.
“Tomorrow, then. Don’t be late.” She tugged tugged the hem of her jacket, straightening it to match the yardstick that was her spine, and once again I lamented taking her hand. A scuff of dirt now sullied the very edge of that white tailored coat.
Before I could apologize, she turned on her heel to walk away.
What she didn’t realize—the cat had taken up post directly behind her.
The moment stretched as she tilted in a successful attempt to avoid impaling Brutus with her heel, and when that heel came down, it caught in the seam of concrete. Her long legs twisted, arms shooting out for balance but finding none. Fast, but not fast enough, I moved for her, the shovel hitting the ground with a clang as that pristine white ass of hers landed flat in the Black-eyed Susans and that fresh coat of soil I’d just laid down.
Brutus took a seat next to Tess’s feet, curling his tail around himself and watching Lila with what I swore was a wry smile.
My urge to laugh was so intense, it caught in my chest, frozen by the sheer outrage on her face and utter hysteria of the sight of her, so clean and white against the browns and greens and golds of the flowerbed. A slow heave of her chest as she breathed fire. The pink of her cheeks flaring to red. The gray of her eyes igniting into a cruel shade of blue, illuminated by the inferno of her thoughts.
I stepped up, unable to school my face as I extended a hand, this time to help her up.
But she scowled, slapping my hand away. “I’ve got it,” she shot, planting her palms in the dirt to push herself up.
As I backed out of the way, I watched her swipe at her ass, too furious to realize she’d only smudged the dirt around.
Tess removed her hands from her mouth, unable to right her face any better than I had. “Here, let me help you—”
“I said, I’ve got it.” Lila’s voice was deadly calm, and at the sound, Tess pinned her lips between her teeth and stepped out of the way.
“Tomorrow,” Lila snapped at me over her shoulder, smoothing the shining waves of her hair, which remained undisturbed by her tumble.
“See you then,” I answered with a nod.
And then I watched that dirty ass stride proudly out the door.
The second it swung closed, laughter bubbled out of Tess, and at the sound, there was no containing my own. Even Dad joined in, shoulders shaking gently.
“Oh, the poor Susans,” Tess said, swiping at a tear. “Look, her ass print is still there,” she squeaked before succumbing to another bout of laughter.
“The look on her face,” I said with the shake of my head. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody so mad. Not even you, Tess.”
“And that’s saying something,” she added, resting her palm on her belly like she’d just done a hundred sit-ups. “God, if Ivy and Lila didn’t look like twins, I’d never believe they were related.”
“I didn’t remember her being this…” I started.
“I was gonna say bossy, but okay.”
Tess sighed. “She wasn’t kidding about sticking her neck out. She’s handling this huge celebrity wedding on her own, and her senior is a total asshole, breathing down her neck and micromanaging her at every turn. Addison is constantly looking for reasons to throw Lila under the bus, and if we screw up, Addison will blame Lila. But even though she’s a pain, the business is good for us. Archer Events handles the biggest weddings in the city, and that’s putting us in the spotlight. We’ve just gotta deal with all the stress that comes with doing weddings.”
“Like bridezillas and entitled wedding planners?” I asked.
“Exactly.” Tess sighed. “Although, I don’t know what we’re going to do with Lila when Ivy is on maternity leave and isn’t here to manage her. Today was bad enough, and Ivy was just at a doctor’s appointment.”
Dad dusted off his hands. “If she got past you, Tess, I fear for us all.”
“I tried to tell her it wasn’t your fault,” Tess said, her eyes full of apology. “Those flowers went through three florists before it got to the wedding—which I told her—but she stormed right past me to yell at you about it.”
I shrugged. “Don’t worry about me, Tess—I can handle her.” At the disbelieving quirk of her mouth, I added, “I mean it. She can get as mad as she wants and I won’t get riled. I’ll hold the bucket so she can dump all her rage into it, and when she’s empty of it, I’ll get whatever done that she needs done. Trust me when I promise you this—Lila Parker cannot get to me.”
At that, Tess laughed. “Famous last words.”
And oh, if I’d only known how right she was.
Want more Bennet Brother goodness?
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Everyone hates parts of their job. Maybe it’s the paperwork. Maybe it’s the day-to-day grind. Maybe it’s that client who never knows what they want, or the guy who always cooks fish in the microwave. But not me. I love every corner of the Longbourne Flower Shop, every flower, every petal, every stem. I love the greenhouse, and I love Mrs. Bennet, my boss. I love creating, and I love being a florist. I don’t hate anything at all. Except for Luke Bennet. The Bennet brothers have come home to help their mom save the flower shop, and Luke is at the helm. His smile tells a tale of lust, loose and easy. He moves with the grace of a predator, feral and wild. A thing unbridled, without rules or constraint. When he comes home to save Longbourne, I almost can’t be mad at him. Almost. He doesn’t remember that night I’ll never forget. That kiss, touched with whiskey and fire. It branded me like a red-hot iron. But it meant nothing to him. Everyone hates part of their job, and I hate Luke Bennet. Because if I don’t, I’ll fall in love with him.
Staci has been a lot of things up to this point in her life — a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom, with three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, though she’s certainly not the cleanest, or the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party, especially if she’s been drinking whiskey. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, sleeping, gaming, or designing graphics.