“Thank you,” she mumbled, picking up the sweet peas and submerging them in the bowl of water next to her to trim the stems.
“Hey, that’s my line,” I said with a sideways smile. I picked up a dahlia, measuring it to the vase before doing the same.
“You really don’t have to do this,” she said quietly, tightly.
“I owe you one, Tess. And honestly, I don’t mind. I’ve been doing it for Mom since I was little.”
She huffed a laugh. “So much for Hot Wheels and frogs.”
“Hot Wheels and frogs were why I was cutting flowers. You think I wanted to be making bouquets at eight? Mom nearly broke her neck on a car show I’d set up behind her table, and the frog came in a shipment of plants and lived in my pocket until it kamikazed into her lap. I arranged funeral lilies for a week.”
Another impatient laugh, coupled with the shake of her head. She hadn’t met my eyes. “So you have been a menace since conception.”
“As the youngest of five, it’s my birthright.”
Her cheeks flushed when she laughed again. Her eyes were rich and brown, like fresh-turned earth, her lips dusky rose to match her cheeks.
God, she was pretty. I could still remember the girl I’d known, the one who’d been my friend so many years ago. I couldn’t seem to recall what went wrong, where that friendship fell apart and turned into whatever this was.
“You know, there’s something I can’t figure out,” I said blithely.
“Why you’re so insufferable?”
“Why you don’t like me, Tess. Everybody loves me,” I joked.
Her face flattened, and she finally looked up at me. “Really? You can’t think of a single reason why someone wouldn’t—don’t touch my scissors.”
I lifted my hands like she’d pointed a gun at me. “Ever stop to think it’s not me who’s insufferable?”
“Nope, never. Not once.” She snatched the scissors I’d tried to use on the craspedia and pointed them at me. “You’re the most arrogant, ridiculous man I have ever met, and you just happen to be the very last man I’d ever entertain.”
“In the bedroom?”
“In the hemisphere.”
A laugh burst out of me. “Don’t worry, Tess. There’s plenty of time to change your mind about what latitude you can tolerate me in. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other now that I’m home.”
Her face bent in a frown, the point of the scissors dropping a hair. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I’ll be working here. Every day. Right over there.” I nodded to the counter. “Meet your new counter attendant and delivery boy.”
She sucked in a breath through her nose that threatened to seal her nostrils. “No.”
“All hands on deck if we’re going to save the shop from ruin. I didn’t think you’d balk at the help.”
“Well, you aren’t just any help, Luke Bennet. You are trouble, and you always have been.” She jabbed the scissors in my direction.
But before I could argue, my mom walked in, and as always, the universe tilted in her direction.
The moment I drew her into my arms, I was truly home.
And not one thing had changed.
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 loved every corner of that store, every flower, every petal, every stem. I loved the greenhouse. I loved Mrs. Bennet. I loved creating, and I loved making something beautiful.
I didn’t hate anything at all.
Except for Luke Fucking Bennet.
There were many adjectives to describe how I felt in that moment. Furious was paramount, followed closely by defensive and bewildered, touched with a hint of unease and a healthy helping of attraction, which was a noun, but also an undeniable fact between Luke and me.
He lit up like a lighthouse when he saw his mother, pulling her into a hug with arms like tree trunks. She squealed like a girl when he picked her up and spun her around wildly.
Wild. That was perhaps the best adjective to describe him. His hair, dark as sin, disheveled and untamed. His eyes, crisp and bright, a shade of blue so electric, so luminescent, it defied logic. Golden skin, kissed by the California sun that had shone on him the last five years. His smile told a tale of lust, loose and easy, given without thought or care. And though he didn’t have the discipline of a predator, his body moved with the ease and grace of a great black cat.
His lips said he’d come home to help save the shop, but his history said otherwise. I’d believe he ran out of money. Or that he was running from Wendy Westham, their marriage come unraveled, just like we’d all known it would. I’d believe just about anything beyond altruism.