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Which made me want to prove her wrong.

Despite that, she liked me. In the moment when she’d almost kissed me, I knew. Maybe against her will, but she liked me at least equally as much as she hated me.

And that was something I could work with.

9

Double Take

TESS

I was all smiles, bouncing into the shop the next morning like a rubber ball.

The difference with the white walls was night and day, and to see it in full daylight was astounding. The space looked twice as big, bright and full of sunshine, the effect lost on me and Luke last night when we’d finished after dark. But this morning, Longbourne was illuminated. The long walls were pristine, the tables and displays back in place, and in the back, the register counter was framed by freshly scrubbed red brick.

He must have hung up the old wooden Longbourne sign above the counter this morning, and my heart twisted with emotion at the sight.

I hummed behind smiling lips, making my way through the shop. Ivy smiled up at me from an arrangement she was working on—succulents, ivy, flowers in water tubes, all planted in a glass apothecary jar. One of our living arrangements I’d come up with last year, which had become an instant success. Dean stood next to her as he sometimes did—especially when he delivered supplies a couple times a week—a human brick wall with a smile as shiny as Las Vegas, his big hand resting in the small of her back.

“Well, aren’t you chipper this morning?” Dean said.

“I know!” I answered.

Ivy shook her head, but she smiled broadly. “Gee, I figured all that manual labor would have you moving a little slower than this.” She gestured to all of me.

“I can’t help it. It’s window day!” I cheered. “Can you even imagine what it’s going to look like when I’m done with it?”

“I honestly can’t,” she admitted, “but knowing you, it’s going to be brilliant.”

“Come here and hop into my pocket so you can remind me of that all day.”

Ivy laid a hand on her belly. “I’m not fitting in anybody’s pocket anytime soon.”

With a cluck of his tongue, Dean pulled her into his side. “Just a couple more months, and I’ll have two pocket-sized girls.”

“Couple more months,” she grumbled. “She’d better be really cute.”

“She will be, ‘cause she’s gonna look like you.”

She nudged him but gave him the sweetest glance, just a flick of her eyes that conveyed her utter adoration. “Flatterer.”

I chuckled, resisting the urge to grab her around what was left of her waist and waltz her around the room. Things were looking up and looking bright. Everything I needed for the window installation had been delivered, and today, I’d finally see what Luke had been working on in whatever spare time he’d mustered.

I glanced behind Ivy, looking for him.

“He’s in storage,” she said with a smirk.

“Thanks, Ivy.” I beamed, pressing a quick kiss to her cheek as I bounced away again. “Bye, Dean!” I called over my shoulder as I pushed through the doors to the greenhouse.

The sound of an electric saw buzzed through the greenhouse, and as I descended the ramp to the basement, I saw Luke, his back to me and eyes down. That back, that shirtless back in all its muscular glory, was on display, already glistening with sweat at eight in the morning. I wondered how long he’d been here. But then, he’d been here every morning before me.

It was a new side of him—the responsibility, not his massive back—one that I was impressed by. One that inspired him to rise early and stay late, fueled by nothing more than his excitement and vision. His duty and dependability.

Extraordinary how it changed him.

Somehow, he’d gotten more handsome in the last seventy-two hours. Someway, when he spoke, I didn’t have to fight the urge to stuff moss in his mouth or shove his face in a pile of topsoil. It was probably because I’d decided to be his friend instead of assuming he was trying to sleep with me.

There was an enormous amount of relief in that. Not because I didn’t want to sleep with him. With him running around shirtless and using power tools, any hetero woman in her right mind would want to sleep with him.

No, it was because I didn’t know if I’d stop him if he did happen to make a move.

That was what I’d really been afraid of, I realized—my lack of will, given the assumption he wanted to make out with me.

You are such an egomaniac, I told myself with an eye roll.

By assuming he didn’t want to theoretically make out with me, I absolved myself from theoretically having to make out with him. And so, by taking the threat off the table, I’d cut my anxiety down by eighty-nine percent, thus easing my white-knuckle grip and generally making things more pleasant between us.


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