Authors: Janis Harrison
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This book is dedicated to three ladies who free up my time so that I may write. My thanks to Cathy Bartels, Sugger Gauchat, and Melissa Roberts.
As I write this acknowledgment, the words of a John Cougar Mellencamp song run through my mind. I've always lived in a “Small Town.” I most definitely daydream in this small town. I probably haven't seen it all in this small town, but I've seen enough. I won't forget where I came from, and I won't forget the people who care about me.
On that note, I'd like to express my appreciation to the following:
Librarian Phyllis Jones and her board of directors for the wonderful book signings they've held in my honor.
Attorney John Kopp for attempting to answer my strange questions.
To the citizens of Windsor, Missouriâpopulation thirty-two hundred. Thank you for allowing me to be myself in this small town.
“Death tapped me on the shoulder, so I figured my time was up.” Oliver adjusted the strap on his overalls and looked at me. “Bretta, that heart attack nearly sent me to my grave.” His eyes sparkled when he grinned. “But I'm still here. I've got holes to dig, only they aren't for my old body.”
I touched the leaves of the golden spirea shrub Oliver was about to plant. “Old gardeners never die. They just
He chuckled. “Ain't it the truth. Fifty years ago, when I began my landscaping business, my only qualifications for a job were my love of plants and a new spade. This is that original tool.” Oliver caressed the worn handle. “Whenever I touch this wood memories of bygone years flash into focus.”
Oliver lowered his voice. “But I can't trust my memory like I used to. Since I came home from the hospital my old noggin goes out of kilter. I see things, remember things, but I don't always make the connection.”
“Your body has been through a rough time.”
“Yeah.” Oliver nodded. “That's true.” His grip tightened on the wooden handle. “One thing is for certain. I haven't forgotten how to plant a shrub. My father was a gardener pure and simple. âJust as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined.' From an early age I knew what my course in life would be.”
I watched Oliver ease the sharp tip of the spade into the soil. He was a nice man, and I enjoyed visiting with him, but I wondered if it was a good idea for him to be working. He appeared to be in fair health, but his heart attack had been just six months ago. His eyes were bright, his weathered cheeks flushed, but that could be from the warm sun shining on us.
River City Commemorative Park was a lovely place on this June morning. A gentle breeze stirred the oak and maple leaves and carried the sweet scent of petunia blossoms. Birds twittered with importance as they brought food to their newly hatched offspring. It was peaceful and should be an ideal spot for a wedding. Just how ideal would be proved a week from today when the Montgomery/Gentry nuptials put my flower shop's reputation on the line.
When Evelyn Montgomery first approached me with plans for her daughter Nikki's wedding, I'd seen the event as a way of stretching my artistic talents, as well as getting the word out that I was capable of more than sympathy and hospital bouquets. I'd visualized turning the park into a floral fantasy. My shop would get the kudos, and my River City floral competitors would choke on my creative dust.
If my husband, Carl, were alive, he'd have cautioned, “Bretta Solomon, when ego comes into play, the brain takes a holiday.”
I hoped my little gray cells were stretched on some sandy beach soaking up sunshine, because the rest of this ego-ridden body had been trapped into making sure every floral detail of this wedding was perfectly executed. I would triumph if it killed meâand the way things were going, it very well might.
Since my initial contact with Evelyn, my doctor had treated me for a severe case of hives. I also had a persistent burning in the pit of my stomach that disappeared only when I was sure Evelyn was otherwise occupied. Too many times, I'd been surprised by her popping into the flower shop to have a “brief confab” over a detail we'd settled an hour ago.
Today's appointment was for ten o'clock, but it was only nine thirty. I'd come to the park early so I could look over the lay of the land and perhaps zero in on something that would soothe my ragged nerves. It had been my good fortune to find Oliver Terrell and his son, Eddie, hard at work on the plantings Evelyn had donated to the park.
As Oliver lifted another scoop of dirt, Eddie said, “Dad, take a break. I still think it was a lousy idea for you to come on this job. I could've handled it.”
Eddie was around my ageâforty-fiveâand had fabulous blue eyes. I was sure he had hair, though I'd never seen it. A cap bearing his company's nameâTerrell Landscapingâusually sat atop his handsome head.
Oliver took a red handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his brow. “I'm fine. I need this work to get in shape for when we tackle Bretta's garden next week.”
I flexed my fingers. “I can hardly wait. I plan on being right alongside both of you, pulling weeds, chopping stumps, wheeling mulchâ”
“âsmoothing Ben-Gay on your aching muscles,” finished Eddie.
I grinned. “Probably, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. Being a florist is more cerebral than physical. I don't get much exercise toting bouquets.”
Eddie dumped a wheelbarrow load of shredded bark on a tarp he'd spread near the shrubs Oliver was planting. “Surely, toeing Mrs. Montgomery's line has kept you in tiptop shape?”
I reached into my pocket and flashed a roll of antacid tablets at him. “Does this answer your question?”
Eddie grunted. “I should buy stock in that company.”
“When Evelyn asked me to design the flowers for her daughter's garden wedding, I listened to her general outline, then calmly replied, âSure, no problem.' And there's been problems galore.”
Eddie muttered something under his breath. I didn't catch his comment, but Oliver did. “A job is a job, son. We're here to please the customer.” Oliver turned to me. “I haven't met Mrs. Montgomery, but from what Eddie has told me, it sounds as if she has more money than common sense.”
Wasn't that the truth? I left father and son to their work and meandered down the path that led to the area of the park known as Tranquility Gardenâthe site of the upcoming nuptials. For weeks, I'd reminded myself that Evelyn Montgomery had a right to be persnickety. As mother of the bride, she wanted everything perfect for her daughter's wedding.
Nikki and her fiancÃ© were on a tour of the United States with a ballet company from France. When the troupe hit St. Louis, they'd be a hop, skip, and a pirouette from River City. There would be a two-day layover before the dance company continued on with the tour.
Two days to be fitted for gowns and tuxedos, the rehearsal, and the main event. Thank heavens, I only had to make sure the flowers were petal perfect.
I stuffed another antacid tablet into my mouth and heard voices off to my left. The tone of one stood out from the other: Sonya Norris, wedding coordinator, had arrived. Brides paid dearly for her services because if a job had to be done, and done right, Sonya would see to it. She wouldn't physically do the work herself, but her instructions would be carried out.
The women came into view. Sonya was tall and thin and favored “power” suits, tailored blouses, and plain gold hoop earrings. Her hair was dark and cut in a no-nonsense style. Today she was dressed in a teal-blue straight skirt and matching jacket. Her blouse was a lighter shade.
The woman with Sonya was Dana Olson, a River City caterer. I liked Dana. She was as sweet as the cakes she baked. Soft and pudgy, her figure was a testimonial to her prowess in the kitchen. For children's parties she not only decorated the cakes but also dressed as a clown. This added bonus had made her popular with frazzled mothers.
As the two women walked toward me, I had a mental flash of Dana in total clown regalia cutting the Montgomery wedding cake. The image made me shudder. Why had Evelyn given Dana, whose forte was birthdays and anniversaries, total responsibility for the food for such a lavish party? Perhaps Sonya was thinking along those same lines. Now that they were closer, I could make out their conversation.
“âcan't bring all that food across this path to the tent. There's to be a display of flowers, candles, and hurricane lamps. Think, Dana,” Sonya ordered sharply. “You'll have to hire extra help to carry your supplies from the other side.”
“I already have three girls on the payroll. I'd like to make a profit for all this worrying.” Dana shook her head, and her brown curls bounced. “And to think I turned down four ordinary birthday cakes and a golden anniversary to cater this wedding.”
“It will work,” said Sonya. “My job is to spot a potential problem, but you have to follow my suggestions.” She turned to me. “Bretta. It's good to see you here early. I hope everything is shipshape on your end of this gala?”
I only had time to nod before Dana started again.
“That's all well and good, Sonya, but where were you this morning when Mrs. Montgomery called to tell me to look at the sunrise?” Dana didn't wait for an answer. “Our mother of the bride wants me to match that particular rosy apricot color for the punch.” A hot flush stained Dana's plump cheeks. “Who gives a flying fig about the punch when the cake has to tower six feet in the air?”
“Six feet?” repeated Sonya, frowning. “I thought the cake was to be spread over three tables with sugar bridges connecting the tiered layers. When was that changed?”
“Try eight o'clock last night. Mrs. Montgomery says Nikki has decided she wants a cake that will stand as tall as her six-foot fiancÃ©.”
“Oh my,” said Sonya. “Not a good plan. The tent is to have a wooden floor, but as people walk about, the shifting of the boards might toppleâ”
“Don't even say it.” Dana moaned. “I wish I'd never taken this job. I feel as if I'm being punished. Nikki will be in St. Louis. Why not have the wedding there?”
I added my two cents to the conversation. “I have to admit I'm surprised Evelyn would hold such an important event in a town she's called home for less than a year.”
Sonya shrugged. “She's made more influential friends in the last eight months than I have all my life. You should see the guest list. The mayor is coming, as well as bankers, doctors, lawyers, councilmen, judges, and all of River City's elite. At last count there's to be five hundred people milling around this park.”