Love Blooms on Main Street

BOOK: Love Blooms on Main Street
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For Avery

Acknowledgments

None of this would have been possible without the two great women I have in my professional corner. I would like to thank my editor, Michele Bidelspach, for her sharp insight and intuitive guidance in the fine-tuning of this book. I'd also like to thank my agent, Paige Wheeler, for her hard work and unwavering support.

Thank you as well to Lori Paximadis, Carolyn Kurek, Marissa Sangiacomo, and everyone at Grand Central Publishing who had a hand in the publication of this book.

Thank you to my friends and family, who continue to cheer on my writing endeavors.

And of course, thank you to my readers, for welcoming my characters and their stories into your homes and hearts.

CHAPTER
1

I
f Ivy Birch closed her eyes, she could still feel the sweet taste of Brett Hastings's lips on her mouth. Still feel the flutter of anticipation as he leaned into her and she realized that finally,
finally
, after years of waiting and hoping, her lifelong crush was actually going to kiss her. Her pulse still skittered as she replayed their first touch, so tender, so wished for, but her heart began to positively pound when she remembered the way he brought his arms tightly around her waist, pulling her against that hard chest, the heat of his breath and body so all-consuming she still got dizzy just thinking about it! And oh, did she think about it. More than a little. More than she probably should.

The bell hanging over her shop door jangled, and reluctantly Ivy pulled herself from her dream world, opening her eyes and blinking rapidly at the long-stemmed roses she still clutched in her hands, in a vain effort to unite with reality and not cling to that one, wonderful moment that had come and gone so quickly. So quickly, in fact, that she sometimes wondered, a little disconcertedly, if it had ever really happened at all. Seven months had passed since that bliss-filled night of her best friend Grace's wedding to Brett's cousin, Luke. Seven months with nothing to hold on to but a memory.

Seven months that should have been spent reminding herself of the phone call that never followed, the roses that were never sent, and the plans that were never made…

“Ahem!”

Ivy jumped, turned quickly, and nicked her hip on the corner of one of her wooden display tables, sending a glass vase askew. She caught it before it shattered to the floor, ignoring the water that had sloshed, and adjusted the irises. Grimacing against the pain, she smiled cheerfully, hoping the same would be offered from her impatient customer.

Mrs. Griffin, Briar Creek's resident innkeeper, just stared her down and pinched her lips a little tighter. “I was beginning to think you'd fallen asleep,” she huffed.

Ivy laughed easily and shook her head. Mrs. Griffin was a regular at Petals on Main—in here at least twice a week—and such loyalty was never overlooked. “That would be quite an accomplishment, now, wouldn't it? I had an early morning,” she said. Long before the doors of Petals on Main opened, she was hard at work trimming stems, going over orders that had come in overnight, and making sure each plant presented was in the best condition possible.

“At the inn, I start my day at four sharp,” Mrs. Griffin remarked. “Sunday through Saturday, and I've never slept through the alarm once in all these years. My guests expect a hot breakfast and a newspaper set outside their doors when they awake, and I wouldn't want to let them down, after all.” She gave Ivy a pointed look.

Ivy stifled a sigh and grinned a little wider instead, even though she was clenching her teeth. She and Mrs. Griffin had one thing in common, and that was customer service, no matter how inconvenient. She'd put too much time and energy into the flower shop to let things slip through the cracks now, and between forgetting where she'd set the scissors for thirty-five minutes this morning (in the storage room's mini-fridge: troublesome) and failing to place the order for vases before close of business yesterday, she was in danger of just that. All because she couldn't stop thinking of Brett. It was juvenile, she knew. After all, the man had only kissed her. It wasn't like he'd proposed marriage or anything.

Marriage
. Ivy's heart skipped a beat. Imagine that.

Her eyes roamed to a beautiful bouquet of peonies, in creamy shades of pale pink and apricot, and she could almost feel the stems in her hand, brushing the ivory satin skirt of her dress. Or would she go with lace? Once there had been a time when she imagined Brett waiting at the end of the aisle for her, but with heavy disappointment, she'd finally erased that image from her mind. For the most part.

“Ahem!”

Snapping to attention, Ivy felt her cheeks grow hot as she guiltily met the innkeeper's gaze once more. “Sorry,” she muttered. Okay, this was officially ridiculous. She couldn't exactly carry on like this indefinitely, not unless she wanted to be alone
and
broke.

Mrs. Griffin folded her arms in front of her calmly as amusement glinted in her steady gaze. “If I didn't know better, I might think the love bug had finally caught up with you, Ivy Birch.”

Ivy snorted at the use of the term
love bug
. “Just lost in thought. There's a lot to do today,” she added. She checked her watch with a start. My, how time flew when you were having fun, or thinking about Brett Hastings. Dr. Brett Hastings. Dr. and Mrs. Brett Hastings.

This had to stop. Next thing she'd be doodling his name on scrap paper. She was thirty—who
did
that?

She blew a strand of hair from her forehead and made a few quick calculations. Mrs. Griffin liked to take her time with her selections, hemming and hawing over seasonal varieties and color schemes, careful to ensure the bouquet in her lobby was both elegant and understated and, above all, welcoming.

“Were you thinking of roses this week?” Ivy asked.

“No, I thought I'd peruse
all
of my options today.” Mrs. Griffin bent to smell some blue delphiniums. “Not quite what I had in mind. Welcoming and understated, but certainly not—”

“Elegant.” Ivy knew. She crossed the room and gestured to a personal favorite. “Sweet peas are certainly special and, in my opinion, unexpected.”

Sometimes she wondered where she came up with this stuff. She loved her job, loved the simple pleasure of being surrounded by beautiful, colorful flowers every day, loved the creative freedom she had in putting together a mixed bouquet, but what she didn't like so much were the indecisive clients. God knew she had enough of those with her brides, and there were more and more of them popping up in Briar Creek these days. It seemed like everyone was getting married. Everyone but her.

“Hmm, those certainly are pretty and different from my usual arrangements.” Mrs. Griffin hesitated and tapped her pointer finger to her lower lip. “Let me think about this…”

The door chimed again, and right on cue, Jane Madison walked in, carrying a blast of warm June air. It was already muggy and it wasn't even noon, but Ivy didn't mind. It just meant hydrangeas and delphiniums and calla lilies were bursting into bloom, and who couldn't be happy about that?

Ivy grinned at her future sister-in-law, and began untying the strings on the apron she always wore in the shop. She'd hoped to freshen up before Jane relieved her, but she'd been too busy daydreaming and now there was no time, unless she wanted to be late. Still, she'd grab a quick snack for the road, just so she didn't have a sugar crash.

“I actually have an appointment, Mrs. Griffin, but Jane will be able to assist you. She's quite the expert with arrangements these days.”

Jane could barely suppress her smile. “I have to admit I'm having more fun planning this wedding than I did my first.”

“Probably because you have that cute little girl to share your excitement,” Mrs. Griffin said. The whole town knew how much Jane's now six-year-old daughter, Sophie, was looking forward to being a flower girl again.

“That, and Henry.” Jane glanced down at the ring that Ivy had helped her twin brother select this past winter. The wedding was scheduled for September, and with any luck, that meant in only a few short months, she might be spending another wedding reception flirting with Brett. Not that she'd be letting him kiss her again… not unless he explained where he'd been for the past seven months. Though he lived in Baltimore and rarely visited, phone or email would have been better than nothing.

“Right, well, I'd better be off,” Ivy said quickly. She left the women to mull over the bright spring blooms and ducked into the storage room, where she hung her apron on the hook and grabbed a few crackers from the box she always kept on hand. If traffic—and her car—cooperated, she'd get to the appointment with room to spare. Then she'd have every excuse to sit and relax and think about exactly what she'd be wearing the next time she saw Brett Hastings… She'd show him what he'd been missing.

And he wouldn't know what hit him.

Half an hour later, Ivy darted through the automatic doors of Forest Ridge Hospital, cursing under her breath. Thanks to her car's less-than-reliable temperament, she was now five minutes late to her appointment. That and sweating like she'd just run a marathon, when really, she probably couldn't run to the end of her block if she tried. She plucked the front of her sleeveless white cotton blouse in an effort to air it out, and then dropped into a chair to cool down. Soon she'd have to get a new car, or at least do something about the current one, but repairs cost money—money that could be spent on more important things, like a new sign for her shop or additional help.

Her blood glucose monitor was in the inside pocket of her tote, where she always kept it now, and one prick confirmed what she already knew. Sprinting through a parking garage and taking the steps instead of waiting for the elevator had dropped her blood sugar level, and now she'd need to eat to bring it back up. She fumbled in her bag for some pretzels and quickly tore open the packaging.

She knew that regular exercise was part of her doctor's plan, but honestly, who had the time?

Make time.
Henry's voice echoed in her head. But that was easy for him to say. He didn't spend hours on his feet, and he didn't have to work long into the night to make sure the books were balanced and orders were placed on time. He didn't worry that his creation could make or break a wedding day or would mark an occasion that only came around once in a lifetime. Too often customers consumed her shop hours, not that she minded their company, but that meant her workday extended long after she'd turned the sign on the door.

Still, she made a mental note to get in shape before Jane and Henry's wedding. She'd try that Pilates class her friend Kara was always raving about. She'd get highlights, too, and have her legs waxed—just in case. She'd be toned and smooth, with an air of
je ne sais quoi
, as the French said, and, of course, impossible to resist. And Brett would have to kiss her again, right then and there, with a newfound eagerness and a promise never to go back to Baltimore again.

Ivy shook away the fantasy. Time to face reality.

She tossed the plastic wrapper in the trash and pressed the button for the elevator. She tapped her foot with growing impatience as the metal doors slowly unfolded, eager to get inside and up to her appointment, but as the doors opened fully, all anxiety of running late disappeared and a newfound dread landed squarely in its place.

Brett Hastings, object of her childhood and, of late, adult fantasies stood before her, tousled brown hair and all. Ivy blinked at him, wondering if her imagination had finally gotten the better of her, and resisted the urge to reach out a finger and poke him, just to put herself in check.

But no, he was real. Real and, as luck would have it, oh so much cuter than she'd even remembered. His chin was tipped slightly, accentuating the shadow of its cleft, his hands were casually tucked into gray slacks, his nut-brown hair glistening under the fluorescent lighting, and those perfectly arched brows furrowed with thought as his eyes bored steadily through her.

She could have stared at him all day, until she felt the slow, cold drop of sweat that had collected just over her top lip in her mad dash through the parking garage begin to trickle…

She licked her lips quickly and smiled as if nothing was amiss, as if her heart wasn't thumping against her rib cage, or that she hadn't dreamed of this moment night and day for months until she'd come to accept the fact that like plenty before him, the man simply wasn't interested.

“Brett!” She tried to casually toss her hair over her shoulders, but the damp locks clung firmly to her neck.

Brett's brow pinched slightly. “Well, this is a surprise.”
To say the least.
“What brings you here?”

Given that Brett Hastings rarely surfaced in the state of Vermont since he'd first left for college a dozen years ago, Ivy thought she should really be the one asking that question, but right now her tongue was tied, her brain had gone mushy, and she was blinking as quickly as her eyes would let her as her gaze raked over his broad shoulders to the hard wall of his chest to the black leather belt on his pants.

She snapped her eyes upward. So he was hot. Plenty of men were good-looking. Not that she'd had the pleasure of kissing them all…

“Just an appointment,” she said casually, hoping he wouldn't press further. She'd kept her diagnosis to herself ever since she was a kid, and even as an adult, she preferred it that way. Briar Creek was small, and people in town had held enough opinions on how she had grown up. Why give them any more ammunition? Besides, now was hardly the time to bore him with tedious details like her battle with diabetes. Now was the time to rekindle the romance they'd shared that brisk autumn night. Or at least bring it to the forefront of his mind…

The man
was
busy, she reminded herself. And he did live several hours away. And he did look damn good in that dress shirt. Maybe she could find it in her heart to cut him a little slack…

Brett jutted his lower lip and rolled back on his heels, his gaze roaming over her quickly before shifting away. She let her eyes linger on those lips, and felt her own part slightly, wondering if he might catch her subtle reminder.

Instead, he folded his arms and cocked his head. “Have one of those myself, actually,” he said with a lazy grin, and Ivy felt a warm tingle spread over her skin. That grin was her undoing every time, ever since the seventh grade, when she'd beat him in a math bee and he'd congratulated her after class. He checked his watch. “In fact, I hate to run, but I don't want to be late.”

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