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Kelly Turner had a nice buzz going on, and it wasn’t from the alcohol she’d consumed. No, the pleasant feeling flowing through her was from the company she was keeping. Macy and Charlotte Cooper were so much fun. Gage, Charlotte’s husband, had greeted them at Silver Spurs when they’d arrived, wrapping his arms around his wife and kissing her so passionately, Kelly had blushed on their behalf. He’d then proceeded to take their daughter so Charlotte could enjoy her lunch. Without a doubt, if Gavin had been there, he would’ve kissed Macy just as passionately.
“Before I could stop her, Oil Slick jumped on the kitchen counter and proceed to swipe the piece of cooked chicken I’d taken out to cut up for my salad. When I complained to Gage, he just picked up the cat and crooned that his precious Oil Slick would never do anything like that.”
Kelly laughed. “I still can’t get my head around Gage Cooper being owned by a cat.”
“Trust me, he totally is. But”—Charlotte paused and took a sip of her drink—“it’s kind of sweet. Oil Slick seems to know when he turns the car into the driveway. She races to the door, and the second he opens it, she’s rubbing up his leg, begging to picked up. Soon she’ll have competition when Jacqui starts walking.”
Kelly sighed inwardly at the picture Charlotte was painting. That was the type of life she’d always imagined she’d have. The husband, kids, and pets. Everyone excited to see him when he got home from work. Her elusive husband kissing the kids’ cheeks, petting the dog and cat, and then his eyes would find her and a special sparkle would enter them. A sparkle just for her. He’d stroll across the room to her, pull her close, and kiss her with a passion that only increased over time.
This man would be her true soul mate.
She closed her eyes and her mystery husband’s face formed fully in her imagination.
What? No way.
A gasp escaped and her eyes flew open to find Charlotte and Macy looking at her, concerned expressions on their faces.
“Is everything okay, Kelly?” Macy asked, leaning across the table and placing her hand on Kelly’s arm. “You look like you’ve seen a vase full of dead flowers on a bridal table.”
Kelly spluttered. A vase of dead flowers would’ve been preferable to the image of Tate Prentice as her husband. Why the hell was she even giving him space in her mind? The chances of him playing happy family with her were as likely as her winning the lottery. So what if his recent visits to her shop had set her heart fluttering, a reaction that made no sense to her at all. “I’m fine. Just remembered that I hadn’t responded to an email. It’s okay. Nothing to worry about.” She was rambling, and from Charlotte and Macy’s right looks, her friends didn’t believe her. But they were good enough to let it fly.
Grabbing her drink, she took a long swallow. She really needed to go on a date. Anything to get the vision of Tate Prentice as her husband out of her mind. There were slim pickings of good-looking guys sitting by themselves at the bar when they’d walked in. With Gage bringing his business headquarters to Sweet Ridge, she had hoped there would be more opportunities for her. Then again, she hadn’t been actively looking, so how would she really know who was available? Time to change that.
In the corner, opposite from where they sat, she spied Tate’s older brother Tyler at a table, a folder in front of him and an intense look on his face.
Out of the three brothers, Tyler had always been the one who acted like the world was against him. He was as good-looking as Tate and Trey, but there was not one iota of spark or interest flaring to life inside her. Unlike when she looked at Tate. Ugh, she needed to stop. Tate was younger than her, and with his reputation around town, he was still in that playing-the-field phase of life. A phase she’d left far behind. Although she hadn’t done much playing when she’d been younger. She was beginning to sense a pattern about her love life.
Thinking about it, her ideal man would be someone older who had a bit of life experience. Edwin had been the same age as her and she’d thought they were a great match. Wrong. Oh, how she’d been so wrong about her ex and his lifestyle.
“There was another reason I wanted to meet with you today, Kelly.” The teasing tone had exited Macy’s voice and Kelly gripped her glass a little tighter. Everything in her was screaming for her to run away.
“Okay. This sounds serious.”
“Not really. What I’m about to ask is going to be a big task. And I know it’s short notice, but if anyone can pull it together you can.”
The more Macy talked, the more apprehensive Kelly became. What did her friend want of her? “Okay, I’ll listen, but I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to do what you want me to do.”
A chair scraped over the floor and Kelly looked to her right. She should have controlled the urge. Tate Prentice had walked in and was sitting down at the table with his brother. He took off his cowboy hat and ran his fingers through his brown hair, giving it the just-out-of-bed look instead of the flatness from wearing his hat. Tate chose that moment to look over at her, and his eyes widened with shock at seeing her. He nodded and just the corners of his mouth quirked up and dammit, her heart gave a little flutter at the gesture.
Hell, she needed to get control of herself. This was beyond ridiculous.
With a concentrated effort she returned his smile and then turned back to look at her friends. Both had sly little grins on their faces.
Now would be the perfect time for a sinkhole to open up beneath her chair and suck her down. No way was she going to be able to get away by answering her friends with a vague response.
“What?” she asked, trying to feign innocence.
“That was an interesting exchange between you and Tate Prentice. Anything you want to tell us?” Charlotte asked before clamping her straw in her mouth and taking a long sip. If it was an attempt to hide her smile, it failed miserably.
“Nope. He’s just been coming into my store a lot recently to buy flowers. Wants a different arrangement each week.”
“Hmm, I hadn’t heard he got himself a girlfriend,” Macy mused, looking over at the table where the Prentice brothers sat. Kelly resisted the urge to glance over to see if they were looking at them.
“You think he has one girlfriend? Just look at him and you have heard about his reputation, right? I’m sure he’s got many girlfriends.” Damn, she hadn’t been able to keep the snark out of her voice. Not to mention how telling it was to comment about his looks.
“You sound a bit put out by that thought. Care to tell us why?” Macy asked.
No way was she answering that. And Macy still hadn’t told her why she wanted to meet with her. Yes, she could turn the conversation back in that direction.
“What I’d really like to know is why you asked me here.”
Macy wagged her finger. “Uh-uh, I know what you’re doing here, and it’s not going to work.”
Kelly rolled her eyes. “Fine. You want to know why I have a problem with him? It’s because I don’t want to think of my flowers as being a kiss-off gift to Tate Prentice’s latest bed partner.”
Of course, the song would finish while she was speaking. Her words echoed around the bar and everyone looked her way, including Tate and his brother.
Seriously, where was that damn sinkhole when she needed it?
“Well, okay then,” Charlotte commented and waved a hand in the air. “Nothing to see here, folks. Go back to your beer.”
Another song blasted out of the jukebox and everyone did as Charlotte asked. Could this day get any worse? Everything in Kelly wanted to turn toward Tate’s table and see what he was doing. How he’d reacted to her outburst. Her cheeks burned and she didn’t need a mirror to know they were bright red.
“So, that thing I wanted to ask you, I’m not sure it’s a good idea now.” Macy toyed with her straw.
“Nothing you say now could be as bad as just announcing to the whole bar what I think of Tate’s personal life. I might as well shut up shop now. No one is going to want to buy flowers from me.”
Maybe she could look at getting back in accounting. Move to a big city again, where the chances of her being the main topic of conversation over the evening meal at Betty Lou’s Diner were slim.
She could learn to love numbers again, couldn’t she?
A shiver of revulsion swept through her at the thought of being chained to a desk instead of being free to create beautiful flower bouquets. Maybe she could find a florist job somewhere.
“Stop it, Kelly. Just because you said something about Tate doesn’t mean you’re going to lose business. Probably the opposite. You know how this town is, they’ll all drop by wanting your beautiful arrangements,” Charlotte said.
Well, hopefully, everyone felt the same way as Charlotte. She, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. She’d love to be proved wrong though.
“I agree with Charlotte. Here goes nothing.” Macy leaned forward and Kelly copied her actions. “You know I’m the new chairperson for Founders’ Day committee.”
“Yep. You’re doing an amazing job.”
“Thanks, Kel. I’ve got big shoes to fill, seeing as Meg Dawson has left and she could do everything with her eyes closed.”
“Macy, you’ve toured the country and the world. If anyone can wrangle the masses to do your bidding, it’ll be you,” Charlotte said, smiling big at her sister-in-law.
“I don’t know about that, Char, but I appreciate your vote of confidence. Anyway…” She redirected her attention back to Kelly, and immediately Kelly sat a little straighter. There was a glint of humor and challenge in Macy’s gaze, and she wasn’t sure she really wanted to know what her friend was about to ask of her.
“We’re going to change it up a little bit this year. We’ve decided to hold some events in the town square like always, but we want to have some of the vendors display their wares at another location.”
So far, it didn’t sound too onerous. It was fine by her to have her stand at the other location than the center of town. No doubt Macy had a plan to get people to and from both sites.
“That seems like a good idea. If you’re asking me to relocate to the alternate place, I’m happy to.”
“Well, that’s good to hear, but no, that’s not what I’m asking. What I want to know is if you’ll oversee the setup at the other location. You’ll have full control of where you want to place the stands. How you want to decorate them. We’re going with a red-and-gold theme for the satellite site and the usual red, white, and blue for the center of town.”
“But I’m not on the committee. Shouldn’t the person in charge of the other location be from there?”
“Well, yes, but I know you do most of the flower arrangements for the weekend, and I just think you have such a better eye for decorating than”—she lowered her voice to a whisper—“Mary-Beth Jones. God, I love that woman, but honestly, her sense of style is so outdated it’s not funny.”
Kelly had to agree. Mary-Beth was a much loved member of the community, but every time Kelly had suggested a different type of flower arrangement for the urns on either side of the stage, Mary-Beth had put her foot down and said, “You don’t mess with tradition.” So Kelly had done the same arrangements for the last few years. It would be nice to branch out.
Okay, so maybe the day was going to get better.
“I love the idea of being in charge of the decorations and the other location, but seriously, Macy, I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I’ll gladly assist, but it really should be a committee member who does this.”
Macy waved away her concerns. “I’m the chairperson. I can appoint subcommittees and others to help. I want you to do this. You know we need some new blood on the committee, it’s been the same folks for decades.”
“Well, sure, count me in.”
“Fantastic. It’s going to be so good. This year’s Founders’ Day event is going to be the best yet.”
“So was it your idea for the two locations this year? And isn’t it a bit late in the planning to go for two sites?” Kelly asked. Founders’ Day was held on the first weekend in August. It was close to the end of June, so not a lot of planning time.
“Umm, no.” Macy darted a look across to where Tate and Tyler appeared to be having an intense conversation.
And just like that the bad feeling returned. She had an idea of where the other location was going to be, and she hoped to God her intuition was wrong. Which it had to be because her intuition had never been right.
“Whose idea was it?”
“Well, you know the committee needs new people on it. Apart from me, Tyler Prentice took his dad’s place. He was the one who suggested the other venue.”
“Let me guess, the other location is the Prentice Peach Farm.”
Macy grimaced and nodded.
Damn, for once in her life, Kelly’s intuition seemed to be on point.
End of Excerpt