Northampton Hearts, Book 3
Release Date:

May 12, 2022

ISBN:

978-1-956387-67-4

More From Charlee →

Six Days of Spring

by

Charlee James

Thrown back into a decades-old family feud, she discovers not all is fair in love and war.

When free-spirited potter Dahlia Reynolds and her dad take over running her sister’s shop, The Pickle and Preserve, for a six-day spring farmer’s market, she doesn’t expect to run into Tristan Black, the son of the man who greedily destroyed her family’s business. Despite learning he’s a commercial property owner like his father, Tristan seems different. Dahlia discovers he’s shy but charming, honest, and committed to helping his community. Her father is unforgiving, but Dahlia believes everyone deserves a second chance, and she’s giving Tristan his.

Tristan Black has lived in the shadow of his father’s mistakes since he was a teen. He’s determined to shed the aura of mistrust that plagues his family name, but his past is never far behind. When Tristan sees Dahlia again, the secret crush he had on her when they were kids blossoms. He longs for another chance with her, but how can they build a future when the past and her father’s fury surround them?

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When life gives you lemons, make marmalade.

Dahlia slipped outside the sliding glass door of her little bungalow, her old dog, Coconut—Coco for short—at her heels. The patio, one she’d laid herself with mismatched brick, stone, and concrete, was warm against the soles of her bare feet. Crystals she’d embedded within the materials glinted beneath the sun, a mosaic of color swirling toward the center of the terrace. A contented smile spread over her face as she crossed through the yard, a light spring breeze catching the hem of her long skirt. Grass that had gone a bit too long without being cut tickled her ankles.

Where the sun began to fade, foxglove speared from the ground, dripping with showy fuchsia- and blush-colored blooms. The chirp of spring birds joined the metal ping of Coco’s tags clanging together as she plodded along. The short, shady paths wound through shy ferns and delicate bells of lily of the valley. Reclaimed French doors groaned as she pulled them open. Coco, accustomed to their routine, made a beeline to her plush bed and dropped down. Her chocolate fur stood out against the lemon-toned fabric, as thick and wiry as the husk of her namesake. Intelligent amber eyes locked on her for a moment, before Coco dropped her head onto one of the overstuffed edges of the bed. The adorable mutt would be snoring before Dahlia could ball a piece of clay for her wheel. She spun her long hair into a messy bun at the top of her head and secured it with the elastic at her wrist. She tied a work apron around her waist. The saying on the front, WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE MARMALADE, never failed to make her smile. More because her sister thought up sayings for the merchandise in her shop that sold homemade preserves than because it was funny.

What started as a thrifty way to save their family money turned into a passion for Lacey, and a livelihood. When they grew tomatoes, they’d can them. Same with beans and squash and all the other vegetables they’d grown in their small shared summer garden at the apartment complex. Dahlia’s passion and escape had always been pottery. The smooth clay taking shape against her palms was soothing and empowering. She could build anything she wanted at her potter’s wheel. The cheerful jingle emanating from her pocket made her sigh. Who would be calling her at dawn? She frowned at the number on the phone, as her stomach tangled into a hard knot. Her father never called her this early.

She accepted the call and held the phone up to her ear. “Hi, Dad. What’s going on?”

“It’s Lacey.” His voice was wrought with concern. “There was a car accident, and she’s been admitted to the hospital with several broken bones. She’s stable, but she’s going to need surgery. I contacted Bennett’s cargo company, and they’re trying to get the message out to the ship.”

The breath emptied from her lungs in an exaggerated whoosh. She grabbed the edge of her work chair as she swayed on her feet. “Oh my God.” Those were the only words she could seem to muster. After losing their mother two years before to a brief but rapid illness, she didn’t think she could stand another loss. But Lacey was alive. Hurt, but alive. And she needed their support. Especially with her husband out to sea on a merchant marine ship for months at a time. Her sister had only just recently made her dreams come true by opening up a small shop in the city of Northampton.

A door slammed on the other line, followed by heavy footfalls. Her dad was on the move. Fast. “She’s at Northampton Memorial,” he said breathlessly. “I’m headed there now.”

“I’m right behind you.” Her voice trembled. She was already on her way back out of the shed, Coco scrambling to keep up. She packed an overnight bag, tossing in clothes and dog toys without really looking at the contents. Coco followed her out the front door fifteen minutes later and jumped into the driver’s seat, then over the console just before Dahlia slid behind the wheel and secured her seat belt.

“We’re coming, Lacey.”

The drive from Connecticut to Massachusetts was the longest of her life. She sped most of the way, making it there in just under two hours. After dropping Coco off at the small apartment above Lacey’s shop, The Pickle and Preserve, she rushed over to the nearby hospital. Her heart didn’t slow until she was at her little sister’s bedside.

“I’m so glad you’re okay.” She gave Lacey a fierce hug, drawing back when her sister winced. “Sorry. I just…I wasn’t expecting you to be conscious. I know you’re hurting, but broken bones can be fixed.” She shook her head, turning away so her sister couldn’t see the tears pooling in her eyes.

“Hey,” Lacey said softly. “I’m okay. Some big lug ran a red light and T-boned me. My car looks like an accordion, but hey, it’s only metal and steel.”

“You’re alive and that’s all that matters.” Dahlia breathed deeply through her nose, trying to regain her composure. “Anything else is secondary.”

“Except the shop. I’m just so worried. We only opened six months ago. I’ve been reassured by the sales so far, but if I close the doors now, I might never get them open again.” Lacey chewed at her bottom lip, a nervous tell that had developed in childhood.

They paused their conversation as the door swung open. “I brought up some coffee.” Their father put down the tray and came to the bedside, embracing Dahlia in one of his usual bear hugs.

“Hey, Dad.” The familiar scent of aftershave and leather cut through the hard detergent and antiseptic of the hospital.

“Dahlia flower,” he said, giving her a tight squeeze before releasing her. “You must’ve broken every traffic law getting here.” He’d called her that for as long as she could remember. Dahlia flower and Lacey-loo.

“Just about.” She rolled her shoulders, easing the ache of being hunched over the steering wheel of her car, stiff with stress.

“I think we’ve had enough car accidents in the family for one day.” Lacey’s dry tone tugged at her heart. Her little sister’s tough façade only meant she was feeling scared. “You better take it slow and easy when you drive home this afternoon.”

“Afternoon? Are you kidding me, Lace?” She paused as a nurse was paged over the intercom. “You’re hurt. I’m not going to leave you until I’m sure you can take care of yourself. And I’m certainly not going to stand by while you close your store.” She wanted to take her sister’s hand to comfort her, but the IV was taped securely to her skin. Dahlia ran her hand over her sister’s hair instead.

“Bennett will be back soon. I talked to him this afternoon, and told him under no circumstance is he to come home because of a little crash. I’ll be fine, Dahl. It’s not like you don’t have your own business to run.” There it was again. That false bravado that Lacey desperately clung to.

“It’s different. I don’t have a storefront, and the plus to having zero social life outside of Coco is that I have a huge inventory. It will be a win-win. Coco and I will get a nice change of scenery and I’ll be able to whittle down my overstock.” She’d spent weeks at her potter’s wheel after discovering the man she’d been dating for months had deceived her. Finding out he had a wife and child was a terrible blow to both her moral character and her sense of judgment. Had she loved him? No. But the shock of the experience made her question everything. She’d been a complete fool. Whether she’d missed the signs because she was naïve or had subconsciously blocked them out because she’d been charmed by his attention, she still wasn’t sure. She hoped to God it was the first. Even Lacey didn’t know the real the reason why Chris had abruptly exited her life. Dahlia was too ashamed to tell her.

“Speaking of Coco, where is she?” Lacey’s eyelids drooped, her speech slightly fuzzy. Bruises of various shapes and color bloomed over her face, a reminder of the serious crash she’d been in earlier today. With several fractures, Lacey must be up to her ears in pain meds. It was a miracle she was discussing everything so lucidly, but she was starting to fade.

“I dropped her off at your apartment.” It wasn’t uncommon for her to visit Lacey some weekends while Bennett was out to sea, and she and Coco were a package deal. There wasn’t really anyone she could ask to watch her shy, suspicious dog. They were both wary of people’s intentions; it was part of what made them such a great pair. Maybe it was why Coco trusted her when no one else at the shelter had been able to get near the stray. Lacey had bought an inflatable mattress for them to crash on in the event that they stayed overnight. Coco was slowly opening up to her sister because of their frequent visits, and her father, too. That’s where the dog drew the line, though. Baby steps were just fine with her.

“Good,” Lacey mumbled, then closed her eyes. Soon, the only sounds were her sister’s deep breathing and the steady beep of the heart monitor.

She glanced behind her when the privacy curtain that divided the room from the main door slid open with a shrill metallic ring. “I’m glad that last dose of painkillers has kicked in and she can finally get some rest.” She and her father both turned toward the door. A middle-aged doctor with striking features pushed her tortoise-shell glasses up her nose and glanced down at the tablet in her hands. A white lab coat covered a flowery dress, and her silver hair was loose around her shoulders. “I’m Dr. Cushing, head of the emergency department. Lacey has given me permission to share her care plan with you both. She didn’t want to be awakened unless we had a room come available on the preoperative floor.”

A tingling spread through her chest. “Are there any options aside from surgery?”

“The two bones in her arm, the radius and the ulna, will be set and cast. Due to the nature of the compound fractures in her tibia, the bone won’t heal with casting alone. If left untreated, the area will remain painful and swollen and might result in long-term nerve damage and range-of-motion challenges. As of now, both areas are very swollen, but we’re going to put Lacey on clear liquids at six this evening to prepare for the surgical procedure tomorrow.” The doctor swiped her finger across her tablet, and turned it so she could point out the bones in question.

It physically hurt to look at the X-rays. How had Lacey even held it together for their short visit? “How long will it be until she can function on her own again?” She licked her dry lips, and glanced down at her sister.

“Patients usually recover between eight and twelve weeks, but it depends on the individual and their unique injury. I’ll have our nurse practitioner review the surgical consent forms with Lacey once she wakes up, and please make sure to have me paged if there are any questions at all. It was nice to meet you both.” Dr. Cushing turned to exit the room, then paused and turned back. “I’m glad Lacey has her support system here. Sudden surgery can be stressful.”

After the doctor had retreated down the hall, Dahlia’s father motioned for her to step outside of the room. “She’s going to need someone to look after her and the store.” He stretched his neck from side to side, anxiety evident in his rigid posture. “Closing for eight weeks or more will crush her business. I can’t believe she told Bennett not to come home.” Her dad ran his palm down the length of his face. “Did you mean what you said about staying?”

She blew out a short breath, trying to calm herself. Lacey had never had surgery before. What if something happened? “Of course, we’re family. I would never leave her in a bind like this.” There was more conviction in her voice, but her insides were still trembling at the thought of anesthesia and surgical scrubs.

“What about your pottery? Who will handle shipments and get product to your sellers? It’s going to be a lot of running back and forth. Four hours in the car to your home and back would be a tough commute for anyone.” Dark circles had formed beneath his eyes, and the wrinkle between his brows was more pronounced.

“I don’t plan to go back and forth.” She wrapped her arms around her waist. “I’ll see about a long-term hotel stay or a by-the-month apartment lease. Last summer, I hired an art management undergrad at one of the local universities. She’s done some part-time work for me here and there. I’ll shoot her an email to see if she could pick up a few hours.”

Dad nodded, relief smoothing his features. “I’ll start looking at rental properties.” They both moved closer to the wall as a gurney driven by a young nurse squealed past. “Lacey’s place is cozy, but there’s only so many people you can fit in a studio. She’ll need to stay with us while she’s recovering, too.”

She snorted out a laugh. “Right. Have fun convincing her of that. You know she won’t leave her apartment, and she likes her privacy. As long as we’re close by, we can help her with the shop and her recovery.”

“I don’t like the thought of her staying at her apartment alone when she gets out of the hospital, but at least she’ll only be a phone call away. I expect we’ll be downstairs in her shop most of the time anyway.” They ducked back in the room as a team of nurses and doctors paced down the hall. There seemed to be a sudden surge in activity. Best to get out of the way and let everyone work.

“With the exception of the farmer’s market.” She walked over to Lacey’s bedside and drew the linens up. The air was cool despite the unseasonably warm day. Or maybe it was fear of what was going to happen over the next few weeks that had her wishing for a sweater. “Maybe she’ll decide it’s better to opt out this year.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen.” Dad crossed his hands tightly over his chest. “It’s a big deal here. The annual Spring Six draws people from all over the state. It’s not just stands with produce and plants. There’s a whole itinerary. A national pie-eating contest, artist exhibits, handcrafted merchandise. Exposure at the market could have a big impact on Lacey’s profit margin. I was planning on offering a hand before today’s accident. I am retired after all, but I can’t do it alone, and Lacey hasn’t been able to afford a full-time staff yet.”

“Then we’ll do it. You and me. We can handle it, and who knows, maybe I’ll rent a booth for The Scarlet Sheep next year.” That was the name of her pottery brand. It still gave her a thrill to find her pieces at gift shops and galleries across America. It was an incredible thing to make a living doing something she enjoyed so much. Not to mention, it freed her up to tackle situations like this.

“I hate to ask you to uproot yourself.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, and then dropped his arms to his sides.

She placed a hand on his back. “There’s no way I’d want to be any place but here right now.”

End of Excerpt

Six Days of Spring is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-956387-67-4

May 12, 2022

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