“So someone left you a valentine. You can’t expect the world to know you don’t want one.”
Or so Wade Arkin’s assistant told him when he found what would be the first of several mysterious valentines, all from the same secret admirer. A recovering romantic whose heart had been badly shattered two years back, Wade refused to even wish others a “Happy Valentine’s Day,” let alone participate in it. Someone, however, was trying to lure him back into Cupid’s realm of poetry and roses by making him pick out gifts for a lover he didn’t even know existed. Yet with each valentine he felt himself wanting to believe again in the gods of romance and desire, to pray again to them, and believe, as he had once before, that his prayers would be answered. (M/F)
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The Gentle Rose was bustling, even though it hadn’t any customers. Carla, the owner, had hired two young delivery men for the holiday season and they bumped into Wade as they hustled arrangements out from the front area through a back door and into a van. Wade stepped around buckets overflowing with bright sunflowers, merry daisies and timid violets. The chilly shop reeked of flora.
“Hey, Wade.” Carla, slipping bright pink snapdragons into a heart-shaped vase, smiled up at him. She was an older woman with skin brown as hazelnuts and a lush figure. Cream ski pants hugged her round ass and a tight, v-necked sweater displayed her ample cleavage.
“Hey, Carla. Um….” He shifted foot-to-foot and considered turning around and just walking out. He was beginning to wonder, however, who this secret valentine might be. He’d made no overtures to any ladies, not since Joyce. A few, however, had flirted with him. Like Carla.
“Um…” He tried again. “Were you expecting me?”
“I sure was,” she said. “Just pick out what you want.”
He blinked. “What? I mean… what am I picking out?”
She raised a sassy brow. “What do you think? Curtains? I’ve been paid for a standard bouquet.”
“I… don’t understand. Someone bought me flowers?”
“No,” Carla said, all patience and amusement. “The flowers aren’t for you. You just get to pick them out.”
Wade frowned. Now he was really confused. Were the flowers going to the one who had sent him the card? Or someone else entirely?
“God, I love this day, don’t you?” Carla leaned on the counter, flashing her stunning cleavage. “I mean there’s another six weeks of winter out there, but in here…” She waved at the riot of petals and leaves. “In here it’s already spring. It’s like Valentine’s Day has brought all these flowers into bloom.”
She sighed with wonder, and it occurred to Wade that if Carla was the one who’d sent him the card… well, he wouldn’t mind. For a moment, he indulged himself with the fantasy of nuzzling and licking those heavy breasts, feeling those dark nipples harden as his lips brushed over them…. Would she taste like hazelnuts? Toasted hazelnuts? He felt his blood stir.
“Love is the flower of life,” he quoted aloud, “and blossoms unexpectedly…”
Carla raised her brows at that.
“D.H. Lawrence,” he quickly explained. “I used to read a lot of D.H. Lawrence. In Lady Chatterly, the lovers adorn each other’s naked bodies with flowers symbolizing the marriage of their souls and sexual passion. I always think of that chapter when I see flowers on… this particular day.”
Carla tilted her head. “Now I’m gonna have to read that book.”
“I’ll set aside a copy for you,” he murmured, but inside he was wondering what had just come over him. He didn’t mention things like that anymore, didn’t even think them if he could help it. Somehow, the flowers and Carla had slipped under his skin, like water feeding a thirsty plant. And what had been woken up scared him. He could not, absolutely could not, have such ideas floating like pollen through his head. Not again.
“Well?” Carla said, hands going to her hips. “What’ll it be? Not to rush you, but I’ve gotta get back to work. I’ve a lot of orders to fill.”
“But—” Wade tried. How could he create a bouquet if he didn’t know who it was for? Of course, if it was for Carla he’d know exactly what to get: roses so blood red they were almost black with, perhaps, one cream blossom. That’s what she’d like. He instinctively knew that. It didn’t make much sense, however. Why would a flower lady want him to create a bouquet for her?