Tom drummed his fingers on the desk as he re-read the email. Their real-estate manager had found several tracts of land in Ohio and western Pennsylvania for him to look at as potential sites for another research lab. And could he fly out next week?
He ran a hand over his face. Shit. If he went now, he’d have to tell Megan where he was going. And why. He blew out his breath. Maybe it was time. Standing, he wandered over to the window, bracing himself against the wall. What to tell her? That he enjoyed her company? That she was a pleasant diversion? That in less than a year he’d be pulling up stakes and moving on?
He’d just gotten free of a noose around his neck. The last thing he needed now was a commitment. To be tied down. And in Meadowbrook? He’d set out to get away, and so far, had made it only three hours south. Not enough. Not nearly enough.
His thoughts turned to yesterday, and his pulse spiked. Enjoyed her company? Hell, he’d been ready to pick her up and dash to the nearest bed or couch and lose himself.
The thing is, he did enjoy being with her. And he considered her dad a friend, and her brother-in-law. He liked her family. Guilt gnawed at him. He couldn’t do anything this week. Megan was up to her neck with that girl’s wedding. Plus, she was just starting to recover from her mother’s death. And now she was dealing with the stress of the secret. He’d have to be careful. He didn’t want to hurt her.
It struck him then that he cared very much for Megan. That he’d be pissed off if someone hurt her. This was not good. It was too soon. Way too soon.
Rick Monroe was seated at his computer crunching some numbers when Megan came in.
He stood up as the door closed behind her. “Hey there,” he called.
“Hey, Dad. How’s it going?” She set her purse down and leafed through the day’s mail. She’d been busy all day, working with some new clients, and double-checking details for the wedding job. They hadn’t had dinner together all week.
“Sit down for a minute,” he said. “It seems like I haven’t seen you for days.”
She looked up quickly, concern on her face.
“Not too much. I just wanted to talk to you. Are you okay?”
“Of course. What do you mean?”
“Nothing. I know you’re spending a lot of time with Tom. And you seem busy. And I guess I’m still a little concerned about that phone call I overheard a couple weeks ago. You sure everything’s all right?”
Smiling, she reached out and patted his arm.
“Really, Dad. Don’t worry. Everything is fine. What about you? You’ve been busy lately.”
“It’s good for me,” he said. “I’m glad to be doing a little work. I can’t just putter around in the yard every day. I have to do something.”
“In fact,” he said, studying her face. “I think I’m going to take a little vacation.”
The surprise showed in her wide eyes.
“Really? Where do you want to go?”
“Some of the guys from the club are putting together a golf trip. Going to Hawaii. I’m thinking about going along.”
She sat back, and Rick could tell she was processing the idea.
“Oh. How long will you be gone?”
“Looks like five or six days.”
“Good. Sounds fun.”
“You won’t mind being here by yourself?” In the back of his mind he wondered if she wouldn’t like to have the house to herself for a change. And wondered what that might mean in terms of her relationship with Tom. Probably best not to go there, he decided.
“Of course. I’ll be fine,” Megan assured him. “I have lived by myself before, you know.”
“I know. So tell me what’s keeping you so busy.
He chuckled then. “That’s not how I see it. What about Tom? Looks like you’re spending some time with him. You like him?”
Blushing, she looked away. “Yeah. I like him.”
“He’s treating you well?”
“Daaaad,” Megan groaned. “Yes, of course. I wouldn’t be going out with him if he wasn’t.”
“Well, I know. I just want to be sure. I want you to be happy.”
“I know, Dad. Thanks.”
“I like him, too,” Rick added. “He’s smart and hard working. I like that.”
“So, I guess you’re pretty proud of yourself, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your matchmaking. Trying to get me interested in Tom. You did it.”
He grinned at her. “Pleased to be of assistance.”
Megan kicked the door to the refrigerated case closed, her arms full of flowers. She’d meant to start cutting in the garden at sun-up. Unfortunately, there was no sun, and the overcast skies had lulled her back to sleep. Now she had to make up for lost time. Thankfully, Kelli’s wedding was in the evening, which gave them most of the day to prepare the flowers. Still, they had to work fast.
“Ginny, I’m so glad to see you. Get in here, lady,” Megan said, pulling her through the door.
“Whoa, there. You all right?”
Megan groaned. “Already behind.”
Ginny pushed up her sleeves and grinned at Megan. “Well, put me to work, then.”
Megan couldn’t help laughing. With a bandana covering her hair, and the sleeves of her denim shirt already rolled up, Ginny looked ready for battle. Thank goodness she’d been available. Even though she worked full-time at the bank, Megan and her mother had called her in for back up before. Her no-nonsense attitude made her the perfect balance to the neurotic bride.
“Okay,” Megan told her. “Let’s do this.”
Megan had spent every night that week making bows, getting all the vases ready, and doing as much advanced preparation as she could. Now it was time for the flowers. She was determined to give Kelli the impact and splash she wanted for her big day – and to boost her own image at the same time.
She separated the flowers into three piles. “These are for the boutonnieres and corsages,” she told Ginny, trying not to sound like a commander. “I’ve got the bases ready. We just need to add the flowers and ribbons. You can use these pictures as a guide.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ginny grinned. “I can do that.”
“Great. I’ll get started on the bridesmaids’ bouquets. We can do the big vases last. They’ll be fast.”
Ginny jumped right in, the bright coral color of her nails flashing as her fingers moved and twisted, securing the flowers into the base. But twenty minutes later, she still wrestled with the same corsage.
Swallowing hard, Megan glanced at the clock again. She pressed her lips together. “Bout done with that one?” she asked as cheerfully as she could manage.
Ginny held up the corsage. “What do you think?”
With relief, Megan put down the sunflower in her hand and clapped. “Ginny, it’s fabulous.”
“Okay, one down, only nine to go.”
“Oh, please. Don’t say it like that.” She nodded toward the kitchen. “There’s plenty of caffeine.”
“Don’t worry, hon, I’ll get to it,” Ginny laughed. “By the way, I hear you’ve met someone. Don’t you want to tell me about that? We’ve got all day in here, you know.”
Megan’s face warmed. “And just who is gossiping about me, I’d like to know?”
“I wouldn’t call this gossip, toots. Got it from a very reliable source.”
“Your dad. Now come on, spill the beans.”
Megan shook her head. “I can’t believe my dad is telling people–”
“Hey, it’s me,” Ginny said, shaking a spool of ribbon at her. “I need to know these things. Now, if it’s the guy I think it is, we’re talking about one sexy hunk of man.”
Megan placed three medium sunflower stems inside a wire cylinder, knowing her face must be as red as the lilies that would go in next. “Yes,” she said finally, as her heart rate evened. “He’s quite handsome.” She shot Ginny a scowl. “And that’s all I’m going to say. I need to concentrate a little here.”
“Ahhh, so he causes difficulty concentrating,” Ginny teased. “That’s good.”
Laughing, Megan fumbled with the flowers. The finger she’d sliced earlier still throbbed. Determined to ignore it, she added greenery, the bright red lilies and purple statice, building a circular bouquet for one of the bridesmaids. She wrapped the stems in bright gold ribbon, then held the bouquet against the swatch of fabric Kelli had given her. The result was stunning – the colors a brilliant contrast to the eggplant purple of their dresses.
Taking a deep breath, she started another one. A few minutes later, Ginny gasped.
Megan’s head snapped up. “What’s the matter?”
“What is that?” Ginny asked, pointing at Megan’s hand.
Megan looked down. “Oh, shit.” Blood had soaked through the bandage on her finger.
“Just a little cut. I got in too big of a hurry when I was clipping stems earlier.”
“Doesn’t look little to me,” Ginny said. “You’d better get another bandage.”
“Damn it. I don’t have time for this. I’ll be right back.”
“Wait. Let me see that.”
“No.” Megan closed her other hand around the injured finger and scurried out the door before Ginny could stop her.
Upstairs, Megan blinked back tears of frustration as she gingerly unwound the bloodied bandage. Then she wrapped the finger again, and swallowed a couple of aspirin. So maybe she’d taken on more than she could handle. Too late to change that. She’d have to get through it.
Megan grabbed a cold bottle of water and returned to the studio. Blowing out a breath, she pushed down her anxiety and repeated the bouquet design.
“Sweetie, are you all right?” Ginny asked.
“I’m fine. I just need to get this done.” She flashed Ginny a tense smile. “So while you were talking to Dad about me, did he happen to mention that he’s taking a trip?”
Ginny’s eyes narrowed as she stared at Megan. “No, as a matter of fact, he did not. What kind of trip?”
“Golfing in Hawaii.”
“A bunch of guys from the club.”
“Ah. That’s why I haven’t heard. Ted never has been interested in golf.”
Megan jumped when the phone rang. She could guess who was on the line before she even looked at the number.
“Hi, Kelli,” she said. “Are you having a fun day?”
“Oh, Megan, we’re having a blast. Just left the salon. How are things there?”
Megan chewed her lip a moment, then forced herself to sound confident. “Everything’s great.”
“So, we’ll see you at four-thirty, right?”
“The bride?” Ginny asked.
Megan glanced at the clock, and did some quick math. Gonna have to pick up the pace. “Yeah. Just checking in.”
An hour later, she finished the bridesmaid bouquets, and set them inside the cooler. Those were practice rounds for the one bouquet that mattered most. The bridal bouquet came next. By the time Megan finished it, Ginny was almost done with the corsages. Megan glanced at the clock again. They could do this.
Megan’s stomach rumbled. She didn’t want to stop and take time for eating, but she couldn’t afford to get lightheaded, either, and it wasn’t fair to Ginny. “Be right back,” she said. She hurried to the kitchen, pulled out a cheese tray and some fruit she’d prepared last night then breezed back into the studio.
“Hope you weren’t planning on a lunch break,” she said. “Here you go. Munch while you work.”
Ginny stepped back from the table and rolled her shoulders. “I can do that, Miss Slave Driver,” she said. “But I think I’m ready for some caffeine intake. Got any Coke?”
Megan got the Coke and grabbed her camera, too. Late or not, she couldn’t deliver the flowers to Kelli without documenting the pieces for her portfolio. She’d considered asking Tom to take some photos, but he’d been preoccupied the past few days. And she only needed snapshots, nothing elaborate. Spending so much of her time getting ready for the wedding, she’d seen little of Tom all week.
“So, are you worried about this trip?” Ginny asked, biting into a strawberry. “They chase women while they’re at it?”
Trust Ginny to put the question right out there. Megan had wondered about the other aspects of the trip. But, really, it wasn’t her business.
She sucked in her breath and looked at her mother’s friend. “God, Ginny, I don’t know. I was thinking it would be good for him to go.”
Ginny reached over and patted Megan’s hand. “Hey, I’m sorry. That was a stupid question. You’re right. It’ll be good for him to get away. And don’t worry, your dad’s a smart guy.”
Nodding, Megan pushed those thoughts away and reached for more flowers. She helped Ginny with the twenty-five candle rings for the tables, then hoisted two large vases to the table.
“Let’s see, I need the fancy ribbon with the gold swirls for these. Have you seen that big spool?” Megan asked Ginny.
Ginny’s neck swiveled as she checked out the room. “No. I don’t remember seeing it. You sure you had it out already?”
Megan thought a moment. Where did she last see it? “I couldn’t make these in advance, so I kept one spool back.”
She rummaged through some boxes on the floor, pushing away the panic that washed over her. Time was one thing she couldn’t afford to waste today. Dammit, she needed some cooperation here. Turning back to the table, she reminded herself that the flowers were more important than the ribbon. She could substitute plain gold, if necessary. But she groaned inside. Kelli had special-ordered that ribbon. And it didn’t come cheap.
Each vase would need five large sunflowers and dozens of other flowers. Flustered, Megan snipped the ends of some stems, and slammed the clippers onto the table harder than she meant to.
Ginny stopped working, and stared at her. “You gonna tell me what’s wrong?”
Megan blew out her breath. “I’m sorry, Ginny. I just really wanted everything to be perfect today, and I’m a mess. I probably shouldn’t have taken this job. I knew it was big, but I wanted to prove I could do it.” Her voice quivered. “Apparently the word on the street is that I don’t have the talent or the creativity that Mom did.”
Ginny rounded the table and pulled Megan into a hug. “Listen, doll. That’s baloney. You can do it. Everything you’ve done is spectacular. Your mother would be so proud of you. If we’re behind, we just need to move booty a little faster, that’s all.”
Nodding, Megan swiped at a tear, and added more flowers to the vases. When she heard a tap on the glass, her eyes snapped to the door. Tom peered in.
She motioned to him, and he stepped inside.
“Hi there. How’s it going?”
“Okay,” Megan said breathlessly. “But I can’t stop right now. We’re running late.”
“What can I do?”
Just stay out of the way, Megan thought. “Nothing, really,” she said. “I’m on the last ones now.”
“Good timing then. Thought I’d snap a few pictures then help you load up.”
Megan’s hands stilled. “Really?” With a tight throat she turned to Ginny.
“Ginny, this is Tom Blake. Tom, this is Ginny, an amazing, wonderful family friend who has come to my rescue yet again. She also works at the bank.”
“Ah. That must be why you look familiar,” Tom said, extending his hand. “Good to meet you, Ginny.”
“Likewise. Come on in, if you can.” She moved down a couple of feet, scooting a pile of flowers with her.
“Hey, I’d love it if you could take pictures of the flowers in the case,” Megan told him. “Can you do it in there, or do we need to bring them out?”
She saw Tom’s eyes dart around the room, taking in the chaos.
He squeezed her shoulder. “Tell you what, you keep working, and I’ll take care of the pictures.”
She flashed him a grateful smile. “Thanks.”
Her phone pealed, and she picked it up. Checking the number, Megan looked at Ginny, and rolled her eyes. “The bride. Again.”
“Hi Megan,” Kelli squealed into the phone. “Everything going okay?”
“Perfect,” Megan assured her. “We’ll be at the church at four-thirty.”
“Oh, my gosh, I can’t wait to see the flowers. How do they look?”
“They look amazing. You’re going to love them.” Megan debated telling her about the missing ribbon, and decided against it. With any luck, she wouldn’t even notice.
“Mom wanted me to remind you to bring the rose petals for the flower girl. Remember, we wanted fresh ones, so they’ll still smell good.”
Megan groaned inside. Damn. She’d forgotten about those. She pressed a hand to her forehead.
“Right. I’ll get those the last thing. Now you just concentrate on having fun and getting ready, and I’ll see you in an hour.”
Before she could forget again, Megan grabbed a plastic bag and dashed outside. When she returned, she tossed the bag of petals into a box, and wrapped gold ribbon around the two remaining vases. This would have to do. With a flourish, Megan twirled around, holding up a red lily. “You ready for this?” she asked Ginny. “Drum roll, please. Here goes. The final flower.” She tucked it into the design and stood back.
Ginny clapped her hands. “Oh, honey, it’s absolutely gorgeous.”
With relief, Megan leaned against the table, and smiled. “I agree. Let’s hope the bride does, too. Okay, let’s start loading, then I need to dash upstairs and change clothes.”
Before she could object, Tom turned, and snapped a photo of Megan and the flowers.
“Oh, stop,” she groaned. “At least let me change my clothes first.”
Tom grinned. “Let me get this last vase, then I’ll help you load.”
“Are you sure you have time?” Megan asked.
He shot her a puzzled look. “Sure. I’ll go with you and help you unload at the church, too.”
Megan’s pulse hammered as she sucked in her breath. It was almost like they were a team. He hadn’t asked, and she hadn’t needed to. He was there because he knew she needed the help. Gratitude flooded through her, and if Ginny hadn’t been there, she would’ve flung herself into his arms. Instead, she flashed him a smile, and hurried up the stairs.
Megan swung the van into the church parking lot ten minutes late, nerves fluttering in her stomach. “Here goes. Let’s take the personal bouquets in first. Watch the bride’s face for me,” she told Ginny. “I want to be sure she loves them.”
Ginny shook her head. “I’ll watch, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about. If she doesn’t love them, she’s crazy.”
“Nothing biased about you,” Megan laughed, opening her door.
Tom hopped into the back of the van and handed them each a box. “Let me get the door, then I’ll stay out here until you’re ready for these big guys.”
When Megan started through the door, Tom reached out and grabbed her arm. Gently propelling her toward him, he planted a quick kiss on her lips. “Go make your grand entrance, babe.”
With flushed cheeks, she dashed into the church, ignoring Ginny’s eyebrows, which shot nearly to her hairline.
It took only a moment to locate the bride’s room, and the bride.
“Megan!” Kelli shrieked when Megan walked inside. “Oh, my gosh, we were starting to get worried.”
Megan exchanged a quick look with Ginny, then put the box down and pulled out Kelli’s bouquet, holding it out to her.
Kelli’s mouth dropped open and she rushed forward.
“Oh, Megan. Oh, my gosh. It’s beautiful.” She spun around and held the bouquet up for everyone to see. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”
Megan glanced at Ginny, who grinned and winked. After that, chaos erupted, as all the girls crowded around to get their flowers, and Megan basked in the oohs and aahs and glowing compliments.
“By the way, Megan,” Kelli’s mother said. “I found an extra spool of ribbon in one of our bags a while ago. Could you use it?”
Megan sucked in her breath, glad she hadn’t wasted any more time looking through the studio for ribbon that wasn’t there. “Absolutely.”
Mrs. Letterman rummaged through some boxes then produced the ‘extra’ spool of ribbon and offered it to Megan. Smiling, Megan took it.
They placed the flowers in the church, and Tom took more photos, then they headed to the club to set up the room for the reception and dinner. Megan quickly replaced the plain gold ribbon with the designer ribbon.
Two hours later, they flopped, exhausted, into a booth at Clyde’s. And two glasses of wine and a beer met in the center of the table.
“To a beautiful wedding and the flower divas that made it that way,” Tom said, clinking his frosty mug against their glasses.
“Hear, hear,” Ginny said. “And to the most talented lady I know.”
“And to checking that one off the list,” Megan added.
Back at the house, they climbed out of the van. Ginny started toward the back, but Megan stopped her. “No, Ginny. You’re done for the day. Go home and spend some time with your hubby.”
With a wave of her hand, Ginny snorted. “Probably hasn’t even noticed I’ve been gone.”
Megan hugged her close. “Thank you, thank you, Ginny. You’re the best.”
“Now, stop that,” Ginny said, but Megan saw the tears shimmering in her eyes.
“That was the most fun I’ve had in weeks. The look on Miss Kelli’s face was priceless. Now, you get some rest.”
To Megan’s delight, Tom leaned down and planted a kiss on Ginny’s cheek.
“See you later, flower diva,” he said.
Ginny fanned herself with her hand. “Oh, my. I think I’m going to need something cold to drink.” With one last wave, she disappeared into her car.
Megan was still smiling when she turned and bumped into Tom.
He steadied her, his hands warm through the fabric of her blouse. A slow heat spread through her veins. She’d love to rest her head against his chest and close her eyes. When she looked up, his eyes were on hers, dark and intense.
He tapped on the side of the van. “Anything in here that needs to go inside tonight?”
“Not really,” she murmured. “Just some back-up supplies.”
Tom glanced at the house. “Is your dad home?” he asked, his voice low.
Megan caught her breath. “Probably.”
Tom pulled her to him, and locked his arms around her.
Leaning against the van, he pressed her against him as a wave of fire flashed inside him. His lips crushed hers, and every muscle in his body tightened as her arms twined around his neck.
When he came up for air, he pushed his hands into her hair, smoothing it back from her face. Tremulous eyes shone up at him.
She touched the side of his face, and his heart slammed against his ribs.
“Thank you for being there for me today,” she whispered.
He swallowed hard. Her words should’ve made his pulse race. Should’ve made him content, pleased to be appreciated.
Instead, they doused the flame inside him. Yes, he’d been there for her. He’d wanted to be. It was fun to see her succeed, to see her laugh and be happy. But was it a role he wanted? He couldn’t let her depend on him too much. He might not be there next time. According to his long-term plan, he wouldn’t be.