Meetings of Chance is a sweet contemporary romance, and is available in digital and paperback formats.
Special use permit in hand, Tom reached for his checkbook, and paid the licensing fees. He was officially in business. His business. Funded with help from the family coffers, he knew his dad and brother would want periodic updates and assurances. But the day-to-day operations were under his control. God, it felt good. No corporate office. No long, drawn-out meetings. No family. He’d put together a staff of four, and that’s all he wanted. A small operation, and a lot of peace and quiet.
Whistling, Tom pulled his heavy-duty pick-up into the parking lot of Leland’s Greenhouse, and hopped out, eager to see the owner and place the order for plant materials. Time to make it happen.
“Always happy to see a new business get started around here,” Allen Leland said, slapping Tom on the back with one hand and taking the check in his other. “We’ll get the shrubs delivered out at your place next week for sure. Some of the other items might take a couple of weeks.”
“No problem,” Tom said. “We’ve still got work to do in the field to get ready.”
Things were falling into place. Almost too easily, Tom thought. But he’d take it. He figured he was due for fewer complications in his life. If this project came together without a lot of hassles and setbacks, maybe he could get out of there earlier than the two years he anticipated, and get the other sites up and running inside of five. That would be an accomplishment.
Megan reached out and ran her hands through a cluster of astilbe plants, the wispy leaves soft against her skin. Wandering through the greenhouse at Leland’s was one of her favorite things to do. She didn’t need anything out in the yard, but couldn’t help strolling down the rows of flowering shrubs and stopping to look at the fabulous display of colorful annuals.
She hoped to bump into Allen, the owner, who sometimes sent them customers looking for cut flowers. She wanted to talk to him about getting her landscape business going, not sure whether he’d support the idea or see her as a competitive threat. He’d offered her a job a few years back, but she preferred to be on her own. If he had a problem with it, making it happen would be a lot tougher. He supplied everyone in town.
She stopped at the service desk. “Hi, is Allen around today?”
The woman at the counter looked up, her eyes scanning the greenhouse. “Yeah, he’s around here somewhere. Want me to page him? Or you could check his office.”
“Oh, don’t bother him,” she told the woman. “I’ll head up there. I just haven’t made it that far yet. Thanks.”
She could’ve made an appointment with Allen, but for now, she wanted to present it in a casual way, as just a possibility. Approaching the office, she could see he was busy. She’d have to wait.
Today Megan didn’t mind waiting. Whoever Allen was talking to presented an interesting view. He was standing with his back to her, facing Allen. Staring openly, her eyes feasted. Yes, the jeans fit nicely on muscular legs and over a very nice ass. Must be a customer. Most of the help at Leland’s didn’t offer nearly as pleasant a picture – unless you were into baggy pants, dirty, sweat-soaked shirts and the occasional butt crack. Ugh.
Intrigued, she inched closer to the office. She was rewarded with a quick wave as she caught Allen’s attention. The guy with the nice butt turned around.
Megan’s mouth dropped. No way. It was Mr. Horticulturist, minus the designer suit. She couldn’t believe it. He looked so good . . . the tousled hair, the fit build. Megan swallowed her disappointment.
“Hey, Megan,” Allen called. A friendly man with a teddy-bear build, he nudged Tom Blake out the door. “Come and meet a kindred spirit. This is Tom Blake. He’s opening up a research farm over by your place.”
Embarrassed by her earlier thoughts, a warm flush spread over Megan’s face.
Tom Blake’s amused expression told her he’d seen her reaction. He smiled and extended his hand.
She touched it briefly. “Yes, of course. We’ve met.”
“He’s from Advanced Chem over in Archer,” Allen said, crossing his arms over his paunch.
“Archer?” Megan looked at Tom in surprise. “You’re from Archer?”
Both men gave her a puzzled look. Tom spoke up. “Well, yeah. The main offices are there. But, like Allen said, I’m moving here to start up the research facility.”
Megan shook her head. “Hmm. I’ve met some other people recently who are moving here from there.”
“Huh,” Tom said. “Probably the lure of a quieter town. Hey, listen, I better get going.”
“We’ll get that order pulled together in the next few days,” Allen told him.
Megan sighed. Apparently everyone was doing business with Mr. Tom Blake.
“Nice to see you again, Megan.”
She nodded, and moved into Allen’s office.
“Have a seat there, sweet stuff,” Allen said, pointing to the lone grubby-looking guest chair in the room. She swiped her hand across the seat, and perched on the edge. When she turned back to Allen, his chin was on his chest, his hand massaging his neck.
“Hard day?” she asked.
“Busier than a bunch of hens at the county fair. Glad to see you and that other fella in here. Gives me a chance to sit on my ass for a few minutes. What about you? You getting along okay?”
“Getting back into it,” Megan told him, indulging in the small talk, but impatient to get to the topic foremost on her mind.
Allen didn’t have much reaction to Megan’s inquiries about launching the landscaping business. To her surprise, he was more interested in knowing if she intended to sell or close the floral shop.
“Listen, you let me know what you decide to do. Maybe we could work out some kind of business arrangement,” Allen told her. “We get quite a few customers in here looking for cut flowers. I usually send them on to you. But I’m thinking I could just as easily add a refrigerated case, and you guys could supply me.”
“Well, that’s an interesting proposition,” she told him. Another possibility to add to the mix – as if she didn’t have enough to think about already. She sighed. “I’ll give it some thought. Let me talk to Dad about it and we’ll get back to you. Might be a while before we make any decisions, okay?”
“Take your time, sweetheart. I’m not in a big hurry.”
She got up to leave, then turned back, unable to stop herself. “Allen, do you trust Tom Blake? I mean, you’re doing business with him. Does he seem like a decent person?”
His eyes narrowed. “So far I got no reason not to trust the guy. There some reason you don’t?”
“No. Not really. I’m just a little concerned about the project he’s starting up next door.”
“Well, as far as I can tell, he’s gonna grow some plants with different soils and fertilizers and see how they do. Seems pretty simple to me.”
Maybe a little too simple, Megan thought.
Tom walked away from Allen’s office, his pulse hammering. Other people from Archer were moving to Meadowbrook? Not good news.
He stepped behind a display where he thought he’d be out of their line of sight, but couldn’t help looking back a couple of times, wondering about the connection between the two. Surely nothing romantic. He couldn’t picture Megan with someone as rough around the edges as this guy. They seemed pretty cozy, though, as Allen bent his head, leaning in to hear what Megan was saying.
Tom caught up with Megan twenty minutes later as she tried to load a couple of clay pots into the back of her car, struggling to keep hold of the pots and open the car door at the same time.
Why the hell hadn’t she got one of the guys in the yard to help her out?
He sidled up beside her. “Here,” he said as he reached for the pots balanced on her hip. “Let me help you with that.”
“Um, Mr. Blake, really. I’m not a damsel in distress.”
“Of course not, but why risk breaking a nail?” He grinned as he swung the pots easily into the hold. He closed the hatch then turned to her. Leaning up against her car, his arms crossed, he studied her a moment.
What a cutie. Her light-brown hair was pulled up. Her simple pink T-shirt hugged her chest, and her short jeans – something between pants and shorts – left just enough leg exposed to arouse a man’s interest. He smiled as he completed his inventory, and his gaze fell to her feet. The pink sparkly things on her feet could hardly pass for shoes. She was lucky she hadn’t busted her toes with those damned pots.
When he looked back at her face, her eyes were leveled on him, eyebrows raised in a kind of challenge. He gave her a lazy grin, deciding it was a pretty picture. Very pretty. She had a fresh, natural look. The complete opposite of Christine.
Megan jingled her keys, a not-so-subtle hint that she was ready to leave, but he’d thought ahead, and moved to the driver’s side of her car so that he effectively trapped her. She’d have to get past him to get into her car. From the grim expression on her face, she wasn’t happy about it.
“Miss Monroe,” he started, “I think I’ve missed something. I’ve met you only a couple of times, but I have the distinct feeling that you dislike me. I’d really like to know why. I can’t recall ever making such a lousy first impression on someone.”
She looked away as a pink blush stained her cheeks. Then, without smiling, she gave a phony-sounding laugh – the kind he’d often heard at society parties. The kind that grated on his nerves.
“I can’t imagine what you mean,” she told him. “As you said, we’ve only met a couple of times. I hardly even know you. How could I like or dislike you?”
“Have I done something to offend you?”
He couldn’t decide whether the look she gave him was bored or annoyed.
“Mr. Blake, I’m not offended, but I am running out of time. Thank you for your help. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Nodding, he pushed himself off of her car. “Okay, then. You have a nice day.”
He stepped aside, but he leaned in as she squeezed past him. “It’s Tom, by the way.”
With a sigh, Tom watched the car disappear into traffic. He was used to something a little more positive than the frosty reception he’d so far received from Miss Megan Monroe. She obviously knew everyone in town, and was highly regarded. In fact, she seemed on friendly terms with everyone else. It irked him. Why the hell had she taken such a dislike to him?
Not that it mattered, he supposed. He wasn’t looking for female entanglements. He had work to do and wanted to stay focused on it.
The divorce had left Tom emotionally drained – not so much the loss of his wife almost a year ago, but the embarrassment of the recent publicity. He was looking forward to a new start and a new project. The hell with Megan Monroe. He didn’t need her friendship. And he did not need her permission to move to Meadowbrook. He put her out of his mind.
Unfortunately, the thoughts surfaced again when he returned to his dark apartment and faced a drive-through fast-food dinner. Alone. Again.