Girls Write Out
Thursday, January 17, 2013

Leave a comment to be entered to win a signed copy of secretly smitten! 

4 winners announced Friday.

Love Blooms
Denise Hunter

Chapter One

Clare Thomas smoothed out the hardwood mulch, spreading it under the newly planted hostas. Partridgeberry now carpeted her mother’s flower bed with green, but soon it would bloom with fragrant white flowers, and its red fruit would add a splash of color come fall.
The realization that it looked ten times better than it had three hours ago soothed her wounded spirits.
Anna Thomas dumped the last load of mulch from the wheelbarrow. “That should do it.” She blew her long bangs from her face, picked up the shovel, and spread the load with the vigor of someone half her age.
“It looks beautiful, girls.” Clare’s sister Tess set a tray of iced lemonade on the porch table. Her blue eyes were lit with a joy that only comes from new love.
Not that Clare knew anything about that.
“Thank goodness we’re almost done.” Her younger sister, Zoe, pulled off her pink garden gloves and appraised the sky. “Looks like it’s about to rain.”
Clare breathed in the scent of loamy dirt and rain, hoping the organic fragrance would relieve her unrest. “Smells like it too.”
“God’s going to water my new plants,” Anna said. “Isn’t he thoughtful?”
Oh, yeah, all was coming up roses now that everyone was in love. Everyone but her. Clare chided herself for the selfish thought. She was happy for her sisters, thrilled for her mom. Still, they all had romance and candlelit dinners and kisses, and she had . . .
She set down the rake and frowned at the garden. This isn’t the way she’d imagined it. She was almost thirty, for pity’s sake. Where were her husband, her two-point-five children, her devoted golden retriever? Okay, so she had the dog part covered, but still.
She hadn’t even found love, much less a husband. Somehow her looming birthday hadn’t seemed so terrible when she’d had a relationship in the works. Now there was a countdown clock ticking toward an unavoidable deadline. Was she headed toward an Aunt Violet/Aunt Petunia future?
Her mom nudged her. “What’s wrong, Miss Perfectionist? Did you miss a wilted leaf?”
Clare began gathering the empty plant containers. “I was thinking about Aunt Violet.” Sort of true. “I wonder if she and Grandma Rose are getting along.” Gardening enthusiasts, the two older women helped out at the nursery during the busy spring and summer, mostly giving advice to customers.
“I hope they’re not at each other’s throats,” Anna said. “I shouldn’t have pulled you away.”
“Hopefully they’re too busy to argue. Besides, I needed a break from all the tension.” Clare intended to sit them down tomorrow and talk some sense into them. Their argument over Grandma’s old beau, who had also been her sister Violet’s secret crush, was getting old.
“Some break.” Tess sipped her lemonade. “I hope Mr. Lewis finally gets you some help. You about worked yourself into the ground last year, literally.”
“I forgot to tell you,” Clare said after downing half the lemonade. “He said I could hire someone. I put up some notices around town. Just hope I can find time for the interviews and such. Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and after that it’s a zoo.”
Zoe sat next to Tess on the porch step. “Speaking of Memorial Day, can you ask Josh to bring his camping chairs?”
“Uh . . . Josh won’t be coming.” Clare dumped the containers in the trash bin, mentally dumping the remnants of any feelings she’d had toward Josh. The memory of their date two nights ago still left a sour taste in her mouth.
“Tell me you didn’t break up with him,” Zoe said.
She supposed she deserved that. “He did, actually.” She eyed Zoe just as her sister opened her mouth. “And no, I do not need your help. That’s how I got into this mess to begin with, if you recall.”
Zoe’s lips puckered in a rosy pout.
“Oh, no,” Anna said. “What happened, honey?”
Clare shrugged. “Nothing, Mom, really. We’re just too different, I guess. No chemistry, no spark.” No interest, especially on his part.
“Oh, rats,” Tess said. “I thought you liked him.”
Their breakup, if you could call it that, had nothing to do with the fact that he’d called her boring. Just remembering it made heat flood to the back of her neck where her hair was gathered in a loose braid. She couldn’t believe Josh Campbell, Mr. President of the high school chess team, had the nerve to call her boring.
Okay, so he hadn’t used that exact word, but she could read between the lines. She’d been raised in a female household. Reading between the lines was necessary for survival.
So she liked her routines. So she liked to look before she leaped. That was just smart, sensible. Not boring, Josh Campbell. You should learn the difference.
Clare rolled the wheelbarrow up the board and into the truck bed, then checked her watch.
“Uh-oh. She’s going to be late for her tea run,” Tess said.
“Better hurry, Clare,” Zoe said. “Nat will faint dead away if you fail to appear at 7:17 on the dot.”
Clare frowned at her sisters. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, honey, they’re only teasing,” Anna said.
“We like that you’re predictable,” Tess said.
“I’m not predictable.”
Zoe grinned and flipped her dark hair from her eyes. “Please. There’s a picture of you by the word on Wikipedia. I just saw it yesterday.”
“I go to the coffee shop at 7:17 because I get off work at 7:00. Besides, there’s no line then. It just makes sense.”
“And we love that you’re so sensible, dear.” Her mom rubbed Clare’s rigid shoulders, but it failed to calm her. “It’s a very comforting quality in a world of constant change.”
Zoe stood, brushing off her jeans. “I have to run too. William’s coming over in a bit, and I need to de-grime.” She looked down at her hands. “So much for my manicure.”
Clare shut the tailgate with more force than necessary, then turned to say good-bye.
“You’re not mad, are you?” Tess asked, giving her the hand tools she’d gathered.
Clare stashed them in the pockets of her handy-dandy coveralls. “I’m just touchy today. No worries.”
Her mom thanked her with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“See you later,” Zoe called as Clare pulled from the drive.
The first droplets of rain hit the windshield when she pulled onto Lookaway Lane. Within seconds the slow, fat drops turned into a hard, heavy downpour. She turned on her wipers, her sisters’ words ringing in her ears, louder than the pattering on her roof.
She wasn’t boring. Or predictable. Well, maybe a little predictable, but that didn’t make her boring.
Did it?
Man bored to death by girlfriend. News at eleven.
She squashed the thought, though the mood persisted as she entered town. Tourists huddled under colorful canopies, waiting for the storm to pass. Judging by the gray abyss above, that wouldn’t be any time soon.
She parked in a parallel spot on Main Street and dashed in for her warm tea. Her cousin Natalie had it ready, and Clare was back out the door in sixty seconds flat. See? No line, no waiting. Sensible.
She put the truck in gear and headed toward the nursery. It was closed, but her own shed was full, and she couldn’t let the tools sit in the rain all night.
When she passed the Wind Chill Creamery, her mind returned to Saturday night. Josh had ordered two medium razmataz cones.
“Oh, make mine vanilla,” she’d told Bethany Hopkins, who was looking frazzled on their first open night of the season.
“You don’t like razmataz?” Josh asked.
Truth be told, she’d never tried the multicolored fruit-flavored ice cream. She shrugged. “I just prefer vanilla.”
The other comments had come three licks into her cone, and the night had only gone downhill from there.
So she liked vanilla. That didn’t make her boring. Maybe it was the whole sensible thing that made her come off as boring. Now that she thought about it, she recalled Josh saying something about taking a chance once in a while. He probably thought she wasn’t spontaneous enough.
Her sisters obviously agreed. Maybe she was stuck in a rut. Well, she could be spontaneous if she wanted to be, take a chance now and again.
And she would. She nodded her head once, confirming the promise. That’s what she’d do. Her next decision—completely and utterly spontaneous. No weighing it out, no pondering for days, and above all, no safe choice. It would be good for her. Healthy. And she’d be sure to let her sisters and Josh know about it. Not that she had anything to prove.
She turned onto the rutted shady lane, passing the old wooden sign that read The Red Barn Nursery and Greenhouse, Since 1973. Clare had started working there as a cashier during her high school summers and had learned everything there was to know about growing healthy trees and plants. When she graduated, Mr. Lewis, wanting to cut back his own hours, hired her full time as manager.
Last year she’d talked him into staying open year ’round. With the added tourists, she thought it was a feasible plan. They’d offered holiday plants and decorations, and Clare had started growing tropicals in the greenhouse. They’d made a nice profit selling them to the local flower shop, but the gift shop hadn’t done as well as they’d have liked. Sure would’ve been nice if Smitten had gotten the train contract. She didn’t want to go back to finding winter work.
The sun was long gone by the time Clare crested the hill, the night pressing in through the woods. She passed the deserted barn with all the artistically arranged potted trees and bushes and rounded the corner, pulling up to the old lopsided shed.
Thunder roared and rain pelted her as she dashed from the truck and lowered the tailgate. She guided the wheelbarrow down the plank and hurried toward the shed. The door opened with a loud squeak, and she pushed it inside.
A movement against the far wall caught her eye. The sight of a man hunkering in the shadows made her jump. Even in the dim light, she could see he was big. And hairy.
She grabbed for a tool and came up with the rake. Her heart thudded as loudly as the rain on the roof. “Who’s there?”
The stranger stood slowly, unruffled.
She’d been right. He was every bit of six foot three and broad as a boxwood hedge. He remained by the wall, his body seemingly on full alert.
Clare raised the tool over her head. She wished she weren’t alone, wished she’d taken the time to lock up earlier, wished she were holding something more substantial than a rake.
“I said, who’s there?” She heard the fear in her voice and knew he did too.
Thunder cracked.
Hairy Man stared back. “Name’s Ethan Foster. Just taking shelter till the storm passes.” His voice was deep as a country well. He nodded his chin toward the corner.
Her eyes darted to a motorcycle parked against the wall, then back to him. He had longish dark hair and a face that hadn’t seen a razor in weeks.
Without taking her eyes from him, she reached for the string on the naked bulb. Sixty watts flooded the dank space. He was a little older than she’d first thought. Not some kid, but a man of thirty-three, thirty-five. He wore a black T-shirt and jeans that had seen better days.
She gripped the rake. The nursery was well off the road, not the most convenient place to seek shelter. “What are you doing all the way back here?”
Dark eyes stared back, calm and knowing. “Sorry I scared you. Looking for Thomas.”
It was her last name, but all the better if he thought there was a man on the premises.
“About . . .”
He shifted. “A job.”
Her heart started to settle to a dull throb. He seemed less threatening now that the light was on. She wasn’t sure why; he hadn’t shrunk. Maybe it was his gentle eyes.
She lowered the rake a smidge, loosened her grip. “I don’t charge by the word, you know.”
“Heard he was hiring. What is this place anyway?”
She knew he wasn’t referring to the nursery. “Smitten is a honeymoon destination . . . home of country star Sawyer Smitten . . . Haven’t you heard of it?” After Sawyer’s wedding the year before, she didn’t think there was a soul left in the country who didn’t know about their little town.
“Not from the area. Thomas around? I could really use the work, and I heard he was hiring.”
“We’re closed for the night.” She looked at his motorcycle. There was a big bundle on the back. Was he a drifter? Homeless? One thing was sure, Mr. Lewis would have her head if she let him bunk here tonight.
“You can’t stay here.”
“When will he be back?”
She sighed, lowered the rake to the ground, keeping hold of it—just in case—and stuck out a hand. “Clare Thomas.”
His eyes flickered with comprehension. He reached across the space and wrapped his hand around hers. It was warm despite the spring chill. He squeezed her hand before releasing it. She missed the warmth immediately.
Great. Now she was going to have to turn him down. The rain let up, ushering in sudden silence.
“I’m a hard worker, good with my hands.” He looked away as a flush crawled up his neck. A moment later he found her eyes again. “Good with plants. And I’m a fast learner.”
Clare pushed her wet hair from her face, not letting go of the rake just yet. “Listen, I don’t think this is going to work out.”
“I have references.”
From people she didn’t know. “I don’t think so. Sorry.” Someone else would apply soon. She wasn’t desperate enough to hire a stranger. A big, tall, hairy stranger.
“I’ll work a day for free. Give me a chance.”
Chance. She thought again about Josh and vanilla ice cream. About the vow she’d made only moments before to make her next decision spontaneously.
She looked him over, instantly regretting the promise. This wasn’t a matter of her blue blouse versus the white one. She bit the inside of her cheek.
“Two days free.”
She swallowed hard. Stupid economy. “It’s temporary. Probably only through July.”
“Suits me fine.”
“It doesn’t pay much.”
“Didn’t expect it would.”
Of course he didn’t. Her pulse sped, not liking this spontaneity thing one bit.
I don’t like it either, heart.
It felt wholly unnatural. Like when your food comes up instead of going down.
“Tomorrow then?” he asked.
She stared at him, searching for a reason, any reason, to say no. Something besides his too-deep voice, his all-seeing eyes, and the memory of his warm hand.
But she came up empty, and he was waiting. “All right.”
His lips lifted in something just short of a smile. “All right.”
She cleared a space as he walked his bike past her, out the door, onto the wet gravel. He straddled the seat and started the engine.
She wondered where he was going. Night had fallen, and Timber Lake Lodge was likely full. She doubted he could afford it anyway. Carson’s cabins were no cheaper, and besides, she couldn’t picture the man under a down duvet or in a heart-shaped tub . . .
“What time?” he asked.
She stared at him blankly. “What?”
“In the morning.”
She crossed her arms against the chill. “Oh. Eight, I guess.”
He nodded once and let off the clutch, then sped down the dark gravel drive.
Well, Clare, there goes your spontaneous decision. I hope you don’t live to regret it.

Labels: , ,

Denise Hunter  
posted at 6:28 AM  
  Comments (15)
Delicious Delicious
At 9:15 AM, Blogger Claire Anderson said...

I was so excited to read the next preview chapter that I couldn't help myself and logged in at work :) I love your work Denise! (I also have a soft spot in my heart for characters who share my name)

At 9:58 AM, Blogger susanngarrylee said...

Looks wonderful. Blessings, Susan Fryman

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Rina said...

What a decision to practice spontaneity on!
By the way, is the giveaway open internationally?

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Mary-Louise said...

First Yarn shops and ski hills, now flowers and motorbikes. I'm in.

At 1:54 PM, OpenID treblesteph4 said...

OHHHHHHH! Now I get it. This book is about four other people in Smitten, not about the original four girls. Got it.

I'm so excited! Can't wait to read the whole thing.


At 2:24 PM, Blogger Michelle V said...

Love it! Can't wait to read the rest of Clare's story!

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Elizabeth Dent said...

Love it Smitten is going to be good . Clare & maybe the motorcycle guy . Sounds good to me . Everyone else finding love it's her time .

At 5:57 PM, Blogger Jackie Smith said...

Love it!!!! Can't wait to read it. Thanks for the giveaway!
Jackie S.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger Jaime Halbrook said...

I'm really liking Clare! :)

At 1:51 AM, Blogger aimymichelle said...

i love all of these authors would love to win


At 6:08 AM, Blogger DovSucar said...

Looking forward to getting to read the whole book! Loving what you ladies have written!

At 9:04 AM, Blogger karenk said...

can't wait to read this novel

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Candice Sue Patterson said...

I already have a copy, so I'm not entering the giveaway. I just wanted to say, once again, what a great job all you gals did on this. Great storyline, great characters--loved the mystery weaved in and the tear-jerker ending.

Keep up the good work, ladies!!!

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Cindy Regnier said...

So great! I never can decide which one of you ladies I enjoy the most - usually whichever one I'm currently reading so today it's Denise. I simply can't wait to read Secretly Smitten!

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Amanda Henry McDaniel said...

I have just discovered you as an christian author and I am thrilled! About a year ago I started reading the Twilight series and just got passionate about reading in general. I wanted christian authors so I discovered Rivers and Kingsbury. Then someone recommended B Lewis. Just recently I was asking for additional authors/book recommedations. Someone mentioned reading L Austin and C Coble books. I LOVE your books! They are great! I read Tidewater Inn first and then A Blue Moon Promise. Which by the way I read a Blue Moon Promise in one day. I didn't want to put it down. Thanks so much for using your amazing talents for God! Can't wait to continue reading ALL of your books. I have already begun recommending you to my friends! Thanks again!


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The Authors
Kristin Billerbeck
Kristin Billerbeck is a proud Californian, wife, mother of four, and connoisseur of the irrelevant. She writes Christian Chick Lit; where she finds need for most of the useless facts lulling about in her head.

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble writes romantic suspense with a strong atmospheric element. A lovable animal of some kind--usually a dog--always populates her novels. She can be bribed with DeBrand mocha truffles.

Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter writes women's fiction and love stories with a strong emotional element. Her husband says he provides her with all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too.

Diann Hunt

Diann Hunt writes romantic comedy and humorous women's fiction. She has been happily married forever, loves her family, chocolate, her friends, chocolate, her dog, and well, chocolate.

Hannah Alexander

Cheryl Hodde writes romantic medical suspense under the pen name of Hannah Alexander, using all the input she can get from her husband, Mel, for the medical expertise. For fun she hikes and reads. Out of guilt, she rescues discarded cats. She and Mel are presently taking orders from four pampered strays.

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