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He examined a trellis laden with honeysuckle. “We debated wearing white after Labor Day. I let her win, of course.”

It was easy to be dazzled by him, to be charmed and lulled. What wasn’t easy was seeing who he belonged with. She tried her best to picture the woman who would capture his heart—something that should’ve been as easy as growing dandelions in the front yard. Maybe it only worked on the people in town. People she knew and had grown up with. People whose needs and wants were transparent as soon as they entered her store.

But Sasha…Rose lightly swayed from side to side, gently bouncing Ivy. Sasha was as mysterious as the Pamlico Sound at twilight.

He meandered around the glass-enclosed building, pausing every so often to read labels or sniff at a flower. When he got to the strawberry plants, he turned to her. “These the same ones you set out for me?”

“Yes.” They were also the ones used to make strawberry wine. A wine thought to be an aphrodisiac, and had been sold as a love potion during the late eighteenth century. A wine that every Poppy Holland shared with her favorite lovers. Her cheeks flushed as their eyes met.

What Sasha wouldn’t give to know what made her blush. “How much time do you spend in here?”

“As much as I can.”

“What’s your favorite flower?” Sasha asked, and she took a step toward the door. Beautiful blue eyes wary as hell. “Don’t leave. I only want to get to know my landlady a bit better. You’ve already shared your favorite dessert with me.”

Wariness gave way to a tentative smile. “Sunflowers. They have lots of uses. You can use the oil from the seeds for cooking, or applying directly to patches of rough skin. Paper can be made from them, even rope from their fibers.” She bit her lip, her gaze darting over his face. “I’m boring you.”

Ivy squirmed in Rose’s arms.

“Actually, I find you quite riveting.” He leaned against a table and a cluster of white flowers caressed his face. He brushed the flowers away, then nodded to Ivy. “Would you like for me to hold her?”

“No.”

“You were saying.” Her brows drew together and he smiled, gesturing to the neat row of sunflowers behind her. “The Swiss Army Knife of flora and fauna.”

“Oh, well, people think sunflowers follow the sun, but they don’t—not after the first few days.” She shifted Ivy to her other hip. “They like to face east.”

“Useful information if I’m ever lost.” He scratched his chin, then looked down. A vine with purple flowers seemed to twine around his ankle. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rose shake her head and the vine actually moved away from him. He jerked his head up, then blinked at the innocent look in Rose’s eyes. He’d been chopping wood in the sun for far too long.

She studied his face for a moment. “Did you know that the seeds are said to relieve Whooping Cough and get rid of fevers? My momma used to give us a tonic of sunflower oil and water whenever we got sick. But I prefer to roast the seeds and eat them. My chickens like to eat the seeds when I’m done. I mean, I didn’t regurgitate them. I was talking about the other ones.” She glanced away.

Ivy grabbed her hair and tried to shove it into her mouth.

Dammit. He hadn’t meant to embarrass her. He’d only wanted to keep her with him longer, to truly get to know her. To find out all her secrets and where that damn spring was hiding. That was top on his list, of course. “Brilliant. Now tell me what flower is really your favorite—purely aesthetic. No medicinal uses like curing toad warts on a man’s intestines.” Gently, he helped untangle Rose’s hair from the baby’s grip.

“For that you’d…Oh, you were joking.”

“Only a little,” he replied and rubbed the back of his head.

She took a step forward, then another until she stood directly in front of him. Reaching out, she brushed away the white flowers that continued to smack him in the face. He shivered.

“Do you really want to know?” she asked softly.

Leaning forward, he bent his head to hers. The heady fragrance of jasmine filled his senses. “Tell me.”

“Violets are my favorite.” Her words were sweet and hot against his lips. The greenhouse grew hotter, more humid, and the flowers more fragrant, but nothing as potent as her. Rose’s face seemed to glow and his heart thudded loudly in his chest. “Flowers have a language of their own. Sometimes, I’d rather talk to them than anyone else.”

A bead of sweat trickled down his back. He should concentrate on something else. Anything. He looked for Ivy, but she wasn’t in Rose’s arms anymore. There was a pram near the door. Rose must have laid her down. White flowers brushed his face again, directing his attention back to the lovely vision standing so close.

Swallowing, he said, “And what do violets say?”

“I’ll always be yours.” A cluster of pink flowers touched her shoulder, then grazed the top of her br**sts. Her lashes lowered, hiding her beautiful eyes from him.

“Mine,” he whispered and an image formed in his head. One of him gently laying her down on a thick carpet of flower petals on the floor, sinking his hands into her hair, and kissing—

A cold breeze hit him and he blinked, stunned to find his arms holding air and Rose by the door with Ivy on her hip.

“It’s too hot for her to stay in here long.” She turned and walked through the doorway. The white gate closed behind her with a distinctive click.

“And for me,” he mumbled. He was hot as hell and painfully aroused.

He started to follow Rose and nearly tripped on the vines at his feet. Kicking them away, he moved to the door. Blackbeard met him at the gate, a reproachful look in his eyes.

“Nothing happened,” he told the cat as he made his way back to the house.

After jogging up the few stairs on the back porch, he strode through the kitchen and took the grand staircase two steps at a time. In record time, he’d changed into his trainers and a pair of sweatpants. Rose and Ivy were nowhere to be found as he moved through the house, making his way to the front door.

“Time to start doing what I came here for,” he said and began to run.

And plan.

***

Sasha stood in his “new” store, staring out of the dusty window. The faded vinyl letters of ‘Retro Dayz’ in no way obscured his view of Carolina Dreams.

Men and women went in and out of Rose’s shop all day long. With his door propped open, he could hear the bells ring every time her sunny door opened.

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