There he was, right on time.
Maxie flinched when the sheriff’s car pulled up in front of her flower shop. It wasn’t that she was alarmed. She’d known he was coming. She’d been futzing around for the last fifteen minutes or so, waiting for him, yet her heart still beat faster. Keeping her chin tilted downward, she focused on the arrangement she was making, but the task only required a tiny portion of her brain. All her real attention was directed outside on the street.
She watched as he rose from the cruiser—tall, buff and blond. He raked a hand through his hair as the morning breeze tousled it, and her sigh hummed in the air. Sheriff Zac Ford.
For the past two weeks, he’d stopped every morning to get coffee at the shop next door. Two weeks and two days…not that she was counting. He never parked in the space in front of Java Mama’s, always in front of hers…not that she was complaining.
Not at all.
Out of habit, she fluffed blooms and plucked at stems. It wasn’t so much that he was good-looking. He
, and he definitely knew how to wear that uniform. More than anything, though, she liked the way he
. It was like a physical symphony, all those tight muscles bunching and releasing in harmony.
As if sensing her, the sheriff’s gaze swung to her storefront window.
The baby’s breath she was using as filler slipped from her fingers. She reached for it and nearly knocked over the entire vase of flowers. By the time she’d righted everything, she glanced up to see him moving on.
With what looked like a smile on his face.
Heart beating double-time, she glanced around the shop. He couldn’t see in here, could he? Not with all the plants and the nooks and shadows. She was behind her work counter. He couldn’t know that she’d been spying on him. He couldn’t, because then…
Well, then she’d just have to die.
She jammed the baby’s breath into a hole in the arrangement and then took it out again when she realized the fragile flowers were crushed. Her chest tight, she risked another peek out the window. A potted philodendron blocked her view. She moved to see past it and let out a breath of relief—or maybe it was disappointment. Whatever she’d thought she’d seen, he was turning into the coffee shop without a second glance back.
She dipped her chin. “You’ve got it bad, girl.”
She couldn’t help her curiosity. Indigo Falls was a small town. Everybody knew when a stranger arrived, and this one had been welcomed with open arms. Sheriff Ford had taken office after a special election in the spring. He’d moved from Chicago, and although there were still questions about why he’d want to come here, to a little resort town on the Cobalt River, the vote hadn’t even been close. As a former big city vice detective, he was experienced, tough, and
look at him
. He’d swept the female vote.
Maxie nibbled on her lower lip. She’d voted for him because he was qualified, certainly more so than Martin Shimwell, the town librarian’s son. She’d voted with her head and her conscience. It was only now that other parts of her body were overruling common sense.
As if on cue, the heat in her belly slid lower, and her face warmed.
She had a crush on Zac Ford, plain and simple. A huge, insides-tingling, breath-shortening crush.
And therein lay the problem.
She briskly tidied up the discarded baby’s breath. It didn’t matter if she liked him or if he might have smiled back, because to her a crush was just that—overwhelming, weighty,
Frustration built up inside her. She wished that flirting came to her as easily as flower arranging. She wished a lot of things did. There were so many things she wanted to do, so many things she wanted to try, yet as her grandmother had liked to say, Maxie was “a timid sort”.
God, she hated that label.
She hated even worse that it fit.
Whipping out a red ribbon, she looped it around the neck of the vase and knotted it. She didn’t know when the timidity had started. It had always been that way. Even as a child, she’d been hesitant to do the things she’d desperately wanted to do. She struggled to put fresh baby’s breath into the flower arrangement, but a memory lodged in her brain and refused to go away.
“Stupid puddle,” she muttered.
She’d been young, maybe three or four, and on a trip to the zoo with her family. She even had a video of the day. On the tape, her younger version’s eyes had grown big and excited upon seeing a puddle that had been left from a rainstorm the previous night. It had been perfect for splashing, so big and round and deep. She’d run towards the standing water, arms waving and dark hair streaming, right until she’d gotten to the edge.
Watching it years later, she could practically feel the invisible hand that had reached out and snatched her back. Toes tickling the edge of the water, little Maxie had looked over her shoulder, directly into the camera. Her big brown eyes had been searching, almost pleading. Her gaze had darted around from one zoo visitor to the next.
But why? What had she been looking for? Permission? Encouragement?
Even now, she didn’t know.
Timid little Maxie.
The scissors hit the table with a
. “Go out there and say hi to him. Do something wild and crazy like smile.”
What was so hard about that?
And what was so hard about climbing Mt. Everest?
She stared at the flowers, all pretty and quiet and wrapped up tight. Years might have passed, but she was still afraid of getting wet. Frustrated, she swiped up the arrangement and turned towards the refrigerator.
“Ow!” she cried, nearly dropping the vase.
She thrust it back on her workbench. Blood was already welling up in two dark red pools on her skin. Something had gotten her
Turning on the faucet, she stuck her finger under the cold stream to staunch the flow of blood and numb the pain. It didn’t look as if any thorns had broken off, thank goodness. She pulled out a first-aid kit. Being poked and snipped were hazards of being a florist. She tore a bandage open with her teeth. Two identical wounds were glowing ruby red.
Twice the luck.
Make a wish.
She nearly heard her grandma’s voice whispering in the air. It was an old superstition between them. She was sure her grandmother had used it to soothe her when she’d been a kid helping out, but it had stuck all the same.
Make a wish.
Her grandmother had so loved the idea of magic.
Maxie wrapped up her wounds, one bandage doing the trick. As she crumpled up the paper wrappings, she looked out the window at the police cruiser that sat in front of her shop.
Twice the luck.
What the heck? Closing her eyes, she whispered aloud, “I want to meet somebody special, somebody who will do crazy things with me on the spur of the moment. I want to meet someone who makes me forget to be a timid sort.”
She took a deep breath and peeked open one eye. Nothing had changed. She let out an embarrassed little laugh.
Twice as silly was more like it.
Shaking her head, she pulled the vase closer and checked the roses. She frowned when she spotted only one thorn. How had it managed to poke her twice? She snipped it off and swept it into the compost bucket. Wiping her hands, she picked up the card that went with the order.
“Lexie Underhill.” The name wasn’t familiar. Somebody from out of town, apparently, but she’d always liked the name Lexie.
She tucked the card into the prongs of a plastic devil’s fork and situated it amongst the red, yellow and orange blooms. It was her Flashpoint arrangement, one of her personal favorites. She tucked the bouquet into the refrigerator and felt her finger pulse where it curled around the vase’s neck.
Twice the luck.
She rubbed her thumb over the bandage.
Well, don’t waste it.
Her grandmother’s voice was so loud in her head, Maxie jumped. She was alone, but she could almost feel a push towards the front door. Nibbling on her lower lip, she glanced its way. No, it wasn’t so much a push as a pull. She wanted to go out there. Her muscles were practically straining to hold her back.
The flowers out there needed to be watered anyway.
This time, the voice inside her head was her own.
Get wet for once, Maxie.
She rubbed her finger. She wanted to meet someone special, and all the signs were pointing to this as her lucky day. She’d already held herself back for two weeks. Two weeks and two days…not that she was counting.
She was moving before that invisible hand could reach out and yank her back.
Speeding across the room, she whipped off her apron. She grabbed a watering can and hit the door. The cruiser was still there, but it was empty. The sheriff wasn’t on the sidewalk either. Slowing down, she composed herself and began watering the plants she kept outside to lure shoppers into The Green Thumb. The routine was familiar and soothing.
“Twice the luck.” Running her thumb over the bandage on her finger, she glanced towards the coffee shop. “Twice the luck.”
She’d been staring at him.
Zac craned his neck towards the flower shop next door as he waited to place his order. He’d been coming to this coffee shop for the past two weeks, suffering through one bad cup after another, but he’d finally gotten Maxine Miller’s attention. Or so he thought.
But what was he supposed to do now?
Wave? Say hello? Go into her store? This next step was crucial.
He’d been trying to find a way to meet her ever since he’d moved to town. The first time he’d spotted her had been at the welcome party the department had thrown for him. She’d been working at the time, placing arrangements and fixing centerpieces. She hadn’t even noticed him, but he’d honed in on her so single-mindedly, he’d nearly embarrassed himself in front of his new employees and constituents. Just watching her from across the room had made him hard, and he’d had to make sure his dress uniform jacket covered the evidence.
The same problem threatened to affect him now.
He let out a long, slow breath. The small-town girl had to be the most delicious woman he’d ever seen. Big brown eyes… An angel’s face with a siren’s body. If he hadn’t wanted her before, that shy little glance she’d stolen had put him on red alert. All he wanted to do was fist his hands in that long dark hair as he kissed her silly and—
Somebody behind him cleared their throat, and Zac snapped back to the present. He stepped forward to close the gap in the line. Yeah, he could suffer through a few cups of bad swill in order to get close to her. The problem was this coffee joint was as close as he’d been able to get.
He needed to play this right. She was quiet, he’d learned. Unbelievably shy and elusive.
The night of the department dinner, she’d moved around the room like a ghost, straightening boutonnieres and plumping decorative bows. How someone like that could stick to the shadows was beyond him. All he’d been able to think of as he’d watched her were ways to make her get noisy.
“Good morning, Sheriff,” the blonde behind the counter said. “The regular?”
He blinked. “I have a regular?”
All that curly blonde hair bounced as the woman winked at him. “Coffee, black. Right?”
He nodded, wondering briefly if sugar or cream would help.
He pulled out his wallet. Did Maxie have a regular? He could buy her a cup and take it over to her. He rejected the idea. An offering of paint thinner probably wouldn’t make a good first impression.
The blonde smiled as she passed him an insulated cup. “Are you going to Park Art?”
“Park Art this weekend. It’s an Indigo Falls tradition,” she said, smile broadening. “Artists from all over showcase their work. There’s finger-painting for the kids, food, a talent show and music. It’s fun.”
It clicked now. He remembered adjusting the weekend staffing schedule, but he didn’t think he’d put himself on duty. “I might drop by,” he hedged.
Especially if a certain florist had a booth.