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She couldn't afford to be intimidated by the house, or by its mistress. They both had reputations.
The house was said to be elegant and old, with gardens that rivaled Eden. She'd just confirmed that for herself.
The woman was said to be interesting, somewhat solitary, and perhaps a bit "difficult." A word, Stella knew, that could mean anything from strong-willed to stone bitch.
Either way, she could handle it, she reminded herself as she fought the need to get up and pace. She'd handled worse.
She needed this job. Not just for the salary-and it was generous-but for the structure, for the challenge, for the doing. Doing more, she knew, than circling the wheel she'd fallen into back home.
She needed a life, something more than clocking time, drawing a paycheck that would be soaked up by bills. She needed, however self-help-book it sounded, something that fulfilled and challenged her.
Rosalind Harper was fulfilled, Stella was sure. A beautiful ancestral home, a thriving business. What was it like, she wondered, to wake up every morning knowing exactly where you belonged and where you were going?
If she could earn one thing for herself, and give that gift to her children, it would be the sense of knowing. She was afraid she'd lost any clear sight of that with Kevin's death. The sense of doing, no problem. Give her a task or a challenge and the room to accomplish or solve it, she was your girl.
But the sense of knowing who she was, in the heart of herself, had been mangled that day in September of 2001 and had never fully healed.
This was her start, this move back to Tennessee. This final and face-to-face interview with Rosalind Harper. If she didn't get the job-well, she'd get another. No one could accuse her of not knowing how to work or how to provide a living for herself and her kids.
But, God, she wanted this job.
She straightened her shoulders and tried to ignore all the whispers of doubt muttering inside her head. She'd get this one.
She'd dressed carefully for this meeting. Businesslike but not fussy, in a navy suit and starched white blouse. Good shoes, good bag, she thought. Simple jewelry. Nothing flashy. Subtle makeup, to bring out the blue of her eyes. She'd fought her hair into a clip at the nape of her neck. If she was lucky, the curling mass of it wouldn't spring out until the interview was over.
Rosalind was keeping her waiting. It was probably a mind game, Stella decided as her fingers twisted, untwisted her watchband. Letting her sit and stew in the gorgeous parlor, letting her take in the lovely antiques and paintings, the sumptuous view from the front windows.
All in that dreamy and gracious southern style that reminded her she was a Yankee fish out of water.
Things moved slower down here, she reminded herself. She would have to remember that this was a different pace from the one she was used to, and a different culture.
The fireplace was probably an Adams, she decided. That lamp was certainly an original Tiffany. Would they call those drapes portieres down here, or was that too Scarlett O'Hara? Were the lace panels under the drapes heirlooms?
God, had she ever been more out of her element? What was a middle-class widow from Michigan doing in all this southern splendor?
She steadied herself, fixed a neutral expression on her face, when she heard footsteps coming down the hall.
"Brought coffee." It wasn't Rosalind, but the cheerful man who'd answered the door and escorted Stella to the parlor.
He was about thirty, she judged, average height, very slim. He wore his glossy brown hair waved around a movie-poster face set off by sparkling blue eyes. Though he wore black, Stella found nothing butlerlike about it. Much too artsy, too stylish. He'd said his name was David.
He set the tray with its china pot and cups, the little linen napkins, the sugar and cream, and the tiny vase with its clutch of violets on the coffee table.
"Roz got a bit hung up, but she'll be right along, so you just relax and enjoy your coffee. You comfortable in here?"
"Anything else I can get you while you're waiting on her?"
"You just settle on in, then," he ordered, and poured coffee into a cup. "Nothing like a fire in January, is there? Makes you forget that a few months ago it was hot enough to melt the skin off your bones. What do you take in your coffee, honey?"
She wasn't used to being called "honey" by strange men who served her coffee in magnificent parlors. Especially since she suspected he was a few years her junior.
"Just a little cream." She had to order herself not to stare at his face-it was, well, delicious, with that full mouth, those sapphire eyes, the strong cheekbones, the sexy little dent in the chin. "Have you worked for Ms. Harper long?"
"Forever." He smiled charmingly and handed her the coffee. "Or it seems like it, in the best of all possible ways. Give her a straight answer to a straight question, and don't take any bullshit." His grin widened. "She hates it when people kowtow. You know, honey, I love your hair."
"Oh." Automatically, she lifted a hand to it. "Thanks."
"Titian knew what he was doing when he painted that color. Good luck with Roz," he said as he started out. "Great shoes, by the way."
She sighed into her coffee. He'd noticed her hair and her shoes, complimented her on both. Gay. Too bad for her side.
It was good coffee, and David was right. It was nice having a fire in January. Outside, the air was moist and raw, with a broody sky overhead. A woman could get used to a winter hour by the fire drinking good coffee out of-what was it? Meissen, Wedgwood? Curious, she held the cup up to read the maker's mark.
"It's Staffordshire, brought over by one of the Harper brides from England in the mid-nineteenth century."
No point in cursing herself, Stella thought. No point in cringing about the fact that her redhead's complexion would be flushed with embarrassment. She simply lowered the cup and looked Rosalind Harper straight in the eye.
"I've always thought so." She came in, plopped down in the chair beside Stella's, and poured herself a cup.
One of them, Stella realized, had miscalculated the dress code for the interview.
Rosalind had dressed her tall, willowy form in a baggy olive sweater and mud-colored work pants that were frayed at the cuffs. She was shoeless, with a pair of thick brown socks covering long, narrow feet. Which accounted, Stella supposed, for her silent entry into the room.
Her hair was short, straight, and black.
Though to date all their communications had been via phone, fax, or e-mail, Stella had Googled her. She'd wanted background on her potential employer-and a look at the woman.
Newspaper and magazine clippings had been plentiful. She'd studied Rosalind as a child, through her youth. She'd marveled over the file photos of the stunning and delicate bride of eighteen and sympathized with the pale, stoic-looking widow of twenty-five.
There had been more, of course. Society-page stuff, gossipy speculation on when and if the widow would marry again. Then quite a bit of press surrounding the forging of the nursery business, her gardens, her love life. Her brief second marriage and divorce.
Stella's image had been of a strong-minded, shrewd woman. But she'd attributed those stunning looks to camera angles, lighting, makeup.
She'd been wrong.
At forty-six, Rosalind Harper was a rose in full bloom. Not the hothouse sort, Stella mused, but one that weathered the elements, season after season, and came back, year after year, stronger and more beautiful.
She had a narrow face angled with strong bones and deep, long eyes the color of single-malt scotch. Her mouth, full, strongly sculpted lips, was unpainted-as, to Stella's expert eye, was the rest of that lovely face.
There were lines, those thin grooves that the god of time reveled in stamping, fanning out from the corners of the dark eyes, but they didn't detract.
All Stella could think was, Could I be you, please, when I grow up? Only I'd like to dress better, if you don't mind.
"Kept you waiting, didn't I?"
Straight answers, Stella reminded herself. "A little, but it's not much of a hardship to sit in this room and drink good coffee out of Staffordshire."
"David likes to fuss. I was in the propagation house, got caught up."
Her voice, Stella thought, was brisk. Not clipped-you just couldn't clip Tennessee-but it was to the point and full of energy. "You look younger than I expected. You're what, thirty-three?"
"And your sons are... six and eight?"
"You didn't bring them with you?"
"No. They're with my father and his wife right now."
"I'm very fond of Will and Jolene. How are they?"
"They're good. They're enjoying having their grandchildren around."
"I imagine so. Your daddy shows off pictures of them from time to time and just about bursts with pride."
"One of my reasons for relocating here is so they can have more time together."
"It's a good reason. I like young boys myself. Miss having them around. The fact that you come with two played in your favor. Your résumé, your father's recommendation, the letter from your former employer-well, none of that hurt."
She picked up a cookie from the tray, bit in, without her eyes ever leaving Stella's face. "I need an organizer, someone creative and hardworking, personable and basically tireless. I like people who work for me to keep up with me, and I set a strong pace."
"So I've been told." Okay, Stella thought, brisk and to the point in return. "I have a degree in nursery management. With the exception of three years when I stayed home to have my children-and during which time I landscaped my own yard and two neighbors'-I've worked in that capacity. For more than two years now, since my husband's death, I've raised my sons and worked outside the home in my field. I've done a good job with both. I can keep up with you, Ms. Harper. I can keep up with anyone."
Maybe, Roz thought. Just maybe. "Let me see your hands."
A little irked, Stella held them out. Roz set down her coffee, took them in hers. She turned them palms up, ran her thumbs over them. "You know how to work."
"Yes, I do."
"Banker suit threw me off. Not that it isn't a lovely suit." Roz smiled, then polished off the cookie. "It's been damp the last couple of days. Let's see if we can put you in some boots so you don't ruin those very pretty shoes. I'll show you around." The boots were too big, and the army-green rubber hardly flattering, but the damp ground and crushed gravel would have been cruel to her new shoes.
Her own appearance hardly mattered when compared with the operation Rosalind Harper had built.
In the Garden spread over the west side of the estate. The garden center faced the road, and the grounds at its entrance and running along the sides of its parking area were beautifully landscaped. Even in January, Stella could see the care and creativity put into the presentation with the selection and placement of evergreens and ornamental trees, the mulched rises where she assumed there would be color from bulbs and perennials, from splashy annuals through the spring and summer and into fall.
After one look she didn't want the job. She was desperate for it. The lust tied knots of nerves and desire in her belly, the kinds that were usually reserved for a lover.
"I didn't want the retail end of this near the house," Roz said as she parked the truck. "I didn't want to see commerce out my parlor window. Harpers are, and always have been, business-minded. Even back when some of the land around here was planted with cotton instead of houses."
Because Stella's mouth was too dry to speak, she only nodded. The main house wasn't visible from here. A wedge of natural woods shielded it from view and kept the long, low outbuildings, the center itself, and, she imagined, most of the greenhouses from intruding on any view from Harper House.
And just look at that gorgeous old ruby horse chestnut!
"This section's open to the public twelve months a year," Roz continued. "We carry all the sidelines you'd expect, along with houseplants and a selection of gardening books. My oldest son's helping me manage this section, though he's happier in the greenhouses or out in the field. We've got two part-time clerks right now. We'll need more in a few weeks."
Get your head in the game, Stella ordered herself. "Your busy season would start in March in this zone."
"That's right." Roz led the way to the low-slung white building, up an asphalt ramp, across a spotlessly clean porch, and inside.
Two long, wide counters on either side of the door, Stella noted. Plenty of light to keep it cheerful. There were shelves stocked with soil additives, plant foods, pesticides, spin racks of seeds. More shelves held books or colorful pots suitable for herbs or windowsill plants. There were displays of wind chimes, garden plaques, and other accessories.
A woman with snowy white hair dusted a display of sun catchers. She wore a pale blue cardigan with roses embroidered down the front over a white shirt that looked to have been starched stiff as iron.
"Ruby, this is Stella Rothchild. I'm showing her around."
"Pleased to meet you."
The calculating look told Stella the woman knew she was in about the job opening, but the smile was perfectly cordial. "You're Will Dooley's daughter, aren't you?"
"Yes, that's right."
"From... up north."
She said it, to Stella's amusement, as if it were a Third World country of dubious repute. "From Michigan, yes. But I was born in Memphis."
"Is that so?" The smile warmed, fractionally. "Well, that's something, isn't it? Moved away when you were a little girl, didn't you?"
"Yes, with my mother."
"Thinking about moving back now, are you?"
"I have moved back," Stella corrected.
"Well." The one word said they'd see what they'd see. "It's a raw one out there today," Ruby continued. "Good day to be inside. You just look around all you want."
"Thanks. There's hardly anywhere I'd rather be than inside a nursery."
"You picked a winner here. Roz, Marilee Booker was in and bought the dendrobium. I just couldn't talk her out of it."
"Well, shit. It'll be dead in a week."
"Dendrobiums are fairly easy care," Stella pointed out.
"Not for Marilee. She doesn't have a black thumb. Her whole arm's black to the elbow. That woman should be barred by law from having anything living within ten feet of her."
"I'm sorry, Roz. But I did make her promise to bring it back if it starts to look sickly."
"Not your fault." Roz waved it away, then moved through a wide opening.
Excerpted from Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
In the house where I grew up, in the house where my mother still lives, we had a huge backyard, full of fruit trees. The cherry trees were my favorite. You could climb up those rough black trunks, sit on a thick, crooked limb and eat those tart, sum-warmed globes until you were dog-sick. Which I often was -- but that didn't stop me from doing it again.
Looking back, I see my backyard was a kind of storyland, with the trees, the long stretches of grass, the gardens. Both my parents were keen gardeners, and I inherited their love of growing. We had a vegetable garden running along the back fence, and its position was strategic as our neighbors on the other side raised chickens. Where you have a chicken coop, you have chicken poop. As a result, we had stupendous vegetables every season.
But it was the flowers that spoke to me. I remember planting with my father, and having him explain how to work the soil, how azaleas liked their oak leaves or peat moss, how you tamped the dirt, gave them a drink. I can't smell peat without thinking of my father.
When I grew up, married, moved away, had kids of my own, I planted trees and flowers. I cooked on the grill on warm summer evenings, called my own children home with a whistle, as my mother had taught me. I live in the woods and not the suburbs, but summer is still that magic time of endless days and musical nights. During those bright, hot weeks when I heard my own children playing in the yard, alone or with friends, their voices reminded me of my own games, my own childhood summers.
I tend my garden as my parents tended theirs, and pass what was passed down from them to me to my own. I have a granddaughter now, and one day, one summer soon, I'll show her how to plant, and listen to her voice -- and the voices of the siblings and cousins I wish for her -- through the screen door on a bright, blue day.
In Blue Dahlia, I wanted to show the beauty -- and power -- of flowers, and of gardens, and the magic they can bring to any life. So please come into my garden -- each flower has a special story, just for you.
Posted May 20, 2009
This is a fabulous story very passionate and exciting with a ghost no less. It takes place in a Garden Nursery at Harper House owned by Roz Harper who hires Stella to manage it. She is recently widowed and has two children and this is a new start. She meets and is attracted to Logan Kitridge who is a landscaper who works for Roz. They have a sizzeling romance but the Harper Bride - a resident ghost is restless and causes much disruption. There are stories within stories, characters that are so diverse and interesting, humor that just makes you happy and mystery that is a page turner. This is the first of a trilogy and I loved that more was to come. This is very exciting. The romance between Stella and Logan is filled with such heat and love and his relationship with Stella's children is humorous, warm and loving. Well told.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2010
I am a new Nook owner and Nora is one of my favorite authors and this is the second trilogy in which there are only 2 of the 3 available for the Nook. Makes no sense.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 2, 2012
Posted February 27, 2012
Very spooky gave me chills but i loved it, beginning was sad but it was amazing how it progressed and the willpower of stella. Such a good book!
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 22, 2012
Not my favorite series by her. It seemed to drag at times and i found myself skipping over parts of the book. I give the whole series a two star rating, i made myself finish it because i paid for it.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2010
I was sorry to see that yet another trilogy was not available on Nook. I am hoping that, like the last time, this will eventually be available. It is available for the Kindle. B&N is behind, again.
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Posted October 18, 2013
I have yet to read one of Nora Roberts books that i dont like she has a wonderful way with words and these 3 books are no exception. An absolute must read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 25, 2013
Posted March 11, 2013
Posted March 9, 2013
Posted December 25, 2012
Posted December 12, 2012
(#1) In the Garden trilogy. Did not care for this book as listened to it on audio and the narrator Susie Breck was so country and southern, it was annoying. Setting near Memphis, TN with a backdrop of an historic house with a gardening business, three women bond while trying to uncover a past and work toward a future. Stella along with her two boys move into the home after the death of her husband to start a new career. She find friendship and bonds with owner Roz and expectant mother Hayley. She also develops an attraction to the handsome landscaper Logan and a romance begins. However, someone is not happy (the ghost is back-Amelia from the past)!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 24, 2012
Posted November 21, 2012
Posted November 20, 2012
Posted November 20, 2012
Posted November 19, 2012
Changes form into a perigrine falcon and swoops up. Sorry. I am. I didnt mean to hurt you. Plus you wpuldve done the same thing. Brothers and sisters arnt meant to be best friends rember that. Like ken and i defiently are not best friends. Still bros
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Posted June 20, 2012
Book One of the In The Garden Trilogy
By Nora Roberts
Stella Rothchild was waiting for her husband to get home on the fateful night that a plane crash left her widowed with two young children. Two years later she decides she needs a fresh start and moves to Tennessee to be closer to her father and step mother, she finds the perfect job at In The Garden nursery and even though a stipulation is to live at the Harper House she finds that everything is perfect except for the woman who is haunting the house. The Harper Bride begins as a benign spirit who sings her children to sleep but as she begins to fall in love again the spirit takes on a more sinister air.
Nora Roberts did a fantastic job with this novel adding just the right amount of creepy to a beautiful romance story. The story centers around Stella and her soon to be love Logan but also encompasses her boss Roz Harper her son Harper Ashby, and also brings to life the story of Hayley Phillips a distant cousin of Roz’s who ends up on her door step pregnant and looking to start a new life for herself after her father has passed away. The way Nora Roberts blends these stories around flowers and the Harper Bride is truly intriguing I cannot wait to see what happens next as the end of this book was truly scary.
Posted June 18, 2012
Posted March 27, 2012