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"My client has decided not to make an offer on your floral business."
Jayne Rose thanked the Realtor and hung up, but her stomach churned with angst.
Lord, how am I going to help Granny Em?
The shop's doorbell interrupted her silent plea. She shoved the sturdy frames of her glasses an inch higher on her nose and peered through the thick lenses at her newest customer.
"Welcome to Rose's Roses. Can I help you?"
"I'm not sure," the man said. "Your window display intrigued me. I'm kind of a window shopper."
"Ah." I don't have time, Jayne thought.
"I'm thinking Easter lilies," he mused. "A friend loves spring, though the Palm Springs version isn't exactly what she was used to in England."
"Well, it's a bit early for potted Easter lilies," Jayne explained. "But I could make up an arrangement." She grabbed an order form. "Name?"
"Well, I'm not sure…" He peered at the orchids Jayne had unpacked late last night. "Those are amazing. Maybe I should—"
"Would you like a minute?" she offered with a desperate glance at the clock.
"At least a minute," he agreed, but his gaze rested on her.
"I'll finish some errands while you decide. Call when you're ready." Jayne stepped inside the cooler, anxious to finish her wedding order.
But she couldn't dismiss the man in the shop so easily. Through the glass walls she saw him perusing her stock. He was tall and lean, muscular, but not bulky. His dark brown eyes studied the bucket of roses intently while he tilted back on his heels. Jayne immediately labeled him artistic, though she couldn't have explained why. Perhaps it was the easy way he moved, as if he was totally comfortable with himself.
Jayne had never managed to achieve that ease, not since the accident.
Stop staring and concentrate. She consulted her list. Everything was almost ready for delivery, only a few more tweaks. She'd barely finished gathering what she needed when the shop's bell rang again.
So he'd left. She ignored her disappointment and took her time selecting the best blooms. Even though the money she'd make on this wedding was minimal, Jayne believed every bride deserved a beautiful wedding. Just because this bride didn't have a lot of money didn't mean Rose's Roses would skimp.
She had one foot out of the cooler when she heard voices.
"Jayne's the most perfect florist. I'm not like her other clients, you know. I haven't got a bundle of cash to spend on my wedding, but Jayne doesn't care. She pours her soul into everything she does. I'll hate it if this place has to close."
Jayne grinned at the glowing tribute. LouAnne was such a sweetheart. Jayne stepped around the corner with a smile on her lips and saw LouAnne talking to her earlier customer.
"Hey, Jayne," LouAnne said.
"Hey, yourself. Aren't you supposed to be at home, dressing in all that ivory and lace?" For a minute Jayne worried LouAnne was having bridal jitters. She censured the thought. LouAnne was committed and confident. Her marriage would be solid and happy.
Jayne quashed a rush of longing to be in love like that.
"I would be dressing," LouAnne said, "but I just found out my bridesmaid wrecked her gown. Now she's wearing green instead of blue. Can we change the ribbons in the flowers?"
Jayne stifled a groan. Changes at this stage meant even more time spent on a not very profitable order, which was okay, but there was still that quilter's convention tomorrow to prepare for.
"I'm asking too much of you." LouAnne's pretty face fell.
"Of course you're not. You go home. I'll handle everything," Jayne said, pushing LouAnne toward the door. "Move it, lady, or you'll be late for your own wedding. I'll have everything at the church before you get there."
"See what I mean? She's a blessing," LouAnne said over one shoulder to the man who stood watching them. She paused long enough to hug Jayne. Then she hurried away, glowing with the radiance of a bride-to-be.
"It's not going to be quite as simple as you said, is it?" His quiet question broke the silence.
"It will be very not-simple," Jayne agreed. "But it will happen." She began the delicate process of unweaving the blue ribbon from the arrangement she'd just finished.
"Can I help?" he offered. "I promise I'll try my best not to wreck your flowers."
"I'm sure you don't want—"
"I'd really like to help, if you'll allow me." The firm response combined with the rich glow of his dark brown eyes sent a powerful message. "By the way, I'm Ben. Ben Cum-mings." He held out a hand.
"Jayne Rose," she said as his strong fingers enclosed hers.
"Of Rose's Roses." He grinned.
He really was the most handsome man. Sprinkles of sunlight dappled the sandy strands that flopped across his forehead and framed those amazing eyes, brown with a capital B. He wore knee-length shorts and a polo shirt and both of them fit like a custom-tailored glove, as elegant as any Hollywood visitor to Palm Springs.
"Let me help, Jayne."
She thought about it for two seconds. Help was good. Help was exactly what she'd been praying for.
"If you're sure?" She felt dubious about his abilities.
"I am sure."
"Then I'm grateful. Here, you lift it out like this."
He watched for a moment then nodded. "Got it."
Normally Jayne wouldn't dream of allowing a customer to help, but desperate times called for innovative solutions and with her assistant absent, she was frantic for help.
As Ben patiently coaxed the ribbon free, Jayne decided he was better at it than she was, probably because she felt so rushed. She had to stop reworking the bridal bouquet twice to help customers.
"Is it always so busy around here?" he asked when the customers had left.
"Mmm. Look, Mr. Cummings, do—"
"Call me Ben. No, I don't have to be anywhere and yes, I really want to help."
"Okay," she said with a smile. "Then I appreciate it. I only hope my grandmother arrives soon. I need the van to deliver these."
"Is she making other deliveries?"
"No. My grandmother, Emma Rose, is the owner of Rose's Roses. She's supposed to be at home, resting. But she insisted on coming in this afternoon, so I had to send my assistant to pick her up. Emma can't drive anymore."
"One too many accidents, huh?" Amusement underlay his words.
"Not exactly." Jayne set aside the sheaf of cascading pink roses. "Emma hasn't been well."
"You call her by her first name?"
"At work, yes. It just seems more…businesslike." She studied him. "How are you doing?"
"Finished this one. I'mguessing there's another to match it?"
He was quick. And good. Not one stem had been broken. Ben Cummings was a lifesaver.
"There are two more in the cooler," Jayne said. "I'll get them."
Ben rejected that and carried the big vases out by himself. Working swiftly but carefully, he extricated the blue ribbons.
"Why does your friend think you might have to close Rose's Roses?" he asked, watching as she replaced the ribbons he'd removed with green ones.
"Emma's trying to sell. Or at least find a partner." In any other circumstance Jayne would have died before sharing such personal details. But the frustration of not finding a buyer for Rose's Roses had her stressed out. "Emma needs an operation. Her insurance won't cover it."
"Oh." He left it open for her to decide whether to explain or not.
Jayne needed to talk to someone. Why not a total stranger?
"I was twelve when my parents died and I came to live with Grandma Em. We don't have anyone else. Emma wanted to be sure that if something happened to her, I'd be taken care of, so she reduced her own health insurance to buy a life insurance policy to benefit me."
"That was a while ago?"
"Yes," Jayne admitted. "Twelve years. I didn't realize she hadn't changed her plan back until her health got worse and I took over the bookkeeping."
"That's a big responsibility."
"I'm good with math." She sighed, remembering the shock. "It's ironic. Emma didn't increase her health insurance at that time because she was saving to buy out her partner and be independent. I guess she felt money was too tight to waste on insurance she'd never use. She's always been so healthy. But now she needs a partner."
"Or a buyer."
"Yes." The worry of losing Emma gnawed a new hole in Jayne's stomach. She had to find a way to pay for that operation. Emma's heart wouldn't hold on forever and Jayne wasn't about to lose the last of her family.
"I'm finished with these vases."
"Thank you very much." She glanced at the clock. Time was fleeting and still no van. God?
"Why don't you buy your grandmother out?" he asked. "It looks like you enjoy this work."
"I love it," Jayne said fiercely. "I'd like nothing better than to buy Rose's Roses. But I haven't got the money and no one will lend it to me. For some reason, you have to have money to borrow it." She checked the clock again. "I wish they'd get here. The wedding's in an hour. This stuff should already be at the church."
"You can borrow my car. It's not a van, but it's big enough to fit the vases, I think." Ben nodded toward the black SUV parked by the curb. "Fortunately, it's empty at the moment. I've been hauling stuff," he explained.
"I was trying to landscape." He made a face. "I'm lousy at it."
The word landscape tweaked her interest, but Jayne ignored it. She picked up the phone and dialed. Her grandmother didn't have a cell phone, but her assistant, Sidney, did.
"Hi. Where are you? I've got to get this wedding order—"
"We're stuck in traffic. There was an accident."
"Is Granny all right?" Panic rose like a tidal wave.
"She's fine. The accident's in front of us. We're going to be awhile."
"Okay, I'll think of something else. Bye." Jayne hung up, squeezed her eyes closed and prayed for help.
The sound of keys rattling startled her.
"Take them and go deliver your stuff," Ben said, brown eyes crinkling at the corners. "I can hold down the fort here for a few minutes. Or, I'll drive you—if you'd rather not leave me here alone."
It was so tempting.
"Come on. I've got the motor running, so the air-conditioning should have things cooled down. Let's get loading."
It was obvious her van would not arrive in time. Jayne studied Ben Cummings. Had God sent her help via him?
"A really bad guy wouldn't offer you his car keys," he teased.
"Are you sure about this?"
"Positive," he said with a smile. "Shall I load this vase?"
She nodded. Accepting Ben Cummings's help seemed presumptuous and too easy, but it also seemed like an answer to a prayer.
She turned away to load corsages and bouquets into a flat box. Ben carried that out, along with the rest of the order while Jayne hurried to the back of the building to retrieve her special surprise for LouAnne.
But when she tried to lift one of the two small cedar trees she'd draped in white tulle and tied with a white satin bow, it was too heavy. How on earth had Sidney manhandled the trees in here?
"Back here." She pushed even harder, struggling to slide the tree forward. It refused to budge. She stepped backward and bumped into Ben.
"Trouble?" His hand steadied her.
"I guess I shouldn't have watered them this morning," Jayne mumbled, embarrassed at her clumsiness. She edged away from him, winced as her shin collided with a pail of water. "Now they're too heavy. I'll have to leave them behind." Frustration gnawed at her.
"What are they for?"
"I wanted to place one on either side of the entry. The church is small and rather plain. I thought there should be something to announce that a wonderful wedding is about to take place."
"That was generous of you."
She caught a glimpse of the clock on the wall and shook her head. "Never mind."
"Could I drive around to the back? Load them from here?"
"Maybe." Jayne explained how to access the rear door. Moments later Ben had backed in and was rearranging things in his vehicle. Then another man appeared and the two of them lifted the little trees with no difficulty.
"Thanks a lot," Ben said to the guy, who saluted before walking away. "Ready to go?" he asked Jayne.
"I guess." He made everything seem so simple.
"You realize I'll have to go with you? There's no way you'll be able to unload those trees yourself. Can you lock up?"
She dialed Sidney.
"I'm taking the flowers to the church. Has Emma got her keys?" A pause for confirmation and Jayne hung up. She clicked the lock on the front door. "They're still stuck in traffic. You're sure you want to do this?"
"It'll be fun." He grinned at her dubious look. "Oh ye of little faith."
So he knew some Scripture. Granny Em would like him.
Ben Cummings was a good driver and they arrived at the church with no trouble. While he found a helper to unload the trees, Jayne began decorating the church. Fortunately, only the minister had arrived early.
"This is the last of them." Ben placed the two large vases where she directed. Following her lead, he began hanging pew bows, laughed when she bumped into him on the last row.
"I'm no wedding expert, but shouldn't the place have been decorated last night?"
"There was a funeral." Jayne pretended her face wasn't fire-red and scanned the sanctuary with a satisfied look. "It looks pretty good, don't you think?"
"I think your friend will be ecstatic. You've turned ordinary into a bride's dream, and done it very tastefully. Will you have to come back later for the trees?"
"No. I'm leaving them. The exterior could use a bit of green." Jayne adjusted the candles on the altar before pulling out her camera and snapping pictures. "I keep an album so future brides can see what's possible."
"Very smart. I agree with your friend. It would be a pity if Rose's Roses had to close."
"Thanks." The deflation that always fell after delivering a bridal order hit Jayne as they walked to the car. Would she ever get to be a bride?
Who would want to marry a clumsy, half-blind woman with scars?
"Thank you for pitching in the way you did. I don't know how I would have managed without you."
"My pleasure." Ben began explaining about his recent arrival in Palm Springs. It seemed moments later that they pulled up in front of the shop. "Have you time for a coffee?"
In that moment, Jayne realized she wanted to know more about Ben Cummings. About his job. His life. It would be wonderful to sit in the sun and share conversation with a handsome man. But there was always work.
Besides, Jayne had no idea how to go on a date.