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Hearts In Bloom
By Mae Nunn
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
There was just something so appealing about dirt.
Jessica Holliday couldn't remember a time in her twenty-six years when she hadn't been fascinated by the stuff and the miracles it generated. She breathed deeply of its comforting smell and lightly massaged the site of her knee injury.
Atlanta's top orthopedic surgeon had performed the anterior medialization, grafting bone and marrow, inserting titanium screws and closing the knee with thirty-five staples. But no amount of medical skill would ever restore full strength to her leg.
A small price to pay, considering Adam Crockett was lost forever to his grieving family. A family who blamed her for his death.
At least she had the chance to start again. She'd planned better than her mother, who'd ended up with no education and a child to support after her ex-military husband had abandoned them. Thanks to a green thumb and a very tight budget, Jessica had learned something besides dance. She could design, plant and tend gardens of all kinds, and the proof covered the ten-acre campus of Sacred Arms.
Sitting cross-legged in the shade of six-foot-high fuchsia and white azalea bushes, she admired the beds in bloom. Tall clusters of purple iris and feathery, light pink plumes of astilbe surrounded her. Fragrant bunches of lavender waved in the warm spring breeze.
An afternoon sun glinted through the shady gardens of the town-home complex and she ducked her head to avoid the momentary brightness. Her downcast eyes were drawn to her hands, to the nails that were in desperate need of a manicure. The fashionable mid-town salon had probably figured out months ago that she wouldn't be keeping her regular appointment any longer.
She'd kept her nails maintained only out of responsibility anyway, hating the busy metallic clicking of the clippers and the rough filing and the smell of acrylic. But a principal performer for the Atlanta Dance Theater could hardly greet supporters with soil under her fingernails. Now the trace of dirt beneath her short nails was a welcome sight.
How quickly priorities could change. One moment she had been navigating the dark highway, the next she'd been blinded by the overhead lights of the operating room.
From where she sat, Jessica had a clear view of the security gate. It swung open to admit a fancy white sedan that pulled a little too quickly into the parking lot. That could mean only one thing. Valentine was late to meet a prospective buyer.
With the always immaculately dressed real estate agent close by, Jessica paused to consider her own attire. She surveyed the baggy sweat suit, stained with everything from mulch to mustard. She needed new clothes desperately, but refused to acknowledge the result of her sixty-pound weight gain in such a permanent manner.
From outside the gates, a sports car's too-loud engine growled. A shiny blue car glided to a stop beside the sidewalk and a hulk of a man rose from the car and stepped into the sunshine. Standing ramrod straight, he surveyed the community of private town houses. With an arm raised to shield his eyes against the glare, he appeared to salute.
Jessica scoffed at the memory it evoked. Her worthless father had teased her mother with a similar gesture on the rare occasions when he'd meandered through their lives. The braided rug beside Jessica's childhood bed had worn thin where she'd knelt. Prayers for her father to stay with them had gone unanswered, so she'd given up on prayer altogether.
She wagged her head to shake off the daydreaming, a thick ponytail swishing about the neck of her shirt, and swiped at her forehead with a dirty hand.
With an aluminum cane tucked beneath her arm, she returned to the task of fertilizing the prizewinning azaleas. She scooted backward across the grass to the next spot needing attention, eased over, careful to avoid the still-mending leg, and returned to work.
Drew Keegan had emerged from the shady interior of his perfectly restored '67 fastback into the afternoon sun. He stood, hand raised to block the glare, admiring the grounds of Sacred Arms. In many ways the property, located in the historic Grant Park district of Atlanta, still had the look of the 1920s Christian school it had once been.
"Very interesting." He spoke aloud to himself.
Making the scene even more interesting, the same white luxury car that had blown past him on the interstate was now pulled to the curb farther inside the gate.
The driver swiveled to the left, extending shapely legs. She offered an appealing view of cream-colored stockings that led to a fashionably short, pale pink linen skirt.
Just as he realized the long, low whistle came from his own lips, the matching pink jacket appeared and above it a charming face, sporting a devilish smile.
"Dahhhlin'! You must be Drew. How sweet of you to make a pass at a woman old enough to be your mama."
The woman was actually old enough to be his grandmama, but she'd probably never look it as long as there were good plastic surgeons in Georgia.
"Ms. Chandler?" Drew had a terrible suspicion that he was blushing, something he'd rarely done in his adult life. "Please accept my apology, ma'am. I don't know what possessed me to do such a thing."
"Oh, honey, you couldn't help yourself. I've always had that effect on handsome young men."
Excerpted from Hearts In Bloom by Mae Nunn Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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