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Lila Payne looked at the slip of paper in her hand then back to the building in front of her. Not so much a building as a sprawl of buildings with a Thomas Nurseries sign hanging high above the door of the main one.
The one-story structure spread out, consisting of a closed-in area with large windows and a separate open-air section complete with outdoor heaters and an overflowing of plants and mums blooming in fall colors. Decorated Christmas trees, some more traditional with white lights and red ornaments and others in flashy purples and blues, outlined the front and signaled the holiday closing in less than three weeks from now.
People milled around the fountains and flower displays. Pick-up trucks backed up to open spaces in the parking lot to load cords of firewood and trees. If it were true only 941 people lived in Holloway then it seemed every last one of them had shown up at the nursery this afternoon. Most of West Virginia appeared to be there, but that didn't take away from the homey, greeting-card feel to the place.
She could see a three-story farmhouse on the hill a few hundred feet away with a dusting of snow across the wide expanse of a yard. Trees lined the surrounding property for what looked like acres.
Water from the melting snow splashed across her heavy snow boots as she transferred her weight from one foot to the other. Why her uncle had sent her to a plant nursery to pick up electrical cords and the other supplies he'd said she'd need to take care of a few repairs on the campground was the question.
He'd retired to Florida, seeking sun and a young lady to share the sunsets with, or that was what he told Lila in last week's phone call. Of course, the young lady in question would likely be in her sixties to match his seventy-one. As her father's brother and the last of the Payne blood alive and kicking, other than her, he was four decades older and could still out-drink her. Almost anyone could. The sniff of hard liquor made her head dance.
She looked at the black ink of the bold script one more time and smiled. Only Uncle Ned would send a birthday card with a cryptic note that would lead her to a whole new life. And boy could she use one of those.
The crunch of footsteps on gravel echoed behind her the second before she felt a presence by her side. She looked over, first seeing men's work boots then moving up to a dark plaid coat bundled against his neck and the biting wind and finally to his face. Short, blondish-brown hair and the smoothest skin she'd ever seen on a guy. This one was pretty. Really pretty but young. Like, not-that-far-from-jailbait young with light green eyes and a crooked smile she'd bet tripped up more than one otherwise intelligent female.
"May I help you with something?" The deep, rich voice had every woman within fifty feet stopping and glancing over. One lady ignored her young son's broken jacket zipper in favor of an extra-long look.
"Do you work here?" For all Lila knew this guy walked around the parking lot collecting ladies' numbers for a living. Wouldn't be that hard for him to do.
"My name is Travis Yardley and from the look on your face I'm wondering what you thought I wanted when I asked you the question."
He smiled as he talked, which lessened her anxiety. Not that she feared him with a crowd of witnesses hanging around. She just felt uncomfortable in her skin, as if she were wearing an oversized I'm An Outsider sign.