Floral designer Vicki Ahlfors is a shy, hopeless romantic. The dutiful daughter of a banking dynasty, she has always done what was expected of heruntil she falls for her best friend's divorced brother.
Attorney turned political strategist Jordan Woolcott has always defined himself by his work. Now at a crossroads, Jordan's not sure who he is, other than a dad to his young son, Mason. It's a rewarding job, but being a single father is so much harder than he'd ever imagined.
Vicki has a magical touch when it comes to Mason, and her heart goes out to the overwhelmed Jordan. As feelings grow tender, will an explosive political scandal end their dream of forever before it even begins?
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Stealing a brief moment to decompress after a hectic morning of back-to-back-to-back customers, Vicki Ahlfors closed her eyes and inhaled a healthy lungful of rich, pine-scented air.
God, she loved this time of year.
The delicate perfume of tea roses in spring was lovely, but it couldn't compare to the crisp freshness of balsam fir. The fragrant scent filling Petals, her floral-design shop, was a telltale sign that her favorite time of the year was finally upon her.
She snipped a wayward thatch of pine needles from the thick spray, then draped the nine-foot garland across her custom-made chest-high worktable. She gathered sprigs of deep red hypericum berries and, using floral wire, attached them to the garland in perfectly measured six-inch increments. She knew how precise Mr. Wallace liked his floral arrangements, and she would not give that old curmudgeon a single opportunity to complain about the treatments she'd designed for his front door this year.
"Oh, my goodness! It smells amazing down here."
Vicki lifted her head to find Sandra Woolcott-Jacobs, one of her partners in crime in the Silk Sisters event agency, rounding the newel post at the base of the winding staircase. She walked over to Vicki's workstation, leaned over the garland and pulled in a deep breath.
"I love this time of year," Sandra said with a satisfied sigh. "Laurel Collins was hanging Christmas lights around the window of her gift shop when I walked past there this morning. I nearly broke out into 'Jingle Bell Rock.'"
Vicki arched a brow in knowing amusement. "That may be the case, but for some reason I don't think it's just the time of year that has you singing these days."
Sandra dipped her head, a coy grin lifting the corners of her mouth. "There may be another reason," she admitted.
Vicki burst out laughing. "Sandra Woolcott-Jacobs, is that an actual blush forming on your cheeks?"
"Oh, stop it," Sandra said, the blush deepening.
If that wasn't a sign that Sandra had undergone a radical change since reconnecting with the love of her life, Vicki didn't know what was. Isaiah Jacobs had swooped back into town and swept her girlfriend right off her feet.
"You've got that special newlywed glow," Vicki said. "It looks really good on you."
She denied the slight twinge of envy that pinched her chest, refused to even acknowledge its existence for fear that it would show on her face. She was thrilled for her friends. Truly, she was. Both Sandra and Janelle Howerton-Dubois, the third member of their trio, had found love in the past few months, and Vicki could not be happier for her two best friends.
But happiness and envy weren't mutually exclusive. She was a multitasker; she could feel both.
"I can already tell that my first Christmas with Isaiah will be magical," Sandra said with a look that could only be described as dreamy. "If you're not booked solid already, I may have you put together a wreath for our front door."
"You know I'll make time for you," Vicki said.
"What about a tree?"
Another of those soft, faraway smiles graced Sandra's lips. "I think we're going to decorate that ourselves. It'll be our first tree as a family."
Vicki could barely contain her own wistful sigh. In the epic battle between happiness and envy, envy was winning by a landslide right now. There was no doubt about it, decorating her tree at home, once again by her lonesome self, would suck even more this year.
"I will, however, have you order our tree from the supplier you usually use," Sandra said, finally coming out of her it's-a-wonderful-life-with-Isaiah-induced daze. "Have you ordered the tree for the Victorian yet?"
Vicki nodded. "It's being delivered later today. I was able to find the most gorgeous twelve-footer for the front parlor. It should fit perfectly in the curve of the staircase."
Petals inhabited the majority of the first floor of the three-story Victorian she, Sandra and Janelle owned in their New England hometown of Wintersage. Dubbed the Silk Sisters since their high school days at Wintersage Academy, the three had gone into business together soon after college graduation. Swoon Couture, Sandra's dress boutique, was on the second floor, and Janelle's event-planning business, Alluring Affairs, occupied the third.
"The place looks great so far," Sandra said, gesturing to the gathering room, which served as the lobby for all three businesses. The room's focal point, a pillared, carved wooden mantelpiece, was festooned with silver ribbon, ice-blue glass ornaments and glitter-dusted seashells to bring in the essence of their seaside town.
"If you need help decking the halls, just give me a ring," Sandra said.
Vicki waved off her offer. "You've got enough on your plate with getting Swoon Couture Home off the ground."
Sandra and her new husband were starting a new venture, marrying her design business with Isaiah's family's furniture business.
"Only if you're sure," Sandra said.
"I'm sure. Besides, I get a bit territorial when it comes to holiday decorating."
"Don't I know it," Sandra said with a snort. "One piece of tinsel out of place and the girl goes crazy."
Vicki pointed her pruning shears at her. "If you even think about bringing a string of tinsel in here "
"No tinsel! I promise." She laughed, raising her hands in mock surrender. "I'll leave the decorating to you. I can't wait to see the finished product." Sandra started up the stairs, but stopped on the second step and called, "The Quarterdeck at seven?"
"I'll be there," Vicki returned.
Even though the Victorian served as their home base, it was rare for the three of them to be in one place at one time. Even when they were all here, they were so busy with their respective businesses that there was never much time for idle chitchat. Years ago they made a pact to meet on Monday nights for dinner, drinks and girl talk at the Quarterdeck, a landmark eatery on Win-tersage's waterfront.
They were in for some serious chatting tonight. These past couple of months had been a whirlwind of activity, with lifealtering events happening for Sandra and Janelle.
After witnessing the transformation in both her friends' lives, Vicki had decided it was time she undergo a few changes herself, on both the professional and personal fronts. She had sensed for quite some time that she was in a rut, but as far as ruts went, hers had been comfortable.
Honestly, what did she have to complain about? At twenty-eight years old she owned her own business, her own home, and had family and friends who loved her. She was blessed.
But she wasn't happy. At least, not as happy as she wanted to be. As she deserved to be. Witnessing both her friends enter into that much-sought-after world of wedded bliss had brought what was missing in Vicki's own life into stark relief.
So she'd taken matters into her own hands, undergoing a radical makeover. Okay, not entirely radical; it wasn't as if she'd dyed her hair purple and gotten a nose ring or anything.
But for quiet, reserved Vicki Ahlfors, a chin-length pixie haircut and a closet of new cleavage-revealing blouses and dresses were pretty darn drastic. By the slew of new male clients Petals had garnered over the past week, the results of her transformation could not be denied.
She was Wintersage's hot new item.
"Whatever," Vicki said with a snort.
She had definitely caught the eye of several men around town, but instead of being flattered, Vicki found herself just a tad pissed off. She'd lived here her entire life. Why in the heck had it taken a makeover for all of them to finally notice her?
Despite the umbrage she'd taken over her admirers' obvious shallowness, Vicki wasn't entirely blind to the romantic opportunities that her newfound popularity had created.
There was just one problem: not a single one of the men who had come calling in the past week held an ounce of appeal. She found their overaggressiveness off-putting, and for the few who'd strolled into her flower shop as if they were God's gift to the female population, Vicki had taken great pleasure in knocking the wind out of their overinflated egos.
Talk about egos! What about her own? After all her bellyaching over being single, she now had the nerve to play hard to get.
"Damn right," Vicki said.
Not only did she refuse to settle for the first guy who walked into her flower shop and offered to buy her a dozen roses, but she planned to make sure that any man she dated was worthy of her precious free time. Life was much too short to waste it on a relationship that was going nowhere. She wanted to find what Sandra and Janelle had both found.
So why are you still dragging your feet?
Setting down the shears, Vicki walked over to her laptop and flipped it open. Inhaling a fortifying breath, she logged on to the online-dating profile she'd created after she'd got home from Sandra's wedding this past weekend. The message sitting in her inbox seemed to pulse with a life of its own. She'd read over it at least a dozen times since it had arrived, had attempted to hit Reply more than once. Yet there it sat, staring at her, goading her into donning the new, confident, vivacious mantle she was determined to wear. The new Vicki.
Was she really going to take this step? As popular as online dating had become, Vicki could never bring herself to try it. She'd held steadfast to the romantic notion of meeting her Prince Charming the old-fashioned way. They were supposed to spot each other across a crowded room, fall madly in love, start a family and live happily ever after.
Blah. Blah. Blah.
The old-fashioned way hadn't worked for her. The old-fashioned way had her still single, while her two best friends were now both married and living their happily ever afters. She was done waiting for things to happen the old-fashioned way.
Especially after accepting the harsh reality that the one man she'd been waiting onthe one whom she'd carried a torch for so much longer than she would ever admit to anyone but her own foolish heartwould apparently never see her in that way.
A dull ache settled in her chest, but Vicki quickly tamped down the gloominess before it could take hold.
She was done pining for what would never be. It was time to move on.
Ignoring what felt like a million butterflies flittering around in her stomach, Vicki replied to the date request from a handsome E.R. doctor who, according to his profile, was an attending physician at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. The moment she hit Send, a weight seemed to lift from her shoulders.
There. That hadn't been so bad. And it was yet another step on her journey to finding the new Vicki.
Maybe she should give her new journey a namesomething along the lines of The Reinvention of Vicki?
She rolled her eyes as she closed the laptop.
That was something the old Vicki would do. The new Vicki would not be so lame.
The rumbling of a truck engine had her dashing toward the front door. All morning she'd been anticipating the arrival of the Christmas tree she'd ordered. It was the final piece required to transform the bottom floor of the Victorian into the picture-perfect New England seaside Christmas escape.
Vicki stepped out onto the gabled front porch and stopped dead in her tracks.
"What is this?" She pointed to the truck bed. "I ordered a twelve-foot Fraser fir. This tree isn't even eight feet."
"This is what they gave me, lady," the deliveryman replied in a thick Boston accent. He rounded the truck and pulled the tree out by its thin trunk.
Vicki shut her eyes against the thumping that instantly started up at her temples. With a full slate of projects lined up, hassling over the tree farm's obvious mistake was exactly what she did not need today.
But she'd had her heart set on that Fraser fir. She'd purchased the most amazing hand-painted ornaments from a gift shop on Main Street, along with a crystal tree topper that would bring the entire ensemble together.
Dammit, she'd paid for that Fraser fir, not this scrag-gly little pine that looked as if it was a reject from A
Charlie Brown Christmas school play.
The old Vicki would just accept the tree and move on. The new Vicki wasn't standing for it.
She stomped down the porch steps and blocked the deliveryman's path. "Sir, would you please bring this this thing," she said, pointing to the tree, "back to the lot and return with the tree I ordered?"
"Come on, lady. A tree is a tree."
Vicki folded her arms over her chest. "I want the tree I ordered," she annunciated in a clipped tone.
The man let out a grunt. He shoved the tree back onto the truck bed and mumbled something unintelligible under his breath.
"Thank you," Vicki said with a curt nod. She marched up the steps and walked inside, closing the door behind her. She fell back against it, covering her hand with her chest.
"Holy crap," she breathed. A grin curled up the corners of her lips. "I think I'm going to like the new Vicki."
Vicki buried her chin deeper into her scarf as she braced herself against the brisk wind coming off the water. She could have taken her car, but with the Quarterdeck so close to Silk Sisters, it felt unnecessary, even in the misty, frigid weather. Besides, she could not fully appreciate the holiday decorations adorning the businesses on Main Street from behind the wheel of her car. Even the shops that were closednow that the tourist season was overwere bedecked with festive lights.
She entered the Quarterdeck and headed straight for the table she, Sandra and Janelle usually occupied.
"Sorry I'm late," Vicki said as she came upon them, planting a kiss on Janelle's cheek. She hadn't seen her at all today. "There was a mix-up with the Christmas tree. I'm convinced the driver took extralong delivering the correct one just to be difficult."
"That just means that you'll have to play catch-up with me and Sandra," Janelle said. She signaled a waiter, who was at their table in an instant.
His pen poised over his notepad, he asked, "The usual?"
"Yes," Vicki automatically answered. Then she thought better of it. "Actually, no. I'll have a vodka martini with two olives."
The waiter's brow shot up. "Okay, then. Coming right up. I'll have that fried calamari appetizer out in a minute, ladies."
Vicki looked across the table to find both Janelle and Sandra staring at her with their mouths open.
"What?" she asked.
Sandra put her hands up, her eyes wide with shock. "First the new hair and makeup, and now a vodka martini instead of a white-wine spritzer?" She slanted Janelle a questioning look. "Can you tell me what's happening with our girl over here?"
"I'm not sure, but I like it," Janelle said.
Even as she waved off their teasing, Vicki could feel a warm blush turning her cheeks red. She knew these changes were a shock to her friends. They were used to her being demure, staid.
The fact that a simple change in her drink order could elicit that kind of reaction from them was as telling as anything.
As they snacked on crisp calamari tossed in a sweet ginger sauce, Sandra filled Vicki and Janelle in on the plans for her and Isaiah's belated honeymoon in Paris in a few months.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked the relationship between the friends, the Silk Sisters. I'm looking forward to more stories including them and their families. LA-TXN
This is a holiday romance that will DEFINITELY keep you warm this season! Part of the premise of this story was SO much fun to think about; a young girl crushing on her best friend’s older brother…and then they re-connect years later, and now we have a romance novel! While Jordan had his own distractions relating to work, the sole focus of his life was his infant son. That fatherly trait was so endearing. I really liked all of the characters in the story because they were sweet, but not to the point that made my teeth hurt, if you get what I’m saying. They had juuuuuust enough of an “edge” to them to make them realistic. I enjoyed reading Vicki because here she was, trying to re-invent herself into The New Vicki, but her interior monologue had some self-doubt and went back and forth with things like, “…the old Vicki would do ____, but not The New Vicki!” Overall, this is a very well-written, very sweet story with some VERY SPICY love scenes. I really liked this book!!! ***I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review***
Love this series. Great story. Would love to read more on the siblings to the Silk sisters.