From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom and A December Bride (now beloved Hallmark Original movies) comes the final book in the Blue Ridge Romance series.
After two years of counseling sessions with Daisy Pendleton, Pastor Jack McReady has earned a permanent spot in her life as a spiritual leader—and nothing more. Jack would never risk losing her trust by exposing the depths of his heart, but he’s hopelessly in love with her.
Daisy loves her southern small-town life and her job at her family-run flower shop, but she doesn’t have the thing she longs for most: someone to share it with. Her recent foray into online dating has been a disaster—until she meets TJ.
Jack could kill his friend Noah for using his initials and some indistinct photos to set up a profile on the dating app Daisy is using. But when he’s finally afforded the opportunity to show her a different side of himself, he’s sucked into the plan before he has time for second thoughts.
Online, Daisy shares some of her greatest fears with TJ, but in person, Jack and Daisy are spending more time together. When a devastating family secret surfaces, Daisy knows that only her trusted friend and counselor can bring her comfort. Jack wants nothing more than to be both men for Daisy, but revealing his secret will prove to be the ultimate test of Daisy’s grace.
“I have never read a romance by Denise Hunter that didn’t sweep me away into a happily ever after. Treat yourself!” —Robin Lee Hatcher, bestselling author of Who I Am with You
“Move over You’ve Got Mail because in Denise Hunter’s On Magnolia Lane you’ve got an e-romance with enough RAM (romance and magic) not only to sputter your software, but to tug at your heart while touching your soul. Easily one of the top romance writers in the CBA, Hunter is a master at inspirational love stories that linger in one’s memory—and hard drive—long after the last page.” —Julie Lessman, award-winning author
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Jack McReady had fallen in love with Daisy in one-hour increments. How many men could claim that? he thought as he swung his Mazda into the diagonal slot in front of her flower shop, his palms sweaty against the leather steering wheel.
This wasn't his ordinary way of seeing her. Usually she came into his office to talk — hence the one-hour increments. It was the reason he knew more about Daisy than most, even their mutual friends.
But today he was getting flowers for his secretary, Gloria, as tomorrow was Administrative Professionals' Day. Sure, he could've phoned the order in, but then he would have missed a prime opportunity to see Daisy.
Entering the shop was always a full sensory experience. The bells tinkled out a welcome as the cool, bright fragrance of flowers rose to his nostrils. The colorful array of flowers and knickknacks, so artfully arranged, begged the shopper to stop and touch and appreciate.
"Be with you in a minute!" Daisy called from the back.
The sweet sound of her voice made Jack's heart thump harder. He knew she'd be working alone because today was Tuesday. Her mom was out delivering flowers, and her grandma only worked half days on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He knew — and retained — way too much about Daisy, he thought with a rueful shake of his head.
Jack stuffed his hands into his Docker pockets and perused the shop. When he was inside Oopsy Daisy he always felt as though he were meandering through the garden of Eden. Everything was arranged so perfectly, displayed so creatively. Who but Daisy would think to use an antique bicycle basket or a mailbox to display a lovely bouquet of flowers? Or an outdoor fountain to showcase a cascading arrangement of flowering vines? Everywhere he looked was another inspired idea.
He'd given up on getting her to drop the title. Her appointments had started two years ago, rarely scheduled but always delightful. He loved that she was a little overly sensitive, and he knew no one more conscientious than she. It was one of her finest qualities.
His heart fluttered at the sight of her silky blond hair and the faint spray of freckles that dotted her nose.
"Hello, Daisy. How are you this afternoon?" His tongue felt thick and uncoordinated.
"Just fine. I'm working on an order for a Cinco de Mayo party, believe it or not."
"Sounds intriguing." Was it just him, or was it hot in here? He tugged at his collar.
"I can't believe we're almost to May," she said.
"Step out onto the sidewalk; you'll believe it soon enough."
Her laughter was like a melody that plucked the strings of his heart. "I hear you." He let his gaze drift around the shop. "It's beautiful in here, Daisy. Every time I come in I'm just astounded by your displays."
"Oh, it's nothing really." She waved a hand as she reached the glass counter that separated them.
She was the worst at accepting a compliment. He gave her a long, steady look, as he was in the habit of doing when she tried to sell herself short.
"What? Oh, right. I'm supposed to be working on that." She pasted on a sweet smile. "Thank you ever so much, Pastor Jack. That is so nice of you to say."
"There, was that so hard?"
"You'll never know." She tilted a smile up at him. "So let me guess — you're here for Secretaries' Day."
"Got it in one."
"I'll fix Gloria up with a nice bouquet. Maybe some roses and daisy poms, some asters and purple delphinium? I have a large blue mason jar she'd just love. I can tie a nice big bow around it."
He loved the way her green eyes sparkled when she talked flowers. He fought their magnetic pull and was grateful for the umpteenth time that his olive skin wasn't prone to blushing. "Whatever you come up with will be perfect."
Daisy wrote up the order as Jack signed a card for Gloria. His secretary had been with him since he'd taken the job seven years ago. He'd be adrift without her, and they both knew it.
"You want to wait while I make it up or should we deliver it for you tomorrow?" Daisy asked after he'd swiped his credit card."
Whatever's easiest for you."
The bell tinkled as the door opened, allowing the entrance of a tall, slender woman with straight brown hair. She was well dressed and looked to be in her early thirties.
"Welcome!" Daisy said, peering past Jack with a friendly smile. "Let me know if I can help you with anything."
"Actually, I'm just looking for a bouquet. Maybe you can point me in the right direction."
Jack stepped back from the counter, nodding at the woman before turning back to Daisy. "Go ahead and help her. You can just deliver the flowers tomorrow."
"Sounds great. Thanks, Pastor Jack."
* * *
"Sorry if I butted in line," the woman said.
Daisy's eyes slid from Pastor Jack to her new customer. She looked as if she'd stepped straight out of a Dove soap commercial with her creamy complexion and natural beauty. Intelligence flashed in her blue eyes as she took in the small shop.
Daisy smiled. "Not at all. We were finished. Would you like to look at our fresh bouquets, or did you have something specific in mind? I'm Daisy, by the way — one of the owners."
The woman gave her a crooked smile. "Ah, Daisy ... hence the name of the shop. I'm Julia."
"Nice to meet you. The name wasn't my idea, believe me. My grandma started the place when I was young enough to think having a store named after me was the best thing since sliced bread. Can I help you find something?"
"I'm not really sure what I want. Let me look a minute, I guess."
Julia wandered over to the floral display case, grace in her movements. She wore quality black slacks and a trendy top. The bag and shoes looked like designer wear. In other words, she wasn't from around here.
Daisy wiped the lacquered counter and restocked the floral cards and envelopes. When she was finished, the woman was still perusing the case.
Daisy stepped out from behind the counter. "What's the occasion, Julia? Maybe I can help."
"Well ... I guess you could say they're for an old friend."
"Man or woman?"
"Man, but ..."
"Hmm. Something cheery, maybe? Spring's a great time for colorful blooms." Daisy slid open the case and pulled out a cellophane-wrapped arrangement of yellow roses, white lilies, and blue delphinium. "What do you think? This one isn't too feminine. I love the lemon leaf with the roses."
"That's the very one I was eyeing."
She smiled. "You have great taste."
"Let's do it then."
Daisy carried the bouquet to the counter and began ringing up the purchase. The cellophane crinkled as Julia picked up the bouquet and took a whiff.
"What brings you to Copper Creek? Just visiting your friend?"
"Kind of. I'm just passing through. I've never been to Georgia before. To be honest, I didn't even know there were mountains here."
"It's all we have up north. The Appalachian Trail starts not far from here. We get a lot of people passing through town, especially in the summer."
"It's a lovely town."
"Well, it's small, but it's home. I love the people and the familiarity of it all. You know how it is ... Everybody knows everybody."
"And their business?" Julia gave her a wan smile as she pulled a bill from her wallet.
"Sometimes." Daisy laughed. "Okay, most of the time. But the pros outweigh the cons, to my way of thinking. Where are you from?"
"North Carolina, the Winston-Salem area."
"You're a ways from home then. Well, I hope you enjoy your visit." Daisy made change and counted it back to Julia. "And I hope he enjoys the flowers."
Julia blinked before giving a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Thank you."
Just as Daisy's customer left the shop, a series of thumps sounded on the staircase at the back of the store. She got there in time to hold the door open for Ava Morgan, who was carrying a box of old junk from the upstairs apartment.
"Thanks." Ava edged past Daisy on her way to the Dumpster out back.
The eighteen-year-old had added a subtle auburn rinse of some kind to her dark hair. The color was a striking contrast with her pale skin and blue eyes. Today she wore it back in a messy bun, exposing her long, slender neck. She was lovely, inside and out, so it had been no surprise when she was crowned Miss Georgia Peach at last year's Peachfest.
A longtime resident of the Hope House, a local girls home, Ava was graduating from high school in a month and had asked about renting the small apartment above the shop. It was full of junk the old owner had left behind and had been sitting empty for years. The deal was, if Ava cleaned it out, it was all hers. The girl had jumped on the offer.
"I'll help you after the shop closes," Daisy said when Ava returned from the Dumpster.
The girl wiped her hands on her black yoga pants. "Believe it or not, I should be done by then."
"Wow, you've really put in the hours. I don't know how you've had time with school and work."
"They kind of go easy on the seniors. They know we're seriously burnt out." Ava looked up the stairwell, smiling. "The place just needs a good cleaning now, and it'll be ready to move into. I can't wait."
Daisy remembered the stained grout in the bathroom and the thick layer of dirt on the windowsills. Ava still had a huge job ahead of her.
"It'll probably be great having a place of your own, huh?"
Ava rolled her eyes. "You have no idea. I share my room with a twelve-and fourteen-year-old."
Daisy laughed. "No wonder you're in such a hurry. A young woman needs her privacy. What are your plans going forward? Will you be working full-time at the Peach Barn once school's out?"
"For the summer, yes. Then I start classes part-time at Dalton State."
"I thought I heard you got a full scholarship to UGA."
Zoe, Ava's boss at the Peach Barn and Daisy's good friend, had mentioned it a few months ago.
"I did. But I don't want to leave my little sister." Millie was nine and also a Hope House resident. Their mom had passed several years ago, and their dad was in prison. "My plan is to get my degree as quickly as possible, then save up so she can go to college. I don't think she's going to be getting an academic scholarship at this point."
"Ah, that makes sense."
The girl was making a big sacrifice for her sister. There was nothing wrong with Dalton State, but Ava would shine even at a big school like UGA.
"What's your major going to be, do you know?"
"Not sure yet. I'll just take gen eds at first and see how it goes. I really liked my marketing class last year, so maybe business."
"I'm sure you'll do great no matter what you choose."
"Thanks. I don't suppose you have a vacuum cleaner I can use? The carpet's a wreck up there."
"Oh, honey, I've seen it. You need a carpet cleaner. My grandma has one. How about I bring it over after I close up, and we'll do it together?"
Ava gave a grateful smile. "Sweet. To be honest, it was kind of grossing me out."
Daisy laughed. "It's nasty. I'll be back around five thirty, and we'll get it cleaned right up."CHAPTER 2
Daisy's childhood home was nestled at the base of the north Georgia mountains. The clapboard farmhouse with a wraparound porch was like something from a storybook. The rolling green land begged for horses — just as she'd done as a child, but her pleas had gone unheard. A fact she never let her mother forget.
"Knock-knock!" she called before slipping through the screen door. It slapped into place behind her as a delicious aroma mingled with the familiar smell of home. Thursday nights were for supper with her mama, and after a long day at the shop, Daisy was happy to skip out on cooking.
"Come on in, honey."
Daisy dropped the newspaper on the end table and entered the kitchen just as her mom was pulling a pot from the stovetop. Daisy grabbed the strainer and set it in the old farm sink just in time for her mom to empty the pasta and water into it.
Once the pasta was drained, Daisy kissed her mom's cheek. Karen Pendleton was still attractive at almost fifty-five and kept a tight rein on her figure. Her shoulder-length hair curled under the steam of the boiling water, and her green eyes, so like Daisy's, sparked whenever she got bent out of shape, which was often.
Daisy began setting out the silverware. "Deliveries go all right today?"
"Mostly. Mrs. Forsythe refused her flowers, though."
Daisy sighed, thinking of the lovely bouquet of blue and white hydrangeas. "He must've really blown it this time."
"No doubt. I put the arrangement in the case. Maybe it'll sell."
"I'll refund his credit card tomorrow."
"You shouldn't. It's not our fault his wife didn't want them."
"I know, but ... he's a steady customer."
"Which only speaks to the man's poor behavior."
Daisy shrugged. Part of her didn't know why Mrs. Forsythe put up with her husband's shenanigans. The other part — the one who'd been on a dozen first dates in the past few months — understood perfectly well.
They finished putting the food on the table and sat down in front of the bay window facing the backyard. It was a beautiful view — the vegetable garden her mother lovingly tended, the copse of evergreens from Christmases past, and the white fence she'd helped her father put up when she was twelve.
Daisy looked over to realize her mom was ready for grace, had maybe even said her name a time or two.
"Sorry. Lost in thought. Go ahead."
After the prayer they tucked in. The food was healthy but a little bland. A chicken breast with a light lemon sauce and whole-wheat pasta topped with her mom's homemade marinara.
"How's Ava coming along with the apartment?" her mom asked. "Gram said she's been quite the busy bee the past couple weeks."
"She's up there cleaning every spare minute. But between school and her job she can't have many of those. The carpets were so disgusting. We worked until after midnight Tuesday and still didn't get finished."
"I hope this isn't a mistake. She's so young to be living on her own."
"She can take care of herself. She seems years older than most eighteen-year-olds."
"Isn't that the truth. Poor thing, her and those other girls. I'm glad you do that Spring Fling dress drive for them."
"We've gotten quite a few donations. I just picked them up from the cleaners today."
"Was the shop busy?"
"Pretty steady. The insurance forms came in the mail, and I worked on them between customers."
"Oh, don't worry about those," her mom said. "I can fill them out this weekend."
"That's all right. I've already got a good start."
"I don't mind, honey. I know how you struggle with —"
Daisy gave her mom a look. "I've got it, Mama."
A long pause ensued, then Karen gave a tiny nod, her mouth tightening. "Of course you do. I was only trying to help."
Daisy's fork scraped the plate as she stabbed at the grilled chicken.
"How did your coffee date go with that gentleman friend?" her mom asked.
Daisy's fork paused on its way to her mouth. "How did you know about that?"
"You must've mentioned it to me."
"I'm sure I didn't." Daisy told her mom as little as possible about her love life — or lack thereof. Including the fact that she'd recently branched out with a dating app.
"Well, maybe someone else mentioned it to me. So how did it go? Was he nice?"
"He was just fine." For a thirty-year-old man still living at home with his parents and working at the Dairy Freeze. He'd had beady little brown eyes that never left hers, not even for a moment. He'd talked about his motorcycle (Sasha) like she was the love of his life — and blew his nose repeatedly at the table. Allergies, he'd said.
"You're too picky, honey. You'll never find a perfect man, you know."
"I'm not talking about this with you, Mama. I'm fine just as I am. I don't even need a man." She simply wanted one. Rather badly. Okay, desperately.
"Now stop that foolish talk. Of course you do. You could wear a little lipstick now and again. You're not getting any younger, you know."
Nor was she likely to forget it, with her mom reminding her every five minutes.
Daisy reached for the serving spoon. "Would you like more pasta? It's very good."
"Of course not. I'm watching my weight." Her quick assessment of Daisy's figure didn't go unnoticed.
Daisy scooped a heaping spoonful of pasta and dumped it on her own plate. "Well, I'm starving."
"I always make too much pasta. Are you still jogging, dear? It's so healthy for you."
"You know I'm not, Mama."
"You were so mellow when you were jogging."
"It's called exhaustion. I couldn't move for days." She'd tried jogging for a week last fall. If there were a second wind, she'd never found it. Maybe she'd take up walking now that the weather was warmer again.
"You should walk with me in the mornings. I'd love the company."
"I'll think about it."
She would definitely not think about it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "On Magnolia Lane"
Copyright © 2018 Denise Hunter.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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