Author: Jill Shalvis
Some things were set in stone: The sun would rise every morning, the tide would come in and out without fail, and a girl needed to check herself out in the mirror before a date no matter the obstacle. To that end, Ali Winters climbed up on the toilet seat to get a full view of herself in the tiny bathroom mirror of the flower shop where she worked. Ducking so that she didn’t hit her head on the low ceiling, she took in her reflection. Not bad from the front, she decided, and carefully spun around to catch the hind view of herself in her vintage—aka thrift store—little black dress.
Also not bad.
She’d closed up Lucky Harbor Flowers thirty minutes ago to get ready for the town’s big fundraiser tonight, where they were hopefully going to raise the last of the money for the new community center. Earlier, she’d spent several hours delivering and decorating Town Hall with huge floral arrangements from the shop, as well as setting up a display of her pottery for the auction. She was excited about the night ahead, but Teddy was late.
Nothing unusual. Her boyfriend of four months was perpetually late but such a charmer it never seemed to matter. He was the town clerk, and on top of being widely beloved by just about everyone who’d ever met him, he was also a very busy guy. He’d been in charge of the funding for the new community center, a huge undertaking, so most likely, he’d just forgotten that he’d promised to pick her up. Hopefully.
Still precariously balanced, she eyed herself again, just as there was a sudden knock on the bathroom door. Jerking upright in surprise, she hit her head on the ceiling and nearly toppled to the floor. Hissing in a breath, she gripped her head and carefully stepped down. Managing that without killing herself, she opened the door to her boss, Russell, the proprietor of Lucky Harbor Flowers.
Russell was in his mid-thirties and reed thin, with spiked blond hair, bringing him to just above her own almost-but-not-quite, five foot five. He was wearing red skinny pants and a half tucked–in red-and-white checkered polo shirt. These were his favorite golf clothes, though he didn’t golf, because he objected to sweating. He was holding a ceramic pot filled with an artful array of flowers in each hand.
Ali took in the two arrangements, both colorful and cheerful, and—if she said so herself—every bit as pretty as the pots, which were hers too.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” Russell asked.
She let go of the top of her head. “Um, they’re all kinds of awesome?”
“Correct,” Russell said with an answering smile. “But they’re also all kinds of waste. No one ordered these, Ali.”
“Yes, but they’ll look fantastic in the window display.” An age-old argument. “They’ll draw people in,” she said, “and then someone will order them.”
Russell sighed with dramatic flair. The flower shop had been his sister Mindy’s until two years ago, when he’d bought it from her so that she could move to Los Angeles with her new boyfriend. “Sweetkins, I pay you to make floral arrangements because no one in Lucky Harbor does it better. I love your ceramic-ware and think you’re a creative genius. I also think that genius is completely wasted on the volunteer classes you give at the senior center, but that’s another matter entirely. You already know that I think you give too much of yourself to others. Regardless of that big, warm heart of yours, you make the arrangements. I run the business.”
Ali bit her tongue so she wouldn’t say what she wanted to. If he would listen to her ideas, they’d increase business. She was sure of it.
“And speaking of the shop,” he went on, “we need to talk sometime soon. Um, you might want to fix your hair.”
She turned her neck and glanced in the mirror. Eek. Her wildly wavy hair did need some taming. She quickly worked on that. “Better?”
“Some,” Russell said with a smile, and put the flowers down to fix her hair himself. “Where’s your cutie-pie, live-in boyfriend?”
Two months ago, her apartment building had been scheduled for lengthy renovations, and Ali had needed a place to stay. Teddy had generously offered to share his place. He was like that, open and warm and generous. And fun. There hadn’t been a lot of that in her life. And then there was the pride of being in a real, adult relationship.
So she’d happily moved into his beach house rental, and suddenly everything she’d ever dreamed of growing up—safety, security, and stability—was right there. Her three favorite S’s. “Teddy’s late,” she said. “I’ll just meet him there.”
Russell peered at her over the top of his square, black-rimmed glasses. “Don’t tell me that Hot Stuff stood you up again.”
“Okay, I won’t tell you.”
“Dammit.” He sighed. “The sexy ones are all such unreliable bitches.” He hugged her. “Forgive me for my complaint about the fabulous arrangements?”
“Of course. What did you want to talk about?”
A shadow passed over Russell’s face but he quickly plastered on a smile. “It can wait. Come on, I’ll take you to the auction myself. I want to get there before all the good appetizers are gone.”
“How do you know there’ll be good appetizers?”
Tara Daniels Walker ran the local B&B with her sisters, and she was the best chef in the county. Definitely worth rushing for.
Russell drove them in his Prius. Lucky Harbor was a picturesque little Washington beach town nestled in a rocky cove with the Olympic Mountains at its back and the Pacific Ocean at its front. The town itself was a quirky, eclectic mix of the old and new. The main drag was lined with Victorian buildings painted in bright colors, housing cute shops and a bar and grill called The Love Shack, along with the requisite grocery store, post office, gas station, and hardware store. A long pier jutted out into the water, and lining the beach was a café named Eat Me, an arcade, an ice cream shop, and a huge Ferris wheel.
People came to Lucky Harbor looking for something, some to start over and some for the gorgeous scenery of the Olympic Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Ali was one of those looking for a new start. The locals were hardy, resilient, and, as a rule, stubborn as hell. She had all three of these characteristics in spades, especially the stubborn as hell part.
They parked at the Town Hall building at the end of the commercial row, and found the place filled to capacity.
“Look at all the finery,” Russell said as they walked in, sounding amused. “For that matter, look at us. We’re smoking hot, Cookie.”
“That we are.”
“Not bad for a pair of trailer park kids, huh?”
Ali had grown up in a rough area of White Center, which was west of Seattle. Russell had done the same but in Vegas, though he’d made himself a more-than-decent living in his wild twenties as an Elvis impersonator. About ten years ago, he moved to Lucky Harbor with his sister. Ali actually hadn’t ever lived in a trailer park, but in a series of falling down, post–WWII cracker-box houses that were possibly even worse. Lucky Harbor was a sweet little slice of life that neither of them had imagined for themselves. “Not bad at all,” she agreed.
They entered the hall to the tune of laughter and music and the clink of glasses. Ali caught a fleeting glimpse of Teddy working the crowd, gorgeous as ever in a suit and good-old-boy smile, which he flashed often. His light brown hair was sun kissed from weekends golfing, fishing, hiking, and whatever other adventures he chose. Extremely active and fit, he’d try anything that was in the vicinity of fun. It was one of the things that had drawn her to him.
He caught sight of her and smiled, and Ali’s heart sighed just looking at him. She called it the Teddy Phenomenon, because it wasn’t just her—everyone seemed to respond to him that way.
But then she realized he was smiling at the pretty server behind her, who then turned and walked into a wall. Ali shook her head and sipped her champagne. She got it. It was his job, pleasing the public. And he did have a way of making a girl feel like the most beautiful woman in a crowded room.
Mayor Tony Medina took the stage and tapped on the mic to get everyone’s attention. A financial advisor, he’d been mayor for coming up on two years now, having taken over when the previous mayor, Jax Cullen, had stepped down from the position to concentrate on his first loves—his family and carpentry.
“Good evening, Lucky Harbor!” Tony called out. “Thanks for coming! Let’s all raise our glasses to our very own Ted Marshall, who worked incredibly hard at raising the funds for our new community center.”
At that, the crowd whooped and hollered, and Russell nudged Ali. “You worked hard too. Where’s your credit?”
“I don’t need credit,” Ali said, and she didn’t. She’d assisted by running car washes and other donation drives to help Teddy behind the scenes, where she was content to stay.
“As you know,” Tony went on, “the town council promised to match the funds raised tonight. So without further ado, we’re adding a total of fifty thousand dollars to the pot tonight.”
Teddy hopped up onto the stage with the mayor, hoisting a very large aluminum briefcase. He’d worked damn hard at getting this rec center built for the town, and it was within his sights now. Looking right at home, he smiled. “The build is an official go,” he said into the mic. He opened the briefcase and showed off the fifty thousand, neatly stacked and wrapped in bill bands. Obviously it’d come straight from the bank for the reveal, but the crowd ate it up anyway.
After the ceremony, Ali went looking for Teddy. She needed a ride home, not to mention it’d be nice to see her boyfriend. She circled the large room twice to no avail, and then finally headed down the hallway to the offices to check there. She could see the light under Teddy’s door, but to her surprise it was locked. Lifting a hand to knock, she went shock still at the low, throaty female moan from within. Wait…that couldn’t be…
And then came a deeper, huskier moan.