“We sold the flower shop to the Donovans.”
“You what?” Isabelle Cooper gaped at her
parents in absolute horror. “Why?”
“To fund our retirement.” Her tall, slim, nearly bald
father caught her hand. “Sweetie, you’ve proven you can run
the place on your own. But then the three of us would have
to share the monthly income. This way, your mom and I cash
out and you still have a job. A job with a salary, not just a
percentage of unstable profits.” He smiled proudly. “I took
care of all of us.”
She combed her fingers through her long, straight red
hair, pushing it off her face. “All right. Okay. I think I get it.”
From a fiscal standpoint, her dad really had taken care of all
of them by selling their family business to Donovan, Inc. He’d
gotten enough money for him and her mom to retire in the
south so they could escape Harmony Hills, Pennsylvania’s
cold, cold winters as they’d always dreamed, and a salary for
Isabelle as manager of the town’s flower shop.
It made perfect sense, and was not only responsible but
also sweet that he’d done his manly duties for the family—
until you factored in that she’d always had a crush on Devon
Donovan, oldest of the Donovan brothers. The man who
managed the reportedly one billion dollars the family had
inherited from their maternal grandfather.
The man who was her new boss.
And the problem wasn’t just that she had a crush on
him. She’d very stupidly walked up to him right after he’d
returned from Afghanistan and asked if he’d like to go with
her to her prom. He’d looked at her as if she was crazy, said
no, and walked away.
Now she knew how stupid that had been. He was a
grown man who wouldn’t want to go to a school dance. He’d
also just returned from a war. But from the time Isabelle
was fourteen, she’d thought he was the handsomest of the
Donovan brothers. Tall, dark, brooding. Seeing him in his
uniform, looking so brave, she’d lost her breath and her
crush had formed. But four years later, watching the way he
rarely spoke to anyone and kept to himself, she could see he
was a man who held secrets. A man who needed her love.
Steeped in her infatuation, and a high school girl with a huge
crush and very little experience, she’d asked him to her prom
and made a complete fool of herself.
When you factored that in, her working for Devon now
seemed like the first level of Hell.
“He told us that once we talked to you, we were to have
you go to his house—”
Isabelle’s pretty blonde-haired mom tapped her dad’s
forearm to stop him. “Not house.” She sighed. “Well, it is his
house. But he’s got a great big office in the back. It’s not like
he’s a spider saying ‘come into my web.’”
Her face flamed. If her mother only knew. She might
have taken a few side roads in her crush on the oldest
Donovan brother, but when he’d permanently returned
to town last year—still tall, still dark, still brooding—her
crush had returned full force. She’d gladly enter any web of
Devon’s. But he’d never ask. And now she had to work with
She rose from the sofa. “Maybe I’ll just get another job.”
Her dad looked appalled. “You can’t! You were part
of the deal. We sold them on taking over the florist shop
because they wouldn’t have to do a thing, touch a thing.
Buds and Blossoms virtually runs itself.”
“It doesn’t run itself, Dad. I run it.”
“Exactly my point.” Her dad beamed. “Go see Devon.
He’s expecting you.”
She left her parents’ big craftsman-style house through
the bright white kitchen with new hardwood floors, stainless
steel appliances and a pale green, white and shiny silver
backsplash, suddenly realizing they’d probably remodeled
the kitchen in anticipation of selling the house—which
meant they’d had this planned for a while. Stepping out into
the sunny June morning, she walked across the perfectly
paved parking spaces in front of the garage where she’d left
her Hyundai, an ordinary, but surprisingly comfortable, car.
She waited until she was behind the locked door to
curse. Working with Devon Donovan? That had disaster
written all over it. The possible awful situations that could
arise were too numerous to contemplate. However, two or
three effortlessly sprang to mind. Like getting breathless,
drooling and tripping over her own feet if he got too close.
He could mention that she’d asked him to her prom. He
could laugh about it. Or, worse, apologize.
Still, there was always the possibility that nothing
would happen. At least not anything anybody would see.
He worked in the huge mansion-like house that he’d had
built for “the family” a few months after they’d inherited
all that money from their grandfather. He didn’t really hang
around town, so if she did drool over him, it would be in
private. And why would he remember that she’d asked him
to her prom? Seriously. She’d been a kid. He’d just come
back from a war. He’d undoubtedly had more important
things on his mind. It was more likely that he’d forgotten the
whole darned thing. Nine chances out of ten, he’d bought
the flower shop as a favor to her parents, and his decision
had nothing to do with Isabelle. He probably intended to
tell her that she could manage the blasted thing the way she
always had, and her salary would be based on how much
money the business brought in—a way to give her incentive
to keep it productive.
So she wouldn’t have much contact with him. She’d
see him, maybe, once a quarter to review her books. She
did not have to worry about ogling him, drooling when he
was around, sighing with longing in his presence or being
embarrassed that he’d turned down her stupid, stupid, stupid
She would be fine.
Confident, she drove up to “the house.” Two stories, with
white siding and black shutters, an attic with dormers that
probably also had living space, a four-car garage and wide
front porch, the thing sprawled out over a half acre.
Staring at it in awe, she got out of her car.
She supposed that if she suddenly became a billionaire,
she’d build a grand house too. And it was wonderful that
though the entire Donovan family didn’t live in “the house,”
they all had stayed in small town Harmony Hills. Devon’s
brother Finn and his wife Ellie were beloved local business
owners. Middle brother Cade and his wife Piper had run the
grocery store together at one time. Everybody knew and
loved the Donovans.
Isabelle just loved one Donovan a little too much.
Still, she would be fine.
She strode up the brick walk with her head high. This
was not a big deal. She’d be working for him daily, but only
seeing him once every few months for debriefing sessions on
the business she ran. No. Big. Deal.
Two hits of the knocker brought the sound of footfalls
on the other side of the door. As it opened, she braced
herself to be face-to-face with gorgeous Devon. But his
mom, LuAnn, stood before her.
“Izzy, sweetie.” Short, blonde, once dowdy LuAnn was
now a beautiful woman. She folded Isabelle in a hug. “It’s so
good to see you.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Donovan.”
“How are your parents?”
“Fine.” She winced. “Better than fine. Apparently they’re
wonderful since they can now live their dream of moving
south because they’ve sold the flower shop to you guys.”
LuAnn laughed. “They have always wanted to move to
Myrtle Beach and play golf all winter. I’m glad we could
help. And you’ll like working for us. We’re nice people.”
Indeed they were nice. Unfortunately, one of them was
“My parents told me Devon would be explaining the
particulars of our situation to me this morning.”
LuAnn’s smile got even brighter. “Great! He’s in the
office. Right this way.”
They walked through an open-floor-plan downstairs
with gray walls trimmed in white wood and nearly black
hardwood floors. The sitting area had a white leather sofa
and black-and-white print club chairs. White upholstered
chairs surrounded a shiny black dining room table. Accent
pillows, floral arrangements of yummy yellow roses, fat
fuchsia peonies, orange blossoms and irises, and artwork,
provided splashes of color.
“Holy cow. This house is amazing.”
LuAnn peeked at Isabelle. “Devon had a decorator
“Well, she earned her keep.”
Even as LuAnn spoke, Bob Bailey came running down
the back stairway. When he saw Isabelle, he stopped.
“Hey, Izzy.” His gaze ambled over to LuAnn’s.
LuAnn said, “You know Bob.”
Though Harmony Hills had about five thousand
residents, it was hard not to know the guy who’d been chief
of the volunteer fire company for the past twenty years.
Still, Isabelle didn’t even blink at the odd introduction.
“Hey, Bob. Nice to see you.”
“You too.” He smiled at LuAnn. “I’ll call you this
afternoon about dinner.”
LuAnn nodded and Bob left. Isabelle didn’t ask LuAnn
about Bob. She didn’t have to. A man racing down the
backstairs of a woman’s house, who told her he would call
about dinner that night, had probably slept over. Given that
LuAnn had been in a miserable marriage for decades and
Chief Bob had lost his wife a few years back, Isabelle figured
they were both due a little happiness.
LuAnn motioned down a hall and they entered an area
of the house where a couple of smaller rooms were walled
off. The theme of black hardwood floors, white trim, and
gray walls followed them back so far they almost reached
a pair of French doors through which Isabelle could see a
sparkling blue pool, an outdoor kitchen, and enough patio
furniture to be its own department in Ikea.
“Here we are.”
LuAnn pointed into a room with a desk in front of one
wall and a sofa and chair beside another. Isabelle dutifully
followed her as she walked toward it. After a tiny hall,
LuAnn knocked on a closed door.
Devon said, “Come in.”
His deep, masculine voice ran over Isabelle like warm
water, and her heart tumbled. Dear God. She was going
to be in the same room with the man she’d had a crush on
almost half of her life, discussing her future, hoping he didn’t
remember her dumb-ass prom invitation. Should she faint?
Was she allowed to faint? Could fainting actually get her
out of this?
LuAnn opened Devon’s office door and Isabelle
blinked. For all the stark black and white throughout the
house, Devon had chosen warm mahogany for his office.
Though the trim was still white, the walls were a soothing
tan. A brown leather chair sat behind the desk. A soft beige
sofa and matching chair took up the right corner.
Looking out the wall of window in the back of the room,
at the sparkling pool and the ancillary patio department
of Ikea, stood Devon. His dark hair had been cut in a nononsense
businessman’s style. A neat and tidy white shirt
slid over broad shoulders and across muscles of a chiseled
back. Gray pants caressed a perfect behind.
When he turned, his intense, almost black eyes caught
All the air disappeared from the room.
LuAnn brightly said, “Izzy’s parents told her you wanted
to see her.”
“Yes, I do. Come in, Izzy.”
Izzy. Yeesh. She felt five again. Here she was with the
most handsome, sexy man she’d ever met and he called her
Izzy? She’d had the nickname since she’d ridden her tricycle
up and down the Maple Street sidewalk in front of her
parents’ craftsman. When someone called her Izzy, even she
saw herself toothless with freckles and red pigtails.
Oh. Sigh. Would she ever be allowed to grow up in this
LuAnn grabbed the door handle and began backing out
of the room. “I’ll just let you two alone now.”
When the door clicked shut, Isabelle turned to Devon.
His probing black eyes. His full lips. His broad torso that
made sport of the shirt trying to hide all those glorious
“Actually, I prefer to be called Belle.”
His eyebrows rose. His serious eyes clouded with
Sure. Why not? Considering that she’d had about a
second and a half to choose a new name, Belle wasn’t a bad
choice. “I’m not five or ten or even eighteen anymore.”
His gaze took a quick trip along her sunny yellow T-shirt
and threadbare jeans, making her breath stutter.
“No, I guess you’re not.”
That out and out froze her lungs.
Devon pointed to the seat in front of his desk, indicating
Izzy…Belle…should sit, as he fell to his seat, not quite
sure what was happening. He’d bought Buds and Blossoms
as a favor to the Coopers. Newly rich, the Donovan family
was finally able to do things for their friends, and Brooke
Cooper had stood by his mom in the first year after she’d left
his dad. Now here he was sitting across from a woman who
sort of looked like their teenage daughter Izzy, except more
mature. And she wanted to be called Belle.
Hunting for her college transcripts, he fumbled with the
papers on his desk as he surreptitiously raised his gaze and
took in the way her breasts filled out her T-shirt with the big
sunflower on the front, and her butt made ordinary jeans
look…fantastic. She definitely wasn’t eighteen anymore, as
she’d said. Or twenty, even. She’d graduated from college
and gotten her MBA.
Where had the time gone?
Finding her transcripts, he cleared his throat and caught
her gaze again. Her gorgeous green eyes surprised him. How
had he never before noticed they were so green? He shook
off the thought. It didn’t matter. She was his employee now,
and she hadn’t really changed all that much, just grown up.
She’d always be tomboy Izzy to him.He set the transcripts
on the desk in front of him and folded his hands on top of
“You have a master’s degree in business.”
“I do run a business,” she countered, as if he were an
idiot not to realize that, and that was the typical Izzy he
remembered. Straightforward. Practical. “I’d gone to school
knowing that the flower shop would be my life. So I prepared
to do a good job managing it.”
“You over prepared.” He smiled. “Which is why I don’t
want you running the flower shop.”
Her emerald eyes bugged out. “You’re firing me?”
“I’m promoting you.”
“To what? There’s nowhere else to go in a flower shop.
You either make the bouquets, run the register, deliver the
flowers, or manage the bloody thing.”
“Exactly. You’re too educated to run the register. Rumor
has it that driving…” He chose his words carefully. “Isn’t one
of your strong points, so you won’t be able to deliver flowers
once my insurance company sees your records. And you’ve
already proven yourself as manager. It’s time for you to
She gaped at him. “This is Harmony Hills. There’s not
a lot of room for upward mobility. You bloom where you’re
He leaned back in his seat. “Agreed. And Donovan,
Inc. is where you’re going to be planted. You have a
master’s degree. I am coordinating a fortune. I’m smart and
experienced, and even educated, but you’re the one with the
MBA. And someday I’d like to slow down. Work a day or
two a week while someone else ‘minds the store.’”
Her eyes got even bigger, if that were possible. “You’re
hiring me to run your family’s fortune?”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” He sat forward again,
confused about why she was reacting so badly to what was,
essentially, a lucrative offer. “I’m hiring you to assist me. At
some point, I’ll be bringing other people into the mix. I’m
not saying one person is going to take over for me. What I’d
really like to do is build a team. I would manage the team
and you would be one of the members. Probably my go-to
girl because, as my first hire, you’d be the most experienced.
Are you on board?”
“I’m the first?”
“You’re the first.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Where would I work?”
“There’s an office right outside this door.”
She frowned. “Then where will the other people work?”
“I have four offices back here, but someday I might need
a full office building in town.”
“Okay. What’s my salary?”
“About four times what you made at Buds and
He leaned back, glad this conversation had finally found
its footing. “This is a totally different situation than the
flower shop. You’ll work with me to choose from the projects
or investments available for the family’s money. Directly
She leaned back, too. “Oh.”
He fought the odd thought that she was trying to get
away from him. “You don’t want to work with me?”
Her smile suddenly looked fake. “No. No. It’s fine.”
But he had the distinct impression it wasn’t fine. She
seemed to be the opposite of what he’d expected. He’d
thought she’d jump for joy. Yet here she was hesitant.
“So our first order of business is to replace you and
your parents at the flower shop. You don’t happen to have
résumés on file?”
She sniffed a laugh. “In Harmony Hills?”
His decision to keep the business of investing his family’s
money in Harmony Hills was fraught with problems like a
very small employee pool. Still, he wasn’t sorry he’d done it.
The family was together, without their abusive dad, who had
moved to Arizona. And finally the Donovans had a chance
to experience real family life. He wouldn’t trade that for
ease of finding employees.
“No. I suppose you don’t have résumés.”
She carefully met his gaze again. “I can write a ‘help
wanted’ ad and have it in tomorrow’s paper.”
“Okay. Go out to the desk and do that now.”
She rose. “No time right now. I’ll have to do it in between
flower arrangements. My parents might have already
mentally moved to South Carolina, but I have a wedding on
Saturday and two funerals.”
“Oh.” He rose too. “There’s no one else at the flower
“It really only took my mom and dad and me to run it.”
“So you can’t start working for me until you’ve replaced
all of your staff?”
“Don’t be hasty.” Her eyes narrowed as if she were
thinking. “My neighbors, the Benjamin Brats?” She gave
the nickname the town had bestowed on the children of her
neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Benjamin, because, well, their
kids were brats. “They owe me a favor. I can use them to
help out. They can take orders and run the register while I
make the bouquets and deliver them.”
“You’d leave them in charge of the shop?”
“Get them in the right mood and they’re surprisingly
“And who’s going to help you with the bouquets?”
She gave him a strange look. “No one.”
“You’re going to do a wedding and two funerals alone?”
“I’ve been doing it since grad school.” She laughed and
the sound filled him with warmth. Filled the whole office
with warmth. The real Izzy was back. “Actually, I can do all
this and still give you a few hours tomorrow, Thursday, and
She caught his gaze. Smiled.
“What time do you want me to start?”
“How early do you need to be here to be able to get a few
hours of training in and still get all of Buds and Blossoms’
She mentally calculated her answer, her eyes narrowing
“Let’s say seven.”
“Okay, seven it is.” In the same way he ended all business
meetings, he extended his hand to shake hers. “We’ll see you
tomorrow morning, then.”
She took his hand. Her smooth pink palm met his callused
hand. She was incredibly soft, prettier than he remembered,
and an adult now. Not cute little Izzy who worked in her
parents’ flower shop. But Belle. A mature woman with an
MBA who was his first employee.
He intended to make this work. That probably meant
getting her to admit whatever it was that made her so
standoffish with him. But he could do that. He was an expert
with people. He just had to find the right time. Maybe get her
alone someplace more comfortable than his office so they
could have a more relaxed, more personal conversation.
That’s what he’d do. Get her alone somewhere relaxed.
Like maybe a booth at Petie’s Pub, where it was dark and
quiet. Surely that would loosen her up.