Thursday, August 20, 2015


Chapter One
“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

prom invitation.

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

particularly fine.

“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

come in.”

“Well, she earned her keep.”

“I know!”

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

her gaze.

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


“So, Izzy…”

“Actually, I prefer to be called Belle.”

His eyebrows rose. His serious eyes clouded with

confusion. “Belle?”

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

move on.”

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


“Holy cats.”

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

with me.”

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

Friday morning.”

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’

work done?”

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.

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