Monday, August 14, 2017

Week 33: Jeweled Dreams by Mary Manners



When best friend Lila Brooks sends out an S.O.S. for help at Diamond Knot Dreams, graphic designer Avery Lakin heads to Clover Cove. She’s planning to stay only a few weeks, but nature photographer Jason Ingram captures her attention. Soon, she finds herself swept up in the beauty of his work…and in him.
Jason Ingram spent his twenties traveling the four corners of the earth as a nature photographer. But tragedy has called him home to Clover Cove. He’s determined to share nature's bounty through his photography studio while he focuses on raising his precocious niece, Kenzie. What he doesn’t plan on is falling for Avery Lakin.
As strange things begin to happen at Diamond Knot Dreams—rumored to be haunted—Avery and Jason must bond together to get to the heart of the matter.

1st Chapter:

“Excuse me, miss. Can you please help me?”
            “Of course. Just one sec…” Avery glanced up from the computer screen to find a petite blonde cherub on tiptoes peeking over the counter. She looked to be all of five or so, with eyes bright as two nuggets of chocolate. Hair spilled down her back in a long tangle of windblown curls.
“Please, you hafta hurry. Sadie’s waitin’ for us.” The child’s fingers gripped the counter edge as she struggled to scramble up the front side to meet Avery eye-to-eye. Her shoes bumped along the counter wall.
The shop door swung open. A gust of warm, rose-scented air swirled inside as a figure crossed the threshold. A male voice boomed.
“Mackenzie Renee Ballentine, get down from there before you hurt yourself and that nice lady behind the counter.”
 “Sorry, Uncle Jason.” Immediately, the little girl released her grip on the counter and dropped to the floor. Avery lifted her gaze from the child to the entranceway. Her breath hitched at the sight of the handsome man framed by warm rays of afternoon sunlight.
Uncle Jason? Well, he didn’t look like any uncle that Avery had ever had the pleasure of knowing. Each of her uncles sported grizzled, thinning hair and rheumy eyes that seemed to sense her darkest secrets. They wore scuffed loafers paired with black socks—not hiking boots that looked like they’d battled the roughest stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Or faded jeans that hugged a tall, muscular stature in all the right places.
Yes, this uncle’s onyx eyes were set off by the deep blue shade of his polo shirt. He dwarfed the precocious child by several feet. His smile was slow and easy, flashing a row of straight, white teeth. The exasperated yet gentle manner in which he looked at the little girl told Avery his warning bark was much worse than his bite. He lifted the miniature sprite into his arms and deftly swung her up onto his shoulders.
“I told you I’d take care of this, Kenzie.” A finger waggled near her face as he struggled to hold a stern tone. No dice—his chagrin had all the substance of a marshmallow. “You worried me, wandering off like that. I didn’t know where you were.”
“But I’m right here, Uncle Jason.” Kenzie squealed with delight as she wrapped her arms around his neck and held tight. Her tiny sandals, each adorned with an oversized pink flower, lit up in a rainbow of twinkling colors as her feet bounced against his chest. “I’m here on your shoulders. And I can see the whole universe from up this high. You’re tall as a skyscraper.”
“Not quite.” He laughed softly as he caught her legs in an attempt to still the bouncing. “And quit trying to butter me up when I’m trying to teach you a lesson.”
Kenzie patted his head, running her fingers along the close-cropped coffee-colored spikes. “What lesson?”
“The lesson that you shouldn’t wander off. You’re only five, you know.”
He drew a deep breath. Avery imagined he mentally counted to ten. She closed the computer program she’d been working in and pressed a palm to her lips, trying her best not to giggle.
“I’m five and three quarters. That’s almost six, right?” Kenzie let go of him with one hand while still hanging on tight with the other. She splayed her free hand as she counted. “Pretty soon I’ll need all my fingers to show my age. That’s practically grown up.”
“Not quite, and let’s not rush things in that department.”
“But Sadie—”
“Will be fine for a few minutes longer. She’s with Dr. Phelps, and neither will mind the wait in this sunshine. Sadie likes the warm sunshine.”
“But she’s got to be starving by now and ready to see us. I’ll bet she misses us something awful.”
“I’m sure you’re right. We’ll see her soon enough.”
“But the car…”
            “I know.” His gaze settled on Avery as he leaned into the counter while carefully balancing Kenzie atop his shoulders. “I’m really sorry to interrupt your work, since it looks like you’re smack-dab in the middle of an important project. But we have a sort of pressing situation here.”
“Sort of pressing?” She quirked a grin. “I’d say, given the low-grade tornado that’s just swept in, that it’s more than a sort of pressing situation.”
“That bad, huh?” He quirked a grin that set Avery’s belly to fluttering. Those eyes. Oh!
“In a good way.”
“Well, it hasn’t exactly reached critical mass yet, but we’re close.”
“Good thing I’ve been held hostage by the computer for hours, so I can use a break.” She stretched kinks from her neck with a smile. As a matter of fact, Kenzie’s arrival was more than welcome. The child proved a cutie with the mischievous grin of a pixie. She must be a handful…but a spunky little handful. “It’s really no problem. I was just about to grab a soda. Would you like one, too?”
“Yes, please.” Kenzie ventured a tiny happy-clap before latching back on to Jason. “Do you have orange? That’s the only kind Uncle Jason lets me have ’cause it’s caff…caff…”
“Caffeine free?” Jason prompted.
“Yep. It’s caffeine free.”
“Orange soda is my favorite, too.” Avery winked conspiratorially. “I happen to have one can left in the fridge. Shall we share it?”
“Yes, please.”
“OK, then…” Avery opened the mini fridge beneath the counter, drew out the can of orange soda, and popped the top. Soon, three small plastic cups shared an equal portion. She handed them off.
Kenzie took a gulp from her cup, swiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and burped delicately. “’Scuse me, but that hits the spot.”
“It sure does.” Avery laughed. “How old are you?”
“Five.” She held up her left hand, waggled each finger. “One, two, three, four, five. And a quarter.”
The pinkie finger on her right hand unfurled slightly from her cup and stood at partial, sideways attention.
“Are you sure?” She looked five, but that delightful chatter…she had to be at least twenty-two.
“Yep, I’m five. One, two, three, four, five…and a quarter.” She showed her fingers again, just in case Avery missed the first demonstration. “But sometimes Uncle Jason says I’m five going on fifteen.”
“Yes, I can see why.”
“Uncle Jason ran out of sodas today, ’cause more people showed up than he expected. That’s a good thing, though, right?”
“I suppose it is,” Avery agreed, though she was a bit in the dark about exactly what all these people had shown up for. Something was lost in transmission.
 “If I can get a word in now,” Jason said after draining his cup. “I’m sorry to trouble you.” His voice rang deep and mesmerizing. Kenzie was right, he stood pleasantly tall, with close-cropped brown hair and deep ridges at the corner of a wide, captivating smile. His cologne hinted at a touch of early-summer breeze as he splayed both hands on the countertop and leaned in toward her. “But we have an issue to deal with. It’s sort of—”
“Important. Yes.” Avery leaned in as well, and murmured, “What, exactly, is this pressing issue of which you speak?”
“We’re trying to move.”
            “Oh, I’m not sure I can help you with that.” Avery drew a tiny sip of her soda as she smoothed a strand of hair from her forehead and tucked it behind one ear. “You see, Diamond Knot Dreams isn’t a realty company, but a bridal boutique. Our specialty is planning the perfect wedding, not helping you to relocate to your ideal swatch of real estate.”
            “Oh, we know that.” Kenzie piped up. “At least I know that.” She bent down and cupped a hand at Avery’s ear as she continued with a whisper, “Miss Lila and I are friends. Sometimes she lets me come over to visit while she’s working. But you wouldn’t know that, ’cause you’re new here.”
“Is that so?” Avery chuckled softly. “I suppose I would have found that out on my own soon enough. But you’re right, I’ve only been here in Clover Cove a handful of days, so I’m still learning the ropes.”
Actually, she’d arrived here a week ago but had just settled into her small rental house enough to come on into work for the first time yesterday. Lila’s call for help with the expansion of her Diamond Knot Dreams Bridal Boutique had come out of the blue, and the timing was perfect. Avery had just quit her job as a graphic designer for Chandler-Tate to branch out on her own. She’d grown weary of trudging through lengthy and frenzied work hours for diminishing pay. Lila’s SOS was just the boost she needed to set her dream into action. Of course, the breakup with Bruce had only served to add fuel to the fire. She yearned to move far, far away from the disappointment and ensuing tension that followed the break-up. Within days she’d packed the essentials, loaded her Jeep, and without so much as a glance back over one shoulder, driven the ten-hour stretch from New York to Clover Cove. How long she’d remain, she wasn’t sure. Luckily, she’d signed a month-to-month lease with the kind-hearted septuagenarian Margaret Shepherd, who seemed in no hurry to procure her signature for anything more.
“Just let me know by the twenty-fifth of each month if you plan to stay on for another. That’s when they run the monthly ad special in the Clover Cove Times.”
Avery smiled to herself. She sure knew one thing—she didn’t miss the frantic, cutthroat pace of city life. Or Bruce, after the way he’d dumped her the minute he found out she was quitting her day job to pursue a dream.
“Dreams don’t pay the rent, Avery. How are we supposed to build a future together? I thought you had the same goal as me—to rise to the top of the corporate ladder as quickly as possible and ride the wave for the duration, whatever it takes.”
Nope, she didn’t miss one bit of it. And their break-up, however painful, had proved a blessing in disguise. Bruce had ulterior motives that soon became crystal clear.
He’d wanted her hard work and success to fund his gambling habit.
Avery had experienced a light bulb moment of epic proportions—a sea of floodlights. A rise to the top of the corporate ladder wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, especially when her hard work put the bulk of cash in a stranger’s pocket—or the pocket of Bruce’s bookie.
If she was going to work her tail off, it would be for a friend—for Lila—who had been there for her through good times and bad.
 “I know you just got here yesterday.” Kenzie’s sweet voice broke through Avery’s thoughts. “We saw you crossing the parking lot from our shop window. Uncle Jason did this low kinda whistle when he spotted you. It went like this…” She attempted to replicate the sound but drew only a flurry of slobber. “Anyway, you get my drift.”
You get my drift? Jason had pegged it—was the kid five or fifteen?
“Yes, I get your drift.”
“Good grief.” Jason covered his face with one hand, but not before Avery noticed the hint of blush that tinged his jawline. “We have to work on boundaries, Kenzie. For goodness sake, that’s quite enough.”
But it wasn’t enough for Avery. She had questions…lots of them. And every one that was answered seemed to bring on another. She took Kenzie’s empty cup and tossed it into the trash can along with hers. “How did you come to know Lila?”
“She and mommy were bestest friends before…” She frowned slightly. “Well, before Mommy went to Heaven.”
“Oh, right.” Avery patted Kenzie’s knee. “Lila told me about that. I’m so sorry, honey.”
“That’s why Uncle Jason came back from ’laska…to take care of me. He’s my daddy now, even though I still have a daddy in Heaven…and a mama, too.”
“Yes, you do.”
“But I don’t have an earth mama anymore, and I miss her this much.” She spread her arms wide. “But maybe Uncle Jason will find me a mama. Maybe he’ll fall in love and get—”
“That’s enough, Kenzie.” Jason broke in. “We don’t have time for a life synopsis right now—or to analyze the possibilities for our future. Have you forgotten about Sadie?”
“Nope.” She shook her head and swiped at her eyes. If Avery read her cards right, Jason had grown a little misty, as well. From the little bit Lila had shared, Avery knew that Kenzie’s mom, Molly, was Jason’s sister. Both Molly and her husband Marshall had been killed when the motorcycle they were on was T-boned by an intoxicated driver on their way back from an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon ride in early February. Kenzie had been at the bridal shop with Lila at the time, and Lila’s husband Morgan, who had once been good friends with Jason, had to make the call. The pain was still raw, and most likely would be for quite some time to come. Now, Kenzie sniffled slightly as she continued, “I’d never forget Sadie. She needs us. I guess we hafta get going.”
“My point exactly. OK, then…” Jason set Kenzie back on the floor and gathered a set of keys from his pocket as he turned his attention to Avery. “I’m well aware that Diamond Knot Dreams isn’t a realty company. Anyone with half a brain might gather as much from the front yard signage.” He waved his free hand through the air, motioning toward the display window. “And those mannequins dressed in bridal gowns are a sure indication.”
            “Oh, right.” Avery rose from the cushioned stool and stretched kinks from the small of her spine. She’d promised Lila she’d have the requested Diamond Knot Dreams website updates completed by closing time today and, despite her weary muscles and energy-zapped brain she meant to keep her word. “So, how can I help you with this mystery move you speak of?”
            “You can tell me who owns that bumblebee-yellow Jeep in the parking lot.” Jason indicated the offending vehicle with a jab of his index finger. “The less-than-stellar parking job has my truck pinned in.”
            “Oh…” Avery caught her lower lip between her teeth and gnawed gently as the heat of blush coursed over her cheeks. She was sure, if the telltale temperature continued to soar, that she’d soon look like the twin of an overripe beet. “That would be me. I was in a bit of a hurry when I arrived here this morning and the lot was packed full—due to some photography show or something—so I just wedged into a spot that I thought would be the least inconvenient. I meant to find a better place when things cleared out, but I guess I got lost in my work and forgot all about it.”
            Jason lobbed his empty drink cup into the trash can. “It’s no problem, the photography show was my doing—”
“Uncle Jason takes pictures of mountains and trees and ’specially the river and lotsa stuff like that.” Kenzie jabbed a thumb in his direction. “Mama used to say he’s a world trav’ler who would rather sleep under the twinkling stars than in a warm, comfy bed. But he’s home now.”
“That’s enough, Kenzie. I’ll take it from here.” Jason offered Avery a wry smile as he scrubbed a hand through his hair. The guy was obviously way beyond his element when it came to dealing with spirited Mackenzie. “Now that we know the jeep belongs to you, if you don’t mind to head out to the lot and find a new parking place, we really need to get moving. We have someone waiting on us, so we need to head out of here ASAP.” He flashed a smile that stole her breath. “By the way, I suppose I should officially introduce myself. I’m Jason Ingram.”
            “So I gathered. I’m Avery Lakin.” She offered her hand and found his grip solid, warm and inviting. “It’s nice to meet you, Jason. And you, too, Mackenzie.”
            “Oh, you can call me Kenzie. I’m only Mackenzie when I’m in big-time trouble and about to get a time-out. Then it’s Mackenzie Renee Ballentine.” She shivered. “Oh, I don’t like time-outs at all!”
            “I totally understand. I’ve certainly served my fair share of them.” Avery nodded solemnly. “I used to be—and suppose I still am from time to time, according to my mom—Avery Paris Lakin.”
            “Paris?” Kenzie’s eyes widened as her mouth formed a sweet little oh. “You mean Paris…like the place?”
            “Uh huh.”
            “We learned about that in Kindergarten. My teacher brought pictures of the Eiffel Tower ’cause she went there on her ’moon.”
“You mean her honeymoon?”
“Yeah, that. Paris is a pretty name.” Kenzie popped a finger into her mouth and gnawed on the nail for a moment. “I guess your mama and daddy named you that ’cause you’re so pretty. Isn’t she pretty?” She looked to Jason for affirmation, tugging on the hem of his shirt for good measure.
            “Yes, she’s…” He hesitated as he jammed his hands into his pockets. “Very easy on the eyes.”
            “That means extra-special pretty.” Kenzie attempted to wink at Avery and both eyes squinted shut. Her cheeks puffed out in the cutest display of female camaraderie. “I’d even whistle if I could, just like Uncle Jason did. He said I’ll learn by the time I’m six. That gives me a whole week to figure it out.”
            Avery rounded to the front of the counter and knelt to Kenzie’s level. She brushed a lock of hair back from the child’s dark eyes. “Your birthday is in a week?”
“Uh huh.” Kenzie nodded vigorously. “Next Saturday. That’s why we’re goin’ to get Sadie. Uncle Jason said she’s gonna help us celebrate the special occasion a little early.”
“Well, I’ll agree that a birthday is certainly a special time.” Avery pulled back. “So, I’m glad you have a special friend to share it with.”
Like Sadie. Who is this Sadie?
            Jason slanted a look Kenzie’s way. “OK, Miss loquacious—”
            “That means talkative.” Kenzie giggled.
            “You’re absolutely correct.” Avery chuckled right along with her, though she still wondered about the special friend named Sadie. A slight prick of envy poked at her. “And a broad vocabulary is a strong sign of intelligence, so I’d say you rank right up there at the tip top, sweetie.”
            “If I could get a word in edgewise here…” Jason drew his hands from his pockets and crossed his arms. Keys that were nestled together on a large, silver ring jangled freely. The muscles along his chest bowed beneath the fabric of his shirt. Judging from the deep shade of sun-kissed tan cloaking the terrain of his biceps and skimming along the length of his clean-shaven jaw, Avery figured he was no stranger to the great outdoors. “I suppose we’re neighbors of sorts, Miss Lakin—or is it Mrs. Lakin?”
            “It’s neither. Just call me Avery.”
“All right then…Avery.” His gaze swept to her ring finger, and Avery thought she saw a slight hint of relief when he noticed the appendage was devoid of jewelry. “Well, I own the photography studio next door.”
            “Oh, right. Outside Shots…it’s a nice place from what I can tell, though I haven’t had the chance to step inside and take a look for myself—yet.”
“You’ll have to do that, soon. Don’t be a stranger, Avery.”
There he went again, murmuring her name. The engaging tone of his voice sent a tiny trill through her, clear to her toes. She loved the way her name rolled from his lips.
She could listen to him say it all day long.
“Of course not.” The words came with a slight tremble. She was being ridiculous. He had a Sadie, and she was waiting on him. Avery reached back across the counter, closed the cover of her laptop, and set it to one side. The work would have to wait until Jason backed away—both literally and figuratively—and her brain had time to refresh itself from all thoughts of him. What, exactly, was going on here? She’d never reacted this way—ever—to a man, even if he did happen to be the on the Most Handsome Man Alive list. And Jason, she was certain, would grace the pole position there. “I’ll make it a point to stop in for a visit before the week is out.”
“That doesn’t leave much time, so it sounds like a good plan.” He nodded, cementing the agreement. “I’d…like that very much.”
“Me, too!” Kenzie chimed in. “I’ll show you all of Uncle Jason’s ’laska pictures. Do you know he saw a grizzly there? He has the pictures to prove it!”
“Wow, that’s something.” Avery paused for a moment as the faint sound of music suddenly drifted from the floor above. From the way he craned his neck, Jason heard it, as well. Odd…she hadn’t ever noticed the sound before. Had Lila left a radio on in the office suite upstairs when she left to run errands? “Lila mentioned you moved in a few months ago, and that we share the parking lot. I guess that was why it was so crowded out there earlier today. All those anxious June brides-to-be coupled with your summer exposition.”
             “It’s the season, all right.”
            “That it is.” Avery pursed her lips, dry and chapped from several hours’ work without a break. She ran the tip of her tongue over them and wished she’d thought to tuck a tube of gloss into her pocket. She could sure use it now. “I’m not complaining, because the overflow is job security, I suppose, and Lila wants so badly for Diamond Knot Dreams to be successful.”
“By all accounts, it already is. I gather that’s why she called you in as a reinforcement—and a friend.” Jason lifted his gaze toward the ceiling, where the music continued to resonate through the floorboards of the landing above. “Speaking of job security…do you have customers up there?”
“No, but the music—”
“—just got louder.”
“Maybe it’s the lady.” Kenzie scooted toward the edge of the counter and peered through the rungs of the sweeping staircase. “She’s nice.”
“What lady?” Jason asked.
“The one who wears the funny-looking dress with the collar that comes up to here.” Kenzie cuffed both hands around her neck to demonstrate. “And she wears a necklace that sparkles. I’ve seen her in the window…the one in the turret upstairs.” She leaned back to whisper to Avery. “A turret’s that pointy part of the roof that has a round room beneath it. Diamond Knot Dreams has two turrets, but the lady likes the one in front best. She likes to look out of it. I think she’s watching for someone.”
“Kenzie…your imagination…”
“It’s not my imagination, Uncle Jason. Miss Lila knows she’s around here, too. And Morgan. They told me.”
Morgan Holt…that would be Lila’s husband. They’d been happily married for a little more than a year after a very rocky start to their friendship. As Lila told it with a laugh, she’d commissioned Morgan to renovate the Victorian into what was now Diamond Knot Dreams, and along with the master carpentry, she’d also acquired a husband. Morgan’s version, of course, was slightly different. But he proved a good-natured sort, and the two somehow managed to make their differences work like a well-oiled machine.
Avery silenced Jason’s objections with a slight wave of her hand. She smiled at Kenzie. “You’re very smart for five-years-old.”
“Five-and-three-quarters.” She held up the fingers to prove it, though the three-quarters presented a bit of a challenge. “I’ll be six next Saturday.”
“Yes, that’s what you said. Saturday…hmm...” Avery knelt down to Kenzie’s level once again. She placed a hand on each of Kenzie’s small shoulders. “Do you have something special planned for your birthday?”
“I dunno.” Kenzie shrugged. “But Sadie’s pretty special, I think, and we’re all gonna celebrate together tonight.”
Sadie again. Good grief.
“You mentioned seeing a lady here, sweetie.” Avery leveled her gaze. “What lady are you talking about? Do you know her name?”
“Yes, what lady?” Jason echoed. “I’ve never seen her.”
“Oh, but you will…both of you.” Kenzie smiled. “I don’t know her name, but I do know that she likes to stand in the room by the front turret when nobody’s up there, and she likes you too, Avery.”
“How do you know?”
Kenzie shrugged. “I just do.”
“Well…oh my.” Avery pressed a hand to her chest as she rose to face Jason. Judging from his expression, he felt just as bewildered by the elusive prediction as she. “I’m…just a little bit speechless…”
“Speechless…” Kenzie echoed as she twirled a curl around her index finger. “That’s the opposite of loquacious, right? They’re called anty-nyms. My teacher said so.”
“Your teacher is a very smart lady.” Avery turned back toward the staircase as the air conditioning kicked on. A breath of cool air coursed up her spine to tickle the loose hairs along the nape of her neck. She shrugged and struggled to formulate an explanation for the music that continued to play on.
Jason’s gaze locked with hers. “Any ideas? I’m fresh out of them.”
“It must be a radio playing a tune, to go on for as long as it has. A music box would have surely wound down by now. Lila enjoys listening to the local country station while she works. Maybe she set an alarm to music—to remind her of an appointment or something—and the station got switched by accident.”
“It sounds more like a slightly out-of-tune piano…or the tines of a music box.” Jason started toward the winding stairs that led to the second floor. “Do you want me to head up and take a look?”
“Me, too!” Kenzie scampered fast at his heels, eager to explore. “Wait for me. I want to see, too.”
 “No, I’m sure it’s fine.” Avery dodged them both, blocking Kenzie’s path. There was no way she’d place the child in any manner of the unknown, even if it amounted to no more than an errant radio. Somehow, though, she sensed this was more. “Lila warned me that sometimes strange things happen around here, but they’re nothing to be afraid of.”
“She told me that, too,” Kenzie added. “The first time I told her about the lady.”
“She did?” Avery asked.
“Uh huh.” Kenzie nodded vigorously. “She said she’s never seen her, but sometimes she smells roses when she goes upstairs, even though there aren’t any flowers up there. I think the lady likes roses.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to take a look?” Jason asked again, sidestepping Avery as he nudged Kenzie to the rear. “I don’t mind a bit.”
“That’s very generous of you, but, of course I’m sure. Besides, you don’t want to keep whoever’s waiting on you…waiting. Sadie, was it?”
“Yep. Sadie.”
Avery took Kenzie’s hand and led her back toward the front counter. She bent to snatch her purse from a low shelf and rummaged for her car keys, suddenly overcome with an odd wish that it was she who might spend the evening with Jason and Kenzie instead of the elusive Sadie. She chalked up the feeling to a twinge of homesickness for the familiar New York landscape. Though she didn’t miss the chaos, there was a certain comfort in the bustling pace of the city. Hopefully, Clover Cove would soon become familiar enough to call her true home. Lila had promised to introduce her to a few people and also take her on a tour of the town once she got settled in.
Satisfied when she felt the cool metal of keys against her palm, Avery tucked her purse back on the shelf and unfolded herself to face Jason, who had loped back to join them once again.
Yes, he was a vision…easy on the eyes with a smile that could probably charm the straw from the chubby limbs of a scarecrow. She could hardly locate her tongue. Suddenly her throat felt as if she’d just spent a string of scorching days heedlessly roaming the Sahara with no sign of an oasis.
“In that case…” Jason’s gaze slipped from Avery to Kenzie and then back again. “…whoever this lady is that Kenzie speaks of…I sure hope she favors me, as well.”
“Oh, she does.” Kenzie smiled as she gazed once again toward the upper landing along the sweeping staircase. “Yep, she says you pass muster with flying colors…whatever that means.”
“I’d have to agree,” Avery murmured with a slight twinge of longing. “Flying colors, indeed.”
“Excuse me?” Jason leaned in, his aftershave a hint of summer promise. “I missed that last comment.”
But Kenzie fisted her hand, pressed it to her mouth, and giggled. She, obviously, had not missed the subtle innuendo. “I think she’s twitter-pated, Uncle Jason—just like you.”
“Well, that’s certainly fortuitous.” Jason laughed.
“What does that mean?” Kenzie wanted to know as she tugged at his shirt once again.
Avery explained. “It means unexpected…by chance, sweetie.”
“Oh, like you parkin’ your Jeep too close to our truck or us meeting Sadie?” Kenzie asked.
“Yes, just like that—fortuitous.” Avery’s heart tugged. There was that Sadie again. Kenzie was obviously smitten with her. Was Jason just as infatuated?
“Never mind.” A slight wave of Avery’s hand dismissed the conversation. She rounded the counter and headed toward the door with the keys to her offending Jeep in hand. She crooked a finger at Jason. “Follow me, Mr. Photo Guy, and I’ll spring both you and your truck from the parking lot. How does that sound?”
            “Just perfect.” He unfolded his arms and reached for the door, holding it wide for both her and Kenzie to pass through. “That would be my pleasure.”
The scent of roses drifted as Avery stepped onto the oversized, wrap-around porch that framed the bridal shop. Bushes clustered to the right, in a colorful burst of full bloom beneath the forward-facing turret. Mid-May sunshine kissed her cheeks as she glanced up toward the turret window, hoping for a glimpse of the mystery lady. She gasped as sunlight flickered over glass, certain she saw the sweeping movement of a shadow. In the gentle gasp of moments, a wave of warmth coursed through her.
Suddenly she sensed something wonderful was about to unfold.



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  1. This sounds like a great story! Love Kenzie!

    1. Thanks you, Sally. You are this week's winner! Sending your book along now.

    2. Thank you so much! Can't wait to read this one!


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