Книга - One Wish


One Wish
Robyn Carr

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr delivers another smart, funny, emotional novel about the complexities of life in the small Oregon town of Thunder Point.Grace Dillon was a champion figure skater until she moved to Thunder Point to escape the ruthless world of fame and competition. And though she's proud of the quiet, self-sufficient life she's created running a successful flower shop, she knows something is missing. Her life could use a little excitement.In a community where there are few eligible singles, high school teacher Troy Headly appoints himself Grace's fun coach. When he suggests a little companionship with no strings attached, Grace is eager to take him up on his offer, and the two enjoy…getting to know each other.But things get complicated when Grace's past catches up with her, and she knows that's not what Troy signed up for. Faced with losing her, Troy realizes Grace is more than just a friend with benefits. He's determined to help her fight for the life she always wished for but never believed she could have—and maybe they can find real love along the way.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr delivers another smart, funny, emotional novel about the complexities of life in the small Oregon town of Thunder Point

Grace Dillon was a champion figure skater until she moved to Thunder Point to escape the ruthless world of fame and competition. And though she’s proud of the quiet, self-sufficient life she’s created running a successful flower shop, she knows something is missing. Her life could use a little excitement.

In a community where there are few eligible singles, high school teacher Troy Headly appoints himself Grace’s fun coach. When he suggests a little companionship with no strings attached, Grace is eager to take him up on his offer, and the two enjoy…getting to know each other.

But things get complicated when Grace’s past catches up with her, and she knows that’s not what Troy signed up for. Faced with losing her, Troy realizes Grace is more than just a friend with benefits. He’s determined to help her fight for the life she always wished for but never believed she could have—and maybe they can find real love along the way.

Praise for #1 New York Times and #1 USA TODAY bestselling author Robyn Carr (#ulink_c7cfc7d2-b08d-5574-a771-b15fd6ef6106)

“The captivating sixth installment of Carr’s Thunder Point series (after The Promise) brings up big emotions.”

—Publishers Weekly on The Homecoming

“In Carr’s very capable hands, the Thunder Point saga continues to delight.”

—RT Book Reviews on The Promise

“Sexy, funny, and intensely touching.”

—Library Journal on The Chance

“A touch of danger and suspense make the latest in Carr’s Thunder Point series a powerful read.”

—RT Book Reviews on The Hero

“With her trademark mixture of humor, realistic conflict, and razor-sharp insights, Carr brings Thunder Point to vivid life.”

—Library Journal on The Newcomer

“No one can do small-town life like Carr.”

—RT Book Reviews on The Wanderer

“Carr has hit her stride with this captivating series.”

—Library Journal on the Virgin River series

One Wish

Robyn Carr

www.mirabooks.co.uk (http://www.mirabooks.co.uk)



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One (#ulink_7b55874c-75f2-56c7-b8af-a496af2f4386)

Grace Dillon’s flower shop was very quiet on the day after Christmas. She had no orders to fill, no deliveries to make, and she’d be very surprised if her shop phone rang at all. Most people were trying to recover from Christmas; many families were away for the holidays or had company to entertain.

Grace drove to North Bend to grab an early skate before the rink got busy. Figure skating classes were suspended over Christmas break and people, mostly kids who wanted to try out their new skates, would dominate the rink later in the day. Grace loved these secret early morning skates. She had a deal with Jake Galbraith, the rink owner. She could call him and if it was convenient, he’d let her skate for an hour or two while they were getting ready to open. He didn’t want to charge her, but she paid him fifty dollars an hour anyway. It was a point of pride.

He smiled at her when she came in and told her to have a good skate.

She stretched and then stepped onto the deserted ice, closely following the Zamboni ice resurfacer that had just finished. She warmed up with forward and backward crossovers, backward half swizzle pumps, figure eights, scratch spins and axels. She noticed Jake was watching, leaning his forearms on the boards. She performed a forward spiral and a leaning tower spiral. She executed a perfect sit spin next. She circled the ice a few times, adding a jump here and there. She had been famous for her straddle split jump, touching her toes with her fingers. When she looked for Jake again, he had disappeared.

Suddenly, the music started, filling the rink with the strains of “Rhapsody in Blue.” She glided into an arabesque, arms stretched, fingers pointed, wrists flexible. She saw that Jake had returned, was watching her every move. She went for a double axel and fell on her ass. She got up, laughing to herself. She glided around the rink a few times, tried the jump again and landed it, but it wasn’t pretty. The music changed to another Gershwin tune. She’d practiced to this music as a little girl; it was familiar and comfortable. Her earliest memories of skating always filled her with nostalgia and comfort. That was before the competition got really fierce.

She’d been on the ice for an hour when the music segued into Alicia Keys’s “Girl on Fire” and it lit her up. Her signature music. She was on fire! She skated like she was competing. When she was fifteen, stronger but lighter and more flexible, she could really catch the air. She noticed other people watching—a guy leaned on his broom and gazed at her, a couple of teenage girls who worked in the skate rental shop had stopped working to watch, the Zamboni driver leaned a shoulder against the rink glass, hands in his pockets. Two hours slid by effortlessly. She slowed and got off the ice when she heard the sounds of people arriving to skate.

“Beautiful,” Jake said. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.”

“Holidays are busy at the shop,” she said. She tried to get to the rink on Sunday mornings, but the past month had been frantic—wreaths, centerpieces, two weddings and increased day-to-day traffic in the shop.

“You should spend more time on the ice. I have a long list of people looking for a good coach.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think I’d be a good coach. I don’t have time for one thing. And I’d never go back on the circuit, even with students. I left that world.”

“I thought the day would come that you might be interested in going back, maybe not in competition for yourself, but coaching. I think on name alone you’d make a fortune.”

“I left the name behind, too,” she reminded him with a smile. “We have an agreement.”

“I haven’t said a word. People ask me, who is that girl, but I just say you’re training and asked not to be identified. Some of them guess and would show up to watch you if they had any idea when you would be skating. The ice misses you. Watching you skate is like seeing music.”

“Nice try. I don’t train anymore. I spent as much time on my ass as on my blades. I look like crap.”

“Your worst is better than a lot of bests I see. I’ve missed you. Maybe you’ll have more time in the new year.”

“We’ll see.”

She took off her skates and pulled on her Ugg boots. Sometimes she questioned her decision to leave it all behind, because being on the ice made her so happy. Then she’d remind herself that while a couple of hours felt great, the difficult routine of a competitive figure skater was grueling, exhausting. As a coach she’d never be able to push young girls the way she’d been pushed.

She pulled out a hundred dollars in cash for her two hours alone on the rink. Jake had told her he put the money in a special scholarship fund for young wannabe Olympians who couldn’t otherwise afford lessons. She told him however he wanted to spend it was fine with her. As long as he didn’t sell her out.

As she left the rink she reflected that her life in Thunder Point was so much more peaceful than it had been in competition and her freedom was hard-won. She had friends now, even if they didn’t know who she had been before. At least no one thought of her as tragic or complicated or as one of the saddest yet most triumphant stories told on the competitive skating circuit. No one was threatened by her, hated her, feared or resented her. No one called her a rich bitch or a dirty liar.

Of course, the weight of her secrets sometimes wore on her. Jake Galbraith had recognized her at once. All she had to do was ask the cost of a private rink for a couple of hours and he knew immediately who she was. She hadn’t confided in anyone in Thunder Point.

When she got into the van she saw that she had a message on her cell phone. She listened to it before leaving the parking lot. It was Mikhail, her old coach. He still kept tabs on her. They stayed in touch. Often, they left each other a series of brief messages because he could be anywhere in the world. “I am wishing you happy Christmas,” the Russian said. “I think I am day late. If so, you will understand.”

Grace waited until she was back in her tiny apartment above the flower shop before returning the call. “I thought you had forgotten all about me,” she said to his voice mail. “It was a happy Christmas. I was a maid of honor for my friend Iris yesterday—that’s how I spent the day. I’ve never been in a wedding before. It was small and intimate, a beautiful experience. And this morning I went skating. I fell three times.” Then she mimicked his accent. “What can I say? I am clumsy oaf with no training.” Then she laughed, wished him the best New Year ever and said goodbye.

Grace’s beloved father and coach died rather suddenly when she was only fourteen and he was sixty. Her mother, once a competitive and professional figure skater, responded by hiring an even better coach, a very short Russian of huge reputation who could take Grace all the way. There was no time for grieving, they had work to do. Mikhail Petrov was a tough, brilliant coach and they were together for nine years. He had been very unhappy with her decision to leave competition and for a couple of years he pestered her to return to the sport. “Before you forget everything I taught you!”

Her mother, Winnie Dillon Banks, who had herself been a teenage skating wonder, was worse than devastated. She was furious. “If you quit now, after all I’ve invested in you, you are dead to me.” After the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Grace walked away from everything and everyone. All she’d ever wished for was to be like everyone else. To not be constantly judged every time she took a breath. She wanted to be normal.

* * *

In the afternoon, when Grace was just about to ruin her dinner with a big bowl of popcorn while looking through various online floral arrangements on her laptop, there was a light tapping at her back door. She pulled the curtain to peek out through the window in the door and was shocked to see Iris. She opened the door.

“Don’t newlyweds lay around in bed for several days after the wedding? Doing it until their parts give out?” Grace asked, only half teasing.

“Maybe when one of the newlyweds isn’t the town deputy,” Iris said. “We did eat breakfast in bed and Seth didn’t go to the office until about one. I cleaned the house, thawed something for dinner and...” She paused. “I called Troy to tell him.”

“You didn’t tell him before, huh?” Grace asked.

Iris shook her head.

Troy Headly, high school history teacher and the fantasy of all the high school girls, had had a very big crush on Iris. They had dated for only a few months last spring when Iris told him theirs would have to be a friendship-only relationship. She was the high school guidance counselor and before getting involved with a teacher in the same school, she had to be powerfully sure. And she hadn’t been. But Troy had pursued Iris right up until Seth was in the picture. Even then, it was pretty obvious he still had a serious thing for Iris and wouldn’t mind if Seth fell off the face of the earth.

“How’d he take it?” Grace asked.

“Like a man,” Iris said. “Is it too early for wine?”

“Certainly not!” Grace pulled a bottle of Napa Cellars sauvignon blanc from her little refrigerator and opened it. “Was it awful?”

“Nah, it was fine. Good, really. He was surprised we got married so soon, but then so was everyone. So were we, when you get down to it. He congratulated me and said he hoped I’d be very happy—all the right things. Then I asked him if he was going to be all right and he laughed, but he didn’t sound amused. He said he was surprised to find himself disappointed an old girlfriend got married. It’s hard for me to think of myself as his girlfriend—it was never that serious. Even Troy admits he’s not looking for a wife! Not now. He likes the single life.”

Grace poured the wine and put the bowl of popcorn between them. “A gourmet treat,” she said. “Or maybe dinner. So, is it different? Being married?”

“Not yet,” Iris said. “Ask me again when we merge bank accounts. We’ve been solitary, single adults for a long time. Right now we’re each taking care of our own obligations until Seth either rents or sells his town house. There’s plenty of closet space at my house, but we could have issues when his manly furniture looks for space among my decidedly female things.”

“You’re staying in your house,” Grace said in relief.

“It’s perfect for us. I like to ride my bike to work in good weather.”

“I love your house,” Grace said. “Aren’t you ever going to have a honeymoon?”

“Eventually. We’re looking for deals online right now. We’re going to sneak away in a couple of months, hopefully somewhere warm and sunny, when Seth can get away from the town and I can escape my office at school. But what about you, Grace? Why aren’t you seeing anyone?”

Grace burst out laughing. It wasn’t the first time Iris had asked. “First of all, who? Second, when?”

“Don’t you ever meet a groomsman at any of the weddings you do?”

“Never. They all come long after I’m gone and I’m not invited to the receptions. Besides, isn’t that the kiss of death? Hooking up with someone in the wedding party at the reception? No thanks.”

“We have to get you out more,” Iris said.

“Right,” Grace said doubtfully. “Maybe I could help you chaperone the prom and meet some very promising eighteen-year-old? Nah, I don’t think so.”

“We’ll go clubbing or something.”

“Clubbing?” Grace sputtered. “In Thunder Point?”

“Okay, we’ll go up to North Bend. And graze.”

“I’m sure Seth would appreciate that!”

“Well, I won’t take any phone numbers or bring anyone home...”

“Iris,” Grace said, lifting her wineglass. “Let it go. I’ll handle my own love life. In my own time, in my own way.”

“There’s always Troy,” Iris said, sipping.

“Nah, we’re pals. There’s no chemistry.” On his side. “We had a beer together once, followed by grilled cheese and tomato soup. It was swell. Besides, I’m not interested in your sloppy seconds. I read, you know. Rebound boyfriends are not a good idea.”

“You can’t just work all the time,” Iris said.

“No?” Grace asked. “I thought you could.”

* * *

Growing up, everyone thought Grace was a spoiled rich kid, but she had been raised on hard, committed, constant work. If she took a day off she felt ashamed. Her program would suffer. But her work hadn’t been the kind average people understood.

Her full name was Isabella Grace Dillon Banks. She’d given up most of her name and went by Grace Dillon because Izzy Banks was very well-known in some circles. Probably not among her Thunder Point acquaintances, but for those who watched champion figure skating competitions around the world, Izzy Banks was known, both for her skating and for her involvement in dramas and scandals that rocked the skating world.

Grace’s mother, Winnie Dillon Banks, was a wealthy heiress whose grandfather made money in tobacco. She was a well-known skater in her time, though never as successful as Grace in competitions. Winnie’s best show as a competitive skater had been second place in Nationals. But she saw in her daughter her chance to win and became the ultimate stage mother.

Grace had a privileged, isolated childhood where skating was everything.

Grace was born to an ice-skating icon and her coach. Winnie Dillon began a love affair with her coach, Leon Banks, when she was twenty-two. Some cynical rivals and professional observers suggested she succumbed to marriage and motherhood when all signals pointed to her competing days being over.

Winnie and Leon had their daughter on skates before she was four years old. They pushed and trained her hard. In those early days, when skating was simply fun, when she yearned to be the best, Grace was happy. She begged to skate and hated her time off. She’d have been on the ice eight hours a day if her father had let her. She was coddled and loved and indulged. She had a few friends, other little girls who were training and taking lessons and part of a skating club, some of them Leon’s other students.

Grace loved her parents very much and didn’t quite understand until after her father’s death that theirs had been a difficult marriage. Her father was much older than Winnie and more focused on his students than his wife. Her mother was a demanding diva and socialite; she dragged a reluctant Leon to charity events and parties. Her parents disagreed on almost everything, especially Grace’s training and education. Grace never went to traditional school, public or private—she had tutors. Leon thought this might be a mistake, feared she wouldn’t be a well-adjusted child.

At the age of twelve the level of competition turned serious. But Grace was winning everything in her age category and was quickly viewed as unbeatable. She trained on the ice several hours a day, took gymnastics, ballet and practiced yoga. The family moved from Atlanta to Chicago and finally settled in San Francisco, following the best opportunities for her training and education, as well as for Leon’s coaching prospects. Her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when Grace was fourteen. Winnie sought a tougher, stronger, more famous coach the moment Leon fell ill. It was almost as if she’d chosen Mikhail before he was needed. Then Leon passed away rather swiftly, within months of his diagnosis.

Winnie and Grace took a few days off, then it was back on the ice. “Your success meant everything to your father,” Winnie kept saying. It was true that Leon wanted the best for his daughter, but it was Winnie to whom winning was everything. No matter the personal cost. And skating became less for fun and more for life. Winnie blew a gasket whenever Grace didn’t take first place.

Grace left the world of competitive skating when she was twenty-three, right after the Vancouver Games. She went to Portland to stay with a sweet older couple who had once worked for her mother. Ross and Mamie Jenkins had known Grace since birth. They’d been part of Winnie’s staff, Ross a driver and Mamie in housekeeping. They had retired to open a flower shop a few years before Grace quit the circuit. When she needed them, they took her in.

She collapsed. She was exhausted and depressed and afraid of the future. Mamie pampered her and gave her time; it seemed as if she’d slept for a month. Then one evening Mamie spoke up. “If you lay around one more day, you won’t be able to walk. You have to do something—it’s your choice. Get a job, go to school, something.”

Grace didn’t want to be around people and she didn’t believe she had any marketable skills. So she started helping in the flower shop, in the back, learning to make beautiful bouquets and arrangements. Portland was a funky, interesting, welcoming city—not too big, not too small, not uppity or flashy. Little by little, Grace came out of the back room to deal with customers, sometimes delivering flowers, even helping Mamie and Ross with weddings. No one made a fuss over her or asked her a lot of questions.

Every time a major skating competition was covered by the mainstream or sports networks, Grace was glued to the TV, watching every move. And invariably there’d be some short vignette about Izzy Banks, the girl who had it all and threw it all away. “Izzy Banks, the brat on the ice, the fiercest competitor in figure skating, obviously couldn’t take the pressure,” one sportscaster noted of her.

Brat. Boy, that stung.

Her mother would usually get in touch, proving that Winnie couldn’t ignore the competitions any more than Grace could. She’d pressure Grace to return home, return to skating, and the few conversations they had would end in a fight and they wouldn’t speak again for months.

A year before the 2014 Winter Games in Russia, when the dramatic story of her life might be publicly examined yet again, Grace went in search of a new place to settle and tackle life on her own. A little money had been set aside for her by her father and she found Pretty Petals, the shop Iris’s mother had owned. She’d been in Thunder Point almost a year when the winter competition took place. When Grace couldn’t watch it, she’d record it. There had been the usual newsy dish about the more stunning events of the life of Izzy Banks, but no one seemed to recognize Grace. There were, thankfully, more interesting sports scandals that year. And Thunder Point was more a football than figure skating town.

All she’d ever wanted was a life she could control. A life that didn’t include backbreaking labor, cruel rivals, endless travel across too many time zones, the occasional crazed fan or terrible loneliness. She wanted to know what it felt like to have real friends, not a staff of coaches, therapists, a security detail and competitors. She’d never had a boyfriend.

She did, however, have more than one gold medal. She’d won every significant competition in the world.

* * *

It drizzled in the days following Christmas, typical Oregon Coast weather in winter. Grace’s only part-time employee, a local married woman with a child in elementary school, came into the shop to resign. The woman’s life had grown too busy and complex, she complained. Grace knew it was going to create a challenge, even though all the woman had done was manage the front of the store. Grace was going to be back to doing it all, just as she had when the shop was new. She’d had the doorbell installed so she could lock the front door and go upstairs. The doorbell would buzz in her loft. And she could always close the shop to make deliveries when necessary. She’d ask around for a delivery boy.

Business was typically down the week following a holiday and the days were much shorter so Grace closed the shop at four one afternoon and drove out to Cooper’s for a beer. She wasn’t surprised to see Troy was back from visiting his family in Morro Bay. She was also not surprised that there was no one around the bar. People didn’t hang out on the beach in cold, wet weather like this. But she had to admit surprise at seeing a big pile of books and papers beside his laptop on the bar next to his cup of coffee. She jumped on a bar stool. “Welcome home. Did you have fun with the family?” she asked.

“More or less. My sister has three little undisciplined kids and I slept on her couch. It was brutal. What can I get you?”


“Was that a question or order?” he asked.

“Beer, please.” She glanced at the books. “Homework?”

“Lesson plans,” he said, closing everything up, stacking it all and pushing it to one side. “We’re caught up in a couple of my classes so we’re going to have some fun. I’m going to offer them a chance for extra credit if they research the history of something that interests them—like a rock band or in-line skating or maybe a sport like kayaking. I’m writing up a few examples.”

“That almost sounds fun, but not enough fun. Did you get in any skiing over the holiday?”

“Nope,” he said, drawing her a draft. “We played some golf, but the weather wasn’t great. I might make a drive up to Mount Hood before I get back to work, maybe for a day. If I had more time and money I’d check out Tahoe. So, you were the maid of honor.”

“I was. Kind of short notice.”

“I heard it wasn’t exactly planned in advance...”

“That’s how I heard it, too. Iris said they decided and just did it. They got a marriage license, called a judge Seth knew, told Seth’s family and got it done. I didn’t even have time to order special flowers.” She sipped a little of her beer. “How are you handling it?”

“Fine,” he said.

“Good. That’s good.”

He leaned both hands on the bar. “I went out with my little brother and got roaring drunk. Then I bought a Jeep I can’t really afford.”

“Oh,” she said. “Gosh, I hope you don’t get your heart broken too often or you’ll go broke.”

“I’d wanted that Jeep anyway. And I deserved a good drunk.”

“Is that what caused...” She reached out toward the remnants of what looked like a healing bruise on his forehead.

He ducked away from her fingers. “I forgot I was sleeping on the couch, fell off and hit the coffee table.”

She couldn’t help herself. She laughed.

“And my heart isn’t broken,” he insisted. “Just a little coronary bruise. Gimme a week or two and it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”

Bullshit, she thought. He looked completely miserable. “You’re very resilient,” she said. She sipped her beer.

“I guess we’ve all been there,” he said.


“Heartbreak hotel.”

“Hmm. Well, I don’t think I have. I haven’t had my heart broken. Not by a guy, at least.”

Troy appeared to be momentarily frozen. “There’s no polite way to ask this, but has your heart been broken by a girl?”

She giggled. There were times, and this was one of them, that it would feel so good to dump the story on someone, explain how a heart can be broken by ruthless competitors or the media. “No, Troy. I’m perfectly straight. I’m into guys, I just haven’t been seriously involved. I guess it’s not in my nature to be tied down to one guy.”

“No boyfriend, then?”

“Are you fishing?” she asked. “I’ve had some terrific boyfriends, just nothing serious. No steadies, engagements or live-ins.”

“Why haven’t I ever met any of them?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I guess you weren’t around at the same time one of them was. I have a date later tonight, as a matter of fact.”

“Oh? What’s he like?” Troy asked.

“He’s kind of like a medieval knight, but has a gentle, sophisticated side. Big and brawny, very physical but disciplined. He’s also clever. Wise.”

“Fantastic,” Troy said. “Where are you going?”

“We’re staying in, actually. We might watch a movie.”

Troy lifted an eyebrow. “If I popped over unannounced, would I meet him?”

“Very probably. He’s a little possessive but I completely ignore that. Like I said, I’m not one to get serious. Let’s talk about your girlfriends.”

“I don’t kiss and tell.”

She straightened. “Humph. Yet you expect me to!”

“I think you were bragging and maybe stretching the truth. You’re a little weird, Grace. The last time we hung out was Halloween and you were a witch, complete with missing teeth. And you put a hex on me.”

She smiled, remembering. She’d told him she was going to shrink his thing. “How’d that work out?”

“Turns out you’re not much of a witch. So when you say your heart was never broken...”

“Come on, I’ve had my share of disappointments like everyone else, just haven’t had a romance end badly. We can moan about our various letdowns another time, when we’re both drowning our sorrows and feeling sorry for ourselves. Let’s not do that now, okay? I have a feeling if you get started...”

“Did Iris ask you to check on me?”

“Absolutely not. She said you were very grown-up and wished her every happiness. And I must say, buying a Jeep you can’t afford is definitely mature.” Then she grinned at him.

“It’s a great Jeep. Maybe I’ll take you off-road in it sometime. Besides, I only have one person to worry about so if I have trouble paying the bills, it’s not like I’m taking milk out of the baby’s mouth.”

She leaned her head on her hand. “You’re all about fun, aren’t you, Troy?”

“I work two jobs, Grace. I like to think of myself as active.”

“And your favorite activity is?”

“It’s a toss-up between diving and white-water rafting or kayaking. One of the things that brought me to Oregon is the great river trips. I was torn between Colorado, Idaho and Oregon. Oregon had the job. In a town on the water.”

“And you’re a teacher for the time off?”

“And the high pay,” he said, smiling.

“Iris says you’re the most dedicated teacher she knows,” Grace said.

“Iris should raise her standards.”

“Okay, so you’re still a little pissy.”

“I said I’d need a week or two,” he reminded her. He lifted his coffee cup to his lips. “What’s your favorite thing to do with time off?”

She didn’t answer right away. “I need more balance in my life,” she finally said. “That shop gets too much of my time. But it’s a good workout.”

“Flower arranging?” he asked doubtfully.

“I beg your pardon! I stand all day, haul heavy buckets full of fresh-cut flowers in water, deliver hundreds of pounds of arrangements to weddings and other events, get in and out of the back of that van all day, lift heavy pots and props and that’s before I have to clean up and do the books. It’s not for sissies.”

“And for fun?”

“I like to dance,” she said. “I don’t very often, but it’s fun.”

“I bet you were a cheerleader,” he said.

“I was never a cheerleader. I think I could’ve been. But I wasn’t interested.”

“You are the first girl in the history of the world, then.”

“I’m sure I’m not,” she said. “When I was that age I was into ballet, sort of. They are not the same moves at all. That, like flower arranging, takes strength. Plus, I have a bike.”

He raised his eyebrows. “A Harley?”

“A mountain bike. Retired for the winter due to ice, rain, cold and slick roads.” She drank the rest of her beer and put her money on the bar. “I’d love to stay and keep you company but I have a date.” She started for the door and turned back to him. “I’m glad you’re doing well, Troy. I’d like to see what that Jeep can do off-road. Maybe when the weather warms up. And dries up.”

“It’s a date,” he said.

But Grace knew it wasn’t a date. She went back to the shop but didn’t go inside. She went upstairs to her apartment, put some leftover lasagna from Carrie’s deli into the microwave, changed into her soft pajamas and turned on the TV. While her lasagna cooled on the plate she went through the channel guide and settled on some reruns until her favorite shows came on. With her dinner on a tray and her e-reader in her hand, she opened an old and beloved book—The Wolf and the Dove—and settled in with Wulfgar, her medieval knight.

She loved him. And she trusted him.

Two (#ulink_d9cc6d32-d755-5afb-8813-081e72556d3d)

When Cooper asked Troy about his plans for New Year’s Eve, Troy agreed to work. He hadn’t gone skiing and was getting a little bored—might as well make money. Even though the night was clear and cold, it was a party night and Cooper’s wasn’t where the party was. Cliff was packing a full house at his restaurant and would stay open past midnight to accommodate his revelers, but Cooper’s on the beach didn’t have patrons past eight o’clock.

At a little after eight Troy locked up and walked next door to Cooper’s house and brought him the contents of the till. Cooper and his wife, Sarah, were bundled up and had been sitting on the deck where an outdoor hearth blazed under a star-studded black sky. “I hear Cliff is going to shoot off some fireworks over the bay if the wind stays down,” Cooper said. “If we’re awake, we’ll have the best seats in town. The problem with having a house like this—you never want to leave it.”

“You look pretty comfortable. The fireworks might wake you up,” Troy said.

“We had invitations for New Year’s Eve,” he said.

“I’m sure,” Troy said, grinning. “Getting old, Cooper?”

“Oh, yeah, I guess so. But look at you—working tonight and all washed up before nine...”

Troy was ready to move on. “I’m going to stop at the store, grab a six-pack and drop in on a friend.”

“Let me save you a trip,” Cooper said. He got up, went to the refrigerator and pulled out a six of Heineken bottles. “Will this cut it?”

“I wasn’t going to spend that much,” Troy said with a laugh. “What do I owe you?”

“Gimme a break,” Cooper said, waving him off. “Just get outta here and happy New Year. I hope the friend is female.”

“She’s female, but just a friend. I hope she’s home or I’ll end up at my apartment alone with a six-pack like a loser,” Troy replied.

“I guess calling ahead didn’t cross your mind?”

“I didn’t think about it,” Troy said. “Like I said, nothing special. Just a friend.”

But Troy had thought about it. He was completely prepared to find Grace not at home and he didn’t really care. Or she could be entertaining, which he’d kind of like to interrupt. Since Grace never brought out these boyfriends, he figured the only way he was likely to get a glimpse of one was to surprise her. What he’d really like to know was if Grace was as lonely as he was. Because two lonely people could negotiate a deal that would get them through. Why not?

He’d been thinking about her for the past couple of days, ever since she stopped by Cooper’s while he was working. Grace had been in Thunder Point a little longer than he had, but he was just discovering her. He’d run across her a few times with Iris; she made him laugh. She was cute. Pretty, actually, but not the kind of gorgeous or sexy that slapped him upside the head. If he was honest with himself, women like that made him nervous. Grace had a wholesome look about her, kind of freshly scrubbed and glowing. She was very small, like a woman in a girl’s body. But when she started talking, all traces of the girl vanished—she was clever and had a sassy, cynical wit. There was a sharp edge to her, like she’d lived a lot. She was full of the devil.

He privately acknowledged he was looking for a woman to spend some time with. The truth was, he hadn’t often been without one. This might be one of his longest stretches; he’d been too damn focused on a woman he couldn’t have. He wasn’t above brief liaisons but he preferred something a little steadier. For that, he had pretty rigid standards. First of all, appearance was important. Not the only criteria, but someone who made an effort, put her best foot forward, kept up her looks. Next, she had to like to play. Troy loved extreme sports and it was not required that a woman he was dating be into the extreme, but it was important she liked trying new things, liked being outside, enjoyed physical activity. Iris had fit those requirements. She appreciated the outdoors, liked hiking, biking, paddle boarding. And she’d liked watching his videos of his own more adventurous experiences. She’d covered her eyes sometimes, but she’d watched his white-water challenges, rock climbing, diving with sharks, whales, squid.

Troy wanted a woman who was a good sport, at least. Of course she had to be intelligent and have a sense of humor. And since he was on the rebound, it was probably a good idea if she wasn’t the clingy, needy type. That made Grace, who didn’t get serious, a contender. She seemed to be casually dating someone and that sort of thing was usually a turnoff, but not at the moment.

He knocked on her second-floor apartment door, not really expecting her to answer. He saw the curtain move and then the door opened. She was wearing yoga pants, heavy socks, an oversize, long-sleeved T-shirt and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail. He tilted his head and smiled at her. “You don’t have a date tonight?”

“Well, not at the moment.”

Troy tried looking past her. “Is the medieval knight here?”

She put a hand on her hip. “Did you want to come in, Troy?”

He lifted the six-pack. “If you’re not too busy. I brought beer. Sorry, I should’ve called.”

She held the door open for him. “I’m surprised you don’t have a date.”

“It’s not like I’m desperate,” he said, entering. He held out a beer for her, took one for himself, then opened her little refrigerator to stow the rest. “Oh-oh,” he said. It was stuffed. Small to begin with, there was no room for a six-pack.

“Here, I’ll do it.” Some maneuvering was involved in getting four bottles of beer into the little fridge and ditching the cardboard pack.

“You’re sure I’m not interrupting anything?”

“Come in, Troy,” she said, moving through the dinky kitchen to the couch.

There was a movie on Pause and a plate of something snacky on the coffee table. He peered at it.

“Pizza rolls. I was just watching a chick flick but it’ll keep. Now what’s up with you? And take off your shoes.”

He did as he was told, then sat on the far end of the couch. “Really, nothing. I worked at Cooper’s, which is why I don’t have a date or anything. It was dead tonight, and it was still early. I had about three choices—Cliff’s, Waylan’s or your place.”

“You could have taken that new Jeep up to North Bend or even Bandon. Found a lively bar. Party a little.” She picked up the plate and offered him a pizza roll.

“Thanks.” He chewed it and nodded. “Not bad. I didn’t feel like dealing with a bunch of strangers,” he said. “I just felt like some company before I go home.” He grinned at her. “And I thought maybe I’d run into one of your boyfriends.”

“Oh, so that’s your ulterior motive and the reason you didn’t call. I didn’t want to go out tonight. I went for a run.”

“A run? You don’t get enough exercise?”

“Short hours in the shop today. The nice thing about being a one-person operation, I can close early or open late if I want as long as I have a cell number for the shop. That way I can take orders anytime. In fact, if I’m available and someone needs something, I can run downstairs and make up an arrangement. But I knew there wouldn’t be any calls tonight and, God, it was beautiful on the beach. There were a few people out there—Sarah Cooper and her dog, a couple of teenagers, one older couple I’ve never met—maybe part-timers. And me. I like to work out, but there isn’t a gym around here that matches my oddball hours.”

“You work out?” he asked.

“Not regularly. Just a bike ride or jog. I don’t lift anymore—my arms and legs get enough of a workout in the shop. My flower girl calisthenics are enough. I add cardio just so I can drink a beer and eat pizza rolls.” She offered him the last one. After putting the empty plate back on the coffee table, she curled into her corner of the sofa, her knees under her chin. “Tell me about Christmas, tell me about your family. Are you close?”

“I guess. As long as we don’t have too much togetherness.”

“What does that mean?”

He took a pull on his beer. “I love my family. I do. We don’t all get together that often and when we’re gearing up for a family thing, I get excited. Then on the third or fourth day I want to kill my sister and shove my brother in a hole.”

She sat forward a little. “Really?”

“My sister can be a bossy bitch and my brother is a screwup. Jess was married at nineteen and they started trying to repopulate the world—my niece was born when Jess was twenty. Then came a nephew and another niece and she thinks she runs a tight ship but if you ask me, the ship is sinking. The kids are out of control, my brother-in-law, Rick, works as much overtime as he can—he’s a firefighter—the house is upside down and I think Rick likes the firehouse because it’s the only place there’s enough quiet to watch a game. And my brother, Sam, can be such an idiot. He’s twenty-one going on seven and my mother would cut his meat for him if she could. He’s spoiled and irresponsible. He doesn’t even walk his plate to the sink and he has to eat on the hour. He looks in the refrigerator and sees eight slices of leftover pizza, so does he ask if anyone wants some? Of course not—he eats them all.”

Her eyes were large. “Should I be sorry I asked?”

Troy took a breath. “Nah, I’m just coming off another successful family gathering. I should’ve stayed in the motel with my folks—it gets a little tight at my sister’s”

“Your parents stayed in a motel? Why?”

“Because they’re smart! But take ’em one day at a time and they’re great, they’re really great. Jess’s kids might be loud and messy and hyperactive, but they’re also happy! Rick’s such a great guy, I don’t know how Jess captured him. And when I got moody and wouldn’t tell anyone what was bothering me, Sam took me out on the town. Not that it’s much of a town. We must’ve hit three whole bars. Of course Sam wasn’t really trying to cheer me up as much as he was hoping to get laid, but then...” His voice trailed off.

“Then...?” she asked.

“When I was twenty-one, that was always foremost on my mind. No apologies.”

She giggled. “And now?”

“Not always foremost.”

“So you love your family, when you don’t hate them?”

“I’m crazy about them all the time—we just get on each other’s nerves. We’re typical, I think. I’ll say this—half the time I want to punch my brother and slap my sister, but if anyone ever laid a hand on either one of them, I’d take ’em out. Really, I don’t know how my folks lived through us. What about your family?” he asked.

She didn’t answer right away. Instead, she got up, took the plate and her bottle to the little kitchen area, retrieved two fresh beers and returned to her corner of the couch. “There’s very little to tell. My father died when I was fourteen and I’m an only child. My grandparents are gone, one set before I was even born and the other set before I was eighteen. There are some very distant relatives, but if I met some of them even once, I don’t remember. I did get a letter from someone who claimed to be a cousin or half cousin or something, but he only wanted a loan.” She laughed. “He apparently didn’t know anything about me.”

“How did you respond?”

She smiled. “I wrote back that it was very kind of him to reach out, but I wasn’t making loans at this time.”

“No one, huh?” he asked. “Your mother?”

“Also gone,” she lied, looking away. She just wasn’t willing to get into all that. Plus, she’d told Iris that she was alone. “There are friends, but probably not as many as you have. The couple who owned the flower shop in Portland where I worked, we’re close and stay in touch. I talk to them every week and visit now and then. They not only trained me in the shop but took me under their wing. Good people. They’re in their sixties and never had children, which probably explains why they think of me as family, though we’re not. And there are a couple of other friends who also stay in touch—Mikhail, to name one, but he travels all the time so I never see him. That might be one of the reasons I became good friends with Iris—we have that absence of family in common. And there’s the fact that I bought her flower shop, of course. Sometimes I look at people like Iris...and...well, you—and I feel a little abnormal, like I should try harder...”

“Iris? And me?”

“You’re both so connected to people. Iris doesn’t have family, but she has more good friends than anyone I know. The whole town loves her. The school definitely leans on her. And your family isn’t around here, but I bet you talk to them every week.”

“Pretty much,” he admitted.

“You’re really involved with people, too. The school, Cooper’s, even Waylan’s. All over town, people yell hello! But the reality is, I was raised an only child, had a very solitary upbringing and I’m probably a little too comfortable being alone.”

“People around here are pretty friendly to you, aren’t they?”

“They are. That’s what I love about this town. But I’m kind of a loner.”

“But you’ve had a lot of boyfriends,” he reminded her.

“This is true. And they’ve all been amazing. I spend time with a guy who actually owns a plantation in South Carolina, a guy with a British title of some kind—viscount I think. There’s Malone—he owns a lobster boat on the East Coast, there’s a bar owner, a guy in the ski patrol, a navy SEAL...very interesting, sexy guys. But I own a flower shop—my time is precious.”

He tilted his head and peered at her. “I think you’re bullshitting me, Grace.”

She got off the couch and went to the wall unit, opening a cupboard under the TV and there, lined up neatly, was a tidy row of books—paperbacks and a few hardcovers. Below the books was a similar collection of DVDs. She left the doors standing open and went back to the couch. She gracefully extended a hand toward the bookcase. “My keeper shelves. From medieval knights to navy SEALs. And there’s Wrath...I’m afraid he’s a vampire, but a very nice and sexy vampire. They’re all mine.”

“Should we have a little talk about your medication, Gracie?”

She smiled. “I know they’re pretend boyfriends, Troy. But they never cheat and I haven’t had to get one single screening for an STD.” Then she giggled. “I don’t have space for a lot of storage and books so I do most of my reading on an e-reader, but I have a special collection there. I can’t be without them. What would I do if my e-reader wasn’t charged or I lost it?”

Troy felt a tug of some kind inside, somewhere in his chest. He knew it was a warning sign—it was too soon to feel affectionate toward her. In fact, he’d prefer to never feel anything but friendly. But he couldn’t deny it felt good to know that Grace wasn’t involved with anyone. Her claim to never having been very involved was unusual for a woman her age and beauty. And he liked it.

“How are you fixed for real dates?” he asked.

“I have a very demanding schedule. When you own your own business every day off is a day without pay. I don’t have much help at the shop. I’ve had a couple of part-timers over the past couple of years, but right now I have no one—the last one had to quit. She wasn’t that much help anyway, but at least she kept the shop open while I delivered flowers. I have to try to figure that out. Like I said, I need a more balanced life.”

“Have you thought about a high school or college student? Or maybe two who could job share, putting together two part-time schedules that equal one full-time employee? There are so many at the high school who don’t want to go to college or who do but have trouble affording tuition.”

“Good idea, but when I advertise for help, hardly anyone answers.”

“You need help advertising in the right place. There’s a work-study program at school. If you can train your student-employee in a trade, they’ll get a credit toward graduation and get a morning or afternoon off to work. Didn’t Iris ever suggest this?”

Grace looked a little excited. “No! Should I ask her to help me with this?”

“Yes,” he said. “Not tonight. Tonight we drink beer and eat something. What’ve you got? I could run out for something...”

“How hungry are you? Because I make some amazing nachos. And since I have some black olives, taco meat left over from taco salad and sour cream...”

“Oh, yeah,” he said.

“Didn’t you have any dinner?”

“I had a couple of Cooper’s mini pizzas...”

“And you say it’s the little brother who eats on the hour?” She went to her tiny kitchen.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to run down the street for something? I hate to ask you to feed me,” he said.

“Don’t go,” she said. “It’s not much trouble and it sounds good.”

She bent over to dig around in her little refrigerator and Troy felt a fever coming on. Those yoga pants had a real nice fit. He had to look away, take a breath. Sometimes, he reminded himself, you don’t notice what’s right in front of you. He’d spent all that time thinking Iris was right for him. Even though she made it clear it was a no-go, he never bothered to get to know any other women and here was Grace, right under his nose. Making him hot.

She was complicated, he knew that. She said her life was boring, not much to tell, solitary...and he knew that was just a cover. And he didn’t mind at all.

“Then let me help,” he said, joining her.

They put together a fabulous plate of nachos, ran out of salsa very quickly since that little fridge couldn’t hold much and cupboard space was at a premium. They spent the next hour talking about the town, the rivers Troy liked to run in the summer, the kids he taught. Every time he asked Grace a question about herself she gave him a brief answer and steered the conversation back to him.

“You know there are dorm rooms bigger than this loft,” he said to her. “You live like a college student.”

“I know. I’m keeping my life simple and my expenses down until the shop does better, and it’s doing better all the time. There aren’t that many weddings in Thunder Point, but I get a lot of weddings out of town. They’re killers but they pay like mad. Where do you live?”

“In a small old apartment on the edge of town that’s decorated with castoffs from my folks. You’re saving for the flower shop and I’m saving for travel.” He noticed her eyes widened and wondered where it came from. Envy? Longing? Surprise? Something else? He told her about the dive trips in summer, ski trips in winter, hunting trips with old Marine Corps buddies here and there.

“Marines?” she asked.

“I did a year of community college, enlisted, went to Iraq and got out. That’s how I finished college—GI Bill. I was a lowly jarhead but I made some excellent friends. There’s good hunting in the mountains not far from here. I’ll take you sometime if you like.”

“Oh, I’ve never touched a gun,” she said. “I couldn’t hunt.”

“Then I’ll take you for the scenery.”

Just then, as they were talking about guns, something that sounded like gunshots punctuated the night. Almost as if choreographed, they both turned to open the shutters behind the couch. In the sky above the bay, fireworks blasted the dark sky, exploding into bright fireballs and falling in sparkling streamers.

“Fireworks,” she said in a breath.

“The wind has been too high in the couple of years I’ve been here,” Troy said. “I think Cliff hires someone to do it. Not bad, for a dumpy little town.”

“This place surprises me all the time.”

Troy turned to her and caught her chin in his finger and thumb. He leaned his forehead against hers. “Me, too.”

“Listen, Troy,” she said, and there was no mistaking nervousness in her voice. “I... There are things...”

He stopped her by kissing her gently. He slid his hand around her head to the nape of her neck under her ponytail. His kiss was soft, brief and gentle. Instinct told him he was dealing with a major unknown emotional situation and should go slowly, carefully. He moved over her lips very tenderly.

“What things?” he asked.

She took a breath. “I didn’t exactly tell the whole story about my family, about growing up...”

“I know,” he said.

“How? Do you know things about me? Is there something...”

“Shh,” he said. “I’m a high school teacher. I can smell excuses and evasion a mile away. It’s an acquired skill. So there’s more to you? That’s okay, Gracie. Don’t panic. You’ll tell me when you feel safe.”

“Okay?” she said, more of a question than a reply.

He chuckled. “Okay. We’re just friends. And we’re getting to know each other. Take it easy.”

Then he leaned in again, taking another taste of her lips as the popping, exploding sound of fireworks provided the background music. Again he was gentle and sweet because the last thing he wanted was to scare her off.

“I’m not experienced,” she whispered when their lips parted.

“Well, except for the navy SEAL, knight and vampire?” he asked with a laugh in his voice.

She smiled against his lips. “Yes, except for them there aren’t many experiences. I made out with a guy named Johnny when I was fifteen. For about ten hours I think. He was fantastic and turned out to be gay. Such has been my luck.”

He gave her a little kiss. “I’m not.”

“Yeah, I was afraid of that.”

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “It’s all good.”

“Should we be down on the dock, watching the fireworks?” she asked.

“Uh-uh,” he said, shaking his head. “We should be right here.” Then his arms tightened around her and he covered her mouth again with kisses that had become hot, demanding and promising.

* * *

Troy left at around one in the morning but Grace stayed on the couch. She grabbed a pillow and blanket and decided to spend the night right there, where it all happened, where the kissing and snuggling and whispering took place. She was still licking her lips, touching them with her fingertips, contemplating his skill, his taste. The last time she’d been kissed was in Portland by a nephew of Ross and Mamie’s. That was over two years ago. His name was Gary, last name long forgotten. He’d attached himself to her mouth like a plunger and attempted a tonsillectomy with his tongue. He’d gotten away with that three times before she finally told him to stop.

There were some things for which she had very little training and one of them was romantic relationships. She hadn’t been in a position to have boyfriends. And if she did have a crush, which happened rarely, her flirting felt conspicuous and clumsy. She’d had a crush on Troy, as it happened, but because she was Iris’s friend and Troy had been trailing Iris for a year, she never let on. Growing up, she trained mostly alone, the only exception being her father’s younger students—almost exclusively girls. There were men on the skating competition circuit and other athletes competing in some of the national and world competitions. Some of the figure skaters she competed against were so much more womanly—tall, with breasts, worldly, sexy, flirtatious. And they hated her. They had plenty of reasons—she was raised with money while many of them had parents who worked several jobs to pay for their training, not that that had anything much to do with one’s ability to perform a perfect double axel. She often competed against older skaters because her talent meant she was a force to be reckoned with. But the other girls tended to act as if she could buy the medals.

Her biggest rival was a girl her age named Fiona Temple. Fiona beat her once and only once, but that was all it took for Fiona to believe the only thing that stood in the way of her stardom was Izzy Banks. Fiona hated her and spread rumors about her whenever she could. Fiona’s parents leaked stories to the media. Grace would never forget the time, age twelve, when Fiona told other skaters Grace was a rich bitch and how everything was easier for her. Grace had cried and told Winnie all about it. “Never let them see you cry!” Winnie had said. “Never! Lift your chin and beat her instead! Beat the tights off her!”

That’s what she wanted to do, but it was so hard not to feel hurt. So she lifted her nose in the air, ignored them, and they started calling her a stuck-up snot who had everything handed to her.

And then she did something that caused a world of trouble. Winnie had warned her to keep her mouth shut, but she couldn’t stay silent. She accused a famous skating coach of sexual misconduct with one of his students, a minor. She quickly learned speaking out gets you treated like a leper, even if it’s true. True or not, a smarter person would have proof to offer before opening her stupid mouth. When she asked her coach’s advice Mikhail had been blunt. “He is piece of shit but it will get you nothing to say so.”

That world-famous coach was not prosecuted and ultimately sued Izzy and Winnie. They settled, giving him money. A year after Grace retired from competitive skating the coach was arrested and eventually convicted of sexual misconduct with minors.

She’d been right. Vindicated. For what good it did her.

She hadn’t been completely without friends growing up, but her few relationships had been superficial and strained. When the girls doubled up in hotel rooms to save money, Winnie rented spacious quarters for the two of them and Mikhail, removing Grace yet again from her contemporaries. The only skaters she didn’t actually fear were on the men’s team. And most of them truly wanted to be nothing more than friends.

She couldn’t look to her parents as models for a healthy, strong love match. Her mother had married her father because she needed a keeper. Her father had married her mother as he had married a young skater before her, one who bore him a child twenty years before Grace came along. As much as she had always adored her father, she understood—he had a type. Young, vulnerable, needy, willing to do whatever he demanded because they were convinced he’d help them win.

She could, however, look to her parents to see what she didn’t want in a relationship.

Her other advisors on romance were in the bookcase—the romances and some classic chick flicks. She and Iris had debated them often enough. Some were pure fantasy, some unreasonably coincidental, but some of her favorite contemporary romances revolved around very strong women and men with integrity. And then of course she studied their fictional presumptions, mistakes, missteps, blunders, and from them she learned. Or at least hoped she had.

She had been unprepared for Troy. She had wished for someone like Troy for a long time but assumed that kind of man would never happen into her life.

Troy had kissed with such amazing skill and tenderness. And there was passion—hot, deep, panting, groaning passion. Grace wanted to fall in love with him, something she attributed to her lack of experience. But she thought about what he’d said to her. “You aren’t with anyone, I’m not with anyone and it seems like we might as well enjoy the moment. Right?”

So. He was just lonely and had finally accepted that Iris had moved on. She didn’t care. She loved his mouth, his arms, his hands. She would try very hard not to fall in love with him.

Grace snuggled down into her blanket on the couch and thought it didn’t matter at all. She never imagined she’d have this with anyone and certainly not the very guy she lusted after. They had kissed for an hour. He didn’t rush her, didn’t push her, didn’t treat her like someone he was using to pass the time and it was delicious! She decided to close her eyes and dream about him, dream about them taking it to the next level. She was twenty-eight; she so wanted to know what that was like.

Instead she dreamed of Mikhail, the little Russian in his sixties with a cane he pounded for emphasis, shouting in half Russian and half English. It was so unfair, she thought, slowly rousing to the sound of knocking that was not Mikhail’s cane.

She was suddenly afraid and her heart started racing. Who could be pounding after one in the morning? Then she saw that it was starting to grow light and at just that moment she heard Troy’s voice. “Gracie? Gracie? It’s me,” he called softly.

She opened the door for him. He was holding a bag. “What in the world are you doing here at the crack of dawn?”

He looked at his watch. “It’s nine, Grace.”

“Nine? It looks like the sun isn’t even awake!”

“It’s a gloomy day. I brought breakfast and then I’m going to take you storm watching.”

“Why?” she said, frowning.

“Because the swells are huge and I think you need me to show you how to have fun.”

“I beg your pardon, I know how to have fun.”

“Working all the time, then working out for diversion. Nah, you definitely need a coach. We’ll start small—just a little sightseeing. There are big swells, the waves will be awesome.”

“But it’s cold.”

He put his bag on the little table. “And it’s kind of wet. You should dress warm, but first, breakfast.” He pulled some fast-food breakfast burritos and potato pancakes out of the bag. Lots of them. On the bottom were two large coffees.

“Hungry, Troy?”

“Starving.” He sat down and peeled the wrapper off one of the breakfast burritos. “Come on, Grace. Let’s do it. This is going to get you all excited. Promise.”

“I was going to catch up on some paperwork since the shop is closed today. Accounting and stuff.”

He shook his head. “See what I mean? This is exactly why I came over. I don’t know you that well but I already know you’re working too much. I have two jobs and still manage to take some days off.” He took a big bite. “It’s New Year’s Day. It’s a holiday.”

She sat opposite him and reached for one of the burritos. He was right. Not only was he right, she’d told him last night she needed to find more balance. “Do you have an aversion to making plans?”

“No,” he said. “I’m usually much more polite—call ahead, make plans, all that stuff that girls like. I’ll work on that. For now, I think we should have some fun. Especially today.”

“There are lots of football games on TV.”

“I’m recording them,” he said. “I might not watch them all and I’m not going to sit around inside all day when there are things to do. You’ll be glad you let me drag you out,” he said.

“We’ll see,” she said, but she already was.

Three (#ulink_9c6b78b3-9199-5443-ba25-a1cf686f5926)

“The outstanding question is why have you appointed yourself my fun coach?” Grace asked once they were in Troy’s Jeep and driving.

“It’s not complicated at all,” he said. “I need someone to play with. I work a lot. I give a lot to the students. I have a second job at least ten days a month. Between school vacations and weekends, I manage some time off and Cooper is great about letting me put together days off from his place so I have time to pursue my interests. When I’m not working I look for fun things to do. Mostly skiing, diving or river trips, but since there’s decent skiing and diving right here, I only take about one big trip every year. There are lots of places I need to see—Costa Rica, Barcelona, Paris, Montreal, China, to name just a few. My real passion is kayaking or rafting and, honey, there are some rivers in the tristate area that can keep me busy through spring and summer. Who knows? Maybe you’ll try it sometime, maybe not. But this is a great place, Grace—there’s a ton of stuff to do and see and experience.”

“You need someone to play with,” she repeated as if that was the only thing she got out of all that. But it wasn’t what she was thinking. I’ve been all over the world. I could almost work as a guide. Except, Grace had never toured the countries she’d visited, never really taken in the sights. She’d been all over the world to compete. Usually with an entourage. And now, Troy needed someone to play with?

Her heart beat a little faster.

“Well, that’s not the whole story,” Troy continued. “I’m not shy about doing things on my own. I meet people all the time, great people who have like interests. But, Grace, you’re kind of fun. Let’s see if there’s anything you like better than working all the damn time.”

“You have a point,” she agreed. “The problem is I have my own business. And every day off—”

“I know, every day off is a day without pay.”

“You pay attention,” she said.

“It’s admirable, having your own business. But I think your business is a ball and chain. It’s all about working out a schedule you can live with, Grace. People don’t need flowers twenty-four/seven. And I bet you’ll be a happier business owner if you get out a little more.”

Of course he had no idea how much getting out she indulged in because she didn’t talk about it much—her yoga, working out, secret skating. “So that’s why you think you can kidnap me like this?”

“Really, Grace? Kidnap?”


“Look at that coast,” he said as he drove north. “Damn, not a day to go fishing, I don’t think. Have you seen the coast up this far?”

“Of course,” she lied. In fact, she’d driven down the coast from Portland one summer, barely took in the landscape, made a bid to buy the shop and went right back to Mamie and Ross, where she spent a week lost in a panic attack, terrified of being completely on her own. She was so nervous she nearly called her mother! In the end, she toughed it out and when her offer was accepted by Iris, she drove straight to Thunder Point, never really taking in the coastal beauty.

They passed through the outskirts of North Bend and then Coos Bay. It appeared very little was open for business, it being a holiday. There were a few bars and a Chinese restaurant that seemed to have customers. A souvenir shop on the highway had an Open light shining in the door. Gas stations were operational and a firehouse had the big rig doors spread wide. But the traffic was sparse. Everyone was probably home taking in the football games and recovering from New Year’s Eve.

“Have you ever seen it on a day like today?” he asked as they drove toward the ocean. He pulled into a small lookout that faced the water. The clouds were dark and the wind was blowing wicked and wet. There were patches of rain over the ocean and the waves were huge. The air was frigid and the fun coach was grinning. “Yeah, this is gonna be great,” he said.

“What in God’s name have I let you get me into?” she asked. He laughed as if he found that extremely amusing.

He put a knit stocking cap on his head and jumped out of the Jeep. When she joined him, he grabbed her hand and pulled her along a path that she knew led to the edge of the lookout because she could hear the deafening sound of crashing waves. When the path crested she stepped back with sudden anxiety. The waves looked like mountains as they crashed against the rocks.

“God,” she said, but only God could have heard her above that noise.

“Come on,” he said. “They’re about a hundred feet in some places, some of the biggest waves in the world. We can get closer. It’s safe.”

She shook her head. “I can see just fine!”


She put her hands around her mouth and shouted in his ear. “I can see fine!”

He laughed. He put his mouth close to her ear. “It’s safe. Look, there’s a stone wall. Not like we’ll slide off. I can see from here that it’s dry. I want to get a couple of pictures with my phone.”

It was a very low stone wall, about knee-high. She shook her head. A lot.

“Is it scary, Grace?” he asked, shouting.

She nodded.

“I’ll go check,” he yelled. He let go of her hand and walked along the path closer to the edge. Waves rose above the level of the ground she stood on, but they crashed to the surf below. The path began to wind downward, which gave her no peace of mind and she hung back. She wasn’t sure of herself on high cliffs over rocky shores facing off with hundred-foot waves. Troy continued on, of course.

The waves were magnificent, she had to admit. The power was stunning, no other word.

Troy leaned against the wall, his back to the ocean, and waved at her. She waved back. He jumped over the wall and walked a bit farther toward the edge and she felt her stomach clench. There was a sign, for God’s sake! Don’t Go Past This Point! But over the wall he went. He turned toward her and shouted something that she didn’t have a prayer of hearing so she just shook her head. He spread his arms wide and high, as if in victory.

Probably the award-winning wave of the day came up behind him and her eyes grew as round as plates. Her mouth hung open and she watched in awe as the crest of the enormous wave came down on Troy. She screamed in terror, afraid he’d been washed out to sea. As it receded, there he stood, looking for all the world like a drowned rat. With gunk hanging from one shoulder.

Grace grabbed her heart in relief. He just stood there. Dripping. He plucked the gunk off his shoulder and began to climb back over the wall.

After a couple of relieved breaths, once she was sure the fun coach was all right, Grace hugged herself and sank to her knees in hysterical laughter. She could barely see him trudging toward her because her eyes were watering with tears. His jacket and pants were heavy from water, making his movements slow. She wanted to spring into action and tell him she was taking charge, except she couldn’t talk. Instead, she rose slowly to her feet and by the time he reached her, she was upright again. She took his hand and pulled him back up the path toward the Jeep.

“Oh, my God,” she rasped weakly, still hysterical with laughter. “Oh, Troy!”

“It’s thirty-eight degrees,” he said, shivering. “Get a grip! Stop laughing!”

“I’m sorry,” she said, but she couldn’t stop. “I had no idea you could be such a funny fun coach! Get in—I’m driving.”

“It’s m-m-my new Jeep!”

“You’re shaking. I’ll drive, crank up the heater and you can start peeling off wet clothes. I don’t suppose you have a blanket in the car?”

“N-n-no. That was a f-f-freak wave!”

“There was a sign!” she said. “Did you want to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, too?”

“Funny. You’re so f-funny.”

“Oh, God, I wish I’d gotten a picture. Here,” she said, opening the passenger door. “In you g-g-go!” she said, mocking him. Then she doubled over in laughter again.

By the time she got into the driver’s seat, he had already started the engine. “Take off that jacket and throw it in the back. And that stocking cap,” she said, yanking it off his head and pitching it over her shoulder. It took him a minute to peel off the jacket and once he had, she started touching his shirt. “Not that bad, really, but still wet. That was probably forty gallons of water.” Then she touched his pants, patting his thighs and knees. “Oh-oh. These are soaked. Hang in there, the heater will get going pretty quick.” She put on her seat belt and made a big U-turn, taking off down the road. Hunching up against the steering wheel, she was still laughing. “That was seriously the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said.

“Shut up, Grace.”

That only made her laugh harder. “Relax, I’m going to fix this for you. I hope.”


“You’ll see. Don’t be so crabby—I’m going to get you dry.”

Troy aimed all the vents at himself and turned up the fan. “Lucky I didn’t get washed off the edge,” he muttered, rubbing his hands together.

“I admit, that wouldn’t have been as funny,” she said.

“You have a very big laugh for a little girl.”

“I know.”

A few minutes later, she parked in front of the souvenir shop. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“You’ll see.” She grabbed her purse and jumped out, leaving the car running for him. She jogged inside and less than five minutes later came running back to the car with a roll of paper towels in one hand and a shopping bag in the other. “These were donated by the cashier,” she said, handing him the paper towels. “And these are for you!” Grinning widely, she pulled a sweatshirt out of the bag—it read My Heart Is in Coos Bay. “I got the largest one. And here are some shorts.” She pulled out a pair of women’s shorts with eyelet lace sewn around the legs. “They’re actually from a pajama set, but they’re XL. They didn’t have any men’s pants, just tops. This was all they had, but they’re dry.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“It’s okay, you have nice narrow hips. If this place hadn’t had clothes, I was going to take you to that fire station, but this is better. And you don’t ever have to wear them again, just till we get you home.” She craned her neck, looking around. They were alone in the parking lot. “Take off your shirt and dry your head and body...”

“In the car?”

“You’re a guy! Guys strip on the street if they have to! Guys pee off boats!”

He ripped off his shirt and used paper towels to dry his hair, neck and his damp chest. He put on the sweatshirt. “Good. That’s good.”

“Pants. Come on.”

“They’re not that wet...”

“You’re soaked. I won’t look,” she said, turning away.

“I’m okay, but thanks for the thought.”

“Your pants are wet and it’s cold. You already made the seat wet—get your pants off and sit on a bunch of paper towels. Even if we get it warm in here, you can’t be sitting in cold, wet pants.”

“It’s New Year’s Day and nothing is open. How’d you know about this place?”

“We passed it on the way up. I asked myself what would be open on a holiday—the souvenir shop was all I could think of.” She smiled. “I almost grabbed you a couple of refrigerator magnets while I was in there.” She touched his shoulder. “Put on the nice, dry shorts, Troy. I’ll close my eyes. Besides, cold and wet as you are, there probably isn’t that much to see.”

He lifted one eyebrow. “Did it ever occur to you that’s why I’m not undressing in front of you?”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll go back inside the store. There’s no one in the parking lot. Get it done.”

And with that, she was out of the car. She chatted it up with the cashier for a minute, explaining Troy’s shyness. She glanced at her watch, supposing enough time had passed. When she walked back outside, what she saw caused her to stop dead in her tracks.

A police car was parked next to the Jeep and an officer had Troy out of the car, standing in his wet stocking feet wearing his ladies’ shorts, talking and shivering. Oh, no! she thought. He must have been changing when the officer pulled up. Of course he had to take off his shoes to get out of his pants. She could imagine what the officer thought! She took two steps toward them to help, to be a witness to Troy’s explanation.

But she started to laugh again and was absolutely no help at all.

* * *

Troy insisted on taking over the driving. He was no longer chattering and shaking. He was, however, a little out of sorts. And he cast glances at Grace, who was looking out the window attempting not to laugh, the attempt causing her to snort now and then.

She turned toward him, her hand suspiciously covering her mouth. “So, how did the police become involved?”

“He snuck up on me as I was changing pants. I was at a disadvantage. My wet jeans were tossed over the seat and these pretty little shorts you so kindly bought me were around my ankles and I was drying off when I looked up and he was staring in the window. He told me to get out of the car. I had barely stopped explaining the situation when you came out of the store and laughed until you almost peed yourself. I’m writing a letter to the city council. I think it’s unprofessional for a police officer to laugh until he farts.”

Grace quickly looked out the window. She snorted again. She got the hiccups.

“Glad I could be so entertaining,” he grumbled.

“Are you going to drop me off at the flower shop?” she asked.

“Oh-ho, no way, Gracie. I might’ve screwed up my first attempt at showing you how to have fun but I’m not giving up. And I’m not letting you do accounting on a holiday! I’ll just clean up and we’ll go at it again.”

“Really, Troy, I think your work here is done. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun in my life.” She snickered a little and bit her lip. “Besides, I think you might be mad at me for laughing. And that doesn’t sound like fun.”

“I’m not mad,” he snapped. “I’m wet!” He took a breath and said, “I’ll be more fun when I’m dry and not wearing girl pants.”

“I think you’re fun right now,” she said. Then she grinned at him.

He parked behind his apartment complex and led her up to the second floor, leaving all his wet clothing outside the door. He unlocked his dead bolt. Once inside, she looked around. “Wow. Nice.”

He smiled to himself. It was a crappy old complex on the outside, but Troy had done a little work on the inside. He’d painted, for one thing, and bought a nice, deep and fluffy area rug to put over the old and worn carpeting in the living room. He had some nice shelving and a fifty-seven-inch flat screen. He’d made repairs and improvements here and there, like taking down the shower curtain and installing a glass shower door, sanding and refinishing the bathroom cabinets, scrubbing the place like he owned it. His parents’ old leather sectional fit right in. The only things he had that were new were the butcher-block table and high chairs. His bedroom furniture was only a few years old and he had been collecting a few framed LeRoy Neiman prints for the walls. The frames were more valuable than the prints, but he liked Neiman’s sports art.

“Make yourself at home. Help yourself to anything—eat, drink, whatever. There’s the remote. I have to get a shower. I’ll be quick.”

He left her standing in the small living room. Once he was under the hot water, sudsing the smell of salt and seaweed from his hair and body, he smiled to himself. Grace was a free spirit. A little wild and uncontrolled with a deep-down joy and playfulness that turned him on. He might’ve acted a little insulted at her lusty humor directed at him but, to be honest, he wouldn’t have it any other way. That was no prissy little laugh the girl had: she laughed down to her toes. There was passion in her.

He revisited his checklist in his mind and moved She must be a happy person to number one in his requirements. If that meant laughing at his foibles, he could live with that. Grace didn’t come across as whiny, self-pitying, cloying or desperate. If he demanded a woman be a good sport, then he had to be, too. And who forced him to jump that wall? He’d been showing off. He loved showing off.

She might just prove to be a good little playmate.

When he got back to the living room to Grace, she was curled up in the corner of the sectional, holding a cup of something hot with both hands. Her boots were sitting at attention beside the couch and she was wearing bright pink socks. One of the many New Year’s Day bowl games was on television. He stood looking down at her, smiling, with his hands on his hips.

“Do you feel better?” she asked a little sheepishly.

“I’m tempted to hold you down and give you something to really laugh about. You ticklish, Gracie?”

She pulled back a little. “Don’t even think about it,” she said, holding up the cup. “I’m armed.”

“What is that?”

“Hot chocolate. You had some envelopes of mix in the drawer by the refrigerator.”

He wrinkled his brow. “That could be very old.”

“I don’t think dry powders spoil. Want to taste it?”

“Thanks,” he said, reaching for the cup. She handed it to him and he put it behind him on the coffee table. Then he tackled her on the couch. While she shrieked and begged and laughed, he pinned her with his body and attempted to tickle her.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she squealed.

“What are you sorry for, Grace?” he asked, a devilish gleam in his eyes, pinning her to the sofa.

“I’m sorry I laughed and bruised your delicate little male ego,” she said, smiling.

“Ooh,” he growled, giving her a good rib-tickle.

“Ack! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Stop it, stop it!”

“What are you sorry for?”

“Okay, I lost it, I was out of control, I laughed at you when you were vulnerable and I’m sorry. No tickling!”

“A cop was threatening to arrest me for indecent exposure!” Troy said. “He thought I was a parking lot predator!”

A smile beamed across her face. “That was the best,” she said. “I’m sorry, but that was the best part. Although, that wave...I will never see anything like that again in my lifetime! You are an excellent fun coach.”

“It wasn’t my intention that you have fun at my expense,” he said. But he was smiling when he said it. “I was going to show you how to have a good time.”

“And so you did,” she said, smiling into his eyes. “Think of how successful that might’ve been if you could read. I mean, there was a sign. Can I make you some stale hot chocolate?”

“I don’t think so. I think my mother sent me that in one of her many boring care packages. What should we do today? Want to go out? Any ideas?”

She shook her head.

“Let’s stay in,” he said. “Let’s make some game food. I have stuff in the freezer. I have tri-tip and buns for tri-tip sliders. Or we can go with wings or pizza. I have beer but no wine.”

“I have wine in the flower cooler,” she said. “I just feel like such a slouch, eating so much trash and bar food.”

“I’ll slice some onion and pickles for your sliders. I have some deli potato salad but I don’t know...”

“Dangerous?” she asked.

“By this date, very likely. I don’t expect you to be that much of a good sport.”

“Oh, so that’s your game? You want a good sport?”

He gave her a quick kiss. “I want to enjoy myself with someone who’s enjoying herself. I have a feeling, a dark feeling, you don’t need my help with that.”

“Okay. I’ll do one more day of carbs and fats. But the next time we eat together there will be green things.”

“I love green things,” he lied.

He told her to take the Jeep to her place to retrieve her wine and she brought back a Scrabble game. She also threw in a DVD of one of her favorite non-chick flicks, Red. He looked at it and said, “I love Red!”

“Just in case your brain goes numb from football,” she said. “But I can do football as long as you can.”

They had a rousing game of Scrabble, which Troy won by a stretch. They curled up on the couch together to watch Red. Every once in a while Troy invaded her space for a make-out session. In midafternoon they worked together in the kitchen to build some sliders, which they ate on big plates in front of the TV. Troy quizzed her about football teams and stats. “You’re a big football fan,” he said.

“I’m a small football fan,” she corrected. “Or maybe medium. I enjoy the game but I don’t live for it like some people do. And I have a good memory for football facts.”

“And your favorite sport?” he asked.

“That’s a tough question. I think I like watching everything competitive.”

“I think I’ll invite you to my Super Bowl party,” he said while they rinsed the dishes.

“You’re having a Super Bowl party?”

“Uh-huh,” he said, directing her back to the couch, pulling her down and getting her back in his arms. He loved that there was no hesitation from her. His arms went around her waist, hers went around his neck, lips on lips and bodies pressed together. It being the height of winter, the sun was lowering and the only light was that from the kitchen and the TV.

“Who’s coming to your party?” she asked, lips pressed against his neck.

“I’m thinking of a very small party. It could be a private party.” He caressed her back, her sides, ran a hand over her butt and down her thigh. “Maybe just us.”

“I’m not sleeping with you,” she said.

He backed off a little. “Ever?”

“I’m not ready,” she told him. “I want to know you better.”

“That’s very reasonable,” he said, kissing her again. “But really, Gracie, you taste so good...”

“That’s sweet. I’m still not ready.”

“Are you going to be unready for a real long time? Because, honey, you are a turn-on. And I risked my life for you on the cliffs of Coos Bay today. Just to make you happy.”

She chuckled against his lips. “You are such a giving man. I’ll be sure to let you know when I’m ready.”

“Just out of curiosity, Grace, are you waiting for a sign?”

She nodded. “I am. Plus, I’d like to be sure you’re all done pining over Iris. That just feels weird.”

Troy immediately put a little space between them. He grew serious. “Iris is married, Grace.”

“I know this. I was there.”

“Listen, here’s how it is. I’m crazy about Iris. She’s an awesome person and great counselor for the kids. I consider her a good friend. It’s true, for a long time I thought if she gave it a chance we might be more than friends, but we weren’t on the same page. All right? We were never on the same page and even though she told me over and over, I thought she might reconsider. She didn’t.”

“I know all that, but you have to remember—Iris is my good friend, too. I don’t want the situation to be awkward.”

“I hope we’re all good friends for a long, long time,” he said. “When I kiss you, I’m not thinking about Iris. I’m not thinking about anyone but you.”

She frowned slightly. “I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer the question,” she said.

“Iris married the love of her life, her one true and forever love. Even if I did still carry a torch for her, I’d never admit it. Especially to you. But I don’t. She’s moved on and so have I. Do you believe me?”

She smiled a little bit. Her expression said she didn’t believe him at all, but how could she argue without calling him a liar. “Okay, I believe you,” she said. “But there are also things about me... I want you to get to know me a little better.”

“I’m ready whenever you are. But so far, you’re the mystery. You have some pretty vague answers to questions about your life, your family, your friends...”

“I know, Troy. Since I was raised an only child, isolated in some ways, I tend to be on the private side. If you’re just patient...”

He leaned toward her. He kissed her again and she melted into him.

“How do you like me so far?” he asked against her lips.

She smiled without breaking her hold on him. “You’re growing on me.”

“You can trust me. When you’re ready to tell me more, you can trust me. And you can ask me anything.”

“Okay. One important question before we go any further. Are you sure I’m not just a booty call?”

Four (#ulink_632340cd-1067-5fd8-b109-16f4ed07c8e6)

On January second, Grace did an inventory of her stock, updated her calendar, cleaned out the flower bin and made herself a to-do list. She had two couples coming in at the end of the month to get estimates for spring weddings. Valentine’s Day would be her next major event and she wanted to begin decorating the shop right away. Soon it would be spring, when her stock would be more beautiful and plentiful than ever. The most important thing on her list was to find help for the shop! She really wanted to spend more time with the fun coach.

Being with Troy was intoxicating. They made out like teenagers, but she knew she was going to have to get ready for the next stage. Oh, so inviting! She was amazed he agreed not to rush her.

She heard the bell on the shop door tinkle and looked out of her workroom to see a familiar face as Al Michel stepped into the shop. He had the most handsome smile, a man who seemed perpetually happy. He was a big man, in his fifties with a powerful physique, who looked impervious to aging. He wore his blue work shirt, his name embroidered above the pocket.

“Hey there,” she said, coming into the shop. “How was Christmas?”

“Excellent,” he said.

“And what made it so special?” she asked.

“Well, my lady, for one thing, Ray Anne really went overboard to make sure it was nice for the boys. We had Christmas Eve at her house and she cooked most of the food, but I helped a little. She decorated and wrapped presents for everyone. Christmas Day was at our house, but she took care of most of the food. We brought the boys’ mom from the nursing home for a few hours and it was great. Her MS is under control for the moment, and I could tell the boys were proud to have her home, if only for a little while. I think it was the nicest holiday any of us has had in years, especially the boys.”

Grace leaned on her counter and tilted her head. “I don’t have any idea how you got hooked up with those boys,” she said.

“Simple,” he said. “Justin, the oldest, worked with me at the service station. He’s nineteen and real private. I found out he was taking care of his mother and two younger brothers, killing himself to hold it all together while his mom was just getting more and more infirm. So we teamed up—me and the boys. I’m their foster father. Their mom needed the nursing home and it made sense for me to move into their house. The two younger boys are in school. They’re good kids, but they still need supervision. Not constant, but regular. Know what I mean? But just to be sure things couldn’t be simple or real easy, I found my lady, Ray Anne, right about the same time I found my family of boys.”

He shook his head and chuckled. “Now, Ray Anne is a good woman and I think she loves those boys like they’re her own, but she’s...” He cleared his throat. “I don’t know if Ray Anne even knows how old she is, but she’s not as young as she looks. She’s probably too set in her ways to live with a man like me and three teenage boys. She’s particular and fussy. The way we got it worked out is good. I live with the boys, she lives in her own house. She visits, invites us over sometimes, and then there’s the times those boys grant me leave and I visit my lady without them chaperoning. It verges on a perfect life.”

“Wow. All that happened at once?”

“Pretty much,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d ever be this settled.”

“In two houses,” Grace said with a laugh.

“Aw, it won’t be two houses forever. Justin passed his GED and we’re looking into college courses. Scares him to death but the boy is smarter than he thinks. Danny’s in high school, Kevin’s almost done with middle school. Before I know it, I won’t be that necessary to them.”

“Oh, I bet you’ll be the dad for a long time to come. Maybe even a grandpa.”

“Hush now,” he said, grinning. “We’re in the grandparent prevention program at my house. Those boys don’t need any more complications. Now, Grace, I should take my lady some pretty flowers. She worked so hard over Christmas to make sure me and the crew had a great holiday. That woman is a dream come true. What’ve you got that’s perfect for her?”

“I just cleaned out the bin,” she said. “Would you like a bouquet or an arrangement?”

“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug. “What’s the difference?”

“The last flowers I sold you in the square vase—that was a bouquet. A table arrangement is like a centerpiece for her table or bedroom dresser. I have some lavender and white roses, hydrangea, lilies—the pretty green and white ones. Next week I’ll have a new crop of calla lilies.”

He contemplated for a second and she was thinking what a good catch he must be—a man with tender feelings, strong enough to take on a brood of teenage boys and sensitive enough to think of his lady with flowers. “Just make something pretty, Grace. Fifty bucks or so?”

“Wow, you do love that lady.”

“Every time I think of her I want to fill her house with flowers. Ray likes pretty things. I waited a long time to find someone like her.”

“What’s it like, asking three teenage boys if you can go out on a date?”

He laughed. “A lot of monkey business, kissing noises, that kind of thing. Especially the younger two—I can’t wait till they have girlfriends. I’m planning to be relentless and obnoxious, they’ve earned it. So, how much time do you need on the flowers?”

“Thirty minutes, tops. Want to wait?”

“I think I’ll go get lunch at the diner while you work, then come back. Can I bring you anything?”

“That’s so sweet,” she said, shaking her head. A couple of weeks ago she might’ve said, Yeah, your younger brother! But now there was Troy. “I’m good. I’ll get right on this. And don’t forget to put in your order for Valentine’s Day roses early!”

Twenty minutes later the bouquet was finished—white, lavender, dark green and a little blue delphinium. She might’ve put extra love in the bouquet just thinking about Al and Ray Anne, finding each other a bit later in life. Here she’d been thinking that at twenty-eight she was long overdue.

When Al picked up the flowers they had a brief discussion about her need for help in the shop and he said Justin might be able to run some deliveries for her if he didn’t have to pay for gas. Al promised to ask him.

When she was alone, her personal cell rang and she answered.

“Hey there, flower girl. What are you doing?” Troy asked.

“Ah, you do know how to use a phone. I’m doing flowers. Beautiful flowers. How about you? Wanna go see the waves?”

“You’re adorable, you know that? I’m going to work for Cooper today and tomorrow, but Sunday is my day. And I go back to school on Monday. The flower shop is closed on Sundays. So—what should we do?”

“This implies you want to have an adventure? Is that it?”

“Let’s take 101 south, check out the redwoods, drive into the Humboldt County mountains and maybe break bread with some illegal pot growers. We can have a picnic in the redwoods. We might have to have it in the car—it’s going to be kind of cold but sunny. Except back in the trees, it’s dark and cold.”

“How do you know it’s going to be chilly and sunny?”

“My phone says it’s going to be sunny with a high of forty-five degrees.”

“What did we do before smartphones?”

“Listened to the farm report. So, what do you say, flower girl? Date?”

In all the places she’d been, from China to Charlotte, North Carolina, she’d never been to the redwoods. “I think that could be fun. We should pack extra clothes this time in case you have to show off again.”

“Yeah, I’ll take that under advisement. So, that’s Sunday. I’ll be at Cooper’s tonight. It’s Friday night. A clear and cold Friday night so there will be people. There might be teenagers on the beach with their fires and shenanigans. If you’re not tied up with the knight or the vampire or some loser Navy SEAL you could always come out.”

“I could, but I should think about it. Ever since I’ve had a fun coach some of my boyfriends have felt neglected.”

“I’ll be here till nine or ten, depending on people. I’ll follow you home to make sure you get in safely. Because I’m such a gentleman.”

“I’m sure you would. Let me see what I have to do.”

“You do that, Gracie.”

No one had ever called her Gracie or flower girl. She loved it.

She went to Cooper’s at almost eight, climbed up on a stool, her cheeks rosy and her fingers like icicles. It was a perfect night on the beach and there were three different fires surrounded by people, mostly young people.

“Hi,” Troy said, smiling. He grabbed her hand. “Whew. Cold.”

“I walked over,” she said. “I might need a ride home.”

He smiled wider. “Gotcha covered,” he said, a twinkle in his eye.

* * *

Troy found lots of things he could do with Grace. She had never dated like this before. They drove down the coast to the redwoods, another day they went up the coast to Ecola Beach. They drove over to Eugene, and they drove up into the snowy Oregon mountains on a clear day. They went out to dinner twice and saw two movies. She went with him to a couple of high school basketball games and she closed the shop early one Saturday so they could drive to the university for a Ducks hockey game and they watched the Super Bowl together—just the two of them. They always ended the dates with more of that wonderful kissing. And with Troy always dangling the suggestion of an overnight. Grace kept pushing that idea back for now. But they made out every night. Every. Night. She really couldn’t get enough.

She found herself watching one of her favorite comfort chick flicks a lot—The Holiday. It was sweet, warm and fuzzy and she thought Troy looked very like Jude Law, except for the dimple. Grace was falling in love.

Because Grace and Troy had been seen around with Iris so often, not much was made of the fact that Iris was now missing—she was a newlywed, after all. In fact, Troy and Grace ran into Iris and Seth at a high school basketball game and they seemed completely unsurprised to see Troy and Grace together.

Then Iris popped into the shop one day after school. She’d been doing that quite regularly since Grace bought the shop. Iris liked to make her own flower arrangements and Grace gave them to her cheap. But, since she’d been married, the visits had become rare. Grace already had the workroom cleaned up. “I haven’t seen you in a while,” Iris said. “Are you anxious to close?”

“I’m in no great hurry, but no one will be by now. People who want flowers after five call ahead—they know I’ll stay open for them to pick up if I can. This married business—I don’t see that much of you anymore!”

“Because now I go home and cook! If I don’t, Seth’s mom will try to feed us every night and we can’t have that. And I run errands and do laundry and get caught up on my homework before Seth comes home.”

“You cook? Oh, God, has he filed for an annulment yet?”

“Very funny. I’m getting better, but sometimes he cooks. Have any flowers you can spare? I could use something cheery in the house—this weather can be a downer.”

“Oh, I know exactly how to perk you up,” she said, going into the cooler. She brought out a bottle of nice sauvignon blanc and two icy glasses she kept in there for just such an occasion. “Ta-da! You can pick your flowers while I get the corkscrew out of my desk.”

“You are a good person, Grace,” Iris said, approving of the wine and going into the cooler. Grace had the wine poured by the time Iris returned with a selection of flowers. Iris knew exactly where to get clippers, tape and a vase. She chose a very attractive oval vase to hold the bouquet. “I’ll return it, of course,” Iris said.

Grace passed her a glass of wine and lifted her own. “To your new status, Mrs. Sileski.”

“Thank you, Grace,” she said. “And should we toast a new relationship for you? You seem to be spending a lot of time with Troy.”

“You left him lonely,” Grace said with laughter in her voice.

“Oh, please don’t tell me he’s complaining that I’m off the market! I thought we had that all taken care of!”

“He’s not complaining, Iris,” Grace said, taking a sip of her wine. “But we’re just friends.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Oh, yes. I asked, as a matter of fact. He said he needs someone to play with. And so do I, since you decided to get married!”

“There’s no question about it—Troy is fun.”

“The fun coach,” Grace said with a laugh, then she told Iris about the giant wave until both of them were laughing hysterically. Grace told Iris about some of their fun dates, but she didn’t mention the more personal things, like all that wonderful kissing.

After a glass of wine and a very beautiful bouquet were both done, Iris said it was time to get home.

“I bet Troy’s not just looking for fun,” Iris said.

“Oh, I bet he is,” Grace replied. “But so am I.”

Grace locked the front door behind Iris, lost in thought. Why can’t I let myself lean on Iris, give her the whole story? She might know how I should guard my heart because I’m starting to fall in love and Troy isn’t looking for love. Especially from me.

She went back to the workroom, put the cork in the bottle and heard a light tapping at the back door. She looked up and smiled.

“Ah, I see you’ve been working hard,” Troy said, pointing to the wine bottle.

“I was about to put this back in the cooler. Iris came by to make herself a bouquet,” she said. “You just missed her,” she added, watching his expression.

“I saw her earlier,” he said, picking up the glasses. “I’ll carry these up for you.”

“You saw Iris?” she asked.

“I see her at school every day, Grace. Want to go out for Chinese?”

“I need a shower,” she said.

He reached for her. With the wineglasses in one hand he lifted her chin with the other and put a sweet kiss on her lips. “Want to have a shower and I’ll go get takeout? Or, if you need help with that shower...”

“I’ll manage,” she said. “So, you’re hungry for Chinese?”

“I am. And I want to ask you something. Want takeout or should I wait for you to have a shower?”

“What do you want to ask me?”

“Hold on. I’m going to soften you up first. Is there a beer upstairs?”

“There are two,” she said. “You go get dinner while I wash off the flowers. How long will it take you?”

“Forty minutes, tops,” he said. “You okay to lock up?”

“I do it every day, Troy. Just get going.”

This was what it was like to go steady, she thought. Just a couple of small things missing. Like, there was no future and he wasn’t falling for her. Well, if nothing else, it was good dating practice. Troy was a great date, after all.

Troy’s question was a simple but difficult one. The high school was having a Valentine’s Day dance and he wanted her to be his date. He was going to chaperone. “Oh, God, that’s almost the busiest day of the year for me!” she exclaimed.

“How late do you stay open?”

“Just till six, but I will be toast! I might be the worst date of your life.”

“I can help you after work, help you clean up the shop and lock up. How about deliveries?”

“I have a little part-time help with that. Justin Russell, Al’s boy, is running some flowers for me before he goes to work at the station and he’s going to be sure to help that day—I already told him it’s madness, but there could be good tips. Oh, Troy, what if I’m no fun? And it’s a dance! I love to dance, but I might be knee-walking tired.”

“The next day is Sunday. You can sleep all day,” he begged. “Come on. I want to take the prettiest girl in Thunder Point to protect me from all the teenage girls.”


“You are the prettiest girl in—”

“No,” she said. “To protect you?”

“Okay, I can handle them,” he said with a laugh. “Come with me, Gracie. We’ll dance. Put a sign on the shop door. Closing promptly at six on Valentine’s Day so make arrangements to get your flowers early or ask for delivery. The flower girl has a date.”

* * *

Grace couldn’t resist him. And while everything else felt casual, even the kissing part, this felt like the real deal. She asked if the right dress was going to be an issue.

“Not for you,” he said. “All the high school girls are competing with each other and trying to impress their dates. But you already have me. You can wear a barrel if you want to.” And that was exactly the right thing to say, but she warned herself not to get too excited. At least not until he said something that sounded like we’re more than friends.

Valentine’s Day met all of her expectations for craziness. Grace started early and made up as many bouquets as she could ahead of customers. The preordered roses had been ready the day before and by the end of the day every rose in the shop was gone, along with many other arrangements. Justin started deliveries early and continued right up till five o’clock. Without him, she’d have been lost. She tried to stay ahead of the mess but in the end she left a lot of it—she could give the shop a good cleaning on Sunday.

She would have liked a little extra time to get dressed, but even rushed as she was she went to more trouble than usual with her hair and makeup. Grace wore her maid of honor dress, a sleek little black number and the only fancy dress in her arsenal. She usually pulled her hair back to keep it out of the way of the stalks and stems, but for this date she wore it down. It had grown long, past her shoulders. She even used the curling iron!

“Wow. You clean up good!” Troy said when he picked her up.

Grace expected to stand around a punch bowl with a bunch of teachers while the high school kids danced, but it was so much more than that. She was immediately enchanted. The high school gym was beautifully transformed with painted murals, twisted crepe paper streamers, snowy scenes, balloons, glitter balls, white and colored twinkle lights. The bleachers were pushed all the way back and the gym floor was circled with small round tables covered with long white tablecloths. Candles and little centerpieces decorated each table and there was a disc jockey at one end of the dance floor. To enter the gym the couples walked through a heart-shaped arch decorated with hearts, clouds and snowflakes and their pictures were taken as they appeared. The chaperones hung back and chatted among themselves; only a couple had brought dates or spouses. As the music played, almost everyone danced, and refreshments were being served by volunteers.

It was magical. Grace had never been to a high school dance. She’d never been to a high school!

Iris was at the dance, of course. “No date tonight?” Grace asked.

“My date is patrolling the parking lot and looking for trouble. I’m sure he’ll cruise through the dance once in a while.”

“Are police necessary?” Grace asked.

“Seth is a little overprotective. He likes to feel the kids are as safe as possible. And since I have to be here anyway...” Iris was pulled away by another chaperone with a question.

A young man approached Grace and Troy. “Is this your girlfriend, Mr. Headly?”

“Yes, this is Grace Dillon, Ms. Dillon to you.”

He gave a short bow. “Would you like to dance, Ms. Dillon?” he asked politely.

“Ah, I...ah...”

“It’s entirely up to you, Grace,” Troy said. “Jerome here won’t put any moves on you because he knows I’d have to kill him.”

“Is it all right?” she whispered to him.

“No slow dancing. Those are mine,” Troy whispered back.

Grace began what became a series of dances with a variety of young partners who were funny and charming and devilish. It was obvious they thought it was a real hoot to get Mr. Headly’s girl on the dance floor. Whenever the music slowed Troy was instantly at her side, cutting in, holding her as closely as he dared at a high school function. It seemed as if all the slow dances were crooned by Michael Bublé, but she was surprised by the wide variety of music, from oldies to current rock. There was even a line dance performed to the strains of Aretha Franklin singing “Chain of Fools.” It took Grace about two seconds to learn it and Troy joined in. “Am I dancing with students too much?” she asked.

“I love watching you,” he said. “There’s one small problem—I can’t wait to get you alone.”

“Are you dancing much?” she asked.

“Very judiciously and as little as possible. Giggly high school girls are just not my thing. Besides, I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on things, make sure the kids aren’t getting into trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“Oh, you know, sneaking out to the parking lot to be too alone or to get a bottle or smoke a joint or get in a fight over something, like a girl. You know.”

That was the point, she didn’t know. “Really?”

“Been a while since you’ve been rockin’ the high school dance?”

“You could say that,” she said. “I thought this would be boring. I can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun.”

“Just remember, don’t fall in love with anyone because you leave the dance with me.” He grinned at her.

She noticed that Troy danced with Iris. Not a slow dance, but not so fast, either. He twirled her around and they laughed. She had no worries that Iris would invade her territory, none at all. But did Troy still wish that romance had worked? She forced herself to look away. When she looked back, Iris was talking to her husband. Troy was nowhere in sight.

He was right behind her, claiming a dance. It was an old tune with a good beat—“Knock On Wood”—and Troy improvised, moving her two beats left, two beats right, a little twirl. She’d been very impressed by his dancing tonight. And it was sexy! Then the tune segued into a bebop beat and she noticed a few kids getting together for another line dance, but Troy pulled her back from the crowd, gave her hands a little shove and made a jitterbug move. “Huh?” he asked, lifting his eyebrows.

She laughed at him. “As long as you don’t slide me between your legs or toss me onto your hips and over your shoulder.”

“Aw,” he said, then led her into a really good jitterbug, so good that kids stopped what they were doing to watch. This guy knows what he’s doing, she thought.

When the song ended, there were a few claps from the crowd. Grace heard a teenage girl say, “Oh, God, why can’t he just marry me!”

Five (#ulink_cced8fe3-d2d8-5b28-beb1-dff4a42639aa)

Four hours flew by and at almost midnight they were on their way to Grace’s place in Troy’s car. She was completely amazed by the variety of music, from oldies to current rock to hip-hop and even country. And now that she thought about it, Troy was up to speed on all of those dances, even picking up the line dance steps quickly. “Care to explain that dancing, Fred Astaire?” she asked.

He laughed. “Short story. I dated a dance instructor. Not like Arthur Murray—she taught little kids. Her sister was getting married and she wanted someone who could dance to go to the wedding with her, so she taught me a bunch of moves, including the tango. It was fun, to tell the truth. She broke up with me the day after the wedding.”

“Aw, was your heart broken?”

“A little bit,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d ever have fun dancing again.”

“Well, you wowed ’em tonight. I even heard a marriage proposal.”

He laughed.

“Does that ever become...you know...difficult?”


“The girls,” she said. “They crush on you! And some of them are beautiful! And look older than me, by the way! Does that ever worry you?”

“Worry me in what way?” he asked, his brow crinkling.

“What if one of them got the wrong signals? Thought you were romantically interested or something?”

He chuckled. “They do all the time, but not because of anything I do—because of their imaginative, nubile young minds mixed with the irresponsibility of raging hormones. Grace, teachers have to play it real safe or find themselves in a bad place.”

“What does that mean?”

He shrugged. “There are very specific guidelines. We don’t touch the students, except maybe a hand on an arm or shoulder to say, ‘Wait up a second.’ We can never have private conversations with students with doors closed. We don’t give them a lift home even in a nice little town like this. We don’t make gestures that could be interpreted as seductive, and we don’t respond to such gestures—the list is long. And it’s not just for young male teachers but for all teachers—young women, old women, crusty old codgers, guys like me. Counselors like Iris. If she closes her office door, the door to the main hallway is closed to the passersby, but all the offices are internal cubicles that share a common hall between them so that a conversation can be private but if someone yelled or called out, it could be heard. Counselors, principals, nurses—they have to be afforded a degree of privacy to do their work. Students need to feel safe. I, however, am always seen in a crowd. During my private conversations with students, the door to the classroom is open. And we’re on opposite sides of the desk.”

“But has it happened, Troy? That some girl takes her crush too far?”

“You understand that I like women, but women my own age, right? I’m not tempted by children. High school students are minors. And our school system forbids fraternization with students even of legal age, like eighteen-year-olds. There is absolutely no compromise there.”

“Of course,” she said. “But...”

“To a certain degree, there are some normal feelings in the mix for the kids. Little girls sit on their daddy’s laps and promise to marry them and the fact is, they probably will marry a man just like their father. Crushing on teachers is not unusual, but they’re children and it’s the adult teacher’s job to keep that from escalating. You get to be good at recognizing the signs and creating appropriate distance and barriers before...” He stopped. He pulled up behind her building and parked. He turned to her. “Gracie, why are you asking me this?”

“I just thought it must sometimes be challenging.”

He rubbed a knuckle along her cheek. “Honey, were you molested? Assaulted? By an older man or teacher? Someone in a position of authority?”

“Me?” she asked, genuinely shocked. “No! No, of course not.”

“Then you knew someone who was,” he said matter-of-factly.

Boy, did she! Years ago, and it all ended so tragically it marked one of the most traumatic experiences of her life. But that was not the direction Grace wanted this conversation to go. Not tonight. So she smiled gently.

“You must either be a very wonderful teacher or so intuitive it’s scary,” she said. “Once, I thought someone I knew was a victim, a younger girl, but even though I had suspicions, I never had proof. She wasn’t a good friend of mine, just a girl I knew. Seriously, I didn’t bring it up to discuss that—that was so long ago. I really was curious about how you manage the situation with the students. I’d have asked Iris all the same questions if it had ever come up. It was the dance that brought it to mind. Some of those girls are gorgeous. And you do kind of make them giggle.”

“The really scary part is I don’t have to do much to make them giggle. There’s a real dearth of young teachers in Thunder Point. Another one who gets their constant attention is Coach Lawson. But he doesn’t have female students.” He leaned toward her and put a small kiss on her lips. “You must be exhausted.”

She gave him a little smile. “Would you like to come up?”

“If you think you can stay awake awhile...”

“Come on up,” she said. She hummed under her breath all the way up the back stairs to her little loft, and right inside the door, she turned to him and, for once, she made the advance. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him like she really meant business.

“Whoa,” he said.

“Would you like a glass of wine? I think we should have a little talk.”

He paused for a moment. “Should I go down to the flower fridge for the wine?” he finally asked.

“No, tonight is this very special Shiraz. I hope you like it.” She picked up a bottle from the counter and handed it to him so he could look at it.

But Troy frowned, as if he was worried about what was coming. “Let me open it for you so we can get to the talking part.”

She turned to grab the corkscrew, then picked up the two glasses that she’d set out earlier.

“Where are we talking?” he asked as he shed his coat and tie.

“How about right in here?” she said, carrying the glasses to the little living room. She put the glasses on the coffee table, kicked off her shoes and got comfortable. “Why do you look worried?”

“Because this seems planned and I have no idea what’s coming. I hope it’s not bad news.”

“I hope so, too. Open that wine and let it breathe.” While he did that, she took a deep breath. “Troy, I’ve never been to a high school dance before tonight.”

He stopped twisting the corkscrew for a second, then looked at her. He pulled the cork. “A lot of kids don’t go to the dances, Gracie.”

“I bet you did,” she said.

“I did,” he admitted. “But by now you know me—I’m a flirt. I get along with everyone. I’m the fun coach. I almost always had a girlfriend or at least a date. I didn’t date just anyone, though—I’m no man whore. I’m not a screw around kind of guy.”

“Troy, I never went to a high school dance because I never went to a high school.”

He seemed to be momentarily confused. “Boarding school? Some private academy?”

She shook her head. “Homeschooled. With tutors.”

“And some classes here and there?”

“Some,” she said. “Small groups of tutored kids, now and then. Mostly independent study with guidance and lots of tests to track my progress.”

“Wow. You’ll have to share that study plan with me someday. It seems to have worked. You’re very accomplished for someone who never went to high school.”

“I didn’t say they were lazy tutors,” she said. “I learned things a lot of high school students wouldn’t even get to. But there’s a reason I’m telling you this, Troy. I’ve also never had a boyfriend.”

He chuckled. “That’s very hard to believe. You’re beautiful.”

“Oh, I had a couple of bad dates, but that’s about all. I just wasn’t in the mainstream of life like other young women. See, I said my parents were gone and that’s true, sort of. My father died when I was only fourteen and my mother and I fell out five years ago. We had an argument about what I wanted to do with my life. She comes from money—she’s very spoiled and demanding. She’s a diva, that’s the only way to describe her. The very thought of me in the back of a florist’s shop, filthy, lifting big pots, driving to residences to deliver flowers, being the help at weddings and funerals...” Grace shrugged. “She was mortified. We had a standoff. She wanted me to live at home with her, follow in her footsteps, plan charity events, travel with her, let her... Well, she probably had some guy lined up for me from somewhere. We never got that far in a discussion. I wasn’t interested. I wanted my own life and I wanted it simple. We haven’t spoken in years. It’s very sad. It’s for the best, I think.”

By his expression, he was stunned. He reached out and grabbed her shoulder. “Grace...I’m sorry.”

“Thank you. Maybe someday it will sort itself out. What I really want you to know is...” She lifted her chin bravely. “Troy, I’m not like Iris. I’m not like other girls. I’m probably less experienced than some of your students. I’ve never had a guy I really liked before. I’m pretty lame at it.”

“You’re doing very well,” he said with a smile. He poured them each a glass of wine.

She took a sip. Then a breath. “Well, even though you’re probably going to figure it out anyway, I thought you should know—I don’t know much about men. Just what my boyfriends in my romances told me. That’s it.”

He raised one eyebrow. “And how am I going to figure that out?”

“When you realize I don’t have any idea what to do! You’re going to guess, if we do decide to do it, that I’ve never done it before. You will be my first unless you run for your life right now.” She grinned at him. “No pressure.”

He grinned right back. “I’m not worried, Gracie. Are you?”

She nodded. “Maybe a little,” she said.

“Want me to tell you how it’s going to be?”

Again she nodded.

“The first time it’s going to be very slow and safe. We’re going to kiss until we’re steamy. We’re going to touch and get so close we can feel each other’s heartbeat.” He leaned over and gently kissed her cheek and her throat and she let her head drop back and closed her eyes. “We’re going to lie down together and lose some clothes... We’ll discover each other. I’m going to touch you in all your special places and you’re going to touch me when you’re ready. We’ll ease into things slowly and carefully, but the most important thing is, you can say no or stop whenever you don’t want to go any further. Even if we’re naked and breathing hard, if you say stop, we stop.”

Her eyes were still closed and she whispered into his cheek. “I don’t use anything...”

“I do,” he said.

“When is this going to happen?” she asked.

“In a hurry, Grace?”

She shrugged. “Well, when I make a decision...”

“We’re going to enjoy a glass of wine. Then, if you’re ready, you’ll let me know.”

* * *

Troy hadn’t been prepared for this—a twenty-eight-year-old woman as beautiful and funny as Grace, a virgin. He would have expected her to have sexual history, like most women her age. Some had a lot of notches, some only a few, but he’d never encountered none before. Even his first girl, his first experience, wasn’t a virgin. She’d had a serious boyfriend before him. Of course, just because he was a flirt and liked to have girlfriends didn’t mean he’d been a sexual prodigy. He had sex for the first time at nearly the end of his first year of college. At eighteen, he was the last among his buddies, unless they were lying.

They were probably lying. Of course they were lying. At least mostly lying.

He took this very seriously, making love to Grace. It had to be a good experience for her and he was definitely eager to take on the challenge. He just hoped there wasn’t some virgin consciousness that would have her leaning toward true love and marriage because of sex. He wasn’t opposed to that in the long run, he just didn’t want it all to happen in one night. He was crazy about her, couldn’t wait to get inside her, didn’t see any red flags that would warn him to get out of this relationship—he just needed time to get more serious. This is how grown-ups court. They have dates, they discover common interests, they examine their rapport, they go to bed together, they ask, Does this have staying power?

They kissed and whispered their way through a glass of wine, then Troy took hers out of her hand and put it on the coffee table. He stood and pulled her to her feet and led her toward the bedroom, which was only about ten feet away. When they stood beside the bed, he took her gently into his arms and kissed her some more, drawing deep sighs from her. Then she turned in his arms and presented her back, pulling her hair away, and he saw the zipper for her dress.

He drew it down slowly, taking a taste of her neck in the process. He pushed the dress off her shoulders and she let it fall, leaving her in a silky black slip. She stepped out of the dress and bent to pick it up, but he took it from her and turned to drape it across the only chair in the room. He got rid of his belt and shirt and when he turned back to her, she had removed her hose and kicked them aside. She was a determined little thing; he wasn’t going to find going slowly an easy thing.

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#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr delivers another smart, funny, emotional novel about the complexities of life in the small Oregon town of Thunder Point.Grace Dillon was a champion figure skater until she moved to Thunder Point to escape the ruthless world of fame and competition. And though she's proud of the quiet, self-sufficient life she's created running a successful flower shop, she knows something is missing. Her life could use a little excitement.In a community where there are few eligible singles, high school teacher Troy Headly appoints himself Grace's fun coach. When he suggests a little companionship with no strings attached, Grace is eager to take him up on his offer, and the two enjoy…getting to know each other.But things get complicated when Grace's past catches up with her, and she knows that's not what Troy signed up for. Faced with losing her, Troy realizes Grace is more than just a friend with benefits. He's determined to help her fight for the life she always wished for but never believed she could have—and maybe they can find real love along the way.

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  5. Нажмите на обложку книги -"One Wish", чтобы скачать книгу для телефона или на ПК.
    Аудиокнига - «One Wish»
  6. В разделе «Скачать в виде файла» нажмите на нужный вам формат файла:

    Для чтения на телефоне подойдут следующие форматы (при клике на формат вы можете сразу скачать бесплатно фрагмент книги "One Wish" для ознакомления):

    • FB2 - Для телефонов, планшетов на Android, электронных книг (кроме Kindle) и других программ
    • EPUB - подходит для устройств на ios (iPhone, iPad, Mac) и большинства приложений для чтения

    Для чтения на компьютере подходят форматы:

    • TXT - можно открыть на любом компьютере в текстовом редакторе
    • RTF - также можно открыть на любом ПК
    • A4 PDF - открывается в программе Adobe Reader

    Другие форматы:

    • MOBI - подходит для электронных книг Kindle и Android-приложений
    • IOS.EPUB - идеально подойдет для iPhone и iPad
    • A6 PDF - оптимизирован и подойдет для смартфонов
    • FB3 - более развитый формат FB2

  7. Сохраните файл на свой компьютер или телефоне.

Книги автора

Аудиокниги автора


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