When widower Rich Redman returns to Pennsylvania with his young daughter to sell his deceased grandmother’s house, he discovers Grandmother Gertie’s final request was for him to find a missing relative and a stash of WWI jewels.
Torrie Larson, single mom, is trying to make her landscape center and flower arranging business succeed while attempting to save the lineage of a rare white rose brought from Austria in the 1900s.
Together, the rich Texas lawyer and poor landscape owner team up to rescue the last rose and fulfill a dead woman’s wishes. But in their search to discover answers to the mysteries surrounding them, will Rich and Torrie also discover love in each other’s arms? Or will a meddling ghost, a pompous banker, and an elusive stray cat get in their way?
|Publisher:||The Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Hands crossed at his chest, Richard Lee Redman leaned against the fender of his recently purchased SUV and peered through the fading daylight at the road sign along the berm where he had stopped. No, not where he had stopped. Where the piece of worthless junk he was driving had died.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid." He berated himself aloud and raked his hand through his already disheveled hair. Why had he thought his trip from Dallas, Texas, to Hickory Valley, Pennsylvania, would be easy? Before he even turned the key in the blasted vehicle, the gods of rusty nuts and bolts had already determined it needed to go straight to the great junkyard in the sky. Unfortunately, they hadn't sent him the message.
Good condition. Reliable — with many more miles left in her, the car salesman had spewed as Rich scribbled his name on the purchase agreement. Too bad those many more miles didn't include the last ten to his destination, as the road sign so aptly indicated.
Rich gave the vehicle a hostile glare and kicked the front tire with the toe of his Italian leather driving mocs. How could he have been so naïve? He was thirty-seven years old. And a lawyer, to boot. Old enough to know when he was being taken by a sweet-talking, over-zealous car salesman. He should have never rushed through a decision. He knew better. But it had the room he needed, the price had sure been right, and the salesman had promised to push the paperwork through in record time.
He turned and glanced through the back seat window where his eight-year-old daughter, Estella, was sleeping. The trip had been tiring, and she needed the rest. And she was one of the reasons he decided to purchase a larger vehicle. He didn't want her to agonize over which of her favorite toys or clothes she could take for the month-long stay. Being a single dad wasn't an easy job. It had taken him days to gather up and pack all Estella's can't-live-without items and necessities — like the garbage bag full of stuffed animals riding shotgun in the passenger's seat.
Removing his cellphone from his pocket, he dialed his real estate agent and family friend, Marlene Hess, who lived in Hickory Valley and had agreed to open up his grandmother's house and get it ready for his arrival. The homestead, dating back to the early 1900s, had a barn, some sheds, and over a hundred acres of land in meadows and forests.
He had requested she arrange to have the electricity and cable turned on and to stock the house with only a few provisions, like breakfast food, coffee, and clean sheets and towels, just enough to get them through the night and morning until he could grocery shop and get his bearings. Two years ago, when Rich had learned of his Grandmother Gertrude's death, he had flown to Pennsylvania for the funeral and had locked up the house, handing the keys over to Marlene to rent, to offer it as a lease-to-buy, or to concoct any kind of deal to keep it occupied, heated, and off his long list of problems to solve.
Marlene answered on the first ring.
"This vintage piece of scrap iron I'm driving just broke down ten miles outside town along Route 6," he said brusquely. "And the dang mosquitoes are starting to bite."
"Well, hello to you, too, Richard Lee Junior," Marlene said. "I warned you. That's what happens when you buy a used car from those unscrupulous Texans. Bet he was wearing a big, shiny belt buckle and one of those fancy white Stetsons while he spieled, 'Such a deal I have for you!' How's Estella?"
"Sleeping. Thankfully, I don't have to hear for the one-thousand-sixty-fifth time, 'Are we there yet?'" And yes, he thought to himself, the salesman was wearing a white hat and a rather large belt buckle while crowing about the stupendous deal he had to offer.
Marlene laughed. "Good to see your humor hasn't been destroyed by a little setback. Here, let me get you the number for the local towing company. It's Henry's Garage off Main Street. Same garage and towing service that was around when you were a kid. Only Henry's much older now."
"Ancient, you mean."
"That too." She spouted off a series of numbers. "Call me back if you hit a snag, and I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks, Marlene. Sorry for bothering you."
"No bother. It's why you hired me. Dinner and milk are in the refrigerator. Bread is in the bread box. I'll stop over in an hour or so and drop off a can of coffee and see what else you might need. I'll bring the unopened letter from your grandmother we talked about." She paused. "Try to have a nice evening, Richard."
"Yeah, easy for you to say," he muttered under his breath as she clicked off. "You aren't the one stranded in the middle of nowhere." Around him, tiny frogs argued in the nearby wetlands before darkness fell. Somewhere far off, a lone hawk emitted a series of hoarse screams as it began its nightly hunt.
Hoping the garage hadn't closed for the day, Rich punched in the local number on his cellphone.
A cheery female voice answered on the first ring, "Hello, Henry's Garage and Towing Center. We tow, so you can go. How can I help you?"
"I need a tow truck out on east Route 6, about ten miles from town, right at the sign at the head of the valley," Rich said curtly. "My old SUV just gave up its last breath and what it really needs is last rites."
"I'm sorry, sir, but Henry and his crew are off for the day at a fishing tournament in the next town. If you lock your car and leave your keys in the drop box beside the garage door with a note, they'll pick it up in the morning."
Lock it and leave the keys in town? Rich laughed cynically as he simultaneously squeezed the phone in his hand and swallowed to keep his irritation under control. He forced himself to take a deep, cleansing breath and bite back the smart remark materializing in his head. Stay calm. Be nice, he told himself. Remember, you are stranded.
He swatted at a persistent mosquito hovering above his head and asked, "And please tell me, how do I get to the garage with a trunk full of suitcases and a sleeping kid?"
"Well, Mike's Taxi Service is not available either since Big Mike is at the fishing tournament, too." The woman paused and hummed a merry tune under her breath. She had a soft, melodic voice. "I could pick you up and drive you to your destination as long as it's in Hickory Valley. It'll take a few minutes since I have to lock up the shop here." She paused again. "You said ten miles east? And the name is ...?"
"Richard Lee Redman."
"Oh, brother." She heaved a long audible sigh. "My lucky day. The prodigal grandson returns." Before Rich could ask her what she meant by the remark, she hung up.
Minutes later, he was even more surprised to see a ragged-looking pickup come chugging up the road. It looked worse than the SUV. It was dirty gray and had dented, mismatched fenders, one painted a dark green and the other sprayed with an ugly brown primer. It coughed and sputtered like it had just smoked a pack of cigarettes as it pulled up behind his vehicle.
The driver cut the engine, shoved a shoulder against the dented, sticky door and jiggled the handle before it flew open and she jumped down. She was a lithe woman of average height and wore paint-splattered coveralls swamping her thin frame. Both the sleeves and pant legs had been rolled up several times. Long slim fingers with blue nail polish peeked out from the sleeves, and chunky, brown, steel-toed work boots poked out from each leg opening. Her blonde hair, closer to white than yellow, was scraped back from her face in a ponytail and trailed out from the back of a frayed red ball cap with the logo: Henry's Garage — We Tow, So You Can Go.
"You're very fortunate, Richard Lee Redman. I was just about to close up Henry's shop and head home." She approached the car and stood, hands on her hips, as she openly surveyed him from head to toe, smirking as her gaze traveled from his Ray-Ban sunglasses flipped up on his head to his blue silk dress shirt to his alligator belt and then on down to his designer slacks and Italian leather driving mocs.
"What ... what are you doing?" she asked, her delicate forehead wrinkled. "A photo shoot for GQ in Hickory Valley?" Not bothering to hide her cynical tone, she added, "You do know you're in rural Pennsylvania?"
"Very funny. Don't remind me." Rich stared at her. She was incredibly beautiful despite the baggy coveralls and scuffed work boots. Her heart-shaped face, dotted with a light sprinkling of freckles across her cheeks, and her pale hair reminded him of someone he should know — someone from the past. Her voice was familiar, and he was certain if he had the time to do a memory search, he'd come up with her name. But it was her eyes that drew him in like magnets. They were neither green nor blue, but a stunning and irresistible aquamarine, and as he gazed into those eyes, a sharp sense of attraction caught him by surprise. He searched his brain again. "Should I know you?" he asked. "You obviously have me at a disadvantage from the simpering look on your face."
She laughed, those devastating eyes twinkling. "Torrine Larson. I'm Elsa Larson's younger sister. I was five years behind you in school."
"Little Torrie Larson?" He studied her, baffled. "The wily kid who used to sucker us into playing any game involving a ball and then beat the pants off us?"
"Yep, that's me. My dad said he almost went broke buying sports equipment for my three brothers and me." She paused, then sighed. "But eventually, we all must grow up, Richard Lee. So you won't be surprised when I tell you I recently took up golf instead of competitive team sports. Now I push around a clumsy bag of clubs. We all have our burdens to bear, don't we?" A smile softened her face, and she pointed to the rear of his vehicle. "Well, let's get all your paraphernalia and suitcases loaded and haul you off to your grandmother's house." With grace and determination, she moved to the SUV, popped the back hatch, and started dragging the suitcases out.
"Wait, I can help." Rich jumped forward. "And please, call me Rich." They reached for the same suitcase and their hands collided. His gray eyes met her aquamarine ones, and his skin tingled where they had touched. She yanked her hand away.
"I doubt all of these will fit in the cab. Are we using the truck bed?"
"That's the plan." She started toward the pickup with a suitcase and duffle bag.
"But your truck looks like it was hauling" — he paused and tried to resist saying junk, but it flew past this lips anyway — "junk. No offense, but everything is going to get dusty on the drive in."
"It's not my truck. It's Henry's. And it was hauling junk. It's made to haul junk." Torrie stopped, set the luggage on the road, and held up a hand. "The way I see it, you have two choices." She stabbed the air with her index finger. "One — take what you need for the night and anything else that will fit in the cab with you and your daughter and lock the rest up. Or, two" — another finger pointed skyward — "we take it all, and you don't have to worry about getting it later tomorrow at the garage. Your call. If you're worried your designer luggage will get dirty or scratched, let me point out commercial flying leaves a lot to be desired in this day and age, at least where dents, scuff marks, and scratches on luggage are concerned. I promise I'll drive slow. No bouncing. No quick turns. No dirt roads. I promise."
"I don't think this piece of crap could go fast or make a quick turn," Rich muttered under his breath.
"Says the man who needs a ride because his piece of crap died." Torrie peered around at the SUV side window and tilted her head toward it. "It looks like your daughter's awake. You'd better see to her while I transfer this load. Looks like you brought enough to stay until Christmas."
He glanced at her and thought he heard a slight hint of sarcasm in her voice, but her face was impassive, focused on expertly transferring his belongings. "Well, I wasn't quite sure what clothes or toys Estella might need, so I dumped in as much as would fit," he admitted sheepishly. He turned and jogged toward his vehicle, calling over his shoulder, "Will you please make sure my computer is stowed in the cab?"
Torrie looked at the luggage and boxes piled high to the SUV's ceiling and shook her head in disbelief. "No wonder this poor thing died," she mumbled. "It's a miracle the suspension held under the weight." She pushed aside two boxes to grab another bag, realized he was hauling water, and smirked. Three cases of bottled water? What was he thinking? We drink from a creek? We don't have grocery stores? She chuckled, but within minutes she had efficiently loaded the pickup bed. She waited by the driver's door while Rich scooped up his daughter, a stuffed purple giraffe, and a pink backpack, and carried them to the passenger side.
"Hi," Torrie said, hopping in and smiling at the little girl as Rich positioned her between them on the front seat, shut his door, and fastened their seatbelts. "My name is Torrie. What's yours?"
"Estella," the little girl said through a yawn. Her silky, ink-black hair was pulled away from her little delicate face with a striped pink headband matching her cotton sundress. In her hands, she clutched a Ramona Quimby book. She looked over at her father with big brown eyes framed in long dark lashes. "Are we there yet? I'm getting hungry."
Rich winced. "Almost. Just a few more miles. Our car broke down while you were sleeping, and Ms. Larson was kind enough to give us a ride to town."
Estella nodded and rubbed her eyes, then ran a hand over the seat and peered at it. "You have a dog, don't you?" she asked. "It has light brown hair. What's his name?"
Eyes trained on the road, Torrie nodded. The child was observant. "Yes. Henry of Henry's Garage has a golden retriever named Ratchet. Actually, three of us take care of him. During the day, he stays at the garage, but goes home with Henry at night. My brother and I take turns making sure he's fed, has water, and sees the vet."
"I always wanted a dog," the little girl admitted, "but Daddy said dogs are hard to take care of in the city. They need room to run and play."
When Torrie glanced at Rich, he gave her a withered look that begged, Please don't go there. This topic has been sorely overworked.
"Do you work at the garage?" Estella asked, oblivious to the silent discourse between the grown-ups.
"I sometimes help out, but not with fixing the cars or trucks. I help with the paperwork. But today, I took a day off from my full-time job because I promised the owner I'd cover for him while he and his employees went fishing. It's an annual tournament with prizes."
"But you're in work clothes."
"My coveralls? Yes, I decided it would be a good time to work on my van while I was answering the garage phone. The back cargo space needs new carpeting." She glanced down at Estella's book. "I see you like Ramona Quimby books. They were a favorite of mine."
"I have a lot of Ramona books. Some of them are in Spanish."
"And you can read them?"
The little girl nodded. "My mommy spoke Spanish."
"Ah-ha," Torrie said, nodding again. She remembered Rich's grandmother telling her Rich's late wife was from Barcelona. She had also heard she'd been a model and costume designer who used to jet-set around the world working on movie shoots.
Rich cleared his throat and interrupted. "She also takes Spanish in school."
Torrie looked over at him in time to see a flash of anguish in his eyes. She patted the little girl gently on her knee. "So tell me, Estella, how did you like the trip from Texas?"
Estella giggled. "It was fun. Especially when we camped out and it rained. Daddy said it rained cats and dogs, but not really. There was a lot of water, and a river ran through our tent. Daddy said some words he wasn't supposed to."
"Estella," Rich said in a low voice. "Ahora no. Not now."
But the little girl ignored him, grinned, and forged onward. "Anyway, we moved the tent onto a hill and put the rest of our stuff in it, and we slept in the back of the car. That was fun."
Excerpted from "Four White Roses"
Copyright © 2017 Judy Ann Davis.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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