Book 3 in the Sweetland Series
One charming B&B. Six grandchildren. One litter of puppies…The late, great Mary Janet Cantrell hoped that her family would return to their hometown and find comfort, happiness- and maybe even love. But what will it take for her wishes to come true?
NEVER SAY NEVER
Parker Cantrell is a Baltimore-based homicide detective who has seen too many bad things to believe in happy endings. But when he returns to Sweetland to retrieve the puppy he inherited, only to share in a night of unexpected passion with gorgeous hometown girl Drew Sidney, his mind is blown. How could something like this have happened-to him, of all people? And then, as they say, there were three…
WHEN IT COMES TO LOVE
Drew could never have imagined that legendary heartthrob Parker would come back to Sweetland, let alone into her flower shop…and into her bed. Now that she’s carrying his child, Drew’s life is about to change forever-with or without Parker. Both he and Drew must ask themselves what matters most. Are they ready to reach for the sky and chase their dreams-and give love a chance?
Book 3 in the Sweetland Series
3rd Week of May
Parker Cantrell woke up in a bed that wasn’t his.
He’d been back in Sweetland for about three weeks now having stayed after Gramma’s funeral. His sisters and brothers were also still here. All of them were staying at the B&B. Well, Parker, Quinn and Preston were staying in the caretaker’s suite while Savannah still had a room on the upper floor. Michelle had her own house down the street and Raine had moved in with her so they could have the maximum amount of available rooms for rental. In the caretaker’s suite, Quinn used the bed in the bedroom while Preston had taken one of the couches in the sitting room. There was another couch in the sitting room and it rolled out to a bed, that’s where Parker slept.
It was not a queen-sized bed and it definitely did not have a fluffy pink and white paisley comforter on it. Another thing was that the caretaker’s suite faced the back of the house which meant he usually woke up to a lovely shaded summer morning as the front of the house received the blazing sunlight at dawn. This morning, however, he cracked his eye open only to receive what felt like a laser of brightness making a direct hit to his pupils. And when he turned to his left to roll out of the bed he rolled into a body instead.
Immediately awake now, his eyes shot open, only to blink a couple of times in confusion. There was a body in bed with him. From what he could see via the stream of light that slipped through the blinds at the window, the body belonged to a female. A naked female with hair tangled around her face and an arm draped over her waist. Her breasts were high with enticing light brown nipples that apparently were more than ready to greet him. His gaze roamed lower, to the curve of her hips, the V of her juncture, the softness of her thigh.
He at least had the good sense not to verbalize what he was thinking. Instead he rolled to the right, let his feet hit the floor and stood up so fast he almost took a tumble right out the window that was not supposed to be there. Someone must have been looking out for him so that he didn’t crash through the glass, possibly to his death because he couldn’t remember exactly how high up he was in this bedroom that apparently was not his. That same someone was probably busting a gut laughing as he became tangled in the frothy sheer curtains that hung from said window, his man limbs threatening to tear the soft material that constricted his movement.
On a string of mumbled curses he managed to break free, and then moved quietly around this foreign room picking up every article of clothing he thought belonged to him. In less than five minutes, Parker was partially dressed and through the door, standing in a narrow hallway that led to even more narrow steps. He moved through the tight enclosure pushing through the screened door that had not been locked and almost falling down the three smaller steps that he hadn’t known would be there. Just like he hadn’t known the screened door would lead him right into the center of the flower shop.
“Great move, Cantrell,” he mumbled to himself as he maneuvered his way through wrought iron carts, white painted stands and glass enclosures that all held some form of plant or flower. The front of the store was one huge glass paned window that received the early morning sunlight as if it were a special gift on Christmas morning.
His eyes instantly revolted, closing without warning so that his next step slammed him right into a wall. Something hit the floor, the sound ricocheting off the walls of his mind causing a deathly echo that had him clenching his teeth. With steely resolve he headed towards that damned window and it’s hellfire of sunlight. The door was to the right. After a minute of fiddling with the lock that he could barely see because the more he tried to keep his eyes open, the more determined they were to keep up this game of hide and seek they were playing with the sun. After a few seconds that really felt like a lifetime, Parker stumbled out onto the sidewalk of Main Street and let his curses fall freely from his lips. He did have the forethought to head back to the door so he could lock it, the throbbing in his head was his body’s way of protesting. But he ignored it. Once he knew the door was locked he stood as straight as he could and took a deep breath.
“First one-night stand back in Sweetland,” he murmured, then took another wobbly step towards the current love of his life parked at the curb—a black and silver Suzuki V-Storm 650. “Welcome home, Parker Cantrell.”
The last was said with a good amount of pride and a slight smile, one he figured was too soft to cause any pain from the intense hangover he was currently experiencing.
1st day of September
Today was the day.
Drew Sidney had decided today would definitely be the day she talked to Parker Cantrell.
It had been months since she’d actually stood still long enough to share more than two or three sentences with him. Of course Parker, being the man that he was, had tried to talk to her at every possible opportunity. She prided herself on being able to resist for as long as she had. Tall—over six feet—built like a linebacker with strong muscular arms and perfect abs, the darkest brown eyes she’d ever seen and the best lips she’d ever…saying he was hard to resist was definitely an understatement.
The mere fact that Parker had tried talking to her after their one steamy night of passion was a contradiction to the already established reputation of Sweetland’s most notorious player and the prominent half of the Double Trouble Cantrells. He’d been back in town for a little less than five months, and she’d managed to get caught in his trap just weeks after his return. That said a lot about her personality and the resolve she’d sworn to uphold since the fiasco in Stratford, the small town in the city of Havre de Grace, Maryland where she’d grown up. Neither of which Drew really wanted to think about at the moment.
If life were only that easy.
If she could simply push to the side all the things she did not want to think about or deal with and continue her forward trek in life, things would be all good, all the time.
Yeah, that was a big crock of bull if she’d ever heard any. With a deep sigh, a relaxing, soul cleansing sigh, Drew closed her eyes and wished for the absolute best out of this day. It was going to be a long one, an emotional one and definitely a life-changing one.
“Your flowers are blocking the freakin’ sidewalk again Sidney!”
The loud, slurred words poured through the front door just as the wind chimes above the access sang in introduction of a new customer. Or, in this case, with the arrival of Hoover King, Sweetland’s resident drunk, cab driver, historian, and all-around handyman.
“Mornin’, Mr. King,” Drew said in her most cheerful voice.
The front door didn’t slam even though she figured that was Hoover’s intent. Uncle Walt had installed a pneumatic door closer to keep that from happening since Drew was afraid her entire front window would shatter if the door to the old two story building located on Main Street right between Delia Kincaid’s Boudoir and Bob Flannery’s Timeless Antique Shop slammed hard enough. Just about all of the shops on Main Street had large window fronts as this was the best form of advertisement to the many tourists that filled Sweetland’s streets, not to mention another reason for Sweetland to have some sort of celebration. The first week of October kicked off the town’s Fall Fest and the first festivity of the season was none other than a window decorating contest—one which Drew and Delia were competing to win.
“It’s a morning,” Hoover continued, huffing as if he were in desperate search of his next breath. “And the parade’s gotta come down Main which means I gotta run this ribbon all up and down the street to keep everyone on the sidewalk. And your sidewalk’s all junked up with these flowers,” he informed her, as if she didn’t already know each of these points.
He lifted an arm, using it to wipe the sweat from his forehead and the top part of his head that was left exposed by his receding hairline.
“Those buckets of flowers are for the flag float. Mr. Flannery’s going to use his pick-up truck to haul them down to the dock for this evening’s festival,” she explained calmly.
But Drew was anything but calm. Her stomach had just rolled, literally and she’d had to pause and take a deep breath in an attempt to hold the nausea at bay. For the past few weeks since it had hit she’d thought about being annoyed with the intruder, but the thought of what it signified kept the annoyance at bay. And replaced it with happiness that filled her like sunshine and a field of wildflowers—which in Drew’s world was the equivalent to unimaginable joy.
“Festival’s not til tonight. Why can’t you keep those buckets inside until then?” Hoover persisted.
Drew shrugged. “Not enough room. But I can come out and push them up against my front so they’re not in your way.” Even though Drew was almost positive they weren’t really in Hoover’s way at this moment.
Since Hoover’s wife, Inez, had been busted for embezzlement from the town council and implicated in a bigger drug scheme that stretched up the coast to New York City, Hoover had been wandering around town in a constant state of annoyance. Well, no that might not be the absolute truth. When Hoover was drunk—which was ninety-one percent of the time—he wasn’t annoyed, but either angry or overly flirtatious, neither was one of Drew’s favorites. And whenever he was sober, he was sad, which was the sole reason Drew felt sorry for him and excused a lot of the rude and unnecessary things he said to her.
“Naw,” he said waving a hand at her as he walked back and forth in front of the counter where she’d been standing clipping the ends of a lovely batch of Gerber Daisies that Preston Cantrell had ordered for his fiancée Heaven. “You just sit tight. I’ll push ‘em back.”
Heaven and Preston lived in the cutest little blue house. Drew had ever seen and Heaven loved flowers almost as much as Drew. So Preston made it a point to buy her a fresh bouquet at least once a week. This colorful arrangement was in honor of their kitchen renovation being completed two weeks ahead of schedule. The cheery array of colors would look lovely against Heaven’s dandelion yellow walls that had just been painted two days ago.
“Nonsense, you have other things to do this morning,” Drew said dropping her scissors and wiping her hands down the front of the charcoal gray apron she wore.
Blossoms was decorated in Drew’s favorite colors, lavender and gray. Sheer curtains hung to the floor at the front door and at the two French doors that opened to the back terrace. The walls had been painted lavender with the faintest hint of pixie dust—as she liked to call the iridescent-like overlay. Through the main showroom were carts and tables, trellises and shelves full of flowers and plants and everything imaginable in between. It was a quaint little place that she’d been falling steadily in love with every day in the last two years she’d been in Sweetland.
Hoover had continued to huff and puff with more complaints as she’d come from behind the counter and headed for the front door right behind him. Stifling air smacked her in the face the moment she was outside and it was barely ten o’clock in the morning.
“I’ll just push ‘em back here,” Hoover was saying as he lifted a foot and pushed a bucket full of white carnations back up against the wall of her storefront.
Inhaling deeply she leaned forward and more gingerly moved a bucket full of red carnations back. “I’ll go over and see Mr. Flannery now. It’s really humid out here and I don’t want the flowers to start to wilt.”
“Fall over and die is more like what they’re going to do out in this heat,” a female voice said from behind.
It was a familiar voice, a familiarly negative one that Drew loved for the most part and tolerated for the rest.
“Hi mama,” she said turning around to see Lorrayna Sidney stepping onto the curb, sun hat covering the upper portion of her face, a purple silk hand fan in her left hand working overtime to keep her cool.
“Why are you out here in your condition? You should be inside in the air conditioning,” Lorrayna snapped as she came closer.
“Shhhh,” Drew hissed, standing to face her mother. “Mr. King can hear you.”
Lorrayna’s thin lips pressed together in a tight line as she looked over Drew’s shoulder to see Hoover kicking more of the buckets against the wall.
“All the more reason you should be inside,” she whispered conspiratorially.
Drew could only sigh. Her mother meant well. At least she thought she did. With nobody else to turn to Lorrayna had been the first person Drew had called two weeks ago when she’d returned from an appointment in Easton. For a minute she’d thought about calling Heaven, especially since Drew had been in Heaven’s yard when she almost fainted, causing Quinn Cantrell, the town’s new doctor and Heaven’s soon-to-be brother-in-law to come and see about her. Luckily, Quinn had referred her to a female doctor and hadn’t given any hint as to the reason why to her or to anyone else that she knew of.
“Come on inside. I have some orders to fill before I bring out the umbrella and small table to watch the parade.” Drew had walked back into the store and knew her mother was close behind. She could tell by the series of three sneezes that never failed to announce Lorrayna’s entry into Blossoms even better than the wind chimes did. They still hadn’t figured out what in the shop she was actually allergic to.
“Do you have something to drink? It’s blazing hot in here,” Lorrayna complained.
“In the refrigerator,” was Drew’s reply.
Nothing—and by nothing Drew meant anything short of Arthur Sidney being raised from the dead—was ever good enough for Lorrayna. She’d complain about the sun and how hot it burned, then turn right around the next day and complain about the rain making mud puddles in her backyard. All of which Drew was used to and tried not to be annoyed by—emphasis should be added to the word tried.
A few minutes later Drew heard her mother’s sigh and looked up to see her standing near the refrigerated display case. Lorrayna was not as into plants and flowers as Drew was—truth be told she hadn’t been really into anything since her husband’s death three years ago—but she always paused at the display case in search of one particular item. The Peace Lily served as a reminder of the day they’d buried Lorrayna’s husband, Drew’s father. The otherwise peaceful and quietly beautiful plant marked that day in Lorrayna’s life like it had been etched on every calendar from here to forever. And her mother searched for it like a wolf hunting prey.
It was sad, the way she stood in front of that display case staring off into what seemed like oblivion, holding onto a memory that was better left clipped to the nub like Drew had just done the Gerber daisy in her hand.
“Your father was so excited when I told him I was carrying you,” Lorrayna said quietly.
Drew didn’t reply. She didn’t want to talk about Arthur Sidney, but that was all Lorrayna ever wanted to talk about.
“I thought he’d want a boy. You know so he could play ball with and pal around with,” Lorrayna continued. “But then he said he’d rather have a girl. “A girl that looks and acts just like you, Raynie.” That’s what he’d said.”
Well, he’d gotten his girl, Drew thought with another quick snip of the stem. She hadn’t been blessed with Lorrayna’s curvy frame, instead she’d taken after her father and his family with height and a willowy build. Her mother also had wide light brown eyes that once upon a time were filled with expression. Now, the only expression they sported was sadness and were either red-rimmed from crying or puffy from crying, or simply downcast. Another thing Drew had inherited from her father, her snappy attitude and impatience, or so her mother would quickly point out.
“He had the perfect family then,” Drew heard herself saying. When the words were out she clamped her lips down so tight her temples ached.
“Nothing’s ever perfect,” was her mother’s retort.
“Nothing except Arthur Sidney, right?”
Lorrayna turned away from the display case at that question and glared at Drew. “Don’t do that,” she said and it sounded like a hiss through her teeth.
“He’s dead, mama. How long is it going to take for you to accept that?”
“I’m sorry if I’m not as cold and unfeeling as you are, Drew. One day maybe when you find true love you’ll know how it feels to lose it and you’ll know it isn’t as easy as taking out the garbage.”
Drew shook her head vehemently. “I’m not looking for love, true or otherwise.”
“Really? Then what do you suppose you’re going to do about your situation?”
Yes, her “situation”, that’s what Lorrayna had taken to calling Drew’s medical condition. She shook her head as she caught herself calling it a “medical condition”, instead of what it really was. A baby.
“I’m going to do just fine on my own.”
“Without a father?” Lorrayna asked raising a thick brow.
Drew sighed, scooped up the daisies and slowly slipped them into a Waterford Crystal vase. “I lived a good portion of my life without a father,” she said under her breath. “Or at the very least without a good father.”
“When are you going to tell him?” Lorrayna continued, thankfully not having heard Drew’s last comment.
“Today,” she replied to her mother’s stark question.
“Then you’d best fix that sour attitude of yours or he’s going to be on the first bus back to Baltimore.”
“He’s Parker Cantrell, Mama. He’s probably already got one foot on that bus back to Baltimore,” she quipped.