Today's Reading

She kept sweeping and listened to his footsteps walk away across the concrete floor. The building always smelled delicious thanks to the flowers, but this morning the scent was even more pungent because many had been crushed and mangled. She sighed and rested her weight on the broom handle. He was just doing his job. And she was pissed off—at the state of the garden center and the fact that the one person in Darling she didn't really care to see was the one who'd been sent to help.

"Aiden?"

He turned when she called his name, but his expression was neutral. She wished she could be that way. Unfortunately she always seemed to wear her emotions all over her face.

"Thanks for your help this morning."

He nodded. "Just doing my job."

He walked to his cruiser and got in while Laurel stood there with a flaming-hot face. Once he'd turned to exit the driveway, she kicked a plastic bucket that had been abandoned in the middle of an aisle, sending it spinning away with a loud clatter. No sooner had she decided to extend an olive branch than he came back with a line that deflated any sort of possibility of amity. He was just doing his job, like he'd do for anyone else. She was no one special. Never had been. The knowledge shouldn't have cut, but it did.

Anyway, the bigger issue was the problem at hand—getting the store ready to open in just a few hours. The Ladybug Garden Center was her baby now. She'd invested all of herself into it, and she was determined to see it succeed, not only this spring and summer but into the fall and winter. In order for that to happen she would have to take steps to ensure this sort of thing didn't happen again.

Just as soon as she cleaned up the mess.

And stopped thinking about how Aiden hadn't changed that much, either. In good ways and in bad.


Chapter 2

Aiden stripped off his uniform, leaving the clothing trailing behind him as he headed for the shower. It was only mid-afternoon; he'd worked the early shift and could still enjoy what was left of the spring day. He stepped out of his underwear and left it abandoned on the bathroom floor as he flicked on the shower and waited for the water to get hot.

Law enforcement in a small town was a blessing and a curse. He blew out a breath and stepped under the spray.

Today's agenda had included a few traffic stops, a drunk and disorderly, and a homeless man hovering outside a store, being a nuisance. He'd known as soon as dispatch had called that it was George. No one knew George's last name. He didn't seem to have any family, and most of the time he lived in the shelter in town. Everything he owned was in a backpack that looked as though it had been through the war. Occasionally, George would hitch a ride to Montpelier and drift around there for a while, but then he always
came back. He was completely harmless, often hungry, sometimes dirty.

Today he'd been sitting on a bench in the shade, not really disturbing anyone. But Mrs. McKenzie who ran the dry cleaners didn't like him loitering around. What Aiden figured she needed was a good dose of compassion.

He'd talked to George, then he'd taken him to the Goodwill and helped him pick out some new clothes. All told, the jeans, T-shirt, and secondhand sneakers had cost about ten bucks. Then they'd made a stop at the General Store where Aiden bought him a sandwich, a Coke, and an apple, as well as new socks and a pair of fresh underwear. Hopefully, when George went to the shelter tonight, he could have a hot shower, clean clothes, and a decent meal.

Those calls were hard, and sometimes annoying, but Aiden at least felt like he was making a difference. He scrubbed vigorously at his hair, bubbles splattering on the walls of the shower. Unlike how he'd felt answering the call at the Ladybug Garden Center. Laurel had been...well, the same old Laurel he remembered. She'd been upset, but not too upset to look down her nose at him. For a minute he'd almost felt sympathy. Concern. But then she'd opened her mouth and it had become really easy to stick to business. God, but she was prickly.

Unfortunately her looks did not match her temperament. She was as beautiful—no, more so—than she'd been in high school. The girlish curves had turned into an alluring, womanly figure, discernible even beneath the shapeless golf shirt. Her hair was the same rich brown, and her eyes...he'd always been a sucker for her eyes. Blue, with a hint of violet in the right lighting that contrasted with her creamy skin and dark hair. Seeing her again had sucked all the wind out of his lungs. Not that he'd let her see that.
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