Valentine Bride-- A Sneak Peek!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Just for Valentine's Day, here's a sneak peek of Valentine Bride.

Valentine’s Day had never made Caroline Bennett sick— until today. It wasn’t so much the day, after all it was only February seventh, more the fact that the fairly small flower shop was filled with roses in anticipation of the day. And for the first time in her thirty-one years, the rich scent of their soft, velvet was making Caroline physically ill.
Red, pink, and white roses took up every available display while heart shaped balloons floated in window displays. Her illness couldn’t really have come at a worse time since every man in Huntington Gate, North Carolina had ordered at least a dozen to be delivered to his Valentine. She didn’t understand her sudden aversion to her best-selling flower, but if she couldn’t shake it she was in for a very long week.
‘You look like you’ve been drug backward through a brier patch.’ Anna Nelson chuckled. ‘What on Earth were you drinking last night?’
‘Is it that bad?’ Caroline replied and headed to the bathroom to have a look at herself. Somehow she made it out of the house this morning without passing a mirror and she was paying for it now. Her dark hair was pulled up into a messy ponytail complete with lumps and ridges, evidence that she had pulled it up with her fingers rather than taking the time to use a brush. It was obvious to anyone who looked at her that she hadn’t taken any time on her appearance this morning, she barely had time to line her eyes and slap on a touch of mascara before running out the door. She had to do her hair in the truck at one of the town’s three stoplights. It was the second time this week that she’d overslept, in spite of the fact that she was going to bed earlier than usual.
Yep. It is that bad.
She sighed, fighting the urge to lock herself in the bathroom for the remainder of the day and avoid contact with the public. It wouldn’t make much difference since she’d already spent a ridiculous amount of time hanging over the toilet. So far she had spent more time this morning in the bathroom than out. Splashing a little cool water on her grey-tinted face, she swore to Anna. ‘I haven’t had a drop, honestly. Come to think of it, I can’t even remember the last time I had a drink.’
‘Oh no, you don’t think you have flu? I am not taking that home— Paul is useless when he’s got man flu and thanks to Logan’s second bout with chicken pox he really can’t afford anymore time off of school.’
‘I thought you could only get chicken pox once.’
‘Yeah, that’s what they tell you, but I’ve got a different story. My kid’s been painted pink with calamine twice now. He looked like a flaming marshmallow peep! I really hope it’s something you ate, because if it is flu you need to get on home. I’d rather carry on without you, even if it means tying up bouquets until midnight.’
‘I don’t feel achy. I don’t think it is flu. Really. It doesn’t feel like flu. It’s just these stupid roses. For some reason the smell is turning my stomach today.’
‘Nauseous from smells… If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were pregnant.’ Anna laughed.
‘That is not funny.’ Caroline tied a wide white satin ribbon around an arrangement of deep red buds, snow white baby’s breath, and wispy fern leaves.
‘Kim called earlier. The wedding is June something or other and I think she’s leaning toward calla lilies.’
      Caroline wasn’t listening; she was still hunting for a logical explanation. She never looked this bad, even with a hangover, and she certainly wasn’t hung over now. The last time she drank was at Kim Baccus’ engagement party on the second of January. They had all met up at Charley’s for a nice dinner before wandering over to Greenfront’s to drink themselves silly. Or stupid.
            Caroline had definitely been stupid drunk. The fact that she was still wounded from being dumped just before Christmas was the reason she was a little too eager to drown her sorrows with Appletinis. Of course it didn’t help that soon she would be the only one of her friends who wasn’t married— or even in a relationship. Which had a lot to do with why she had to sneak out of a stranger’s bed while he showered the following morning.
Oh hell.
She was certain they were protected. She remembered her relief when she spotted a condom wrapper on the floor as she silently slipped into her clothes.
It couldn’t be.
Dates and numbers swirled in her mind as she added and subtracted. But two numbers stood out above the rest. Ninety-nine and eight. Condoms were only 99% effective and she was eight days late.
Bells on the door chimed as a customer walked in and the chilly breeze brought another rose-scented assault on Caroline. Once again she raced to the bathroom at the back of the store room to be sick. She returned to the front of the shop in time to see Anna finishing yet another order for a dozen long-stemmed roses. Caroline watched as the man at the counter quietly paid for his order.
‘Would you like to write out a card to accompany the bouquet?’ Anna asked him.
‘It’s already written.’
At the sound of his voice, somehow familiar, Caroline concentrated on him. He pulled the card out of his wallet and slid it across the counter to Anna staring at it with a strange longing on his face. He looked up and his Duke blue eyes met Caroline’s. He tipped his head slightly to the side as if he, too, recognized her but just couldn’t say why. They stood entranced in each other’s gaze for only a moment before his ringing phone drew him away.
‘Thank you.’ He muttered before answering the phone, walking back out of the door onto the sidewalk, and stopping in front of the shop’s large picture window. The memories came back to her piece by piece.
‘Anna.’ She started then stopped. Anna stared at her waiting, but Caroline could not take her eyes off him.
‘Anna, I am pregnant.’
‘What? You... You can’t be.’ Anna stammered before demanding, ‘By who?
Caroline still never looked away. She nodded to where he stood framed by the balloons and roses in the display. She concentrated on how his lips moved as he talked. Reading those lips, she was pretty sure the last thing he said before hanging up was “I love you, too.”

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