Series: Stupid Awesome Love #2
Release Date: September 6, 2018
that’s what I tell everyone. A series of heartbreaks leads me to move across
the country, hide away in my pajamas, until a sexy gardener at the San
Francisco botanical gardens gets me off my ass. Hell, he saves me when I step
in dog shit. He’s close to perfect.
way of catching up to me. A promise I made my husband before he died keeps me
bound, keeps any chance at love a distant dream. The more time I spend with
Jack, the guiltier I feel for breaking my promise. Everyone’s got their
got a successful landscaping business and I’m an active member of my community.
I know better than most that our tragedies shape who we are. Gemma comes from
the world I turned away from, but I can’t leave this undeniable thing I’ve got
for her alone. I shouldn’t want her, and yet I do.
makes me feel like a new man, like I’ve been hiding my true self without even
knowing it. But something from her past keeps us from moving forward. Someone.
Can a simple man compete with a ghost?
of my banter falters. “Oh, no. It’s a New York thing. I moved here not too long
ago. I’m still adjusting.”
on his feet awkwardly, adjusts the tool belt.
brought you out west?”
away from my problems.
needed a change of scene, ya know?”
that long, penetrating look again, like he’s trying to hack my brain.
here?” I ask, wanting him to stop staring at me like a circus freak.
from San Diego originally. My folks moved us up here when I was ten. I moved
away after college.”
long have you been back?”
years.” He clears his throat, his voice faltering.
you return?” I ask, just to continue talking. Though I probably should keep my
big mouth shut. It’s the way he says five,
like the word is cursed. I shouldn’t press him for this.
an accident. Needed to come back and recuperate.” He strokes down the fade on
the side of his head, his gaze focused on the bench. “That’s all I’d like to
say about that, if you don’t mind?”
I’m sorry I pried. Blame it on East Coast blunt audacity.” The sound of my
laugh is hollow. I should quit while I’m ahead. One month in hibernation and
I’ve completely forgotten how to interact with people.
awkwardly then turn away, giving him an easy out.
problem, but do you want to take that tour now?”
daughter, right? I’m Jack. I’m giving you a tour.”
fuck my life. Really? I cannot spend one more second in this man’s company.
Right. You know what? I’m okay. I think I’ll stay here for a little while
longer. I can walk around myself.”
you’re gonna be working here you need to get familiar with the park. The kids
can be a little rambunctious, and they’ve been known to wander off.”
at a map and find my way around. Thanks.”
his arms, challenging me.
don’t show areas like this one, the little hiding spots. Best trees to climb.
It’s a big garden. And that’s not even part of the main park.”
think you are.”
your decision to make.”
boss. She told me to give you a tour. That’s what I’m gonna do.”
like it or not?”
rather walk around a garden on a beautiful day with me, or stand here, talking
to a bench?”
stomp past him. “If you ever tell anyone about that I will put cacti in your
utility belt pockets.”
cuts me off and faces me, walking backward, sidestepping around roots he can’t
even see. “I’ve never met a person so worked up over a tour before. Do you have
something against trees? Nature? Instructional experiences?”
me what you need to show me,” I grumble as we reach the main path and all the
older woman with curly black hair and a gap-tooth smile encompasses Jack from
behind in a big hug. “How are you, darling?”
Marianne.” He turns to face her, bending low to give her a kiss on the cheek.
“How are you? How are the grandkids?”
They keep asking when you’re going to babysit again. You’re their favorite.”
only because I let them eat ice cream for dinner and chow mein for dessert.
Don’t tell their parents.”
gotta spoil them sometimes.” She elbows him playfully, clearly smitten. “We’re
having a cookout next Sunday. Stop by for a bite.”
thank you. Tell the kids to be good for their folks. Or at least as good as I
chuckles and waves him off, shaking her head but charmed.
He’s good looking. His grin is infectious. He put his hand on her shoulder so
gently, yet full of good-natured warmth. Who wouldn’t be affected by that?
someone with a dead heart.
about that, I know most of the regulars here.”
me to the sectioned parts of the garden, but he doesn’t tell me about the trees
or the different Latin names of the flora as another tour guide might. Instead
he points out hiding places, tricky places that visitors have tripped, plants
that might be harmful to kids with sensitive skin. His attention to detail and
familiarity with the garden is impressive, but he’s formal, never gives me the
bright smile Marianne or any of the other people known to him are afforded. And
there are a lot of people that stop to chat with the amiable Jack.
single person that crosses our path.
end of our tour, I’m a bit frustrated by all the interruptions.
the mayor of the Botanical Gardens, or something? How do you know all these
shaking his head.
calls me the town mayor sometimes. Says I know everything about everyone.” He
shrugs like a good old boy. “I like getting to know people, hearing stories
from their past, their hopes and dreams. Connecting to people on a level
beneath the surface is a special gift. One I’ll always treasure and respect.
The least I can do is provide human connection.” His mouth tightens as he says,
“If they want it.”
bitterness wells up inside me, the great tide threatening to pull me under. I
take a deep breath, think of coffee and loud subway trains. Times Square at
Christmas. Sangria with Sophie. Playing hooky with my best friend, Adele.
Moments in my life I love and miss…but where they used to bring comfort, now
all I feel is loss.
such a mistake coming here. There’s nothing I can connect with. Nothing to keep
me from drowning.
talk about it?” he asks as the silence between us grows tense.
nothing to talk about.”
I’m a really good listener.” He dips his head, trying to get me to look at him.
also annoyingly persistent.”
bit longer, in silence this time. When I start to recognize where we are I
decide to make my escape. Being around someone so shockingly open is like razor
blades on my skin, and he is too nice to say he doesn’t want to be near someone
as rude and closed off as I am.
the tour. I can find my way back from here.”
don’t need to talk. I don’t need any more lessons on being cordial to your
neighbors. I just need to get back to the office. Goodbye.”
want to do that, there’s—”
backward as I talk to him, fed up with his highhanded attitude.
lost out-of-towner who talks to benches, but I’m also an adult in full
possession of all my faculties. You don’t need to babysit me.”
cushy, squelching sound wafts from beneath my shoe, and the smell of shit
pervades the air. I don’t look down. I don’t need to look down. I know I just
stepped into a massive pile of crap.
tell you.” He grimaces, wincing at the massive turd I stomped into.
doesn’t clean up after their dogs?” I start to pace, trying to scrape my boots
against the sidewalk. “I mean, come on, people.”
walking around on it, you’re making it worse. God, that smells. How did you not
see it there?”
life hate me so much?”
really, you’re trailing it all over the place. Stay still.”
eyes, and fist my hands at my side, trying to absorb the intense anger rising
inside me. I tamp it down. No one needs that. No one wants to see me pissed.
Better to be polite, and play it off like it’s nothing. Don’t let him see this
literal shit affect me.
my ankle, my foot lifting from the ground. I start to wobble and brace myself
on Jack’s shoulder. He’s at my feet, taking my boot off.
gonna step on it with my sock.”
hadn’t stomped all over the place you would have had less of a chance of that.”
to wipe it off.”
cement?” he asks, incredulously.
my defiled boot near the edge of the path and stands.
lift you, all right?”
have the wherewithal to speak so I just nod. He scoops me into his arms like a
princess. But instead of being saved from a fiery dragon and a nest of thorns,
it’s stinky poo I’m rescued from.
me on a large, curved root protruding from the ground then fetches the boot.
you taking my shoe?”
shit-covered shoes, and I’m adding this one to my secret lair buried deep below
him a second, confounded.
his eyes. “Where do you think? There’s a hose connected over there, I’m gonna
rinse it off. Don’t step in anymore shit while I’m gone.”
grumble. Refusing to be thankful. But when he comes back with my shoe, slightly
wet but sans poo, I say the words.
having a crap day, huh?”
That’s the understatement of the year. “More like a crap decade.”
from me—there’s no better place to recover from a crap day, or year, or decade,
than this city.” Jack kneels at my feet and helps me put the shoe back on,
blessedly free of poo stench.
at me after zipping my boot, guileless. “Yes.” Without further explanation Jack
stands, looking me up and down. “See you around, crazy lady.”
me on the tree root and walks away.
Crazy for thinking that moving here would solve my problems. Crazy for getting
with Murray in the first place. Crazy for getting out of bed.
watching Jack’s ass tense as his legs account for the incline in the path makes
getting dressed and leaving the apartment slightly worth it.
99c for a limited time
novels. She has a major weakness for sappy cuddle moments as much as hot and
steamy sex scenes, and a penchant for writing snappy and sarcastic dialogue.
She loves romance that isn’t afraid to be awkward and uncouth, and thrives on
flawed characters with big hearts.
cats, Mercy and Eugene Fitzherbert, who should be very thankful she didn’t name
him frying pan. She is a proud functioning introvert and lover of all things
geeky. You can find her haunting the Twitter machine or posting pictures of her
ridiculous cats on Instagram.