I loved weddings. Had ever since I was four years old and my Aunt Cherise got married. I was the ring bearer, and I’d taken my duty very seriously. Aunt Cherise had been the most gorgeous woman I’d ever seen, the flowers made everything seem magical, and I knew, right then and there, that I’d wanted to be in her place
Not wearing a dress—I wasn’t the sort of man who could rock a ball gown—but holding pretty flowers and marrying the man of my dreams. My mother, God rest her, had told me later that I’d gushed about the wedding for weeks afterward, and that I told her I was going to make weddings happen when I grew up. And she didn’t even bat an eye when I told her I wanted to marry a man.
“I’ll be honored to walk you down the aisle someday, West.” She kissed my forehead and handed me my favorite stuffy, a purple dragon. “As long as he’s good enough for you.”
The memory made me smile, even if the emotions now tied to it were bittersweet. She hadn’t been able to walk me down the aisle. Coronary artery disease had stolen her life at the ripe age of fifty-six, when a heart attack from multiple blockages snuck up on her. We didn’t even know she had problems until it was too late. Silent killer, indeed.
She’d been after me to chase my dreams, and when she passed, I went after it with a vengeance. Partly because it was a stark reminder that life was too short, and I needed to live mine to the fullest for as long as I could. But also because Jenny Walker was not one to sit back and watch life pass her by, and I was doing her a disservice as her son if I didn’t follow in those footsteps.
I always inevitably thought of my mom when I was in the back room, working on wedding arrangements. And of Regina Thompson, the woman who owned the shop before me, and rescued me from the horrid wedding planner I’d worked for.
“West Walker, why are you still working for that monster?” Regina kept her voice low, but her face was set, and even though it had been three years since my mother had passed, I knew a “mom look” when I saw one.
“Because I love weddings,” I murmured back. It was the basic truth. I was able to put up with the occasional snide comments and sneers if I could just keep planning weddings.
Regina tutted, then slipped me her business card. “Come work for me instead. You might not be planning weddings, but you’ll do all the flowers and get to be there to set up. Which is the best part anyway. Sometimes I even stay, hiding in the back, just to watch.” She gave me a conspiratorial wink. “And I don’t discriminate. Race, color, creed, sexual orientation, none of that matters. Love wins, right?”
I grinned so hard my face hurt. “Right.”
“West, honey,” Lenore said, sticking her head through my office door and interrupting my trip down memory lane. My “office” was really an entire back room and work space. I’d set up my desk at one end so I had somewhere to sit and do the paperwork, but otherwise, it was where I created my masterpieces and held my consultations. “Lincoln Peters is here.”
“Thanks, Lenore.” I stood and followed her out to the main showroom, and stopped dead in my tracks at the couple standing there.
One was pretty, lean, and wore a nervous smile. The other was my fantasies come to life. Broad shoulders without being overly muscled, dark hair, dark eyes, and a strong nose and chin. He had that rugged handsomeness about him that could have been on the cover of a romance novel about cowboys or soldiers or something, and he just oozed confidence without seeming like an asshole. The warm smile on his face told it all. It made his eyes crinkle into copious laugh lines of a man who smiled big and often.
I was entranced.
But I was also professional, so I mentally girded my loins, smiled brightly, and strode forward with my hand outstretched.
“Welcome to Once and Floral. I’m West Walker.”
The bigger man let out a chuckle as he shook my hand. “Love that name.” And I blushed before he added, “Very punny.”
Ah, he was talking about the shop, not me. “Thanks.”
“I’m Monroe, and this—” he ruffled the hair of the other man “—is Lincoln.”
Lincoln swatted away Monroe’s hand and scowled, but it didn’t contain any heat. Monroe’s grin grew even wider, and he waggled his eyebrows, making Lincoln laugh. Damn they were cute.