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Sweet Inspirations

Sweet Inspirations

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 He’s supposed to keep her at arm’s length. But somehow arm’s length just isn’t close enough. Will distrust and fear keep them from love?

 

Main Tropes

  • Second Chance Romance
  • Small Town Romance
  • Single Dad

Synopsis

He’s supposed to keep her at arm’s length. But somehow arm’s length just isn’t close enough.

Elizabeth Butler has seen the lowest times imaginable. Now, she’s done feeling sorry for herself, and with a fresh reason for living, she’s ready to start over.

Henry Jenkins is back in town to turn his life around. His ex-wife is happily remarried, and Henry thinks it might be time for him to be happy again too.

When Elizabeth shows up with an easy offer and a tempting smile, Henry can’t believe his good luck. But things on the Jenkins’ farm will start heating up when she needs something he's afraid to give. Will distrust and fear keep them from love?

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Intro into Chapter One

Chapter
One

 

 

“You!
Thief, stop!”

Elizabeth
Butler ran down the empty sidewalk. She was very aware there was barely anyone
on the street. While both sides of the street were populated with houses, it
was as if everyone had all gone out at the same time. This town was such a huge
contrast to living in New York. Had she been in New York now, several people
would have stopped if for no other reason than to glare at the sheer nosiness.

The
thief looked up and seemed confused. Elizabeth hoped he didn’t think that the
afternoon sun highlighting his sable brown hair and his easy-going smile were
going to distract her from the facts. He was stealing her precious.

She
had just made the sprint in her two-inch black pumps—which were very
comfortable for walking in but obviously not made for running—when she thought,
If I had known I might have to run, I
would have switched into sneakers like every other city girl does when she’s
not at work
. She should have known some things wouldn’t change. In the city
or in the country a woman had to be prepared for anything.

“You
there, I can’t believe you’d try to steal in broad daylight!”

The
thief still looked confused. Elizabeth didn’t let that stop her. She reached
out and grabbed her precious package from his hands. Then she took a step back
and surreptitiously looked up and down the block for someone who she could call
for help if need be.

“Listen,
lady, I’m no thief.”

Elizabeth
turned back and gave him a hard stare. “Okay, Mr. I’m so hot I can do what I
want, if you’re no thief, what were you doing with my Smiley?”

“Smiley?”

“Yes,
Smiley, the small bundle of joy you were about to abscond with!”

“Oh,
the dog!”

Elizabeth
covered Smiley’s long floppy brown ears.

“Would
you show a little sensitivity?” she hissed at the thief.

He
actually looked confused. “I think he knows he’s a dog. I’m thinking that tail
and four legs thing gave him a clue,” the thief said with a smile.

Tapping
her right foot, she held Smiley closer to herself. She looked down at Smiley,
and he looked back at her with large, brown eyes and gave her a quick lick on
the chin. He wasn’t as spry as he had once been, but he was still as faithful
as ever. Thinking about the drama he must have gone through, she turned on the
thief.

“Listen,
I don’t know what your thing is, but stealing a dog is the lowest of low.”

“Okay,
this has gone on long enough. I didn’t steal your dog; he was walking out here
by himself, and I picked him up.”

Elizabeth
stopped and looked up the block to see she had indeed left the car door open
while she was going in and out of the flower shop. She was having some plants
delivered, and she was told the florist was the best person to talk to about
holding plants. Elizabeth had to admit it sounded weird to her that the florist
would also offer the service to hold on to her plants, but it was a small town
in Florida called Sweet Blooms, she should have expected they do things a
little differently.

 She supposed if Smiley had been bored, he
would have come. Smiley usually ran from noises and was very jittery. Since
she’d come to Sweet Blooms a week ago, she had seen a whole change in his
behavior. Smiley’s nervousness was down, and his barking was to a minimum. She
knew she had made the right decision to move to Sweet Blooms and open up her
dog sanctuary. Well, she was sure until the thief.

“I
bet you did pick him up.”

“Listen,
he’s an older dog, and he seemed really sweet, so I picked him up. Not so I
could steal him, but so I could take him somewhere besides the street to live.”

“Ah-ha.
So you were taking Smiley, my dog, and you were going to give him away to
another person.”

The
thief opened his mouth and then closed it. “Listen, why don’t we start this
over? My name is Henry Jenkins,” he said as he extended his hand out.

Elizabeth
wanted to groan out loud. He wasn’t some good-looking thief in a small town,
she thought to herself. Henry Jenkins was the reason she was in Sweet Blooms.
Although he wasn’t what she thought he would be. She thought he would be about
seventy years old and wearing overalls.

Instead,
Henry Jenkins was a very attractive man by anyone’s standards. He wasn’t the
perfect ideal, but he had warm brown eyes that went along with his brushed-back
hair. His nose was a little crooked and he had a dimple on each cheek and one
on his chin. He had a beard that was reddish-brown and beckoned her to touch it
to see if it was as soft as it looked. What made the beard even more noticeable
was the way he had shaped it. The beard was low on his cheeks and light on the
chin.

Henry
Jenkins was not the elderly gentleman she thought she was coming to see. No,
Henry Jenkins was just the kind of man Elizabeth was trying to avoid. God made
men look this good to hide their two-timing, opportunistic natures. If everyone
saw them clearly, they’d never make it to adulthood.

Elizabeth
knew this was her old baggage rearing its ugly head. All men were not like her
ex, Lance Classon. Lance had the features of the best sculpture and the heart
of the darkest villain. Maybe Henry was different. Maybe he wasn’t selfish,
self-absorbed, and shallow.

“I
can tell from your speechlessness that you’ve rethought this situation and
realize that I’m the Good Samaritan here. I mean, however it happened, the dog
got free and I saved him,” Henry said with a large smile on his face that only
deepened his dimples. Those dimples were like a bucket of cold water being
tossed on Elizabeth.

“This
is so not going to work,” she muttered.

“What?”

Elizabeth
didn’t even answer. Instead, she turned away from Henry and started walking
back towards her car.

“Hey,
what’s not going to work, and what’s your name? The hero usually gets something
from the people he rescues. “

Elizabeth
stopped and pivoted on her heel. When she turned, she turned into a wall of
muscle that wrapped itself around her and Smiley. For a moment, the world was
blocked out and she was engulfed in a cloud of soap, strength, and man. The
feeling was foreign but welcome. For a few moments, she forgot he was a thief,
and the woman in her took a sigh of relief. That feeling lasted all of a
moment. Then she was being let go, and the only thing she heard was the profuse
sputtering of Henry.

“So,
so sorry. I didn’t expect you to turn around so quickly.”

Elizabeth
steadied herself and then stood with her hands on her hips. “Okay, we need to
get some things cleared up Superman. We’re in a small town, so I’m going to
give you a pass for not being able to tell the difference between a lost dog
and one that wandered off course a bit.”

“Ouch!
You’re a tough lady.”

“Please,
let’s not recap. More importantly, I need to ask you, what were you doing here
by the florist?” Elizabeth asked.

He
grinned at her and folded his arms over his chest. What was it about him,
anyway? Every move he made was like he was posing for one of those sexy
commercials where no one really knows what is being sold. Really, she knew
better. Gorgeous men were about as trustworthy as a two-dollar bill.

“As
it turns out, I was looking for you.”

The
statement caught Elizabeth off guard and had her falling back to her original
thought. Gorgeous men couldn’t be trusted.

“You
don’t even know my name,” she incredulously.

“Well,
I don’t really need to know your name to know you’re the one I’m looking for.”

“Oh
for Pete’s sake, is this some lame pick-up line?”

Henry
laughed and shook his head. “You are definitely new. Let me explain. You see,
an unmarried woman arrived in town today. I know you’re not married because you
stopped at the garage—Old lady Winston was there. She happened to notice you
didn’t have a ring and that your ring finger was all one color. She took that
to mean you weren’t married or had been divorced for a while.”

Elizabeth
could feel the shock spreading across her face. “Are you talking about that
sweet lady who asked me to walk her to her car?”

Henry
nodded. “The same. While you were helping her, she was evaluating your hands.
When you left the garage, you stopped at Sweet Blooms Cafe. Before you even
arrived at Sweet Blooms, Mrs. Winston had called Rose, one of the owners of
Sweet Blooms Café, to let her know there was a nice, eligible woman in town.
Rose noticed you when you picked up a bagel but you were constantly looking out
towards your car. So when you left the cafe, she called Agnes to find out if
she was going to bridge, and to let her know there was a nice woman who had
either a pet or a child—from your looking back at your car of course—who was
single and was planning to come to the courthouse. When you arrived at the
courthouse, you spoke to Clarissa. After talking to you, Clarissa called me and
said there was a new, single woman come to town. Clarissa said you were asking
about me but went to the floral shop. The way gossip was running Clarissa
thought I needed to save you before the rest of them started adding to the
telephone game.”

Elizabeth
had heard the rumors about towns and gossip, but this was a bit much. “Not that
it matters, but I don’t have kids and I was never married,” she echoed in a
daze.

“I
could tell,” he said.

And
there it went. All of the goodwill Elizabeth thought she was going to have
towards him went up in smoke.

“Don’t
finish that thought. No good can come from it. In fact, maybe you should stop
while you’re ahead and we can meet some other time.”

Instead
of taking the hint she so kindly offered him, his smile widened before he said,
“You’ve got grit, as my mama would have said.”

“I’ve
had to get some, I wasn’t born with it. Which means I know when to use it and
when not to.”

“You
know, I’ve got that knack. I bring out the best in people.”

“You
are one step from me — ,” Elizabeth let out a deep breath.

“Listen,
we don’t have to talk about me. I totally get it, and I’m glad I could be here
for you.”

She
turned around to take Smiley back to the car. His head was lolling and there
was something suspiciously warm on her arm that she didn’t want to look too
closely at until she was in the car. She needed to have some space between her
and tall, dark, and arrogant.

She
was a woman with some issues and a mission. This man aggravated both her issues
and her mission. He set off all of her internal alarms that said she should run
quickly and stuff cotton in her ears. He was the equivalent of a male siren.
Elizabeth had decided to go the road of least resistance if she should ever
decide to get into another relationship. Yes, she’d want a quiet man who was unassuming
and just happy to be with someone.

Second,
if for some reason she threw caution to the wind and decided he’d be a good
option for a small-town love, she’d have to work too hard for him to notice
her. Men like him wanted women who could cook, clean, and iron.

She
had visited Sweet Blooms four times now, and she’d visited every take out
restaurant and diner. Cooking wasn’t on her list of skills. In fact, she
anticipated she’d be losing some weight because it appeared the town of Sweet
Blooms closed by ten, which by her standards was the end of dinner and the
beginning of snack time. She wouldn’t even go into how she knew every cleaning
service, drop off laundry and dry cleaners.

Every
time Elizabeth had been in a relationship, she had lost to career and money.
What she had learned from those failed relationships was who she really was.

She
was resilient. She had survived losing it all from living in posh condos to
living in a shelter.

She
was loving. When she was at her lowest, Smiley had come to her as a fellow
stray, and she had shared her food with him.

But
most of all, she was focused. When she had made up her mind to get herself and
Smiley off of the streets, nothing had stopped her. She didn’t need to be the
perfect company to Henry Jenkins. She didn’t need a Henry Jenkins in her life
at all, she just needed Henry Jenkins’ land.

“So,
Elizabeth, did you want to talk later?”

“What?”
she quipped, frustrated to be caught so deep in her own thoughts and irritated
that he stopped her right before she was in her car. She adored Smiley, but he
could stand to lose a few pounds.

Henry
waved his hand between them. “I’m only asking because you’re moving away from
me at top speed. I could keep following you, but what will the town think
then?”

She
inhaled a deep breath. He was right. Unfortunately, she wasn’t in the right
space to even utter those words to him right now. “How about we try for later
today?”

“We’re
actually scheduled to meet in the morning.” He gave her a grin that she just
knew he must have practiced. It was the kind of slow-motion grin that happened
in three seconds, but when she saw it, it occurred in slow motion. In her mind,
she imagined his chest puffing out a little farther. He turned his head to the
left because that was his best side. Then when he smiled, he gave her the best
view of the perfectly proportioned lips and that dimple that said, “Come on,
you know you want to fall for me.”

“So,
Elizabeth, I’ll see you at my place in the morning?”

Later
she thought. That’s right, she was going to go to his place, later on, to see
if his land was the new home for her business. If it was, she would be seeing
Mr. Walking Temptation every day. “Of course I’ll be there.”

He
tipped his head and walked away. Elizabeth looked at him as he sauntered down
the block. She wondered if anyone was peering out of the houses as he went. She
shook her head and continued with Smiley to the car.

Dogs
she understood, she thought. If you stayed with them and treated them fairly,
then they’d stay with you forever. The male species, however, was a largely
unknown enigma. Henry’s type was the worst. He smiled and appeared like he was
interested, but she would just never know.

I
mean, she knew better than to build a lifetime commitment based on a smile. She
wasn’t that young or innocent anymore. Elizabeth had been burned enough to know
that taking men on face value was the path to getting hurt. All that being
said, Henry Jenkins was still a fine-looking man. For an instant when he
smiled, she had a butterfly or two flutters in her stomach.

The
good news was her ex hadn’t soured her ability to appreciate a man. The bad
news was the man who seemed to have caught her eye was the man she needed to do
business with. No matter how good he looked, Elizabeth was going to keep
business and pleasure separate from one another.

* * *

It
wasn’t every day that a man had to present a business proposal to his ex and
her new husband. That was exactly the position he was in now. He’d sent the
research to Adam Cade and his own ex-wife, Hannah. This was a long shot, but he
was used to selling long shots. But if this didn’t fly, he didn’t have a plan
B.

He
had been shown into Adam Cade’s trailer office. The trailer sat on the Cade
ranch property. Adam Cade was the owner of the multi-million dollar wood
carving business. He was also a native of sweet Blooms. When Adam moved to
Sweet Blooms and opened up a business, it had helped Sweet Blooms get on the
map. It also meant that if you wanted something done in Sweet Blooms, the
quickest way to make sure the council would approve it was to make sure Adam
Cade was onboard. Besides having money, Adam was a fair man who believed in
giving people second chances. In fact, today Henry was counting on that
particular part of his nature.

Henry
was sitting in a comfortable high back leather chair on the other side of an
even larger desk. The trailer was air-conditioned and the whole effect made him
think he had stepped back into a corporate CEO’s office. The secretary was
missing, but he had been shown to the trailer by one of the farmhands, which
would have to be the Sweet Blooms equivalent.

Henry
looked at the desk and saw pictures of Hannah smiling in a wedding dress. He
saw his son Nathan in the wedding party, and he was happy and sad at the same
time. Hannah deserved everything Adam could give her. She was a treasure he
hadn’t been ready to receive when they were married.

When
he looked at Nathan, he was so proud of his son. Despite all of the drama that
occurred between Hannah and him, Nathan had turned out to be a well-adjusted
young man who knew himself sometimes better than his parents knew themselves.

He
let out a breath and tried to review the points in his head. When it was all
said and done, he had to make this work. He had money of his own from
investments, but they didn’t come close to helping him pay off the acres of
land he had inherited. He had given the land to Hannah, but she had now moved
out of it and to the Cade’s land. So he was now sitting on his ancestral land,
but he didn’t own it. He needed to get the deed back, and then he needed to find
a way to make money to support him on the land. He thought he might have found
an answer with Elizabeth. He just needed to sell the idea to Hannah and her
husband.

Henry
didn’t have a lot of good memories of this place. Everyone in town knew the
Jenkins men had a drinking problem. As soon as he could, he’d left home to find
a better place. He had an older brother, but he had left before him. The only
memories Henry had of him were of him using his body to shield him from a
drunken father. When Henry turned 10, his brother, Konstantine, left home. By
the time Henry was sixteen he had worked on the farm long enough to know that
he didn’t want to be a farmer.

He
hadn’t set foot back on the land until his father had passed away, and he had
brought his then wife, Hannah, to Sweet Blooms. Again the weight and the
memories of “Jenkins men” haunted him in the town until it broke his marriage
apart.

Now
time had passed. Hannah was in love again, and he was happy that she had found
a way to move on, even if it wasn’t with him. Now, after mending his
relationship with his son, Nathan, and becoming friends with Hannah, it was
time to clean up his life here in Sweet Blooms. That meant he had to ask Hannah
to give him back the deed to his land and then sell her husband, Adam Cade, on
what he wanted to do on the land.

Henry
had looked high and low for a business that he could run. He was a salesman,
and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for a salesman. Besides, in the town
of Sweet Blooms bargaining was almost impossible unless you were over the age
of 60. It appeared that no matter what price you thought you could sell an
item, an older person would remind you that they had seen you in your diapers
and then tell you the price you’d be selling at.

Then
Elizabeth Butler’s name came up during one of the council meetings. The idea
was new and fit in with the community of Sweet Blooms. This business wouldn’t
make him rich. It wasn’t that kind of business. This was a business where the
land would be used, and he’d be able to give something back to someone else.

Just
as he was rethinking this plan again, Adam and Hannah walked in. The desk was
large, and there were two seats behind it. He stood up and waited for Hannah to
sit.

“Please,
Henry take a seat,” Hannah said as she pulled up a chair next to Adam. Henry
thought they made a handsome couple. Hannah’s dark hair was pulled into a
ponytail, and she had the glow that women get when they’re happy. As he watched
them sit behind the desk, all of his fears came back. Maybe they wouldn’t
really like the idea. Maybe Hannah would decide they both would own the land.
He gave himself a mental shake and let out a breath, he’d close this sale.

“So
Henry, you asked to see the both of us, what can we do for you?” Adam asked.

“Did
you get the files I sent over?” Henry asked.

Hannah
smiled and nodded at him. Before she could speak, Adam put his hand on her lap
and then looked at him.

“We
both got the file, but I think I want to hear you explain what it is that
you’re looking for,” Adam said.

Henry
nodded. He’d expected this. He was hoping that he didn’t have to present in
front of them both, but he’d come prepared to give his pitch.

“As
you both know, I’m living on the Jenkins land. I’d like two things: I’d like to
buy back the Jenkins land that Hannah has in trust to her. I’ll of course need
a mortgage to do that. The second thing is I’d like to use the land to help a
new venture that I’ve been apprised of. After looking in Sweet Blooms, we seem
to have all of the stores we need, with others on the way. I would like to turn
the land into a no-kill, senior animal shelter. The land is large enough, and
we would combine with the nearby animal shelter. I’ve been approached by a
person who has the same vision I do, and they also have several grants to pay
for the room, board, and renovation. The grants are for three years, so it
gives me enough time to see if this will work.”

He
waited for someone to speak. Hannah had been nodding her head all through his
speech. He could see the excitement in her eyes. Adam, on the other, hadn’t
changed expressions. Henry might have thought he hadn’t heard a word he said if
it weren’t for the fact he could see Adam’s hand was patting Hannah’s offering
comfort. He saw it and wondered if he had ever done anything like that for
Hannah. Looking up, he saw her smile of happiness and eagerness as he talked
about the plan. Henry hoped he was as resilient as Hannah. When he looked at
Adam, he saw no sign of how the meeting was going either way.

“So,
you want Hannah to give you the land from your divorce so you can rescue senior
dogs in the last days of life?”

Henry
looked at them both. “Yup, that’s about it.”

“Why
does she have to give up her share?” Adam asked. Henry glanced at Hannah and
could see she was a bit distressed.

“It’s
the term of the grant. They only want to deal with one owner,” Henry replied.

“So
what do you think about giving Hannah the land and letting her sign and you run
it?” Adam asked.

Henry
didn’t speak. He knew this could have been an option. If he were in Adam’s
spot, he would ask the same thing. He thought it might come to this, but he had
hoped otherwise.

Henry
looked at Hannah and gave a small smile, then he turned to Adam.

“It’s
not my first choice, but yes, I’d agree to that.”

Adam
smiled and leaned forward. “Fortunately, it won’t come to that, but it’s good
to know where you stand.”

Henry
felt the relief hit him like a ton of bricks. Happy and confused, he looked at
them both.

Hannah
finally spoke. “Adam and I had already agreed this was a good idea. He just
wanted to make sure your motives were clear.”

Henry
smiled and nodded, and Hannah and Adam went on and on about how they thought it
was a great idea. Henry, on the other hand, was still trying to get his breath.
In the space of minutes, he had faced starting over, to losing everything, to
getting hope again. If Hannah could give him this chance, he’d make the best of
it and be more than anyone ever thought he could. He’d show the town of Sweet
Blooms that there was such a thing as a good Jenkins man.

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