Yeah. I really screwed that up.
“She’s very close to her family,” Archer goes on with a gleam in his eye. Like he’s enjoying my misery by torturing me with more information. “I’m sure she’s already run off to Daddy and told him everything.”
“I don’t need to feel any worse than I already do,” I say, my voice low, as low as my mood. “And if that’s the case, my chance at that strip of businesses in St. Helena is shot, huh.”
“Yep, you’re f**ked,” Archer agrees. A little too easily for my taste, but what can I say? I’m sure he’s one hundred percent right.
I royally f**ked this up.
Glancing around, I notice the restaurant is pretty empty. We’re having a late lunch, and I should probably let Archer get back to work, but I’m frustrated with this entire situation.
“I don’t get it. I don’t know why I can’t make this happen. It’s like Scott Knight refuses to see me. I’ve tried to make an appointment with him multiple times. He never returns my calls.” Or takes them either. If it was bad before, imagine how much he’ll ignore me now after his daughter shreds my name and reputation?
“I’m surprised you didn’t put two and two together, considering you’ve been hounding Scott Knight for weeks,” Archer says, all nonchalant conversation-like.
My mind is spinning; I’m hoping like hell I can come up with a solution and smooth over this incredible blunder I’ve made.
I don’t normally do this sort of thing—blunders. I’m efficient, conscientious, and, above all, careful. Archer is the screw-up. This is why we’ve always balanced each other out so well. He pushes me and I rein him in.
“You’re always on top of your game,” Archer continues. “What happened last night?” He contemplates me; I can feel his eyes staring at me hard. “You got the hots for Marina Knight, don’t you?”
“Fuck no,” I say way too defensively, glaring at him in return. “She’s an ice queen.”
“If so, she’s a beautiful one.” Archer lowers his voice. “Don’t tell your sister I said that. She’d chop my balls off.”
“Like I’d tell her,” I mutter. “She’d probably chop my balls off by association. Marina distracted me. I took one look at her and it was like my brain froze.”
“Ha.” Archer shakes his head. “She has a bit of a reputation for being . . . indifferent. And for whatever reason, every guy who encounters all that cool indifference seems to get caught in that magnetic spell Marina casts. I don’t know what it is about her.”
Great. So it was nothing special between us. She’s some sort of mythical siren. “I screwed up. I wish I could start over but it’s too late now.”
“You could go see her and apologize,” Archer suggests.
“See her? Where?”
“She runs the organic bakery in St. Helena. You’ve heard of Autumn Harvest, right?”
Heard of it? That bakery is in the very block of stores I want to purchase. The Molinas had put it up for sale before, a few years ago, when the bottom fell out of the economy. They took it off the market before I could make an offer, not that I’d been in a position to make such an offer then. My money had been tied up in other properties and, just like everyone else in America, I’d been hit by the economic crash. Thank God I’d recuperated and am now doing better than ever. I’m a lucky bastard.
And, damn it, I want that property. The Molinas own four buildings on Main Street in St. Helena. Half of them need renovating, but they don’t have the cash to invest in such major work. The lease was coming up on one of them. Another building sat empty. Revamping those locations would allow me to collect more rent money. And that money would make everything worth my while.
Though, I can’t make the purchase if I can’t get Scott Knight to talk to me.
“So it’s really an organic bakery?” I ask. Sounds like a contradiction. I associate bakeries with sweet, sugary goodness, not good-for-you food.
“Well, they say that to please the health-conscious masses. And they make some delicious all-natural artisan breads. It’s the cakes that kick ass though.” Archer leans back, patting his stomach. “Ivy brought one home for my birthday. Best damn cake I ever ate.”
“What kind? And does she bake them?” I found that hard to believe. She didn’t seem like the sweet, domesticated type. Definitely doesn’t look like a woman who likes to knead dough and frost cakes.
“She’s not the baker, her aunt is. Marina manages the business.”
Huh. Pulling my phone out of my jeans pocket, I bring up Autumn Harvest in St. Helena, clicking the “About Us” link. Impatiently I wait for the photos to load, sighing when I see the small pic of Marina Knight smiling at me.
This is where I recognize her from—the website. I’d looked at it before when I was gathering information. Ammo. Whatever you want to call it.
“I knew I recognized her from somewhere,” I say as I stare at the picture on my phone.
She looks pretty. Accessible. She’s wearing a T-shirt that says AUTUMN HARVEST across the front. Her hair is pulled into a ponytail, her smile wide, cheeks a becoming, rosy pink, almost as pink as her sensuous lips.
I can’t take my eyes off of her.
“I think you’ve got it bad for freaking Marina Knight,” Archer said, sounding infinitely amused, the jackoff. “This is hilarious. Are you sitting there mooning over her picture?”
Clicking my phone off, I shove it back in my pocket. “No,” I mutter, glancing about the restaurant. The place is now packed, and it’s a Wednesday for Christ’s sake. I need to change the subject and quick. “You must be making it hand over fist here.”
“Business is good,” he says modestly. “Brisk. This time of year is always better than others.” He grins. “The autumn harvest is almost upon us, you know. The tourists come out in droves. Get it? Autumn. Harvest. You can’t get away from her if you tried right now, bro.”
Asshole. “You’re real funny.” I roll my eyes but he’s kind of speaking the truth.
I can’t get away from Marina Knight. She’s invaded my thoughts the last few days. The last few nights. I regret pissing her off. I regret not getting to spend more time with her.
I also regret that she sounds somewhat like a man-eater according to Archer, though she hadn’t given me that vibe when I was with her. Alluring, yes. Seductive, most definitely.
Sighing, I run my hand through my hair, glancing out the window at the gorgeous view of the vibrant green and gold vineyards in the distance. I need to make a gesture. Get on Marina’s good side.
THE BOUQUET ARRIVED out of nowhere, a gorgeous burst of color, a variety of wildflowers in a giant glass vase with a raffia bow tied around the middle. The delivery guy carried it into the store with both hands curled around the vase, his head hidden behind the blooms.
“What the heck is that?” My aunt Gina stops right next to me behind the counter, her gaze wide, jaw hanging open. Her forehead has a streak of flour across it and the apron she wears is smeared with chocolate.
“I don’t know,” I answer as the flowers are set rather unceremoniously on our counter, directly in front of me. “They’re beautiful though.”
“And they’re for a Marina Knight,” the delivery guy announces, his tone bored as he chews his gum, contemplating me from around the flower arrangement. “Is that you?”
Curiosity fills me. “It is. Who are these from?”
He shrugs, not giving a crap. “I dunno. Check the card. See ya.”
I watch him go, the glass door swinging closed behind him, the tinkling bell above the door announcing his departure. Aunt Gina nudges me in the ribs, her elbow extra pointy for some reason, and I grumble out an ouch.
“Check the envelope! I want to know who your new admirer is,” she encourages eagerly.
“Hah, I have no admirers.” And I like it that way. Men complicate everything. I need to focus on saving the family business, not worry if a guy thinks I’m pretty enough to ask out on a date.
Leaning forward, I breathe deep, inhaling the deliciously sweet floral scent. The flowers are so beautiful they almost don’t look real. The arrangement appears haphazard, a casual gathering of gorgeous blooms, but as I look closer, I see that it’s artfully arranged.
“They’re lovely,” Gina breathes, sniffing loudly. “And they smell divine. Even better than the chocolate cake baking in the oven.”
She’s right. I can’t even smell the usual bakery scents anymore. All I can inhale is the fragrance of the flowers. Plucking through the arrangement, I run my finger first over a silky white petal, then a velvety purple one. I notice the pick nestled amongst the blooms holding a small, cream-colored envelope.
I tear it open and pull out the thick, square card, frowning at the sight of the unfamiliar, very bold script.
I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive my rudeness the other night. Perhaps we can start over?
Blowing out a harsh breath, I roll my eyes at no one. I’m freaking irritated he didn’t sign his last name, believing he was that memorable.
And he had been.
A giddy, fizzy sensation washes over me, and I fight it down as best I can, but it’s no use. I like that he did this. That he wanted to apologize by sending me flowers.
It meant he was thinking about me.
Taking a deep breath, I shake my head, focusing instead on why he had to make that apology in the first place. Talk about a grand gesture. The flowers had to have cost him an absolute fortune. Glancing at the back of the torn envelope, I see the name of the floral shop printed in tiny script in the upper left corner.
Oh yeah. I know they cost a fortune. Botanical is the premiere florist shop in the valley—and right down the street from the bakery.
“Who are they from?” Gina asks.
I glance up at her, sad I’m about to disappoint her. My mother’s family has already written me off as a dried-up old maid, I know it. I’m freaking twenty-three but every Molina woman, including my mother and my aunt, were married by the age of twenty-one.
The way they act, they may as well set me up on the shelf and forget all about me.
“A man I met a few nights ago,” I start, glaring at her when she begins squealing excitedly. She shuts up quick. “It was nothing. We were at that new winery’s open house, remember the one I told you about? We started talking, and then he made me angry, so I stormed off. The flowers are his way of apologizing.”
“Some apology,” Gina says dryly, her gaze still lingering on the bouquet. “Why did you get so mad at him?”
“He insulted our family.”
I knew that would get her riled. She stiffens her spine, her expression gone indignant. “What? How? What an insufferable—”
“I overreacted. He didn’t know who I was.” I shrug, trying to act like he didn’t bother me too badly, but he so did. If I think about it too much, I could get angry all over again.