The Little Flower Shop - Lori Foster

The Little Flower Shop

Book 2 in the Indiana Summers Series

How did her love life become a community affair?

Since her divorce, Emily Lucretia—affectionately known as the flower lady to the people of Cemetery, Indiana—has been focused on her flower shop and taking care of her aging aunt and uncle. Her love life is hardly the centerpiece of her busy days.

Saul Culver, the town’s favorite bachelor and owner of the local barbecue joint, has been interested in Emily for a while. But as much as Emily knows about flowers, she can be a little oblivious to her own appeal. Saul is determined to show her just how special she is.

Saul isn’t the only one trying to get Emily out of her shell. Well-meaning locals have started tagging photos of Emily with #theflowerlady on social media—and now the entire town is involved in finding her Mr. Right. Saul won’t give up easily. He’s finally caught her attention, and he’s determined to convince Emily—and the town—that this is the real deal and not just some passing trend.

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The Little Flower Shop

is Book 2 in the Indiana Summers Series

The full series reading order is as follows:

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The Little Flower Shop

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A barefoot wedding on the beach. A novel idea that the tiny town of Cemetery, Indiana had fully embraced. As Emily Lucretia looked around at all the naked feet on women, men and kids, as well as the bride and groom, she couldn’t help but smile. After such a long day, it’d be so nice to do the same, to kick off her dress sandals and wiggle her toes in the summer-warm sand.

Of course, she didn’t. For whatever reason, that type of carefree enjoyment wasn’t in her DNA. Long ago she’d accepted being the proverbial stick-in-the-mud, as her ex-husband had claimed.

But, she told herself, she was also a perfectionist and even a day in the late August heat, her flower arrangements still looked incredible. Yardley, the stunning bride, had been thrilled with them all.

Above the sound of music, conversation and laughter, Emily heard a group splash into the lake. Swimming at a wedding. How fun was that?

The day of celebration had, for many, turned into a real party once the ceremony had concluded. The air was humid but fresh, the mood mellow and festive. Scents from the flowers mingled with sunscreen, roasted pork over an open spit, and breezes across the water.

Nearly everyone from Cemetery had turned out for the wedding until the beach had been filled. It was an unfortunate name for the friendly town, yet the people were wonderful and Emily loved the quaint area with all her heart.

Carefully maneuvering from one stepping stone to another, Emily fluffed and straightened the various arrangements. From pink peonies and blue hydrangeas to freesia and gardenias, anemones and daisies to rosebuds and baby’s breath, it was a beautifully colorful wedding, ideal for the setting and exactly what the bride had requested.

Emily heard laughter and looked up to see a group of women toasting Yardley as she and her new husband prepared to leave. Yardley made such a beautiful bride, and as the town’s wedding planner, she was in her element. She’d known exactly what she wanted, and how she wanted it, yet she’d never expected the area businesses to make the wedding a gift.

The entire town loved Yardley—with good reason. Thanks to her, the matriarch and great granddaughter of the town founder had loosened up enough to remove the clarification of “Cemetery” from the different venues.

Before Yardley had won that particular argument through persistence laced with kindness, Emily had suffered the misfortune of running “Cemetery Florals,” which made it seem that she only supplied flowers for burials. Actually, the small town didn’t even have a cemetery. Those who passed away were buried in Allbee, the next town over.

“You’re still wearing shoes.”

Jumping at the sound of that deep, rich voice coming from right behind her, Emily turned too fast and almost stumbled off the stepping stone. Saul Culver reached out and caught her arm, his hand big and warm against her bare elbow as he steadied her.

She looked up, way up, into incredibly nice green eyes, then down to those broad shoulders and the open front of Saul’s shirt.

“Careful,” he said, releasing her and then pressing a wine cooler into her hand. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Emily took the frosty bottle automatically, realized what it was, and tried to hand it back. “I can’t have this,” she protested. At forty-one, she was well past the age of drinking on the beach, especially during a job. “I’m working.”

“Em, no one is working.”

Saul was the only one who shortened her name… and from him, she liked it. “Says the man who only just stepped away from the fire pit.” She breathed in the scent of wood laced with his sun-warmed hair and skin – such a pleasant mix.

The wedding, followed immediately by a reception, had gone on for hours now and everyone was a little wilted, pleasantly so.

Somehow, on Saul, it only made him more appealing.

“That wasn’t work,” he protested. “Not really, since I had plenty of helpers.”

Yes, she’d noticed that. A lot of men had enjoyed chatting with Saul as he’d roasted meat over the fire, but then, all the women, married and single, too young and too old, had at one point or another visited with him, also.

Repeatedly, Emily had found her gaze on him.

A few times, he’d gazed back.

It meant nothing. Over the past few months, she’d started to wonder if she and Saul might… but no. For one thing, she was older than him. Okay, not by much, but still. At her age, every year counted.

For another thing, Saul was fun—everyone in Cemetery would say so. Within minutes of meeting him, vacationers would smile and relax. The townspeople went to him whenever they had a joke to tell, or if they needed cheering up. His brand of comfort was good food, a drink or two, and plenty of humor.

She, however, was merely pleasant. No one laughed it up with her. No one told her dirty jokes or made sexy suggestions.

She was merely Emily Lucretia, the “flower lady.”

Most of her friends treated her like a grandma. Granted, forty-one wasn’t young, but she didn’t really consider it old either.

“The food is all but gone,” Saul said. “Everyone brought their appetite. Of course, fresh air and sunshine could make anyone hungry.”

“Don’t be modest,” she chided. “It’s the excellent food that really mattered.” Being the owner of a local barbeque restaurant, Saul had generously supplied a big portion of the scrumptious meat for the wedding. Sallie had donated a gorgeous wedding cake from her bakery shop, Sallie’s By The Shore, and Daniel had gifted the newlyweds a honeymoon at the bride’s favorite feature for the town, The Honeymoon Cottage. Emily had, naturally, decorated with flowers, and everyone else had brought side dishes and drinks.

The wedding was the town’s gift to Yardley, because she was a gift to all of them.

“Em?” Dipping down to better meet her gaze, Saul asked, “You okay?”

Blinking fast, Emily realized that, for a second there, she’d been lost in thought. “I’m fine.” She tried a quick smile. “Wasn’t it a beautiful wedding?”

He nodded. “Casual but somehow classy, too.”

“Like Yardley.” As the day had progressed and night approached, the sun seemed to rest on the lake, coloring the sky in pastel hues that reflected on the surface of the water. Several men had asked her to dance, but naturally she’d declined. She’d stayed busy keeping the flowers fresh. “The weather couldn’t be more perfect.”

Leaning back on the end of a sturdy picnic table, Saul lifted his drink. “Your flowers were a hit.”

“Yardley seemed pleased.” She wished she was better at small talk, but everything she said ended up sounding professional instead of friendly.

“I heard different women talking about them.” He smiled. “It was nice of Yardley to tell everyone to take a flower home.”

“Oh, she did?” Somehow Emily had missed that, not that she minded. “I’m glad. Flowers are meant to be enjoyed. It would have been a shame to toss them all away.” She didn’t think she was overly prideful, but she knew without false modesty that she did an incredible job with flower arrangements. It was one of her very few gifts.

Saul leaned closer. “I snagged a few for Kathleen.”

Emily couldn’t help but grin as she glanced toward the town mannequin. It was a favorite pastime for the locals to dress and arrange Kathleen for different scenarios. No one ever knew where she might show up, but it was all fun.

Now, dressed up in her wedding finery with a few wilting peonies in her stiff hand, Kathleen sat in the sand, her legs arrowing out in a V before her. Someone had fixed her hair into a fancier style.

“Even Kathleen is barefoot,” Saul said.

“But,” Emily teased back, “Kathleen is not drinking.”

“Are you serious?” Pushing away from the table, Saul looped his arm around her so that his broad hand opened on the side of her waist.

It nearly put her heart into a tailspin. Be cool, she warned herself. He’s only a friend.

Saul steered her three steps to the left so she had a better view. “Look again.”

“Oh, my gosh.” All around the mannequin, empty bottles and cans had collected. “That lush,” she said around a laugh.

Saul smiled down at her. “My gosh?”

Even knowing he was teasing, Emily felt her face go hot. “I don’t curse.” At least not often, and rarely out loud.

“Of course you don’t,” said Mimi, the Matron of Honor and Yardley’s best friend. She had Sheena, the groom’s sister, with her. Both women had been crying and now had mascara tracks down their flushed cheeks.

Mimi grinned at her. “How is it that I’m falling apart and you look as put together as when you arrived?”

Liking both women a lot, Emily ignored the question and smiled. “How are you holding up, Mimi?”

“I’m a little drunk, a lot thrilled, and I’m so…” Her voice cracked. “Happy for Yardley.”

Sheena hugged her close. “Me, too!” she sobbed. “Not drunk, I mean, I’m pregnant. I can’t get drunk, but I’m so thrilled for Travis. He loves her so much and he deserves someone like her.”

Fighting off a grin at the overblown response, Emily asked, “Did you want to take some flowers?”

From somewhere, Saul produced a handful of napkins that he handed to the weepy women.

“I do.” Mimi realized what she’d said, then dissolved into laughter. “Or at least, Yardley did.”

Also laughing, Sheena said, “Travis, too!”

After she mopped her face, Mimi eyed Emily. “Honest to God, you never get rumpled.” Mimi shoved her wildly curling blonde hair out of her face. She’d started with it up in an elegant twist, but dancing had taken care of that.

“She’s perfect,” Sheena said. And then to Emily, “You really are. Your flowers are perfect and you’re perfectly nice and even now, you look perfectly beautiful.”

Emily choked a little. They couldn’t know it, of course, but she was touchy about that particular compliment. “I’ll agree the flowers are perfect. Thank you.”

Saul gave her a glance, then said in a silly formal voice, “All women are perfect in their own unique ways.”

Mimi fell against him laughing. “Such a diplomat.”

“It’s true, Mimi. You were a superior server at my restaurant. There’ll never be another you.”

“Ahhh…” She gave him a big hug, then turned and did the same to Emily. “Thank you for helping to make Yardley’s wedding so special.”

“I think that honor goes to you and Yardley.” From the time they were kids, Yardley and Mimi had been inseparable best friends dreaming of incomparable beach weddings. It explained why Yardley made an ideal wedding planner. She’d been working on it most of her life.

Mimi’s husband, Kevin, came to collect his wife, along with Sheena’s husband. Saul helped Emily to divide up a cluster of flowers for the women.

Once they were gone, he boldly tipped up Emily’s chin, making her heart a little topsy-turvy again.

His astute gaze probed hers. “That made you uncomfortable?”

“What? No. I adore both women.” It was all the ‘perfect’ nonsense that always made her uneasy. “I think it’s amazing that Mimi and Yardley are so dedicated to each other. And now Sheena has them both, too.”

In no way did he look convinced—and his fingers lingered. “Do you have a best friend?”

Until this very moment, until he asked, she hadn’t thought about the lack of a best friend. Now that she did, it seemed… sad. “Not really.” To cover up the sudden feeling of loss, she tried for another smile, but it definitely felt off. “I like everyone.”

“I know. It’s cute.”

Cute? That was hardly a description for a woman her age, but she certainly preferred it to ‘perfect.’ And starting right now, she would stop thinking about her age. Forty-one was not old. It wasn’t.

Dropping his hand, but putting his arm around her again, Saul gave her a squeeze, as if he’d understood things she hadn’t said. The gesture brought her closer to his big body in an affectionate way that she couldn’t begin to decipher.

He pointed at the mannequin. “Let’s get back to Kathleen, okay? Obviously, she’s been drinking. Maybe not as much as Mimi…”

Sharing his amusement, she agreed, “She was a wee bit tipsy.”

“Mimi was completely smashed, which is okay. She celebrated hard for Yardley. Hell, everyone here has had a few, so it’s definitely okay for you to have a single drink. It’s not even a real drink. It’s a wine cooler.”

Hating to admit it, Emily explained, “The thing is… I don’t drink.”

His brows went up. “Ever?”

See, that. His surprise. She’d known Saul for a few years now but he didn’t really know her. Not all the little things. The dumb things.

The things that made her different.

Sighing, she lifted the bottle. “I have no idea what this might do to me.”

With a slow grin, he suggested, “Might be interesting to find out.”

Was that flirting? She thought it might be and was about to ask him when a few more people joined them.

“Hey, Saul. Now that the rest of the meat’s taken, we’re going to load all the equipment into the back of your truck. That okay?”

Taking a few steps away from her, Saul answered the guys who were helping out. “That’d be great, thanks. You just have to make sure the tarp is there so nothing gets damaged.”

“Tarp? Is it in the back of the truck?”

He hesitated, then said, “Hang on a sec and I’ll help.” Turning back to Emily, he looked at her eyes, then her mouth, before glancing away. “Sorry, I need to take care of…”

“I understand. I have things to get done now too, since the party is winding down.”

“Emily…” Saul looked as if he wanted to say more, then with a quick smile he gently pried the wine cooler from her hand. “How about we hold off on this until I’m with you? I wouldn’t want to be the cause of you tripping, or—”

“Doing anything embarrassing? I agree.” Realizing what she said, she added quickly, “Not that I plan to try drinking, so don’t feel obligated or anything. At my age, it’d be—”

“Past due, if you’re interested.” Still he hesitated, standing in front her, his gaze moving warmly over her face again. “I was joking before. You know that, right? You can trust me.”

“Of course.” Trusting Saul was definitely not the problem. It was everything else, too many things to name.

“You and me, Em. We’re past due, don’t you think?”

Her jaw loosened. “We… yes?” She didn’t even know what he meant, but ‘yes’ seemed to be the polite reply.

Satisfaction filled his expression. “Great. Then I’ll see you soon.”

He waited for her agreement, so she nodded.

Then, with the other men calling to him, he jogged away.

Emily was still lost in thought when a group of women approached her, each anxious for a flower or two. With care, she separated the different sprays and offered small bundles to each of them. Others pitched in, bringing the arrangements to her as they helped to clear the beach as well as claim the remaining flowers. Heavy vases were toted to her florist van and within an hour, the majority of the guests were gone, with only a few stragglers still packing up. There were general farewells and the quiet closing of car doors and then… the peacefulness of the evening settled around her.

It seemed even vacationers had turned in early tonight.

After securing everything in her white van, Emily consulted the supply list to ensure she wasn’t forgetting anything, and good thing, because she realized she hadn’t yet collected the shepherd’s hooks and frame for the flower-draped backdrop used during the vows.

Being alone, she gave up on formality and removed her sandals, putting them on the driver’s seat before heading back to the beach. The scene was very different now, the only sound that of the waves lapping gently at the shore and the melody of frogs in long grasses. The sun had completely set but a fat moon sent a rippling ribbon of white to dance over the lake. The deep violet sky sparkled with stars.

Stopping, Emily closed her eyes and breathed deeply, her thoughts dwelling in uncomfortable places.

She’d enjoyed the wedding so much, yet she couldn’t deny the touch of envy. She’d been alone for so many years now. Not alone-alone, she reminded herself. She had Aunt Mabel and Uncle Sullivan, who she loved dearly. She had her many friends here in Cemetery—not a single best friend, but a lot of people she enjoyed. She had her work, her independence…

Opening her eyes and staring out at the lake, she added that she had a silent house to go home to.

A lonely bed to sleep in.

A tiny coffee maker that only served one person.

“Stop it.” Standing around moping was idiotic. She took a determined step forward – and gasped as she spotted a body on the beach. Her heart shot into her throat… until she realized it was Kathleen.

Oh no, the mannequin had been forgotten.

Laughing at herself, she approached the abandoned dummy with sympathy. “Most of the discarded bottles and cans are gone, but they left you? Poor, Kathleen.” It appeared someone had quit midway in the cleanup. “No worries, I’ll finish the job, and I’ll take care of you, too.”

It dawned on her she was talking to a dummy, and she glanced around guiltily, but still, there was no one. Just her and Kathleen.

Ugh, they had that in common.

Never before had she played with the mannequin, even though every other local resident had at one time or another taken a turn dressing her and placing her somewhere in town. Kathleen had attended town council meetings and church, held pompoms in the bleachers at sporting events, rode on parade floats, perched on the bar at Saul’s restaurant… and she’d even been a guest at local weddings.

Yet Emily had never dared to take part.

It seemed too silly, and she’d have been embarrassed to be caught…

She curled her toes into the warm sand. Why had she always resisted? Was it because everyone considered her too prissy for it, or because she really was a killjoy?

She thought of Mimi and Sheena calling her perfect. God, how she hated that word. Too many times her ex had used it to describe her. The problem with perfection, of course, was that no one could be perfect all the time, no matter how hard they might try.

With sudden insight, Emily realized what she needed to do.

She needed to shake up her life.

She needed to change her good girl image.

She needed excitement and fun—and by God, she’d start right now.

With Kathleen.

End of Excerpt

The Little Flower Shop

by Lori Foster
is available in the following editions:

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