The front door of the quaint, shake-roofed office stood open when Rhett Buchanan drove into the parking area. Like he had time for this foolishness. Whoever heard of the CEO of a billion-dollar development firm approving a truckload of trees, even if they were species no other nursery could grow?
He peered through the windshield at the overhead sign. Evidently, a small-time nursery called Bloom & Grow had heard of such nonsense. He tugged his tie loose and rolled up the sleeves on his white dress shirt before angling out of his black SUV. At least a nice breeze was whipping off the Intracoastal Waterway.
Rhett had argued with Garrett over lunch about doing this inspection alone. Apparently, this eccentric nursery insisted on a final inspection conducted only by the actual owner—no substitutes. Sounded more like an interview. He let out a resigned sigh. Garrett Tucker made Rhett’s new resort developments stand out like diamonds in the rough and accomplished the feat with specialty landscape materials. The man had a gift, but only Garrett could find an oddball place like this to buy trees.
“Better just to get this over with,” he muttered and started up the stairs to the porch.
At the threshold, he froze. His gaze slowly took in a pair of perfect slender legs, then inched up to a spectacular yellow sundress with a cleavage that made his mouth water.
A flawless complexion, shoulder-length blond hair, and delicate features finished the marvelous package who appeared to be perusing some sort of plant brochure. At that moment, Rhett wished he owned this oddball nursery, so he could spend all day selling plants to the beauty in the yellow sundress.
Wait a minute. Single women don’t buy plants. Married women buy plants.
His eyes flashed to her left hand.
No ring. Hmm. Things just got interesting.
He cleared his throat.
The beauty started and turned a pair of sapphires the color of the Gulf Stream in his direction.
“Sorry,” he said, then smiled. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
The beauty smiled back—a dazzling smile with perfect straight white teeth.
His mouth went dry. The woman was drop-dead gorgeous.
“It’s okay,” she said softly. “I was daydreaming and didn’t hear you come in.”
He nodded, started to reply, then didn’t. He just wanted to stare a while longer. Quickly realizing he’d look like an idiot if he did, he cleared his throat and began again. “Sorry, I’m being rude. My name is Rhett Buchanan.”
She took the hand he extended. He felt a spark, and her eyes widened almost imperceptibly. If he hadn’t been staring at her eyes, he might have missed it. Had she felt the spark, too?
“I’m Lily Foster.”
“I’m, uh, h-here to inspect some plants. T-Trees actually. An order for BDC.”
Great. He just stuttered like a bashful high-school boy. This from a man who bought and sold corporations over lunch. What the hell was wrong with him today?
“I see.” She stared for a long moment, then glanced down.
Good Lord, was he still holding her hand?
“Sorry.” He let her go.
She smiled again. “The sales manager will be right back.”
“Are you here to inspect trees, too?” At least he didn’t stutter this time. He was getting his wind back.
“No, I’m here to look over the new interiors line.” She held up the brochure.
He nodded. He wanted to keep her talking. Her voice sounded sexy as hell.
“Do you spend a lot of time here?” He glanced around the tidy office made cozy with a half-dozen plants and palms of some sort.
He nodded again. He was getting real good at nodding. “Are you pretty good with landscaping?”
She eyed him warily. “Yeah?”
He dusted off what he hoped was his most charming smile. “Maybe you could help me with my inspection. It’s too many trees for me, and I could sure use some help.”
“Well, Tammy will be there to answer any questions.”
“Tammy Waynette, the sales manager.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“About what?” The sapphires looked wide and innocent.
She laughed, a musical sound like delicate wind chimes. “I’m not kidding. Tammy says her mother loved the country western singer.”
He grinned back, couldn’t help himself. “Poor girl.”
“I don’t think she minds.”
He nodded. Again. “Do you know if she went to the laydown yard? My assistant said the trees would be staged in the laydown yard. We could meet her there and get started.”
Her eyebrows rose to twin peaks. “We?”
“Yeah, well, Tammy’s here to sell trees, and I’m looking for an objective second opinion on what I should keep or exchange. I could sure use your help since you’re pretty good with landscaping and all.”
Not that he had any intention of exchanging anything. He couldn’t tell a diseased tree from a healthy one, but he’d look at every single tree if it meant spending more time with Lily Foster.
She hesitated. “I suppose I could tag along.”
“Great! Shall we go?”
Lily led Buchanan outside where they grabbed the customer golf cart parked in front of the office. Rhett climbed behind the wheel and headed for the center drive Lily indicated. The man was tall; she guessed at least four inches over six feet. Riding passenger gave her an excuse to stare at him and wonder how she’d gotten so lucky. To actually be dressed up on the day a gorgeous hunk came in to inspect trees? What were the odds? A successful hunk, too, since he owned his own corporation, and Tammy said the BDC order was a big one.
Rhett Buchanan certainly didn’t fit her impression of a corporate CEO, powerfully built and handsome enough she had gone completely tongue-tied back in the office. She could get lost in those amazing green eyes. And that slow, sexy smile he’d given her had made her toes curl.
“You’re smiling,” he said. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. I’m just enjoying a pretty day.”
She would do much better out here in the nursery with plant material to talk about rather than forcing conversation in the office. For the first time in her life, she wished she had spent more time flirting with boys in high school like all the other girls. Instead, she had studied her heart out to get good grades and make Hank proud since she was all he had.
Buchanan pulled the cart up at the laydown yard, but there was no sign of Tammy’s fiery-red curls among the rows of trees. An errant customer had probably waylaid her somewhere in the nursery.
Lily and Buchanan got out and ambled over to the first row of trees, a dozen dwarf magnolias. The containers were well-chosen, some of their best product. Hands on his hips, he gazed at the trees and back at her, then raised his brows in question.
“They’re perfectly matched, disease-free,” she said.
“I thought so, too.” He winked.
She felt her neck flush, and her gaze strayed to the dusting of dark hair on his tanned forearms. “Where are you going to use all this stock?”
“A new condominium and shopping district in Boca. These trees are for Phase I, and I suspect Garrett will be ordering more.”
“He’s the vice-president of real estate development for our company, BDC. He’s also a frustrated landscape architect—that was his bachelor’s degree—but his subsequent MBA pushed him up the corporate ladder.”
“You like him,” she said simply.
His gaze sharpened. “I do. How did—”
“The sound of your voice when you talk about him.”
“Wow, beautiful and perceptive.”
She felt her cheeks grow warm and glanced away.
“Sorry,” he said softly, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
A dark brow went up.
“Okay, maybe a little.”
Actually a whole lot. Rhett Buchanan seemed so confident, so sure of himself. She was out of her league, and she knew it, but she still wanted to play for just a little while longer.
“Garrett and I were fraternity brothers in college,” Rhett was saying. “Been together ever since.”
“Ah, I see. So who likes the plants, you or Garrett?”
“Mostly Garrett, but I do appreciate their value. He’s convinced me that installing—and more importantly, maintaining—specialty landscapes can double the exterior value of architectural designs.”
“Good for him! He’s right.”
“Another plant lover,” he said, grinning.
“Of course I am.”
“You’re gorgeous when you smile,” he said suddenly.
Okay, that had nothing to do with inspecting trees. Was Mr. Buchanan flirting with her? He’d complimented her twice in five minutes. She jerked her gaze away. She was heating up—all over.
“I’ve embarrassed you again.”
“You didn’t,” she assured him, lying through her teeth. “You just took me by surprise is all.”
“I would think you hear that a lot,” he said softly.
“Oh. No. I don’t.”
He stepped closer, and she feared her cheeks and neck would turn bright pink. She quickly moved toward the next row of trees. The first six containers were perfectly manicured weeping mulberry trees. This Garrett guy sure knew his plant material. She guessed he had selected their best specimens.
“What do you think?” she asked, gesturing toward the mulberries and staring straight ahead. Safer that way.
“Gorgeous, like I said.”
She glanced back.
He wasn’t looking at the mulberries. He was staring at her. Her cheeks just had to be pink. Lord knew they felt hot enough.
“You’re supposed to be inspecting trees,” she scolded with a smile.
He laughed. “Oh yeah, that’s right.”
By the time they made it through the third row of containers populated with an assortment of Helliconia and Callistemon, she grew more comfortable and even tried flirting back. They laughed and joked about the perfect places to plant the gnarly and exceedingly crooked Corylus, and Lily had the time of her life. Until the bottom dropped out about halfway down the fourth row at the gray Bismarchia palms.
“Do you buy a lot of plants here?” Buchanan suddenly asked.
Her head snapped up from examining a bent gray frond. She swallowed. “Buy?”
“You must be one of the nursery’s best customers as well as you know the stock and know your way around here.” He gave her that slow, sexy smile again. “Are you buying landscaping for business or pleasure?”
Oh good grief! He thinks I’m a customer.