The flowers that grew wildly in that corner of the nursery were the ones that made Reese smile.
Not something she did very often these days. But something about the way the vines pushed their way through the labyrinth of the old growth and intertwined with the wire fencing, a test in perseverance and strength.
She had been working at the garden place for a couple of months in a small town just an hour's drive from San Francisco up the winding coast to a beautiful village. She had rented a Victorian style cottage just 200 feet away from the beach and she had left the lease open ended.
After all, Reese had no idea what she planned to do with the rest of her life. She had left Los Angeles in the dead of night, packing a small bag and getting in her truck to speed away moments before they arrived to get her.
She had ducked as she had driven past her house to the intersection to a larger thoroughfare, because the dark sedan with the two men inside, she knew had been hired to look for her.
And she most definitely didn't want to be found which was why she had just taken off from her life in the big city.
Away from those she worked with, including the one she had loved, and the other who had betrayed her. She had just returned to her home late at night after watching out for cars tailing her and decided she didn't want to die.
She certainly didn't want to be tortured first.
But it hadn't been just her enemies that she wanted to avoid; it had also been those closest to her most of all.
Reese sighed, pushing all those thoughts out of her mind to focus on her job, arrange the potted herbs on the shelves below where the wild flowers, in a plethora of different hues arranged themselves through nature's design.
Basil, rosemary, Summer Savory and oregano, their scents intermingling in the warm and damp afternoon air in a way that made her heady. She grew her own herbs in a plot on the sides of the cottage and even or maybe because of the salt that wafted in with the breezes to the shore, they had grown heartily. She had dug up a cook book inside the storage shed behind the cottage and had picked out a couple of recipes to try out once they were ready to be harvested.
That is, if she remained here that long…because after all, she had no definite plans. She didn't know if anyone would come looking for her up here but she kept her eyes and ears tuned to any hints that someone would appear.
"Hey, you are going to the beach party later?"
Reese looked up and saw Clover, an older woman with blonde hair and fine lines near her eyes. She dressed like Reese in denim overalls and a cotton shirt. She spent most of her time in the rose section. But Reese shrugged at her, not having made any decisions.
"I don't think so…I think I'll just head home today…"
"Oh come on…there's going to be barbecue and you know Dave's been dying to show off his harmonica skills again."
Reese had to smile at that. She had seen him practicing once in the area that housed the fruit trees, and had followed the melody through the rows of oranges, lemons, peaches and figs. He had sounded pretty good actually but really, she would just go home and curl up on the veranda swing with a good book and some purplish plums to eat from the tree in front of the cottage.
"Well you're going to miss out on the bonfire later on…and the fish fry."
Reese sighed, the woman's pitch wearing her down a bit. It might be good to get out once in a while and forget about everything just for a little while. She had grown up near enough to the coast to vacation at the beach while growing up and she had great memories of swimming in the warm ocean, lying on the sand while a breeze softly blew her dry and of dancing underneath tike lamps and of long walks down the coast looking out at the sail boats bobbing on the water.
So...she finally sighed.
"Okay…maybe I'll think about it."
A smile lit up Clover's face.
"Great…I'll pencil you in…you bringing a date?"
Reese just looked at her, suddenly speechless. That question hadn't intended to be a loaded one but there was no way for the other woman to know.
She shook her head, an easy enough answer to the question.
"Well…there's going to be plenty of single guys and you're pretty enough to attract a crowd."
Reese wanted to roll her eyes at that, though she had been told often enough that she had been beautiful and with her dark curly hair that framed her strongly lined face, she had turned a head or two. She kept her body toned with exercise, from running to yoga to kick boxing, but soft enough to hone the edges down into nice curves.
But she wasn't out looking for complications in her life right now and bringing a guy into what was complicated enough, no that wouldn't be an option. Besides, nothing could make up for what she missed…and what she had run away from at the same time.
She knew that the man she loved and the one she had betrayed were both looking for her. And then there had been the people she had trusted who had let her down when she had needed them most.
No, best to keep life as simple as possible and to keep herself as separate from the world around her as much as she could do…but surely going to one party would be harmless enough.
So she just shook her head bemusedly at Clover as she left and returned to her garden work. It kept her grimy most of the day, it messed up her nails something awful and her muscles ached at the end of the day but she felt content…happiness wasn't exactly in her present or future. She had been lucky enough to find herself a job that she could bury herself in, as long as she needed.
The wheelbarrow she needed to go get the next batch of plants to place on the shelves for sale awaited so she got up, brushed her pants and went to push it back to the inventory section.
The man that had been silently watching her from behind the labyrinth of wild flowers followed her, stealth enough to not attract her attention.
Reese walked to gather some more pots of herbs to place in the wheelbarrow to take back when suddenly her body stiffened.
The breeze wafted in the usual saltiness of the ocean, intermingled with flowers of different kinds but now…she detected a man's cologne. She looked around her carefully but all she saw where the leaves on the azalea bushes stirring and saw orange butterflies lighting on flowers.
But damn for a moment there, she had been taken back in time, to where she had been lying on a blanket on the beach in some far off place, while in his arms. He had been on top of her, his mouth kissing hers while he wrapped her legs around him. They had been hidden in the shadows so that no one on the cliff looking down could see them but if someone had walked along the shore…she sucked in her breath now at the risks they had taken together then when to be discovered in the throes of passion would have been dangerous, even deadly. But they hadn't been able to help themselves, finally surrendering to what had been building up between them for so long…every time they had looked at each other had been highly charged…like the air before a summer storm.
And when they touched…she licked her lips just thinking about how it had felt to be with him, not like anyone else.
But it hadn't been real and by the time they had been done with that assignment everything had come crashing down.
She felt her eyes sting and when she smelled the air again, it simply felt fresh and fragrant with its usual scents to be found in a coastal village. The cologne…a fragment of an old memory popping up for some reason….because the man in these memories that she kept hidden was separated from her in greater ways than distance.
He watched her as she stood still and he wondered if he had given himself away…because the look in her eyes just then had been for him back when they were lovers during a turbulent time, both the best and worst possible window in their lives to give into what they had held back from one another.
Dallas sighed as he watched her resume her collection of some plants to put in a wheelbarrow and knew the time for watching her had passed. He had to talk to her, to warn her even if she pushed him away. He suspected that she'd be less than happy to see him again…but her life meant too much to him not to come.
He reproached himself silently, knowing that the reasons he gave himself for hunting her down were only partly unselfish. It had been several months since he'd seen her and during that time…he had driven himself crazy trying not to think about her. The last words they had spoken between them…had been harsh but he didn't want them to stand between them forever. If his life were taken…he didn't want her to remember that last night as his legacy.
No, he had traveled all this way and he intended to do what he set out to do which was to warn her about the man they thought they had just put away. And if he looked at her, and his first instinct was to press her against a wall and kiss that lovely mouth of hers again while he stroked her silky skin beneath those overalls, he would have to keep that to himself.
He knew enough and remembered enough to know she was in no mood for any of that. She might slap him just for showing up again but he had to take that chance because she meant more to him than anything.
Even his own life, he'd decided.
He watched her curl her hair back behind her ears almost absently as she began to push the wheelbarrow back to where he'd seen her earlier. He took a deep breath to prepare for the moment he was to show himself to her. There was so much to say to her but he had to focus on the words she needed to hear to save her life.
Reese settled in to place the potted herbs in the lower shelves and the coolness of the bricks she sat on, contrasted with the afternoon heat. It was early summer in these parts and the days had been hotter than usual, with a hint of humidity…still comfortable because the oceanic breezes were reliable this time of year. She smelled some of the herbs before she put them on the shelf and made a mental note to add English Thyme and global basil to her collection.
Thyme had been potted in a ceramic shelf outside the bungalow where Dallas had been housed while working as a pilot for one of the wealthiest men in South America. She would snip off some bits of the plants to spice up dishes that he cooked during the quiet times they spent together under the radar of their boss. She lived in the main house in a wing because she worked as the administrative assistant to Rodrigo but towards the end, she had been slipping out at night to spend them with Dallas.
God, she wished she had known what would happen when the toughest decision in her life had to be made in the aftermath. But thinking about it now couldn't change the past.
She had to focus on the present and not think too much about the future either. That was what she was thinking when a man stepped out of the shadows of the wild flowers and she saw him as if he'd never been gone.
She just stared at him, her heart beating quickly…wondering if it were just a daydream.