A Taste of Summer(10)

By: Beverly Preston

Sara nodded in agreement. The growing shade of pink deepened further across the apples of her cheeks. Carrie Ann immediately noticed a shift in her assistant’s body language the moment Jason approached.

“You’re welcome and I’m glad you finally came to your senses. It took some convincing, but I think you made a wise choice.”

The pleasant sound of mission bells rang through the hidden outdoor sound system.

“That must be the party planners,” Sara announced, glimpsing at her watch. “I’ll go let them in.”

The trio started for the house. Reaching the backdoor, Sara stepped inside, but Jason paused at the threshold, casually guiding Carrie Ann off to the side. “I was wondering if you’d like to get a drink later. Early celebration?”

“Can I get a rain check?” Straightaway, she realized her mistake in word choice as a look of optimism flicked the edge of his mouth. “No pun intended,” she added glancing at the heavens above, hoping to pull off her slip as an intentional joke.

“I should’ve guessed you’d already have a date for the evening.” He was fishing…cautiously. “A smart, beautiful woman—”

She cut him off before smooth charm turned to overkill. “Actually, today is my birthday. My best friend, Shayla, is in town, so we’re having dinner.”

“Ah, happy birthday.”

Foregoing a hand shake, he opted for a brief, but full-frontal embrace. His gaze landed on her cleavage for a full three seconds before releasing her from his arms. A male reaction she’d grown accustomed to since she turned sixteen. Lucky for Jason it was a harmless peek, otherwise he would’ve found the heel of her flirty Kate Spade piercing painfully into his toe.

“Thanks.” Voices coming from the grand foyer seized her attention. “I need to get going.”

“Maybe we can squeeze lunch in before the auction?”

“Let me check my schedule.” She settled for a noncommittal response.

Carrie Ann enjoyed Jason’s company. He exuded intelligence, good looks, and an impressive portfolio. However, she didn’t want to give him false hope. Nor did she want to seem rude.

As the day went on, excitement gathered momentum. Carrie Ann met with party planners, caterers, a florist, and musicians, nailing down each option with clear, concise decisions. Making the long drive home through rush hour traffic, exhaustion began to set in. Watching the sun dip low in the sky on it’s descent toward the Pacific, she pushed out her worries and concerns. Only nine days remained until the auction, and that meant vacation beckoned in ten. She intended to leave her lists and laptop behind, collapsing in bed for a few days before indulging in two full weeks of solitude. A little rest and relaxation was exactly what she needed before the mayhem of the HAH Bare Your Soul Calendar preparations began.

Carrie Ann considered skipping dinner with Shayla and heading straight for a glass of wine and her pillow. However, they hadn’t enjoyed a girls-only night in a long time and she couldn’t wait to catch up.

Gaining her second wind, she hurried to the door hearing a knock. Not bothering to look out the peephole, Carrie Ann grinned yanking open the door. “I am so ready for a night—”

Her words drifted off and the smile chased away from her lips, coming face to face with a young man wearing khakis and a red shirt. He cradled a lavish bouquet of long stem red roses, accented with white tulips and stephanotis, tied with a delicate strand of taffeta ribbon.

Her heart stopped.

“I have a delivery for Ms. Lowell.”

Old feelings bowled through her stomach, catching her off guard. The pain ripping through her heart nearly dropped her to her knees.

“That would be me,” she croaked.

The deliveryman held out the arrangement expecting her take it, but her legs turned to jelly and she staggered backward into the house. Her hands remained locked at her sides, refusing to touch the flowers.

He followed inside asking, “Where would you like me to put them?”

She swallowed hard over the sullen lump of despondency growing in her throat.

Unable to respond, she merely stood there gripping the back of her sofa, watching as he hastily placed the flowers on the end table. He uttered something, a company jingle of sorts, rushing out the door, but she couldn’t summon one word in return.

The sweet fragrance, full and overpowering, invaded her senses like the memories flashing through her head. Chill bumps covered every inch of her body.

Shayla knew better than to send roses, especially on her birthday, so did, Sara. Even her father would never cross that line.

Carrie Ann ripped the card from the clear prongs. Her fingers trembled as she opened the small envelope.