Excerpt A Violet by Any Other Name by Shaye Marlow

Apr 122020
 

A Violet by Any Other Name (Growers and Showers #1) by Shaye Marlow

Roses are red, violets are blue. There’s this guy I like. But I kinda hate him, too.

I’m too old for this sh*t. My name is JoBette, and as a crazy plant lady, I’d long since given up on men.

Enter Deke, a man nowhere near as ridiculous as his name would have you believe. He’s hot as a fluorescent grow light, sexy as a perfectly symmetrical show violet. He has the body (of knowledge) I want.

But, I want to win more. With the national African violet show coming up, we’ll be in the same hotel for a week. Nothing to keep us from each other’s throats except the width of a salty French fry, the length of a white rose petal… and a secret that’ll make me question everything.

*Mature romance, over 40.
*No cliffhanger. Satisfying HFN/HEA.

Excerpt A Violet by Any Other Name by Shaye Marlow

Chapter One
From JoBette’s POV

My least favorite thing to subtitle, hands down, is romance.
Why? Because the heroine has a handsome man doting on
her, and I don’t. Because she’s dainty, and cute, and says all
the right things: feats I couldn’t manage on my best day.
Because the hero’s eyes shimmer at her, and no one’s eyes had
ever shimmered at me.
This particular movie was a Western, and I’d just plugged in
*gunfire*. Then, *hoofbeats*. I had to choose where subtitles
would start and end, as well as what they’d say.
Start here. “Darlin’, are you all right? Speak to me!” End
here.
Start here, just after she opens her eyes. “Oh, Ham. You came
for me!” End here.
Start. “You knew I would,” as the hero named after a chunk of
meat is touching her face. “You’re my angel.” End.
*Sighs*
*Kissing sounds*
Oh, look at the time. I eagerly dragged my headphones off
over my hair and tossed them beside my keyboard. The image
of Ham and Dina kissing was frozen in front of me, the
various action bands waiting patiently beneath them. And
they would have to be patient because I was going to lunch—
Just after I tended to my violets. I’d noticed the leaves on the
one next to my monitor were starting to droop, so I made sure
to water it first. Then I got the other two on my desk, as well
as the seven on the overhead shelf. Then the five on my book
case, the two in my book case, the eleven on my windowsill,
and the three clustered on the little table just to one side of it. I
plucked off the old brown flower stems and turned several of
the plants, which were starting to tilt toward the light coming
from the window. I really should get some sort of plant light,
at least over the bookshelf…
A splattering sound drew my attention to the water dribbling
from the shelf perilously close to my computer. I shoved the
plant to one side, only to slosh water from its little saucer. A
miniature Niagara Falls sluiced from the shelf, wetting the
mess of notes and paperwork beneath, and forcing me to
rescue my keyboard.
By the time I’d wiped it up, fifteen minutes had blown by. The
only stragglers left in the big open office were the few who’d
brought their Hungry Man or Lean Cuisine to eat at their
desks while browsing cat memes.
Snagging my purse, I hustled from my cubicle and took the
elevator to the lobby. My low heels clicked across the shiny
marble floor, and as I passed, the spindly plants in the corner
of the atrium caught my eye. They should’ve been smack dab
in the middle of the windows, not tucked in next to the
bathrooms like that. And also, they needed bigger pots.
I gritted my teeth against the urge to go help them as the
exterior doors whooshed open. It was a nice day out, the
lawns shining green, a leaf-blower droning somewhere in the
distance. The daisies out front were overcrowded, and the
shrubs had been trimmed to within an inch of their lives.
Dashing across the busy street, I had to stop in the median for
a moment, as an older-model white truck pulled onto the road
with a squeal. Coughing smoke from its exhaust, it chuggedwheezed-
chugged its way by. I gazed after it for a moment,
thinking I’d never heard a vehicle make quite that sound.
Then I held my breath as I crossed the last two lanes and
hustled up to Grenier Nursery. The parking lot was full, with
the flowers in the displays out front looking happy as could be.
Grenier was a big operation, a long wood frame building out
front, and acres of greenhouses, fruit trees in big black pots,
and yard sculptures behind.
As I hurried into the shady interior of the main building, my
eyes skimmed over the racks of seeds, the dangling glass
baubles, and brightly painted pottery, looking for a certain
brunette with hair as straight as the needles she often wielded.
I found her behind the customer service counter, digging
plants out of a box. *Rustling sounds*, I mentally subtitled.
Maisey looked up. “You’re late.”
“Yep. Which means we have limited time, so we should—”
“I gotta get these first.” She was arranging a variety of
strange-looking succulents on a wheeled display, which she
would then, I guessed, move into position to charm and be
bought and hopefully coddled by the nursery’s patrons.
“But didn’t you want to hit Ella’s shop, too?” I asked, referring
to the clothing consignment store in the middle of the strip
mall next door. The Japanese place at the end, where we
usually went for lunch, had fast service, but…
“Yep. Don’t worry, we’ll have time.”
I doubt it. “Can’t you get one of your flunkies to do that?” She
was assistant manager, commanding an army of college
students eager to do her bidding.
“This may surprise you, but we don’t call them ‘flunkies’. In
the general populace, they’re known as ‘employees’, and here,
we call them—”
“Minions?” I ventured.
“Gardeners.”
I groaned. Call a spade a spade, I thought, eyes wandering. I
usually tried not to let my eyes do that, because when they did,
I bought something. Just about everything in here could be
useful to me, after all. I could always use another watering
can. The sparkly baubles would look charming hanging in my
living room window. That big hat would shade my eyes when
I—
Well, hello. The object of my attention—which I could also put
to use, in a number of ways—was perusing the fertilizer
selection, arranged on shelves toward the other end of the
building. He looked tall and solid with the breadth of his
shoulders stretching a rather nice, finely knit wool sweater.
“How’s work?” Maisey asked.
“Fine.” Ohhhh, he’d turned to the side. Straight nose, strong
chin… dark hair with just enough curl to catch on a woman’s
fingers.
“Still working on Dina’s Ride?”
“Mmm.” Those weren’t highlights in his hair, but rather,
streaks of silver at the temples. Around my age, then. And he
was holding a tub of my favorite violet fertilizer in a strong,
sun-browned hand. Better and better…
Maisey leaned into my field of vision, practically lying across
the counter in order to follow my gaze. “You only make that
face over a man or a burger, so what… Oh.”
“I know, right?”
My friend of six years propped her chin on her fist and sighed
very much like the heroine in the movie had. “That’s not a
burger.”
“Mmm. But I wouldn’t mind eating him up.” Not one bit.
“Shit, he’s looking this way,” Maisey said, and slid abruptly
back to her side of the counter. She swatted at my arm,
because I was still staring at the hottest greenhouse patron in
the world. “Act natural,” she hissed.
“As if I could even if I tried, or under the best of
circumstances,” I murmured.
He had brown eyes, the kind that were so dark, they became
the natural focus of a person’s face. Which was actually a bit
of a shame in his case, because his face…
“You’re drooling,” Maisey pointed out.
He started toward us. Perhaps I should’ve panicked, but the
truth was, I was mesmerized. He approached like a pirate
striding down the beach, and if I’d been filming it, it would’ve
been in slow motion. Faint breeze riffling his hair and
plastering his shirt to killer pecs, smoky look full of promise in
his eyes… It took me a moment to realize that he’d actually
stopped in front of me.
The sweater-wearing pirate asked, “Do you work here?”
“Um.” I stared up at him, mouth open. He was even betterlooking
up close, and taller than me. At 5’10”, not too many
people were. And when wearing heels, that number dwindled
even more.
Maisey popped up from behind the counter. “Can I help you?”
she asked, giving him a friendly smile.
The sexy beast glanced her way, obviously confused by my
lack of customer service and speech in general. “I had some
questions about your African violets.”
“Oh, great! JoBette can help you,” Maisey said, making
shooing motions at me.
She might as well’ve punched me in the gut. I was perfectly
capable of staring at a hot guy, but interacting with one like a
human being? Still staring up at him, I whimpered.
“Just give me five more minutes and we can go,” she told me,
then ducked behind the counter.
The tall drink of water was looking at me, and I supposed if
there was something I could help him with, besides taking off
his clothes, it’d be the violets.
I drew a blank for a moment, then remembered where the
violets were. “C’mon,” I croaked, and led him to the display.
Studiously ignoring him, because it seemed the only way to
maintain my train of thought, I started talking. “So, these are
the African violets—but that’s a misnomer ’cuz they’re not
actually violets, and not actually edible, so don’t try to
decorate a wedding cake with them.”
“No danger of that,” he said. He pointed at the emerald green
specimen front and center, with its clusters of coral pansies.
“This one.” He opened his mouth to say more, but I’d gotten
excited.
“That’s Boo’s Sunrise, one of my friend’s hybrids. Maisey, the
gal that voluntold me to help you.” She was a widow whose
late husband had called her ‘Boo’, and so she’d put that prefix
on all of the plants she bred. Boo’s Diamond Tiara, Boo’s
Darling Deviant, Boo’s Disco Ball. Incidentally, she did use
names whose first word didn’t start with D, but at that
moment, for the life of me, I couldn’t think of one. “Standards
are the biggest violets, over semi-minis and minis, and that
one’s the biggest of the big.”
“Oh?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m thinking it might get two feet across, which is
fine by me. I love big violets. Gotta be at least ten inches or
I’m not interested, you know? That’s actually the one—not
that exact plant, but one of the same name—that I’m going to
win this year’s national show with.” And oh, crap, he smelled
good. Probably just fabric softener, but it was warm and
spicy, and his sweater looked soft, and I had to fight the urge
to rub my face against his chest.
He was watching me with lip-quirked bemusement. “An
African violet show? There can’t be much competition in that,
can there?”
“You have no idea. There’s this guy named Westbrook that
wins best in show every year. Little does he know that this will
be the year of his glorious upset, and it will be at my very
green and dexterous hands.” I flexed the hands in question,
and then, so as not to grab the handsome stranger, I picked up
one of the violets whose red-backed leaves were in disarray. I
plucked out a sucker, then started arranging the leaves.
Spotting the wet, firmly-packed peat, I said, “If you get one of
these mass-produced plants, you’ll want to repot
immediately.”
He made a little choking noise. “Mass produced?”
I glanced curiously up at him, and almost sighed at how tall
and close and scrumptious he was. He was like one of those
impossibly handsome cologne models, but more seasoned, and
less showily focused on a spot in the distance. “I think Maisey
orders them from Westbrook Greenhouses, actually, and yeah,
they ship out thousands of plants every year. Hard to give
each one the attention it deserves when you’re dealing with so
many,” I said, picking up another violet to try and distract
myself from my need to sidle closer to him.
I smiled, gazing down at the plant in my hand. “I’ve often
wondered if violets make a sound when they grow. And if they
did, what would it be?”
“I think they’d probably sound excited.”
“Like a squeal of delight?”
“Like a kid running toward a pool, ready to do a cannonball.”
I grinned at him, delighted with his response. Usually when I
started in on my weird musings, the best I could hope for was
a blank stare. “Did you know it’s a myth,” I said, “that you
can’t get African violet leaves wet?”
“I think I’d heard something like that.” He reached for a violet.
“No, no,” I said. “You want this one.” Fetching Maisey’s
hybrid from the shelf, I put it in his hands. I froze there, his
hands cradling my hands cradling the plant, stunned by the
sensations his touch triggered. I existed in an almost constant
state of chill, but that small contact had banished the cold
instantly. A veritable heat wave flushed my cheeks and teased
my breasts to aching arousal. There were things going on
farther south, too, but I stepped away hopefully before he
noticed my hands had gotten all sweaty.
“I do?”
Oh, hell, what had we been talking about? Oh, yes! Maisey’s
plant, which he definitely wants. “Yes. It’s the best plant on
the shelf.” The man smelled amazing, his touch was my
Kryptonite, and his eyes were deep pools of dark chocolate
fondue sucking me in. They were compelling, those eyes. If, at
that moment, he’d told me to strip, I would’ve been naked
inside five seconds.
I’d like to be naked with him, I mused. I’d like to discover
whether he was tanned under that sweater or pale. He had a
nice build, that much I could see. Would he have those ridges
of muscle over his hips, pointing right at his–?
“Even better than Westbrook’s?” he asked, seeming faintly
amused.
“By far,” I said with confidence, determinedly keeping my gaze
away from his crotch.
He examined my expression. “JoBette, was it?”
“Yes,” I answered, glancing down to make sure a greenhouse
nametag hadn’t mysteriously appeared on my chest before
remembering Maisey had cheekily called me by my full and
legal name.
He lifted Maisey’s hybrid. “Thank you.” The tone in which he
said it was warm and intimate, like we were in bed and I’d just
given him a squirming, face-squinching orgasm. Or maybe–
probably–that was just my imagination. I was terrible at
reading people, and usually just plain terrible with people,
period.
“You’re welcome.” The graceful thing to do would be just let
him escape, but he was about to walk away with Maisey’s
violet. About to walk away, period. “But, real quick,” I said,
stalling him. I pointed out the white fantasy streaks on the
petals, and explained he’d need a bigger pot soon. “Where are
you planning on putting it?” I asked. “In an office? Or a
window? They need bright light, but—”
“I’ll take good care of it,” he promised. He looked like he might
say something more, but then shook his head. “Thank you,” he
said, and started toward the registers. Oh, hell, the rear view
was just as compelling as the front. Maybe moreso.
Feeling like I was losing my opportunity at something
amazing, I tailed him until he passed Maisey’s counter. She
popped up in time to see her violet float by and I gave her an
excited thumbs-up.
She laughed, then let herself out from behind the counter.
I tore my gaze from Captain Jack Sparrow 2.0, and checked
my phone. “Only thirty minutes left,” I said accusingly.
“Good thing that shop is right next door.”
“But I still need to eat,” I pointed out, following her. My pirate
seemed to have become true north on my internal compass. I
walked toward the doors, and the arrow turned to track him.
He was north northwest, then northwest, then…
As we passed the registers, I couldn’t not look at him again. I
wanted to give him a stupid little lovesick wave, but managed
to restrain myself. Barely. As it was, he caught me giving him
moony eyes and he got that little quirk in the corner of his
mouth. If he were mine, I would consider it my duty to kiss
that quirk at least once a day.
I bumped into Maisey just outside the front door.
“Did you get his number?” she asked.
“No.” Even though my heart was aching at having walked
away, no.
“Well, why not? He’s still in there.”
“I didn’t, because I don’t need it.” I winced, as the statement
rang false even to my ears. “I have a roommate, and a bird,
and a vibrator—”
Maisey snorted. “I thought you were going to say something
about being old and dried up.”
I bristled.
“Oh, don’t even. That’s what you usually say, and you know it.
You must really like him, to be giving me other excuses.”
I’d opened my mouth to argue some more, when I realized the
dreamboat was standing just behind me. I realized, because
the little hairs on the back of my neck were pointing at him,
and a flush rippled from head to toe.
“Excuse me,” he said, because I was still blocking the door.
Face flaming as I wondered how much he’d heard, I stepped
aside. Hot flash, I tried to convince myself. Just a hot flash,
same as the one earlier. No man could possibly have this
much power over my body.
“Beautiful plant,” he said to Maisey, and then he was moving
into the parking lot.
It took me a moment to find my voice. “You… suck,” I said,
knowing Maisey had to’ve done that on purpose. She’d been
facing toward the doors, she’d known he was there, and yet
she’d said it anyway.
“Twenty-five minutes,” she replied cheerfully, and then she
was walking away from me, too…

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