Val had to be the unluckiest person on earth.
When the kitchen appliances she’d ordered finally arrived, they were the wrong ones, the new smoke detectors she’d installed yesterday went off every hour of the night, the upstairs bathtub was leaking and when she’d finally given herself a break by attending the night time festivities of Bluebonnet Creek’s annual Wildflower Festival dance, she’d become corralled by the Violet Society and was now sitting amid five busy-body seventy-something women determined to set her up with someone—anyone. Apparently, they weren’t picky.
“What about that nice Sam Bradbury,” Maribelle Worthington was saying as she pointed out Bill Ayers who seemed to have recovered from his Valentine’s Day hangover. As usual, scatterbrained Maribelle had her facts confused.
“Maribelle, where are your glasses?” demanded Maxine Bernhart, another Violet. Maxine’s favorite clothing fabric was leather and if it had rhinestones on it, all the better. “That’s not Sam! That’s the mailman!”
“Oh dear,” Maribelle fumbled with her purse, looking for her glasses until sweet Agnes Stansbury sitting beside her, reached over and plucked them out of Maribelle’s hair.
“Ladies, please, I’m not looking for a boyfriend right now.” Val was too tired to even dance and thought it safe to sit down in the corner under the big tent decorated with hay bales and twinkle lights for the festival party. Now she sat with Violets on either side, her hand clasped tightly by Liza Stewart. Liza was a worrier and had started everything by fretting about Val’s single status at the party.
“Nonsense.” It was Doris Whittier, the Violets’ ring leader who spoke up now, using her favorite word. “Every woman should have a good man beside her. Sam! Sam Bradbury, would you please come here?”
Val closed her eyes, wishing she would wake up and find this all an exhaustion-induced dream. “Please, no,” Val muttered to the hard-of-hearing ears around her.
She opened her eyes. Nope, that hadn’t worked, Sam Bradbury, the owner of the largest greenhouse and nursery in the county was dutifully ambling his way toward them, his overalls clean for the dance, except for the smear of mustard from his hot dog dinner.
“Mrs. Whittier, ma’am, what can I do for you?”
Val stole a glance at Doris and saw her looking over her glasses at Sam, studying him as if he were under a microscope. She heard a soft tskking noise come from Doris’ teeth and then she shook her head. “Nevermind, Sam. You go on back to your . . . dinner.”
Doris leaned closer to Val. “I changed my mind on that one.”
“I’m grateful to you for what you’re trying to do, Doris, really I am, but I just don’t have time for a relationship right now. The house is keeping me more than busy and everything that can go wrong has, and . . . “
“Which is why you need a man,” Agnes smiled softly. “You need some strong shoulders to help you.”
“Or better yet, some distraction at night to help you sleep better!” Maxine suggested and all the ladies gasped.
“What? I call it like I see it. Val’s all stressed and worried about the house. She needs someone to help her relax.” She reached over and patted Val’s leg. “Ain’t that right, sugar?”
Val bit her lip. How the heck was she going to get out of this conversation?
“I think I’m okay. Really, ladies, I do appreciate it. Why don’t I go hunt down some cake for us all?”
“Forget cake! Where are the margaritas?”
Val looked at Liza and bit her lip again. “Would you like me to go find some?”
“No!” Liza grasped her hand more tightly. “We’ll get someone else to do that.”
“Ah ha, I’ve got it!”
Val turned to Doris on her other side. “Got what?”
Doris smiled, which was not a regular occurrence for the stern-faced grandmother. “I know who to match you up with.”
Val followed Doris’ gaze across the tent to the far side where dance attendees paid their ticket to enter through an opening in the haybales. Dr. Matt Schaffer had arrived.
Val held her breath just long enough to give herself away. Doris nudged her. “Yep. I can pick them, can’t I, my dear? The good doctor is perfect for you.”
“No,” Val whispered. “He’s not, Doris. I would be very grateful if you would find someone else.” She looked quickly around and saw Nicholas Allegasi, the winemaker. “How about Nicholas?”
Doris looked, too, and then quickly shook her head. “No. Not your type. Besides, he’s engaged.”
“Okay, well, I think we’re all out of men now so I’ll just be going . . .” Val pried her hand from Liza’s death grip just as Maxine started shouting.
“Dr. Schaffer! Over here!”
“Really, Maxine, can’t you be more dignified,” Agnes scolded.
Maxine shrugged. Her shouting had been effective. Matt had looked up, spotted them, and was working his way through the crowd, greeting quite a number of people, Val noticed. The man might not have been in town long, but he’d renewed a lot of acquaintances and made some new ones. Bluebonnet Creek was greeting him with friendliness and respect.
She managed to stand up and was on the point of making her get away, when Matt suddenly stood before her.
“Hey there, Val.” He smiled down at her, his blue eyes warm and friendly. He turned and looked at the Violets who were all gazing up at him with angelic smiles. “Ladies. How is everyone doing this evening?”
“Oh, we’re all quite well, Doctor,” Doris said. “Well enough that you can stop worrying about patients and just enjoy the night.”
“Why don’t you start by dancing with Val,” Maxine suggested. “She was just saying how much she wanted to dance.”
“Is that right?” He looked down at her and she could see by the twinkle in his eye that he knew she’d said no such thing. “Well, I was thinking something along those lines myself. What do you say, Val? Care to dance?”
Val shrugged and followed him to the open space where couples already swayed to a slow country western song. She felt like turning and sticking her tongue out at the Violets as she walked but she resisted.
Matt stopped and turned to hold out his hands and she stepped into his arms to dance. “Matt, you really don’t have to do this. The Violets are just being rather pushy tonight.”
He chuckled. “They’re always pushy, but.dancing with you is no great sacrifice.”
She glanced away, too afraid of that intense look in his eyes. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, it felt good to be in his arms. He was solid and fit and tall enough that if she leaned forward ever so slightly she could rest her head against his shoulder. She tried not to think about how handsome he looked in his jeans and boots with his buttoned shirt. He fit into the small-town country dance scene effortlessly yet somehow made it all so very sexy.
Val’s eyes met his for a moment before she dropped her gaze again. She couldn’t think like that, she scolded herself, hoping he hadn’t seen her thoughts in her eyes. Thinking how sexy he looked would only lead to thinking one kiss would be all right, and then she’d probably let him take her home, and as tired as she was there would probably be no resistance.
“Val, why are you fighting me?” his quiet question startled her and her pulse jumped into triple time. She looked up at him again and found that his gaze had lost its twinkle. Now he appeared downright serious.
“I’m not fighting you.”
“You avoid me like the plague. I feel like I missed something, like whatever I did to make you want nothing to do with me.”
“What do you want from me?” she said softly, trying to turn the table. “Maybe you only sense that we want entirely different things.”
He gave a slow nod. “Could be. I’d like us to be friends, I guess, and see where it goes from there. Is that so terrible?”
If only he knew. On the other hand, maybe she was making something of nothing. What if they spent more time together and discovered there was no future and that was that? All her worry for nothing. Why should she assume they would end up married? She hardly knew the guy.
“I guess having another friend right now wouldn’t be such a bad idea,” she acknowledged.
His serious face broke into a smile. Did he have any idea how handsome he was? And as he pulled her more tightly into his embrace and the music drifted on, she suddenly had a bad feeling she’d just sealed her fate.