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Not only was Ryan in the Rosebud, but he was holding the bouquet she’d made this morning for him. What nerve! And to be returning flowers! There was absolutely nothing wrong with that bouquet. She might not have spent as much time on it as she usually did, but it was lovely, nonetheless.
“So what don’t you like about it?” she asked, through gritted teeth. “It’s exactly what you ordered—a dozen Sweet Unique and a dozen Vendella. Do you want more baby’s breath?”
He chuckled, and that made her bristle even more. “No, it doesn’t need more baby’s breath. In fact, I think the flowers are fine. What do you think?”
She narrowed her eyes to glare at him. “I made the bouquet, so of course I think they’re beautiful.”
“Good. They’re for you.” He held the bouquet out in front of her.
For a moment, she stood there, blank, amazed, and very shaken, before she could find her voice. “What? Are you insane? Why are you giving me flowers?”
He flashed his brilliant smile. “They’re a peace offering. Those are your favorite roses, right?”
She was barely able to control her gasp of surprise. “How did you know that?”
An expression of smug satisfaction showed in his eyes. “I have my ways.”
She lifted her chin, meeting his gaze straight on. “I’ll bet you do.”
He set the roses down on the counter. “Oh, don’t get all upset with me again.”
“I never stopped,” she shot back.
Ryan crossed his arms over his chest, causing the muscles in his biceps to strain the seams of his shirt. “I called Aunt Clara and asked her if she knew what your favorite flowers were.”
“Oh.” Clara and her mom had been good friends, and whenever Clara would come over to the house, there’d always be vases of the hot-pink and ivory roses. Zoe had stopped bringing them home after her mom died, though.
“I’m really not a bad guy.”
She stared straight at him. “That’s debatable.”
“Let me prove it to you over dinner tonight.” He spoke with a quiet firmness.
She had no intention of permitting herself to be persuaded by him. “I already told you this morning, I’ll never go out with you, so take your flowers and leave.” Just as she picked up the bouquet and thrust it in his face, Katie appeared with her coat and handbag draped over her arm.
“Oops, sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt, but it’s time for me to leave.” She readjusted her belongs so she could shake Ryan’s hand. “I’m Katie, by the way. One of Zoe’s partners.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Ryan. Ryan Cooper.”
She raised her brows. “Of Cooper Development?”
“Yep. That Cooper.”
She shifted her gaze to the flowers Zoe held. “Aren’t those—”
“Yes, it’s the bouquet I made this morning,” Zoe answered, cutting off Katie.
“Excuse us,” Katie said to Ryan, “but I need to steal my friend for a minute,” then she pulled Zoe into the back room. “What’s going on? Why’s Ryan here, and why do you have his flowers?”
“I was giving them back to him,” Zoe said defensively.
“What? What am I missing here? Why did you have them in the first place?”
“Because he gave them to me. He wants me to go to dinner with him. Can you believe the arrogance of that guy? To think I’d actually go out with him. Sheesh.”
Katie’s eyes twinkled. “Why not?”
“Why not, what?” Zoe asked, not quite able to comprehend what craziness her friend had in mind.
“Go out with him.” Katie grinned.
Zoe shook her head in disbelief. “Have you lost it?”
She giggled. “Remember what I said to you earlier about keeping your friends close—”
“And your enemies closer.” Zoe finished the sentence for her. “What of it?”
“This is your perfect opportunity. Go out with him. Make him think you’re interested in him…”
“Shhhh.” Katie closed the door to the back room. “Get him to fall for you.”
“You really have lost your mind.”
“Oh no, I haven’t.” Katie dragged her into the bathroom, directing Zoe to look in the mirror above the sink. “You’re gorgeous. Most of the guys in this hick town would give their right arm for you. Besides, this would give you practice dating again. It’s been way too long since you put yourself out there. Not all guys are cheats and liars like Dan was.”
Zoe stared at her reflection. Titian curls fell over her shoulders, the color made even more intense by the milky quality of her skin. Her lips were full and pink, and her almond-shaped eyes were a deep chocolate, but they showed the pain she carried with her. While she had hoped Dan would propose, he had other things on his mind, such as sleeping with Maggie Sheridan, one of Ariana’s closest friends.
“It’s a bad idea, Katie. Besides, even if I were to go along with it, and I’m not saying that I will, who’s to say I could get him to fall for me? And if I did, so what? That’s not going to stop him from destroying my neighborhood. Business is business, and money talks.”
Katie strode across the room, swinging her generous hips. “Ah, you underestimate the power we have over men. Look at Cleopatra and Delilah. Need I go on?”
A strangled laugh escaped from between her lips. “I’m certainly no Delilah, that’s for sure. I couldn’t even keep my boyfriend from straying,” she said sadly.
“All the more reason you need to do this, Zoe. What have you got to lose? You might save your neighborhood and boost your self-confidence at the same time. Don’t underestimate your power of seduction. Let that inner temptress free…” Katie pushed back her shoulders, showing off her double Ds.
Zoe groaned. Her friend had a way with men that she sorely lacked. “Oh, I don’t know. You know he only wants me to go out with him so he can do the same thing—get me to fall for him so I’ll sell him my mom’s house.”
“But we both know that won’t happen. Don’t worry, you’re going to beat him at his own game.”
Zoe wasn’t convinced. “How can you be so sure?”
“Because I’m going to help you.” Kate lifted the back of her hair and puckered her lips, making a sexy face in the mirror.Okay. Maybe she’d have shot. Katie was an expert at manipulating men. “All right. I’ll give it a try, but only because if I don’t, you’ll never stop badgering me.”
Excerpt of Cherished Memories: