Coming Up Roses - Staci Hart


A Good Groping


Not a single thing had changed in five years.

Not the little bell on the door that rang entries into my family’s flower shop. Not the ancient oak barrels, stuffed to the brim with petals and greenery. Not the smell, that mixture of earth and sweet perfume only made by hundreds of varieties of flowers in the same room.

That smell meant one thing: I was home.

I scanned the shop for activity—and my family, who was never far from here—but found none. So deeper into the room I went, running a hand over the timeworn wood of the counter as I passed.

But all I saw was stillness, and all I heard was music playing somewhere in the back.

I followed the sound, past a table littered with stems and scissors, twine and twigs, floral putty and pin frogs, a vase stuffed with a vivid array of poppies. But when I turned the corner where a row of humming coolers stood, I found one thing that had changed.

Before I’d left Manhattan five years ago for Los Angeles, Ivy and I’d fooled around on the regular—no strings, no relationship, just a reliable supply of flirting and flings. Her ass—which had always been the shape and firmness of a ripe, juicy peach—had filled in, rounded to utter perfection. She was hinged at the waist, reaching back into the cooler for something a little too far for comfort. A burst of desire shot through me like a lightning bolt, from the bottom of my spine to the top, inspiring my mouth to water, triggering a hard swallow.

Ivy Parker, my old fling. And I knew just how to greet her. I could already hear her giggling my name—after the year I’d had, the comfort of a familiar smile sounded like exactly what I needed.

I didn’t remember Ivy’s hair being so dark a shade of red, nor did I remember the delectable thickness of her thighs, which were pressed together. My eyes dragged up the seam and to her ass again, bouncing between her jeans pockets before sliding up the curve of her small waist.

“Shit,” she swore from inside the cooler, leaning in a little more.

I wet my lips, which tilted into a smirk. I slipped my hands into the curve of that little waist in the same moment I fitted my hips to her ass, pulling her into me.

“Miss me?” I asked as she went stiff as a ruler.

A squeal and a yelp sounded as she bolted up, slamming her head on the grate above her. Vases teetered, and my hands shot out to catch one but not quickly enough. It toppled over with a thunk and a splash, knocking over another, then another, like bowling pins full of water.

Water that spilled all over the girl caged in the cooler by my hips.

The girl who was not Ivy Parker.

Tess Monroe bucked, huffing and squealing, and I stepped back with my face shot open and stuck there like I’d just laid eyes on Medusa and she’d made marble out of me.

She backed out, standing with deliberate slowness and absolute fury as she turned to face me, the physical incarnation of Medusa herself, ready to blast me into oblivion with nothing more than a murderous glare.

My mortification was marked by a wildly inappropriate laugh, stifled at the very last second. She looked like a cat that'd been dunked in a bucket, rage wafting off her, riding every controlled breath. Limp auburn hair stuck to her face, strands of deep red against the pale of her skin. Smudged half-moons of mascara ringed her eyes, set ablaze with fury. And her fitted white T-shirt clung to every bend and swell of her body, tucked into high-waisted jeans that hugged those curves I’d just been salivating over like a second skin.

I realized then that the water must have been very cold. And her bra must be very thin.

“Tess?” I said stupidly. “You look…different. I thought—”

Her hands fisted by her sides, and I braced myself to catch one if she swung at me. But she didn’t. No, she stood there, unmoving, with water dripping off her in a steady pat, pat, pat on the polished concrete floor.

“And you haven’t changed at all,” she shot with her smart little mouth. “Still the same degenerate you always were. I’ll have to update the sign. We’ve gone eighteen hundred twenty-five days without anyone getting groped in the greenhouse. Should have erased it the second I heard you were coming back.”

I laughed. “Admit it. I give an