Gilded Lily (Bennet Brothers #2) - Staci Hart
A Spade’s a Spade
Heaven existed within the walls of our greenhouse.
The shuck of my shovel against the iron wheelbarrow was the second hand on my day. Rich soil mounded on the spade, and I transferred it into the bed of black-eyed Susans, turning it to feed the sleepy dirt already gathered at the flowers’ feet.
I caught sight of the snowy top of my father’s head between stalks of amber amaranth down the row where he knelt, hands in the earth. He hummed along with the music playing from the portable speaker on our work cart, and with another shuck, I drove my shovel back into the wheelbarrow.
It was peaceful and familiar, the rhythm of our day, the slanting sun, the humid air and smell of flowers. I’d worked in my family’s greenhouse during high school—as had all my siblings—but where they’d made their way into the world, I’d hung back, content at Longbourne with Dad and unable to leave Mom without anyone to fuss over. And if there was one thing Mrs. Bennet required from life, it was someone to fuss over.
I found myself smiling at the thought. She’d see us all married off—in fact, she played the matchmaker like it was her full-time job—but I had to wonder what she’d do with herself once we were all gone. Press us for grandchildren and divert her attention to them, if the rest of the Bennet brood were lucky.
The crack of the swinging metal door against the wall wiped that smile off my face. I shot up from my task with a hard look, appalled and accusing, prepared to smite whoever had disturbed our sanctuary.
Lila Parker blew in like a gale—just like she had almost daily for the last two months—heels clicking like hammers against the cement floor. At the sight of her, my fury abated, replaced by a curious wonder and the incremental slowing of time that always accompanied her entrance.
She was a study in white, pristine and stern in a pantsuit that belonged in some fancy lady’s luncheon, not a greenhouse. Her legs were ten miles long in those white pants, the matching jacket cut low. A sliver of silken nude fabric was the only thing to mar the line of her cleavage, which my eyes followed before climbing up her lily-white skin, up the long column of her neck, to the set of her uncompromising little jaw.
God, she was pretty when she was mad. Shame she had a boyfriend.
I’d known Lila since high school, the notorious rule-follower and teacher’s pet, thumbing her nose at the trouble the rest of us got in and refusing invitations to parties in favor of SAT prep. Her sister, Ivy, worked here then and stuck around like I had, and though Lila’d had every opportunity to join the gang, she’d happily declined. She’d ignored me then, and she ignored me now, outside of storming into our flower shop to get onto us—or me specifically—for whatever wedding we had, were, or would provide flowers for. As a high-profile wedding planner, I supposed that was her right.
The only bearable thing about it was the chance to give her just a little hell, simply because I knew she could take it and I could take whatever she gave back.
As she approached, her lips set in a firm line, red as blood against the milk of her skin. The bridge of her nose was short, though long enough to look down at everyone from her high horse—or high heels, as it were—but her eyes always struck me beyond all else, cool and gray as a winter’s afternoon, tight with suspicion, hard with the bite of demand. Incongruent to the impeccable, pallid shades of snow was her hair, a shining crimson too bright for all that ivory. It was as perfectly right as it was utterly unnatural, the only indicator that she ran on hot coals and gasoline, just waiting for a match to strike so she could ignite. Just as she had once a week—typically in my direction—since she started using Longbourne’s flowers for her events.
That red hair bounced with every click of her heels as she rounded the corner of the aisle and marched toward me, her eyes narrowing another tick when they met mine. Tess, our lead florist, followed with an apologetic look on her face.
My lips tilted higher on one side. And with a shield of calm, unaffected charm in place, I leaned on the handle of my shovel, ready to catch whatever Lila threw