Love at First Sight - By B. J. Daniels


Saturday night, March 18

Just when Karen Sutton thought her evening couldn’t get any worse, her blind date spilled a full glass of Beaujolais on her best dress. Who was she kidding? Her only dress. After five years running her father’s business, her wardrobe was more Carhartt than Cartier.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Howie cried, sounding a little too much like Heloise as he began to explain how to get red wine out of velvet, as well as four other dress fabrics. Something told her he’d done this before. “Here, let me get a waiter—”

She grimaced as Howie called to a man dressed in black, mistaking him for a waiter. The man fortunately pretended not to hear and kept walking.

“Really, it isn’t necessary,” she repeated to her date and excused herself, less concerned about Howie’s clumsiness and the dress than taking advantage of the opportunity to escape—even if only long enough to drown her dress in cold water, if not herself.

“This is your own fault,” she muttered as she hurried off in search of the restroom. She’d been caught off guard by her sweet grandmotherly neighbor, Mrs. Talley Iverson, and while sampling warm chocolate-chip cookies fresh from the elderly woman’s oven, had somehow agreed to have dinner with a visiting grandnephew.

How could Karen have forgotten how much she hated dating? Probably because it’d been a while. Not that there weren’t plenty of men in her life. Builders, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians. She even went out for a drink or dinner sometimes with them. At least with those men, she had something in common. And she didn’t have to wear a dress.

Howie Iverson, on the other hand, owned a floral shop in eastern Montana and knew the Latin names of all the species. Karen’s experience with floral arrangements was limited to other people’s weddings and funerals. Did real men still send women flowers? Not the men she knew.

Except for Howie Iverson. She swore an oath never to date any more of Talley Iverson’s relatives, no matter how sweet the woman or how scrumptious her cookies.

As Karen turned down what had to be her fifth long hallway, she realized she hadn’t been paying attention and was now lost.

Lost in the Hotel Carlton. Great. The wonderfully rustic old resort hotel on the edge of Missoula, Montana, was enormous and half-empty since it was off season. As she tried to backtrack in the maze of hallways, feeling like the little kid in The Shining, she heard voices. Hopefully someone knew the way back to the restaurant.

She turned a corner, now obviously in a far wing, and spotted a man wearing a baseball cap knocking at one of the rooms down the hall. She started to call to him, but just then, the door opened and a woman appeared. Liz?

The man said something Karen couldn’t hear. Liz’s hand came up as if to slap him but he caught her wrist and pushed her back into the room. Just before he disappeared, he turned his head in Karen’s direction. Their eyes met for only an instant. The hotel-room door slammed.

Shaken, Karen turned and rushed back the way she’d come, feeling like a voyeur. Liz hadn’t seen her, Karen was sure of that. But the man—he’d looked right at her and seemed surprised.

Was he Liz’s secret lover, the one Karen had only heard about that morning? She cringed recalling what she’d just witnessed—and almost collided with a woman coming around the corner.

“Excuse me,” Karen said, as the woman, neither acknowledging the collision or the apology, hurried away. Karen looked after her. Wasn’t that the newest member of her mother’s bridge club?

“There you are!”

Karen jumped, startled as she came face-to-face with her date.

“I was afraid you were lost,” Howie said. “Oh, look at your dress! You really should have gotten cold water on that right away. It’s going to be difficult to get that spot out now.”

She looked down at the huge red stain and was startled to see how much it resembled blood against the pale blue of the velvet. No wonder the man with Liz had looked so surprised.

But it didn’t explain the way he’d reacted to Liz. Or her to him. Not that it was any of Karen’s business, she reminded herself. Until this morning, she hadn’t even seen Liz since high school. Almost sixteen years.

That’s why she’d been so surprised when she’d run into her on the street in Missoula and Liz had insisted they talk over a latte at the corner coffee shop. Karen became