Rose Gardner's Florist (The Providence Street Shops #2) - Bonnie Dee

Chapter One

London 1907

Rose Gardener’s Florist. Rose admired the sign above her brand-new shop for the hundredth time; gold letters against a green background with the stem of a red rose twined around the “R.” She had considered adding a smaller line below: Better Bouquets for a Brighter World, but her friend Hattie had convinced her it was too much verbiage and the customer’s eye could not take in so many words.

“Simple and eye-catching is always best,” the milliner had said.

The new word verbiage was to be added to Rose’s lexicon, another term she had learned from Hattie Glover while working as her assistant. If one wanted to elevate oneself in the world, one must speak properly, even using proper diction in one’s thoughts. Rose continually worked to eradicate all traces of her former accent, except when she visited home, where her family would sneer at her for putting on airs.

Although it was still early in the morning, heat filled the air with muggy moisture. Perhaps this would be the last hot spell before summer ebbed into fall. The rainbow array of summer flowers would shift to golds and oranges. Rose might insert cattails, wheat stalks or autumn leaves into her bouquets. There was no one to tell her such common things didn’t belong in a proper floral arrangement. How wonderful to have the freedom to design as unconventionally as she wished. Living her dream of owning a florist had Rose’s arm fairly bruised from pinching to see if she would awaken.

With a last look up Providence Street at the row of neat storefronts with colorful awnings, Rose went inside to check on the merchandise she’d purchased from the market earlier that morning. One must be at Covent Garden before dawn to meet the growers of fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables brought in from the country. But Rose didn’t mind rising far earlier than the sun. It reminded her of when she was small and would go with Gram to sort through the floral remains on the cobblestones. She and Gram would then spend the day selling nosegays to the toffs. Much had changed since then, yet a part of her would always be that skinny, knobby-kneed girl wearing a too-large, patched dress.

Rose banished memories and focused on pulling dead leaves and flower heads. She gave the flowers a spray of water to keep them fresh. The multi-colored blooms in buckets were set on risers of varying levels to create a wall of color on one side of the shop.

From the back room, she brought up an arrangement for the display window. The bouquet was so wide and tall, she could not see over the flowers. The loaded urn grew heavier with each step as she staggered blindly toward the front window.

“Let me help you with that!”

Rose yipped in surprise. The door was propped open to catch any stray breeze, so the bell had not announced a customer’s arrival. Unseen hands touched hers in an attempt to relieve her of the urn. Rose did not let go, and for a moment, she and her invisible helper played tug-o-war over possession of the flowers.

They both released their grip at the same time. The urn slipped from her grasp.

“No!” Rose had spent nearly an hour and used many expensive flowers to create the elaborate bouquet intended to catch the eye of passers-by. It was a sales tool she could not afford to lose.

The customer grappled with the urn, caught it, staggered backward, and ended up on his knees with the arrangement clutched to his chest. Through the greenery, hazel eyes peered at Rose through round spectacles. “Sorry! I was trying to help.”

“And a capital job you did of it, old boy,” a familiar voice drew Rose’s attention from her would-be rescuer to Guy Hardy, her investor and friend.

Guy relieved the sandy-haired man of his burden of flowers. When the fellow rose, he unfolded like a long-legged bird to tower nearly a head above Guy, who was not a short man by any means. The stork helped Guy place the arrangement in the window with the best blooms facing the street.

“Whew!” Guy exclaimed. “You’ll give yourself a bad back, Copper Top. I recommend smaller and lighter bouquets.”

“Large ornate ones draw the eye, and please, stop calling me Copper Top,” Rose chided Hardy, who had become more like a brother to her than either of her own. Neither Dale nor Danny had helped make improvements on the storefront she rented, although to be fair, they worked