Sixteen ounces of honey requires approximately 1,152 bees to visit 4.5 million flowers.
This was one sick, twisted joke.
Huck Anderson stared through his reflection on the glass storefront, rubbing his temple where a headache pulsed. On display, an oak frame supported white satin that gleamed in the sunlight. A yellowing guest book was propped in the corner window next to a vase of fake flowers. The breeze kicked up, lashing the American flag behind him on the courthouse lawn, the fabric snapping in the air. Uncle Marty’s grating laughter carried from somewhere on the wind. Good thing the old man was dead, or Huck just might kill him.
He ground the toe of his boot into the sidewalk. This hadn’t been on his agenda for today. In fact, he’d rather fight a rabid moose with a cap gun. But according to the will, this was what Uncle Marty had left him, so he’d honor the man’s wishes. Even if it stripped his dignity.
Huck ripped open the door, his neck and shoulder muscles threatening to snap like tightly coiled springs. His dusty boots met worn, purple carpet. A strong flowery stench made him sneeze–the smell of death. He curled his upper lip, searching the room for the owner or director, whatever they were called.
No one. Not a sound.
Catalogs stacked high sat to his right on a rough oak table. Sheer pink-and-white fabric hung over a full-length mirror opposite him. Looked like this place was in need of an undertaker too.
A beat-up cash register swallowed the glass counter to his left. Frilly business cards caught his attention, and he lifted the girlie stock paper.
Yesteryear Bridal Boutique, Pine Bay, Maine.
The scuffed walls were as naked as his pride. What in the name of Uncle Sam was he supposed to do with a bridal boutique?
So he’d gotten into some trouble when he was younger. Nothing he’d put Uncle Marty through was worth this. He wasn’t a pink-shirt-wearing, sissy-voiced Say Yes to the Dress kind’a guy. He’d seen the commercials. He didn’t have a feminine side.
High-pitched giggles echoed from the rear of the building. A stout redhead in a huge wedding dress marched from the narrow hallway into the room. A gaggle of women followed her to the mirror, going nuts over the ugly thing. They didn’t even notice him standing there.
He continued reading the card. Arianne Winters, Owner and Bridal Consultant.
According to Uncle Marty’s lawyer, the woman hadn’t paid her rent in almost a year. Now was the perfect time to turn this nightmare into something the town needed, like a sporting goods store or a bait and tackle shop.
A petting zoo. Anything but this.
Cameras clicked, and through the ruckus, he managed to pick out bits of conversation about blue garter belts, the flower girl’s hair, and what lingerie the bride planned to wear on the honeymoon. The word romantic had him eyeing the door. He needed to get out of here, could feel the testosterone leaching from his veins.
He stepped forward and held up the business card. “I’m looking for Arianne Winters.”
“I’ll be with you in a moment.” A voice came from somewhere within the mass of women.
A petite blonde, kneeling on the floor, stood and faced the bride. “Take all the time you need. I’ll be right back.” She stepped toward Huck. “I’m Arianne. Can I help you?”
Her full, red lips parted in a smile. Huck surveyed his reneging tenant. Blonde hair, curvy build, attractive in a classic way that drew him in.
“Are you Joelle Bellman’s fiance? She said you might be in today to get fitted for your tux.”
He almost laughed. Him? A groom? Never.
“No, I’m Huck Anderson.” He offered his hand along with the famous Anderson dimples.
She pressed her soft palm against his. Lightening flashed in her navy blue eyes, and her pretty smile faded to a pout.
“I need to speak with you, but if now isn’t a good time, I can come back.”
“You have no idea who I am, do you?”
He studied her heart-shaped face.
Those eyes. Something about her seemed familiar.
Seconds later, those red lips twisted in a smirk. “Of course. How could I expect the great Huck Anderson to remember me?” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, her cheeks turning pink. “We went to high school together. I was your English tutor. And math and science…”
Arianne Thompson. Wow. Twelve years had taken her gangly build and filled in all the right places. A fistful of shame walloped him in the chest, making his skin hot. He rubbed the back of his neck. He’d never expected to see her again. If there was one thing in life he could rely on, it was karma.
“Is it all right to try on a veil?” the bride barked from the mirror.
Poor guy. Whoever he was.
Arianne craned her slender neck to see over her shoulder. “Of course. Let me know if you need any help.”
Now what? Old insecurities crept into his gut. Maybe she’d forgotten. Though judging from the pinched look on her pretty face, she remembered.
He did, now that she’d dredged up the memory.
So he was pond scum. That didn’t change facts. She couldn’t pay her rent, and he wanted no part in a bridal boutique. “I’m here about the building.”
“I don’t own the building.”
“I know. I do.”
Arianne blinked. For a minute, he thought she’d stopped breathing.
“Martin didn’t tell me he was selling.”
“He didn’t. He passed away last month. I’m his nephew. Left this building to me in his will.”
Huck removed the folded papers from his back pocket and offered them to her.
“Martin’s…gone?” Her creamy skin turned ashen and her eyes pooled with tears. She’d done this once before. He’d been the cause then too. With Arianne, he was always the bad guy.
He lowered his voice to a whisper. “It appears you’ve had trouble paying rent. Ten months.”
Thumbnail tapping her bottom lip, Arianne stared out the display window beside them, past the mannequin holding up a monstrosity of a dress. “He told me not to pay rent until business…picked up.”
“There’s no mention of that agreement in his will.” Huck pushed the papers along the countertop with his finger so she could read the contract terms.
Arianne wilted onto a nearby stool. She raised weighted eyelids and hit him with a pained look so raw and desperate, it twisted his gut. “What are you going to do?