Send Me No Flowers

Send Me No Flowers

Trish Jensen

February 2013 $10.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-254-5

When she was known as an overweight kid from a "loony" family, he often rescued her from bullies. Now she's come back home all grownup and gorgeous, and he's the one who will need rescuing.

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She’s got all of his ex-girlfriends on the run . . .

Sheriff Rob Townsend of Daredevil, South Carolina remembers Jenny Creighton as the girl mean kids called "Jumbo Jenny.” He was compelled to protect her on more than one occasion, a brand of heroic kindness Jenny never forgot. Jenny’s returned to the small town to claim an inheritance and open a flower shop. On the inside, however, she’s still the chubby girl who doesn’t want anyone to remember her humiliating past.

Rob has turned into a hunk with a painful history of his own—one that makes him the biggest heartbreaker south of the Mason-Dixon line. When he becomes her best customer—buying flowers as goodbye gifts for a growing line-up of ex-girlfriends—the women in Daredevil begin to run from Jenny and her kiss-goodbye bouquets. How can she build a business when all the single gals in town are scared to see her on their doorsteps? And what are the secrets behind her childhood hero’s love-’em-and-leave-’em lifestyle?

Trish Jensen is the bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. Visit her


"…a pleasure to read such a lively, fun romantic comedy!" -- Kate McMurry, McMurry and August

"Add Send Me No Flowers to this author’s growing list of highly enjoyable and entertaining love stories." -- Bookbug on the Web



"AND JUST WHAT would you like the card to read this time, Sheriff?”

Jenny Creighton strangled the phone with one hand and choked her pen with the other, as she waited for Sheriff Robert Townsend to come up with yet another disgustingly charming kiss-off line.

This was his third order this month. About the twentieth in the six months since she’d opened her florist shop on Main Street in Daredevil, South Carolina. The town where she’d spent the first twelve years of her life.

"Oh, I don’t know,” he said, in that sexy rumble of a voice that wreaked annoying havoc on her nerve endings. "How about, ‘Our two weeks together were a pure delight. I sure wish it didn’t have to end so soon.’”

Sure enough, Rob Townsend was dumping another one.

She took a deep breath before settling her voice into a polite, even tone. "I believe that’s the same sentiment you expressed on the last note, Sheriff.”

"It is? Oh. Well, no matter. Barbie and Candy aren’t acquainted that I’m aware. Candy’s from out Charleston way.”

Barbie and Candy. Just the latest in the long line of girlfriends that paraded through Rob Townsend’s life like Rose Bowl floats.

Resisting the urge to screech her outrage, Jenny remarked, "I just don’t know when you find the time to keep law and order around these parts, Sheriff.”

He chuckled right back, although his laughter sounded genuine. And low. And sexy as all get-out. "Well, a man’s got to find ways to relieve the stress that comes with keeping the peace in a town called Daredevil.”

"I’m sure.”

"And may I say once more, Miz Creighton, how happy I am that you chose our town to set up shop? Why, I’m not sure what we did before you came along.”

"I can’t imagine,” she said, through a thoroughly clenched jaw. But she could imagine. Too well. After all, wasn’t Tyson’s Jewels and Canned Goods just two doors down? Her florist shop was probably the best thing that had ever happened to Sheriff Townsend’s wallet. Flowers had to be cheaper than jewelry.

"And I’ve been here over six months now, Sheriff. You don’t need to keep welcoming me to Daredevil.”

"I’m just thanking our lucky stars you decided to settle here, ma’am.” He paused. "Whatever made you pick Daredevil, anyway?” he asked once again. It was a question he took to tossing at her at nearly every opportunity.

If only he knew. Coming home had been a dream of hers for years. To show up in town with her hard-won degree in horticulture, but without the fifty extra pounds that had once weighed down her body. To face all of those folks who’d tormented her those first twelve years of her life, before her family had gone to live with her mother’s ailing Aunt Lila in North Carolina.

And to remake the acquaintance of the only man in this town who’d ever been kind to her. The man she’d had a secret crush on since her sixth birthday, twenty-two long years ago. Robert Foster Townsend.

What had happened to him? she wondered. As a boy he’d been kind and sincere. What had happened to that boy, to turn him into a... a playboy?

Jenny had almost fainted the first time he’d swaggered into her little shop to welcome her to town, two days after she’d opened for business. Her breath had ground to a screeching halt in her lungs; her limbs had turned into pudding.

He’d changed so much, yet not at all, in the sixteen years since she’d last seen him. His hair was still a luxurious wheat color, threaded with gold. His eyes were the same silver-blue. His nose still thin, his chin still solid, with a small cleft.

But at age thirty-four, he’d filled out some. He was still rangy, carrying himself with a cougar’s grace. But his shoulders were broader, his hips slimmer in contrast. He wore a gun belt like no man she’d ever known.

She’d stood behind the counter, terrified and ecstatic, waiting for recognition to light his eyes. Six months later, she was still waiting.

Oh, she knew she’d changed drastically over the years. Gone were the braces, the glasses, the acne and the excess pounds. Compound that with the addition of her married name, she supposed she shouldn’t have expected Rob to recognize "Jumbo” Jenny Farnsworth. Not at first. But the idiot had had half a year to look into her eyes and see the frightened little girl he’d once rescued from a tree house and who forever after had an undying, childish crush on him.

But he hadn’t, and neither had the rest of the town. Jenny Farnsworth Creighton had come home. And no one knew it.

"Miz Creighton?”

His voice jolted her back to the present, and she desperately searched her memory for the last thing he’d said to her. "Oh, yes, I’m sorry, Sheriff,” she stammered. "I... well, I couldn’t say, exactly.”

"Whatever,” he said, his voice a lazy drawl, "we’re just pleased you did.”

"Thank you. So am I.”

"Well, if you can get those flowers on over to Barbie at the diner, I’d be mighty appreciative.”

"Will do, Sheriff. I’ll deliver them myself.” After all, she didn’t have much choice. Her assistant, Annabelle, refused to deliver the sheriff’s gifts any longer because the women in town had taken to running the other way when they saw a bouquet of flowers headed in their direction.

"Don’t forget. Pink’s her favorite color.”

Jenny pulled the phone from her head to snort her disgust privately. Rob always knew his girlfriend’s favorite colors. She wondered if that was one of the last questions he asked, right before he gave them the heave-ho. "I won’t forget.”

"And, Miz Creighton?”

"Yes, Sheriff?”

"I hope you’ll be joining in the Founder’s Day activities this Saturday. It’s a big to-do around these parts.”

"I wouldn’t miss it, Sheriff.”

"Make sure to pack an extra special picnic basket, you hear? I’m sure the eligible boys in town are gonna have a real fighting frenzy bidding over yours.”

An unwanted feeling of pleasure coursed through her, until Jenny remembered that flirting came as naturally to this man as breathing. He meant absolutely nothing by it. Although he was always quick with a flattering quip whenever he ran into her, she’d seen him in action all over town. If he was talking to a female, he was flirting with a female. Plain and simple, Rob Townsend loved women. And to a woman, they all seemed to love him back.

But though she still had a crush on him a mile wide, Jenny wasn’t about to join the hordes of females who marched in and out of his life like a parade. Her self-confidence hadn’t been won easily, but she’d finally earned a shred of it, and she intended to hang onto it with bulldog tenacity. "Save your baloney for your next conquest, Sheriff,” she managed. "I’m not buying it.”

"Why, Miz Creighton, I’m shocked. Are you insinuating I’m not sincere?”

"Not at all, Sheriff,” she replied, proud of her cool tone. "I think you’re a completely sincere big bag of wind.”

He laughed at that, a rich, deep rumble of sound that echoed clear down to her soul. Almost unwillingly, she pictured him, his head thrown back, his eyes sparkling like silver-blue firecrackers.

"I’ve been put on notice,” he said, after his laughter died down. "Miz Jennifer Creighton, florist extraordinaire, is immune to my charm.”

What a crock of hooey that was. Miz Jennifer Creighton, florist extraordinaire, would give her right arm to be charmed straight into bed with him. "You keep that in mind, too, Sheriff,” she forced herself to say.

"I surely will. But, Miz Creighton?”


"You know what my mama used to say?”

"I’m sure I don’t.”

"She used to say, ‘My boy Rob cannot resist a challenge.’”

Jenny’s knees nearly buckled on her. She leaned against the counter and drew in a big gulp of air. Exhaling slowly, she forced herself to keep her tone chilly. "I’ll trust you to resist this one, Sheriff.”

AN HOUR LATER Jenny left her shop in Annabelle’s capable hands and made her way down Main Street toward the Lazy Mule, Daredevil’s one and only diner. As usual, she inhaled the scent of her hometown—the wonderful aroma of fresh baked goods coming from Wendell’s Bakery and Shoe Repair, the tantalizing aroma of dark, rich chocolate from Bartlett’s Confectioners and Pawn Shop, even the faint odor of smoke and liquor that wafted its way out of Pinky’s Saloon and Oyster Bar—and a wave of nostalgia rolled over her.

Even with all of the terrible memories she associated with this town, it was still home. No matter how much taunting she’d taken from other children, how many unintentional insults she’d overheard from adults—"Jenny would be such a pretty girl if she just lost some weight,” and, "Wonder if that girl’s as addled as her mother,” being the two most common—she’d still found love here within the bosom of her family.

Her throat burned a little at the thought. Her family. All gone now. Her parents to heaven, her brothers scattered all over the country, making lives and memories in other hometowns. Only Jenny had been drawn back to Daredevil. Only Jenny had felt an intense need to return to her roots.

But for years it had only been a vague dream. That was, until her oldest brother Dean had called to tell her that he and Brock felt it was finally time to go ahead and sell the old family home. Jenny had been horrified. Although she hadn’t been back since age twelve, she’d always known she’d return to it someday.

Without a second thought she’d dipped into the nest egg Jeff had left her and bought the house outright. Her eyes burned along with her throat at the memory of her late husband. She missed him so much. He’d been the second man in her life to show her friendship and respect. Rob had been the first.

Jenny knew that deep down inside, she’d come home to prove something to these people. To show them that the fat, shy little girl they’d known hadn’t buckled under. She’d survived, even thrived.

It was a testament to how much she’d changed that not a soul in town had recognized her. Not even old widow Lowery, who’d baby-sat her often when she was a child and her mother had been off midwifing or healing. Of course, old widow Lowery was now nearly completely blind, but still, you’d think she’d somehow know the girl she’d once bounced on her knee, whom she’d held when Jenny would come home from school sobbing.

At first Jenny’d been insulted that no one in town knew her. But after a time she’d found it rather amusing. She sort of enjoyed pulling the wool over the eyes of these people, who’d welcomed her to town with open arms. One day she’d tell them who she was. Maybe.

She had to admit that not being thought of as one of "them crazy Farnsworths” was a true relief. These folks had accepted her, and she didn’t relish the idea of how they’d react when they learned her identity. Would they reject her all over again?

Stifling a stab of pain at the thought, Jenny nodded and waved at the people who passed. Not many, at this time of day. It was warm for an April afternoon, and most folks had retreated to the cooling shade of their porches.

She strolled into the Lazy Mule, and the fragrance of greasy fries and burgers assailed her. Her stomach groaned in remembrance.

Even though she hadn’t slimmed down purposely, when she’d recovered from the mind-numbing grief of Jeff’s illness and death and discovered she had, she’d vowed to keep the pounds off. But her weight was a constant battle. She hadn’t miraculously developed a zooming metabolism. She absolutely hated her early morning aerobics, despised her fifteen hundred calories daily food limit. In her mind, the phrase "fat-gram counter” was an obscenity. Only the knowledge that just inhaling the scents in this diner would probably add a pound to her frame kept her resolve firm. Never again would anyone call her Jumbo Jenny.

Barbie Reynolds was busy pouring Deputy Sheriff Leroy Hibler a cup of coffee at the counter. Jenny studied her, trying to discover what had attracted Rob to her.

Barbie was a very pretty woman, two years older than Jenny. She had big blond hair, lots of white teeth, and plenty of cleavage. Maybe that was what Rob preferred... but why had he decided to break it off?

Barbie glanced up and spotted Jenny. The waitress’s eyes went wide for a moment at the sight of the flower delivery, then she frowned and stamped her foot. She set down the coffee decanter and sashayed over to Jenny. "I don’t suppose those are for Thelma?” she ventured, which was a real stretch, considering Thelma, the owner, was sixty years old and married to the cheapest man in Daredevil.

Jenny felt compassion well up inside her. No matter how open Rob might be about his lack of interest in any long-lasting relationships, she was sure that each woman he began seeing held out hopes that she might be the one to change him. Which, of course, was why Jenny refused to stand in line. She held out no such hopes. And she wasn’t about to let him steal her heart and crush it. She’d known too much rejection in her life. She couldn’t handle more.

"I’m sorry, Barbie,” she said, holding out the bouquet of pink roses, daisies, and hyacinths. "These are for you.”

She had to wonder at the fact that Rob had turned the florist in this town into a harbinger of bad news. They’d never taught her to expect that in college. In fact, part of the reason she’d studied horticulture in school was because she’d inherited her mother’s love of flowers. To her, they were symbols of joy. And here was Rob, ruining it for her. She’d resent it like crazy if he wasn’t such a valued customer.

"Well, damn it all to Hades,” Barbie said, taking the bouquet. "I was hoping to at least make it through Founder’s Day.”

"I’m sorry,” she said again.

Barbie shrugged. "Well, I may not have won the competition, but at least I lasted two days longer than Dottie Simmons.”

"The competition?” Jenny repeated stupidly.

"You don’t know about the competition?”


Barbie winked. "I suppose you should, since you’ll probably be joinin’ in one of these days soon.” She lowered her voice. "The competition for the sheriff.”

"There’s a competition for the sheriff?”

"Sure is. Rules are, whoever is the first to date him for more’n a month straight wins five dollars from all the other gals in town.”

Jenny felt her mouth drop open. "You mean, y’all aren’t upset when he sends you flowers?”

Shrugging again, Barbie said, "We all know he’s a lost cause after that dang Sarena fiasco. That man has no intention of getting bagged permanently.”

Jenny wanted to ask what a Sarena fiasco was, but felt it wasn’t proper. "If you know he’s like that, why even date him?”

Barbie peered at her as if she’d just set a world record for Stupidest Question Ever Asked. "Have you had your eyes checked lately, sugar? Rob Townsend is the best-looking man this side of the Mason-Dixon. And he sure knows how to make a gal happy, if you get my drift.”

Unfortunately, Jenny got her drift. "Does he know about the bet?”

"Nah. He and his brother had girls chasin’ them practically since they were in diapers.” Barbie frowned. "Well, no one’s chasing Trey no more, for sure.”

Jenny vaguely remembered Trey Townsend. And she’d heard the heartbreaking story of his tragic accident which had left him horribly scarred.

"But Rob’s still fair game,” Barbie added. "Girls chasin’ after him is just a fact of life to him.”

Jenny tried to adjust to this news. She’d been secretly damning Rob for months now, thinking him callous. But if the girls he dated cheerfully accepted his ways, who was she to condemn him? In fact, she sort of felt bad for him now. He didn’t know that he was being wagered over like a hand of cards. Well, this was one competition she had no intention of entering. Not that he’d shown any interest in getting her in on the game.

"Who’s in the lead?” she asked, then wanted to bite her tongue. She shouldn’t be interested in this. It was none of her business.

Barbie set the flowers on the counter. "Bobbie-Jo Franklin, I do believe. I think he went out with her for over three weeks. That was the first time, though. The second time I think they dated just over a week.”

"Is that right?” Jenny murmured. So Rob recycled his girlfriends, did he? She supposed that was just out of pure necessity in a town this size. Of course, he’d had her send flowers to women as far away as Savannah.

Just then Thelma emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on an apron that read, "Cooks do it with fire.” She eyed the flowers with a baleful scowl, then tsked. "If that boy’s mama was still alive, she’d tan his hide but good.”

Jenny laughed at the mental picture. Rob was just about twice the size his mother had been.

"You want the usual, Jennifer?” Thelma asked.


While she waited, Jenny looked around. The diner was empty save for the deputy and a couple she didn’t recognize. In a town the size of Daredevil—three thousand and fifteen after Missy Sue Speaks gave birth last week—it was impossible not to at least recognize most folks. Which told her this couple was probably just passing through.

She glanced back at the deputy and immediately regretted it. She didn’t much care for Leroy Hibler, and it didn’t merely stem from the unusually cruel pranks he’d played on her in their youth. There was something in his pale gray eyes that gave her the creeps now. Something that she’d almost think to identify as lust, if it weren’t for the fact that Leroy was married with three kids.

His thin lips turned up in a smile, and he tried to wave her over.

"No thanks, Deputy, not today,” she said, pointing at her watch. "Got a full load of orders back at the store.”

His smile vanished, and something flickered in his eyes, but he was too far away for Jenny to see what it was. "How’s business, Miz Creighton?” he asked, the question neighborly, the tone not.

"Good, real good,” she answered, and turned with relief when Thelma brought her the take-out carton of salad.

"How you can stand that pile of plain greens is beyond me,” Thelma said as she took Jenny’s money. "Wouldn’t hurt to add a few pounds to that skinny frame of yours.”

Jenny almost laughed at the irony. Would she never please the people of Daredevil? Would she ever get it right?

She didn’t take offense, though. Being called too skinny was a whole lot better than being called too fat.

She left and headed back down the street to her store, an unwanted thought beating through her head. She wondered how Sheriff Rob Townsend felt about skinny women.

JENNIFER CREIGHTON was way too skinny, Rob thought, as he watched her stroll by the window where he sat in Harley’s Barber and Tackle Shop. Although she was a pretty little thing, with those big brown eyes and that short, wispy black hair. But way, way too skinny. He much preferred his women with some substance to them, a softness he could get lost in. Otherwise, he’d have made a play for her a long time ago. Because other than that stick figure, there was something very appealing about the newest member of his community.

There was also something mysterious about her, and he was curious. Of all the towns in all the South, why would a lovely young thing like her settle in this one? Where had she come from? What were her goals? And why would she want to try to achieve them in a small town like Daredevil? He wanted the answers to all those questions, but Miz Jennifer Creighton wasn’t big on coming forth with answers. The most anyone knew was that she was a widow, and had been for some two years now.

"How’s that, Sheriff?” Harley Phelps asked him, holding a mirror up to let Rob study his haircut. Why, Rob couldn’t say. Harley’d been cutting his hair since he’d had hair, and he knew just how Rob liked it—feathered back, just covering the tips of his ears, a little longer in the back so it brushed his collar some.

"Fine, Harley, fine,” he said distractedly, without even checking his reflection. His gaze was still glued to Jennifer Creighton and the little swing to her hips that told him no matter how skinny, she was pure female.

"Pretty gal, ain’t she?” Harley asked, apparently following the direction his eyes were taking.

"Sure is, Harley,” Rob said. He sat patiently while Harley brushed clips of stray hair from the back of his neck.

"Can’t see as why you haven’t gone after her,” Harley said. "She’s about the only female in this town you ain’t dated.”

Not one to insult any female out loud, Rob kept his opinion about her figure to himself. "Well, she’s a new widow and all.”

"Bah! She’s been a widder for more’n a year now. And she sure ain’t wearin’ no widder’s weeds no longer.”

That was true. Jennifer Creighton had a penchant for wearing some real colorful duds. They looked right good on her, too. Most any colors complemented her complexion, her raven dark hair.

"I gotta think her man left her some good money, too,” Harley added, "what with her buying the Farnsworth place and all. Now what would a young lady all on her own want with a big rambling place like that? You can bet Laura Lynn didn’t tell her the history of the place, neither, when she sold it to her.”

For the first time, the irony of Miz Creighton buying that big Victorian house struck Rob. He remembered another Jennifer—Jenny, actually—who lived there once upon a time. A sweet young girl who’d had to put up with all the nastiness a small town could dish out. Briefly, he wondered whatever happened to plump Jenny Farnsworth, the poor kid. If he remembered right, her family had moved to live with a sickly aunt when Jenny was around ten or so. And none had ever returned. Who could blame them? He hoped that wherever she made her home now, the folks were plenty more tolerant of the girl. And that she was happy.

And he wondered about the Creighton woman buying such a large house. Had she come to this small town to try to find a husband and raise a family? He couldn’t imagine that little body holding a baby inside it, but he supposed all things were possible in nature.

Suddenly, even more curious about the woman and her motives, Rob made a decision to get to know her better and find out what she was looking for in his town. Or what she was hiding from.

He pulled his wallet from his gray uniform slacks and slapped a five into Harley’s hands. "So, you gonna bid on Wanda’s basket Saturday?” he asked, which won him a blooming flush on Harley’s jowly face. Harley was sweet on Wanda Peebles, owner of Wanda’s Dry Cleaning and Antiques.

Harley shrugged noncommittally. "Mebbe.”

"’Cause if you don’t,” Rob goaded, "I surely will.”

Harley blustered a moment. "I’d hate to get in a row with the sheriff, Sheriff.”

Rob grinned and smacked him on the back. "Don’t you worry none. I got my sights set on another female.”

"Who? Barbie Ann?”

"Nope, not Barbie,” Rob said.

"Didn’t think so. Saw them flowers Miz Creighton delivered up to the Mule. She dumped ya, did she?”

Rob managed a properly saddened nod. "She dumped me, but good.” He sighed. "A right shame, too. I was beginning to think she might be the one.”

Harley gave his shoulder a commiserating slap, then tucked the bill in his shirt pocket. Not exactly a modern day accounting system, but who was he to care if the IRS didn’t? "Then who you planning to picnic with?”

"Guess you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?” Rob said, then strolled out the door.

As he made his way down to the sheriff’s office, he whistled, anticipating this coming Saturday a whole lot more now that he had a plan. He sure hoped Miz Jennifer Creighton packed a good picnic.




THE MORNING of the Founder’s Day festivities dawned cool, but cloudless. Jenny woke with a smile on her face and a thrill of anticipation in her belly. Founder’s Day had always been just about the happiest day of the year for her.

After her shower, Jenny dressed in khaki shorts and a green sleeveless cotton top and sandals. She’d even painted her toenails a pretty shade of coral.

While she carefully packed up the basket, she wondered who might bid on her picnic lunch. Maybe Leon Banks, the head mechanic down at Boozler’s Body Shop and Dog Grooming. Or Willie Joe Payton, the town locksmith and expert candle maker. Both of those men had been downright friendly to her the last few months. And if she couldn’t quite forget how they’d treated her years ago, she could certainly forgive. Children could be cruel. But children grew up.

She was also curious—only curious, she assured herself— about who the sheriff would set his sights on now, seeing as Barbie didn’t seem to be in the running. Anyway, what did she care? She was too excited about the day to let even the slightest twinge of jealousy dampen it.

As she skipped down her porch steps, picnic basket in hand, she couldn’t help but fill with delighted expectation. Who would bid on her basket?

"ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!” Rob called out, once the lively bidding for Jennifer Creighton’s basket started to sputter out at around fifty-two dollars. With a casual lifting of his brow, he stared down each of the five men who’d been vying for the chance to picnic with her.

Each man in turn looked away, and the town auctioneer and chiropractor, Fred Price, brought the bidding to a close with a booming bang of his gavel.

A collective gasp rang out in the warm spring air and seemed to hang there, suspended. Everyone turned toward where he stood at the edge of the crowd, lounging casually against a tulip poplar. Mouths hung open, including Jennifer’s.

With a lazy smile, Rob shoved off from the tree and strolled toward the platform, where Fred was holding up Jennifer’s basket. He took his wallet from his jeans, ignoring the whispers of speculation that had replaced the gasps.

He held out the money to Fred’s wife, Lyla, whose pen hung frozen above the ledger she used to record the transactions. Her eyes were wide as Moon Pies. She blinked, then shook her head. Taking the money, she quickly filled out a receipt and handed it back.

Taking the basket from Fred, he sauntered over to where Jennifer stood, still stiff with shock. Grinning down at her, he said, "Looks like you and me are going to picnic together, Miz Creighton. Will you accompany me to my favorite shade tree?” He held out his elbow.

She opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again. Not a squeak came out. Her soft doe eyes were round, and he noticed that they weren’t merely filled with surprise, but also with another emotion. One he’d almost call dread.

Well now, that wasn’t exactly good for a man’s ego. Especially since he’d been looking forward to this for three days. Today, he was going to unravel the mystery behind his town’s newest resident.

She gulped once, then seemed to get herself together. With a small sound of protest, she placed her hand on his arm and let him lead her from the group.

He strolled with her toward his favorite tree, a massive weeping willow that flanked Devil Lake. Its long, graceful limbs draped clear to the ground, providing shelter and privacy. They walked in silence until he felt certain they were far enough away from the crowd that no one would overhear them.

"You don’t seem real happy about sharing a basket with me, Jennifer.”

It took her a moment to respond, but when she did, her soft voice whispered over his skin. "I’d be pleased to share my basket with you, Sheriff.”

"Call me Rob today, okay?” He patted the logo of his polo shirt where his badge normally hung. "I’m not on duty.”

She didn’t answer. She seemed intent on watching her feet, as if she had to make sure they kept moving properly. He stared down at the top of her head, at the shiny mass of hair, and an urge to touch her surged through him.

He resisted the temptation until they were standing under the tree. Then he put his finger under her chin and lifted her face until their gazes locked.

Rob sucked in a breath, realizing for the first time just how pretty Jennifer Creighton was. Even though her cheeks were a little too hollow for his liking, her delicate features were just about perfect, and her creamy skin looked irresistibly soft.

Color rose on her cheeks to match the pink beauty of her mouth, which he noticed was sculpted just right for kissing a man. And before this day was over, he’d be the man to do it. It occurred to him that she was trembling a little. "Are you cold, Jennifer? Want me to find you a jacket?”

She shook her head. "I’m fine.”

"Good. Well, let’s settle in and see what we have here. I’m hungry as a bear in spring.”

With somewhat jerky movements, she took the basket from him and set it down. Pulling out a checkered cloth, she began to shake it out, but Rob reached for it, and she handed it over, their fingers touching.

A sizzle of electricity arced between them at the contact. Such a simple thing, but it jolted through him just the same. Something really odd was going on here. He’d touched plenty of women a lot more intimately than this, and he’d never had this sparking sensation stirring up his nerve endings. How strange.

The expression in her soft eyes told him she’d felt it too. But she blinked it away and turned her head toward the lake, swallowing.

Rob found himself a little at a loss. He was so used to women flirting with him, throwing themselves at him, that Jenny’s skittish behavior stumped him. What was she afraid of? If it took him all day, he aimed to find out.

They settled under the tree, the basket between them. Delicious smells wafted up from between the folds of the napkin, and Rob’s stomach rumbled in anticipation. He grinned. "Like I said, Miss Jennifer, I’m starved.” He tilted his head. "You fixin’ to feed me?”

"You paid good money,” she murmured, reaching into the basket. "It’s the least you deserve.”

She laid out the spread while Rob watched and admired little things about her. Her hands were small, fine-boned. Artistic hands. Her shoulders were delicate, too. Not as skinny as he’d expected. Her breasts were smaller than he usually liked, but still full and high, straining against that thin green shirt whenever she reached to place another bowl or plate around them. Her legs weren’t bad, either. Well-shaped and well-muscled. He could tell she did something to work out. And even her toenails looked pretty.

Rob stretched out his own legs, crossing them at the ankles, then leaned back on his palms. All-in-all, she was a very attractive little package, and he felt the unmistakable stirrings of desire. She was still a woman, and he loved women, although he didn’t trust them. Not since what his sister-in-law had done to Trey. Not since what Sarena had done to him. But trust wasn’t necessary when he refused to allow himself to care.

"Tell me about yourself, Jennifer,” he said softly.

She glanced up quickly, causing a lock of hair to fall into one eye. He pushed it out of the way, and that sharp charge of excitement radiated up his arm and through his chest to his belly.

She dropped the platter of fried chicken on the blanket, as if her fingers had gone boneless. "What... do you want to know?” she asked in a wary tone.

Definitely, she was hiding something. "Where do you hail from?”


Rob prided himself in his knowledge of all things South. Her accent was not a Virginia accent. It was a Carolina accent. But he let the fib go. "Why are you afraid of me?”

Her chin hiked up a notch. "I’m not afraid of you.”

He grinned. "Honey, you’re acting like a skittish filly in a pasture full of charging stallions.”

She pushed back that lock of hair again. "Maybe I’m just wondering why you bought my basket.”

"Why not?”

"Because... well, because there were lots of baskets up there, and you didn’t bid on a single one until mine came up.”

"I didn’t realize you were following my actions that closely.”

She shook her head. "Not yours, no. All the girls who kept giving you moon eyes whenever their baskets went up for bid.”

"Did they?” he said with a shrug. "I didn’t notice.”

"You planned all along to purchase mine, didn’t you?”


"Why? I thought you promised not to view me as a challenge.”

Rob frowned. When had he promised that? "That’s not why I bought your basket, Jennifer.”

"Then why?”

"Maybe because I thought you were the prettiest girl there.”

She snorted. "You’ll find, Sheriff—”


"You’ll find, Rob, that false flattery doesn’t do a thing for me.”

He realized with a start that he had, indeed, just said the words automatically, without a thought or care as to whether they were the truth. He’d learned long ago what women wanted from him. They wanted attention and pretty speeches, no matter how patently false. Most important, they wanted to show him off like a damned trophy.

He had no illusions. He knew all about the competition among the girls in town. At first he’d been insulted beyond belief, feeling like a bone being fought over by a pack of wild dogs. But after a spell, he’d decided to take it in stride.

Still and all, he didn’t much care for being a contest, or for the fact that women considered him a prize to show off. A body, a face, but no heart.

And maybe they were right. What had existed of his heart had shriveled and died during that last horrible confrontation with Sarena. What had survived was the shell. The shell that seemed to be the only thing of value to females.

He almost laughed at the thought. He knew plenty of guys who’d kill to be in his position, who envied him. If only they could walk a mile in his shoes, they’d see how lonely it was to be desired superficially. How quickly the women would drop him if, like his brother Trey, the outside of him was destroyed.

Shaking his head, he forced a smile to his face. "I forgot. You’re immune to the old Townsend charm, right?”

She blinked as she handed him a plate, loaded down with a delicious looking array of food. "No, Sher—Rob. I like charm as well as the next girl, I suppose. As long as it’s sincere.”

That last sentence stopped the chicken leg halfway to his mouth. He dropped it back on the plate, his appetite momentarily gone. She was calling him insincere. For some reason that smarted, even though she told the truth.

He inhaled slowly, then expelled the air the same way. "Tell you what. From now on, every word I speak to you will be the truth. Deal?”

Her smile was hesitant, but no less radiant than if it had been full blown. "May I test you on that one?”

"You betcha. Ask me anything.”

"Why did you decide to bid on my basket?”

He took another slow breath before answering. "Because I wanted to get to know you.”


"Because you’re the only woman in this town I don’t know well.”

"Isn’t that the truth?” she mumbled. "And I’ve delivered the flowers to prove it.”

Rob’s brows furrowed. "You don’t like me sending business your way?”

"Hah!” she scoffed. "In six months, you’ve managed to turn the phrase, ‘Flowers for you,’ into something to be dreaded in this town.”

He stared at her, stunned. Her eyes flashed with resentment, and Rob felt like a total heel. He’d never thought of that. He’d never considered the implications. It hadn’t occurred to him that he was doing anything beyond helping her shop get off the ground. "Are you saying I’ve harmed your business?”

Her head dropped, and she shook it slowly. "No. I’m grateful for the orders, Sheriff, it’s just... it’s... distressing when people run when they see me coming.” She lifted her eyes to his. "I didn’t mean to complain.”

Rob set his plate aside completely. "I am so sorry, darlin’,” he said, resisting the urge to reach out and haul her against him and hug her. "I have a strong aversion to doing anything that might harm the fairer sex.” He paused, searching for words, but came up shamefully empty. "I’m sorry.”

She chuckled, but it wasn’t a happy sound. "You don’t consider breaking up with women every week or so by sending them flowers harmful?”

Scowling, he growled, "It might be. If they cared.”

Her eyebrows shot up. "You don’t think they care?”

"Only that they didn’t win the pool.”

Jennifer was in the process of tucking her hair behind her ear, but her hand stilled in mid-motion. "You know about that,” she said, and it wasn’t a question.

Rob took up with his picnic lunch again, shoving a forkful of potato salad in his mouth. After swallowing he said, "Yeah, I know about it.”

She tilted her head. "You don’t sound so happy about it, Sheriff.”

"Would you please call me Rob?”

She nodded. "I’d think you’d feel flattered, Rob, what with all those women chasing after you.”

Swallowing a bite of chicken, he wiped his lips on his paper napkin. "You’d think wrong, Miss Jennifer.”


He interrupted her with a hand. "How’d we get to talking about me? We were talking about you, last I recall.”

"Not much to talk about, I imagine.”

He ignored that. "All I know about you is that you’re very talented with flowers and plants.”

She glanced away then, but even in profile he could see something flicker in her eye. A sadness, maybe. As if she were haunted by a memory that still had the power to hurt her.

He laid a hand on her shoulder to get her attention. Then he leaned forward and drilled her with his gaze, forcing her to look at him. "Tell me a little about what makes Jennifer Creighton tick.”

Her lips parted on a soft, "Oh.” He didn’t know if it was the question or his touch that caused it.

The moment stretched as their gazes seemed to catch and hold. Rob couldn’t have looked away from those velvet doe eyes if his life depended on it. Long, lingering seconds passed, and some strange sensation stirred within him. He’d been acquainted with this woman for all of six months. But as he searched her eyes, he felt like he knew her, had always known her. The sorrow that lingered within those dark brown depths seemed familiar, somehow.

She pulled away first, and after clearing her throat, waved at his plate. "Eat, Rob. I’m afraid that chicken’s not worth anywhere near a hundred dollars, but you might as well get some value out of it.”

Rob sort of lamented the passing of the moment. But obediently he resumed digging into his lunch. "Delicious,” he said between bites. "Worth every penny.”

She laughed softly and shook her head. "Two minutes.”

He raised a brow. "What?”

"Your pledge to be truthful lasted exactly two minutes.”

He shot her a crooked grin. "Okay. Let me put it this way. I’d pay about five-ninety-five for this meal down at the Mule. I’d pay the full hundred dollars any day of the week to be eating it here... with you.”

Her hand stilled in the process of retrieving something more from the basket. Then she turned on him, her nose wrinkling adorably. "There’s a name for men like you, Sheriff Townsend.”

He hated that she kept trying to create distance by addressing him by his title. But he let it pass for now. "What name is that, Miz Creighton?”

Her nose shot skyward. "Gigolo,” she announced, as she pulled a bottle of red wine from the basket.

Rob choked on a chicken leg. "Gigolo!” he sputtered out.

"That’s right,” she said, pointing the cork end of the bottle at him.

Laughter bubbled in his chest, but he swallowed it back. "Well, now, Jennifer, seems to me that a gigolo gets paid to keep company with a lady. I, on the other hand, was the one to shell out the money, here.”

She waved. "Well, maybe that’s not exactly the right word, but I’m sure there’s a term that fits.”

He held out his hand. "Let me do that.” Taking the bottle and corkscrew, he began opening the wine. "How about ‘healthy, red-blooded, American man?’”

"Outrageous flirt.”

Chuckling, he conceded the point. After pulling the cork from the bottle, he took another big bite of chicken.

And caught her eyeing it like a dehydrated man might eye a water fountain.

Nodding toward her still empty plate, he asked, "Aren’t you going to eat?”

"Oh!” She cast a baleful glance at the basket. "Oh, sure.”

As he poured the wine into two plastic goblets, he watched her from the corner of his eye. And nearly dropped his jaw. Bypassing all of the food she’d prepared for him, she dragged a big bag of what looked like cut celery and carrots from the basket and dropped it in her lap.

"What in blue blazes is that?” he asked, a faint horror in his voice.

"Lunch,” she replied tersely.

"Why in heaven’s name would you eat those... those things when we’ve got all this good food?”

She didn’t answer, just crunched into a carrot stick with a vengeance.

Obviously, she wasn’t happy about eating her meal, so why would she? Then the only answer that made sense struck him. His fingers circled her wrist and prevented her hand from returning to her mouth. "You mean to tell me you’re this skinny on purpose?”

She shook her wrist free and took another noisy bite of carrot.

"Are youdieting?”

She wouldn’t meet his gaze. "Maintaining,” she said, after swallowing.

"Maintaining? Maintaining what?”

"Just... maintaining, is all.”

He yanked the bag of vegetables from her lap and tossed them away. "Maintaining your weight? Why in the world would you do that? As it is, a stiff wind would blow you clear to Georgia.”

"Hey!” she said, scrambling to her knees to retrieve her veggies.

He stopped her with one arm, wrapped around her waist. Setting aside his plate and careful not to knock over the wineglasses, he hauled her onto his lap. She might weigh more than a hundred pounds, but he doubted it. Even though she was short, a few more pounds would be healthy. "Jennifer Creighton, you tell me right this minute why the devil you’d make yourself this skinny on purpose.”

She tried to wiggle free, which only managed to rub her small bottom against his—

He gritted his teeth to try to keep his body from reacting to the sensation. "Tell me, or I’m not letting you go.”

The scent of her shampoo drifted up to him. A flowery scent that he’d encountered before. And enjoyed. He just couldn’t remember when. It seemed like an old memory, not one associated with any gals he’d dated recently.

"Sheriff Townsend, you let me be!”

"No. Tell me right now why you want to waste away to nothing. Good Lord, woman, you can’t afford to lose any more weight.”

She settled, finally, but avoided his eyes. "I’m not trying to lose. I just don’t want to gain.”

"Why not? You need some meat on those bones, lady.”

She finally met his gaze, the torment in her eyes socking him square in his gut. He’d seen that look before. Oh, yes, he’d seen that look before. Not from a face all hollowed out from dieting, but from an adorable, chubby face of a child who’d had to endure more teasing and taunting than any child should.

And all the pieces fell into place. Her move to this town. Her purchase of that house. Her unique shampoo that he’d loved the smell of in their youth. Her need to keep her body just this side of emaciated.

Well, well, well, chubby Jenny Farnsworth had come home.

At least, half of her had.



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