We'll Be Home for Christmas Online - Helenkay Dimon Page 0,1

steps before he fell into comfortable conversation mode. “You don’t look familiar.”

She matched her stride to his much longer one, enjoying the easy banter that came with small-town living. She’d missed that in Philadelphia. After three years of trying to make conversation, she’d never managed more than two full sentences with the brownstone’s upstairs neighbors and had no idea what her postman’s name was.

West Virginia offered a different kind of life. Closer to the outdoors, away from traffic and without all the baggage piled on her by a loser ex-husband. “I just moved to the area. My Uncle Ned owns the Mountain View Resort.”

“You’re related to Ned Payne? He’s old enough to be your grandfather.”

Travis stopped so fast that she almost raced past him. Now that would have been an interesting first impression.

“Not quite, but close. Consider me the late-in-life niece no one was expecting.” Figuring she’d shared enough private information in the three seconds since meeting Travis, she maneuvered the conversation off her. “How do you know Ned?”

“Mountain View sits outside the Holloway town limits but we consider it ours. Ned was a regular around here.” Travis winked at her as he stepped to the side and let her slip through the door first.

The fragrant mix of pine and a floral sweetness hit her immediately once inside. So did the punch of humid air and welcoming warmth. Her nose stood a chance of defrosting from the icy wind in here.

The rows of flowers and plants buzzed with a steady stream of customers. Couples clomped around in thick jackets and scarves, picking through deep red poinsettia plants while kids ran up and down shouting. A group of older women fought over a pile of wreaths on the sale table.

It was the type of controlled chaos that appealed to her. But with each step more eyes focused on her. One little girl even smiled and waved. Lila waved back because it seemed the friendly small-town thing to do. She was new and new people clearly stood out here.

By the time they’d reached the customer service window the collective gaze of half the room burned into her back. Either Travis was a serial killer or the people of Holloway thought she was one. “Do they always stare?”

He looked over her head at the room behind her. “Let’s just say subtlety is not in the town’s welcome brochure.”

“Neither is privacy.” The comment came from a man leaning against the ledge of the customer service window. “Way I figure it, if you two talk for another minute the town will be expecting an engagement announcement.”

“What?” She was stunned more by this guy’s face than the comment. He had brown hair brushed over his eyes and that boy-you-loved-in-high-school look, all grown up and wearing a shiny wedding ring.

“Don’t worry. I was kidding.” The guy shrugged. “Sort of.”

Lila took a longer look. There was something else there, something familiar around the eyes and mouth. She’d never met him before but the tingle of awareness wouldn’t leave her.

“What’s going on?” the guy asked.

The husky voice didn’t do anything to spark a memory. “You work here, too?” she asked.

She was starting to wonder what was in the water in this town because the male population spiked on the looks scale. And all the hotties seemed to congregate at the plant nursery, of all places. Though that did explain the impressive number of female customers of all ages hanging around for a late Friday afternoon.

“I own the nursery.” He smiled as he spoke. “Well, part of it, anyway.”

A memory tickled that time but she couldn’t grab it long enough to figure it out. Until she did, friendliness was the answer. Small-business owners needed to stick together. “I’m taking over Mountain View for my uncle. My name is Lila.”

The man held out his hand. “Austin Thomas.”

The memory blared to life and kicked her right in the stomach. It couldn’t be. He couldn’t be. “What did you say?”

“How is Ned?” The guy claiming to be Austin lowered his head until he looked at her straight on, his forehead wrinkling in concern. “Are you okay?”

The hotel bar three months ago. Too many drinks. The crumbling of her self-control followed by days rolling around lost in an uncharacteristic sexual haze. It all happened in room five-fifteen with Austin Thomas. Not this Austin Thomas. Another Austin Thomas who claimed to be an agri-businessman and part-time botanist a few towns over from the hotel...could there be two guys who sort of fit that description? Or