His Brown-Eyed Girl Online - Liz Talley

Chapter One

ADDY TOUSSANT STUDIED the fading bloom of the Pauwela Cloud orchid. Such a shame to snuff out the white-ruffled beauty, but the withered edges of the petal bore the tale. The bloom was off the—snip!—orchid.

Irony didn’t escape her as she tucked the petals into the waste bag she wore hooked on her gardening utility belt.

Not that Addy was old. Or unhappy about having her bloom fade. She rather liked the emerging lines around her eyes. Gave her character and all that.

Besides, thirty-two wasn’t “old”—it was practically the new twenty-two. Or so a magazine she’d read yesterday in the optometrist waiting room had declared. Still, so many of her high school friends were married and starting families, and though Addy didn’t feel empty, something about being so behind the curve made her feel, well, old.

But she shouldn’t feel that way. After all, not everyone wanted to be a wife and mother. Some women liked being exactly who they were. She’d always embraced that notion, a lifestyle her aunt Flora had modeled for her.

Addy stood and ignored the cracking of her knees, stretching her back and looking up at the plastic skylight in the greenhouse she’d had built in her yard. Afternoon was giving over to evening. She could see the moon peeking out from behind the pink clouds. Another Tuesday nearing conclusion, but at least it had been filled with sunshine and a warmer breeze.

Then her peace shattered.

A blur of motion rocketed into the structure, rending the heavy plastic sheeting. A scream caught in her throat as she pitched herself to the side, away from the roar. A corner of the greenhouse collapsed under the assault as Addy rolled away. The black rubber tire missed her nose by inches and the reverberation of an engine thundered in her ear. Gasoline fumes choked her and she coughed, raising herself up on an elbow amidst broken pottery. The spinning wheel of the motorbike snagged her sleeve.

“Oh, my sweet Lord,” Addy said, her voice drowned by the noise, tugging her loose-sleeved yoga shirt from the grip of the tire and trying to get her bearings. Pushing herself upward, she caught sight of a Converse sneaker and jean-clad leg draped over the seat of the still-rumbling bike.

Addy turned the switch on the handle to the off position. How she knew exactly where the switch was stymied her, but the engine died.

A groan emerged from beneath the wooden shelf that had collapsed onto whoever had driven a small motorcycle into her newly constructed greenhouse.

Addy shoved the splintered wood away to find a small boy. Or—to be more specific—a small boy who’d run through her daylilies on the same motorbike a month ago; a small boy who was the middle child of her irresponsible neighbors; a small boy whose name was Chris.

Or Michael. She got them mixed up.

Okay, so her neighbors weren’t necessarily irresponsible, merely overwhelmed with a lot of kids and pets running amuck.

“Chris?”

“What?” he mumbled.

“Are you okay?”

The child moved, pulling his leg to him and lifting himself from the yellowed-grass floor. He blinked and his face crumbled as he realized what had occurred. “Oh, no. My bike.”

His bike?

Addy looked at the torn plastic, bent frame, busted shelves and pottery shards. Yeah, she was totally concerned about the stupid bike. Precious, no, valuable, orchids lay scattered on the ground, roots dangling, stems crushed, petals bruised.

Dirt smeared the boy’s cheek, and if Addy hadn’t been so troubled by the fact the accident-prone child had nearly decapitated himself and destroyed her orchid collection, she might have thought it endearing. But she was upset...and mad...and scared the boy had nearly broken his fool neck.

“My arm hurts,” he said, cupping his shoulder. “And my handlebars are all bent.”

Addy struggled to her feet, carefully lifting the bike off him and pushing aside. “Let me see.”

The boy scooted back, wincing as he cradled his right arm. “Owww.”

Addy knelt beside him and gently placed her hand on his forearm. “Can you wiggle your fingers?”

Big tears hovered on his thick lashes. He dashed them away with his other hand. “I don’t know.”

“Try.”

He looked at the arm he held tight against his torso. The grubby little fingers moved. Slowly, he uncurled his fist and wiggled his fingers.

“Good.”

He smiled slightly, obviously happy he’d not lost use of his fingers. Carefully, he extended his arm, moving it so his elbow resembled a hinge. “It still hurts a little.”

“Well, yeah, you fell on it. Can you stand up?”

He nodded and scrabbled to his feet, wincing only slightly as