Let it Snow, Cowboy

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My story in this collection is called Let It Snow, Cowboy! It’s scheduled to be released (once this super awesome deal of a collection expires) in February of 2023.

Check out the First Chapter Here!

Chapter One

Lucy Bennett rubbed her eyes wearily, shifting her feet on the uneven carpet. A sharp ache was throbbing in the arch of her left foot, and she winced as she settled a fat little Santa Claus onto a velvet-lined pouf by the front door.  

It was the day after Thanksgiving, and Lucy had spent the afternoon clearing out the colorful fall displays to make way for the Christmas decorations on the gift shop shelves. Every year, the coming Christmas season seemed to begin earlier than the one before it. Some of the local stores had set out their Christmas décor right after Halloween, but as far as Lucy was concerned, that was far too over-enthusiastic.

The holidays had their time and place, just like everything else.

Lucy reached down to straighten Santa’s hat, smiling fondly at his rosy cheeks; then she stood and stretched her arms overhead. Her back gave a little crack as she did so. With a grimace, she flipped the sign on the entrance from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’ and flicked off the outside lights.

 On her way to the cash register at the back of the store, she pulled the clip from her curly hair, letting it spill down around her shoulders. Her head felt as though it’d been filled with the fluffy white “snow” surrounding the tiny Victorian village in the corner of the store. Lucy wanted nothing more than a hot bath, followed by a book and her cozy, warm bed.

She paused, frowning at a display of snow globes on the shelf situated to the right of the register that she hadn’t noticed this morning. They all seemed to feature cozy, winter couples. The one at the fore of the others caught her eye. Inside the watery orb, a woman with curly dark hair—very like her own—was falling into the arms of a handsome man wearing a cowboy hat. Lucy raised her eyebrow. The couple was wearing ice skates.

She hated ice-skating. Ever since she had been a kid and had made an utter fool of herself at a friend’s birthday party years ago… Shannon, the owner, must have set out the display the night before. Lucy thought about reorganizing the shelf to shove the ice-skating couple to the back, but she really was extremely tired…

From now until Christmas, her hours would be long and hard. She had been working at the Pansy House gift shop since she was sixteen. Now, at twenty-two, Lucy often wondered mildly if this was all that her life would ever amount to. The thought didn’t alarm her in the slightest. She’d been born in the tiny town of Silverton, Oregon, and she’d probably grow old here, content with the quaint placidity that came with small-town life.

Humming tunelessly, Lucy closed out the register, retrieved her coat and purse, and switched off the remaining lights. It was a little after ten. She had stayed a few hours after closing to work on the displays, and her mind balked at the thought of returning in time to open the next morning.

The sound of the door jingling shut behind her was immediately drowned out by the excessive wailing that was echoing from the bar across the street. Sullivan’s seemed to be hosting an exuberant open-mic night.

Lucy grimaced as the female singer hit a particularly sour note. It was amazing how when a person drank a bit, they suddenly became a rock star. She loved to sing, but there was no amount of alcohol that could induce her to do that! Her best friend, Janie, who worked at the diner across the street, was always attempting to pull Lucy up on stage. But Lucy was stubborn. She would sooner eat yellow snow than participate in an open-mic night in front of the small-town folks she had known her entire life.

She located her old red sedan along the curb and held her key ring up to the streetlight to see. As the correct key slid into the lock, there was a commotion at the entrance of the bar that made Lucy glance up. One of Sullivan’s patrons was being shown the door—if being shown the door meant hitting it with your head as you were being thrown out of it.

The man hit the sidewalk hard, his wide-brimmed rancher’s hat falling off and skipping to the side. He lay there for a minute, quite still. Lucy peered at him in some concern… he looked vaguely familiar to her somehow…

His body was motionless for several long moments, the flickering neon dancing over his leather-clad shoulders. Then he shifted, and Lucy—realizing she had been staring—quickly unlocked her car door and set her purse down on the passenger seat. She glanced up as she slid behind the wheel, curious, despite herself.

The man on the ground lolled onto his side, his face suddenly illuminated in the streetlights, and on an irritable sigh, Lucy recognized him. Daniel Moore.

She’d gone to school a few years behind the boisterous youth Daniel had been in high school, and she recalled nursing a small crush on him. She had been a freshman, and he, a senior. He’d never known Lucy existed.

Cursing herself and bemoaning the task that was about to keep her from her precious bed, Lucy clambered out of her car once more, avoiding a large, slushy puddle. Daniel had sat up by the time she’d reached him, his torso swaying a bit and his head looking heavier than it ought to.

“You good there, bud?”

The sloppy version of her high school crush raked his hand through his tousled dark hair, looking up at her with bloodshot eyes. “Lanky Lucy?”

Lucy blushed crimson. He did remember her, though it wasn’t in a particularly pleasant manner—why would it be? Back then, she’d been skinny beyond belief and flatter than a pancake on all sides. She snorted. At least one thing had changed for the better.

Frowning, she held out her hand. “Here. Let me help you.”  She almost toppled over as he struggled to stand up, all his weight on her slender fingers.

“You had a crush on me in high school,” he teased, grinning stupidly. “My buddies ribbed me about it all senior year.”

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders as she tried to balance him and waved a finger at her accusingly, as though she’d deceived him somehow. “You were just a gangly teenager with braces, straight as a board. Boys had more curves than you did back then.”

“Shut up,” she said through her teeth, as she struggled to remain upright under his weight. “You need to get a bite to eat and some coffee.” She glanced around, noting with dismay that the diner two blocks down had closed at its usual ten o’clock.

Daniel was eyeing her, still grinning like an idiot.  “You’ve filled out in all the right places.” His hand dropped from her shoulder to her waist, and he lost his balance as she threw him from her.

“I prefer my men sober, thanks,” she bit out. “What an interesting man you’ve grown into, Mister Moore.”

He chuckled at her, swaying slightly. “So, you-a think I’m cute?”

Her frown deepened. “That’s not what I said.”

He raised his hand in the air as he attempted to stumble away down the sidewalk. “Too late! You like me! You love me!” He kept repeating it until he tripped on his own feet and dropped back to the sidewalk, giggling madly.

Lucy sighed. She should just get back in her car and go home. This moron wasn’t worth the headache, and she had to work tomorrow. She glared at the drunken man now snoring quite contentedly on the concrete, then shivered. It was cold and getting colder. He’ll freeze to death, and it’ll be your fault.

It’ll be his own dang fault, the most annoyed part of her brain argued back.

Rolling her eyes so far back in her head that it hurt, Lucy approached and prodded Daniel with her foot. “Hey. Idiot. You alive?”

No response.

With a growl of frustration, she ran to get her car. It felt like the temperature had dropped ten degrees in the last ten minutes. She couldn’t just leave him out here, idiot or no. She wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight.

She pulled her car around to where she had left Daniel and sat for a moment with the engine idling, trying to think what to do. He was at least moving again. He had pushed himself upright and kept patting the top of his head.

She opened the passenger side door and went to help him up.

The gaze he turned on her was glassy and bewildered. “Where’s my hat?”

Lucy groaned. Cowboys and their hats! “We’ll get it in a minute,” she told him. “First, we need to get you in the car.” She tugged on his shoulders. “You’re gonna have to help me, big guy. I can’t carry you on my own.”

He did his best to stand up. Once upright, he leaned against the hood of her car, squinting around.

Lucy tapped his shoulder. “You gonna make it?”

 “If this dog-nardit sidewalk would just…” He made a shushing motion with his hand and giggled feebly. She shook her head.

She placed one of his arms around her shoulders and took hold of his waist, groaning inwardly as his considerable weight sagged onto her yet again. “Just a few steps. Can you do that?”

She poured him into the passenger seat a handful of shaky moments later, securing his seatbelt, and swiping at her brow. He was still patting his head.

His hat. She ought to leave it. More than a little annoyed, Lucy jogged across the icy sidewalk to where Daniel’s cowboy hat had settled into a puddle of slush and retrieved it with a grumble.

As she slid into the driver’s seat, she glanced over at her unwelcome companion. His dark hair flopped into his eyes with an annoyingly careless, tousled handsomeness, and the scruff on his cheeks brushed against the collar of his coat—prickly, and unshaven. He still had the sharp jawline and small cleft in his lip that had caught her attention in high school, but he had a tattoo now. She frowned at the sight of the ink lines she could just see skating up over his collar along the side of this neck. It was impossible to tell what it was in this light, but Lucy could not help but feel… slightly disappointed. She had never really been a fan of inked guys—or drunk ones, for that matter.

Daniel Moore let out a tremendous, grunting snore that made Lucy flinch with the volume. If not for the seatbelt, he would have slid straight down to the floorboard. She shook her head again, turned the wheel, and guided her studded tires carefully onto Main Street. The tidy little avenue was shining with the recent rain and snow that had dappled it on and off throughout the day.

Daniel’s head was resting against the cold window, his breath fogging the glass. He was going to feel something awful in the morning.

Unsure where to head at first, she took a left and then reached over to prod Daniel hard in the chest. “Hey, where do you live?”

“Eh?!” Daniel startled awake.

“I said, where do you live??”

“Over that way,” he mumbled.

“Over—” but he was snoring once more.

Lucy sighed, then realized her only course of action was to lug this moron home with her and let him sleep it off. “Lord, give me patience,” she whispered, swiping at her tired eyes. She glanced at him again. Then forced her eyes back to the road. It didn’t really matter—because she would never be interested in a drunken cowboy who spent his Friday nights doing karaoke with impossibly bad singers—but he was still kinda… maybe… a little cute.

She pulled up in front of the tiny house that she rented on the corner of Russel and Eighth. It wasn’t much, but it was difficult to afford anything more on a retail clerk’s wages. The little place got her out of her mother’s house and on her own, so it was certainly worth it. At least here, she could be herself.

There was a tidy little front garden covered in decaying leaves and a naked maple tree, its branches bending a bit in the breeze. Two houses down, the Cassett family had evidently spent the day decorating. Their house was the only one on the street already twinkling with Christmas lights. The overall feeling of her neighborhood was… homey—if not quite home.

She focused on Daniel thoughtfully. With the temperature dropping, she could hardly just abandon him in the car. However, that meant somehow maneuvering him up the little set of stairs and into the house, and she was afraid he was too far gone this time to rouse.

Lucy unbuckled her seatbelt and circled around the drive to the other side of the car, slipping a bit on a patch of ice as she opened the passenger door. Laying a firm hand on his shoulder, she gave Daniel a hearty shake, but he only groaned.

 “C’mon, you big lug. Wake up.” She pinched him, hard, but received a similar response. Staring around in dismay, a thought struck her, and she reached for a chunk of the icy puddle she had just slipped in, grinning impishly.

His eyes shot open as the ice slipped into the neck of his red flannel. “What in the whole heck?!!” Within moments he was jittering about in the passenger seat like a rabid racoon. “Cold. Cold. Cold. Cold,” he hissed through his teeth, his eyes only half open as he struggled.

“Good,” chuckled Lucy, trying not to laugh. “Now just… if you could move your foot, and… No! No! No! No! No!” Lucy finished on a groan. Having divested himself of the ice, the impudent man’s head had slipped back against the headrest once more. She jabbed him hard, and his eyes flickered. “Listen. Stupid. Hey, LISTEN.” Lucy grabbed his chin. “Get your ungrateful rear end out of my car before I…” As she released his seat belt, he toppled sideways, only just catching himself on the car door.

“Okay.” Lucy was sweating now, but she reached down for Daniel’s armpits and heaved him upright.

He mumbled something unintelligible as he made a very poor attempt to support himself, and finally, the two began making shaky progress up the short drive to the front door.

She talked him up the three steps, then leaned against the doorjamb for support while she fumbled with her keys. Of all the stupid, ridiculous situations to have gotten herself into…. She was muttering foully beneath her breath… “I imagine your mother would tan your hide, Daniel Moore… I ought to tan your hide! Someone ought to, at least…”

The sofa was right next to the door, and when it swung open, Lucy nearly cried with relief and promptly tipped the massive cowboy sideways. He tilted, cried out, and then sprawled atop the cushions, bleary-eyed and bewildered. Lucy tore off her coat and scarf without sparing him a second glance, still muttering.

Around the corner, in the kitchen, she filled a glass with frigid water from the purifier in the refrigerator and downed two before filling it for a third time and carrying it into Daniel.

He was still looking around blearily. “S’not my couch,” he said, swiveling his head from side to side. “S’not my place. S’not Dad’s place. Where… Water!” He nearly knocked the glass from Lucy’s hand in his drunken enthusiasm.

“Would you mind… terribly… getting those off my couch?” She indicated the muddy boots that were now leaving smears over the chocolate-colored leather.

“S’your place?”

“Yes,” Lucy responded stoically.


“You’re dumping water on my floor.”

“Sorry. I think I ‘ad a bit—” He raised his fingers to display them a miniscule distance from one another. “—too much at Sully’s.”

“Gee, you think?”

“Should… Mmmm… Probably not stay at yours. People will talk.”

“What do you think this is? The 1850’s?”

At that moment, a slow tap-tapping of paws on hardwood announced the lazy arrival of her old rescue pup, Shiloh. The Australian Shepherd fixed his icy blue gaze on Daniel for a moment as he entered the living room and then looked up at Lucy doubtfully, as if to say, “Is that a human?”

 “Woof,” mumbled Daniel feebly, and he giggled. Then, without warning, he slipped sideways against the cushions and began to snore once more. Lucy only just caught hold of his water glass before it dropped to the floor.

“Moron,” she grumbled, and she stomped back to the kitchen.

She returned a moment later, glared at the boots Daniel hadn’t managed to remove, and set about attempting to tug them from his feet. By the time she had managed it, she was sweating again, but she allowed herself a grudging smile when she saw his socks. They were covered with dogs and cats, all wearing little cowboy hats.

After wrestling the man into a supine position… “Should just push you onto the floor.” She went to the closet and took out a down comforter. “Going to have to wash this… maybe twice.”

Her unwanted companion of the evening finally situated, Lucy took her grumbling to the bedroom, patting her leg for her grumpy, retired farm dog. Shiloh came, limping a bit with winter stiffness, but paused at the bedroom door to turn back and give a little, soft warning bark to the stranger on the couch, just so he knew Shiloh was prepared to defend Lucy if necessary.

The bedroom door shut and—for good measure—locked behind her, Lucy wearily removed her clothes and changed into her favorite sweatshirt and leggings. She washed her face and brushed her teeth in the adjoining bathroom, grabbed her book, and settled into bed. Shiloh was already curled up at the foot of the bed, his eyes fixed on the black gap beneath the door.

Lucy rubbed her dog’s ears. “He’s harmless,” she muttered reassuringly. “Perfectly harmless.”


Daniel rolled over, burying his face in the pillow, trying to silence the air. His head was throbbing so mercilessly that he thought he could actually feel the individual veins in his temples pulsing. His throat was raw, as though he’d attempted to gargle bits of gravel, and his joints were all aching as though they’d all been yanked in several different directions the night before.

A strange, unfamiliar exhale and damp moisture against the back of his neck made his mind seize with a sudden panic. What had he done last night? Where was he?? His mind was dancing around, playing images from the night before on fast-forward. The sound of truly atrocious singing. Shouting. The smell of wet concrete when he’d been tossed out of Sullivan’s on his ear. Freezing air on his head… Drat it all. Had he lost his hat? There had been a girl, of that he was fairly certain. A girl he’d known from school… Sick with dread, Daniel tensed and rolled, nearly ending up on the floor.

Finding himself abruptly face-to-face with two blue eyes and a furry muzzle, Daniel’s eyes shot wide open, and a wave of enormous relief flooded through his sore brain. Seeing he was awake, the dog gave him a sloppy, wet welcome.

Daniel sputtered and sat up to fend off the dog’s advances. Rubbing his itching eyes with one hand, he reached out to scratch the excitable animal behind its ears with the other. “Well, hey,” he croaked. “Who are you?”

“His name is Shiloh.”

Daniel’s head jerked up. A petite gal with a sharp, inquisitive sort of face, and curly hair the color of an amber ale was standing in the hall across from him. She was wearing an overlong, creamy-colored sort of sweater, tight jeans, and warm, fuzzy boots. She looked cozy, in a classy sort of way, like she could either curl up on the couch and snuggle in for a good movie or head off to organize an entire office space. He recognized her at once as a girl he’d gone through his last year of high school with. She had been cheery, but shy, and her name was… Lacy. No.


Her hair was piled into a loose bun at the top of her head, and her expression was irritable. It darkened further when he spoke, and Daniel feared he’d got the name wrong for a moment before she said:

“I believe you called me ‘Lanky Lucy’ last night.”

He grimaced. “That was mean.”

“It was a bit, yes.”

“You don’t look anything like you did in high school.”

“Oh, thanks,” she said sarcastically, rolling her eyes heavenward.

Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose. His head was going to explode. “That’s not what I… I meant that you look good.”

“You’ll forgive me if I’m not utterly flattered to be complimented by the drunken idiot that spent an impromptu night on my couch.”

“Understandable,” he mumbled. “Could I use the bathroom?”

She pointed, and the room blurred a bit as Daniel gained shaky feet. Her dog, Shiloh, skittered back to make room for him to pass, his tail wagging hopefully.

“How do you like your eggs?” she asked, marching past him through a framed archway that he guessed led to the kitchen.

“You don’t need to—”

“What?!” she yelled as loudly as she could from a foot away, grinning. Her eyes were dancing with mischief. If he’d had the energy to bend down and grab one, he would have thrown a pillow at her.

“Suppose I deserved that,” he muttered, his hands at his ears.

“You have no idea!” She clapped her hands loudly, smiling all the while. “Get a move on! I’ve got to go to work! Chop! Chop!”

He winced with each impact of her hands and turned about to locate the bathroom.

“Door on the right. I’m making a scramble,” she declared.

He poked his head back around the corner. “You don’t need to bother with that. I’ve already been enough trouble.”

“You can say that again.” She gave him an offhand look. “I’m having breakfast anyway. It’s just as easy to make two servings as one.”

He nodded his thanks, swallowed roughly, and then glanced down at himself. “I hate to ask this, but would it be okay if I took a quick shower?”

Lucy grinned at him. “Good call. You’re a bit ripe.”

Daniel chuckled. A few minutes later, ensconced in a frilly, beach-themed bathroom, he ran the cold out of the pipes and stepped into a hot shower with a sigh of relief. The heat massaged a bit of the pain away, and tension began to release as he searched for soap. Finding only a fruity gel that seemed to have tiny blue rocks in it, he shrugged, scrubbed up, and emerged feeling at least ten percent more human than when he’d gone in… and vaguely relieved. Judging by this perfectly ordered bathroom and the singular, pink razor he had spotted on the shelf in the shower… there was no male presence anywhere in this house. That meant that Lucy might just be single.

He smelled the delicious scent of bacon wafting in the air through the steam, and his stomach rumbled in response as he followed his nose.

Lucy was standing in a brilliantly yellow kitchen, sliding eggs onto a plate atop a white countertop. “You look like you feel better. Coffee’s there,” she indicated the pot with a nod of her head.

“Thank you.” He looked around as he filled his mug. White cabinets, white countertops, stainless appliances, and a wooden sign on the wall that read, Do What Makes Your Heart Happy. Everything else in the kitchen was yellow. The hand towels were dotted with yellow flowers. The yellow patterned container of utensils on the countertop had a label that read, a spoonful of sugar. Even the paper towel holder was yellow.

 “You like yellow,” he observed, as he scooped up a serving of eggs and placed them on his yellow polka-dotted plate, along with two slices of bacon and a toasted piece of Dave’s Killer Bread. “This looks good. I haven’t had a hot breakfast since…” His voice drifted off. The pain of that hurt more than his head.

Lucy didn’t say anything. The look on her face told him she understood. In a town this small, she likely knew his entire life story.

He looked at her, really looked at her. She was eye-catching, but not in the conventional way. There was just something about her that made her stand out. Her hair was an undyed shade of dark amber blonde. Her face bore minimal makeup. It was her eyes, though, that really got him. When she looked at him with those leaf-green, elvish sort of eyes, it felt as if she was not just looking at him, but inside him. To say it was unnerving was mild. What was she seeing? A sloppy drunk. That’s what, he answered himself. He shook away the thought and glanced around the cozy house, raising his coffee to his lips. “I like this.”

She shrugged her shoulders, and her sweater pulled up and down against her jeans. “It’s not much, but at least I have my own space.”

He looked at her. “Wasn’t your mother a Miss Silverton?”

Her hand tightened on her fork. He had hit a nerve. “She was.”

Shiloh, sensing his mistress was unhappy, moved to her side and bent his head against her leg. Lucy rubbed his ears absentmindedly.

“I need to be at work in thirty minutes. I assume your car is close to Sullivan’s?”

He nodded. “Thanks for not letting me drive.”

She laughed. “The thought never even crossed my mind. You were so out of it; I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.”

Daniel took another bite of eggs. “I don’t usually do that, you know?”

Lucy raised her eyebrows skeptically. “That’s not the rumor that went around in high school.”

He leaned against the counter, pretending to be examining a cookbook that lay open there as he reached for another piece of toast. “That was a while back. I like to think I’ve matured a bit since then.”

Lucy almost spit out her coffee as she let out a snort. “You could have fooled me!” She took a sip from a glittery yellow water bottle that sat beside her.

“Seriously,” he said as he took another sip of coffee. “Last night was… unusual for me. I never drink that much. I just felt… a bit out of control.”

She gave him a speculative look. “Do tell.”

Suddenly, Daniel felt strangely exposed. His instinct was to close up and shut down. If he didn’t think about it, it didn’t exist.

She kept you out of jail, buddy, an annoying voice whispered in the back of his mind. So, Daniel took a breath that seemed to fill him with the scent of strawberries and kept it vague. “My father and I aren’t… getting along right now. He wants me to be exactly like him. Make the same choices he made in life.”

Lucy gave a bitter laugh. “Boy, do I know how that feels.”

“Do tell,” he said with a half-smile, throwing her words back at her and changing the subject in one fluid move.

She stared pensively into her mug. “It’s nothing—nothing that I feel like talking about with a stranger, at least.”

The rejection stung. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

“Yes, you did,” she said, as she took her plate and scraped its remnants into Shiloh’s yellow dog bowl beside a large silver trash bin. “But so did I. So, the fact is, I will never be my mother. She’s perfect. I’m not. End of story.”

“Sounds familiar. But… what exactly do you—”

She lowered her eyes. “I don’t look much like my mother… it bothers her that I’m not…” She sighed and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “That I’m not…”

Suddenly he got it, and when he did, he was angry with himself for missing it. “She’s your typical kind of… well… Barbie-doll pretty, right?” he said, trying very hard not to further insult his host, and bring to mind the photo that hung in the local diner. It was a picture of Lucy’s mother, blonde and fabulous, standing on top of a float in the local parade. “You have a different look. Pretty,” he clarified quickly. “But you don’t look much like her.”

Lucy laughed derisively. “I’ve heard that before. My mother never cared for it much when people said it. She says that I look like my father.”

“Where is your father?” Daniel asked.

She looked off to the side, rubbing Shiloh’s neck. “He left when I was ten.”

He started to say something, but Lucy, having glanced at the ornate clock on the wall, jumped up in a panic. “We have to go! I’m going to be late!” She rushed him out of the house and practically pushed him into the car.

As they drove back into the main part of town, Daniel felt a wave of guilt rush over him for calling her “Lanky Lucy” the night before. His drunken, idiotic self had been unintentionally cruel—and Daniel did not like to think of himself as a cruel person. What was more, she had taken him in despite it, thoroughly protecting him from himself.

“For what it’s worth, I owe you one heck of an apology,” he said, trying to gauge her expression. “For what I said… and for acting the drunken fool.”

When Lucy shook her head and smiled a sad little smile in response, his heart ached. A piece of that whiskey-colored hair slid over her cheek, and his eyes followed it. “What did you say that wasn’t true?” she said, masking her discomfort with another laugh.

Without really thinking, or experiencing any awkwardness, Daniel slid his hand over the steering wheel, covering hers for half a moment. “I didn’t know you then.”

She gave him a darting glance. “And now?”

He squeezed her hand. “I want to know you. I told you,” He removed his hand and tweaked a button on his coat with a little chuckle. “Matured.”

“Yeah, no, I still don’t see it.” She pulled up in front of the gift shop. “Are you parked close by?”

Daniel pointed to an old red Chevy truck a few spaces down from Sullivan’s. “That’s mine.”

She got out of the car, and Daniel paused, thinking hard before he followed suit.

She was collecting her purse from the back of the car as she said, “Take care, Daniel. Try not to pull a stunt like that again. You might not be lucky enough to end up in my car next time.”

He shut his door with a metallic thud, took a breath, then marched around to her side of the car. Leaning against the trunk, he faced a Lucy who was clearly in a hurry to clock in. He grinned. “Let me take you to dinner tonight.”

“Daniel, I’ve got to—” but then she appeared to register what he’d said, she paused, then said, “that’s probably not a great idea.”

“Oh, contraire, I think it’s a very great idea indeed.”

She made to sidle past him, but he took a step to the left and blocked her path, grinning coyly.

 “I’ll think about it. But I have to work the entire day. We don’t even close until seven…”

She took a deliberate step forward. He moved back. She took another step.

“I really have to clock in!” she cried exasperatedly.

He kept pace with her until they were only three feet from the front door of the Pansy House Gift Shop, but when she tried to step forward again, instead of stepping back, he froze, and she bumped right into his chest.

She leapt back, an increasingly familiar expression of annoyance on her face.

“Daniel… uugh! Yes, fine.” He could tell she was agreeing out of sheer desperation to clock in on time, but a rush of victory spread through his chest, and he winked. “Perfect. I’ll see you at seven.” Then, on an instinct, he swiped that little strand of hair back from her cheek, and she blushed very prettily. “Looking forward to it.”

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