Enjoy a special romantic short story to celebrate Valentine’s Day from Mills & Boon author Annie West. Originally published in The Daily Telegraph on 09.02.2020.
‘Looks like he’s not coming today.’ Poppy spoke beside Cait as the tall figure in a blue suit strode down the other side of Castlereagh Street.
He didn’t look their way.
Not a glance, much less his usual nod and smile.
Cait’s heart plunged towards her toes.
She looked forward to Declan Hennessy’s smiles. They made her feel good, which was something she cherished. For a while there it had been tough to find anything to feel good about.
The warmth in Declan’s dark blue eyes, the way they crinkled at the corners when he smiled, always lifted her heart.
She frowned as, through the peak-hour pedestrians in Sydney’s CBD, she caught sight of something he carried.
‘No, he’s not coming today. Look.’ She pointed at the distinctive green wrapping. ‘He’s bought her Valentine’s Day flowers at Centrepoint.’
Disappointment was a sour tang on Cait’s tongue.
For six months Declan had bought flowers here every week. He’d chat about what stock they had and what Cait recommended. He’d even wait while she made up an arrangement. Once or twice he’d been too busy to collect the flowers and Cait had delivered them to Lauren Hennessy in a Double Bay apartment. She’d been curious to meet Declan’s wife but was thwarted by the doorman in the foyer.
‘Oh, well, that’s one less arrangement we have to make. We’re flat out.’
Cait shot a surprised look at her boss, but Poppy was already greeting a man wanting red roses. It wasn’t like Poppy to be sanguine about losing a regular customer.
Cait, turning back to a posy of baby’s breath and — surprise — more roses, frowned.
It was stupid. Declan Hennessy could buy flowers wherever he chose.
It wasn’t personal.
Yet it felt personal. Cait bit her lip and added a scarlet ribbon.
It was just that it was Valentine’s Day and her emotions were a jumble. For the first time in years Cait found herself thinking not about Matthew, but about what it would be like to have someone special in her life again. She’d never thought the day would come after so long grieving.
It felt odd, this vague sense of longing and hope.
Not that Declan Hennessy could ever be that someone. It was just that she felt comfortable with him, more comfortable than she’d felt with any man since Matthew.
Four hours and hundreds of red roses later, Cait escaped the shop to deliver floral arrangements to the restaurant in the centre of the Botanic Gardens.
The sun shone and the Gardens were a favourite lunchtime haunt. Walking under the shade of spreading trees, inhaling the scent of lush growth and catching glimpses of the glittering blue harbour should buoy her spirits. Especially as she passed a wedding party on the lawn, their laughter bright.
Yet her mood was dull. It had started with Declan and got worse when Poppy announced unexpectedly that Cait could have the afternoon off. On their busiest day! Then Poppy explained she was giving her niece work experience that afternoon. Which would have been fine if Poppy hadn’t looked guilty.
Surely she wasn’t thinking of replacing Cait?
Reaching the quaint old building, Cait stepped into the welcome cool.
‘Floral delivery from Poppy’s.’
‘Fantastic. Just in time.’ A staff member accepted the box.
Now Cait was free. But what to do with her free afternoon? She turned and found herself looking at a firm chin and a familiar lopsided smile.
Indigo eyes caught her gaze and her breath too. Her heart gave a little thud and revved to a quicker beat.
‘You’re here for lunch?’ Was it booked for the wedding party? Maybe he was a guest.
‘Sort of.’ He gestured towards the open door as another staff member hurried by. ‘Shall we?’
Once outside, though, he said nothing immediately. Cait remembered how he’d avoided the shop today. ‘I’d better be going.’
‘Wait.’ He put out a hand towards her then dropped it. ‘Walk with me a little?’
She hesitated. Habit urged her to leave but curiosity, and something else, made her stay. ‘Okay, for a little.’
As they took a path towards the water she noticed the picnic basket he carried.
‘You’re meeting someone for lunch?’ Of course. Valentine’s Day.
‘That’s the idea. I thought on the point in the Domain near Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.’
Cait nodded. ‘I love it there. Sea breezes and you can watch the harbour traffic.’
‘I’m glad you approve.’ He looked down at her, expression serious. ‘Have lunch with me?’
‘Me? What about Lauren?’
‘My mother? She’s not invited.’ A pod of joggers approached and he took Cait’s elbow, urging her to the side of the path.
‘Your mother? I thought the flowers were for your wife.’
He shrugged and, minus his jacket, Cait realised how broad those shoulders were. How warm his hand before he released her.
‘No wife. My mother was recovering from an operation and the flowers cheered her.’
‘That’s a long recovery. Is she okay?’
Declan’s expression turned sheepish. ‘She’s fine. I kept buying flowers to see you. I wanted to ask you out but guessed you weren’t ready for a date.’ He glanced at her hand where the mark of her wedding ring had finally faded.
‘Me?’ Cait rocked to a stop. ‘You engineered this?’
He nodded. ‘With Poppy. I offered to pay your salary for this afternoon but she said she’d fix it.’
‘But you bought Valentine’s flowers for someone.’
Declan opened the basket and lifted out an exquisite arrangement of water lilies. Her favourites.
‘I couldn’t ask you to arrange your own flowers, could I?’ Shock held Cait still as she absorbed all he’d done. ‘I wanted something special for you.’
It had been a long time since she’d felt special.
He drew a slow breath. ‘But maybe you don’t want—’
‘I do.’ She hadn’t realised how much she wanted. ‘I’d like to have lunch with you.’
‘You have no idea how long I’ve waited to hear that.’ Declan’s smile sent heat zinging through her.
Cait smiled right back. ‘You have no idea how glad I am that you asked.’