Title: Love on the Vine
Author: Roxanne Smith
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Pub Date: 7/18/2017
Love is in bloom . . .
Straightforward Kay Bing has never been one for subterfuge, although she did embellish her resume just a bit to land a design job at Free Leaf Concepts, a cutting edge botanicals firm. Determined to make a good first impression, she’s exploring the highly secure company greenhouse when her assistant—the much too attractive Oliver Pierce—confides that he’s actually working undercover to investigate whether Free Leaf has created a potent new street drug. Kay doesn’t believe it for a minute—until someone plants designer mushrooms in her salad. Suddenly she and her sexy colleague are teaming up to unearth the roots of a dangerous operation . . .
Oliver not only has a personal stake in the investigation, his entire career in law enforcement is on the line. Stubborn, sensible Kay is a distraction he can’t afford, but as they dig deeper into the case, they discover a chemistry that’s too heated to deny. When even one wrong move could be deadly, Oliver may have to risk it all to keep Kay from harm—and convince her they should be partners for good.
The Free Leaf Concepts building was a narrow silver spire that stabbed into Little Rock’s hazy blue downtown sky like it was trying to pick a fight with the clouds. Aggressive, bold, but innovative and inspiring, too. Everything was chrome and shiny outside, as if they wanted to blast their clients in the face with the good stuff the moment they walked into the foyer. It worked. The lobby was a spectacle. The concrete and shiny metal of the outside world, from the dirty sidewalks to the old brick grandfather buildings lining the streets, were a million miles away as soon as Kay stepped through the mirrored doors, etched with Free Leaf’s chrome leaf emblem.
Crimson chrysanthemums were arranged around copper sculptures and red velvet couches in the waiting area. The fixtures and lighting were all shades of gold and honey. It was vibrant, masterfully done, and Kay wanted to touch everything.
“I’ve never seen chrysanthemums that shade,” she breathed to the receptionist when she came to gather Kay. “I mean, red is common enough, but that…Well, that’s not red. That’s fresh blood. I’ve seen fresh blood, I would know.”
The receptionist’s eyes widened slightly. Kay cleared her throat and stood up straight. She might look like a particularly wise fourteen-year-old, but Neve had taught her a thing or two about commanding herself. Kay had spent the last year taking orders and doling them out under her mentor’s watchful eye. With Neve backing her, Kay had never lacked for confidence. Now, there was no mean lady over her shoulder, daring someone not to take the five-foot-nothing Kay Bing seriously. She was on her own here. She couldn’t just rely on Neve—she had to be Neve.
The receptionist watched her curiously. Kay held back a heavy sigh. She’d never been good at first impressions. She offered the receptionist a bland smile. “Never mind. Long story. Hi, I’m Kay Bing. You should be expecting me. Or, at least, someone should.”
The woman smiled back. She had on a turtleneck dress with cap sleeves in a shade near exact to the sofa, and a clear clipboard tucked against one jutting hip. “I’m Brit. And you’ve probably never seen chrysanthemums like that because that particular shade was manufactured in house. We have a remarkable botanist. His lab takes up the entire third floor. Please, follow me.”
Kay tried hard to keep her excitement in check, but it thrummed through her like an electric guitar. “In house?” she repeated. “You have your own botanist? Wow. You know, I dig the monochrome, but a few pale yellow tulips would really—”
“No tulips,” Brit interjected apologetically. “Company policy. Too common. One of the most cultivated flowers in the world. Free Leaf Concepts prides itself on ‘top shelf’ fauna, if you will.” Then she pulled a face, sticking out her tongue in a small grimace. “At least, that’s the line I feed clients. We do, of course, pander to special requests, but it requires ordering through a third party.”
“Got it. No tulips.” Kay’s enthusiasm wilted a little as she followed Brit. She was going to work for a bunch of flower snobs. Tulips were wonderful and hardy. She hated to think how they felt about daffodils.
Brit guided her through a hallway like something out of Kay’s wildest dreams. Jungle met concrete in a fantastic display of nature and man- made coming together in glorious harmony. The walls were mixed concrete overlaid with milky silver panels that cast distorted reflections placed randomly along the length of the curved hallway. Ledges cradling passionflower vines were cut into niches of concrete between the panels. The vines grew elegantly from one ledge to the next. The odd silver panels gave a strange, funhouse illusion of greenery dipping and swirling everywhere, all at once. The ceiling was low, painted a subtle sage green that reflected the industrial carpeting underfoot, and recessed lighting cast a pale light, as if the hallway were awash in lazy afternoon sunlight. The design was a marvel.
The hallway ended at a round glass-encased elevator. Brit punched a button but didn’t move to step inside. “Fifth floor is all executive offices and conference rooms. Mr. Arnell, our director of operations, will probably call you in for a briefing sometime, but his calendar and working hours are hectic. Don’t expect to get much advance warning. Could be this afternoon or next month. He’s out of the office from noon to two most days. Complete nightmare to schedule him with clients. Your office is on the fourth floor.”
Kay smiled. Just one small floor away from the botany labs. She stepped inside the cylindrical elevator.
Brit made a notation on her clipboard and grimaced with distaste. “Damian Roscoe may still have a few personal affects in the office. You can have your assistant, Oliver, clear them out for you. He and Roscoe were buddies, so don’t take it personally if he doesn’t hop-to on the first day, okay? He’s a good guy, even if Roscoe was an idiot douchebag.” She gave Kay a bright smile and a wave, then punched another button that set the doors to closing. “Your team is anxious to meet you. Have a great first day, Ms. Bing.”
Kay blinked at the receptionist’s retreating form, then put Brit’s parting comment aside. Office gossip wasn’t on the agenda.
She fixed her expression into a stone mask of observation, just like she’d seen Neve do a thousand times. It usually meant the gears were turning, calculating budget, measurements, and people all at once, deciding in an instant what, where, when, how, and why. For Kay, the stony façade would be a tool. A shield. At least, for today. Tomorrow, maybe it wouldn’t be a mask, but the real thing.
She tucked her nerves and self-doubts into her back pocket. She straightened the collar of her no-nonsense black button-up. Instead of a tie, she wore a neat silk bow in a muted gray. Professional. Not overly cute. Kay couldn’t dress cute. Dressing cute meant jokes about curfew, and did her parents know where she was. Ha-ha. Yep, she got it. She was little. But she also knew if she wanted to be the queen, she couldn’t dress like the jester. Anything pastel—light pink, pale lavender, baby blue—was out of the question. Hacking off her hair helped to a degree, and recently she’d began wearing heavier makeup, finding it aged her. Scrubbed clean, she could pass for a young teenager. She might be the only woman alive looking forward to a few wrinkles.
The glass elevator pinged eloquently, like someone had installed a doorbell from one of the homes in the Governor’s Mansion district, when it finally came to a stop. The door slid open.
A handsome man—the kind with an eye-catching appearance that encouraged a second glance—waited just on the other side. His eyes, the same subtle green as the ceiling in the hallway downstairs, scoured her in one quick motion, literally sizing her up. He smiled indulgently, like he wanted to offer her a quarter for the candy machines. But not before she caught the gleam of calculation, there and gone in a blink.
He held out his hand. The smile lingered, relaxing into something with a little more warmth. “Oliver Pierce. But you can call me whatever you like. ‘Fetch that file’ is a big hit. ‘More coffee,’ another favorite.”
Her assistant. He would be charming, good-looking, and not outrageously tall. A tad on the rugged side, with stubble arranged almost artfully across his jaw, and eyes the color of sage under an expressive brow. His gaze held his candid smile.
Kay took his hand without moving a single muscle on her face. God, the effort. She’d never know how Neve kept it up. “Nice to meet you, Oliver.” He seemed put off by her dry greeting. His smile dialed back a few degrees. He had the beginning of a few lines around his eyes. Older than she was. “Likewise,” he said. Then he took off in a sudden energetic burst, beckoning her to follow. “C’mon, I’ll show you to your office.”
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A Florida native, Roxanne Smith has called everywhere from Houston to Cheyenne home. Currently residing in Roswell, New Mexico, she’s an avid reader of every genre, a cat lover, pit bull advocate, and semi-geek. She loves video games, Doctor Who, and her dashing husband. Her two kids are the light of her life and provide ample material for her writing.