The Wallflower Page 1

Author: Dana Marie Bell

Series: Halle Pumas #1

Genres: Fantasy , Romance

Prologue

“So, have you heard? Max is back.” Marie watched with a friendly smile as Emma carefully wrapped her purchase. Emma felt her heart give a little jump at the news, though it wasn’t the first time she’d heard it. The knowledge that the hunky Dr. Cannon had moved back home for good after ten years away was hot gossip to all the women who trooped through her store.

Marie Howard was there to pick up a hand-crafted mirror with beautiful hand-painted tiles. Livia was there, even though she hated both Emma and Becky, because she was friends with Marie. As far as Livia was concerned, they were directly responsible for her breakup with Max.

Livia Patterson was one of the town beauties and knew it. Fine boned with alabaster skin, she had just the right dusting of rose at her cheeks to set off her pale blonde perfection. Add blue eyes the color of forget-me-nots and a tall, wispy build, and she was the epitome of the fragile blonde. The woman could brawl like a linebacker when the time came; she could shriek, and bats for miles around fell dead to the ground; but man if she didn’t work the whole Penelope Pitstop thing, and men fell for it. They loved that whole delicate flower of womanhood crap she managed to pull off so flawlessly. Not that Emma envied her or anything. Not really.

Men looked at Emma and saw sturdy womanhood. Hips made for birthing, plain brown eyes and nondescript brown hair, at five-foot-two inches Emma would never, literally, be able to stand up to Livia.

Add in the fact that most of the town thought she was in a gay relationship with Becky and her social calendar remained depressingly empty.

“Apparently Max is planning on taking over Dr. Brewster’s practice; he and Adrian will be partners,”

Livia cooed.

“So you’ve already spoken to him?” Marie’s expression of polite curiousness didn’t quite mesh with her tone of voice. Emma didn’t dare look too closely, but she thought Marie was almost exasperated with her friend. Everyone knew how hard Livia had once chased Max. Maybe she thought she could get the old fires burning once again?

“Yes, Max just bought his parents’ old house. I can’t wait to get in there and redecorate.” Emma could practically see Livia rubbing her hands in anticipation. “Of course, nothing in this shop will do. No real craftsman things. I want genuine antiques, not knock-offs.” Livia’s contemptuous gaze raked the store, and its owner, with equal derision.

When Livia’s back was turned, Emma, in a fit of childishness, mimicked the blonde as closely as possible. Marie wound up choking on a sip of tea as Emma put her hand on her hip and mouthed along with Livia’s words. “Of course, everyone knows Max would never set foot inside Wallflowers. Does he even know you exist, Emma?”

Emma tapped her nail on her chin thoughtfully as Livia turned back to her. “Yes, actually, I believe he does. Something…something to do with…punch. Cherry punch, if I recall correctly.” That had been the incident that broke up Max and Livia; Becky had spilled cherry punch all over Livia’s white prom dress in retaliation for some comment of Livia’s concerning Emma. Max had, apparently, taken Emma and Becky’s side and had broken off his relationship with Livia. Livia had hated Emma and Becky ever since.

Emma was pretty sure Livia was the one who kept the whole gay couple rumor alive.

The look on the blonde’s face was filled with hatred until she smoothed it out, once again the cool, delicate woman most of Halle knew. She smiled at Emma with pity. “I hear Jimmy left town recently.

What’s wrong, Emma, didn’t he like sharing you with Becky? Or perhaps you couldn’t talk her into a ménage a trois?”

Emma smiled back, hiding the hurt over Jimmy with practiced ease. They’d known before he left that their relationship wasn’t going anywhere, and it wasn’t Jimmy’s fault. “So you’ve been invited to Max’s housewarming party?” Sometimes it helped to have friends in odd places; Max’s best friend had become one of her best artisans and closest friends. He’d made Marie’s mirror and supplied quite a bit of glass wall art for the store.

Livia’s eyes flickered; she knew nothing about the party. Emma mentally chalked up a score on her mental scoreboard. On the downside, Emma hadn’t been invited either, not that she’d expected to be.

“That party is supposed to be a surprise.” Livia waved her hand airily. Emma merely raised an amused eyebrow, not deceived in the least. “Oh, well, hopefully you won’t spill the beans to Max. Oh, wait.

When, exactly, was the last time you spoke to Max?” Livia smiled coldly.

Emma clapped in mock approval. “Wow, Livia. Way to express your inner twelve year old.”

Grinding her teeth on a fake smile, Livia turned to Marie. “I’ll wait for you outside. The atmosphere in here is so cloying and sweet. I really don’t know how you can stand it.” She stepped outside and sat on the bench Emma and Becky had put out front, looking dainty and sweet as she waved hello to her friends and acquaintances.

“Sorry about that, Emma. I forgot how much she dislikes you.”

Emma turned and looked at Marie’s apologetic face. She grinned. “It’s no problem, Marie. If she actually came in here to buy something I’d take great pleasure in charging her double.”

Marie laughed just as Becky stuck her head out of the curtained-off back room. “Has the wicked witch ridden off on her broomstick yet?”

Emma waved towards the picture window. “Not quite. She’s flying our bench at the moment.”

Becky carried out the mirror with a sigh. “Here you go, Marie. Hope you and Jamie like it.”

“Oh, I’m sure we will,” Marie replied, her eyes glued to the boxed up mirror. She paid, chatting quietly with Becky and Emma, then left the store with a cheery wave. The two women could see her giving Livia something of a hard time as they crossed the street, but quickly lost sight of them.

“So. Max is back in town.” Becky leaned back against the counter, obviously hiding a grin.

“Yup.”

“You going to make a play for Dr. Yummy? I mean, since you’ve had a crush on him since, what, grade school?”

“Given half a chance? Maaaybe.”

The two women looked at each other and laughed; they both knew Emma didn’t stand a chance in hell of catching Max Cannon’s attention. She hadn’t done it in high school, and she certainly hadn’t changed all that much since.

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