Release Date: June 23, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Trent Daniels only has one regret in life. Nearly fifteen years ago, he let his high school crush, Abby Hoffman, go off to college in New York City without telling her how he felt. Ever since, he’s wondered what would have happened if he’d been bold enough to tell her his feelings.
Abigail Hoffman left Ohio behind long ago and with it the family that had taken her in and embraced her as one of their own. She’s missed the Daniels family, but she couldn’t bring herself to face them again—not after what happened. Now her job has brought her back to the place she’s done her best to avoid and right smack into Trent Daniels.
Trent Daniels double-checked to make sure he had all the paperwork he might need. He had no idea why Frank and Lillian Baxter wanted to see him. As far as he knew, they were happy with the work his landscaping crew was doing, but the vague call he’d received the day before asking if he could meet with them at one o’clock was ominous. Like it or not, he had to consider that he might be losing his biggest client.
Satisfied everything was in order, he closed his briefcase and straightened his tie. He hated suits and did his best to wear them as little as possible. Give him jeans and a T-shirt any day over the noose he currently had wrapped around his neck.
“Got everything you need, Boss?” He glanced over his shoulder to find his office manager, Trinity, smirking at him.
“Everything I can think of, at least.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned on the doorframe. “Too bad Mrs. Baxter isn’t twenty years younger. You could charm your way to securing the contract. You’re looking pretty smokin’ in that suit.”
That made him grin and some of the tension dissipated. “Thanks. But I’m hoping talent brings this one home.”
“You don’t know what it’s about, though, right? I mean it could be nothing.” Joking aside, Trinity knew more than anyone did how big a blow it would be if they lost this account. She’d been with him since the beginning and had helped him build the company from the ground up. If things went badly with the Baxters, he might have to lay some people off and that was the last thing he wanted to do.
Trent picked up the briefcase and headed toward Trinity. She pushed herself away from the wall and took a step out of the room as he drew closer. The look on her face told him she was as worried as he was. He came to a stop in front of her and did his best to reassure her. “You’re right. It could be anything. No reason to think the worst.”
She smiled, but he could still see the worry in her eyes.
He placed a comforting hand on her arm. It was bad enough one of them was stressed out over this. “We’ll be okay. We always are.”
Trinity nodded and took a deep breath. “Go get ʼem.”
He gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. “Exactly what I plan to do.”
As he passed Joss and Kevin, they didn’t bother to look up from whatever they were working on. To them it was just a normal day at the office.
The drive to the Baxters’ corporate office seemed to take longer than usual. He was sure that was only because of the lead weight that had settled in his stomach. Landing the Baxter account five years ago had put him and his company on the map. Before, he’d had a small crew made up of four guys and himself with a handful of regular accounts around the city. It wasn’t bad, but he had bigger plans for himself and his company.
Trent parked in one of the guest spots near the front of the building then strolled up the steps toward the main entrance. As he passed by the flower beds, he couldn’t help but take a quick survey of their condition. Everything looked great, in his opinion. The hedges were neatly trimmed and the beds well maintained. His crew did good work.
Shaking his head, Trent pushed everything out of his mind except for the task at hand. He had to be prepared for anything. Even if they lost the account, it wouldn’t do any good to leave a bad impression.
A security guard sat behind a circular desk not far from the entrance. The middle-aged man glanced up as Trent walked in the glass doors.
“I’m here to see Mr. and Mrs. Baxter.”
The security guard, looking somewhat bored, passed him a sign-in sheet. “Name?”
Nodding, the man picked up the phone, effectively ignoring Trent as he put his name and time of arrival on the paper attached to the clipboard.
When the man hung up the phone, Trent handed the sign-in sheet back to him. The security guard took it and placed it on the desk without looking at it. “You can have a seat over there. Mr. Baxter’s assistant will be down to get you shortly.”
Trent had been dismissed. He knew it wasn’t personal and went to take a seat on the modern-looking sofa.
Less than five minutes after he sat down, Melinda, the Baxters’ assistant, exited the elevator. She had a sly smile on her face as she approached him. “Frank told me you were going to be stopping by today. It’s good to see you again. It’s been a while.”
“It hasn’t been that long. I was here last month.” Trent stood and followed her as she pivoted on her heel and strode toward the elevator. He didn’t miss the extra swing in her hips as she walked that drew his attention directly to her backside. Melinda was a beautiful woman and she knew it.
He’d considered asking her out, but decided it wasn’t a good idea. If something went wrong, he didn’t want to put himself and the Baxters in an awkward position. However, that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy the view.
The elevator doors closed. She glanced over her shoulder, meeting his gaze.
Melinda beamed at the compliment. “Thank you. It’s new.”
She took a step toward him and ran a hand down the side of her dress in a way that had him wondering what those curves of hers would feel like pressed up against him.
“You don’t think it’s too much for work? I was thinking of going out later tonight and didn’t want to go home first to change.”
He grinned, trying to keep it casual. “Not at all. I’d say it’s perfect for a girls’ night out on the town.”
Her confidence faltered a little at his response, but she recovered quickly. When they reached the top floor, Melinda sashayed out of the elevator, giving him another perfect view of her ass. Interested or not, Trent was a guy and it was hard to ignore something like that when it was right there in front of you.
She exaggerated every movement as she made her way over to her desk and sat down. It was like this every time he visited.
Trent cleared his throat. “Should I go in?”
Melinda looked a little disappointed, but nodded. “Yes. He’s expecting you.”
Trent paused outside Mr. Baxter’s door and took a deep breath. The one thing Melinda’s flirting had done was help get his mind off this meeting. If he didn’t know she’d take it the wrong way, he’d send her flowers or something.
He raised his hand and knocked.
“Enter.” Despite the closed door, Mr. Baxter’s voice rang out loud and clear.
Trent straightened his shoulders, opened the door, and walked in.
Mr. Baxter smiled when he saw Trent and waved him inside. “Come in, come in. How have you been?”
Seeing Mr. Baxter’s upbeat attitude, Trent relaxed some. Surely if they were going to fire him, Mr. Baxter wouldn’t be so welcoming.
“I’ve been well, Mr. Baxter. Thank you for asking.”
He motioned for Trent to take a seat and waited until he was settled before continuing. “I’m so glad you could make it in today.”
“Of course.” Mr. Baxter was pushing sixty, but it was hard to tell. He dyed his hair and worked out regularly. If not for the lines around his eyes, he could easily pass for someone in his forties.
Hearing a noise behind him, Trent glanced toward the door. A man around his age, wearing a very expensive-looking suit, entered followed by Mrs. Baxter.
“I was beginning to think you two weren’t coming,” Mr. Baxter said, rising from his seat to give his wife a peck on the cheek.
Mrs. Baxter grinned at her husband, and then lowered herself into the empty chair next to Trent. “Lunch took longer than expected. I do believe the waitress had a small crush on Maxwell.”
The other man, who Trent assumed to be Maxwell, took a seat on the couch along the wall and rolled his eyes. “I think you’re making too much of it, Aunt Lillian. She was just trying to be nice.”
His comment received a look of disbelief from Mrs. Baxter, but she didn’t reply.
Mr. Baxter cleared his throat. “Let’s get started, shall we?” He turned his attention to Trent. “As you’ve probably already surmised, this is our nephew, Maxwell Collins.”
Trent nodded in Maxwell’s direction. The man leaned forward and extended his hand in greeting. Trent took it and smiled politely.
“Good. Now that the introductions are settled,” Mr. Baxter said when their handshake was over, “we can get down to business.”
“We have something we’d like to ask you,” Mrs. Baxter began, before being cut off by her nephew.
“What my aunt means to say is that I’m in need of some help and they feel you might be able to assist me.”
“What is it that you need?” Trent asked. He was still trying to shift gears from thinking he was going to lose the account to being asked for help.
Maxwell sat forward, clasping his hands in front of him. “My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and has recently taken a turn for the worse. He kept it from all of us until recently. Now that I know, I’ve come home to take care of things and to run the family business.”
Trent waited for him to go on, since that still didn’t explain what they needed from him.
“My father’s assistant, Emily, knew about his condition and helped him hide it from the family,” Maxwell continued. “As he got worse, she took over more and more of the daily operations.”
He stood and walked over to the bank of windows along the wall. When he came into the room, he’d looked to be in his early thirties, the same as Trent himself. But now, talking about his father’s declining health, Maxwell seemed to have aged ten years before his eyes.
Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Maxwell turned around to face Trent. “Long story short, some bad decisions were made. One of those was to trim the budget so it didn’t include outside maintenance for any of our properties. It’s no wonder sales are declining when the grass hasn’t been cut in weeks and there are weeds everywhere.”
It sounded like a mess. Lawns left unattended that long were likely to have seeded. It would take weeks, if not months to get them back to where they should be. “How many properties?”
“Ten. And I need them looking presentable as soon as possible. I’m willing to pay for overtime or whatever else is needed. My family has put a lot of work into building this company. I won’t allow it to crumble under my watch.”
Trent needed to see firsthand what he was dealing with. “I would have to take a look at all the properties and come up with an action plan.”
“Good. When can you get started?”
“I have some time tomorrow if that would work for you.”
Maxwell grinned and handed Trent two business cards from inside his jacket. “I’ll have my assistant, Abigail, meet you in front of our corporate office at nine. She can take you around to each of the properties and answer any questions you may have.”
Trent glanced down at the two cards. One had Maxwell Collins, Attorney at Law written in fancy lettering along with a Manhattan address. The second card was for Collins and Baxter Property Management Corporation with a local address.
“If you need anything before tomorrow, you can reach me on my cell.”
Standing, Trent tucked the cards in his pocket. “If I can get a look at everything tomorrow, I should be able to have some figures for you by the end of the week.”
“I look forward to it.” Maxwell extended his hand again to Trent.
After a brief goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Baxter, Trent left the office and made his way back down the elevator. His head was spinning. Not only had they not lost the Baxter account, but it looked as if they were gaining another big client.
Trent strolled past the security guard in the lobby and out into the parking lot. He climbed into his truck, shut the door, and reached for his cell.
Two rings later, Trinity picked up. “How’d it go?”
Trent tilted his head back against the seat and chuckled. “You’re not going to believe it.”
Abigail Hoffman took a seat on the stone bench outside the Collinses’ corporate office. She glanced up at the sky and frowned. It was going to be hot and humid once the sun worked its way higher in the sky. Just her luck she’d be spending the day driving around town showing the new landscaper all the Collinses’ properties. Abby prayed his vehicle had air conditioning.
Max had returned from his meeting the day before and gleefully informed her of how she’d be spending her day today. She was glad he’d solved one of the hundreds of issues they’d inherited upon his return to Cincinnati, Ohio. Instead of spending time with his ailing father, Max was stuck trying to fix the months of bad decision-making his father’s assistant, Emily, had made.
Emily had no experience running a business and it showed. She’d cut spending in an effort to save the company money, but she hadn’t understood that sometimes you have to spend money in order to make it. Now it was up to Max, and Abby, to get things back on track. If they didn’t, Collins and Baxter Property Management wasn’t going to last much longer.
She glanced at her watch. It was already five minutes after nine and there was no sign of the landscaper.
Her phone buzzed and she dug in her purse to check the message. It was from Max, of course.
Didn’t scare him off, did you? - Max
She rolled her eyes. No. He hasn’t shown up yet. - Abby
He didn’t reply immediately. Don’t worry. He’ll be there. Aunt Lillian says he’s the best landscaper in town. - Max
High praise coming from your aunt. - Abby
I know. Call me tonight? - Max
Sure. - Abby
Sighing, she put her phone back in her purse. When Max told her about his dad and asked for her help, Abby couldn’t say no. Max was her best friend and he’d been there for her more times than she could count over the years.
That didn’t mean she was feeling all warm and fuzzy about being back in her hometown. There were too many memories here. Too many chances of running into someone she knew.
Abby checked her watch again. Ten minutes after nine. Maybe Aunt Lillian had been wrong about this guy of hers.
She looked up at the large figure looming over her. The sun was behind him and she was having trouble seeing his face. “Hi.”
“Hi.” He sounded amused. “Would you happen to be Abigail?”
Right then he moved a little to the right, blocking the sun, and she got a good look at his face. Abby blinked. She had to be seeing things. It couldn’t be—
“Are you all right?” His amusement had turned to concern when she didn’t respond.
Abby stood and attempted to hide her unease. She didn’t need to be at any more of a disadvantage than she already was. “Yes. I’m fine.”
A second later, she saw recognition cross his face. “Abby? Is that you?”
“Wow. I can’t believe it. When I was told I’d be meeting Abigail, I had no idea it would be you.”
“Yep. It’s me.” She knew what was coming and the last thing she wanted to do was take a trip down memory lane. “And I’m guessing you’re the landscaper.”
“Landscape architect, actually. But my company does everything from design to implementation and maintenance.”
She was impressed, despite everything else that was going through her head at that moment. “Sounds like a lot of work.”
“It is. But I love it.”
Standing there, Abby realized how easy it would be to slip into the effortless friendship they’d had before. A part of her longed for that, but she had to remember why that wasn’t a good idea—why she needed to keep her distance. “Word on the street is that you’re the best.”
Trent lifted a single eyebrow and one side of his mouth tilted up. “By the street you mean Mrs. Baxter.”
She couldn’t help the bubble of laughter that escaped. “Max’s aunt thinks highly of you and she doesn’t dole out praise lightly.”
Abby knew that much from personal experience. The first time she’d met Lillian and her husband, Frank, she’d been peppered with questions from the woman. Even though Max had explained that he and Abby were merely friends, Lillian was convinced there had to be more to it. She wanted to make sure her nephew wasn’t having the wool pulled over his eyes.
“You must be talking about another Mrs. Baxter. She’s always been quite pleasant to me.” He was teasing her and it brought back a lot of memories . . . memories she really wanted to keep buried.
“Lucky you.” Abby smiled and picked up the paperwork on all the properties she’d brought with her, trying to ignore the churning in the pit of her stomach. “We have a lot of ground to cover today. Are you ready to get started?”
He motioned toward the parking lot. “Ready when you are.”
They made their way down the walkway to where he’d parked his vehicle—a silver pickup truck. It looked new, but when Abby climbed inside she noticed a few signs of wear on the interior. There were also several notebooks and a stack of papers on the seat between them.
Trent put the key into the ignition, started the engine, and put the vehicle in gear. “Where to first?”
Abby flipped open the folder in her lap. The first property on the list was another office building. It was as good a place to start as any. “Gavin’s Ridge. We’ll start there.”
“Gavin’s Ridge it is.”
He backed out and maneuvered his way through the parking lot and onto the main road. Abby told herself to stay calm. It would be okay. This was Trent. Her childhood friend.
While that was true, a lot had changed since they’d sat on the steps outside his home and played I spy.
She chanced a glance at him before looking away.
Pressing her lips together, she ordered herself to breathe. It would be okay. She’d do her job, he’d do his, and then they’d go their separate ways.
Yeah. Who was she trying to kid? There was no way Trent would leave it at that. Not with their history.