Cinderella - *Book Three*

By Lilly Henderson All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Erotica

Blurb

Taking care of her younger brother and running her florist shop are Tessa's high priorities after her parents' tragic death eight years ago. When her best friend tries to pull her out of her "All Work-No Play" - zone, she's reluctant at first, but soon discovers that taking care of her own needs is something she should have done much sooner. And throw in Paul - a handsome and sweet guy that sweeps her off her feet - Tessa feels happier than she has in a very long time. It seems she finally found what she didn't know she had been looking for. So nothing stands in her way of a Happily Ever After. Right?

One

Tessa

“Sam, come on! Move it! You’re gonna be late for school!” Arms crossed in front of my chest, I tap my boots on the tiled floor in the hallway. A weary sigh escapes my lips when a grumpy teenager rushes down the stairs with an annoyed growl and vanishes into the kitchen. I look at my watch and grimace. “Sam, I’m serious! Do you want to take the bus? Because I am leaving in five — four— three-” I grab my keys and purse and open the door. “Two-”

As usual, before I say one, Sam hurries past me and out into the driveway. With another heavy sigh, I lock the door and get into the car, and finally, we’re on our way. Struggling to ignore the throbbing headache that’s developing beneath my temples, I open my mouth to start a conversation when Sam leans on the middle console and switches on the radio. Fine. Not in a talking mood this morning, but that shouldn’t surprise me because as a fourteen-year-old, you apparently don’t have much to say, especially not to your older sister.

When we arrive in front of Sam’s school after fifteen minutes with only the latest chart songs playing the background, I turn off the ignition and turn to my brother, who reaches for the door. “Hey, hold on.” I place my hand on his arm. “What time will you be home today?”

Sam rolls his eyes. “Tessa, really?” he grunts. “How often do I have to tell you?”

“Okay, Mr. Grumpy-pants,” I grumble. “I don’t know who or what pissed you off this morning, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t let it all out on me.”

Sam takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I’m just having a shit day.”

“Hey! Watch your language.”

He looks at me with a raised eyebrow. “Seriously? You ever heard the saying about the pot and the kettle?”

“Smartass,” I grumble.

A grin spreads across his face. “Point proven.”

Another sigh escapes me. I’ve been doing that a lot around him lately. “Yeah, you’re right. Anyways, if there’s anything you want to talk about–”

Another grunt. But then his features soften and he looks at me. “Thanks, sis. I’m sorry. This time of year is just a little hard.”

I put my hand on his arm and nod. “I know. For me too.”

He sighs when he opens the car door. “I’ll be home at around five after basketball practice.”

“Okay.” I give him a warm smile. My eyes widen when the corners of Sam’s lips lift, and I’m close to pulling him in for a hug, but I don’t want to ruin the moment by being the embarrassing grown-up.

After slamming the door shut, Sam crosses the schoolyard. With the smile still on my lips, I watch how Leo, his best friend, comes running up to him, giving him a playful shove. They laugh, and I press my palm to my heart. Yeah, he’ll be all right. So I start the car and drive to the train station to catch the train into the city.


About one hour later, I unlock the door to my flower shop in Lower Manhattan. I have twenty minutes before I have to open, so I use the time to get an overview of today’s orders. I sit down at the desk in my office in the back of the shop and take a sip of the coffee I got on the way. Thanks to the caffeine and some aspirin, the headache from earlier is gone, so I’m ready for another busy day. As October draws to an end, I also need to catch up on some paperwork. Not my favorite part of the job.

After finishing my coffee, I rearrange the display area and get the things ready I need for the big order of centerpieces that Mr. Johnston – event manager and loyal customer – is going to pick up this afternoon for a charity event.

It’s a rather quiet morning, giving me enough time to think about Sam and how he keeps to himself a lot these days. So when my friend Ava walks into the shop just before noon, a sudden lightness washes through me. “Hey, Tessa,” she says with her usual bright smile as she hugs me tight.

“Hey! I’m so glad you’re here.” A wide grin spreads on my face as excitement bubbles inside me at seeing my best friend.

“You’re glad I’m here?” Ava takes a step back and eyes me up and down, squinting. “What’s up, Tess?”

I let out a heavy sigh and slump my shoulders. “It’s Sam; he’s been in a bad mood lately.”

She chuckles as she follows me into my office to take off her coat. Ava covers some shifts at my shop to earn some extra money. When she’s not helping me out, she is a freelance photographer, so her skilled eye for beautiful details comes in handy when creating bouquets. “He’s a teenager,” she says with a chuckle. “What do you expect?”

I sigh and cross my arms in front of my chest, leaning against my desk. “It’s not only that. It’s almost November.”

Ava gives me a knowing look. “I see. Your parents’ accident.”

I nod. “It’s been eight years since we’ve lost them, but it doesn’t seem to get any easier.”

“Hey, it’s only natural you feel this way. But look how far you’ve come since then. You’ve taken over your mom’s business, and literally, it’s blooming.”

Despite the heaviness that drags down my heart whenever I think about my parents, I smile, thankful for my friend’s attempt to cheer me up. “Yeah. You’re right.”

“And above all,” Ava adds, “you take care of your brother all by yourself. You’re doing a damn good job. Sam is a great kid; you’re a good team.”

I pull her in for a hug. “Thanks, Ava. I’m glad you’re my friend.”

“Of course.” She squeezes me once more before she takes a step back, giving me a warm smile. “I’m always here for you; you know that, right?”

I nod as we go back to the front of the shop. Ava engages me in light small talk, thus helping me to take my mind off my worries, and soon, we fall into our usual routine: Ava takes care of the customers, and I make new flower arrangements and continue to work on the centerpieces.

Sometime later, a guy probably in his late-twenties walks into the shop, and when Ava is done arranging a bouquet of red roses he needs for tonight, we know every detail of how he plans on proposing to his girlfriend, including a fancy dinner and the engagement ring hidden in the dessert.

Once he’s gone, Ava joins me at the workbench to help me with the order for Mr. Johnston. “Wow, can you believe how nervous the poor guy was?” Ava chuckles as she picks up a peony and cuts off the stem to fit it in the centerpiece.

“Of course he was nervous.” I laugh and tuck a strand of my long hair behind my ear. “He’s going to propose; that’s a big deal.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Ava waves her hand with a roll of her eyes.

I bite my lips and shake my head, knowing what my best friend thinks of long-term commitment. “Not everyone is like you, Ava. Some people actually enjoy being in a relationship.”

“I know. One fine day, I might agree, but for now, I enjoy being young and free. Ask me again when I turn thirty in five years. Until then, I’m going to party.” She looks up from the centerpiece she is working on with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “You know what? We should go out again.”

I frown. “Go out? I don’t know...”

To be honest, going out with Ava is not exactly my favorite pastime because that usually means getting dressed up and mingling with people I don’t know at some bar or some hot nightclub. With her mocha complexion and her jet-black hair cut in a neat shoulder-length bob that accentuates her dark-brown eyes with the ridiculously long lashes, Ava is such a guy magnet, and that makes me feel a little uncomfortable sometimes. Having to tell those guys I’m not looking for a date gets tiring.

Ava tilts her head to the side and looks at me intently. “Come on. Claire is working on Saturday morning, right?”

Claire is one of the two students I hired to work most weekends so I don’t have to be in my shop seven days a week.

I nod. “Yes, she is. But-”

“No but!” Ava interrupts me with a glare. “When was the last time you had a little fun? Let your hair down? Painted the town red?”

I laugh. “Okay, okay, I get the idea. All right, what are you suggesting?”

“My sister Val told me about this pub. Do you remember her colleague, Lauren? Her boyfriend plays in a band, and they’re supposedly awesome. This coming Friday, they’re performing at this new pub close to my place. So, what do you say? A couple of drinks, good music, new people?”

I grimace. “Hm, I’m still not on board with that idea. What about Sam?”

“No!” She points her finger at me. “I’m not letting you use him as an excuse again. Ask Heather if he can stay over.”

“Did I hear my name?”

We turn around toward the cheerful voice that entered my shop, belonging to the most caring woman I know. She greets us with her warmest smile, and before we can react, we are both wrapped up in a loving hug.

“How are my girls?” she asks cheerfully. Before she lets us go, she gives us each a peck on the cheek.

“Hey, Heather.” I look at her with raised eyebrows. “I didn’t know you’d be coming in today.”

“Change of plans. I have an appointment tomorrow. That’s why I’m here today instead of tomorrow to help you with your paperwork. If that’s okay, that is.”

“Of course it is.”

Heather was my mom’s best friend. She is a floral designer like my mom was. They met through their job, and even though Heather was ten years younger than my mom, they were inseparable as soon as they met. And on top of that, she also happens to be Leo’s mom.

After my mom’s death, she supported me so I could keep the shop. She helps me with the bookkeeping, and when I have to be at my shop early to accept a flower delivery, she looks after Sam. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

“Now, what did you want to ask me?” Heather looks back and forth between us with raised eyebrows.

Before I can speak, Ava beats me to it. “Tessa and I would like to go out on Friday. Can Sam stay the night at Leo’s?”

Heather’s lips lift in a cheerful smile and her eyes sparkle when she answers, “Sure, no problem. That’s a great idea. I told you, Tessa, you need to go out more.”

Ava grins triumphantly. “Great, thanks, Heather. Tessa?”

I let out a heavy because I know there’s no getting out of it now. “Okay, you win.”

“Yes!” Ava raises her hand to high-five Heather and does a little victory dance. She laughs as she hugs me. “You’ll see, we’ll have a great time.”

I can’t help but laugh too. Maybe they are right. I could use a little fun even though my idea of a great time usually includes a quiet evening at home with some popcorn and watching a good movie with my best friend. But stepping out of my comfort zone every once in a while might do me some good.

While Heather busies herself with paperwork in my office, Ava and I continue to work on the centerpieces. Before long, my stomach rumbles. Ava must have heard it because she looks at me with raised eyebrows. “Have you had lunch yet?”

I shake my head. “No. Maybe I’ll grab a sandwich somewhere. Will you be fine here on your own for a little while?”

Ava waves off my question with a snort. “Please! Go eat, and take your time.”

I chuckle. “Okay, I get it. Do you need anything?”

“No thanks, I’ve had a late breakfast. But you could bring some chocolate.” She grins at me.

“I will.” I smile back as I go to my office to grab my coat and purse.

Heather looks up from the paperwork when I enter the room. “Oh, by the way, I’ve meant to ask,” she says. “Leo told me about the pumpkin soup you made the other day. He loved it and asked me if I could make it too because he thought it was much better than the pumpkin soup I make.”

I grin and can’t help but feel a little proud. Yes, I make fantastic pumpkin soup. “I can give you the recipe later,” I tell Heather. “Remind me before you go. It’s Sam’s favorite as well.”

“Thanks. Okay, now go and enjoy your lunch.”

I wave her goodbye, and before I leave my shop I inform Ava, “You know what? I think I’ll buy everything I need for Sam’s favorite dinner.” Still smiling, I leave my shop with a newfound sense of calm and lightheartedness.

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