The man next door, his granddaughter and her sister’s ghost help bring Rose Asbury out of her seclusion.
EXCERPT: Doesn't that man ever stay in the house? Rose slammed her car door and tried to ignore the man next door. Just once, she wished he'd let her get away without trying to talk to her. But why should this time be any different? Lowering, her head, she hurried toward her house. Right now she wasn't in the mood for conversation. At least not with him. "Hello, Rose, uh... Mrs. Asbury." He dropped his snow shovel, grabbed something from
the garage, and hurried toward her. His relaxed, tall, lean body in a denim jacket and jeans caused a stir of excitement in her. Even his graying temples aroused something in her that she found way too familiar. Stirred up feelings she didn't want stirred up. She barely glanced at him, yet felt a tug on her heart. Damn! Rose threw the scarf around her neck and pulled her coat close against the cold wind. Why didn't he just leave her alone? You'd think by now he'd realize she didn't care to talk to him. Her stomach fluttered, a feeling she hadn't experienced in a long time. Hunger pangs, she dismissed it. Nerves, that's all. She nodded a hello, like always, and hurried to her house. What was it with him? Why did he keep bothering her? Couldn't he see she wasn't the least bit interested? Suddenly, her feet slid out from under her. Splat! She landed on her butt, fell back, and hit her head. Groceries flew everywhere. Oh, crap, just what she needed. She looked up to see the man leaning over her. "Are you all right?" Heat rushed to her face. Other than humiliated, she was fine. A bit sore, but she didn't think she had any broken bones. She tried to sit up. "Wait!" He pushed her back down. "You may have broken something." He ran his hands gently across her ankles and legs and up toward her thigh. A smoldering heat started deep in her stomach. She held her breath, let it out slowly. Even through her slacks, the heat from his hand sent tingly sensations down to her toes. That's it, enough. She pushed his hands away, sat up and managed to get to her knees. The man tried to help her. Ignoring him, she got to her feet and brushed herself off. Heat radiated from her face. Damn, it probably turned as red as her coat. She bent down and picked up her groceries. She still hadn't spoken to him. Why didn't he leave? She could manage just fine without his help. He picked up some of her canned goods and put them in the bag. She reached for it. "Here, this is for you." "For what?" She looked at the flower in his hand. "It's a yellow rose. It means friendship." She could see it was a yellow rose, she wasn't a nitwit. And she knew what it meant. Frank used to bring her roses every week. She took it from him. "I...uh..." Hell, she didn't know what to say. Why would he give her a flower? "I saw it and thought of you." Stephen ran his fingers around his shirt collar. "Here, let me help." He took the bag of groceries and started walking toward her door. She grabbed the bag from him and ran into her house, too humiliated to speak and leaving him to stare after her. * * * Stephen stared after Rose. Damn woman made him feel like he did something wrong. Worse than a kid getting scolded by the principal. Why he bought that damn rose was beyond him. It seemed like a good idea when he saw them in the grocery store. Especially when he saw their meanings. Now he wished he hadn't. Crabby, old woman, she could have at least said thank you. Okay, so it's cold and she fell, but she did the same thing in the summer. How many times had he seen her working in her yard? Yet when he came out, she jumped up and hurried into the house. You'd think he tried to attack her or had some horrible disease. All he wanted was some friendly conversation. He shook his head. Don't know about her. Obviously she didn't want anything to do with him. Too bad, she's an attractive woman. Not that he was looking for anything more than friendship. Hell, he lived here over a year and she never did more than nod at him. Bet she didn't even know his name. Crotchety, old biddy. So why did he bother with her? He really didn't need more friends. He had the Senior Center and the neighbors a couple doors down, Len and Millie Fisher. Why he insisted on talking to Rose Asbury he'd never know. Still, he hoped she wasn't hurt. She had taken a nasty fall. Bet she'd feel it in the morning. Bet she'd have a good black and blue mark too. He chuckled. Served her right, rude old coot. Something about her, though. Not sure why, but he wanted to break through that tough reserve. He shrugged and walked back to the garage, put the shovel away and went into the house. Oh, well, can't say he didn't try.
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