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The Dating Phase (ebook)

The Dating Phase (ebook)

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Miriam Bryant has spent the past twenty-five years raising her children, the last ten on her own after her beloved husband died. She’s successful and content with her life, but a chance encounter with a handsome man prior to her daughter’s wedding sets all the butterflies whirling.
She hasn’t dated since she was a teenager, since her Scott swept her off her feet. But is she prepared to move into the next phase of her life – the dating phase?

***Previously in A Bouquet of Love Anthology***

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Miriam's stomach churned and her skin tightened as she drove along the Eagle Point foreshore. If the store was closed, she would in so much trouble. She couldn’t remember being this stressed for her own wedding over thirty years ago. Somehow, over the years, weddings had gone from simply promising an everlasting commitment to five-star productions. She checked the time again after she pulled up in front of Serendipity Bridal Boutique. Five to five. Breathing deeply, she willed her body to relax. She’d made it.
Slipping into her high heels, she got out of the car, pushing away her fatigue. This was her last stop of the day. Soon she could go home, put up her feet and have a cup of tea. She’d have a few more things to do when her daughter, Tara arrived from Perth, but that could wait.
The door chimed as she entered the cool, calm store. The shabby chic, vintage style of the boutique promised an escape from real life. She breathed in deeply, the pleasant lavender scent calming her further and waited in line behind a well-dressed man who was talking to the owner, Kate.
The designer, Kyle waltzed out from the back room wearing an eye-catching ensemble which included a brightly coloured vest with bits of fabric attached to it. It was the kind of thing her sister-in-law likedwearable art.
“Miriam, how lovely to see you.” He opened his arms in welcome. “Are you here to pick up Tara’s dress?”
“Yes, thanks, Kyle.” She wasn’t surprised he called her by name. She and Tara had been regulars at the boutique through the whole process of choosing the wedding dress, veil, accessories, shoes and countless fittings as Tara continued to lose weight. Miriam wouldn’t say her daughter had become a bridezilla, but it had been close at times.
She glanced around the shop while waiting for Kyle to bring out the dress. A pair of glittery silver earrings in the counter cabinet caught her eye and she bent over to have a closer look, standing just behind the man at the counter.
Miriam stumbled back, falling to the ground, pain throbbing in her head.
“I’m so sorry!”
The man looking down at her was about her age, mid-fifties with dark skin and brown hair, with the kind of dark eyes you could get lost in. Right now they were filled with concern. He held out his hand and in seconds she was back on her feet. She held on to him for a moment until the wave of dizziness passed. He smelled divine, some kind of manly spicy scent and his firm hold protected her. She hadn’t been held like this by a man in a very long time. The thought made her step back.
“Are you all right?” the man asked.
She nodded. “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have been lurking so close.” She forced a smile, though her head still throbbed.
“Here, I’ve got some ice.” Kate hurried forward, handing her a bunched up tea towel. Miriam gingerly put it over her eye. The last thing she needed was a black eye before her daughter’s wedding on Saturday.
“Take a seat,” Kyle said, pushing an armchair around for her to sit on.
Embarrassed by all the fuss, she waved them away. “I’m fine. It’s nothing an ice pack and a cup of tea won’t fix.”
“I’ll put on the kettle.” Kyle hurried out back.
She cringed. That’s not what she meant. “No, it’s fine,” she called. “I’ll have a cup when I get home. I’ll just get the dress and tick a few more things off my list.” She smiled at Kate. “With the wedding only two days away, there’s a hundred little things to do.”
“I feel truly awful.” The man wrung his hands together. “I’d like to make it up to you.” He grabbed a card from the counter and handed it to her. “You’ve probably already organised cars for the wedding, but I’d like to offer you a complimentary trip.”
Brent Smith, Vintage Limousines.
Cars were the one thing her budget hadn’t stretched to. She’d bought ribbon to decorate her own white sedan and was planning to clean it top to bottom tomorrow. As tempting as his offer was, she really couldn’t take advantage of his guilt.
“That’s very kind of you, but I can’t accept. I really am all right.” To prove it she lifted the tea towel from her face.
Brent winced.
“What is it?”
“You’ve got a bit of a shiner there.”
Crap. She glanced around for a mirror and, sure enough, a light bruise was starting to form around her eye. She put the ice back on it.
“It’s nothing a bit of make-up won’t cover,” Kate assured her.
Miriam hoped so.
“Do you have vehicles organised for the wedding?” Brent asked.
She shook her head.
“Then please, let me take the bride to the ceremony. It’s the least I can do.”
Tara would love to arrive in a limousine.
“I’ve just started my business,” Brent continued. “It would be great to get a recommendation.” He grimaced. “Though maybe don’t mention the bit about me knocking you down.”
Miriam laughed. “Your secret is safe with me.”
He withdrew a notebook from his shirt pocket. “What’s your name?”
“Miriam Bryant.”
He wrote it down. “What time will you need picking up?”
She gave him the particulars and then said, “You really don’t have to do this.”
“I’d like to.” He smiled and the warmth in his gaze caused a little thrill in her. Damn, she hadn’t had a reaction like that since her husband Scott had died ten years ago. Maybe she’d been hit harder than she’d thought. She snuck another look at Brent while he tucked the notepad back in his pocket. He was tall and slim, with a runner’s physique, and his hands looked strong and capable. The type of hands that would cover her breasts quite nicely.
Heat rushed to her cheeks and she ducked her head.
“I’d better get going. I’ll see you on Saturday, Miriam.” Brent said goodbye to Kate and Kyle, and left the shop.
“He seems really nice,” Kate said. “He was dropping off a stack of business cards for my supplier rack. If you could let me know how it goes, that would be great. I only want to recommend quality suppliers.”
“Sure.” Miriam checked the time. It was already past closing. She stood and handed Kyle the tea towel. “Let me pay for the petticoat, get the dress, and I’ll be on my way.”
“The petticoat hire is on me,” Kate said, smiling at her. “You go home and get that cup of tea you deserve.”
“Thank you.” She wasn’t going to argue.
Kyle gave her the garment bag. “Make sure Tara tries it on as soon as she arrives. It should fit perfectly, but if she’s lost any more weight we’ll need time to take it in again.”
“Of course. Thank you.”
Kyle held open the shop door and then opened her car door for her. Gingerly, she laid the dress on the back seat.
“Have a great time.” Kate stood at the entrance and waved.
Miriam waved back as she got into the car. “Thank you.” Putting the car into gear, Miriam looked for Brent. Silly. She had far too much to do to be thinking about an attractive man. With a shake of her head, she drove home.

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