Protecting What's Mine
Be Mine: A Benevolence Valentine’s Day Competition
Walking into Blooms made Aldo Moretta a happy man. Not just because stepping through the shiny glass door brought him into a pocket of light and color and greenery. But because his wife was there. Behind the register, dark hair tied back by a bright scarf, the smile Gloria had for the customer in front of her got wider when she spotted him.
It never got old. That smile of recognition, of joy radiating across a room. It’s what he’d waited his entire life for. Now, he had it and two daughters who still raced each other to the front door when he came home every night.
Recognizing the broad back of Gloria’s customer, Aldo elbowed the man out of the way, grabbed his wife by the cute little polo shirt—that he was definitely going to take off of her later—and laid a hard kiss on her mouth.
“Back off, Moretta,” Fire Chief Lincoln Reed said good-naturedly. “I got here first.”
“Apology flowers, Reed? Which one of your ladies did you screw up with this time?” Aldo ribbed his friend. Linc’s family was a mirror of Aldo’s. Beautiful, talented wife and two daughters who ran him ragged.
“These aren’t apology flowers,” Gloria said with a wink at Aldo. “These are ‘score all the points’ flowers.” She waved the order slip in her husband’s direction.
“You planning another wedding?” Aldo asked, peering at the order.
Linc snorted. “Amateur. It’s Valentine’s Day this week. My girls are getting custom designed arrangements by your lovely wife from me.”
“It’s part of his diabolical plan,” Gloria said.
“Which diabolical plan is that?” Aldo asked, playing along.
“The one where I show my girls how they’re supposed to be treated by a man—or partner, no judgement—so they kick anything less than the best to the curb and back over it on their way to better things.”
“It just so happens that I’m here to order some arrangements, too,” Aldo lied. “Bigger nicer ones, than yours.”
“You’re here to take me to lunch,” his wife countered.
The phone rang and Gloria ducked into the back to answer it.
“You can’t make your wife make her own flower arrangement,” Linc told him. “That’s not how this works. It’s supposed to be a gift.”
The guy had a point. It had been cute and flirty once when they were dating. But he couldn’t just keep recycling the idea. “Fine. Then I’ll make it,” Aldo decided. He’d watched Gloria make arrangements for years. He was confident some of the skill had probably rubbed off on him.
“You’ll just be making me look even better in Mackenzie’s eyes,” Linc predicted. “Doc Dreamy will have a stunning arrangement delivered to the office and you’ll hand out some sad, lopsided garbage. Too bad it’s winter, you could just go grab a fistful of weeds instead.”
“Are you challenging my flower arranging ability?” Aldo asked.
Aldo heard Gloria laugh into the phone. When she came back out she was still grinning.
“That was Harper,” she told them. “She told me she’s feeling like delphinium today.”
“What does that mean?” Linc asked.
“You’ll see in about five minutes,” Gloria predicted mysteriously. “Now, I’ve got a dozen roses for Mack and two bud vases with dealer’s choice for the girls, right Linc?”
Aldo snorted. “Real romantic. Shell out some cash and have someone else do all the work. Bet you don’t even sign your own cards.”
“Said the guy who’s going to put the flowers in the vase upside down,” Linc shot back.
“I feel like I’m not going to like where this is going,” Gloria observed.
“Gloria. My beautiful wife,” Aldo said, pouring on the charm as he leaned on the glass counter. “I know that Valentine’s week is one of the craziest for you. That’s why I’d like to make your flowers myself.”
“She’s thinking about all the ways it could go horribly wrong,” Linc stage whispered.
Aldo elbowed him again. “You just get your credit card out and pay my wife to be romantic for you.”
“Moretta, you’re an ass.”
“Move along, Reed. I’ve got gifts to create for my ladies with these two hands.” Aldo wiggled his fingers.
“A girl can’t argue with that,” Gloria said. She pulled an apron off of the hook behind her and handed it over. “I’ll get you set up with a worktable.”
Linc’s brow furrowed. “Fine. Gimmie an apron. Please.”
Five minutes later, Gloria had them set up on opposite ends of a stainless-steel table within view of the register so she could step in if one of them was about to amputate a thumb or abuse a bloom, but far enough away from the other staff who were busy professionally assembling arrangements.
“I’m charging you both for all the supplies you use,” she warned them.
“Go big or go home,” Aldo said, giving Linc a steely-eyed glare.
“Oh, I’m going big and going home… with three of the most perfect flower arrangements in the history of the floral industry.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“I’m putting thirty minutes on the clock,” Gloria decided. She really didn’t need these two men trying to out-testosterone each other all afternoon. “3… 2… 1… Arrange!”
Both men dove for the green foam and jumped back to their respective table ends.
“Ow. Fuck. These things have thorns everywhere,” Linc complained, sucking a punctured thumb into his mouth.
“They’re called roses, dumbass, and of course they have thorns.”
The bells on the front door jingled and Gloria hid her laugh as in came Luke Garrison.
“Hey, there, Luke. In the market for some flowers?” she asked innocently.
Luke grinned. “She already called, didn’t she?”
“What did you do this time?”
“Shrunk her favorite sweater in the wash.”
“Not the green one with the deep V?” Gloria groaned in female solidarity.
“Hey, I was awfully fond of that deep V, too,” Luke pointed out. “I’m being doubly punished.”
“Next time read the tag.”
“Yeah. Yeah. I’m in the market for some showy apology flowers.”
“How do you feel about delphinium?” Gloria asked.
“I feel fine, considering I’m guessing that’s what Harp said she wants.” Luke always made sure Harper got what she wanted… and then some.
“The usual apology price range or bump it up for Valentine’s Day?” Gloria asked mercilessly.
“Might as well bump it up. She hasn’t found the pants I got bleach stains on yet. What’s going on back there?” he asked, peering around Gloria to Benevolence’s first amateur flower arranging competition.
“BYOB. Build Your Own Bouquet,” Aldo called out without looking up from the rose stem he was trying to jam into the foam.
“It’s more personal and thoughtful,” Linc added, tearing thick red ribbon with his teeth.
“Yeah,” Aldo said. “But if you don’t love your wife as much as we love ours you should definitely let a professional handle it.”
Luke swore under his breath knowing there was no way these two jackasses would keep their mouths shut about how thoughtful and considerate they were. And if by some miracle one of them managed to not mangle it, they’d make the earrings he’d been real confident about less than a minute ago look like a gift card for a free hug.
He sighed. “Apron me, Gloria. I’m going in.”
One hour, seven band-aids, and a broken bud vase later, Aldo, Linc, and Luke circled nine handmade arrangements with male pride.
“We are really good at this,” Luke said.
“Well, I am,” Linc countered. “You two are just okay.”
“Those are the worst arrangements I’ve ever seen in my life,” Claire said, sidling up to Gloria. She was Luke’s mother and Gloria’s part-time help at the shop.
“They’re not that bad,” Gloria said, wincing at Luke’s two-foot tall tiger lily and alstroemeria monstrosity. “I’m making them all put a ‘made by husband’s hands’ warning on the card.”
“I think we’re going to do BYOB every Valentine’s Day. They pay to come in and do all the work themselves and we swipe their shiny credit cards,” Gloria said with an eyebrow wiggle.
Claire laughed. “Gloria Moretta, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You’re a beautiful genius.”
Sheriff Ty Adler, Claire’s son-in-law, strolled through the shop door and stopped short when he saw his three friends admiring their handiwork.
“What the hell happened in there? Someone murder an entire cooler full of flowers?” he asked.
“We designed these ourselves,” Luke said. “What did you do? Buy Soph a scratch-off lottery ticket and a vacuum cleaner again?”
“I’ll have you know she asked for that vacuum cleaner,” Ty said, slipping easily into the friendly argument.
“Not for Valentine’s Day,” Linc said. “Dumbass.”
“Suffice it to say, I did not make that same mistake this year,” the sheriff said, giving Aldo’s mossy hydrangea blob a second look.
“What did you get her? Another pair of kitty cat pajama pants that you two can share?”
Luke, Aldo, and Linc dissolved into manly hysteria.
“I can’t believe she told you guys about that,” Ty complained.
“Technically, my sister told my wife and my wife told me and I told everyone,” Luke said between fits of laughter.
“Don’t listen to them, Ty,” Claire said, taking pity on him.
“I don’t have time to compare Valentine’s Day notes with amateurs anyway,” he sniffed.
“Come on,” Aldo prodded, wiping his eyes. “It can’t be that bad.”
“Bad?” Ty scoffed. “My Valentine’s Day moves are going to make your scraggly chia pets here look like something a dog barfed up on a carpet. I made my woman a pie from scratch this morning and created a signature drink with champagne. Both of which we’ll enjoy after the kids are in bed and before a bubble bath for two.”
Silence descended on the workspace for a beat.
“I gotta get to the grocery store,” Luke decided.
“Yeah. Me, too. Maybe the liquor store,” Linc said.
“Might as well carpool,” Aldo decided, already Googling pie recipes on his phone.
Ty smirked as his three friends trooped up to the register, credit cards in hand.
Gloria accepted a kiss on the cheek from Linc then Luke and a nice tease of tongue from her husband.
They watched the men pack all nine arrangements carefully into the back of Linc’s chief vehicle before they piled into Luke’s truck and headed for the grocery store.
“Imma need one of those aprons, Gloria,” Ty sighed.
“You don’t think pie and alcohol is good enough?” she teased.
“I overflowed the pie in the oven and it cooked fast to the heating element. Whole house smells like burnt cherries.”