If you've already read BITTERSWEET, book one in my Brothers of the Vine series, you'll have been introduced briefly to the seriously sexy Sam Mathews. He's the middle Mathews brother, the biggest in stature, and has a bit of a playboy reputation.
Sam Mathews will be featuring in THE SWEETEST SECRET, book two in the Brothers of the Vine series. If you were wondering who would steal Sam's heart, then I'm here to give you the first glimpse.
My favourite moment in a romance novel is when the hero and heroine meet. So it's no wonder that it's also my most favourite scene to write. In The Sweetest Secret, there is no waiting as the first introduction between Sam and Ellie appears in the first chapter. This meeting is super cute, exciting, and is available below for you to read.
THE SWEETEST SECRET
A woman couldn’t go through life without dating at least one loser.
One loser was excusable.
A momentary error in judgement.
A distraction caused by a ridiculously sexy grin, fun banter or come-hither charm.
But when every boyfriend, in retrospect, could fit squarely into the loser box, something had to change. Drastically change. Self-introspection was required to work that crazy out.
Men weren’t solely to blame for Ellie’s relationship woes. No, she must have been doing something to draw those ‘types’ in.
And the responsibility for ending that disastrous habit rested with her if she wanted to be sure that she didn’t keep wandering down the same path.
She needed to find that intrinsic part of herself that led her towards bad-boys and heartbreak instead of decent, loving men, and obliterate it.
Making this move to Alpine Ridge to run her own business was a big step in the right direction.
Taking a deep breath in, Ellie spun a full circle, eyeing the result of all the hard work she had undergone to transform four white walls and a timber-patterned linoleum floor into her vision: In Bloom.
This was the quaint floral-focused epicentre from which the rest of her new life would blossom.
The shop had rustic -charm like the small street vendors in Paris that peddled long stemmed bunches of red tulips and pink peonies from timber carts. That’s what she wanted to recreate here.
Thick timber shelves lined with vases, pots and baskets hung on the left wall. Bright rolls of colourful wrapping paper and ribbons were pinned to the wall behind the long timber service counter.
It didn’t matter that it took her so long to work out that she needed to change her relationship mode of operation. She was just thankful she had actually worked out that she had taken a misstep …
Okay, ten years of holding the hand of devils and walking through hell with them, without batting an eyelid as to why it was so damn hot all the time.
Whatever; it didn’t matter.
She knew better now, and she was getting on with it. With this new town, this new shop, this new life. For all she cared, the relationships of the past could shrivel up and die, thank you very much.
A gorgeous array of faux flowers and foliage bursting from big glass vases sat in the display window. Little teddy bears, crepe bumblebees, butterflies and balloons decked the short shelves beside the counter.
The right-side wall was bare—lines of shelves and rows of pots awaiting the first delivery of fresh flowers next week.
The store smelled like paint and new plastic, and every now and then, Ellie would catch a whiff of rich, freshly brewed coffee and baked caramel goodness.
Opening a store close to a cupcake shop was going to have both its positives and negatives. Good for her tastebuds, not so good for the waistline.
Her belly rumbled as she smelled the air. She’d been hard at it since seven o’clock that morning and her muscles ached from lifting, unpacking, unwrapping. Her legs were heavy from standing for hours on end; it was time for a lunch break.
Besides, for nearly two weeks, she had been absorbed by the renovation rollercoaster and hadn’t dropped in to meet her business neighbour. She’d shared a few waves here and there in passing but no face to face introductions as of yet.
And in a town this size, that wouldn’t be acceptable.
Main Street consisted of the usual small town fare—a butcher, chemist, small grocery shop and pub. A short walk across a dividing driveway, ended with Ellie next door at Love and Cupcakes. She pushed through the front doors. Inside were lemon yellow walls and big glass cabinets filled with delicious looking cupcakes in myriad varieties.
Magical was the adjective that came to mind—like she’d walked into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but cupcakes were the focus. She mentally groaned knowing that now she had stepped foot inside, seen and smelled the treats on offer, she’d want to keep coming back.
Again, great for her tastebuds, not so great for the waistline.
The petite blonde woman smiled. Ellie returned a smile as she approached the counter and extended her hand. ‘Hi, I’m Ellie. I’ve opened the florist next door.’
Recognition and excitement sparked in the woman’s eyes. ‘I’m Amy.’ She shook Ellie’s hand. ‘It’s so great to finally meet you. I see the store transforming every day, and I wanted to come over, but I also wanted to give you some time to settle in.’
Ellie laughed, glad that Amy was torn between politeness and curiosity as she had been.
‘Good to meet you.’ Her gaze dropped to the bright raspberry coloured buttercreams, rich chocolate ganache, and silky white frostings topping cute cupcakes dressed in colourful patty paper. A red iced cupcake with a dark chocolate love heart piped on top drew her attention. ‘You‘re incredibly talented.’ Ellie licked her lips. ‘These all look fantastic.’
‘Thank you,’ said Amy with unmissable modesty. ‘Here.’ Amy packaged two of the love heart cupcakes Ellie had been salivating over and presented them on the cabinet in a little pink box. ‘On the house.’
‘You don’t have to do that.’
‘I want to. Consider it a ‘Welcome to Alpine Ridge’ gesture.’
Ellie grinned as she peered into Amy’s kind blue eyes. They were bright with happiness, her smile warm and welcoming. ‘Thank you.’
‘So what brought you to Alpine Ridge?’ Amy asked.
‘A chance to run my own florist shop at a price I could manage. A fresh start.’
Amy nodded, her expression showing that she understood completely. ‘This is the perfect place for that. I’ve been here for a little over a year. It was difficult finding my feet at first, but now, I wouldn’t change it for the world.’
Hope swelled in Ellie’s chest to hear that someone else had managed to make it work in this town. ‘That makes me feel like perhaps I’ve made the right decision.’
‘So where are you from?’
‘You’re not used to small towns, I presume?’
Ellie laughed. ‘Not really.’ Her grandparents lived in a small town in the Gippsland region of Victoria, and Ellie had visited them often while growing up, sometimes spending the entire Christmas holidays with them, but Alpine Ridge wasn’t like any of the towns that dotted the landscape across rural Victoria. Alpine Ridge was unbelievably pretty.
Gorgeous, in fact.
Blue skies threaded with puffy white clouds hovered over Main Street. Deep blue mountain ranges rose from the ground and hugged the surrounding township. There was space as far as the eye could see.
Each building along the street was their own pretty pastel colour. Ellie’s florist was a perfect pale blue, the cupcake shop a sweet yellow. The bakery was lime, the butchery grey.
The awnings that stretched from each shop towards the street had ornate timber framework, freshly painted in a crisp buttermilk.
Delightful. Every last part of it. And all the reasons Ellie said yes to moving here. Among other things.
‘You’ll get used to it soon enough,’ Amy said.
A noise sounded from the back room: a screen door closing. Then a deep male voice called out, ‘Anyone home?’
From where Ellie stood, her view into the room was hindered, only the protrusion of a ceramic sink on the wall just inside the archway was visible.
Amy glanced into the backroom. ‘Hi, Sam. I’m out the front.’
A man strode through, his head almost touching the top of the archway. Ellie took a step back, stopped her jaw from hanging open as she met his gaze—deep coffee brown.
She drew her shoulders back and attempted what she believed to be a smile, but the strong jaw of this man, glossy dark hair, and his thick body, hidden yet accentuated by a thin grey jumper, stole her ability to function normally.
Her breaths shallowed and stomach squeezed. A dizziness had found her mind.
‘You’re just the person I was thinking about.’ Amy’s statement broke through Ellie’s man-induced stupor. ‘This is Ellie. She’s opening a florist next door.’
The man strolled out from behind the counter and stood in front of her. Ellie was a tall woman, not at all petite, so it shocked her when she had to arch her head back to meet his eyes and wonder at how deliciously broad a man’s shoulders could be.
During her lifetime, Ellie had crossed paths with attractive men in a number of different capacities, but she was sure, looking at this man now, that she had never encountered this much handsome in one man before.
Until now, she thought she had a little poise and good social skills. Perhaps it was the shock of meeting him here, now, most unexpectedly, that had stupefied her and muddled her brain. All she could do was watch, taking in every inch of him until she knew what she was up against.
Oh god, I wish I was up against him.
She stared at his hand as it reached towards her.
‘I’m Sam. Pleased to meet you, Ellie.’
Ellie blinked, then realised she was meant to shake that hand and form coherent words. She gripped his big, warm paw while praying that the sensation of his rough skin on hers didn’t short circuit her brain even more.
‘I’m Ellie.’ She winced, realising he already knew that. ‘I mean … it’s good to meet you …’ Not having managed to focus long enough on words to remember his name, she trailed off.
Ellie nearly groaned as she noticed the deep dimple in one cheek, almost hidden by a smattering of stubble.
‘Sam,’ he said.
‘Sam,’ she repeated, certain she was so lust drunk she slurred the s.
Was she so superficial that she was intoxicated by a man’s looks? The darts of sexual anticipation pinging through her body confirmed the answer to that question was a big, fat yes.
‘Sam’s a flower wholesaler,’ Amy said.
Ellie nodded, realised she was still holding his hand and flinched hers back. When she met his gaze again, his lips were curving with a grin, his brown eyes bright with humour, dimple on full display.
‘He supplies select clientele with varieties the bigger farms don’t grow,’ continued Amy.
‘Oh,’ Ellie said, realising what this introduction was about. ‘You have the capacity to supply my store?’
‘If you asked me two days ago, I would have said no,’ Sam said. ‘But I’ve just ended a contract with a client recently, so I can help you out. I’m only a small, intimate operation, though.’
With her head cocked to the side, she wondered why he chose the word intimate and why he said it with that bone-cindering deep huskiness.
‘Right,’ she managed. ‘I’m definitely interested in variety.’
His lips curled slightly upwards again; she bit down on hers once the innuendo in that
response echoed through her brain. Her cheeks flamed.
Sam pulled out a faded leather wallet from the back pocket of his jeans. As he found a card inside and handed it to her, she watched his long, thick fingers. ‘Give me a call when you’re ready. You can take a drive out and see what I have to offer. Then, if you want to, we can work something out.’
Her body screamed for her to make that drive, see what he had to offer, yet her rationality gave a strong message of warning. He was so attractive, big and strong—too attractive. He’d eat her alive and spit out the bones when he was finished.
Anyway, she was getting way ahead of herself here.
For one, she had only just met the guy. He could be in a committed relationship for all she knew.
Two, this was a business transaction, and she was now a business owner capable of
forming mature business relationships (at least, she hoped so).
Three, and most importantly, she was well and truly disillusioned by, in contempt of, and utterly over men.
No matter how handsome they were.
She nodded. ‘Sure,’ and took the card from him. And if their fingers hadn’t touched, sending bursts of sensation up her arm and into her bloodstream, she would have been fine, but they had touched.
And each time she touched this delicious beast of a man, the more her body wanted, and the more her mind threw up images of fisting his shirt and pulling him closer until their lips were pressed hot and hard together.
Get some bloody control, Ellie.
She met his deep brown gaze, silky like warm chocolate. If she didn’t get out of here right now, her hormones were going to take control and convince her that hooking up with this man wouldn’t leave her in tatters and broken-hearted.
But history whispered a different story. And it was history she was escaping from, not diving head first into.
There was only so much heartbreak a person could handle before it depleted their courage and ignited fear.
‘Lovely to meet you. I—’ she pointed her thumb to the door, ‘—I better get back to it.’
Ellie turned away from Sam, gaining some control now that she was no longer looking at him. She cast a glance at Amy and stuttered, ‘Good to meet you too,’ then she rushed out the door.
As she headed back to her shop, she gulped at the cool wintery air.
How ridiculous was she to react like that … to a man? She giggled a little, clicked her tongue and shook her head. A tall, breathtakingly appealing man, but still just a man.
‘Ellie,’ came a voice behind her—deep, mellifluous timbre.
Ellie spun, breaths heavy.
Sam was standing on the front doorstep of Love and Cupcakes, holding a small pink box, and smiling. A smile that drifted away when he looked harder at the expression on her face.
‘You forgot these,’ he said, striding closer.
Ellie forced a faint smile. ‘Thank you.’ She made certain not to touch him this time as she collected the box and bundled it close to her body.
He frowned. ‘Everything okay?’
Another tight smile stretched across her face as she nodded. ‘Fine.’
He paused for a moment, his gaze flicked from one eye to the next, then said, ‘I look forward to hearing from you about the flowers. I’m excited to show you what I’ve got in stock.’
‘Yeah, me too,’ she said with as much conviction as she could muster.
‘Yep.’ She held up the box of cupcakes. ‘Thanks for these.’
She gave a quick wave. ‘Bye.’ Then turned and marched away.
‘Bye,’ she heard him say with a definite hint of humour in his voice.
That wickedly sexy voice worked through her muscles like soothing balm and struck a deal with her hormones to bring on a full lust-fuelled assault to other regions of her body. She didn’t dare look back but could feel his focus still on her.
Back inside In Bloom, Ellie sat on the counter top, her cupcakes on her lap. She peeled back the patty paper from the cake before taking a big bite.
As she stared off into the distance, mentally undressing that hulk of a man, running her hands over that hard, undoubtedly hot chest, she chewed. Only after she had taken a bite of her second cupcake did the exquisite sweet flavour register enough to distract her from her daydream.
‘Oh my god, these are incredible,’ she mumbled around a mouthful of sweet vanilla amazingness.
Sam was nothing to worry about.
She shoved the rest of the cupcake into her mouth and dusted off her hands. She hadn’t come through relationship hell just so she could head straight back there. She had more common sense than that.
She peered around the room. Despite the nerves and the gut-tensing fear she had to face to take this step, move away from everyone and everything she had ever known, Ellie was filled with optimism.
This was what life was about now—getting her store off the ground. Not some flimsy romance. And certainly not love.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt of The Sweetest Secret.
The Sweetest Secret is available for pre-order now on all digital retailer sites. You can
access links here. Or simply type JACQUIE UNDERDOWN in to the search bar of your favourite retailer site and a list on my books should appear.
If you would like to start this series from the beginning, then please check out Bittersweet. Bittersweet is available for purchase now at all digital retailers. You can find out more here.
Two broken hearts, one small town, and the secret language of flowers …
Ellie always falls for the wrong man. After her latest disastrous relationship, she needs a new start, a clean slate, and some time to figure out who she is and what she actually wants. So the opportunity to open her own florist shop in the small town of Alpine Ridge couldn't be more timely—or more perfect.
Sam Mathews understands bad relationships—he's only ever had one, and that was enough. Now he keeps to himself, throwing his efforts into the family vineyard and his greenhouse hobby, where it's quiet and calm and he can nurture beauty with his own two hands.
When Ellie arrives in town and discovers Sam's backyard nursery, a shared professional interest soon blossoms into something that feels very personal. But Ellie needs time to rediscover herself, and Sam has never regained his confidence. When they are both tied so strongly to the past, could there be a chance for a future?