The Wildflower Girls
by Mullen Dale
One phone call leads Chrysanthemum Lincoln on a year-long journey to discover the answer to a question she didn’t realize needed asking.
With the help of friends, both new and old, Chrysanthemum finds strength she didn’t know possible. But even the strongest people can break under the cruelest pressure. At least that’s what someone is counting on.
But Chrysanthemum Lincoln is no shrinking violet. She’s a Wildflower, and wildflowers might bend, but they don’t break.
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance | Romantic Suspense
White Satin Romance
Layla Grant sat alone, cross-legged reading the Mississippi Tribune’s online edition, trying to contain the swell that stormed inside her at the image on the screen. Since fleeing Mississippi for California eight months prior, she had searched the headlines, searched the obituaries, searched the community interest pages, any place that might mention her husband and his search. Her estranged husband, Josiah Franklin, in his search for her, Emily Franklin.
She always thought that term was odd. Estranged. Never quite knew how to use it in context but now she knew exactly how it felt to be in limbo.
She wasn’t divorced from him. He wouldn’t allow it. She wasn’t widowed. She wasn’t brave enough to pull that off. She was estranged and on the run with her daughter, Samantha, now called Ava.
She found herself staring into the face of a woman she knew was her husband’s third victim, if she and Ava were his firsts. A woman who looked enough like Emily Franklin before she had become Layla Grant could pass for her twin, but she wasn’t. Sandra Davies’s story had a different ending. Layla’s “twin”was dead.
The Josiah she fell in love with would not have been capable of something like this, but the Josiah she married and lived with for more than a year? This had his name written all over it.
~ Stranger Things Happen ~
The quiet ding of the alarm alerted Chrysanthemum Lincoln to the customer who had entered her store. The man was handsome with salt and pepper hair and a runner’s build, and his wardrobe suggested money. The slacks were charcoal and perfectly tailored. The oxford, just the right shade of blue, bore a tiny insignia monogrammed neatly at the point of the collar. JF. His refinement was in the details, and Chrysanthemum noticed details. As a designer, it was her job.
Though a man’s presence in her shop wasn’t completely out of the ordinary, it wasn’t an everyday occurrence, either.
Chrysanthemum approached the customer, smiling, and extended her hand. “Welcome to The Lingerie Chest. How can I help you today?”
He grasped her hand firmly, but not roughly, and admired her with a look not at all unfamiliar. In her mind, Chrysanthemum rolled her eyes, but to his face, she continued the sweet smile that only her husband and closest friends could tell was forced.
That she designed sexy lingerie seemed to be a source of interest to the male population. She had gotten used to it, and she didn’t mind the unasked questions or the assumptions that many made about her. Tripp, her husband, was the only man whose opinion mattered.
The man released her hand and finally responded. “I’m looking for something for my girlfriend.”
His voice was deep and raspy, and Chrysanthemum detected a hint of smoke on his clothing. Not unattractive but enough she knew his voice was as much a product of tobacco as it was genetics.
“Well,” Chrysanthemum responded, “all of my designs are custom, so she would have to come in for a fitting, but you’re welcome to look around at the samples.” She proceeded to the center of the main room.
Built at the turn of the century, the shop had once been a home and had been converted, like many in the quaint historic district, to retail. There wasn’t a surface in the shop that didn’t suggest quiet luxury. There were no harsh lights, bright colors, or in-your-face sales clerks. Just Chrysanthemum and her designs, and sometimes Daisy, her twin sister, who after moving back home used part of the third bedroom for her photography, the other half used for Chrysanthemum’s design and sewing room.
Daisy, among other talents, specialized in boudoir photography. She was discreet, and the ladies of Rosewood, Alabama, flocked to the shop not only for Chrysanthemum’s designs but also for Daisy’s hidden talents.
The man followed her to the samples and gingerly traced the line of a corset from top to bottom. A slow smile spread across his face, but he didn’t look at her. “Nice,” he muttered and moved along to see the rest of her wares.
She had a fitting scheduled for later in the morning, and she didn’t anticipate many walk-ins, so she was alone with the customer and could take her time figuring out exactly what he was looking for.
“Do you have any ideas in mind?” she asked, but he didn’t answer. Chrysanthemum didn’t take his silence as offensive. While he browsed, she continued. “As you can see, I have a range of products and fabrics, lengths can be changed to suit your tastes, but everything I design is intended to have the vintage appeal.”
He strolled slowly around the room, looking with interest at each item. “I do,” he finally spoke, strutting closer to her. “I’m looking for gowns mostly.” With an appraising top to toe survey of her, he continued. “My girlfriend is about your size. What would you recommend?”
If she weren’t running a business and trying to make a sale, this would be where Chrysanthemum would rest her hand on her cocked hip and tell the presumptuous man in front of her to mind his manners and get out of her personal space. Since that wasn’t the case, and this man could be her next big client, she tried to put aside her attitude and proceed as professionally as she could.
“The whole point of what I do here, Mr.—”
“Franklin, Josiah Franklin,” he responded.
Chrysanthemum nodded once in understanding. “What I do, Mr. Franklin, is design based on what the woman needs to feel desired. What I like is not necessarily what your girlfriend would like. Perhaps you could send her in, and we could discuss some possibilities? I’d need to see her and get to know her before I could make recommendations.”
Josiah Franklin straightened, his demeanor shifting abruptly. It was as if with the blink of his lids, he had altered his personality—like one of those viewfinders that allows a person to change scenery with the flick of a finger.
“Very well, Ms.—”
“Lincoln. Mrs. Lincoln.”
“Well, Mrs. Lincoln,” he exaggerated the title, “I will make sure to send Bonnie in for your recommendations. Do you have a business card?”
Grateful for the reprieve from his steady eye contact, Chrysanthemum walked to the counter and removed a card for him.
“Here you go. The store number and web address is on the card, so she can call and make an appointment or look at inspiration pieces if she chooses.”
Josiah Franklin took the card and let one finger brush across the top of Chrysanthemum’s hand in a gesture too intimate for their casual encounter.
“Very well. I’ll be seeing you, Mrs. Lincoln,” he said, walking toward the exit.
At that moment, Chrysanthemum’s morning consultation walked in, and she quickly forgot about the encounter.
Unfortunately for her, Josiah Franklin didn’t.