Daffodils and Danger
Wyatt Cutler manages to break away from family-owned Cutler Nursery--and Clover Cove--until his father perishes in a tragic accident. With no choice but to abandon his prestigious position at world-renowned Messer Dynamics and return to Clover Cove, Wyatt's only goal is to help his mother and brother, Reese, keep Cutler Nursery in business.
The laughter that surrounds Kami Moretto at her family's pizzeria has faded. Her mom is gone and, for her dad, depression has set in. With Pappy's Pizzeria hanging on by a thread, Kami longs for days of the past and a time when her faith carried her through every storm. Across the street, she watches Wyatt scowl as he works and wonders how he can take his family--and his business--for granted when hers is in such shambles.
When tragedy strikes, Wyatt realizes he must let go of the past and cling to hope for the future; he's in danger of losing his family, his business, and the only woman he's truly loved.
*Part of the Wildflowers and Wishes series
Danger fails to bloom in the shadow of faith and family...
Wyatt Cutler grimaced as he pulled into the gravel lot of Cutler’s Nursery. The day had dawned overcast and dreary, and heavy rain had followed him as he forged a path along the interstate from New York City. Hours of endless navigating through a gray-sheet downpour had turned an eleven hour trip into nearly fourteen, leaving him in a foul mood and hungry for something solid to fill his growling belly. Strong coffee would be nice, as well, but he doubted he’d find anything decent here in modest Clover Cove.
At least the skies showed signs of clearing, and the rain had dwindled to thready spittle. He switched off the truck’s worn wiper blades, which had commenced to squealing somewhere between Lexington and Roanoke. Even the blast of the radio had failed to drown out the nerve-grating, methodic whine. He’d have to have them replaced, and wasted no time in adding the fact to a growing mental list that had begun to take shape in the back of his mind. Locate an apartment to rent, replace wiper blades...
Good grief, find coffee.
Wyatt killed the truck’s engine and slipped from the cab, careful to sidestep a yawning puddle just beneath the driver’s door. One quick sweep of the rain-splattered lot told him the grounds were in serious need of attention. Scattered gravel had all but washed away, leaving gaping holes that posed a danger to anyone foolish enough to stumble into one. Wyatt’s weary mind whirred with all the possible outcomes—none good. Twisted ankle. Broken arm… He added a few truckloads of gravel to his mental list, all the while wondering if his family might swing the cost of blacktop instead. Scratch that—funds were sorely lacking, and the timing was all wrong, given the season. They had to focus on sales this spring, not renovations.
The mental list grew as he crossed the lot. Sub-par lighting cast an anemic glow over mulch mounded in a variety of shapes and colors, and stacked pallets of river rock. Wyatt added updated fixtures to the list. They could work those in, at least, without interrupting sales. And a couple of the smaller, working greenhouses had seen better days; one in particular listed a bit to the east like a sinking ship; the task of shoring it up was penciled into Wyatt’s memory right beneath a lighting note. So much that required attention, and he hadn’t even wound his way inside yet.
The scent of flowers and damp earth enveloped him as he neared the shop, turning his hollow stomach. He’d never liked the overpowering, sickly-sweet smell. A few flowers—perhaps a bouquet or a flurry of potted plants—were acceptable. An army of them, in his opinion, was the worst kind of sensory overload, evoking memories best left buried. But he guessed when it came to owning a nursery the overpowering aroma was just one in a long line of nuisances.
Soft, classical music drifted from speakers strung along the area where rectangular wooden platforms hand-built years ago by his dad were set end-to-end to showcase the finest plants found in all of East Tennessee…Cutler plants.
At least the plants had a vibrant look to go along with the overwhelming odor. And, through years of hard work by both his parents, the reputation of Cutler plants had matured to an impeccable status. Despite the rundown appearance of the grounds, people came in droves. Everyone who knew anything at all about plants knew that no finer blooms existed in all of East Tennessee.
Even so, Wyatt wanted to sell the place. He’d practically begged his mom to just let it go. Dad had been sick for months before he passed last April, and in that time, it had become painfully obvious the nursery was just too much for Mom and his younger brother, Reese, to handle on their own. Profits plunged while expenses soared. Things began to break down and advertising ran out—not that they really needed advertising. Yet, given the situation, Wyatt asserted they’d be better off to cut their losses and move on.
But Hattie Cutler was a proud woman, and she would have none of that. She’d been married to Wyatt’s dad for going on thirty years and Cutler Nursery had been his dad’s lifelong dream as well as a family business for a good chunk of the past two decades. It had been a part of the family for so long that it was like a fifth child. His mom wouldn’t see her husband’s hard work handed over to a buyer for any amount of money.
So Wyatt had, with a great deal of reluctance, moved on to Plan B; he quit his lucrative job at Messer Dynamics in New York and returned home—painfully swallowing his oath never to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Now, he had no choice but to pull up his proverbial boot straps, dig in, and rescue his mom from her own stubborn pride, no matter the cost. It was what Cutler men did and, if nothing else, when it came right down to it he was a Cutler through and through.
Wyatt sighed and scrubbed a hand across his jaw as a stray raindrop splattered his cheek. At twenty-seven, he was still loath to go against his mother’s wishes. She’d raised him to be respectful and, though he felt sorely tested, he’d honor his father’s memory by making a go of righting this place—even if the aggravation put him in the ground right beside his dad.
“Wyatt.” His mother rounded a corner, nearly plowing into him as she carried an oversized hanging basket in each hand. Waterfalls of blooms spilled to cover her petite frame from the waist down. Dark eyes, a Cutler trademark, swept over him as a smile curved her lips. Her gaze twinkled. “Oh, you made it. I didn’t hear you pull up.”
“Let me get those, Mom.” Quickly, Wyatt stepped in and grabbed both planters. “You shouldn’t be carrying things so heavy.”
“Oh, I’m just fine.” She edged forward and wrapped her arms around his waist to come in for a hug.
The scent of Shalimar—the same perfume she’d been wearing as long as he could remember—whispered. For the slightest moment, nostalgia grabbed hold of his heart and squeezed.
“You’ve lost weight, son. Is everything OK?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?” He gave her a peck on the forehead. “Where’s Reese?”
“He left half-an-hour ago with a load of black mulch—last minute phone order by Mr. Stuckey over on Cross Creek Road. He should be back any minute. Oh, he’ll be so glad to see you.”
“Ditto.” Wyatt swiped damp hair from his brow. “I’m surprised anyone’s working outdoors in this weather.”
“Why? The rain never hurt anyone. Plus, it wards off the heat.” His mother smoothed a hand over his chest, frowning as her fingers swept his ribs. “I’m going to have to fatten you up. How long has it been since you’ve had a decent meal?”
“Last night, about six.” Actually, he hadn’t had a decent meal in…he couldn’t remember when he’d actually sat down at a table to eat something that wasn’t some variety of lukewarm fast-food. “And your theory about the rain would work if it was hot out here, but this precipitation is cold. It feels more like winter than spring.” He jostled the baskets, stepping on a few blooms in the process. Buds scattered along the packed-dirt floor. “Where do you want these?”
“Over there in the corner.” His mother motioned up and away, toward a steel rod running the length of the display area. “Just above the daffodils. Aren’t they beautiful this year?”
“Yeah, they look great.” Wyatt forced enthusiasm as he placed the baskets, but he really couldn’t care any less. Flowers were flowers, right? He might share his mother’s dark looks, but her love of flowers had skipped a generation, as far as he was concerned. Reese, on the other hand, lived and breathed to work the nursery. The very fact presented an ongoing bone of contention between them. “Speaking of a decent meal, have you had dinner, Mom?”
“No. Today’s been crazy.” She raked a hand through her hair and Wyatt noticed an abundance of salt-and-pepper sprinkles throughout—more than he remembered seeing at Dad’s funeral.
His heart tugged a bit; she’d aged in the months since Dad died. The work must be wearing on her more than he realized. Maybe he should have come sooner.
“But that’s a good thing,” she said. “More business equals higher profits, right? We should be millionaires, since this is the first breather I’ve had today.”
“Then you’ve done enough work. I’m treating you to a good, hot meal.” Wyatt nodded toward the opposite side of the street to where the sign at Pappy’s Pizzeria flashed in welcoming red neon. “How about Italian? Does the pizzeria still serve that mouthwatering double-meat lasagna and garlic knots?”
“They do. That’s perfect. I’d love to go check on Kami, too.” She adjusted a row of potted daffodils in full bloom before moving on toward the check-out area. “She’s been tackling a rough spell lately.”
That was so like his mom to notice the troubles of others way before her own. She’d just suffered through the loss of her husband and was facing the possibility of losing her business, as well. Wyatt would have given better odds of survival to the Titanic. But his mother didn’t see it that way. No, Wyatt knew she placed her trust in the only father she’d ever known—her Heavenly Father.
“Really?” Wyatt followed her down the aisle, pausing for just a moment along the way to hang the planters. “What’s going on with Kami?”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate us standing out here in the street, gossiping over her.” His mother waggled a finger in his face and then turned to roll a flat-bed cart back against the wall. “No, sir. That’s a matter you’ll have to take up with her.”
“Then why’d you mention it?” Wyatt stepped around her to tend to the other scattered carts. The wheels wobbled and squealed in protest, making the carts hard to maneuver as he lined them along the side wall near the check-out area. Add wheel repair to the list.
“Just because.” She shrugged and emptied cash from the register into a night-drop bank bag before locking the machine and switching off the power. “It’s on your radar now, isn’t it?”
“I suppose, along with a million other things.” Wyatt, painfully overloaded by details, pressed one palm to his chest. His mind reeled like a ricochet in a cinder-block room. So many things on the list and yet it continued to grow exponentially. With Mom here alone in the evening while Reese ran deliveries, security was an issue. Well, that was about to end—he’d see to it. Yes, this was quiet and cozy Clover Cove, but times were changing, and it would serve them all well to become more aware. “I hope Kami knows how to make a decent cup of coffee.”
“Holding down the fort the way she’s managed since her mama passed, I’m sure she’s added that skill to her arsenal.” His mother shimmied out of an oversized patchwork smock and brushed soil from her khakis. “I’ll text Reese and let him know where to find us.”
“Why not?” She reached into her pocket and drew out a cell phone. “My fingers work as well as yours.”
“Wow. OK.” Wyatt shook his head in disbelief. Too much had changed around here since his dad was gone. His gaze slipped to the pizzeria across the street, its expansive front windows bathed in light. Beyond the glass, he caught a glimpse of a slender woman flitting among the tables as the enticing aroma of marinara mingled with Italian sausage and garlic. “I’ll just walk the grounds out front while I wait for you.”