Fri
Feb 11 2011 12:00am

Spring Fever - A Reprint Favorite

Violet Porter sniffed in a huge breath and gusted out a happy sigh. At seven o’clock in the morning, the Union Square Greenmarket was bursting with vendors hawking fresh produce.

The greenmarket buzzed with relief that the unrelenting winter of parsnips and potatoes was finally over. Table after heavily laden table ringed the square, each vibrant with green fiddlehead ferns, dusky yellow morels, slender spears of asparagus, and thick stalks of deep pink rhubarb.

It was a veritable wonderland for a hardworking pastry chef looking to add that elusive “wow” factor to a dessert menu.

 

Violet shivered in the cool spring sunshine. She was wearing her off-duty uniform of low-slung, comfy cargo pants and a spaghetti strap tank top. It was perverse, but she sort of loved to show off the red and white burn marks laddering up her arms. Every good baker had a fair share of scars, and Violet was as proud of hers as any battle-hardened soldier.

The table closest to her looked crowded, always a good sign. As Violet neared the yellow tent, she saw shoppers poking through bunches of white and purple ramps.

Every jostle of the wild leeks released a mild oniony scent into the air. Violet sniffed appreciatively, imagining them paired with sausage in a hearty biscuit.

She’d be in charge of bread, too, Chef Adam Temple informed her yesterday, and he didn’t want plain old miniature baguettes and boring sourdough in the baskets on his tables. He wanted big flavors and daily variety to go along with his locally sourced, seasonal cuisine. Violet couldn’t wait to take on the challenge.

She stepped up to the table and eyed the ramps more closely, utterly engrossed in her daydreams of ramps, white cornmeal and something tangy—buttermilk?—to round it all out.

“You can pick ‘em up, if you want,” came a deep, slow voice from above her. Violet jerked, realizing she’d bent so low over the table her nose was practically touching the vegetables, still streaked with beautiful, dark brown dirt.

“That’s okay. I’m just looking.”

“Well, take your time. I can’t head back to the farm until I sell all my stuff here—which normally makes me want to hurry things along. But today…I don’t know, maybe I wouldn’t mind hanging around the city a little.”

Crap. It was way too early in the day to get cruised, even if she had been going through a bit of a drought lately.

Busting out her best hands-off-bub glare, she glanced up…and up…into the rugged face of one of the tallest men she’d ever seen.

Sun baked and broad, the width of his shoulders stretched his heather gray t-shirt taut. His nut-brown skin was creased with tiny laugh lines around a sensual mouth and smiling gray eyes. His hair was brown at the roots but streaked lighter at the tips where the sun hit it.

He was freaking delicious. All rough and male and solidly sexy, earthy in a way she didn’t see much of in Manhattan clubs.

She stuck out her hand. “Violet Porter. Pastry chef. Looking for inspiration.”

Man Candy’s eyebrows shot up. “Jonathan Wildman. Organic farmer.”

It was like shaking hands with someone wearing an oven mitt. Only sexier. He

made her scarred hands, sturdy and thick-knuckled from kneading dough, feel dainty.

Violet grinned. “Nice to meet you, Wild Man. I’m feeling inspired already.”

She watched with interest as the tips of his ears turned red. How cute was that?

“Oooh-kay. Well, let me know if you see something you like.”

Before she could reply, one of the other shoppers made up her mind and held out a bunch of baby turnips, round and pure creamy white. Wildman turned away to take the other woman’s money, and Violet seized the opportunity for a little unobserved ogling.

With his linebacker chest, Jonathan Wildman should’ve moved like a bodybuilder, hulking and lumbering. Instead, he had an easy grace that made Violet quiver like a fallen soufflé. He hefted a wooden crate filled with quart baskets of strawberries onto the table like it was made of spun sugar. His smile to the oohing customer was cheerful, maybe a little distracted, and Violet realized with a shiver that he was distracted because of her.

Oh, yeah, she thought as his eyes shifted in her direction for a bare second.

I see something I like, all right.

#

Jonathan’s heart sputtered in his chest like the engine of his ‘54 John Deere.

He barely heard the rapturous response when he brought out his early strawberries. All he could hear, playing over and over in his head was: She’s here. It’s her. She’s here.

He finally had a name to go with the amazing face he’d been dreaming about for weeks.

Violet Porter.

His hands shook as he weighed out the berries and took the customer’s change. Jonathan wanted to laugh at himself for how deeply affected he was; he imagined what his brother, Zack, might say and managed to crack a smile as he sent the older lady on her way.

About damn time you got up the guts to talk to her. What are you waiting for, an entry in the Almanac telling you to go for it?

Zack had no patience with Jonathan’s slow, steady ways. Or, in Zack’s words, his placid, candy-ass ways. But that was because Zack didn’t get it.

Jonathan didn’t dive blind because he’d learned the hard way that he tended to swim in deeper emotional waters than most people. He cared. A lot. Maybe too much, too fast, but it was how he was made.

And some instinct warned him the first time he laid eyes on Violet Porter from his usual post unloading stock from the truck, this was a woman he could care a lot about.

Zack, who’d abandoned his job working the front table and dealing with the crowds due to some puny cold, the loser, would assume it was Violet’s looks that drew Jonathan’s attention.

To be fair, Violet’s looks were dynamite. All sweet curves and lush roundness, she had eyes the color of the loamy earth out on the back pasture of Wildman Farms. Short, honey-colored hair swayed against her apple cheeks.

But Jonathan was sure there was more to his fascination. Maybe it was the tough swagger of her hips and the brash swing of her arms as she walked. The brightness of her smile, the no-nonsense way she haggled over a jar of preserves, her intent concentration as she pored over the produce.

Jonathan appreciated people who treated his work with respect. That was one of the reasons he loved selling to chefs—kitchen pros tended to take their produce seriously.

He turned back to her with a sense of heady anticipation strong enough to tingle his fingers and toes.

“What can I interest you in?”

She tapped a finger against her plump, pink mouth. “Maybe those pretty strawberries. Maybe more.”

Okay, he wasn’t imagining things. She was definitely flirting with him.

Jonathan’s heart went into overdrive. The bold challenge in her brown eyes made him want to reach across the low table separating them and drag her over it for a kiss or ten.

Something told him she’d be down with that plan, but Jonathan couldn’t quite see himself actually following through.

Not that he didn’t want to…but he wanted more.

When he kissed her for the first time, he hoped to know more about her than her name and the way she smelled like—oh, God—buttery vanilla cake.

“Um. Yeah, the strawberries. They’re the first harvest, we’ll have more when the weather warms up. These are good, though, sweet and tart. I like the little ones best, anyway. Want a taste?”

The absolute minx. She licked her lips! She had to know what that looked like—pure invitation to sin, and devil take the audience of uninterested bystanders and shoppers.

She gave him a saucy grin. Yeah, she knew.

“Most definitely. I make it a point never to commit to anything without sampling the merchandise.”

Jonathan’s head swam. Were they still talking about the fruit? Uncertain, he held out one of the sun-warmed berries. Violet took it, her fingers dancing delicately over his palm causing cascades of tickling sensation.

“Thanks,” she said, popping it into her mouth. Her straight, white teeth cut into the strawberry. Juice spurted and dripped, making her laugh. She tilted her head back, eyes closed. Jonathan watched the movement of her throat and felt like she was swallowing his heart.

“God, that’s awesome,” she said, looking struck by something like surprise.

Strawberry juice shone pink and sticky on her plump lower lip.

“You’ve got, you know…” Jonathan barely recognized his strangled voice. He swiped ineffectually at his own mouth to try and indicate where she should clean up, hoping to God she’d do it fast before he lost all control and did it for her.

“Mmm,” Violet smiled, and darted that pink tongue out again to lap at the drops of juice, her eyes intent and knowing on his face.

Well. Mortal man could only endure so much.

Jonathan leaned across the table and seized her shoulders, dragging her in for a taste of that teasing mouth.

She was tart and sweet, like his beautiful spring strawberries, and Jonathan made a sound that came from deep in his chest. Her hands came up to clutch at his forearms for balance.

He realized he’d pulled her up on tip-toe to get his mouth on hers, but she didn’t seem to be struggling to get away. No, she was pressing closer, opening wide and thrusting her tongue against his like the kiss was a battle she meant to win.

Too soon, a panicked voice in his head cried out. And since he really couldn’t swipe his arm across the table, knock all his produce to the ground and lay her out for a long session of worshipping every delectable inch of her body, Jonathan tore his mouth from hers. He steadied her as she regained her footing, both of them panting lightly, eyes locked.

“I didn’t mean for that to happen,” Jonathan said. “I wanted to take you out for dinner or coffee, at least, first. Shoot, I’m out of practice at this.”

Violet drew back as if he’d bitten her.

“I don’t date,” she snapped.

Jonathan blinked. “What?”

“Look. When it comes to men, my philosophy is simple. Get in, get off, get out. All the rest is bullshit.”

He must have flinched because her brown eyes softened. “Sorry. Really, you seem like a—“

“Don’t say it.” Jonathan held up his hands to ward off the dreaded phrase. “I am, indeed, a nice guy. An animal you seem to be unfamiliar with.”

“Hey, not for nothing, but you all seem like nice guys until one day, you aren’t.”

Jonathan studied her for a long moment. The stubborn tilt to her chin, the hard line of her mouth.

Someone had hurt her. Violet’s don’t-mess-with-me stare, her brash attitude, her so-called philosophy—those things were her shield against further pain.

But no one who kissed like Violet did was ready to throw down her hoe and call it a day. Underneath the prickly cynicism, she was still yearning, searching—all she needed was a nudge to get her back on her feet.

He hoped.

“I tell you what,” he said. “I’ll trade you. A full flat of these strawberries, delivered straight to your kitchen door, for one night out.”

She narrowed her eyes. “And if I refuse?”

Jonathan shrugged, faking confidence he didn’t feel. “Lots of people love strawberry shortcake. I’ll manage.”

“Lots of vendors sell strawberries, too,” she pointed out.

“None as good as mine,” Jonathan said. This time the confidence was real.

They stood in silence for a heartbeat, then two.

Violet narrowed her eyes.

“Son of a bitch,” she said. “You’re not my type, after all.”

Stung, Jonathan crossed his arms over his chest. “No? What type would that be?”

She sighed extravagantly. “I usually go for hot, dumb, and disposable. You’ve got the first part down pat, but I can see we’re going to have trouble with the last bit.”

Jonathan dropped his arms to his sides, felt a smile tug at his mouth. “Maybe,” he allowed. “I believe in composting.”

Violet stared for a second, then her head dropped back and she shouted a laugh to the sky. Jonathan grinned, warmth filling him at the sight of her.

“I’ll see you later,” she said, shaking her head as she turned to go. “Market restaurant, 78th and Columbus.”

“Later,” Jonathan called after her.

He could be casual, he thought as he watched her walk away.

He could keep it simple and easy.

For now.

He’d paddle around the shallow end and play things her way, because that’s how he’d get her.

And Jonathan knew with a rush of certainty that nearly blew off the top of his head—he’d never wanted anything, or anyone, more than he wanted Violet Porter.

Copyright © 2009 by Louisa Edwards


If you want to know more about Violet and Jonathan, visit Louisa Edwards' website at www.louisaedwards.com/freereads.html

 

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