The Abundance Series, Book 6
She’s an artist, trying to start over. He’s the manager of a small-town hardware store, wondering why his boss hired her. The woman doesn’t know a socket wrench from a screwdriver. Can Poppy and Hank work through their differences and fall in love?
Poppy Dillon never dreamed that the life she’d built could shatter completely. Just as she was about to tell her husband she was expecting, he announced he was leaving her. She’d barely caught her breath when she learned of his gambling debts. Now, she’s pregnant, broke, and alone. When her grandfather offers her a place to stay and a job at his store, she quickly accepts.
Hank Hamlin can’t believe his boss offered Poppy a job. She may be gorgeous, but the woman knows absolutely nothing about hardware. The more he gets to know her, though, the more intriguing she is.
Can Poppy and Hank build a future together?
Read an Excerpt
Poppy Dillon pulled into the lot behind Porter’s Hardware, parked, and let out a long sigh. According to the app on her phone, it was six hundred miles from Millbridge, Ohio, to Abundance, Missouri. It felt as if she’d driven six thousand.
She maneuvered her belly out of the car, massaged her lower back, and stretched it out as best she could. Sometimes being pregnant made her feel a lot older than twenty-eight. But she’d made it here. At last.
She popped the trunk of her Nissan sedan and set her purse on a box of papers she’d wedged in on one side of the trunk, giving her both hands free to wriggle out the big suitcase.
This was it, Friday, August 3. Time to start her new life. Just thinking about it made tension build in her shoulders. One way or another, though, she was going to make this work.
It was hard to believe that seven months ago, she’d been selling her handcrafted clay jewelry at the shop she and her husband ran back in Millbridge. Seven months ago she’d taken a drugstore test over her lunch hour and learned she was pregnant. Seven months ago she thought Tyler would be just as elated as she was—
But he wasn’t.
And now she wasn’t in Millbridge anymore.
She was in Abundance.
Which, from what she remembered, was a nice enough town.
She glanced from side to side, searching for proof.
As if on cue, two kids, maybe ten and twelve, rode their bikes across the back of the parking lot, calling out to each other and laughing.
See? For one thing, it was a good place to raise a child.
She rested a hand on her abdomen. That mattered now.
Surely she could come up with some other positive things about the town.
She lifted the hair off the back of her neck and glanced around.
Well, Abundance was pretty, with trees up and down Main Street, and even a couple of big maples in grassy areas here in the parking lot. The wide, blue Missouri skies were beautiful. The town even had some amenities, like the diner next door to Grandpa’s store. If she wasn’t mistaken, she smelled the delicious aroma of French fries. And, of course, Grandpa lived here.
Grandpa was the best part of Abundance.
And the reason she was here. In three days, he’d be having hip replacement surgery, and he’d need her help during his recovery.
Besides, given that her life in Millbridge was over, she needed a place to regroup. His offer of the apartment over the store, a place he said she could use as long as she liked, had been a real gift. Abundance was too small to support a business similar to what she’d had back in Millbridge, but if she could transition to selling online, she could stay here indefinitely, and her baby could have family—not just her, but Grandpa too.
Step one? Getting her big black suitcase inside.
Inch by inch, she wiggled it until she managed to prop one edge on the side of the trunk.
If only she’d packed it a little lighter. But the suitcase had wheels, and when a woman had to fit everything she still owned into her car, perfectly planning each bag and box by weight was too much to hope for. She’d wedged it all in and called it good. Right now, all that mattered was getting this bag inside, seeing Grandpa, and finding a place to collapse. Two days on the road, with only a few hours’ sleep last night in a cheap motel, took a lot out of a person, especially when pregnant.
She took hold of the suitcase with both hands and drew in a deep breath.
“Hi. You must be Poppy.”
She let go of the suitcase and spun.
A guy with short brown hair walked toward her. Tall and well-built, with biceps visible even through his dress shirt, he seemed about her age, maybe a little older.
“I am, but how did—?”
“I was walking back from an errand downtown when I spotted you. Duncan mentioned you were coming, and not that many people bring luggage into the hardware store.”
She nodded. Good point.
“I’m Henry Hamlin. People call me Hank.”
Ah, the man who was running the store while her grandpa was in such pain. She held out a hand. “Poppy Dillon. Nice to meet you.”
He shook her hand, then tapped her suitcase. “Let me get this for you.”
She moved out of the way.
He pulled the bag out in one smooth motion, as if he didn’t even notice the weight, set it upright on the pavement, and extended the handle so it was ready to roll. “Anything else to go in now?”
“Uh, no.” She had what she needed for tonight in the black suitcase, and she was too tired to deal with the rest of her belongings, which filled the trunk, the back seat, and the floor of the front passenger seat. “Thanks, though.” She reached for the suitcase handle, but he took it.
“Gladly.” She shot him a look of appreciation, locked the car, and walked beside him as he pulled her suitcase toward the back entrance of the hardware store. “Grandpa’s mentioned you. It sounds as if you’ve been going over and above the call of duty for the store these past few weeks.”
“No big deal.” He guided the suitcase over a crack in the pavement. “So, you’ll be taking care of him once he comes home from the hospital?”
“That’s the plan.” At least part of it. When she wasn’t helping Grandpa, she’d be trying to get her jewelry business up and running online.
“I’m glad you’re here.” Hank smiled, and tiny crinkles formed at the edges of his brown eyes.
Poppy’s tense muscles relaxed. “Me too.” This move was going to be a good thing.
Hank seemed like a nice guy, just like Grandpa had said.
Of course, Grandpa had also been quick to mention—should she ever decide she was ready to date again—that Hank was single.
Not something she cared about.
After what she’d been through, she didn’t need a new man in her life.
While Poppy went to find her grandfather, Hank carried her suitcase up the outside stairs to the apartment on the second floor of Porter’s Hardware.
Her grandfather, Duncan Porter, had been Hank’s boss for the past seven years. If Duncan were up to it, Hank was sure he’d have helped Poppy with her luggage. Since he couldn’t, Hank was happy to step in.
He took the bag into the apartment and laid it on the bed. He wasn’t sure if she preferred it there or on the floor, but lowering the suitcase had to be easier for her than lifting it. The thing had to weigh close to fifty pounds.
The woman did not travel light. Besides this behemoth, her trunk had been jam-packed. Surely her husband realized Duncan wouldn’t be able to help her with her luggage. Did the guy think his wife should carry all that in on her own? Hank didn’t know much about pregnancy, but his brother, Earl Ray, would never have wanted his wife to carry that much when she was expecting.
Of course, maybe Poppy’s husband thought she’d be living at Duncan’s house, which was all on one level. That would have made unloading her car easier.
It certainly made more sense. The caregiver should be close to the patient. He’d even casually mentioned the idea to Duncan when he learned Poppy was moving in over the store, but his boss had glared at him and said he didn’t need a nursemaid twenty-four hours a day.
Hank hadn’t pushed it. It really wasn’t his business. Duncan hadn’t seemed to want to talk much about Poppy or anything else related to his upcoming surgery. And things between him and Hank had been strained enough this past month.
Most of the time, he and his boss got along great, but these days, Duncan was in a lot of pain. It showed.
Hank had tried to make things easier for him, like running upstairs whenever needed to the storage room that, along with the apartment, took up the second floor. As diplomatically as he could, he’d encouraged Duncan to sit in the back office, manage the orders, and do the books. Despite how careful Hank had been with his suggestions, he’d offended his boss more than once.
No one ever told him that being the assistant manager of Porter’s Hardware would require so much diplomacy.
But soon navigating Duncan’s moods would be Poppy’s problem, and Hank could focus on the store.
He could hardly wait.
Sure, he was a little worried about his boss having surgery, but the doctors down in Columbia were topnotch, and Duncan needed the operation. And while he was out, Hank would no longer merely be the assistant manager. He’d be the interim manager, running the place himself.
A year from now, when Duncan turned seventy-five, he intended to retire and sell the store to Hank. A perfect plan.
Hank trotted down the stairs and went in through the back door of the store, admiring the way his new display of smoke detectors stood out on an end cap, breathing in the appealing scent of paint.
Man, he loved this place.
Porter’s Hardware offered the ideal combination of wide product selection and time-honored personal service.
A hundred years ago, the central portion of the store had been Scott’s Mercantile, the only place to shop in Abundance. Today, although it still had the original wooden counter and shelves behind it, as well as the persnickety fans that hung from the high tin ceiling, Porter’s included what was once a dress shop on one side and a furniture store on the other, plus a lumber yard a couple of blocks off Main Street. And it was fully part of the twenty-first century, right down to the computer inventory software that Hank had convinced Duncan would save them money.
“Hey, Hank, come in and say hello,” Duncan called out from the office, sounding happier than he had in weeks. Already, having Poppy here had improved his mood.
Hank walked toward the office, stopped halfway through the door, and leaned against the frame. Duncan sat behind his desk, which was on the right. Poppy had pulled up one of the three straight chairs they kept along the back wall. Hank’s desk, on the left, faced Duncan’s, but he’d stay here in the doorway. No need to intrude while they got caught up.
As unobtrusively as he could, he studied Duncan’s granddaughter.
She was tall, he’d guess five nine from when they walked in together, and—except for a rather large, uh, “baby bump” as his sister had called it—slender. Fair skin, blue-gray eyes, and long blond hair, pulled back in a tie-dyed bandanna. Probably in her late twenties, she wore a loose, purple dress that reached the floor and made him think she was going to a Grateful Dead concert.
“Poppy tells me you two met in the parking lot.” Duncan looked over at her, eyes warm with affection. “Having her here is going to solve so many problems.”
“It’s great she has the flexibility to come here for your surgery.”
Poppy gave an awkward smile, as if maybe it hadn’t been easy. Maybe it had been hard, getting several weeks off her job. Or maybe she had older kids she’d left at home. Really, Hank ought to be more grateful. And he should definitely carry in the rest of her luggage.
Duncan, on the other hand, lost the softness in his face. His forehead creased, as if he didn’t even like hearing the word surgery. “Poppy will be working in the store about twenty hours a week.” He slid a sheet of paper across the desk. “Take a look. I redid the schedule. You had yourself working way too many hours, and I won’t need that much help at home, just someone to run to the grocery store. And it will be good to have another staff member here, especially during times like that weekend later in the month when you’ll be gone.”
Hank picked up the paper, skimmed it, and then glanced from Duncan to Poppy and back again. He was no mind reader, but he’d guess that Poppy agreed with him. Duncan was in serious denial. He was going to need more than someone to buy his groceries.
Plus, he’d always involved Hank in hiring decisions, even letting him hire the newest cashier, Marcie, all on his own.
But Poppy was Duncan’s granddaughter. Maybe she needed the money since she couldn’t be at her regular job. If Duncan wanted to pay her minimum wage, it was his business. Besides, more than likely, she’d be spending all her time taking care of him, and the schedule would revert to what Hank had planned. In the meantime, he could be polite.
He turned to face her. “Have you worked in a hardware store before?”
She shifted in her chair, and her dress brushed the floor. “No, but I’ve worked retail for years, in a gift shop where I sold my handcrafted jewelry.” She gestured to her necklace, a swirly looking disk that hung on a leather cord.
“That experience with the public will help,” Hank said, avoiding any comment on the unusual necklace. “You’re only here for, what, a couple of months? I’m sure it will work out fine.”
Poppy’s jaw tightened. “Uh…I—”
Duncan’s eyebrows knitted into one. “It’s not temporary, Hank. Poppy’s moving upstairs to stay.”
Hank’s breath caught, and his grip on the schedule tightened. “What? When will her husband be joining her?”
Poppy’s mouth twisted. “My husband’s, uh, not part of the picture anymore.”
What a mess. Even worse than he’d thought. “Sorry, I guess I misunderstood. About that and how long you’d be staying.” He should have asked Duncan more questions. Really, Duncan should have been a bit more forthcoming.
But the man did tend to keep his personal life private. “I’d better check on Marcie. I’ll let you two visit.” Hank stepped away from the door and ran a hand over his mouth.
Clearly Duncan wasn’t thinking of the bottom line with this decision. The apartment upstairs provided a small, steady additional income stream for the store. It wasn’t a great apartment, but he’d recently added extra insulation between it and the storage room so the tenant wouldn’t have to listen to announcements on the store loudspeaker. Quiet, clean, and right downtown. Easy to keep rented.
So much for getting money from a renter now.
Poppy would be drawing a salary, in addition to living upstairs for free. With no experience in hardware, only in a gift shop, what would she be contributing? The ability to wrap presents and tie bows?
Just what the store needed.
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