What’s a rose when compared to the flowering of real love?
It’s Valentine’s Day, the busiest day of the year for Christopher, mild-mannered owner of Petals to the Metal, the florist shop on the dangerous side of the city’s tracks. With a mountain of deliveries to make and no sign of his casual driver, Christopher knows he is about to die when a loud motorbike pulls up outside and a behemoth of man, heavily tattooed and muscled like a steroid freak, strides through the entrance. Will Christopher die by bullet, knife, or beating? When the stranger turns on the charm, Christopher realizes he may actually die of desire.
Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any worse, the door to my florist shop opened and I knew I was going to die: stabbed, strangled, knifed, or shot. At that precise moment I wasn’t sure which method he’d use, I only knew I was taking the last few breaths of my short and miserable life.
Why, oh why, hadn’t I taken those self-protection courses the Gay Center ran on five consecutive Friday nights? Why? Because I’m too chicken shit, that’s why. I was afraid of being laughed at by the gay men who attended the courses. That’s what I told my friends when they encouraged me to be more pro-active. Pro-active? That sounded more like an ingredient you’d find in yoghurt to me. In private, I admitted to myself that the reason I wouldn’t go to classes was a fear of failure, but also a fear that I’d be so turned on by the instructors and the other macho men in attendance I’d be crippled with desire.
But even now, confronted with my own grisly demise, I wasn’t about to break out into a chorus of that Edith Piaf classic, “Je ne regrette rien” because, in fact, I regretted just about everything in my fucking life. If I was one of the Seven Dwarfs, my name would be Timid.
Thirty years old and afraid of my own shadow. Qualified for nothing, although I’d taken my uncle’s florist shop, Petals to the Metal, from near bankruptcy to a thriving business. I don’t have a head for big business; my life comes in smaller portions. I don’t really have a body for small business either. Those long hours on your feet, fighting with pushy sales people, screaming about missing deliveries, trying to keep an eye on the shady shop assistants – mainly drunks and drug addicts – the sort of people who respected my uncle but who see me as an easy mark.
I knew he was trouble the moment he entered the shop. I was preparing the Valentine’s Day floral tributes, cursing that the delivery man or woman was running late, totally alone as it was still too early in the morning even for my caffeine regulars. I was too trusting; I should have locked the door, not that the glass panels in the entrance would keep out a determined thief – or killer.
The door had one of those old-fashioned bells that jangled to let me know when someone came in. Looking up I was confronted with my worst nightmare. A giant of a man, a bandana wrapped around his forehead, otherwise dressed only in tight leather pants and biker boots. He was pierced and inked. He was a formidable fucker and my knees buckled. He glanced around the shop as if to scope out the enemy. I stood up from where I had been sorting dozens of red roses as I consulted my order list, and backed up against the counter keeping my hands where he could see them.
He eyed me up and down, his lips curling in a smirk that said he knew I was no threat. My life may be a little on the dull and uneventful side, but there was no way I wanted to die for the miserable few bucks in the till at the hands of some junkie who just wanted enough for his next fix. Shit, to save my neck I was prepared to go to the nearest ATM and take out as much as he needed. “Just take the cash and go,” I squeaked in a voice so terrified it barely carried. “There’s not much but it’s all yours. Don’t hurt me, just take it and go.”
I’m not too proud to say I was on the verge of pissing in my pants. He just stared at me as if I were an alien with two heads, then threw back his head and laughed fit to burst. I failed to see the humor in my imminent disembowelment. The intruder laughed until he had tears in his eyes. I suppose I could have made a run for it but he was blocking an escape via the front door and although I could have locked myself in one of the back rooms and called the cops, this brute would have been able to break down the door in seconds flat. And the back door merely emptied into a yard bordered on three sides by the brickwork of adjoining houses and factories.
I regretted now that I hadn’t taken Adrian’s advice to buy myself a gun. There’s no way I could have fired a weapon but I could have used it, unloaded, as a threatening prop to, perhaps, escape unharmed. What I did have was a pair of secateurs for pruning the roses. I grabbed it off the counter, holding it in front of me, the curved blade pointed at the intruder. I backed away from the till. “Go on, take the money and go. Just leave me the fuck alone.”
The intruder appeared surprised although he didn’t take that superior smirk off his handsome face. Handsome? How had I managed to scrutinize his good looks while terrified I was about to die smothered in his powerful, muscular arms? OMG! I was getting turned on by my own murderer. I really am pathetic.
I was ready to surrender to my fate when he went and got my temper up. “For God’s sake, put those things down or you’ll end up cutting yourself.”
People tend to do foolish things when they’re mad. I began to inch toward him, thrusting the pruning shears aggressively ahead of me. He was so fast I didn’t even see him move. The end result was painful as he bent my arm behind my back, confiscating the dangerous weapon. He dropped it to the floor, kicking it behind the counter, then put his arm around my neck. I could smell his intoxicating, masculine odor; feel the warmth and power of his muscles against my neck. I relaxed into the death hug.
Make it quick, I prayed.
Instead of applying pressure, the guy let me go, taking a step back to just out of range of my fists. “I’m not here to rob you. Or hurt you. You must be Christopher.”
The penny dropped. The agency had sent him to do the deliveries. He was late, but I felt an absolute fool. “Shit. I’m so sorry. I took you for a thief. Please accept my apologies.” I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me.