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First Crush

First Crush

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Maddie has loved Officer Ben Belliston since they were kids, but he's never seen her as anything but his best friend's little sister. When he takes over guardianship of his niece, and helps protect her third grade class and their greenhouse from street thugs, he starts to see Maddie in a new light.

Main Tropes

  • Surprise Child
  • Unrequited Love
  • Brother's Best Friend
  • Single Dad
  • Friends to Lovers


Maddie has loved Ben since they were kids. He never saw her the same way. Until now.

Third-grade teacher Maddie McCormick was thrilled when her dream of a greenhouse classroom actually came to fruition. She hadn’t expected to anger the local street thugs, or that their threats would make it more difficult to use the new structure.

Police officer Ben Belliston hadn’t planned on fatherhood—ever—but gaining custody of his orphaned niece had him rearranging all of his priorities. His niece, Felicia, and Maddie, her new teacher, bonded right away, so he was happy to provide a little off-duty security in the greenhouse—it was more than a fair exchange for the way Maddie helped his niece emerge from her shell. He hadn’t expected to begin seeing his best friend’s little sister in a new light, or the way Maddie would make him question all of his future plans.

Intro into Chapter One

"I’m thinking pink and blue for your colors. We could do a June wedding with pink roses and delphiniums for the flowers,” Maddie said when she met Piper on the street outside of Dansie’s Dental office, where Piper worked. She’d been thinking about this on and off for a couple of days. Piper was the first one of her close friends to get engaged and she knew Piper would feel overwhelmed. It was practically her duty to help plan the wedding, right?

“Pink and blue?” Skepticism hovered in Piper’s blue eyes. She was bundled in a thick green coat that set off her red hair and peaches and cream complexion. “I don’t think they have pink roses in a shade that will work with that dark blue delphinium.”

“Delphiniums come in paler blue and even white,” Maddie insisted. “And it would be perfect for an early summer wedding.”

“Except that we’re not getting married until September or maybe October. November isn’t out of the question, either.” They continued down the street toward the community garden. Or at least what would be the community garden when spring came around and they could plow and plant the space. Now the February cold blew across their faces and down the necks of their coats. The barren winter landscape didn’t help the day feel warmer, but at least the snow had melted and they still had another hour or two of sunlight.

Maddie could hardly believe it was all coming together. When Piper had brought up the idea the previous fall, Maddie had known she wanted to be part of it. It hadn’t been easy for Piper to acquire the land, even though it had been abandoned for years. Reece’s company had owned the property, and he had jumped right in to help Piper get approval. Maddie suspected it had more to do with spending time with Piper than the garden, at least in the beginning. That was just as well, since it was doubtful they could have gotten to this point without his help.

Maddie pulled her coat tighter against the scarf she had wound around her neck before leaving the school across the street where she taught. It had been an unusually cold and snowy winter. The extended forecast said somewhat milder weather was on the way, though, and any minute a delivery truck would pull up with the greenhouse that had been financed by several generous donors in the community.

“I guess September is okay,” she conceded after a moment, “but I know how much you like spring flowers.”

“I like summer and fall ones too. I know I have exquisite taste, but I can’t believe you’re that excited to wear a bridesmaid’s dress.” Piper grinned, as she always did when she talked about the forthcoming nuptials. It hadn’t been easy for her and Reece to get past the bumps and bruises of their past, but they had made it.

“I do so love taffeta.” Maddie had been very vocal with her friends about a puce gown in that fabric she’d worn for a cousin’s wedding a couple of years earlier.

“Darn it, I was thinking no taffeta. What do you think of gingham check?” Piper’s lips twitched.

Maddie’s right cheek twitched at the thought. Gingham was on her never-wear list. She wasn’t a pioneer and, so as far as she was concerned, there was no reason for her to have any contact with gingham. “You don’t mind if I pick out the bridesmaid dresses for you, do you? Give me a color and theme. It’s one part of the planning that I’m more than happy to take off your hands.”

Piper laughed. “Don’t worry, you and Adelyn will get plenty of say in the final choice. Just because it’s my wedding doesn’t mean you have to look terrible.”

“You are an angel among bridezillas.”

“I have a mother-of-the-groom-zilla, so one of us has to be reasonable,” Piper muttered.

“I thought things were going well with her.” They came to a stop on the sidewalk beside the empty lot. Maddie waved to Adelyn, their other best friend, who was walking in their direction from the city building. She cut right through the empty garden site on her way toward them.

“She’s been nice, most of the time, but she has it in her head that we need a huge formal wedding with like a thousand of her closest friends attending. No doubt she’ll want the bride’s and groom’s families seated separately. My family and friends will fill part of a row, and hers will fill the rest of the mausoleum of a church that she’s trying to push on us for the ceremony.”

“Do you and Reece have other places in mind? I’m sure Adelyn could make a few suggestions for smaller venues.” Adelyn knew all of the appropriate spaces in town.

“If we don’t get something reserved soon, it’ll end up being held at city hall.”

Adelyn chuckled a little as she joined them. “You must be talking about your wedding plans. I saw Reece’s mom at the Women in Business meeting today. She had this idea of white on white with a horse and carriage to deliver you to the church, Cinderella style.” When Maddie shot her a disbelieving look, Adelyn crossed her chest with her fingertip. “I’m not exaggerating.”

“And you smiled and nodded, of course, because you never rock the boat,” Piper said.

“No, I didn’t smile and nod this time. I mentioned that I didn’t think that was really your style, and that whatever you chose, it wouldn’t fit the image she had in mind. Then I said that if she trusted you and Reece, she might be surprised by the tasteful, lovely wedding you plan. So please don’t contradict me by coming to the city to have it performed. Seriously, your mother-in-law would never trust any of us again.”

“So true. Don’t worry, on my list of favorite places to be married, city hall is somewhat lower than the cathedral.” Piper glanced up as a big rig pulled into the one empty spot by the sidewalk. Ben and Jason walked over from the opposite direction where they had parked in the city lot.

“Looks like most of us are here.”

“No one said Ben was coming,” Maddie muttered under her breath. Ben was her brother Jason’s best friend—had been for as long as Maddie could remember. Sure, he had movie-star good looks, a face as chiseled as a young Brad Pitt and the most perfect honey-blond hair imaginable—that didn’t mean she had to like him. At least that’s what she told herself when seeing him like this made the breath catch in her throat. The fact that she’d had a totally unrequited crush on him since second grade didn’t help her convince herself that she disliked him.

Adelyn shot her a knowing look, but said nothing, a forbearance that Maddie deeply appreciated.

Maddie didn’t dislike Ben, she disliked the fact that she felt invisible when he was around. Even with as much time as they spent around each other, he’d never even glanced at her in a romantic way. Was she not good enough to draw a nice guy’s attention? Her ex-boyfriend, Chaz, had twisted the knife a little more when he’d walked out, saying she was too boring to waste his time with. Her, boring? What he really meant was that he hadn’t liked that her social life had been more than watching lame reruns with him every night after work. She had needed to get out and live a little.

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