Page 30 of Rags to Riches Baby

He hesitated for a moment, not sure if he wanted to share that part of his life with her. At least not yet. It was one thing to want to seduce Lucy, another entirely to open up his most private place. His apartment didn’t have a traditional balcony; it had something much nicer that was very personal to him. He’d actually never showed it to a woman he was dating before, and he wasn’t even sure he’d call this situation with Lucy dating. “Not exactly,” he replied as he disappeared into the kitchen to stall his response.

“What does that mean?” Lucy asked as she turned the corner to join him.

He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he’d always kept that part of his life very private. Maybe it was watching his father give over everything to Candace, only to have her ruin it. Maybe it was just keeping something for himself that he didn’t have to explain to anyone else. Harper had only seen his garden once.

And yet, he wanted to show it off to Lucy.

He’d never felt that compulsion before, and it unnerved him that he wanted to show her, of all people. “I have a large rooftop patio,” he explained. “It’s more of a garden, really. That’s where I go when I want to…get dirty and unplug.” From life, from stress, from all the drama of his family. He found his center when he was up to his elbows in potting soil. It was hard to explain that to the other rich CEOs who preferred racquetball, cigars and fine scotch to unwind.

“That sounds wonderful,” Lucy said. “I’d love to see it.”

Oliver worked on opening a bottle of wine and pouring two healthy glasses of chardonnay. He tried not to appear nervous about taking Lucy to see his handiwork. Surely he could manage to show it to her without letting her know how significant it was to him. “Sure. There’s some great views from up there.”

He handed her a glass and she followed him to a door in the hallway that looked like a closet, but actually hid a staircase up to the roof. Oliver took a soothing breath as he stepped out onto the patio with Lucy in his wake. “This is my retreat from the concrete jungle,” he said.

Lucy’s reply didn’t come right away. Instead, when he turned to see what was wrong, he found her slack-jawed and wide-eyed. She looked around his garden as though she’d never seen anything like it in her life. And maybe she hadn’t. He knew immediately that there was no way to hide how important this place was to him. It was obvious just by looking at it.

“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Lucy said at last. “Maybe some clay pots with petunias in them or something. But nothing like this.”

That’s probably because there were few rooftop gardens like this in the city. He had trees and shrubs in huge planters along the edges of the roofline that made the garden feel private and secluded. There were twinkle lights wrapped through the branches and strung overhead, mixing with the stars. Pea-gravel pathways made a complicated pattern around raised flowerbeds where he was growing all manner of flowers and a few vegetables he donated to the food bank. Many of the plants would soon die back for the winter, but most were still showing off their foliage and brightly colored blooms.

“I had no idea you were a gardener. Harper never mentioned it. How did the CEO of a computer company get into something like this?”

“Few people know about it. Harper knows, she just doesn’t mention it very often because she’s afraid I’m going to make her come up and pull weeds or something.” Oliver stuffed his free hand into his pants pocket and slowly strolled along the gravel path.

“It’s funny you should ask how I got into it… When I was very young, my mother had a garden like this on their rooftop, and I helped her from time to time. I guess I got my green thumb from her. After she died, my father basically let her garden run wild. He didn’t want anyone up there messing with her things. Years later as a teenager, I got the stupid idea to go up there and grow some weed. It was such a mess that I didn’t figure anyone would notice, but my dad saw me sneaking out there once or twice and eventually busted me.”

“As my punishment, I had to clean up my mother’s garden and maintain it flawlessly for six months. By the time my sentence ended, I’d found I really enjoyed it. I chose this apartment in part because of the roof access. It’s all mine and since it’s taller than most of the nearby buildings, it’s incredibly private despite being surrounded by millions of other people. The previous owners had just put some patio furniture out here, but I transformed it over the last few years into a place that I think my mother would’ve loved.”