Eliza Ester Sweet Romance Bookends of the Heart (EBOOK)
Hearts of Maplewood Grove Book 2

Bookends of the Heart (EBOOK)

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In the charming town of Maplewood Grove, Lila's beloved bookstore serves as a sanctuary of the cherished moments and dreams she built with her late husband, Ben. However, the serenity of her life takes a turn with the arrival of James, a retired history teacher whose love for the town's stories mirrors her own. This unexpected connection rekindles a flame in Lila, offering her a glimpse at a future she thought had slipped away.

As the town buzzes with preparations for its beloved Green Festival, Lila stands at a crossroads between preserving her cherished memories and embracing the promise of new beginnings. James, with his gentle understanding and shared love for Maplewood Grove's history, becomes a beacon of hope, showing her that love can blossom even in the most unexpected places.

Follow Lila and James as they discover the overlapping narratives of their lives and the community that knits them together. Will Lila allow herself to be swept into the arms of tomorrow?

Chapter One - Lila

When Lila unlocked Barton and Sinclair’s, the smell of books greeted her, and she took a deep breath. The bookstore she owned was the most magical place on Earth, and this time of the morning—when the whole world was still waking up and getting ready for the day—was her favorite. 

The store was quiet, and Lila was alone with her books. She’d opened this store with Ben, when they’d just gotten married and moved to Maplewood Grove. It had been their pride and joy from day one. 

“It’s going to be a good day,” she said out loud, the way Ben used to. 

It had been nearly two years since her husband had passed. Sometimes, it felt like a lifetime ago, like she’d navigated this world without him for an eternity. And sometimes, it felt like just yesterday, when the pain was sharp and impossible to deal with all over again. 

Today was the former. It felt like the life she’d lived with her husband was so far away, it was just a dream. 

She shook off the nostalgia and walked to the counter, where she powered up the computer system Cleo Tanner had helped her install. 

What would Ben think of this? He would have been proud of the progress, her step in the right direction. 

Lila was still a little unsure about the new system, but Cleo was a businesswoman. She’d grown up in Maplewood Grove and Lila had known her since she was knee-high to a grasshopper, but Cleo had left for a while to create a life in the city before coming back home last fall to take up permanent residence. She was engaged to York Walters, and they were perfect together. Lila had always known that the stubborn girl would finally find where she belonged, even if it had taken years to do it. They were only ten years apart in age, Lila realized, but it felt like she and Cleo had led such different lives, they could well be a lifetime apart.

Now, Cleo had her offices right above Barton and Sinclair’s, and when she’d noticed Lila’s outdated system, she’d jumped right on getting that fixed up. 

Lila didn’t like change, but she had to move with the times. They weren’t going to wait for her—she would just be left behind, and that wouldn’t do anyone any good. No matter how much she preferred the past. 

When the computer had been started up, Lila put a pot of coffee on in the staff room and studied the stack of boxes Charlene had left for her in the storage room. They were new orders for the best-sellers shelf, and Lila couldn’t wait to unpack them. 

“Good morning!” Charlene’s voice rang from the door as the bell jingled to announce her arrival. 

“In here,” Lila called out. 

Charlene was in her mid-twenties, fresh out of college and doing some work in the small town of Maplewood Grove until she could figure out what she really wanted to do with her life. When Ben had passed away, Lila had needed the help. At first, she hadn’t been sure about Charlene—the child was wild, with hair that changed color every couple of weeks, music that sounded only like noise, and clothes she wore the wrong way around sometimes, short sleeves over long, or a skirt over pants. Lila had been sure it would be a terrible match—Charlene didn’t know the story of Barton and Sinclair and why the shop was named after them. She knew nothing about the greats; she only read something called fan fiction, and she’d had a bad habit of chewing gum. Thankfully, she’d stopped that. 

But as time had gone on and Lila had gotten to know Charlene, she’d started to like the girl. Charlene—or Charlie, as she wanted everyone to call her—worked hard. She could sell ice to an Eskimo, and despite Lila’s reservations, hiring her had been a good move for the store. 

Which was a good thing, because she had been the only applicant when Lila had put out an ad for help. No one else had wanted to apply, no one had wanted to fill the gap Ben had left behind. It had been too close to everyone else’s hearts that he was gone. 

Charlene wasn’t local, and that made all the difference. When Lila had emotional days, Charlene’s bubbly personality pulled her right out of her slump, and the wild child had a way of making Lila laugh. 

“Oh, let me get those for you,” Charlene said and grabbed the first box, carrying it to the counter. She cut it open with a box cutter, and they unpacked the box together. 

“Oh, this looks good,” Charlene breathed, picking up a new thriller. “This stuff is going to go down great in the middle of the night.”

“I don’t know how you sleep after reading those,” Lila said. 

Charlene laughed. “I close the book and then I know it’s not real, but I’m so interested in thrillers and horrors. I mean, to use something as harmless as words to write something so crazy that it makes your blood curdle. Insane.”

Lila laughed. “Words aren’t harmless, child. Ever. They can make or break a nation, you know.”

Charlene nodded. “You told me.” She wasn’t a fan of history. That was something close to Lila’s heart, but she respected Charlene’s indifference, just as Charlene respected her loathing for thrillers and horrors that, as Charlene said, made your blood curdle. 

“These are for you,” she said and took out a stack of books, the first in a romantic series set in a beach town.

“Oh yes,” Lila said and flipped through the pages. “You know, I think I’ll get to reading these. Always good to know what we have on our shelves.”

“Right,” Charlene said. “We balance each other out pretty well, you know. I read the stuff you don’t like and vice versa, so when someone asks, there’s always one of us who knows.”

Lila nodded. Charlene was right. When Ben was alive, there were full genres they hadn’t been able to cover for lack of interest. Lila had made an effort to look up reviews and read the dust jackets, but that was it. 

“You’re a blessing in so many ways,” Lila said, smiling. 

“Stop it,” Charlene said with a grin. “It will go straight to my head, you know.”

They worked together, unpacking the books and putting them on the right shelves. Charlene created the new-release display in the window, and Lila took some of the books off the shelf that didn’t sell anymore, stacking them in the storage room in case someone still asked for them. She would give them another month or two before donating them to the library. Cora was always happy to get more books in, and they worked together often when they could. 

The door jingled, announcing the first customer of the day. 

“Hello, darling,” Ellie said, walking in before she took off her straw sunhat. “It’s going to be a hot summer, I can tell.”

Elleanor Mitchell lived in town, and she kept a very close eye on the weather, what with her hothouse and flower-arranging business doing so well. She was about ten years older than Lila’s fifty-five years, but they’d been good friends for a long time. Ellie and Ben had been the same age and they’d gone to school together. It was how Ellie and Lila had met. 

“It is,” Lila agreed. The winter past had been a cold one, and the pendulum would swing the other way now. 

“Can I make you a cup of coffee?” Charlene asked. 

“That will be wonderful, dear,” Ellie said, and Charlene disappeared to fill the order. They didn’t usually cater to the customers with coffee and tea—that was what the café was for just down the road—but Ellie was a dear friend, and she never came to the store without buying something in support or spending a bit of time to get Lila’s spirits up when she was particularly down in the dumps. 

“How are you doing?” Ellie asked Lila. 

“I’m doing just fine,” Lila said with a smile and ran her fingers through her graying hair. “Today is a good day.”

“Good,” Ellie said. “Because I want to talk to you about something.”

Lila groaned inwardly. She knew what this conversation was going to be about. 

“I don’t want to do it.”

“The Green Festival is for Ben, honey. You can’t just let that slide. The town wants to pay tribute to everything he did for us.”

“I’m not ready,” Lila said tightly. “I don’t want to get involved.”

Ellie sighed, her face softening. “Look, I know—”

“Here you go,” Charlene said, coming back with a cup of coffee for Ellie. 

“Thank you, you’re a gem. While I have you, I’m looking for a book on wedding floral arrangements. Do you have something like that?”

“Let me check. It’s pretty niche, but what we don’t have on the shelf, I’m sure we can order.”

Charlene walked to the DIY shelf and started going through the books. 

“Wedding?” Lila asked. 

“Cleo asked me to take care of the arrangements for her wedding with York. I have some ideas, I just wanted to keep Charlene busy.”

“That’s exciting,” Lila said, ready to take the topic and run with it, but Ellie wasn’t having any of it. 

“It’s been two years, and the town wants to honor him,” Ellie said again. “It will only be right if you’re involved.” 

The Green Festival was an event that Ben had started shortly after he and Lila had settled down. Ben had always been involved with the community and serious about adding to the environment rather than taking away from it. He’d always said that the world had enough things breaking nature down, and his plan had always been to build it back up. 

The Maplewood Green Festival included a tree-planting ceremony, a gardening showcase, and a book drive that helped find books for those in need so that literacy could be spread. 

The last Green Festival, Lila had shut her doors, closed her curtains, and hidden from the world. This year, the mayor himself had come to tell Lila they were going to pay tribute to him. 

“We’re adding a Memory Lane,” Mayor Gibbons had said, “a special section where people can share photos, stories, bring flowers… all in his honor.”

Ellie studied Lila’s face. Lila was feeling more and more flustered. She’d been dealing with Ben’s death in her own way, and she’d managed to pick herself back up after he’d gone, but that didn’t mean she was ready to face the public head-on about his loss. Until now, the townsfolk had whispered about it behind her back, pitying her from afar, and that had suited Lila just fine. 

“I’m a part of the gardening showcase,” Ellie announced. “I’m going to bring a few arrangements, and I’ll use some of his favorite flowers. I was thinking to do the same arrangements as I did for your wedding.”

Ellie had only just started her flower-arrangement business when Lila and Ben had gotten married, and she’d offered to do the wedding for free as a gift and to showcase her work so that she could get word out there. 

Lila’s heart constricted. “That’s very sweet of you.”

Ellie put her hand on Lila’s, her face softening. “I know it’s hard. We all miss him, Lila. I know no one will feel his absence the way you have the last two years, but let us all be there for you, let us pay our tribute to him. Promise me you’ll think about it, at least.”

Lila swallowed down a lump in her throat and nodded. “I’ll think about it.” It was the least she could do. 

“Found one,” Charlene announced proudly as she joined them at the counter. She held out a book about wedding floral arrangements. 

“So you have,” Ellie said, surprised. 

“I had no idea we had that,” Lila said. “Well done.”

Charlene looked proud of herself. “Happy to help.”

Ellie picked up the coffee she hadn’t yet touched. It was cold now, but she gulped it all down in one go. 

“I’ll take that book,” she said when she put the cup down, and Charlene took it away. 

Lila nodded and rung it up, putting it in a bag for Ellie. 

“I’ll talk to you soon,” Ellie said, smiling warmly at Lila before she left the shop. 

Lila leaned on her hand and sighed as she looked around the store. 

“I have no idea how to do this,” she said out loud while Charlene was in the staff room. The Green Festival hung over her head—she wanted to avoid it at all costs, but the town wanted to reach out to her and be there for Ben, and it would be rude to ignore their kind gestures. 

She just wished they would leave it alone and let her grieve in peace. The small town was like a family, but just like with family, Lila sometimes wished she could lock herself in her room so they would leave her alone.


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