Starting Over at Lane's End (Harlequin Heartwarming)

BOOK: Starting Over at Lane's End (Harlequin Heartwarming)
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She’s the new girl in town.

Genevieve Slate never thought she’d return to small-town life. But she didn’t expect that the man she loved would reject her, either. Now living in quaint Lane’s End, Ohio, Gen’s starting over. Her job at the local police station is perfect, and she’s ready for her first case. What she isn’t prepared for is the instant chemistry she feels when she meets math teacher Cary Hudson.

While getting to know new people is on Gen’s to-do list, between the basketball fever that’s gripped Lane’s End and a vandal who’s not making Gen’s job any easier, who has time for romance? Besides, Cary’s healing from a broken heart, too, so there’s no way he’d be interested in anything more than friendship. Or would he…?

Dear Reader,

Home, family, community and love. These are the values we cherish most in our lives—the ideals that ground us, comfort us, move us. They certainly provide the perfect inspiration around which to build a romance collection that will touch the heart.

And so we are thrilled to offer you the Harlequin Heartwarming series. Each of these special stories is a wholesome, heartfelt romance imbued with the traditional values so important to you. They are books you can share proudly with friends and family. And the authors featured in this collection are some of the most talented storytellers writing today, including favorites such as Roz Denny Fox, Amy Knupp and Mary Anne Wilson. We’ve selected these stories especially for you based on their overriding qualities of emotion and tenderness, and they center around your favorite themes—children, weddings, second chances, the reunion of families, the quest to find a true home and, of course, sweet romance.

So curl up in your favorite chair, relax and prepare for a heartwarming reading experience!

Sincerely,

The Editors

SHELLEY GALLOWAY

Shelley Galloway grew up in Houston, Texas, left for college in Colorado, then returned to Dallas for six years. After teaching lots and lots of sixth graders, she now lives with her husband and two barking wiener dogs in southern Ohio. She writes full-time. To date, Shelley has penned more than forty novels for various publishers, as Shelley Galloway for the Harlequin American Romance line, as Shelley Gray for Western historicals and as Shelley Shepard Gray for Avon Inspire.

Her novels have appeared on bestseller lists, and additionally, she won a Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2006 and a Holt Medallion in 2009 and 2010. Please visit her online at
www.Harlequin.com
.

Shelley Galloway

Starting Over at Lane’s End

To Penny and Susan E.

To Kim and Carrie and Theresa, too.

Teacher friends who will know just what I mean when I say that teaching school is a lot more fun with good friends.

CHAPTER ONE

T
WENTY
SIGNS
ON
Campbell Road screamed the words
Lion Pride
in bold, black letters. A large black-and-gold cardboard lion, its tail bobbing in the bitter February wind, crouched precariously above the intersection. Three teenagers bundled in black-and-gold hooded sweatshirts darted down the sidewalk. Golden balloons bounced against a parking meter.

Basketball fever had claimed everyone and anyone in Lane’s End, Ohio.

Everyone except for Gen Slate. She was trying to figure out how to navigate her Subaru Outback through the heavy traffic.

Drumming her fingers on her steering wheel, Gen wondered if she was ever going to get her errands done or ever get accustomed to life in her new hometown.

The past month had been interesting, to say the least. After resigning from her position at the Cincinnati Police Department, she’d signed on with Lane’s End PD, rented an apartment and tried to get used to living and working in a small town.

Again.

It was a love/hate thing. Seeing people she knew at the grocery store brought back memories of growing up in Beckley, West Virginia. There, everyone had had something to say about her tomboyish nature...and how she’d never measure up to her big sister, Margaret. It had been a true testament to both their characters that they’d gotten along so well.

Gen thought of her mother, who’d never understood why she’d rather run track than dance in the pep squad. Why she preferred to go hunting the day after Thanksgiving instead of into Charleston for shopping.

Lane’s End reminded Gen that lately she’d become fiercely independent, which was a real kind way of saying she was too standoffish.

Finally the light turned green. After turning down Cheyenne Boulevard, Gen counted another fifteen Lion Pride signs and spied two cars so thoroughly covered in white-shoe-polish peppiness it was a wonder the drivers could see at all.

As she edged her car along, she spotted a crowd of middle-aged men talking with a tall boy in a letter jacket. Team supporters slowed down their cars, honked and yelled out good wishes as they passed.

Gen wished the traffic would thin out. She really needed to get some dog food as soon as possible. If she didn’t get an industrial-strength bag of Mighty Munchies home soon, Sadie was gonna go nuts.

After an eternity, Gen ran into Two By Two Pet Store and purchased Sadie’s reason for living. She’d just hoisted the dog food out of her shopping cart to put it in her car when she heard a voice.

“Hey! You need a hand?”

Gen nearly dropped the fifty-pound bag on her foot. “Excuse me?” she asked, squinting against the bright sun as it descended in the west.

“Can I give you a hand?” the very masculine voice repeated. The man then stepped out of the glare and loped forward,
loped
being the operative word. His movements were so smooth and even Gen was sure the guy was a bicyclist or runner. “That’s a pretty hefty bag for a woman your size.”

The loper—or should she say
interloper
—had a lot of nerve. “I can get it.” She’d never been one to lean on a man—or anyone, for that matter. It was far easier simply to depend on herself. That way she wouldn’t be disappointed when things didn’t go as planned.

But, as if he didn’t hear her, the guy grabbed the sack out of her hands and tossed it into the back of her car. The action was impressive considering the guy didn’t look all that brawny.

“You should have asked Ted to give you a hand. I’m surprised he didn’t offer.”

The store owner
had
offered, not that it was anyone’s business.

The stranger’s uncalled-for concern made her feel off-kilter and more than a little unnerved. Boys back home knew better than to open Genevieve’s car door. The officers in Cincinnati had learned early on never to assume Gen couldn’t do anything. The men she worked with in Lane’s End were beginning to take the hint, too.

But this guy was treating her the way folks treated Margaret—with gentlemanly concern. Because Gen had never felt very ladylike, the gesture took her by surprise.

“I’m okay,” she answered. “Fine.”

His brown eyes narrowed as he backed away from her. “Hey, sorry, I thought I was helping you out.”

“No, I’m sorry. Thanks for the help,” she amended, feeling her cheeks heat. Oh, her mama would be rolling her eyes if she were there to witness Gen’s lack of manners. Even independent women should know when to say thank you.

“You’re welcome.” He paused. For a moment Gen thought he was going to say something else. Instead he shook his head and walked away.

Well, that prompted her to step forward. For some reason, she was uneasy about his assuming she had the grace of a bowling ball. Especially since her sergeant had just reminded her that morning about how police officers did more in Lane’s End than uphold the law.
They interacted with the community.
And hadn’t that been something she’d vowed to do better? “I appreciate your help. It’s been a long day—the traffic is a killer.”

“It is. There’s so many banners and signs in this town it’s hard to dodge them all.”

She shook her head. “Basketball. I like it as much as the next person, but this craziness is pretty extreme.”

The guy’s lips curved just as she noticed that he, too, was wearing a black-and-gold sweatshirt. “You’re not excited that Lane’s End High might make it to the play-offs?”

Chuckling, she said, “I’m new in town. I guess I haven’t caught on to the significance of it quite yet.”

“You will,” he said confidently. “This is the first time in twenty-eight years that Lane’s End will probably go all the way.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

Still grinning, he said, “Sorry—I have a hard time forgetting that everyone isn’t fixated on the basketball team. At school it’s all we’ve been talking about.”

“School?”

“I teach algebra at LEHS.”

A teacher. A math teacher. He didn’t look like any math teacher she’d ever seen before. He was like Pierce Brosnan, Charlie Sheen and Clark Kent all rolled up into one. Gen had a sneaking suspicion that algebra was the most anticipated class at the local high school.

Because she was practically trapped under his dark-eyed gaze, she continued the conversation. “I bet you have a lot of interesting stories.”

“Hundreds.”

Gen knew this was the perfect time to tell him about her job. How she was the new police officer in town. How she hadn’t meant to sound gruff or standoffish, she’d just never mastered the art of conversation.

How her mother had given up nurturing Gen’s feminine side right around the time Gen had asked for a BB gun instead of a Barbie for her sixth birthday.

“So. You must have some dog,” he said, pointing to the food he’d dumped in her hatchback.

Gen couldn’t help but smile. “She is.”

“What is she? Great Dane? Mastiff?”

“Beagle.”

He laughed as he stepped forward again. “Some beagle. I’ve got one, too. Mine’s named Sludge.”

“Mine’s Sadie.” Forgetting all about not being good at chitchat, she said, “So I guess you know all about the trials of being a beagle owner?”

“Howling at night? Foraging for rabbits?” With a chuckle, he said, “I know it all.”

As Genevieve thought about Sadie’s penchant for snacks, pizza—anything off the dinner table—she had to agree. “Sadie once ate all the hidden eggs in a neighborhood Easter egg hunt.”

“How many?”

“At least a dozen. She ate each one in a single bite. The colored shells didn’t deter her the slightest.” Recalling Sadie’s bloated stomach and lingering aftereffects, Gen added, “I felt her pain for two days.”

Holding out his hand, he said, “I guess if I know about Sadie’s appetites, I’d better introduce myself. Cary Hudson.”

“Genevieve Slate,” she replied, shaking his hand.

“Genevieve. Pretty name.”

Her mother had thought so, too. “Actually, I go by Gen. So is that Cary as in Cary Grant?”

“Definitely. My mom was a huge fan of old movie stars. My brother’s name is Dean.”

She was intrigued. “Like Dean Martin?”

“Absolutely.” That infectious grin appeared again. “If you know of Dean Martin, you must be a movie fan, too.”

“I am.” Gen couldn’t believe they had something else besides beagles in common. She had all of Cary Grant’s movies on DVD and had watched the original
Ocean’s Eleven
just last week.

She was warming to Cary Hudson, the teacher. Cary, like Cary Grant. He was likable and attractive. Open and approachable.

The complete opposite of herself.

At least on the outside.

Cary probably enjoyed walks in the park, hanging out in front of the fire, reading—activities that a lot of the men in her line of work didn’t always admit doing. Sadie would love him.

Gen had the feeling she wouldn’t be too opposed to him, either.

If she was going to be in the market for a relationship.

Breaking the silence, Cary slapped his hands on his jeans. “Well, now that I’ve bored you, I’ll see you around.”

“I wasn’t bored. Thanks again for the help.”

“Anytime. Good luck with your beagle.”

“You, too! And don’t worry—Sadie’s docile as long as she’s well fed.”

“Aren’t we all?”

His comment was so true she burst out laughing. Cary joined in, then walked to his vehicle. Gen knew if she didn’t say a word, she’d never have a reason to speak with him again—unless he needed help from the police for some reason.

To her surprise, hurrying home to Sadie no longer seemed that important, even if Sadie was probably entertaining a thousand ways to make Gen pay for coming home late for dinner. “Hey,” she called out just as he was about to get into his car. “Do you drink coffee?”

“I do. Do you want to go sit down somewhere?”

Cary was obviously too much of a gentleman to make her ask him out. His manners made her regret skipping cotillion classes back in the eighth grade. “Yes. I mean, if you have time.” Good grief, she was so bad at this!

“I have time. Do you know the Corner Café?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you there.”

Situated in an old yellow farmhouse, the café had already become one of Gen’s favorite spots. She liked checking out the antiques there on Sunday mornings. It brought back memories of her mother’s love of handmade crafts—and Gen’s desire to be just like her until it had become apparent that unlike her sister, Gen didn’t have a natural aptitude for anything handmade. After that, Gen had fostered her father’s admiration by trying to be the son he never had. Unfortunately that hadn’t really worked, either. Daddy had wanted a boy, not a girl who behaved like one.

That feeling of rejection still stung.

As Cary’s shiny black SUV pulled out of the parking lot, Genevieve felt yet another jab of awareness. And of isolation.

She was lonely. She was sick of dodging late-night memories of Keaton, her former partner with the Cincinnati police. Keaton had been her first true friend in a long while. So true, she’d imagined he, too, had felt something special between the two of them. She’d been attracted to him from the moment they’d met, and had spent years waiting for him to notice her in a romantic way.

It had been incredibly embarrassing when he’d fallen in love with someone else, never giving her a second thought. The incident had been uncomfortable enough for her to want to start over someplace new.

It had been her good fortune—or misfortune—that Lane’s End had been hiring. By the time she’d picked up and moved, Lane’s End reminded her too much of Beckley for close comfort.

Funny how sometimes even a small town could seem too big.

* * *

C
ARY
SHIFTED
HIS
Explorer into fourth gear and wondered what in the world he was doing meeting Gen for coffee. Even if she did look like a sporty Demi Moore, his instincts told him he had no business even thinking about another relationship after his ex, Kate Daniels, had taken his heart and pulverized it by the time she’d been through with him.

Still, Cary supposed he should thank Kate for opening his eyes. He’d no longer assume anything in a relationship.
I love you
sometimes only meant “I want to go to bed with you.”
I want a relationship
didn’t necessarily mean love was on a woman’s mind. No, it might just mean “I want you...until someone better comes along.”

He’d spent the past three months volunteering on too many committees at Lane’s End High, helping his brother’s daughter, Melissa, and trying to forget he’d ever fallen in love with Kate.

So what was he doing meeting Genevieve at a coffee shop?

Because there’d been something in her eyes that broke his heart. She looked as if she needed a friend. That, he could do.

After they both arrived at the café, Cary guided her to an empty table and flagged over the waitress. She quickly took their orders, then disappeared.

As Gen slipped their menus back in the holder at the end of the table, she looked pretty pleased with herself.

Cary was intrigued. “What’s the joke?”

Her smile widened. “Oh, nothing, really. I’m just feeling pretty proud of myself for not ordering any of the pastries on the menu. Ordinarily, I’d have had an éclair or two.”

“You’ve got a sweet tooth?”

“One about the size of Alaska.”

He laughed. “It’s been a while since I’ve been with a woman who wasn’t constantly worried about every morsel she ingested.”

“That sure isn’t me! I tend to worry about other things.” A shadow crossed her face. “Like this. I don’t usually ask men I’ve just met to coffee.”

“Then we’re even. I don’t usually get asked out at the pet store.” When her eyes widened, he added hastily, “Good thing it’s just coffee, huh?”

She relaxed visibly. “Yeah. Good thing.”

Hoping to set her at ease, Cary asked, “So, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a cop.”

“Yeah?” Taking in her form, Cary had to admit the occupation fit. Tall and athletic, her personality strong and assertive, Gen Slate looked born to the job. “I’ve never known a cop before. I mean, beyond the occasional parking or speeding ticket. What kind of cop are you? Traffic? Vice? Homicide?”

BOOK: Starting Over at Lane's End (Harlequin Heartwarming)
4.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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