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Dad Today, Groom Tomorrow
By Holly Jacobs
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Aaron Joseph, don't you dare eat that," Louisa Clancy called, but her grin took any menace from the words. "What have I told you about sneaking chocolates? You're eating my inventory."
"Ah, Mom," the boy said with all the exasperation of a seven-year-old caught in the act of pilfering treats.
"I mean it," Lou continued, resisting the urge to shake a finger in her son's face. "I'm closing the store in fifteen minutes, and then we're going home and eating dinner. You and I both know that if you've been munching chocolate, you're not going to eat a bite."
"But it was just a taste," Aaron said, defending his act of petty larceny. "I mean, this is your new chocolate. What if it's horrible? Then all your customers would go somewhere else. We'd be broke and then you couldn't buy me a new video game."
"Oh, so you're just snitching chocolate to be helpful?" she asked.
Aaron nodded his head so hard, Lou wondered how it stayed mounted on his shoulders.
She mussed his hair.
When had he gotten so big? Every time she turned around he seemed to have grown another inch. "Well, thanks for thinking of my business. Your thoughtfulness is noted, even though I suspect you're more worried about buying video games than living on the street."
Sighing at the injustice of being seven - or maybe sighing because of his failed robbery attempt - Aaron thumped his way out of the showroom and into the back room.
Louisa looked around her store, making sure everything was ready to close for the day.
Her store. The words sounded as sweet as the chocolate she sold. She'd owned it for less than a year, but already The Chocolate Bar had more than lived up to its name and its Perry Square location felt like home.
The bell over the front door chimed merrily as Lou slid an envelope back behind a stack of birthday cards.
She glanced at her watch. Five more minutes until she shut the doors. This was her last customer of the day.
She turned, plastered her business smile in place and said, "Hi. Welcome to The Chocolate Bar."
She looked up. Her smile slowly faded as she stared into piercing green eyes she hadn't seen in almost eight years.
"Joe," she whispered as she stared at the one man she never wanted to see again. Despite that fact, her heart sped up of its own accord.
"Hello, Lou. Fancy meeting you here."
Joseph Delacamp could have kicked himself.
Fancy meeting you here?
What kind of lame greeting was that?
He stared at Louisa Clancy. She hadn't changed in the past eight years. At least not much.
She still wore her auburn hair long. It was in a messy ponytail today, making her look more like eighteen than the twenty-seven he knew she was. Blue eyes darted everywhere but at him.
This was more awkward than he'd ever imagined it would be.
Not that he'd imagined walking into a candy store and running into Louisa. For years he'd imagined running into her at home in Lyonsville, Georgia, but he never had. Finally he'd simply decided she wasn't coming back. But that hadn't stopped him from thinking about her.
And now here she was.
"So, how are you?" What he wanted to ask was, How could you? But he didn't.
"Fine. Fine. And yourself?"
So polite. After all they'd shared, they were reduced to pleasant, little, meaningless social nothings.
Silence hung in the room, thick and painful.
Louisa finally broke it by asking, "So what brings you to Erie?"
"I took a job in the E.R. at the hospital. It was a great offer. Plus, you can walk outside and see the bay."
He wanted to ask if she remembered all the times they'd talked about Lake Erie, about living on its shores, about buying a sailboat and going out every evening to watch the sunset.
He wanted to ask, but he didn't. Too much time had passed, and childhood dreams were long since put away.
"So, you did it, then. You're a doctor," she said.
"I'm not surprised. I always knew you could, I just wasn't sure if your parents would let you. And you're working in an emergency room. I know your dad wanted something more in keeping with the family image. A surgeon or some other impressive specialty."
"I didn't let my father live my life back in school, and that's one thing that hasn't changed." He left the underlying accusation that it was about the only thing that hadn't changed.
Louisa might look like the girl he'd known so long ago, but she wasn't who he'd thought she was back then, and he was sure she was even less like his imagined first love now.
"And you?" he asked. "Did you study marketing or advertising like you planned?"
"No. Things -" She stopped short.
Joe wondered what she'd been about to say.
"Well," she continued, "my plans changed. I came to work in Erie. I opened The Chocolate Bar last year. It's all mine. At least with the bank's help it is."
Excerpted from Dad Today, Groom Tomorrow by Holly Jacobs Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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