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The Secret Wedding Wish
By Cathy Thacker
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJaney Hart Campbell saw the Hart family posse coming as she turned the Closed sign in the window of Delectable Cakes. Knowing full well the last thing she needed was an emotional confrontation with all five of her very big and very opinionated brothers about her excessively sports-minded twelve-year-old son, Christopher, she ducked back out of sight of the old-fashioned plate glass windows and hightailed it to the back of her bakery. Grabbing purse and keys, she dashed out the back door, and ran right smack into the tall man standing on the other side of the threshold.
Immediately, Janey became aware of several things. The wall of testosterone she had just crashed into was a lot taller than she was. Probably six foot four or so to her five-foot-nine-inch frame. Not to mention all muscle, from the width and breadth of his powerful chest and shoulders, to his trim waist, lean hips and rock-hard thighs. He was casually dressed, in expensive sneakers, old jeans and a short-sleeved white cotton polo shirt that contrasted nicely with his suntanned skin. He smelled awfully nice, too, like a mixture of masculine soap and fresh-cut Carolina pines. His dark brown hair was the color of espresso, thick and curly, shorn neatly around the sides and back of his head. Longer on top, the three-quarter-inch strands brushed at the top of his forehead.
Individually, the features on his long, angular face were strong and unremarkable. But put together with those long-lashed electric blue eyes, don't-even-think-about-messing-with-me-jaw, and the sexy mustache that topped his sensually chiseled lips, the midthirty-something man looked good enough to put even someone like Mel Gibson to shame. More curiously yet, the handsome stranger was staring down at her as if he had expected her to come bursting out of her shop and run headlong into him.
"They said you were going to do this," he murmured with a beleaguered sigh.
Finally, Janey had the presence of mind to step back a pace, so there was a good half a foot of space between them. "Do what?" she demanded, aware her pulse was racing as she stood staring up at him.
He planted a big hand on her shoulder. "Run."
"And we were right, weren't we?" Dylan Hart said in the same know-it-all tone he used during his job as TV sportscaster, while he rounded the corner of the century-old building.
"Pay up," Fletcher Hart insisted, as he entered the alley that ran behind Main Street and sauntered up to the stranger.
"Don't forget. You owe me a beer." Cal Hart - who was still wearing his physician's badge from the medical center - grinned victoriously.
Janey glared at Cal. "Don't you have a surgery to perform or an athlete somewhere who needs your sports medicine expertise?"
"Nope." Cal smiled. "I'm all yours. For the moment, anyway."
"Great," Janey groused. Just what she needed after an entire day spent baking wedding cakes for this weekend's weddings.
Mac Hart shook his head at Janey. For once, he was without his Holly Springs Sheriff uniform and badge. "When are you going to learn you can't avoid your problems by running away?" Mac chided.
Janey folded her arms in front of her. Just because she had fled North Carolina once, in her teens, did not mean she was going to do it again. At thirty-three, she knew what she wanted out of life, and it was right here in Holly Springs, North Carolina - the town she had grown up in.
But not about to admit that to her nosy, interfering brothers, she sassed right back. "I don't know. Seems to me I've been doing a pretty good job ducking all of your phone calls."
"And look where it's gotten you," Joe Hart pointed out disapprovingly. Clad in running shorts and a T-shirt bearing the Carolina Storm insignia, her only married brother looked as if he had just come from one of his summer conditioning workouts.
The mystery man Janey had run into arched his brow. "Maybe we should take this inside?" he suggested mildly.
"Good idea," her brothers concurred.
That swiftly, Janey found herself propelled out of the July heat and back into the air-conditioned comfort of her shop. To her consternation, the sexy stranger was still with them. Janey wrinkled her nose at him, wishing he weren't so darned cute. "Do I know you?" she asked cautiously, perplexed. Now that she studied him some more, he looked awfully familiar. Like she had seen him on TV, or in the newspaper, or a magazine, maybe. Certainly, he carried himself with the confident authority of someone used to being recognized and then thoroughly scrutinized.
Joe rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Oh, for Pete's sake! This is Thaddeus Lantz. Head coach of the Carolina Storm professional hockey team. The one I am now playing for!" he reminded her.
"Oh, yeah." Janey bit her lip as her eyes slid to Thad Lantz's and held. Now it was coming back to her. As well as the reason she had not wanted to recognize the savvy strategist.
DURING THE COURSE OF HIS coaching career, Thad Lantz had become used to all sorts of reactions to what he did. But never had anyone gone from the undeniable spark of mutual attraction to such utter loathing and suspicion so darn fast. And that was a shame. He hadn't ever been so physically drawn to a woman from the very first second they met, hadn't ever wanted to immediately take a woman into his arms, and into his bed.
Not that this was a surprise. Janey Hart Campbell was amazingly gorgeous and sexy, in the way that only a woman really coming into her own for the very first time could be. He guessed she was in her early thirties, a couple years younger than him. Her chestnut hair was thick, straight, and silky. He couldn't tell how long it was, since she had it caught up in a clip on the back of her head. But he was willing to bet at least shoulder-length. Her feisty amber eyes were framed by long lashes and delicate brows the same chestnut shade as her hair. She had a full lower lip, just made for kissing. A stubborn chin. And peachy gold skin. There was a dusting of freckles across her nose and a lifetime of knowledge in her woman's eyes. Lower still, were lush curves every bit as beautiful and tempting and feminine as her elegant, oval face. All in all, a very nice-looking package. Too bad, Thad thought with mounting regret, she only had heated resentment for him.
Janey turned to Joe. "You put him up to this, didn't you?" she accused.
Excerpted from The Secret Wedding Wish by Cathy Thacker Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. . Excerpted by permission.
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