Jack Reardan is not easily seduced. But the beautiful, outspoken new high school English teacher is raising the temperature of every red-blooded male within striking distance. And tongues start wagging when Jack makes up his mind to get to know the skittish single mother a little bit better.
The most eligible man in town is exactly the type that Beth Simms vowed to stay far away from. Jack Reardan might be an upstanding citizen with a delightful daughter, but Beth knows better than to trust that sexy smile. Even if her toddler son calls him “daddy” . . . even if the passion heating up between them could ignite the whole town. Then Jack whispers those three little words, and Beth knows she has finally come home—if she is ready to take a chance on a love that could make two families one.
This ebook features an extended biography of Mary Kay McComas.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Mary Kay McComas is an acclaimed romance novelist and the author of twenty-one short contemporary romances, five novellas, and two novels. McComas has received numerous honors and prizes for her work, including the Washington Romance Writers’ Outstanding Achievement Award and two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times (one for Best New Novel and another for Most Innovative Romance Series). She has recently contributed to Nora Roberts’s J. D. Robb fantasy anthologies, with highly praised paranormal romance stories. McComas and her family live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Read an Excerpt
By Mary Kay McComas
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 Mary Kay McComas
All rights reserved.
The day's high was a summerlike eighty-two degrees at noon. Sure hope you enjoyed it, folks, because the mercury's dropping. Expect a chilly night in the low forties, and guess what? They're calling for rain again in the morning. Is somebody building an ark out there? Tomorrow's high ...
Jack Reardan switched off the truck's radio. He was covered head to toe with sawdust, mud, and sweat. He was exhausted and madder than hell. He didn't mind loaning his truck out to employees to run company errands, but there had damned well better be gas in the tank at six o'clock when he wanted to go home. Even his daughter Chelsea knew better than to leave his gas tank empty, he fumed inwardly.
Hearing the weather forecast had deepened his angry scowl. It had been raining off and on—mostly on—for the past eight days. The logging roads farther north were barely passable. Already his crew had had to abandon two trucks that had gotten bogged down in the mud. Logging accidents were frequent enough, he knew. He would be inviting trouble by continuing to operate under dangerous weather conditions. If the rain kept up, he'd have to close down for a while. And no one would be too happy about that.
Jack grimaced and sighed defeatedly when he pulled into Donny Anderson's station and saw cars lined up at the gas pumps five and six in a row. In the small town in northern Idaho, the sight was unusual. Odder still was the fact that the place was crawling with teenagers.
Jack spotted Donny lounging in the chair in his office watching the kids who were buzzing about his domain. They had obviously conned Donny into letting them use his gas station to run a car wash.
Jack pulled around the line of car-wash supporters and parked in front of the office door.
"Donny, I'm proud of you," Jack exclaimed with a grin as he walked through the doorway. "After all these years of fightin' 'em, you've finally joined them."
"Hell, Jack, it wasn't my idea," Donny said defensively as he removed his hat and scratched the back of his neck. "One minute I was talking to this nice little lady, and the next minute the whole place was infested with this bunch of rowdies." He replaced his hat in a frustrated manner. He looked confused, as if he still wasn't sure what had happened to him.
"Don't try to tell me you didn't know all their mothers and fathers and friends and relatives would come in to support the kids and then fill up their tanks while they were here."
Jack's smile took on a sly quality as Donny's large round face grew thoughtful and he turned to reconsider the flurry of activity outside his window. Jack's eyes twinkled with humor for the first time that day as his gaze followed Donny's.
The teenagers had literally "taken over" the gas station. They pumped gas and collected the money. They washed the cars and rinsed them, laughing when they "accidentally" lost control of the hose and a classmate got drenched with water. Then they dried and shined the vehicles while a third group vacuumed the interiors. Actually, Jack thought, even with the horseplay the whole process looked quick, efficient, and very well organized.
A short blond girl attracted Jack's attention when she came around the corner of the station and caught sight of his truck. She threw her hands over her face in exaggerated revulsion, then quickly removed them to speak to one of the boys beside her. The young man relinquished his hose to her, and with the most grotesque look of horror on her face, she and her soap squad of students approached Jack's truck.
In the seconds it took Jack to react, the blonde had already sprayed a good quarter of an inch of mud off the side of the truck. With the diligence of the single-minded, she adjusted the nozzle to full force, moving it back and forth across the logo on the door.
"Good grief," she called out to her soapers. "Will you just look at this mess! We could grow corn in all this dirt."
Jack stood motionless as he watched them. He wasn't really angry, but he was definitely peeved that the young woman hadn't asked his permission to wash his truck. People in this neck of the woods had better manners than that, he thought. Jack's face took on the stern expression he usually saved for when his daughter had committed a minor infraction of his rules, while he tried to ignore the fact that the girl's shorts were very ... short. Then again, it was a little hard not to notice legs that were perfectly and provocatively shaped, a tank top that fit snugly....
"Hi. This your truck?" The blonde had finally seen him and was smiling up at him happily, unaware that she was about to be taught a lesson in car-wash etiquette.
Jack nodded. He continued to watch her as she sprayed mud off the truck and moved slowly in his direction. There was something different about her, he noted, not sure exactly what it was.
"You work for Reardan Lumber, then," she stated. She glanced at him briefly, then returned her attention to her task.
Jack nodded again. The girl had lovely eyes. They were large and green ... or maybe light brown. They tilted slightly upward at the corners and danced delightfully. It was obvious that she was enjoying herself tremendously.
Jack looked down at the boy who was moving along in her path with a bucket of suds and a soapy sponge. He was watching Jack carefully, a playful smirk on his face. Jack was well acquainted with Boodle McKenzie, the oldest son of one of his foremen. He winked at the boy good-naturedly, then turned back to the girl, who was speaking but not looking at him.
"You can tell Mr. Reardan that the high school pep club and football team have just saved him a fortune in gasoline. This truck'll probably get ten or fifteen more miles to the gallon now that it doesn't have to drag all this real estate around with it," she said humorously. "And if he's interested, we could discuss a fleet rate, if the rest of his trucks look like this. I wonder if the governor knows that half of northern Idaho is stuck to the sides of Mr. Reardan's trucks?" she speculated, her grin displaying even white teeth and an enchanting set of dimples.
"I don't know. Why don't you write and ask him?" Jack asked her. He would have liked to let the girl go on charming him, but she really did need this lesson. People just didn't go around washing other people's cars without permission—no matter how good the cause. "While you're at it, ask him if there's a law against washing private vehicles without the owner's consent."
The girl's eyes instantly grew larger.
"Oh dear. I am so sorry," she said. She looked crestfallen and was so repentant that Jack began to smile his forgiveness. She drew the spray away from the truck and aimed it at the pavement. The water ricocheted upward and soaked the legs of Jack's pants and boots before pooling at his feet.
In shock, Jack stood staring at her. He heard Boodle McKenzie choking on his laughter and the girl sputtering her apologies. But Jack wasn't sure if he wanted to blow the lid off his temper or simply give up on what was proving to be a perfectly rotten day, and laugh along with Boodle.
In a great fluster the girl finally managed to turn the hose off, then stood holding it in both hands, mortified by what she'd done. "I ... I don't know what to say. I'm really very sorry for getting you wet and ... and for washing your truck without asking. I just assumed that every thing on the lot was fair game. I should have known better. I'm sorry," she said. She shifted her weight uncomfortably. "I'm certainly not setting a very good example, am I?" she said.
"Example for who?" Jack asked.
"For whom," she corrected him in an automatic manner, then she closed her eyes and grimaced at her rudeness. Valiantly, she fought her embarrassment and continued speaking. "I'm not setting a very good example for my students." She indicated the teenagers who were gathering around them rapidly. "I'm one of their teachers. My name is Elizabeth Simms," she said with a heavy, fatalistic sigh.
"I'd heard we had a new teacher at the high school." Jack hoped he didn't look as surprised and relieved as he felt. He hadn't been ogling a teenager but a lovely woman. His instincts hadn't failed him after all.
"Great way to make a first impression, huh?" Her smile was weak and self- derisive.
Jack glanced around at the curious faces in the group. He shrugged and let a half smile form on his lips. "No great harm done. Forget it."
"No. I won't forget it. What I did was stupid and irresponsible. At ... at least let me buy you a new pair of boots."
Although Elizabeth seemed totally sincere in her wish to make amends, her plea initiated a low rumble of chuckles from the boys and some of the girls. Even Jack had to smile at her naïveté.
"What?" she asked with a bewildered frown as she looked around at her students. "What's so funny?"
"Buying me a new pair of boots wouldn't be nearly as hard on you as it would be on me," Jack told her, his temper easing considerably. "They all know that an old pair of worn boots, even soaked and later dried, are more comfortable than a pair of new work boots. Most of them have seen their fathers resole the same pair over and over again until the leather on top wears out rather than have to break in a new pair."
"Oh," she said, deflated. "Well then, what can I do to set things right?"
Again a snicker rippled through the crowd, but only from the boys this time as their teenage minds began to race. Being one of the few unmarried men in town, Jack was used to this sort of humor. But he could tell the teacher wasn't as her cheeks grew brighter in color. Without batting an eye, Jack said, "You can finish washing my truck and I'll bring in my car to be washed as well—"
"For free." She enthusiastically finished the sentence for him and looked very relieved.
"Nope." Jack shook his head. "That would defeat the purpose of the car wash. You pay the costs for both cars, and well call it even," he said, watching her closely.
"It's a deal." She stretched out her hand to seal the bargain. "Thank you, Mr. ..."
"Reardan. Jack Reardan."
Through pursed lips she blew out a sigh. Their hands failed to meet, hers falling away as she realized her third faux pas in almost as many minutes. "Could we please start all over again?" she asked him beseechingly.
Jack gave in to his laughter. His anger melted away when he saw the forlorn expression on her face.
"Hi," she said, stretching her hand out once again, a friendly smile on her lips. "I'm Beth Simms, the new teacher at the high school."
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Simms," Jack said, taking her hand before she pulled it away. "Jack Reardan. Father of one of your students."
Jack was amazed at how soft and small her hand was as it lay wrapped in his large, callused grasp. He thought it strange that she was a teacher. She was so young-looking and so small.
A tension built between them as they stood watching each other, forming impressions. It was several seconds before Jack took note of the alert faces that were still huddled about them. "You teach English literature, right?"
Beth nodded. "And drama. I have Chelsea in both my classes."
"I know. She wanted me to make a point of meeting you at the open house next week."
A fleeting frown crossed the teacher's face. When she spoke, her words were quick and short. "Well, I'll look forward to seeing you then. But right now we'd better get back to work, or we'll be here all weekend."
He didn't know why, but Jack suddenly felt long and reptilian. All at once the teacher seemed repulsed by him. He almost raised his arm to take a whiff of himself, but didn't want to be that obvious. He was very conscious of how he must look to her, covered with a day's worth of grime from the mill, but for some reason he wasn't ready to see this moment come to an end.
"What are you buying with the proceeds from all this?" Jack had to raise his voice to be heard over the jet spray of water she'd aimed at his truck.
"New football uniforms," she called back without looking at him, totally engrossed in the task. "The parents' booster club is helping with the money, but we need to meet them halfway."
"Where's Chelsea? Do you know? Why isn't she here?" His questions were now addressed more to Boodle McKenzie than to Beth. But it was Beth who answered.
"She volunteered to go to the store for more soap and sponges. After that she's going home. She said you had some extra buckets we could use."
She'd stated her answer without so much as a glance in his direction. He was glad to see that she was responsible enough to know the whereabouts of her students when they were in her charge, even though he hadn't been particularly worried about Chelsea. For the most part, he trusted his daughter to know the rules and what he expected of her. But he found himself wanting Beth to look at him when she spoke to him, whether the subject was as important as Chelsea or as insignificant as football uniforms. He wanted this woman's attention, and he was beginning to wonder why it mattered so much to him.
There was no denying, however, that their conversation was over. She made it abundantly clear to Jack as she increased her efforts to appear busy. She even moved around to the other side of the truck with her hose when she became aware that he had taken up a comfortable stance beside one of the pumps and was watching her with great interest. Jack laughed at her evasive maneuver and sauntered back into the office.
"Ain't she a hummer?" Donny asked with an amazed shake of his head, taking in the condition of Jack's pants and boots. "She wasn't in here five minutes before I was telling her I'd be glad to have them kids use my station for their car wash. Took me a few minutes before I even knew I was hit, let alone by what."
"I'll bet. I thought she was one of the kids for a while there."
"Me too. Me too," Donny agreed, puckering his lips and nodding several times. "I made her show me her driver's license. She's a cute little thing, ain't she?"
Jack shrugged and nodded noncommittally. It wouldn't do to have Donny thinking he was impressed with the new schoolteacher. He was well aware that being the most eligible bachelor in a small town left his social life open to public speculation and scrutiny. When he dated, he dated carefully, so the townspeople wouldn't have him engaged, married, and living happily ever after before the date was over. Not that he'd mind, if he were out with the right woman. But Ms. Right didn't live within a hundred-mile radius. He'd checked.
"I hear she bought the old McKenzie place and the boy there is helping her fix it up," the station owner commented, always eager to pass on any information that came his way.
Jack followed the direction of Donny's gaze and, for once, was glad Donny knew more than he had a right to about someone's private life. "Boodle's helping her?" he asked.
Donny nodded thoughtfully. "I reckon that gives her quite a handful to deal with all at once. What with her job at the school, the house, the baby, and now that lovesick Boodle underfoot all the time."
"She has a baby?" Jack was still amazed that she was a teacher. The fact that she was a mother stunned him for a second.
"Scott is his name. Had him in here the other day when she was asking permission to have this car wash. He's a cute little bugger too. Two years old and feisty as hell."
"That's hard to picture. She doesn't look much older than Chelsea," Jack said. He chuckled softly over the dilemma and then, forgetting his earlier resolve to act casually interested, he said, "I swear, Donny, for a couple seconds out there I was actually torn between patting her on the head and patting her bottom. How old is she anyway? Do you know?"
Excerpted from Familiar Words by Mary Kay McComas. Copyright © 1989 Mary Kay McComas. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.