Because of her painful past, teacher Beth Ryken has one rule when it comes to men and marriage: never fall for a cop. So when the new sheriff's deputy asks her to tutor his young son, she agrees to work with the boy while hoping to avoid the handsome widower. She knows former big-city detective Nicholas Grey moved to LeNaro, Michigan, to give his child a safe and stable life. But sometimes a cop's job means risk and danger. As Beth works with Nick's struggling son, she grows unexpectedly close with the small Grey family. How will she possibly protect her heart from breaking all over again?
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"M iss Ryken, you've got a new student." The familiar voice of her school principal was warm but bore unwelcome news.
Beth Ryken didn't like surprises and a new student when the school year was two months from over wasn't good news at all. Core standard evaluations still had to be met and time at the end of the year was always fleeting.
Gathering her thoughts into a quick prayer for patience, Beth looked up but her gaze snagged on the tall man standing beside the principal. He was lean and mean looking in spite of the boyishness in his face. And he had short red hair. Not exactly a common combination. He also had an angular jaw and a strong nose that looked as if it might have been broken a time or two. Put him in a kilt and he'd be devastating to females everywhere.
Cool gray eyes assessed her. The man didn't look pleased by her perusal. Annoyed, maybe. Cynical, definitely, but not at all happy.
Beth ignored those itchy fingers of attraction that scratched up her spine. Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she focused on the boy standing in front of the man.
Red hair like his father and the same colored eyes, which looked lost instead of cold. Beth melted. "Hello."
The boy gave her a hint of a smile aimed straight into her heart.
"This is Nick Grey and his son, Corey. They just moved to the area," her principal explained. "Beth Ryken is one of two second-grade teachers here."
"Welcome to LeNaro." Beth held out her hand to the youngster. "Corey, I have the perfect spot for you next to Thomas. His table could use one more boy to make it even. We're coloring tall ships right now and I'll have Gracie get an extra page for you."
Corey looked up at his father for direction.
He gave his approval with a quick nod while he released the hold he had on his son's shoulders.
Nick Grey did not wear a wedding ring. There wasn't an indentation or even a white mark left behind by a ring. If he'd been married, it must have been a long time ago. The only jewelry the man wore was a bulky watch clamped on to his wrist.
Typically, when dads dropped off their kids at a new school, it was safe to assume they were single, but something in Corey's eyes hinted at sadness. Was there a custody battle going on?
"Everyone, I'd like you to say hello to Corey Grey. He's new to our school."
The kids mumbled their hellos and then quieted when they spotted Corey's dad. Her students stared openly with awe, too. Mr. Grey's hair wasn't that red, so it had to be something else about the man. Like maybe how his pushed-up shirtsleeves revealed arms that were taut and whipcord lean. He reminded her of a power line that shot deadly sparks when snapped. Yeah, the guy looked a little dangerous.
Corey slipped his hand into hers.
Beth gave it a quick squeeze and led the boy toward the table and Thomas. "No backpack?"
Corey shook his head.
Beth glanced at his father before giving Corey a friendly wink. There was still a black one in the lost and found in the school's office. He'd need something to carry his books and papers home. "We'll get you set up."
Once the boy had been seated and introduced to his tablemates, Beth turned her attention back to Nick Grey. Not hard to do. Something about the man invited long looks.
But Nick watched his son with steely concentration before resting his unsettling gaze upon her. "I'll be back to pick him up after school."
"Whoa, wait." Beth held up her hand. "A little more information would be good."
Nick cocked his head toward Tammy, her principal. "She can fill you in." Then one more glance at his son. "I have to leave for an appointment."
Not quite rude, but terse came to mind, and authoritative. Was he military? The only military base nearby was a Coast Guard air station in Traverse City twenty miles south. Long commute, but maybe he wanted his son in a small school setting.
Beth reached a hand out to Nick. He was a good few inches taller than her, a rarity since she hovered near the six-foot mark. "Okay, well, nice to meet you, Mr. Grey. I'm sure we'll talk more once your son settles in."
Nick looked at her offered hand a moment before accepting it. "Sounds good."
First Beth registered his strength and then the warmth of his skin as his hand gripped hers for a firm shake. But looking into the man's eyes was what made her breath hitch. He really looked at her, as if delving down deep to see who she was. Not that he could possibly know with only one look but Beth still shivered.
And then he gave her a nod, let go and left.
Beth blew out her breath with a whoosh. "What was that?"
Tammy laughed. "Odd man."
Odd didn't quite cover it. Beth's heart still raced. "So what's the deal here?"
Tammy shrugged and lowered her voice. "Pretty vague, really. Mr. Grey showed up early this morning with his son and his medical records and filled out the paperwork for admission. There's no Mrs. Greyshe died a year ago. The boy's maternal grandparents are listed as the second emergency contact."
Beth's heart twisted. Corey Grey lost his mom at a tender age. Yup, sad story. Poor kid. She watched as he quietly colored his paper. So far the boy kept to himself with little interaction with his tablemates. Even bubbly little Grace Cavanaugh couldn't pull Corey into conversation. Was he shy? Or something else?
Beth continued to stare. Corey wanted a crayon, but he waited for Thomas to put it down before reaching for it.
"What about testing?"
"Let's see how he does over the next couple of weeks, and then we'll meet and discuss a plan of action with the school counselor."
Beth nodded. Tammy was an excellent principal with an elementary teaching background. LeNaro Elementary School prided itself on meeting its students' educational needs first and foremost. They didn't push kids through the lower grades if they weren't ready to move on. If extra attention didn't work, they often recommended a student be held back. Not a popular approach, but the bridge between first and second was a big one. Preparation for third grade with its state standards testing was bigger still.
Beth had a bad feeling about Corey Grey. Loss of his mother plus a tight-lipped father and a new school usually added up to trouble for a seven-year-old. She'd have to keep a close eye on the boy. It wouldn't be hard to do. The kid had already stolen her heart.
Still, Beth needed to review the previous school's assessments before making any assumptions, but her gut feelings usually turned out correct. In Corey's case, that wasn't a good thing. Her guess was Nick Grey wasn't the kind of man who'd take bad news about his son very well.
She rubbed her arms as if a cold breeze had blown into the room. Nick Grey might be a difficult parent to deal with, but she'd find a way to figure it out. She always did.
At the end of the school day, Nick climbed into the driver's seat as Corey buckled up in his booster seat in the back. "How was your first day?"
The kid shrugged.
Nick gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and tried a more specific question. "What about your teacher? Is she nice?"
"Yeah, she's nice." Corey stared straight ahead.
"Good." Nick was beginning to think maybe he'd been wrong in taking Corey from his grandparents.
He'd been wrong about so many things, but Nick believed a boy belonged with his father. Was it selfish to uproot Corey yet again, so soon after losing Susan? Or was all this the price of leaving his kid behind while he finished up a tough case?
Lord, help me out here, please.
Waiting in the line of cars belonging to parents picking up kids, Nick drummed his fingers along the base of the steering wheel. This sort of thing was all new to him, but he'd get used to it. After this morning's appointment with the county sheriff to complete paperwork before he officially started as a deputy, Nick had finished unpacking their belongings. He had purchased a small house complete with a picket fence situated on two pretty acres a couple miles north of town. It was a start. A new start. One he prayed he'd get right.
"Hey, there's Miss Ryken!" Corey had suddenly come to life and waved out the open window. "Beep the horn."
"I'm not beeping the horn."
No way did Nick want to invite her attention. She was everything he liked in a woman on the outside, but she looked a little bit like his dead wife. Only taller and fuller, which, he had to admit, he liked even better. Susan had been obsessed with losing weight when she didn't need to. She constantly fussed over food, measuring and counting calories.
"Come on, Dad."
"The line is moving." Too lateBeth Ryken noticed them and walked toward their idling car. Nick swallowed hard.
"Hi, Corey. Mr. Grey. How was your first day?" She leaned down near the open window on Corey's side and her blond hair fell forward in long waves.
Nick watched the two cars ahead of him creep and then stop. He wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. "He's pretty stiff-lipped about today."
Beth gave him an amused smile. "Like father, like son."
Corey glanced at him and Nick thought he might have seen a glimmer of pride in his son's eyes, but it came and went so fast, Nick couldn't be sure.
"It was fun," Corey finally said. Beth's perfectly shaped eyebrows rose. "Fun is good. That means you'll come back tomorrow." Corey nodded.
"Miss Ryken." Nick tried not to stare at her. "Do you know of any after-school programs or good caretakers in the area?"
Her brow furrowed as the cars in front of him started to move. "Why don't you pull around so we don't clog up the line?"
Nick nodded and nearly kicked himself for asking her instead of the principal, but he needed the information. Should have gotten the leads before he'd moved here, but he believed face-to-face was always better than over-the-phone conversations. He was a pretty good judge of character.
He'd never been wise when it came to women, though. He fell too hard too fast.
He pulled out of line and parked and then got out. "Corey, stay in the car."
His son stayed put.
Beth jogged toward him. Tall and strong. Confident.
Nick clenched his jaw. She was a sight to be savored.
"Are you looking for a structured program for Corey?"
"I start work soon, and I don't want Corey home alone after school. Any recommendations?"
"I can send a list of care providers with Corey tomorrow. We have an art-and-crafts-focused program after school, but it's only on Thursdays. I'm one of the teachers who staff it."
Nick looked at his car. Corey hung on their every word as he looked out the window. "That sounds good. Sign him up."
"I'll send a release form for that, as well." Her attention was caught by something across the street and then she waved.
Nick turned to see who it was and spotted an older woman dressed for yard work. Raking that lawn was bound to be a challenge considering all the flowers and statues that littered the grass.
"My mother," she explained.
"So your folks live right there?"
Beth's deep blue eyes clouded over. "Just my mom and me. My dad died when I was fourteen."
"Sorry to hear that." Nick tucked the knowledge away. He'd patrol this area soon and he'd pay special attention to that house with two women alone.
"Thank you. I understand that you're widowed."
"Yeah." Nick narrowed his gaze. He knew the kind of offers that usually came after that information. He was in no place to get involved with anyone, let alone someone like Miss Ryken, whose sunny nature seemed too good to be real.
"That must be difficult for you both." Her expression was open and honest. Sweet, even.
"It can be." Nick braced for an invitation he might want but wouldn't accept. He hadn't missed the blatant interest in her eyes when she'd checked him out this morning.
"We have a really good school counselor." Beth fished in her mammoth-sized purse. "Here's her card. She meets with all the students, but it would be wise for you to make an appointment to talk with her right away."
Nick swallowed his surprise and nodded. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Gotta run." She smiled brighter than sunshine and headed toward the back of his car. "See you tomorrow, Corey."
"See you tomorrow." His son sounded eager.
Nick flipped the card for their school counselor/social worker into his wallet. He'd call the woman in the morning. This school stuff was all new to him. His wife had taken care of that. After Susan's death, Nick's mother had stepped in to finish out first grade and get the boy started with second grade until she got bogged down with his sister's issues.
The past six months, Susan's parents had kept Corey safe and sound with them while Nick finished a delicate undercover case that took him out of town most nights. He'd had few days off and they were erratic at best.
He watched Beth cross the street and slip inside the modest home where she lived while her mother made a feeble attempt to rake up dead leaves from last fall.
Nick needed to step up. He wanted to be the kind of father his boy deserved, only he wasn't exactly sure how. He slipped behind the wheel and looked at his son. "Hungry? There's a café in town or the mini-mart and then we have to hit the grocery store."
Corey wasn't listening. He watched where his second-grade teacher had gone like a hawk. "Is that where Miss Ryken lives?"
Corey looked at him. "Why can't I go there after school?"
Nick coughed. Not exactly something he could ask his son's teacher and she certainly hadn't offered, but that sure would make things convenient. "You really like your new teacher."
Corey nodded, looking deadly serious. "She's kinda like Mom, on her good days."
"I know." Nick felt as if he'd been punched in the gut. Corey had noticed the resemblance, too.
How did he handle that one? Ignore it, as he'd tried to do with his wife? She'd had too many bad days, and some days Susan barely bothered to get out of bed. Nick and Corey had been a team then. A silent partnership of protection against Susan's mood swings.
Nick hoped Miss Ryken's blond hair and blue eyes were as far as the similarity to Susan went. Corey's teacher had a sunny demeanor as well as good looks, but the instant attraction that had sliced sharp through him made him nervous. He'd fallen hard before, before he saw the darkness that lay underneath Susan's cheerful facade.
If love was blind, then Nick had been deaf, too.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“The Deputy's New Family” by Jenna Mindel is a story of learning to trust and overcoming ones fears. This story is told in such a way that drew me into the whole story to where I completely lost track of time. We do see characters from prior books but that didn't affect the book for this was a complete stand alone story. Nick, Corey and Beth are all the way they are because of their pasts, and each of them has something to learn to change about themselves, and it is interesting to see how that change comes about. Though it is not often that I would say that there is a third main character in a story but Corey most certainly is a main character, at least that is how it seemed to me. Corey has something important to learn and teach just like any good main character should in a good story, though we never see his point of view. Corey is a sweet young man who frankly has had a rough past couple of years which is evident in this story in a different way then what might be expected that is for sure. I so enjoyed watching the changes that happen in Corey throughout the story and couldn't have been prouder of him because of the hurdles he had to overcome. Nick is a man who is proud of his job as a cop, but more important to him is his son, Corey. He has plans for this move and when wrenches are thrown into his plans to gum up some of his plans, he becomes determined to work everything out within a reasonable push. He has learned valuable lesson in the past and that lesson was something that helped him tread water when things got interesting, for he didn't want to rush into anything until he knew all the facts. It was that determination to get all the facts and go slow really helped make the story interesting. Oh then there is Beth that we meet in a few other books, but here she finally is getting her own story told. Her love for teaching is quite obvious from the very beginning of the book, which shows her soft and tender heart better than anything else could have. It is that soft and tender heart that put her into situations that she might have otherwise avoided. There are a few other things that come out about Beth that really helps explains a lot about her and why she is the way she is. As I said in the beginning there is a message of learning to trust, but the question is who to trust exactly for it seems as if each of the three main characters have someone different to learn to trust. There is reasons for the trust issues that are explained well enough to where I found myself understanding the character and the reason they have. It was watching them working through their own issues that made it so easy to get lost in the book for they worked through the issues slowly, even when one of them was a little harder get through to. The one that was hard to learn their lesson of who to trust, the way they learn their lesson made so much sense for the way it happened in a matter of a few paragraphs. I couldn't help but actually cry and laugh throughout that because it just provoked those emotions in me. The overcoming of fears was something that they each had to overcome as well. One overcame their fears fairly easy enough, while one was a bit hard headed and the other one just needed a gentle loving touch throughout the whole story. I thought this was a great example of how we are as people, for we each are different and a cookie cutter just doesn't cut it that is for sure. No two people can get over their fear even if it is the same fear, and this was a great example of that. I hope all who read this book enjoys it as much as I did. It is worth the read that is for sure.
The Deputy's New Family by Jenna Mindel 4 STARS This is the first book I have read of Jenna's but won't be the last. I have already added a couple to my wish to read pile. I really like the characters even peanut. Beth had some real fears she had to overcome. Beth is a second grade teacher. Her father was a cop who died in the line of duty. There is no way Beth will date a cop. She has moved back to live with her mom. Nicholas Grey is now a single father. He is a cop. He does not plan to get serious with anyone soon. He needs to build more close relationship with his son. That's why he took the job in smaller town. Corey is close to failing second grade. They moved with only two months left in the year. He hates to read. He has been bounced around after his mom died because of his father's work. He is a cute. Death of a parent is hard on children, and for awhile he even lost his father. Mine did not want to be left for years. Mary is Beth's mom. She has agreed to watch Corey after school. She keeps feeding Corey and Nicholas. Corey fits in with Beth and Mary so fast and easy. She also lives right across the street from the school. The setting of the book is Lellaro, Michigan. A small town right close to two great lakes. The book does talk about faith, prayer and leave the rest in God's hands. Not in a overbearing way but a natural part of the story. I thought it was done in a good positive way. This is a good clean read. I was given this ebook from Net Galley and Harlequin. In return I agreed to give honest review of it.
I just finished my first Love Inspired book and I must say this book was definitely a great one to start off with. It was hard for me to put the book down once I started. I hope the next Love Inspired book is just as good!