Single mom Becca Norton is surprised to discover her high school crush Jared Donnelly is back in town. The motocross champion hasn't been home in years, but the former bad boy is as gorgeous as she remembers. And his kindness toward her kids melts her heart. But when she learns his true purpose in town is to build a motocross school on land near her home, she has to put on the brakes. Her children's welfare is her priority, and her former in-laws have made it clear they don't approve of Jared or his plans. Soon Becca may have to choose between her heart and her home.
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"Look out, Paradox Lake. The Donnelly brothers are back in town."
Jared Donnelly fist-bumped with his younger brothers. He didn't know about Connor and Josh, but if things worked out as he planned, he was back in the small Adirondack Mountains town for good.
"What do you think got into Old Man Miller?" Josh asked.
Jared studied a spot on the floor between him and Josh. That was a mystery to him, too. Bert Miller, their former neighbor, had unintentionally been a major factor in Jared's professional success. At least Jared thought it was unintentional, although they'd become long-distance friends of a sort over the years since Jared had left Paradox Lake.
"Not that I'm complaining," Josh said. "Without him, I'd be paying my student loans for the next two decades. But after Dad "
Jared stiffened. Their father was one of the reasons he was back.
"You know," Josh added, "Dad gave him nothing but grief."
"Dad gave everyone nothing but grief," Connor said. "And sometimes we weren't much better."
Jared eyed his youngest brother. "You've got that right."
Connor eyed him back. "I'm not surprised Mr. Miller set up a fund for Hazardtown Community Church. He was a lifelong member. I was surprised this morning when the lawyer said that the gift was added in a recent codicil to his will, made after I was called as pastor."
Josh leaned back against the doorjamb and crossed his arms. "Connor gets money for his church. I get my student loans paid off. Jare, I think you got shortchanged. All he left you is that raw land in the Town of Schroon on the west side of Paradox Lake. No water frontage, not even a house."
"Yep, just what I need," Jared said more to himself than to his brothers.
"What?" his brothers asked in unison.
"The land's good. I may have a use for it once I get a few details worked out." He wasn't going to leave himself open to any expectations, other than his own, until he was sure his plan to build a motocross track and schoolsort of a Boys & Girls Club programwas solid. "But for now, I'd better get over to Gram's. I've been in town since yesterday and haven't seen her yet."
"Right." Connor laughed. "If you don't get over there, she'll be tracking you down."
"Later," Jared said as he pushed open the screen door and stepped into the bright afternoon sun. He grabbed his helmet from the back of his customized KLR650 motorcycle, slammed it on and threw his leg over the seat. The purr of the engine when he turned the key in the ignition got his blood rushing. He gave the engine a couple of good revs and raced off on the windy mountain roads to his grandmother's house.
Fifteen minutes later, Jared slowed to take the turn off the state highway onto the side road Grandma Donnelly Stowelived on. He still had trouble thinking of her as Stowe, even though she and the also-widowed Harry Stowe had married several years ago. She was on the porch waiting for him when he pulled up in front of the house.
"I heard you coming." She shooed him inside. "The black flies are still bad this year, even though June's almost over."
"That's one thing I haven't missed. But you're one I have." He gave her a big hug and kissed her cheek.
"Save your flirting for someone who's flattered by it." The pleasure radiating from her face contrasted with her words and raised a jolt of guilt in him for all the times the racing circuit had brought him near the Adirondacks, and he hadn't had the guts to make time to come to Paradox Lake.
He released a snort at the thought of what his fans would think about big, bad international motocross champion Jared Donnelly dreading a visit to his hometown.
She tilted her head. "Don't think I don't know what you've been up to. I read the magazines."
Jared cringed. He didn't know if he should be disturbed or flattered that she followed him in the media. "Aw, Gram, you don't believe all that drivel."
"No." She smiled. "I know you better than that. Join me for lunch? Harry's at one of his rental houses getting an estimate on some repairs. He said he'd get lunch at the diner in Schroon Lake so we'd have time for a nice visit."
"Sounds good." Considering her husband Harry's penchant for talking and knowing everyone from his years as a teacher and principal at Schroon Lake Central High School, he and Gram probably would have all afternoon for visiting.
"Come on in the kitchen. I figured you'd stop over after you and your brothers got back from the lawyer's. I have iced tea all made. I just need to put some sandwiches together."
A brief rap, followed by a cheery "hello" and the creak of the screen door opening made Jared and his grandmother turn around in the kitchen doorway.
His chest tightened so he could barely draw a breath. Becca MorganNortonstood in his grandmother's living room looking as pretty and as untouchable to him as she had in high school.
Becca looked Jared over from his tousled chestnut hair to his strong square jaw and muscular physique. He was taller and more filled out than he'd been in high school when she used to secretly watch himwatch him with the knowledge that despite Schroon Lake High School's small student body, he didn't seem to know she even existed. Her cheeks pinked when her stare met his.
"Oh." She stopped midstep. "I didn't know you had company. I brought the dishwasher detergent you asked me to pick up for you in Ticonderoga."
"Thanks again. I don't know why the grocery store in Schroon Lake quit carrying it." Edna Stowe bustled into the living room and took the bag from Becca.
"Mom!" Becca's son, Brendon, lined up beside her, followed by his sister, Ariana. "That's the guy in my motorcycle magazine Grandpa Norton bought me."
She cleared her throat. "Yes, that's Jared Donnelly."
"Right here at Mrs. Stowe's house?"
Edna laughed. "Yes, Brendon. Jared is my grandson. Jared, this is Becca's son, Brendon, and his sister, Ari."
At the mention of her name, Ari wrapped her arms around Becca's leg and peered across the room at Jared, sort of like Becca had at school when she'd known Jared wasn't looking. But that was a long time ago in another life.
"Mr Mr. Donnelly. If I get my motocross magazine, will you sign it next to your picture?"
"Sure." Jared hooked his thumbs in his jeans pockets.
"It's in the car. I'll go get it." The boy raced out.
"And I'm going to go back in the kitchen and finish making our lunch. Do you and the kids want to join us?"
"No, thanks. I treated them to fast food after we finished shopping."
Jared moved out of the doorway to let his grandmother through and sauntered over to Becca. "Your son's a motocross fan?"
"Since last month when his grandfather bought him a magazine at the chain pharmacy in Ticonderoga."
"Sheriff Norton." Jared's tone was flat.
"Former sheriff. He and my mother-in-lawex-mother-in-laware retired and thinking about moving to Florida. The North Country winters are getting to them." Becca rubbed Ari's shoulder. Why was she running on about Matt's parents? What would Jared care if they were moving to Florida or to the moon?
"Winter is something I'm going to have to get used to again," he said.
Becca's mouth went dry. That sounded as if Jared intended to stay in Paradox Lake for a while. Not that she cared. She'd barely known Jared before he'd left here as a teen. She certainly didn't know the man who'd filled the doorway when she'd first arrived. She looked over her shoulder at the creak of the door opening.
"Here it is. I got it." Brendon waved his magazine at her as he raced across the room. "And Mom's pen from the car."
"Let's see what you have there," Jared said.
Her heart warmed when he squatted down to her son's level. She didn't know or care whether the interest on his face was real or feigned. Brendon's father gave him so little of the quality attention her son needed and wanted. Jared's attention would make her son's day.
"That's one of my favorite magazines. The writers stick to the important stuff, the real motocross news."
The edge she caught in his voice made her think of a derogatory comment the kids' grandfather had made about Jared's offtrack life being splashed on the front of another magazine he'd seen at the store.
Brendon leafed through the magazine. "Here." The nine-year-old tapped the page several time. "This is you."
"So it is," Jared agreed with a smile.
"Sign here on your motorcycle." Brendon gave the page another stab.
Jared signed with a flourish, hamming it up for her son's benefit.
"Mommy!" Ari pulled her attention from Jared and Brendon still bent over the magazine, Jared's dark hair a sharp contrast to her son's fair hair. "Can I go get my storybook from the car so the man can sign it, too?"
"The man is Mr. Donnelly."
"Jared." He raised his head, his deep blue eyes challenging her to object.
"Can I have Mr. Donnelly sign my book?"
Good girl. She could always count on Ari to do as she was told. Becca caught the sparkle in Jared's eyes. Maybe too much so. She reminded Becca so much of herself at Ari's age when her parents had separated temporarily after their third child had been stillborn. The uncertain feelings, wanting to do everything right so Daddy wouldn't leave, too, and Mommy would come back.
Jared rose and flexed his knees. "You don't want me scribbling in your book."
Ari's face crinkled.
"I have a better idea. You and your mommy go get the book and I'll read it to you. I used to read to my little brother all the time when our mom worked nights," Jared added as if to explain his offer.
Becca swallowed the protest she'd been about to make about keeping him and his grandmother from their lunch. She hadn't known his mother worked nights, only the town gossip about his father's partying. Jared was the oldest. He must have watched his brothers for her.
"You two go and get the book," Jared said. "I'll tell Gram to hold lunch for a few minutes."
"Thanks," Becca mouthed over Ari's head before they walked out to the car.
Jared and Brendon were on the couch looking at the motocross magazine when they returned. Jared patted the seat beside him and Ari looked up at her for an okay. Her chest tightened as she nodded. Ari scrambled over and plopped her book on top of the magazine.
Becca hung back, feeling as out of place as she had in high school when she hadn't been insulated by her small circle of friends. She shook it off. She'd been a cheerleader, an honor student, part of the popular group at school. She'd worked hard to never show how shy she really was. Now, she was a tenured high school teacher, mother, homeowner. What was it about Jared Donnelly that put her off-kilter?
"Becca." Mrs. Stowe motioned her from the kitchen doorway. "Come out to the garden with me while Jar-ed's reading. I planted far too much lettuce and spinach as usual. Pick some to take home with you." The older woman handed her a basket in the back hall behind the kitchen and led the way to the large garden.
"Take as much as you want. Harry is tired of salads. My kids have their own gardens, and my only grandkids who are still around here are Jared's brothers. They aren't vegetable fans. I hate to see good food go to waste."
"Since you put it that way." Becca filled the basket.
When they got back inside, Jared was just closing the book.
"Mommy, Mr Jared" Ari said, looking up at him with a sheen in her eyes that could only be described as adoration "read the story twice because you were taking so long. But that's okay. It's a good story and he's a good reader."
Brendon rolled his eyes and the three adults laughed.
"Get your book and thank Mr. Donnelly. We need to get going so he and Mrs. Stowe can have their lunch."
"Okay. Thanks for reading my story."
"Yeah, thanks." Brendon tilted his rolled magazine toward Jared.
"You're both welcome." Jared stood and walked out to the porch with them.
The kids waved to him as she turned the car around, and she sensed his gaze on her as she pulled to the end of the driveway. She glanced back and he waved. Jared Donnelly had finally noticed herat the absolutely worst time possible.
Jared took his time joining his grandmother in the kitchen. Becca's kids had seemed to like him. But they were young and full of hero worship. He wasn't anyone's hero. He was simply very good at motocross racing, something he was going to use to help his hometown and show everyone he and his brothers weren't cut from the same cloth as their father.
"Everything's ready," his grandmother said as he sat at the kitchen table across from her.
He picked up his sandwich.
"Would you say grace?"
"Sure." He placed the sandwich back on the plate and blessed their food. "I got out of the practice on the circuit," he apologized. "Even with the pit pastors as a reminder."
"Yes, I read the article on Team Faith you emailed me. I'm glad you had the fellowship of other Christians, especially with what you went through after your friend was killed."
"I knew you would be." His out-of-control actions following his best friend and mentor's death in a crash had made Jared wonder if he had more of his father in him than he cared to admit.
"And I knew not to believe what I saw in the grocery store scandal sheets, evenor I should say, especiallywhen some people around here ate those stories up."
"What could you expect given how Dad was?" Jared's fingers tightened around his glass of tea. He wasn't going to have an easy time changing people's minds about him. Bert Miller's bequest would be a big help, though. For whatever reason, Bert had had faith in him when no one except his mother and grandmother had. And sometimes he wasn't so sure about his mother. Not that he could blame her.
"Gram, you and Mom are good people, and so was Grandpa. I've always wondered how Dad went so wrong."
She shook her head. "I don't know. He was already grown when I took the teaching job at Schroon Lake and met your grandfather. But we don't want to talk about your father."
His father was a subject Jared usually avoided, but, surprisingly, he did want to talk about him now. He wouldn't press Gram, though, if she didn't want to.
"You sure hit it off with Becca's kids," she said.
He shrugged and took a big bite of his sandwich.
"I've always liked Becca Norton," she said.
He swallowed the bite. So had he. From afar.
"Weren't you in the same grade?
"No, she was a year ahead of me." One more thing that had put her out of his reach. Jared pictured Becca as she'd looked the first time he'd seen her, at the beginning of his freshman year. Her waist-length hair. Her bright friendly smile. Her hair was shorter now, but the smile was the same.
"That's right," his grandmother said. "She came to Schroon Lake Central from Lakeside Christian Academy the year Harry became principal." Her eyes went soft when she mentioned her husband of three years.
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Winning the Teacher's Heart is a fabulous book. Author Jean C. Gordon has written such a wonderful storyline that I was totally involved with the characters and with what was happening. There are quite a few characters but I had no problem in distinguishing each one. I really enjoyed reading this book and this is my first book to read by Author Jean C. Gordon. Winning the Teacher's Heart is a Harlequin Love Inspired book and I recommend reading this book. I believe you will truly enjoy reading this book and I'm looking forward to this author's next book. I received a complimentary copy from the author in exchange for my honest review. This review is one hundred percent my opinion.