The Secret Wedding Wish
Janey 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 high-tailed 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 breath 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 mid-thirty-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, as 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's 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 work-outs.
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 do 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.
Janey's brother, 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. "Oh, yeah." Janey bit her lip as her eyes slid to Thad Lantz's, 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, already extremely upset.
Thad normally tried his best to stay out of family matters. This time he thought it best he intervene. He stepped forward, putting himself between Janey and Joe. "Actually, I'm the one who contacted your brother, Joe," he confessed kindly.
"And I'm the guilty party who summoned the rest of our brothers," Joe said.
Mac Hart, the oldest, looked at his younger sister with compassion. "We understand why you feel the way you do, Janey, but this over-protectiveness of yours has got to stop," he stated firmly
Dylan agreed emphatically. "Christopher has the right to choose his own particular path or career in life."
"Oh, for heaven's sake! He's twelve!" Janey protested in complete exasperation.
"And already thinking ahead to his future," Cal said proudly. "That's to be commended."
Janey folded her arms at her waist, the movement tucking her white cotton chef's jacket tighter across her full breasts and enviably slender waist. "Not if his thinking is leading him in the wrong direction!" she fumed.
"Who says it's the wrong direction?" the normally amiable Fletcher Hart scowled. "Bottom line is this, Janey. We are not going to let you turn that boy into a sissy!"
Janey's eyes widened in indignation. "Just because I want Christopher to concentrate on what's really important does not mean I'm out of line. And in fact, if anyone is out of line it is the five you! Siccing the Hart Posse on me, indeed!"
Thad exchanged glances with all five of her brothers. Clearly, Janey was not going to listen to her brothers.
"Maybe I should take it form here, fellas," he said amiably.
"Oh no you don't," Janey blocked the door, before her brothers could take their leave. "You guys have something to say to me?" she stormed, color flooding her high elegantly-boned cheeks. "You tell me right now!"
Joe looked his sister straight in the eye. "Why did you tell Christopher he can't attend hockey camp this summer?" he asked like the no-excuses professional athlete he was.
Janey's amber eyes turned even stormier. "Because Chris is enrolled in summer school to make up the math class he flunked last spring. And summer school is held at the same time as camp."
Sounded plausible, Thad thought, even as he tried to ignore the defensive note in her low voice.
"Did you even try to make other arrangements?" Cal asked.
"You're breaking his heart," Fletch concurred.
"You know, if it's really a question of cash that is preventing you from enrolling Chris," Mac volunteered quickly, "you could've come to any one of us and we've had been more than happy to help you out."
Janey's discomfiture turned to dismay. Suddenly it became very quiet as Janey looked at each brother in turn, and asked very slowly and succinctly, "Where did you get that idea?"
All five Hart brothers looked at Thad.
Reluctantly-because he didn't want to embarrass her any more than she had already been-- he pulled the letter he had received-and shown-out of his jeans pocket. Handed it to her. Janey's brow lifted quizzically. "What is this?"
"Read it," Thad said, knowing when she did she would understand why the rest of them were so concerned about her son.
Janey folded her arms in front of her. She regarded Thad with stormy eyes. "You read it."
"O-kay," Thad said, looking her up and down skeptically. "But I would think since you're his mother you would want to read it yourself."
"Oh, for pity's sake. Never mind!" Janey snatched it away from him.
"Dear Coach Lantz," she began reading outloud. "I think you are the best coach in the NHL and I want to come to camp so bad, especially now that my uncle Joe is gonna be playing for the Storm. But my mom says we don't have the money this year. And that's probably on account of my dad dying and us moving back here to be close to family. I know how hard my mom works, baking cakes, and I don't think she can work any harder. So what I was thinking is this. Could I maybe come to camp this year and then work off the cost for you by picking up towels or cleaning the locker room or mowing your lawn or something? I'd do anything. I just want to play. Sincerely, Christopher Hart Campbell. PS You can reach me at 111 Shady Lane in Holly Springs or by phone."
And Chris had written out the number, Thad knew.
Her face pale, Janey let the note fall to her side.
Thad looked at her brothers. "I think I can take it from here," he told them confidently.