Scorned by an ex-fiance who dumped her on their wedding day, Kaci James vows to never fall in love again. She's content to teach English at Angel Falls High School and moonlights at the Angel Falls Trumpet as an advisor for a romance column--Love's Lessons.
Plagued by the senseless death of a teen on his watch, patrolman Ryne Calvert feels he's failed in the line of duty--and as a man. His new job as the rescource officer at Angel Falls High will give him a chance to redeem himself--and to be closer to the elusive and lovely Kaci. Though he longs for more than friendship, Kaci thwarts his advances. She's hiding her heart from him, but why?
When Ryne, on a dare, seeks advice from Love's Lessons, he and Kaci begin the dance of romance. But when Kaci's secret is revealed, will the music end--forever?
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
Kaci James blew a wisp of strawberry-blonde hair from her eyes and reached for her coffee mug, sipping as she puzzled over one of the letters she’d received for the “Love’s Lessons” column at the Angel Falls Trumpet. She frowned as the bitter brew nipped her throat then sighed and tossed the letter onto the table. What was she doing giving love-life advice to strangers when her own engagement had ended in such shambles less than a year ago? The very idea painted an irony of the worst sort.
A sharp rap at the front door startled her, and a bit of coffee splashed over the mug’s rim to dampen her cream-colored peasant blouse. She frowned and glanced at her watch as she swiped at the coffee stain. Ugh…she’d worked right through dinner again!
Another round of knocking. Quickly, Kaci gathered the letter and stuffed it into her tote bag. The note could only lead to trouble if others found out she moonlighted as the advice columnist. What would her neighbors here at Heart’s Haven—and the students she taught English to at Angel Falls High, for that matter—think of her if they knew what she did on the side? “Love’s Lessons” was one of the most popular advice columns in the greater East Texas area, and she’d like to keep it that way. That meant keeping her role anonymous. She nudged her reading glasses up the bridge of her nose and vaulted over Patches—her feisty calico cat—careful not to step on his tail as she rushed to the door.
“Coming.” Kaci scrambled toward the entrance, tripping over a pile of essays waiting to be graded. She grabbed the corner of the coffee table to regain her balance and frowned at the papers, ruing the long hours of critiquing that lay ahead. Oh, the day never seemed to be long enough to get everything done! “Just a minute.”
She peeked through the spy-hole and her heart lurched. Ryne Calvert waited on the porch, his close-cropped dark hair crowning captivating blue eyes. A pair of wide shoulders and a set of washboard abs tucked into faded Levis set Kaci’s heart skittering. Since she’d moved in to Heart’s Haven last August, he’d been coming over to check on her with greater and greater frequency. And Kaci had to admit, with his generous muscles and lopsided, mischievous grin he was easy on the eyes. Now, he held a casserole dish in one hand, neatly covered with foil. Kaci’s belly let loose the most unladylike growl, reminding her she’d skipped dinner, and she was thankful the door remained closed so Ryne wouldn’t hear.
“Kaci?” His voice, deep and smooth as a bass guitar, drifted through the door.
She brushed a hand over the cotton fabric of her blouse, frowning at the hideous brown coffee-splotch seeping across the front seam like the worst sort of modern art, and drew a quick breath before tugging the door wide. She plastered on a cheerful smile. “Hey, Ryne.”
“Hey, yourself.” He leaned against the doorjamb, his height nearly filling the doorway. A cool breeze ushered the crisp scent of winter as it scattered dried leaves across the small front yard. “I missed you at the cookout yesterday.”
“Oh, that, yeah…” Kaci nudged her glasses as they slipped down her nose again then gave up and took them off, tucking them into the pocket of her floral-print rayon skirt. “I guess I lost track of time. I have a mountain of work to catch up on.”
“Can you use a little help?” He eyed the stack of essays, now listing to the left like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Kaci did a little sidestep to block his view as his gaze hovered and then zeroed in on her tote. The “Love’s Lessons” letter peeked at them, the crumpled stationery an alluring shade of neon pink. Kaci figured the writer was young…possibly one of her students? She’d have to take extra care when answering it. Teens were so impressionable. Ryne’s voice drew her back. “I’m pretty good at English. I speak it…um…every day.”
Kaci laughed and ushered Ryne in. “What do you have there?” The aroma of tuna—her favorite—and vegetables wafted from the baking dish. “Smells yummy.”
Ryne waited patiently while Patches made a series of figure-eight’s around his ankles, and then he tossed Kaci a glance. “You skipped dinner again, didn’t you?”
“Uh-huh.” Kaci caught her lower lip between her teeth and nodded. “Guilty as charged.”
“Guilty…” Ryne shook his head. “No need for that. I’m off duty.” He brushed past her to set the casserole dish on the kitchen counter, and Kaci caught a whiff of his aftershave…crisp pine like the lush Angelina Forest that gathered beyond the Heart’s Haven complex. Though Ryne looked handsome in the regulation Angel Falls Police Department dress blues he wore to work each day, he was even more-so in a gray T-shirt and faded jeans that seemed to hug every inch of his well-defined muscles and brought out the color of his eyes. “And it’s tuna casserole—my specialty.”
“How else am I going to survive?”
She lifted the corner of the foil and gave the casserole a quick peek as steam wafted to tickle her nose. “No girlfriend to bake for you?”
“You know the answer to that.” He winked, and the scar above his left eye danced, making her wonder once again just how he’d acquired it. She knew he had a second scar across the length of his left forearm and figured he’d suffered them at the same time—but how? Thus far, she hadn’t gathered the nerve to ask. “Not yet, but I hope to…soon. Except I think I’ll bake for her, instead. I don’t mind cooking.”
“You don’t?” Kaci was tongue-tied by his admission. He hoped to have a girlfriend soon? Did he have someone in mind? Her heart sank just a bit. She was in no way ready to plunge into the dating world again, yet the thought of Ryne sharing a meal—and possibly more—with another woman gave her belly an odd little tug. She reminded herself Ryne was her friend…nothing more. How could he respect a woman who was so unlovable, who’d failed at romance so miserably that her fiancé left her stranded at the altar?
She took her time uncovering the creamy concoction, still bubbling from the heat of the oven, as Ryne propped a hip against the counter. One look—at Ryne, and then the casserole—and Kaci’s mouth watered. Again her belly grumbled, this time well within Ryne’s earshot. He burst into laughter.
“Sounds like you need a hit of that casserole—and quick.”
Kaci clasped a hand tight over her belly as heat seeped across her cheeks. “Only if you’ll join me.”
He nodded and reached into the cabinet above the sink where he knew she stored the dinner plates. “You don’t have to ask me twice.”