Susan Mallery

Father in Training

The third book in the Hometown Heartbreakers series, 1995

Chapter 1

Sandy Walker had come to Glenwood for old-fashioned family values and a place to raise her children. She hadn't expected to find a tall, dark stranger riding a Harley up her driveway.

She stood alone in front of her newly purchased house, right next to the two-year-old station wagon that had brought her and her three kids safely to the small town. She wasn't nervous, exactly, she told herself as the man rode closer. She was… curious.

He stopped the motorcycle about ten feet from her car, killed the engine and expertly nudged the kickstand in place. Then he stood, straddling the bike. They grow 'em big in Glenwood, she thought dryly, wondering if she should be concerned. The man was a good head taller than her own five feet seven inches.

He reached up and removed his helmet. She'd half expected to see long hair spilling onto his shoulders, but instead he was clean-cut, with short, dark, wavy hair that would barely fall to the top of a dress-shirt collar. Aviator sunglasses hid his eyes. He had a square jaw and a slight smile teasing his lips.

"May I help you?" she asked formally, striving for her let's-be-pleasant-but-I'm-a-little-busy tone.

"That was my line, Sandy." The teasing smile broadened. He had a nice mouth and white teeth. He could be in one of those toothpaste ads. He could-

She took a step back. "You know my name?"

He reached for the zipper on his jacket, then pulled it down in one long smooth motion. "It hasn't been that long, Sandy. Have you forgotten that everyone here knows everyone's business? Word's been out since the day you bought the old Michaelson place. Welcome home."

The man spoke as if he knew her. She supposed he could have. She'd spent five years in Glenwood, from the time she was twelve until she left for college. She'd had lots of friends, although most of them had been female. Still, it wouldn't have been difficult for this man to find out her name. The shiver of apprehension that slipped up her spine was the result of living in Los Angeles. People did things differently in Glenwood, she reminded herself. Neighbors were friendly, they cared about each other. That was why she'd moved back in the first place.

He'd finished unzipping his jacket. Now he shrugged out of it and swung his right leg clear of the motorcycle. He folded the garment and laid it across the seat, then turned toward her.

Sandy swallowed. Hard. It was a perfect summer afternoon, with the temperature creeping toward eighty. Bright sunlight flooded the front yard of her house, tall oak trees and a couple of pines cast long shadows on the driveway. She could smell flowers and freshly mowed grass. She could hear the chirping of birds and faint snatches of conversation from around back where her kids were exploring the property. It was all very ordinary.

So there was no reason for her heart to start pounding in her chest, her palms to get sweaty or her mouth to drop open. She was a completely rational, thirty-two-year-old woman who had never made a fool of herself over a man. Not even when she'd been a teenager. She'd never swooned over rock stars or guys in the movies. She was far too sensible to dream for what she could never possibly have. She'd never once felt weak at the knees. Until this moment. Until a guy on a Harley took off his black leather jacket and exposed the most incredible body she'd ever seen.

His red tank shirt emphasized the muscles in his arms and chest. He was tanned and broad, with the kind of strength that comes more from hard work than hours in a gym. Worn jeans closely fit the lower half of his body, outlining long legs and powerful thighs. Sunlight glinted off the silver tips of his cowboy boots. He looked like a male model. Better than that, he looked like a female fantasy come to life.

Maybe there was a photo shoot somewhere in town and he'd gotten lost. But that didn't explain how he knew her name. Or what he was doing walking purposefully toward her.

She panicked and started backing up. "Who are you?" she demanded, clutching her car keys in her right hand and wondering if she should just make a run for it.

The man stopped less than two feet in front of her. He reached up and pulled off his sunglasses. "You don't remember?" he asked, obviously disappointed.

Remember? He wasn't the sort of man a woman would forget. Even one who didn't consider herself the least bit romantic or given to feminine fancies.

Her gaze focused on his. Thick lashes framed impossibly dark eyes. Lines fanned out toward his temples as if he spent a lot of time smiling. He was good-looking enough to melt butter in a snowstorm. And familiar.

She blinked. The sense of horror started low in her belly and spread, like a rash. She'd been a widow for almost two years and in that time she'd never been tempted to look at a man twice. In all her life, she'd never been tempted to look at a man twice. Appearances weren't that important to her. So why did she have to notice this particular man? Why now? Why him?

"I saw that," the man said. "You do remember me."

She blinked again. Lord have mercy. "Kyle Haynes," she said softly.

"Bingo." Then before she could move or stop him, he bent down and kissed her cheek. "Welcome back, Sandy Morgan. It's been, what, fifteen years? You look terrific."

The brush of his lips against her skin forced all her nerve endings to go on alert. She hated that, so she chose to ignore the sensation. His low, sexy voice made her shiver, as if someone had run a feather across her skin.

"It's Sandy Walker," she said firmly, holding out her hand.

What was supposed to be an impersonal handshake turned into something much more when he took her hand in his. His palm was warm, his fingers long. She didn't know whether to jerk her hand free or jump into his arms.

He grinned. "Sensible Sandy. Walker, did you say? Is there a Mr. Walker?" He glanced around at the front yard, then bent over and stared at the interior of her car. All the while still holding on to her hand.

Heat crept up her wrist to her forearm. Her skin began to tingle, while her heart continued its erratic dance inside her chest. She pulled free of his touch, then casually wiped her fingers against her white shorts. As if she could brush away the lingering sensation of warmth.

"Mr. Walker was killed in a climbing accident two years ago," she said abruptly. "I'm a widow."

Instantly, Kyle's smile faded and his eyes darkened with concern. "I'm sorry."

He sounded as if he really meant it. "Thank you." She paused, not sure what to say next. He was still standing close to her. Too close. She moved back a little more, until she bumped into the station wagon. "What are you doing here?"

"In Glenwood or on your property?"

He didn't smile, but there was no missing the teasing glint in his eyes. Some things might have changed, apparently the Haynes brothers weren't one of them. When she'd first arrived in town, all those years before, she'd been intrigued by the stories about the four brothers, their father and uncles. No female between the age of fourteen and seventy-five had been immune to the famous Haynes charm. Even Sandy had succumbed briefly, dating Jordan Haynes the summer she turned sixteen. It had been a short romance, not even lasting a month. In the end, she and Jordan had decided they made better friends than they did a couple. After that, she'd gotten to know each of the brothers, including Kyle, who was, if she remembered correctly, a couple of years younger than her.

He'd grown up, she thought, eyeing his chest. He probably broke three hearts a day before lunchtime, just to stay in practice.

"Why are you still in Glenwood?" she asked, going for the safer of his two questions. She wasn't worried about giving in to the famous Haynes charm. A playboy bachelor was the last thing she needed in her life. Still, keeping her guard up was wise. Her body's reaction to Kyle's closeness told her she wasn't quite as immune as she would like to be.

"I work here," he said. "I'm a deputy. My brother Travis is the sheriff."

"Like father, like son," she said, remembering Kyle's father had once been sheriff of the small town.

Kyle's dark eyes clouded, as if she'd brought up a painful memory. "Not exactly," he said, then smiled slightly. "What about you?"

"I'll be teaching at GlenwoodJunior College. Business English and Business Communications."

"How come my teachers never looked like you?"

She wanted to put her hands on her hips and mutter, "You've got to be kidding," but she resisted. Instead, she offered him a tight smile and wondered how long she was going to have to stand there listening to her hormones sighing in appreciation of his perfect male form.

"Don't you want to know what I'm doing in your driveway?" he asked.

She would rather know what he was doing standing so close. It was getting difficult to breathe regularly. Damn it all, she thought crossly. She didn't need this aggravation. She'd come to Glenwood to get away from her problems, not to create new ones.

"You're part of the local welcoming committee," she said hopefully as a hideously awful thought occurred to her. It couldn't be true, she told herself firmly. She wouldn't let it be true. Fate wasn't that unkind.

She was wrong. Fate might not be unkind, but it had an interesting sense of humor. She knew it the moment Kyle turned and pointed back the way he'd come. She peeked around him. At the end of the long, tree-lined driveway was a small four-room gatehouse-a rental unit that she now owned. The real estate agent had told her the leasee was a police officer. She closed her eyes briefly and prayed he hadn't really meant a deputy.

"I'm your tenant," Kyle said.

Sandy swallowed a groan. It didn't matter, she told herself. It couldn't matter. "You live there with your wife?" she asked, daring to have one last flash of hope.

"Nope." His grin broadened. "I'm not married."

She noticed something in his eyes as he held her gaze a second longer than was comfortable. A brief flicker of interest. Sandy folded her arms over her chest. Even as her heart continued to flutter in her chest, and her palms grew damp, she firmly squashed any romantic thoughts her foolish hormones might want to generate.

Kyle wasn't interested in her. She was sensible enough to know the truth about herself. She didn't need to wear a paper bag over her head, but she'd never once stopped traffic. She was okay-looking, nothing more. Kyle was gorgeous. The kind of man who made a woman forget how to breathe. His not-so-subtle come-on was simply reflex. Not interest. She wasn't his type. More important, he wasn't hers.

She nodded at him, then smiled impersonally. "It was very nice of you to welcome me back to Glenwood, but I don't want to keep you from whatever you have planned." She waved toward the motorcycle. "I'm sure we'll run into each other from time to time."

He didn't take the hint. Instead, he moved closer. "When the real estate agent told me you'd be arriving today, I made sure I was available. I figured you'd need some help getting the old place ready."

"I have everything under control. The furniture doesn't arrive for several days. Between now and then, the children and I will be able to clean the house. I've made a list." She nodded toward the front seat where she'd left her clipboard.

Instead of glancing that way, Kyle stared at her intently. "Children?"

Finally, Sandy felt she was gaining control of the conversation. Most single men lived in fear of a woman with children. If she couldn't calm down her hormones, at least she could drive away the object of their desire. "Yes. Three of them. My daughter Lindsay is twelve, Blake is ten and little Nichole is eight."

"I love kids," Kyle said, and looked around the yard. "Where are they?"

Her heart sank. Actually, her spirits sank and her heart increased its lovesick pounding in her chest. She sighed. It was not turning out to be a great day. She should have guessed when Nichole started the morning by eating too many pancakes for breakfast, then throwing up in the car.

"I'd really like to meet them," he said. "That way, when they start to bug you, you can send them down to my place."

Sandy resisted the urge to snort with disbelief. No doubt Kyle had a revolving door at his house, and attractive young women circled through with the regularity of the tide. He wasn't the sort of man she wanted influencing her children.

"That's very kind," she said politely.

"I mean it. My brother Travis has two girls. I-"

He was interrupted by the clatter of running feet. Sandy turned toward the sound as her eldest came skittering around from the back of the house.

"Mo-om, this place is awful. Did you know there's a field behind our house?" The twelve-year-old's mouth twisted in disgust. "A field! Like we're pioneers, or something. I haven't even seen one store or movie theater. What are we supposed to do-" Lindsay stopped talking at the exact moment she stopped walking forward. She glanced from her mother to Kyle. Her mouth opened, then closed.

Sandy watched Lindsay and bit back a sigh. She recognized the look of wonder in her daughter's brown eyes. It had probably been shining in her own the first moment she'd seen the grown-up and improved version of Kyle Haynes. But she was a mature woman, able to control her instinctive reaction. Lindsay was caught between girlhood and a world she didn't understand. Her daughter flushed and clasped her hands in front of her. The awkward beauty of a coltish preteen became simply clumsy as she shuffled her feet and stared at the ground.

Sandy had known Lindsay was growing up fast, but she hadn't expected to get a demonstration of the fact. Yet here it was. Lindsay's first awareness of someone of the opposite sex.

"Lindsay, this is Mr. Haynes," Sandy said. "He's our neighbor."

"I live in the gatehouse," Kyle said as he approached her daughter. He held out his hand. Lindsay glanced at her, then the man. She stuck out her hand and giggled when he took it in his. "Nice to meet you, Lindsay. I knew your mom when she was just a couple of years older than you are right now."

"Really?" Lindsay stared at her as if she couldn't ever imagine her mother being young. "What was she like?"

"Pretty much the way she is now. We used to call her Sensible Sandy."

Lindsay rolled her eyes. "Figures. She still wants to organize the world. I guess she hasn't changed at all."

"You're right. She still looks-"

"There's Blake," Sandy interrupted, not wanting to let Kyle continue. She had no idea what he planned to say. Probably some unrealistic compliment about how great she'd looked in high school. "Blake, come and meet our new neighbor."

Her son came around the side of the house. As always, when she saw him, she bit back a sigh. Blake was physically the most like his father. He had dark red hair, freckles and wore glasses. But while Thomas's light brown eyes had gleamed with humor and a zest for life and adventure, Blake's expression was serious, as if the weight of the world rested on his slim shoulders. He preferred to read rather than play outside, and he didn't make friends easily. Sandy wondered if all parents worried about their children as much as she worried about hers. She was doing the best she could to make them feel safe and secure after losing their father, but she wasn't sure her efforts were enough.