The Wild Rose Press
When Philadelphian Elizabeth Temple arrives in a small, Southern town to teach first grade in 1948, she hopes to slide unnoticed into a spinster's existence, believing herself unfit for any companion. She doesn't count on falling for handsome Jake Ryan, a World War II veteran tainted by a scandalous divorce now struggling to raise his young son alone. Despite an undeniable chemistry, the road to romance is strewn with roadblocks and detours. Between the personal secret that has a devastating grip on Elizabeth, and Jake's temperamental, soon-to-be-ex-wife, what looks like a ‘sure thing' could easily slip away.
Elizabeth leaned against the rough-hewn wall and watched the dancing couples with awe. Waltzing? With her eyes closed. She’d never seen anything quite like this. Molly called it clogging, and while the movements flowed faster and looser than traditional Irish dance, Elizabeth saw the roots, but hesitated to try to imitate the steps.
“It’ll slow down in a minute.” Jake’s warm drawl slipped across her ears. Funny, she didn’t need her eyes to recognize him now.
“What?” She glanced over her shoulder. “You think I can’t keep up?”
He chuckled. “I think you’d rather have a go at ballet.”
His insight tickled her, and she breathed easier. She’d taken ballet for several years. “How did you ever guess?”
“Nice to know I occasionally get something right.”
When he anchored himself to the slice of wall next to her, she teased, “Are you working up the nerve to ask me to dance?”
“Afraid I’ll say no?”
“Nope.” His lazy smile deepened the lines around his mouth. “I’m waiting for the slow dance, so you can’t get away.”
Her temperature flashed cold, then hot, and she jerked her gaze from him to the floor. Skin tingling, she laid a hand against her rattling heart like he’d literally knocked the wind out of her.
As if Jake’s wish were tied to fate, the racing fiddle slowed, and the shuffle of feet indicated the change of pace. Holding her breath, she fought the urge to dart around him and slip out the door.
His hand slid down the inside of her forearm. He threaded his fingers between hers and pulled her closer. “Would you please dance with me, Miss Temple?”
With no possible way to excuse herself, she nodded and allowed him to lead her to the edge of the flexible cluster of dancers.
When he lifted her hand in his, she fell into the easy sway of a causal waltz. Careful to keep her distance, she took a deep breath and looked at Jake.
She must have caught him off guard, because she saw the same cyclone of emotions that stirred in her own blood, and she couldn’t tear herself away.
“You dance well,” she murmured, more to calm her nerves than his. “Who knew?”
“It’s no mystery.” He leaned in to be heard. “With a houseful of sisters, I couldn’t escape.”
“You blame them for a lot,” she joked.
“If that’s all I can blame them for, things turned out pretty well.”
No point dickering with such a sound argument. Elizabeth let him guide her through the dance, trying in vain to ignore his solid shoulder under her hand, the static of being close enough to touch, yet not touching enough.
As if reading her mind, his arm tightened across her lower back, and his chin grazed the crown of her head.
Thank the Lord for a room full of people, or else she’d give in to the impulse to close the gap, wrap her arms around his neck, and wipe the sweet, lingering regret from his face.
A blessed breeze drifted through the open ends of the barn. The air did little to cool her thoughts, bringing Jake’s spicy scent to her attention. If she found one more thing to like about this man, she might run straight back to Philadelphia.