Starting Over at Lane's End

By: Shelley Galloway

CHAPTER ONE

  TWENTY SIGNS ON Campbell Road screamed the words Lion Pride in bold, black letters. A large black-and-gold cardboard lion, its tail bobbing in the bitter February wind, crouched precariously above the intersection. Three teenagers bundled in black-and-gold hooded sweatshirts darted down the sidewalk. Golden balloons bounced against a parking meter.

  Basketball fever had claimed everyone and anyone in Lane’s End, Ohio.

  Everyone except for Gen Slate. She was trying to figure out how to navigate her Subaru Outback through the heavy traffic.

  Drumming her fingers on her steering wheel, Gen wondered if she was ever going to get her errands done or ever get accustomed to life in her new hometown.

  The past month had been interesting, to say the least. After resigning from her position at the Cincinnati Police Department, she’d signed on with Lane’s End PD, rented an apartment and tried to get used to living and working in a small town.

  Again.

  It was a love/hate thing. Seeing people she knew at the grocery store brought back memories of growing up in Beckley, West Virginia. There, everyone had had something to say about her tomboyish nature...and how she’d never measure up to her big sister, Margaret. It had been a true testament to both their characters that they’d gotten along so well.

  Gen thought of her mother, who’d never understood why she’d rather run track than dance in the pep squad. Why she preferred to go hunting the day after Thanksgiving instead of into Charleston for shopping.

  Lane’s End reminded Gen that lately she’d become fiercely independent, which was a real kind way of saying she was too standoffish.

  Finally the light turned green. After turning down Cheyenne Boulevard, Gen counted another fifteen Lion Pride signs and spied two cars so thoroughly covered in white-shoe-polish peppiness it was a wonder the drivers could see at all.

  As she edged her car along, she spotted a crowd of middle-aged men talking with a tall boy in a letter jacket. Team supporters slowed down their cars, honked and yelled out good wishes as they passed.

  Gen wished the traffic would thin out. She really needed to get some dog food as soon as possible. If she didn’t get an industrial-strength bag of Mighty Munchies home soon, Sadie was gonna go nuts.

  After an eternity, Gen ran into Two By Two Pet Store and purchased Sadie’s reason for living. She’d just hoisted the dog food out of her shopping cart to put it in her car when she heard a voice.

  “Hey! You need a hand?”

  Gen nearly dropped the fifty-pound bag on her foot. “Excuse me?” she asked, squinting against the bright sun as it descended in the west.

  “Can I give you a hand?” the very masculine voice repeated. The man then stepped out of the glare and loped forward, loped being the operative word. His movements were so smooth and even Gen was sure the guy was a bicyclist or runner. “That’s a pretty hefty bag for a woman your size.”

  The loper—or should she say interloper—had a lot of nerve. “I can get it.” She’d never been one to lean on a man—or anyone, for that matter. It was far easier simply to depend on herself. That way she wouldn’t be disappointed when things didn’t go as planned.

  But, as if he didn’t hear her, the guy grabbed the sack out of her hands and tossed it into the back of her car. The action was impressive considering the guy didn’t look all that brawny.

  “You should have asked Ted to give you a hand. I’m surprised he didn’t offer.”

  The store owner had offered, not that it was anyone’s business.

  The stranger’s uncalled-for concern made her feel off-kilter and more than a little unnerved. Boys back home knew better than to open Genevieve’s car door. The officers in Cincinnati had learned early on never to assume Gen couldn’t do anything. The men she worked with in Lane’s End were beginning to take the hint, too.

  But this guy was treating her the way folks treated Margaret—with gentlemanly concern. Because Gen had never felt very ladylike, the gesture took her by surprise.

  “I’m okay,” she answered. “Fine.”

  His brown eyes narrowed as he backed away from her. “Hey, sorry, I thought I was helping you out.”

  “No, I’m sorry. Thanks for the help,” she amended, feeling her cheeks heat. Oh, her mama would be rolling her eyes if she were there to witness Gen’s lack of manners. Even independent women should know when to say thank you.

  “You’re welcome.” He paused. For a moment Gen thought he was going to say something else. Instead he shook his head and walked away.

  Well, that prompted her to step forward. For some reason, she was uneasy about his assuming she had the grace of a bowling ball. Especially since her sergeant had just reminded her that morning about how police officers did more in Lane’s End than uphold the law. They interacted with the community. And hadn’t that been something she’d vowed to do better? “I appreciate your help. It’s been a long day—the traffic is a killer.”

  “It is. There’s so many banners and signs in this town it’s hard to dodge them all.”

  She shook her head. “Basketball. I like it as much as the next person, but this craziness is pretty extreme.”

  The guy’s lips curved just as she noticed that he, too, was wearing a black-and-gold sweatshirt. “You’re not excited that Lane’s End High might make it to the play-offs?”

  Chuckling, she said, “I’m new in town. I guess I haven’t caught on to the significance of it quite yet.”

  “You will,” he said confidently. “This is the first time in twenty-eight years that Lane’s End will probably go all the way.”

  “I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

  Still grinning, he said, “Sorry—I have a hard time forgetting that everyone isn’t fixated on the basketball team. At school it’s all we’ve been talking about.”

  “School?”

  “I teach algebra at LEHS.”

  A teacher. A math teacher. He didn’t look like any math teacher she’d ever seen before. He was like Pierce Brosnan, Charlie Sheen and Clark Kent all rolled up into one. Gen had a sneaking suspicion that algebra was the most anticipated class at the local high school.

  Because she was practically trapped under his dark-eyed gaze, she continued the conversation. “I bet you have a lot of interesting stories.”

  “Hundreds.”

  Gen knew this was the perfect time to tell him about her job. How she was the new police officer in town. How she hadn’t meant to sound gruff or standoffish, she’d just never mastered the art of conversation.

  How her mother had given up nurturing Gen’s feminine side right around the time Gen had asked for a BB gun instead of a Barbie for her sixth birthday.

  “So. You must have some dog,” he said, pointing to the food he’d dumped in her hatchback.

  Gen couldn’t help but smile. “She is.”

  “What is she? Great Dane? Mastiff?”

  “Beagle.”

  He laughed as he stepped forward again. “Some beagle. I’ve got one, too. Mine’s named Sludge.”

  “Mine’s Sadie.” Forgetting all about not being good at chitchat, she said, “So I guess you know all about the trials of being a beagle owner?”

  “Howling at night? Foraging for rabbits?” With a chuckle, he said, “I know it all.”

  As Genevieve thought about Sadie’s penchant for snacks, pizza—anything off the dinner table—she had to agree. “Sadie once ate all the hidden eggs in a neighborhood Easter egg hunt.”

  “How many?”

  “At least a dozen. She ate each one in a single bite. The colored shells didn’t deter her the slightest.” Recalling Sadie’s bloated stomach and lingering aftereffects, Gen added, “I felt her pain for two days.”

  Holding out his hand, he said, “I guess if I know about Sadie’s appetites, I’d better introduce myself. Cary Hudson.”

  “Genevieve Slate,” she replied, shaking his hand.

  “Genevieve. Pretty name.”

  Her mother had thought so, too. “Actually, I go by Gen. So is that Cary as in Cary Grant?”

  “Definitely. My mom was a huge fan of old movie stars. My brother’s name is Dean.”

  She was intrigued. “Like Dean Martin?”

  “Absolutely.” That infectious grin appeared again. “If you know of Dean Martin, you must be a movie fan, too.”

  “I am.” Gen couldn’t believe they had something else besides beagles in common. She had all of Cary Grant’s movies on DVD and had watched the original Ocean’s Eleven just last week.

  She was warming to Cary Hudson, the teacher. Cary, like Cary Grant. He was likable and attractive. Open and approachable.

  The complete opposite of herself.

  At least on the outside.

  Cary probably enjoyed walks in the park, hanging out in front of the fire, reading—activities that a lot of the men in her line of work didn’t always admit doing. Sadie would love him.

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