Authors: Rachel Gibson
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Humour, #Adult
Georgeanne Howard, charm school graduate and Southern belle extraordinaire, leaves her fiancé at the altar when she realizes she just can’t marry a man old enough to be her grandfather, no matter how rich he is. John Kowalsky unknowingly helps her escape, and only when it’s too late does he realize that he’s absconded with his boss’s bride. At the height of his hockey career, this bad boy isn’t looking to be anybody’s savior but his own, no matter how beautiful this angel may be. But a long night stretches ahead of them—a night too sultry to resist temptation.
When Georgeanne and John meet again, she is on her way to becoming Seattle’s domestic darling and he is past his hell raising days. But he is shocked to learn that their single unforgettable night in paradise produced a daughter, and he is determined to be a part of her life. Georgeanne has loved John since the moment she jumped into his little red Corvette seven years ago, but she doesn’t want to risk her heart again. Is he really a changed man?
And will he risk the wrath of his boss, and one final chance at glory, to prove that this time his love will be everlasting?
“I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE. CAN YOU HELP ME?”
A smile tugged at the corner of John’s mouth as he slid into the Corvette. He hadn’t planned on having Miss January jump into his car. She looked like she’d been shrink-wrapped in satin from armpit to thigh. Her legs were long and tan, and she wore a pair of flimsy strapless high heels on her feet. He pulled out of the circular drive.
“Oh, no,” she moaned. “I’ve really messed up this time.”
“I could take you back,” he offered.
“It’s too late. I’ve done it now. And Sissy is going to kill me. I’ve left her there all by herself. She went to get a bouquet of lilac and pink roses, and I ran out! And Sissy doesn’t like the groom. She thinks he’s a lecherous old leprechaun.”
A real bad feeling tweaked the back of John’s neck. “But isn’t Sissy the bride?”
“No.” Miss January stared at him with her big green eyes and shook her head. “I am. And I can’t believe I left Virgil at the altar!”
For Jessica, Carrie, and Jamie,
who have eaten a lot of frozen pizza
so Mom could write
Mathematics gave Georgeanne Howard a headache, and reading made her eyes hurt. At least when she was reading, she could move her finger along the tricky words and fake it sometimes. She couldn’t fake math.
Georgeanne laid her forehead on the piece of paper sitting on her desk and listened to the sounds of her fourth grade classmates playing outside at recess beneath the warm Texas sun. She hated math, but she especially hated counting all those dumb bundles of sticks. Sometimes she stared at the little drawings of sticks so hard her head
eyes ached. But each time she counted, she came up with the same answers—the wrong answers.
To take her mind off the math, Georgeanne thought of the pink tea she and her grandmother planned to have after school. Grandmother would have already made the little pink petit fours, and the two of then would dress in pink chiffon and break out the pink tablecloth, napkins, and matching cups. Georgeanne loved pink teas and she was good at serving too.
She snapped to attention. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Did your grandmother take you to see the doctor like we talked about?” Mrs. Noble asked.
“Did your grandmother take you to get tested?”
She nodded. For three days the week before, she read stories to a doctor with big ears. She answered his questions and wrote stories. She did math and drew pictures. She liked drawing pictures, but the rest had been real dumb.
“Are you finished?”
Georgeanne looked down at the scribbled-up page in front of her. She’d used her eraser so many times, the little answer boxes were a dull gray, and she’d ripped several three-corner tears next to the bundles of sticks. “No,” she said, and covered the paper with her hand.
“Let me see what you’ve done.”
Dread weighing her down, she rose from her chair, then made a great show of pushing it in at a precise angle. The soles of her patent leather shoes barely made a sound as she slowly walked to her teacher’s desk. She felt sick to her stomach.
Mrs. Noble took the messy paper from Georgeanne’s hand and studied the math problems. “You’ve done it again,” she said, irritation punctuating her words. Displeasure narrowed her brown eyes and pinched her thin nose. “How many times are you going to write down the wrong answers?”
Georgeanne glanced over her teacher’s shoulder to the social studies table where twenty small igloos had been constructed out of sugar cubes. There should have been twenty-one, but because of her poor penmanship, Georgeanne would have to wait to make her igloo. Maybe tomorrow. “I don’t know,” she whispered.
“I’ve told you at least four times that the answer to the first problem is not seventeen! So why do you keep writing it down?”
“I don’t know.” Over and over she’d counted each stick. There were seven in two bundles and three single twigs on the side. That made seventeen.
“I’ve explained this to you repeatedly. Look at the paper.”
When Georgeanne did as she was told, Mrs. Noble pointed to the first bundle of sticks. “This bundle represents ten,” she barked, and moved her finger over. “This bundle represents ten more, and we have three ones to the side. How many is ten plus ten?”
Georgeanne pictured the numbers in her head. “Twenty.”
She paused to count it out silently. “Twenty three.”
“Yes! The answer is twenty-three.” The teacher shoved the paper at her. “Now, go sit down and finish the rest.”
Once she was seated again, Georgeanne looked at the second problem on the page. She studied the three bundles, carefully counted each stick, then wrote down twenty-one.
As soon as the dismissal bell rang, Georgeanne grabbed the new purple poncho her grandmother had knitted for her and practically ran all the way home. When she entered the back door, she noticed the pink petit fours on the blue and white marbled counter. The kitchen was small, the yellow and red wallpaper peeling loose in places, but the room was Georgeanne’s favorite. It smelled of nice comfortable things like cakes and bread, Pine-Sol and Ivory Liquid.
The silver service sat on the tea cart, and she was just about to call out to her grandmother when she heard a man’s voice coming from the parlor. Since that particular room was off limits to anyone except really important company, Georgeanne walked quietly down the hall toward the front of the house.
“Your granddaughter doesn’t seem to grasp abstract concepts at all. She reverses words or simply can’t think of the word she wants to use. For example, when shown a picture of a doorknob, she called it ‘that thing I turn to get into the house.’ Yet at the same time, she accurately identified an escalator, pickax, and most of the fifty states,” explained the man Georgeanne recognized as the doctor with the big ears who’d given her those dumb tests the week before. She stopped just short of the doorway and listened. “The good news is, she did score very high on comprehension,” he continued. “Which means she understands what she reads.”
“How can that be?” her grandmother asked. “She uses a doorknob every day, and as far as I know, has never even touched a pickax. How can she mix her words around, yet understand what she reads?”
“We don’t know why some children suffer from brain dysfunction, Mrs. Howard. And we don’t know what causes these disabilities, and we don’t have a cure.”
Georgeanne leaned against the wall out of sight. Her cheeks began to burn, and a lump settled in her stomach. Brain dysfunction? She wasn’t so stupid that she didn’t know what the man meant. He thought she was retarded.
“What can I do for my Georgie?”
“Perhaps with more testing we can pinpoint where she’s having the most difficulties. Some children have been helped with medication.”
“I won’t put Georgeanne on drugs.”
“Then enroll her in charm school,” he advised. “She is a pretty little girl and will probably grow into a beautiful young woman. She won’t have any trouble finding a husband to take care of her.”
“A husband? My Georgie is only nine, Dr. Allan.”
“No disrespect intended, Mrs. Howard, but you are the girl’s grandmother. How many more years can you take care of her? It is my opinion that Georgeanne will never be real bright.”
The lump in Georgeanne’s stomach began to burn as she walked back down the hall and out the back door. She kicked a coffee can off the back steps and sent her grandmother’s clothespins flying across the small, well-kept yard.
Parked in the dirt driveway sat an El Camino which Georgeanne had always thought was the exact color of root beer. The car rested on four flat tires and hadn’t been driven since the death of her grandfather two years before. Her grandmother drove a Lincoln, so Georgeanne considered the El Camino hers and used it to transport herself to such exotic places as London, Paris, and Texarkana.
Today she didn’t feel like going anywhere. Once she sat on the vinyl bench seat, she wrapped her hands around the cool steering wheel and stared at the Chevrolet insignia in the middle of the car’s horn.
Her vision blurred and her grip tightened. Maybe her mother, Billy Jean, had known. Maybe she had known all along that Georgeanne would never be “real bright.” Maybe that was why she’d dumped her at Grandmother’s house and never come back. Grandmother always said that Billy Jean wasn’t ready to be a mother yet, and Georgeanne had always wondered what she’d done to make her mother go away. Maybe now she knew.
As she stared into her future, her childhood dreams slipped away with the tears falling down her hot cheeks, and she realized several things. She’d never get to have recess again or build an igloo like the rest of the class. Her hopes of becoming a nurse or an astronaut were over, and her mother was never coming for her. The kids at school would probably find out and laugh at her.
Georgeanne hated to be laughed at.
Or they would make fun of her like they did Gilbert Whitley. Gilbert wet his pants in the second grade, and no one had ever let him forget it. Now they called him Gilbert Wetly. Georgeanne didn’t even want to think about what they’d call her.
Even if it killed her, she was determined that no one ever find out she was different. She was determined no one ever discover that Georgeanne Howard had a brain dysfunction.
The night before Virgil Duffy’s wedding, a summer storm pounded the Puget Sound. But by the next morning, the gray clouds were gone, leaving in their place a view of Elliot Bay and the spectacular skyline of downtown Seattle. Several of Virgil’s wedding guests glanced up at the clear sky and wondered if he controlled Mother Nature the same way he controlled his shipping empire. They wondered if he could control his young bride as well or if she was just a toy like his hockey team.
While the guests waited for the ceremony to begin, they sipped from fluted champagne glasses and speculated as to how long the May-December marriage would last. Not long was the general consensus.
John Kowalsky ignored the buzz of gossip around him. He had more pressing concerns. Raising a crystal tumbler to his lips, he drained the hundred-year-old scotch as if it were water. An incessant thud pounded his head. His eye sockets throbbed and his teeth ached.
He must have had one hell of a good time last night. He just wished he could remember.
From his position on the terrace, he looked down on a cross-cut emerald lawn, immaculate flower beds, and sputtering fountains. Guests dressed in Armani and Donna Karan drifted toward rows of white chairs facing an arbor festooned with flowers and ribbon and some sort of pink gauzy stuff.
John’s gaze moved to a cluster of his teammates looking out of place and uncomfortable in their matching navy blazers and scuffed loafers. They didn’t look like they wanted to be stuck in the middle of Seattle society any more than he did.
To his left, a skinny woman in a flowing lavender dress with matching shoes sat down at her harp, leaned it back against her shoulder, and began to pluck the strings just slightly louder than the noises rolling off the Puget Sound. She looked up at him and gave him a warm smile he instantly recognized. He wasn’t surprised by the woman’s interest and purposely let his gaze travel down her body, then back up again. At the age of twenty-eight, John had been with women of all shapes and sizes, economic backgrounds, and differing levels of intelligence. He wasn’t averse to taking a swim in the groupie pool, but he didn’t particularly like bony women. Although some of his teammates dated models, John preferred soft curves. When he touched a woman, he liked to feel flesh, not bone.