Authors: Natalie Damschroder
Amber Quill Press
Copyright ©2007 by Natalie J. Damschroder
"He's going to terrify those poor kindergartners."
"Forget the kids. He terrifies me!"
Brianna Macgregor paused as she passed the teacher's lounge. The room was always busy the first day back before school started, as everyone caught up on summer activities and gossip. Brianna never had time to linger. She was always too jazzed about the new kids and busy preparing for their wide-eyed arrival.
Today, though, something made her turn and enter the stuffy room. She'd heard they had hired a new kindergarten teacher for the year, a temporary replacement for the regular teacher, who was on maternity leave. She hadn't heard it was a male.
"Who are you talking about?” she asked Wanda Perez and Celie Reinhart, the second and fourth grade teachers. They turned to her, apparently eager for fresh ears.
"Cable Addison. The new kindergarten teacher. Have you seen him?” Celie asked. Brianna shook her head.
Wanda faked a swoon. “Oh, my God, the man is incredible. A giant. An Amazon."
"An Amazon is a female,” Celie corrected.
Wanda glared at her from under the hand pressed to her forehead. “Who cares? He's huge. And intimidating. They say they called him Tank in the Navy. As if Cable isn't enough of a nickname.” She snorted. “I don't know what on earth made the administration hire him."
"Well, it's only temporary,” Celie said. “But I can imagine the harm it will do to those poor little children."
Brianna was suddenly aware of a presence in the doorway. Not just any presence. A ...
presence. She turned and felt her eyes widen. Wanda had been right. The man was incredible. Astonishing. Amazing. Extraordinary. Brie wished for her thesaurus so she could find more superlatives to describe him.
He stood at least a foot over her own five feet three inches, and his chest was as wide as a battleship. He wore jeans and a biceps-clinging, pectoral-hugging knit shirt in a way that had Brianna's mouth watering. His bright blond hair was cut in a flat-top and his clean-shaven face had a ruggedness reminiscent of early Robert Redford. Brie guessed him to be about thirty-seven or eight. Until he looked at her with laser-blue eyes. Then her brain went numb.
Wanda and Celie babbled something incoherent, obviously mortified at being caught talking about him. But Cable smiled at them all and strode to the coffee machine on the far counter.
"The kids will be fine.” His voice was deep, the kind that carried well without a lot of volume. Brianna knew that would help him in a classroom full of noisy five-year-olds. “I'm very gentle.” He poured a cup of coffee and added cream and sugar, then leaned his hips against the counter. “Discipline isn't a problem for obvious reasons. They learn what they're supposed to, and I provide a positive role model that shatters stereotypes.” He grinned over his coffee mug and the two chatterbox teachers fled.
Brianna didn't move, and when he turned that devastating smile on her, she couldn't. Despite the wide chest he wasn't that brawny—more like a wide receiver than a running back—but he dominated the room nonetheless. In a completely male way.
! her brain yelled, and she snapped back to herself. She hoped she wasn't drooling.
"Brianna Macgregor,” she offered, holding out her right hand.
"First grade. You're right across the hall.” He set his mug down and shook her hand. His was as she expected it to be, rough yet gentle while engulfing her entire hand. She had to look waaaaaayyyyy up to make eye contact.
Something inside her quivered, and she considered making her own escape. But curiosity was stronger and she poured herself a cup of coffee, pleased when he sat with her at the table.
"I, for one, am thrilled to have a male kindergarten teacher at Brook Hollow Elementary,” she told him.
"I'm sure you are."
Brie cocked her head. “What does that mean?"
His smile was a bit wry. “'Ms. Macgregor has a reputation in the community for fostering programs and activities that are alternately considered innovative and subversive.’”
Brianna choked. “Really?” Brook Hollow was a fairly even blend of conservative and liberal, with people both willing to stretch boundaries and defend them like tigers. But she had never imagined people talking about her in those terms. Though why not, she didn't know. She knew they talked about everyone else. But ... “Why are people talking about me to you?"
He shrugged. “Not really people. Your brother-in-law. Jake picked me up at the airport yesterday and showed me around."
"How did I come up?"
He shrugged. “Logic. We were talking about school, and he mentioned his sister-in-law."
That made sense. Brianna relaxed, less wary but also a bit disappointed that he hadn't been seeking the information. Stupid, she told herself. How could he have been interested before he even met her?
How could she be interested now?
She looked at her watch and stood. “I have way too much to do before school starts. Let me know if you need anything.” She smiled, glad he hadn't stood when she did. It was nice to look at him without craning her neck. “As you said, I'm right across the hall."
She tried to shift her thoughts to semester theme activities and setting up her room, but they insisted on focusing on Cable. When she got to her room, she dropped heavily into her desk chair. She couldn't remember ever feeling this way on first meeting a man. Any man. Not even that guy in college, the rugby player with the smile that said you were all he cared about. Her attraction to Cable blew them all away.
And why not? The guy oozed charisma and sex appeal, as well as power harnessed by exquisite control. He was exactly the kind of guy she wanted a year ago, and exactly the
kind now. She had to squelch the attraction.
She was stacking items in the supply closet when, unbidden, a memory popped into her head. Her older sister, Kira, cheekily predicting that Brianna would fall in love with a Navy SEAL.
Her heart tripped. It was a silly thing that sisters do, she told herself. Kira wasn't psychic. Sure, she knew her sisters, knew what they liked, what they needed, but Brianna had changed since then. It didn't matter that Kira had said Sophie would fall for a playboy and she'd married one last year.
It didn't matter at all.
As soon as Brianna was done for the day she made a beeline for the marina. Jake would be there until late tonight, when the last boat piloted by the die-hardest lake lover came in. As both mayor of Brook Hollow and a member of the school board, Jake would have the skinny on Cable Addison. She'd make him tell her. She had ways.
As expected, Jake balked. “I don't gossip, Brie. You know how I feel about rumors."
"I'm not asking for gossip.” She leaned on the glass counter where Jake was sorting lures. “I just want to know his background."
Her brother-in-law considered, then shrugged. “He's ex-Navy, went to school for elementary education, got his degree and teaching certificate, taught for two years in Boston, and answered our ad. That's all I can tell you."
Brie propped her chin in her hand. “Is he married? A father?"
Jake shook his head. “We're not allowed to ask. But I don't think so. He came alone."
"If he taught in Boston, where did he fly from?"
"Poor grammar for a teacher,” Jake mused.
Brie wrinkled her nose at him. “
did he fly?"
"Florida, I think.” He looked up from the lures for the first time. “Some special op, I take it. Big adventure."
Brianna's mouth dropped open and Jake laughed.
"You're so easy, Brie."
"Stop teasing me."
"Maybe he'll take you with him on the next one. You know, the life never leaves the blood."
Brianna tossed her hair and tried to look nonchalant. “Thanks for very little, bro."
"Always glad to help."
Over the last two years or so Brianna had had an obsession with the idea of adventure. She'd been watching too many action-adventure movies. The strong heroines who rescued sexy heroes had caused Brianna to cast herself in more than one dream sequence. She'd traveled, a lot, trying to find the thing that would fill the emptiness that seemed to be growing by the day. Last summer, she'd joined a treasure-seeking crew for two months. They dived on shipwrecks, she did grunt work. It had been fabulous and terrible, and the events of that July had cured her forever. But she hadn't told her family, and they ignored her protests that she'd lost interest and constantly teased her about her quest.
She sighed and helped Jake gather up the loose tackle. “Are you guys at Mom's for dinner on Sunday?"
Brianna sighed again. She loved the once-a-month family dinners, playing with her nephew, teasing Sophie and Parker about when they were going to supply their own toy for her. Lately, though, the gathering had become a forum for her family to lecture her on settling down, following her sisters’ leads and making a happy new family. She couldn't convince them that wasn't what she wanted, any more than she could convince them she wasn't seeking adventure, either.
"Aren't you going?” Jake asked, and she snatched at the suggestion.
"I'm not sure. I have some wrapping up to do for Ken. He needs July's financials done."
"And you have to do them on Sunday?"
"School's starting. When else will I have time?"
Jake studied her, so she ducked in front of the counter to pick up a couple of lead weights that had fallen. He'd known her since she was a baby, and could read her as well as he could read his wife. When she stood, though, he left her alone. Mostly.
"So, Cable Addison, huh?"
"Oh, shut up.” She tossed the weights at him and spun on her heel. What had she been thinking, to try to grill Jake? Especially about something she didn't even want.
Cable dragged himself up his porch steps and collapsed onto the swing. He was too tired to go inside, and since he'd left the air conditioning off, it would be unbearably hot. Not that he couldn't stand the heat, but now that he didn't have to, he preferred to avoid it. He straightened his legs and moaned at the stiff soreness. He hadn't felt this bad since Hell Week.
As he was now the tallest guy in the school, every teacher had called on him at some point in the last week to help hang stuff from their ceilings, to retrieve boxes from supply closets, then to put them back. He'd gladly obliged, wanting to establish himself as a team player and get to know his fellow teachers. But with all his own classroom preparation to do, he'd had to spend extra time at the school. Even the five-foot-two principal had called him in to hang a certification at the top of his “attaboy” wall.
At the staff meeting today he'd watched Brianna Macgregor on the other side of the auditorium. She was the one person who hadn't asked for his help, and he was just across the hall. Of course, she'd been doing this longer than he had, even though he was years older. And she'd no doubt found ways to compensate for her lack of height. Still, he wondered why she wasn't as curious about him as the others.
She'd looked at him only once during the meeting. He hadn't been watching her the entire time, but had felt her eyes on him at one point. When he turned his head, though, she was facing Principal Dvorak on the stage.
Cable weighed going inside his oven of a house versus sitting here and thinking more about Brianna Macgregor. Brianna won easily.
He didn't know why she intrigued him. There wasn't anything mysterious about her. Cable figured he understood her pretty well. She was a teacher because she wanted to do good things. She lived quietly but didn't hesitate to speak out when necessary. There was a hidden something, passion or drive or thirst that she hadn't quenched. She was seeking the quencher. And she was attracted to him.