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Authors: Lori Handeland

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BOOK: Out of Her League
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He stalked to the front of his car. Evie followed and watched as he bent over and squinted at the damage, which appeared minor from her point of view, then slowly straightened and returned to stand in front of her.


What are you kids doing in this lot?

Evie frowned.

Excuse me?

The man sighed irritably and slammed his car door. Evie jumped at the sound.

This
lot.

He pointed at the sign directly in front of her car.

The
teachers

and
visitors

lot. Shouldn

t you kids park somewhere else?

Evie stifled a laugh, certain this giant would not be likewise amused. This wasn

t the first time she

d been mistaken for
a student. When she wore her sunglasses, as she did now, the telltale lines around her eyes were hidd
en, creating a more youthful ap
pearance.


I think you

ve made a mistake—

she began.


No, you have, honey. And your boyfriend, too.

He glared at Adam,
who stared back without flinch
ing.

Did you just get your driver

s license, kid?

Evie

s amusement died at the man
’s condescend
ing tone—and she had never taken well to being called

honey

by a stranger. She silenced Adam with a wave of her hand and stepped in front of the mountainous man.


Listen, mister, you

re the one who came tearing in here about fifteen miles over the speed limit. This is a school zone. And
you
hit
our
car. So if anyone should be asking about a driver

s license, it

s us.

The man looked down at her, and Evie could have sworn she saw a flash of amusement in his cool blue eyes before he fro
wned and stepped past her to as
sess the damage. The sight of their demolished door
deflated his anger, and his shoulders moved on a silent sigh.


Hell,

he muttered, and reached for his wallet. Turning back to them, he ignored Evie as though she didn

t exist and pulled out several bills, which he handed to Adam.

I

m sorry about the car, son. She

s right. I should have been more careful. But let me give you some advice. You

ve got to stand up for yourself in this world. Don

t ever let a woman do it for you. Once you lose control in a relationship, it

s tough to get it back.

After a wink at Evie, who stood speechless, he walked into the school.


Of all the nerve,

Evie sputtered.

Who does he think he is?

Adam laughed.

I don

t know. But he thought you were my girlfriend.

Her son

s continued laughter drew Evie
’s atten
tion away from the school.

Hey, it

s not
that
funny. I

m only thirty-five.

Adam eyed the m
oney in his hand, and the laugh
ter stopped.

Mom? Am I seeing what I think I

m seeing?

He held out the bills.

Evie took them and gasped. Five crisp, new, one-hundred dollar bills lay in her palm.

She looked from her son
’s wide eyes, to the fire-
engine-red car, to the front door of the school. Then she crumpled the bills.

Who is that guy?

 

 

Joseph Scalotta
, known as

Joe

among his friends,

Iceman Scalotta

to football fans across the United States and

Wild Man

in too many
newspaper stories, entered the central office of Oak Grove High.

The school se
cretary glanced up from her com
puter. Her smile froze when she saw the size of the man on the other side of the counter.

M-may I help you?


I hope so. I

d like to register my daughter for school in the fall.
We’ve just moved here from Chi
cago.

The woman no
dded and began to gather the ap
propriate papers. She came to the counter and tossed them toward Joe from a distance of three feet. He slammed his palm down on them before they could skid off and scatter
over his tennis shoes. The sec
retary gave a startled little shriek at the thump his hand produced when it connected with the Formica countertop, and scurried behind her desk.

Joe stifled his irritation. Why did people in Oak Grove treat him as if he were a monster? Didn

t they grow big, strapping farm boys in Iowa anymore? Obviously not, from the way everyone gaped at Joe

s height and breadth.

The only person not intimidated by him had been that teenybopper in the parking lot.
She

d
stood up to him. She

d even stepped close and tried to argue. Funny, now that he thought about it, she hadn

t smelled like a teenager—teenage girls wore too much perfume—or looked like the ones he was used to seeing—they used too much makeup.

No, she

d smelled like summer air and Ivory soap, and her face had been attractive in a fresh-scrubbed
way. Maybe he should find out her name so he could introduce her to his daughter
. Heaven knows, An
tonia could use a friend with some spunk. Toni was far too quiet and eager to please. Even though he, too, had been at fault, Joe blamed a lot of Toni

s problems on his late ex-wife. The woman had been a pain in the
--


Sir?

Joe snapped out of his reverie to see the secretary hovering nearby. He tried smiling at her, but stopped when she inched
back. He should have known bet
ter. He

d used that smile often on the opposition—with the same effect. He wasn

t called

Iceman

for nothing.


When you

re through with those papers, you can go down to Mrs. Vaughn

s office. Room 123. She

ll be your daughter

s adviser for next year.

Joe picked up t
he forms. With a nod to the sec
retary he left.

This domestic stuff confused him, but with his ex-wife

s death he n
ow had custody of their sixteen-
year-old daughter. His status as a pro player with a degree in physical education had brought numerous offers for coaching jobs all over America, and now that he was done with football he wanted to use the degree he

d worked so hard to obtain.

His mom had always said he was a born teacher, just like his father,
who had been a high school prin
cipal. When people needed a hand, Joe was the one who helped—be it in baseball, football or algebra. He was the one who showed everyone else how to
do things, and he had a lot of patience. He liked kids, and he loved coaching. He planned to make the most of this opportunity.

He

d picked the job at Oak Grove Community College because he wished to raise his daughter in a town reminiscent of the one he

d spent his youth in. The money wasn

t too good coaching at this level, but then, money wasn

t one of Joe

s problems. He

d made scads in pro ball, and he had invested it well. What he wanted right now was to give his daughter the stable home she had never known. The kind he

d grown up in. The kind he himself craved again.

Room 123. Joe paused in front of the door and read the name plate: Mrs. Evelyn Vaughn. Physical Education.

He reached for the doorknob, only to have it spring away from his hand. Before he could move, a tiny Fury of a female barreled straight into his chest.


Oh!

she gasped, and stumbled backward. Her arms flew out as s
he struggled to keep herself up
right; papers and books scattered in every direction.

Joe caught her by the elbows, hauling her upward until her toes dangled above the floor.


Hey! Put me down!

She windmilled her feet, catching him in the knee.


Ow!

Joe set her on the floor with a
thump
. Leaning over, he ru
bbed his kneecap, then bent far
ther to collect the books and papers she

d dropped.

I was just trying to keep you from falling on your can,

he said.

The least you could do is say thank-you.

Joe glanced up, then straightened. The Fury was none other than the girl he

d met in the parking lot.


You.

Her mouth twisted into a grimace, as though she

d just stepped ankle deep in a swamp. She snatched her books and papers from his hands and rearranged them in her arms as she continued to frown at him.


We meet again.

He nodded at the door.

Is she your adviser?


Who?


Mrs. Vaughn. I suppose she

s one of those iron-maiden teachers—as wide as she is tall, with steel-gray hair and thighs like thunder.
” He paused, re
membering teachers from his past.

She

s probably a widow—nagged her husband to death before they

d been married five years—and teaches kids since she doesn

t have any of her own. I want Toni to like it here.

He squinted at the girl.

Don

t you ever take those glasses off?


Not when I

m on my way outside. Who

s Toni?


My daughter. She

s going to start school at Oak Grove in the fall. I think you might be about her age.


Think again.


You

ve got to be close if you

re at this school. She could use a friend. What

s your name?

The

girl

yanked off her sunglasses to reveal annoyed hazel eyes.

I

m Evie Vaughn.

Her frown deepened the faint lines of life surrounding those eyes.

The iron-maiden widow.

 

BOOK: Out of Her League
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