Authors: Kristen Strassel
A SPOTLIGHT SERIES NOVELLA
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2015 Kristen Strassel All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to [email protected]
Strassel, Kristen. The Trouble with Bree (A Spotlight Series Novella - Book 1.5)
Cover design by Shardel
“So what you’re saying is, you think I’m totally not hot enough to strip.” I knew that my best friend wasn’t going to go for this idea, but I had a plan. She just had to let me explain.
Daisy had a hard time holding in her laughter. “I’m not saying that at all.”
You’re probably thinking,
Bree, you’re going to let everyone see you naked and give you money?
You have two kids.
Yes, Landon’s four and Lucas two, and they’re awesome. But that’s the point, plenty of people have already seen me naked. Their fathers, the doctors, and the delivery room, that’s a freaking free for all. I’m pretty sure someone was selling souvenirs in there when Lucas was born. All that was missing was the play by play guy.
“Well, Joe, Bree’s been in labor for twenty-three hours now and she’s only threatened to rip the doctor’s face off of his skull. How many more contractions before she actually does it?”
And the shittiest thing about all of it is not one of those people even left me a dollar. Instead, they sent me a bill.
So the stripping, I could live with. That’s how much I hated being on welfare. Let’s be honest, everyone needs a little help with their kids, but when no one else but the state was willing to give me a hand, all the people who weren’t willing to help me in the first place suddenly had a lot of opinions to share. I hated going into the benefit office and the looks on people’s faces when I used my EBT card.
“I’ve lost almost all my baby weight.” I couldn’t even call it that anymore, my baby could talk in complete sentences. “There’s a girl down in Falmouth who does pole classes. It’s a great workout, and she says if I’m interested in working in a club, she can train me. That way, I’d actually know what I was doing and could make some decent money.”
“At least you want to be professional about this.” Daisy was still amused. I’d pulled up the pole dancing website so she could see what I was talking about. “And you look great. But. How can I say this? You take your clothes off all the time for guys, and they won’t even pay you child support.”
“Exactly.” I sighed. “I’ve got to do something, Daisy. I’m sick of relying on other people who disappoint me every time.”
“But you’re starting school.”
“It’s going to take forever!” I could only take a couple classes at a time, online. “I can’t do anything full time until Lucas starts first grade. That’s four years from now. I want something better for us sooner than that.”
“I don’t think another bad decision is going to make anything better, that’s all.” Daisy reached over and clicked out of the webpage. “There’s a lot of drugs in those places, and the last thing you need to do is meet a guy there.”
“I’m done with men...” I met the last one, Anthony, online. I thought maybe if I tried something new, I’d break my streak of losers. Nope. A few weeks after we started seeing each other, his wife sent me a message letting me know he was never on the market. Around the same time, my wallet magically disappeared. It was probably just a scam all along. You’d think he’d at least pick a girl who had money. Or maybe I was the only one who fell for it. “Forever.”
“Yeah, right,” Daisy scoffed. “But I think a break is a good thing. Stop concentrating on trying to get a boyfriend, and start concentrating on Bree.”
She was right, and I knew it. “What else am I going to do? I’m not going to make more than minimum wage. And I can never get a babysitter.” My mother cancelled on me last minute earlier this week because her favorite jewelry designer was on the home shopping channel. I shit you not.
“I can help you out.” Daisy offered. “I’ll babysit.”
Landon and Lucas loved their Auntie Daisy. But. “I can’t ask you to take them all the time. You have a lot going on. I mean, you just moved in with Cam. You don’t want to saddle yourself with toddlers.”
Daisy needed to teach classes in how to find the right guy. She’d just nabbed Cam Hunter, yes, that one, from The Spotlight. His album didn’t do so hot after he won the show, but he didn’t give up. He’d just opened a country bar in Plymouth of all places. Daisy hadn’t had it easy lately, either. She’d lost her husband, Jordan, in Afghanistan last year. They’d been together since we were in junior high, and he had been the most fearless person I’d ever met, and funny as hell. She hadn’t been looking for a relationship, but Cam was just what she needed. I should probably listen to her. But once I got an idea in my head, it was hard for me to ignore it.
“It’s going to get easier.” Daisy’s face brightened, and I was so glad to see her happy again. “Don’t rush things. Everything works out the way it’s supposed to.”
Crap. Time had gotten away from me this afternoon. “Right now I have to rush over to Head Start and get Landon signed up. Are you coming with us?” I got up to put shirts on the boys and started looking for everyone’s shoes, someone was bound to be missing one.
“Not today. I’m going to head over to The Lonely Heart, see Cam for a bit before he’s totally exhausted, then pick up some wedding stuff.” Daisy’s sister Ev was getting married Labor Day weekend. Hopefully, she’d bring some of her hot single friends down from the city. Her fiancé was an artist, so he had to know some interesting people. At least one of them had to be single.
I’d already forgotten I was done with men. Supposedly forever.
Once we got the boys dressed, we headed down to the car. “Where’s Bish?” Lucas asked. He didn’t feel comfortable unless his favorite stuffed toy fish was in sight. It wasn’t, and he began to panic. We were never going to make this appointment if we didn’t find that fish. Like now.
“He’s on the kitchen table. I saw him next to my purse. I’ll go get him.” Daisy offered, and I buckled the boys in.
“Thank you,” I said as Daisy delivered Bish to Lucas, zooming him in to his face. Lucas squealed with laughter. “For everything.”
“No problem.” She looked confused when I hugged her, I knew she was thinking,
it was just a stuffed fish
, but she had no idea how much she helped me.
“Sorry we’re late.” I hadn’t even looked up to see who I was talking to yet as I ushered the boys into the room. “We had a diaper situation that couldn’t wait until after the meeting.”
A male voice chuckled. Deep and easy. “I appreciate you taking care of that.”
Why did any sort of school stuff make me so nervous? I felt like I’d been called to the principal’s office, and in reality, I kind of had. This guy was the final say in whether or not Landon started preschool in three weeks. Nothing on the line or anything.
When I looked up, I gasped before I could stop myself. If my principal had ever looked like this, I would have spent a lot less time avoiding him in high school. This guy looked to be only a few years older than me, with dark wavy hair and five o’clock shadow. His green eyes sparkled as they went back and forth from the boys to me. He was wearing a tie, but the first button of his untucked white shirt was undone, sleeves rolled up, and jeans.
Someone should have given me some warning. I would’ve at least put on makeup. My dark hair was in one of those half-pulled through ponytails. I’d pulled it up when I gave the kids a bath and forgot about it. And I’d just thrown on a big T-shirt and shorts. Almost rid of my baby weight was a complete lie. I had about twenty pounds to go. After two kids, I didn’t expect anything to go back to the same place it used to be, anyway.
But it didn’t matter. I was done with men, forever, or something ridiculous like that.
“I’m Josh Maxwell.” He stood up and squeezed my hand for just a little too long. My stomach tingled. It had been a long time since I’d felt like that. “I’m the new coordinator at the school.”
“I’m Aubree Farrell,” I managed. “Landon’s mom.”
“And Wucas’ mom,” Landon added as he held his hand up to give Josh a handshake. I melted even more as Josh took his hand.
“Yes, and Lucas’ mom.” Lucas wasn’t as excited to meet our new friend as Landon and I were. He wrapped himself around my legs and buried his face in my thigh, pushing my shorts up to a dangerous level. I pretended it wasn’t happening. That usually seemed to be the best course of action in public with two toddlers. I put my hand on Landon’s head. “He has trouble with his Ls.”
“We can work on that.” Josh knelt down to talk to Landon. “How old are you?”
Landon held up four fingers.
Josh pretended to be impressed. “Wow. And I bet you’re super smart.” Landon nodded. “Can you tell me your ABCs?”
Landon nodded again enthusiastically, and began a labored rendition of the alphabet. He always got a little mixed up around PQR, and looked up to me to make sure he was getting it right. Then he restarted the process with his numbers and counted to twenty.
“High five, buddy.” Josh put his hand up to congratulate him. “I’m going to talk to your mom for a couple minutes, but there are some toys over there that your brother already found. Want to help him out?”
Landon didn’t bother answering Josh, instead he dove directly into the block pile Lucas was working on. Josh winked at me and motioned for me to sit down.
“I filled out the packet you sent me.” My voice shook as I pulled the paperwork out of my bag. Maybe it was the tie, or the office, but it was a long time since a guy made me feel nervous. “And here are the medical records.”
Josh accepted the paperwork but put it aside without looking at it. He smiled so easily, I didn’t think much of it when it was meant for Landon, but now it was all for me, and it was dangerous. My heart stuttered a couple times, confused by all the messages in my brain that were telling me
never gonna happen.
“Our goal at Head Start is to get kids ready to learn. We evaluate each student to make sure they’re in the best group and get them prepared to start school. We’ll have kids from a lot of different backgrounds, and they’ll all have different strengths, but the cool thing is they’ll usually work together and make each other better.”
“I like that approach. Do you teach at all?” He’d be great at it.
Josh shook his head. “No. I coordinate the programs and make sure they all go according to plan.”
“With a room full of four-year-olds?” I asked. “You must be new at this.”
“I am.” Josh laughed, running his hand through his hair and leaned forward, his voice hushed. “Don’t tell Landon this is my first time.”
I looked back at the boys and bit my lip. “I can’t make any promises.”
“I guess I’ll have to stay in your good graces.” Josh raised an eyebrow. “Do you have any other kids?”
“Oh God, no.” That sounded really bad. I laughed. “I didn’t mean it like that. But my hands are full with two.”
Everyone I knew who had two kids agreed with my theory. After the first baby, there was this euphoria. I made a human being inside my body. I managed to keep him alive for almost a year at that point. It was an invincible feeling. If I could do that, I could do anything, right? Including have another baby. But the level of difficulty when I added another child to the mix multiplied exponentially. And the finesse I needed to handle it didn’t come right away.
Josh nodded. “I get it.”
“Do you have any kids?” He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, but then of course, neither was I.
He shook his head. “Just the sixty that will be here.”
“You look fantastic for having so many kids.” I giggled. Crap. I went from zero to flirt without even thinking about it.
“So do you.” My eyes widened, and he backpedaled. “I mean, for having two.”
“Thanks.” My cheeks flushed, and I looked back at the boys.
“Do you have any questions, Ms. Farrell?” Thankfully Josh was wrapping this up before we got ourselves in trouble.
“You can call me Bree.” I don’t think anyone had called me Ms. Farrell before. I thought about his question before I answered. I didn’t want to miss anything important and put Landon behind because I thought the school coordinator was hot. I had no idea how old he was. He didn’t seem that much older than me, yet his shit was so much more together than mine.
I wanted to know what made him tick.
“I do have a question, but it’s not about Landon. I’m starting school this semester, too, and I was wondering, how did you decide you wanted to do this?”
“That’s a great question, Bree.” Josh’s eyes lit up. “Maybe I could tell you about it over dinner?”