Friday, August 26, 2011



Bekah wasn’t the slightest bit surprised to find Dan standing behind them. However, the redhead at his side who held his hand had completely caught her off guard.  Bekah may as well have been the main dish at a Freddy Kruger smorgasbord, especially since Dan appeared to be caressing the woman’s porcelain hand.

The fair-complected woman’s bright green eyes scanned over the room, locking briefly on Bekah before dipping to the floor.

Who the heck was she and how the heck could Dan feel remotely attracted to this older Kelly McBride look-alike?  She wore a baggy white sweater over a pair of loose-fitting khakis that failed to hide her rounded figure.  Definitely not as chunky as Bekah’s mom or as thin as Kelly, but her eyes, complexion and long, golden-red curls screamed that she’d been picked straight from the McBride family. 

And there Bekah stood, her hair no doubt a mess, scantily clad in the Wonder Woman suit with a half-made-up Dracula at her side.  She and Ryan must have looked like complete lunatics.  Dan’s wide eyes seemed to confirm this suspicion, but then she realized he’d zeroed in on her haircut.

Her fingers laced into her layers, drawing them away from her face and she and Dan cleared their throats simultaneously.

Ryan chuckled and released a loud, “Oooh!” And then, “So, this is why you didn’t want us here tonight!”

Dan gaped as though Ryan had just spoken the worst of obscenities- and in Bekah’s opinion, he had!

Wrapping an arm around the woman’s shoulder, Dan said Ryan’s name sternly. He then glanced at his pale-faced date, who appeared to have lost the ability to raise her head.  “This is Grace.  Rebekah…”

Don’t introduce your date to me, you big freakin’ fake!

Not two hours ago, he’d been acting like a lovesick idiot, standing across the table from her and discouraging any alone time with Ryan.  No way…he hadn’t been acting all antsy and upset just because he’d wanted to bring his date to the attic.  Ryan had to be smarter than that.

Dan peered sheepishly over at Bekah.  “You know Grace’s sister…”

Well, duh. I think that’s obvious!

Pushing Grace’s hair over her shoulder, his brows curled and his Adam’s Apple bobbed. Yeah, he knew he’d been a bad boy.  Super-duper bad boy. If he’d been so entranced by this other woman, why had he been ogling Bekah in her Wonder Woman suit tonight?  Maybe he hadn’t made a display of it, but he’d snuck a few peeks at her figure and she felt half inclined to point that fact out.

But why drop that bomb on Grace when she didn’t seem anything like-

“Kelly,” Dan said, as though Bekah needed clarification.  “Kelly is Grace’s younger sister.” 

Oddly, Grace still wouldn’t even look up and Dan frowned as he sandwiched her one paw between his two.  Keeping his focus on the redhead, he asked, “Could you two please excuse us for a moment?”

“By all means.” Bekah swallowed so harshly that it felt like something sharp had stuck in her throat and she caught Ryan’s double-take in her periphery.  Dan’s cheeks pinkened and judging by the clenching of his jaws, he felt like telling her to shut the frik up.  But he’d better not.  Not the way she was feeling at the moment. 

Turning, she snatched Ryan’s cape from the white couch against the wall and draped it around her bare shoulders, trying hard not to stomp toward the staircase.

Certainly, we’ll leave you and Miss McBride alone, Teacher.  Obviously you’ve chosen someone who needs babying more than I do!

Dan cringed as Ryan took Rose’s hand and lead her toward the stairs, and then stood there feeling like a two-timing twit who’d been picked for the boiling pot.  He hadn’t been two-timing, but the expression on Rose’s face…she’d glared at him with same hostility that Denise had thrust upon him when she’d learned of his moving plans. 

Feeling betrayed, no doubt, but if Rose was so stuck on Ryan, why would Grace’s presence anger her so much?

Good question.  And why do you feel like punching your own brother every time he touches a certain student?

He took a breath but the oxygen failed to loosen the tension around his midsection. 

Grace’s hand continued to tremble inside of his and he waited until the footfalls on the staircase became muffled by the carpet below before clearing his throat. A second time.  A second time that probably made him appear more suspicious to a woman who’d already been holding him at arm’s length. It had taken three nights of pleading and promises to get her to take this step and now she acted like a scared rabbit, ready to turn and hop back into her hole.

“Grace, I’m sorry.  Regardless of what Ryan thinks, I don’t plan on making any moves on you.”

She peeked at him and shook her head choppily. “I…I know, it’s just…”

“No, you don’t.  My brother knows nothing of your issues and I’m sure he’d apologize if he did.  Please trust me. I brought you here to show off my observatory and Allie will be right downstairs the entire time.   I’m not going to break any of my promises.” 

Though he wouldn’t deny her eyes and her soft, caring attitude made it extremely difficult not to kiss her.  Her figure helped very little but even more enticing than all of that was the fact that she shared his beliefs.

She withdrew her hand and he felt as deflated as he always did after encounters with Rose.  Lord, why couldn’t he have a normal relationship with a woman?  Seemed every female he began to care for carried Tess-like burdens upon their shoulders.  All except for Denise, whose controlling personality matched her better with the likes of Hedda Gabler.  But then, he suspected a bit of that in Rose, as well.

Folding her arms, Grace licked her soft, pink lips. “It’s OK, Dan.  I get scared but I don’t…don’t really think you’ll do anything.  It’s just…” She shrugged.  “…old fears, that’s all.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, but…”

He waited, his frown deep enough to bring on a migraine.

“Who was that girl?” She glanced at him and away.  “She looked like she was ready to beat me to death.”

Wincing, he peered over the rail and listened.  Ryan’s laughter rolled from somewhere below, so Dan doubted Rose had heard anything or that she’d been standing in the closet, straining to listen.

Caressing Grace’s back in a slow circle, he chose his words carefully because revealing the truth would place him several rungs down on her trust ladder.  “She…isn’t great friends with Kelly, Grace.  Remember when I told you one of your donuts wound up crushed on a student’s head?”

Finally she blessed him with the attention of her emerald eyes.  “That was her?”

He nodded.  “Like I said, I’m not sure Kelly knew Brian intended to assault anyone with that donut, but…”

“Assault?” She grinned. “That’s kind of a strong word, isn’t it?  For just the use of a soft, fluffy pastry?”

“The sugar makes it a pretty threatening weapon in my book.”

Her expression clouded over but he didn’t entirely regret his comment.  However, he offered an apology and tugged her fingers.  Announcing his intention to grab them some drinks, he directed her to the couch and prayed he’d be able to live up to his word tonight.  One bad move and she’d probably slap him and never speak to him again.

Though that might have been a good thing, he conceded and slowed his pace.  She may have shared his faith but he feared they’d wind up fighting over the nutritional issues and if she continued to spurn intimate contact beyond hand-holding…how could he even consider marriage?

Even without all of the details of what had happened, he understood why she struggled and he wished he could ease her pain. But a marriage without intimacy would drive him nuts.  As it was, he constantly fought the urge to keep his hands to himself. Which would be the case with any woman he dated, since this time around he was determined to behave himself until his wedding night.  But if he even dared to run his hands along her curves, she’d freeze up.

He doubted Rose would freeze.  And in that Wonder Woman suit-

He paused in the middle of his bedroom and shook his head as though trying to dispatch a little demon from his mind. 

Foolish idiot.  The only girl in school who’d managed to draw him was Rebekah and if he didn’t get a grip of this problem…better not to entertain the notion.   Just leave it with God and focus on his work.

Thanks to some “tweaking,” Hack had begun to trust him, but keeping the principal on his side was no substitute for maintaining a straight and narrow path.

He stepped forward and nearly tripped on the stinking basketball he’d left out after school.  After a long day of flirty girls and slacker students, he’d hit the court for an hour before rushing home to take a shower and dress in the costume Rose had referred to as “stupid.” 

Stupid, it may have been, but the mask had concealed his identity from unsuspecting kids. He’d snuck up on a few amorous couples in dark corners, cleared his throat and waited until they’d peeled their lips apart to see who’d dared to intrude on their make out sessions.  As soon as he’d ripped off the mask, their eyes had flung open in utter horror.

He’d laughed. Even now, he grinned at the memory. But perhaps his favorite memory involved Brian Cruise, who’d cowered as though being threatened with a gun.

That’s right, Dan thought.  Don’t forget who has the upper hand, Brian.

After that, he’d been irritated by Ryan’s hands all over Rose, but at least they’d behaved themselves most of the night--until he’d come home with Grace.  Interrupting their would-be kiss had granted him the best high of the evening but no doubt Ryan felt like slugging him for it.  Still, Dan would do it again in a heartbeat.

Allowing the basketball to roll toward the bed, he continued into the hall just as Allie resumed plucking on her guitar.  He and Grace had stopped to check on her before heading to the attic and he’d been proud of her rosy complexion and the way her jeans fit more snuggly around her hips- not to mention her beautiful singing voice. 

However, Allie had pulled him aside to whisper, “Heads up- Ryan is upstairs with Rebekah and it’s been awfully quiet, if you know what I mean.”

Dan had panicked, mainly over the idea of a student losing her virginity in his house.  Of course, the idea of Ryan and her…

He cringed anew and jogged down the stairs to the living room.  Rose sat on the couch with Ryan’s cape over her smooth legs, her glare centering on Dan almost immediately.  Ryan, on the other hand, was busy setting up the Star Wars Monopoly game on the coffee table, so Dan allowed himself to admire Rose’s new haircut.  The shorter style framed her face well but unfortunately made her look more like a teacher than a student.

Why did she keep doing this to him?

Whether she looks older or not, she’s still a troubled kid and don’t forget it!

A kid who didn’t need his little brother coming onto her in the attic observatory.  He gnawed his inner cheek but Ryan remained oblivious to Dan’s ticked off state and turned to lift some more fake money out of the box on the floor. 

Dan would deal with it later.  If he began bickering about the kid’s lack of self-control, Ryan would probably hijack Rose to God only knew where.

Forget it. Better they stayed here where he could keep an eye on them. What had he been thinking when he’d told them to stay away from the house?  Grace’s presence had contributed to the complications between Dan and Rose, but that was better than Rose winding up pregnant with Ryan’s kid.

Damn, how would he control them in the future?  Something had to be done.

What if they’d already crossed the line? 

Though tempted to kick the loveseat, he marched toward the kitchen, feeling Rose shooting holes into his back. Hurriedly, he poured a glass of stevia-sweetened tea into three glasses- one for himself, one for Allie, and one for Grace, and then searched for the tray he usually kept tucked between the refrigerator and the cabinets. 

Why did Rebekah think she’d the right to scold him with her eyes like that? 

At least his worry beat her simple jealousy when it came to discomfort over ‘the other guy (or girl).’ First off, both Ryan and Rose struggled with alcohol.  And their tempers…Ryan’s mainly flared when he’d been drinking, and Rose would inevitably wind up cracking something over the kid’s head.  One thing certain about her- she’d take no abuse, no matter how guilty she felt about getting even. 

But aside from all of that, they really weren’t suited for each other and he couldn’t figure out why Ryan had honed in on her so firmly.

Rose…Rose may have been dating Ryan to get closer to Dan, but there were plenty of hints that she found the younger man attractive and enjoyed spending time with him.  Why, though?  What had made her cave so easily to his enticement?

She’d turned onto Ryan far quicker than she had to Dan. Why?

You don’t need to know. Just forget about her, except where your intervention is needed.

Unable to find the tray, he called into the living room, “Ry, you seen my tray?”

After a beat, the kid replied, “In your office, I think.”

The den.  Great.  He’d run in there, get everything together and march straight back to where he belonged- with an older woman who shared his faith, even if he couldn’t get any much-needed kisses and caresses.

You need more than that…you need-

A slap right upside your skull.

Yes, that would do it.

He found the tray with a bowl of leftover soup and a coffee mug and hurried back to the kitchen.  While he searched for something healthy to feed his guest, Ryan cursed and announced his intention to dig up missing game pieces in the garage.


Dan began opening cabinets but nothing inside seemed appealing- either that or he just couldn’t focus on any of the boxes to figure out what the hell he had.  Within seconds, his brother’s footsteps jogged down the hall and the garage door squealed open loudly. 

Rose wasn’t one to sit still. She’d take advantage of her date’s absence.

He ripped a few boxes from the shelves but the words on the packaging jumbled together and his heart began racing as he tried to figure out what he wanted.

Hurry it up, Shields. 

He threw some boxes onto the tray with the drinks, cursed under his breath and picked the whole thing up.  Once he’d made it back into the living room, he halted next to the staircase wall.

Rose stood in perfect Wonder Woman stance, her arms folded and a daring look on her made-up face.  Cocking her head, she smiled a bit devilishly.

“In a hurry?” she asked.

Please not now.

“I think so,” he replied in too uneven a tone for his comfort.  He then added sternly, “Grace is waiting.”

She studied the contents on the tray and lifted one of the boxes, her smile widening enough to bring some sparkle to her dark eyes.  “You like to eat whole wheat muffin mix straight from the box?”

Dan swallowed. Her lips shined with freshly-applied gloss.  Had she done that for him…or Ryan?

“Well?” She lowered the box and lifted another.  “Now this is more like it- dark chocolate-covered raisins.  Can I have one?”

What was she doing? He knew she could be a tease, but her date wasn’t far behind and he doubted Ryan would excuse or understand her behavior.

“Look, Rose…”

He frowned as she tore open the package of raisins and his heart rate quickened when she slowly bit into one.

Balancing the tray on one hand, he ran his hand through his hair.  “Look,” he said again.  “Why don’t you go whip up those muffins for us?”

She scowled after tossing another raisin into her mouth.

He’d known asking her to cook for him wouldn’t fly well and that was a good thing, wasn’t it?  “I’m hungry and you might actually like these.  There’s some dark chocolate chips in one of the cabinets- toss some in, but not too many.”

She popped the box of raisins back on the tray just as the garage door squealed shut.

Dan released his breath.  Apparently he’d won this round…but he didn’t know about next time.

Rose backed off and reseated herself on the couch, so Dan continued with his tray. Pausing at the bottom of the steps, he tossed the box of muffin mix at her and she gawked at him.

Ryan stalked into the room with a plastic bag and Rose feigned interest as he sat down next to her.

“Make your own muffins,” she told Dan, leaving the box sit by the loveseat. 

Ryan’s glower seared Dan before softening on Rose. “What’s going on?”

Dan pointed at the muffins. “I just asked her to fix those for us.  Why don’t you both do it? It would be fun, don’t you think? And it would keep you the hell out of trouble, too."

With her elbows perched atop her shapely thighs, Rose tilted her head to plaster him with a tiny yet sinister smile.  He could practically read her mind.  See?  You’re jealous!

Yeah, maybe he was.  Maybe he missed the few conversations they’d had.  Maybe he wished she’d reopen them by discussing Narnia.  Maybe he should toss this tray aside and march her up to the attic.  Not for anything physically inappropriate, but he guessed he’d be subjecting himself to temptation while failing to avoid the appearance of evil.

Besides, Grace was up there and Ryan’s glare became more threatening by the second.  The last time the kid had looked at him that way, Dan had awakened with toothpaste in his mouth and his underwear strung outside his bedroom window.

“Dan, are you smoking something?” Ryan shifted and began counting money again.  “Why would we want to make muffins? We're playing Monopoly, so relax."


Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I know Bekah's been weird lately, but that's transition for ya. ;)

The beginning of this chap looks like the same thing I posted before and removed, but it's not the same at all. :)


A couple of years ago, she’d have enjoyed prancing around in a short blue skirt and bright red boots, grinning inwardly at the dropped jaws as her male peers admired her legs.  It wasn’t so bad now, except that she’d developed more of a conscience, thanks to Shields and all his insight. Despite what she’d learned, she felt like swaggering by him to the tune of Thriller Night, just to see if he’d stagger or drool. 

Daddy would totally disapprove of her behavior, but Daddy had left and it was high time she stopped pouting about it.  If he didn’t want her flirting with teachers, then he needed to get his butt together and come stop her.

She pressed through the throng of vampires, witches and super-heroes who were dancing and twirling and goofing off like a bunch of first graders and made her way to the punch bowl.  Stopping, she tugged upward on her cleavage-baring Wonder Woman top and rolled her eyes at the idiot to her left who whistled as he passed.

Guys could be such jerks and not too long ago, she’d been chanting about their lack of trustworthiness.   Most of them only wanted one thing, anyway, and even the two who’d managed to catch her interest needed to prove themselves.

One of them popped into focus as she strained through the flashing lights: the tall Spider-Man, his hands folded behind his back in a very teacherly fashion.  Standing in front of the aluminum d├ęcor that hung from the ceiling like oodles of long noodles, he appeared to be watching her.

Though she’d never pictured him dressed as Spidey, she’d forgive the cheesy tights if he’d show his attraction again.  Ever since she’d opened her big mouth and accused him of jealousy, he’d hardly held her gaze for even a few seconds, dang him.  But she knew he wanted to.  He couldn’t have written off his attraction as easily as he wanted her to believe.

Sometime she’d strike his weak point and she couldn’t wait to see his reaction.

Ugh, maybe she just needed a good slap.  She could just picture Daddy wagging his finger while lecturing her for her flirtiness and temptation to test poor guys in awkward positions.  She could hear Shields reminding her that all have sinned and she was no different…so what right did she have to put anyone to the test?

Still, it seemed these guys’ trustworthiness could only be proven through lots of pressure.

Why test someone you can’t be with, anyway?  You may not be his student for long, but I don’t think Dan’s going to run off into the sunset the day after graduation.

Yeah, not too likely.  But to heck with crying about it.  She’d been moping long enough and she’d rather jump off a cliff than throw away the rest of her school year pining over a teacher.  Who needed him?

Dracula emerged from the crowd with his cape flapping behind him and stopped on the opposite side of the table with his plastic choppers in hand.  “Hey, are you OK?” he asked as he bent toward her.  “You took off on me.”

She cleared her throat.  She’d done so well for the first hour, pretending to be happy and clear-headed.  But her old self had been slowly rising to the surface, tempered with words of wisdom that continued to sway her from going out on a limb.  How much longer could she hold back old desires? 

Maybe she needed counseling more than she’d thought.

Especially since she found Ryan hot with that pale make-up smeared over his face, his dark waves slicked back in a very Kevin Murphy-like fashion. 

“Just need a drink,” she finally called over the music.

As he nodded, Spidey seemed to be playing peek-a-boo over Ryan’s wavering shoulder.

Spider-Man and Dracula.  Now if that didn’t clash. 

“I’m going to the restroom,” said Ryan.  “You be OK a few minutes?”

Peachy Keen, sweet chops. But maybe better if I can grab you by the collar and kiss you here and now.

He seemed to read her mind and slowly grinned as he peeked down at her outfit- the stupid clearance rack special her mother had picked out.  “I’ll be back as soon as I can.  I’d like to get out of here for a while.”

“Me too.” She guessed.  The flash of red and blue in the distance must have meant Teacher was on the move.

“Don’t know why I let you talk me into this nerdfest,” she added.

“Because you like Halloween and you need to lighten up and have some fun.”  He stuck his teeth back in his mouth and blew her a kiss before turning to inflict fear on the hearts of other party-goers. OK, most likely draw stares from other girls.  She hoped Kelly McBride would eat her heart out.

Bats fluttered in her stomach as she imagined “getting out of here” with Ryan. No doubt he’d something special on his mind, but he’d proven to be much more of a gentleman than she’d expected.  Three times she’d been to the attic observatory, fully expecting him to kiss her, but he’d only held her hand or played with her hair while they sat together on the couch.  Either he was a bigger boy scout than his brother or he feared invoking her rage by smooching her too soon after the drunken kiss they’d shared.

Most likely, he planned on laying another lip-locker on her tonight, and she needed that like she needed the gummy worms floating in the punch and draped over the bowl.  Tasty as a kiss might have been, her teetering trust lessened the appeal.

Ryan and Dan- awesome and questionable at the same time.

Masked men meant mayhem.

“Hey there, Cheap Rose.”

Scrunching her shoulders, she clenched her jaws as the ladle lowered back into the punch.  Her paper cup crumpled in her left hand and she considered lifting the entire bowl and dumping the red liquid on the offender- a zombie quarterback- approaching from the group of goons to her right.  Dingbats just didn’t know when to shut up and mind their own business, did they?

“You look downright…hot tonight,” said the familiar voice that pierced the thundering music. 

Turning to scowl into Brian Cruise’s glazed-over eyes, she gripped the plastic handle that she hadn’t fully released into the sugary blood.  He’d suspiciously kept his distance since returning to school a few weeks ago and she could only guess what he might have up his sleeve tonight.

“Get lost, Brian.”

“Why? I’m being nice…and I really like how you look.” His gaze dipped down much like Ryan’s had only a couple of minutes ago.  “I mean…wow, you could be a model, you know?”

“You think I buy this not-so-nice act?”

He planted his hand on the table and bent just enough to penetrate her with his glare, but after breaking her knuckle belting him, the intimidation level seemed barely minute.  As a matter of fact, she couldn’t normally deny his attractiveness, either. 

Funny, though, the fake blood he’d smeared all over his cheeks and around his mouth made him look like she’d already assaulted him a second time.

“Why don’t we try to get along?” Brian nodded at the dance floor. “Want to dance?”

“You’ve got to flippin’ be kidding me.” 

“Not at all.” He directed his grin down her shirt.

It might have been fun to mess with him a little.  Get him heated up and then kick him to the curb like he deserved, but she doubted he’d respond to her antics like she thought he would. 

“Is something wrong here?”

Bekah trembled from the sound of his voice, nearly splashing punch onto the table, while Brian’s eyes widened like a wimp’s.  His broad shoulders shook- actually shook.  The big oaf seemed scared out of his wits.

“No…no, Mr. Shields.  Everything’s fine.”

Bekah released the ladle while Brian backed away as though Shields had been threatening him with Freddy Kruger claws. 

Looking to Shields, who’d unveiled his identity for the purpose of teacherly intimidation, she asked, “How the heck do you do that?”

His chocolate stare wandered from Brian’s cozy corner, dipped down to her figure and then locked on her face. He scowled at her.  “How do you manage to get into so much trouble?”

“Excuse me?  I didn’t do anything, he just came up to me!”

“No?” He pointed at her outfit. “That’s bound to attract the creeps, Woman, are you crazy?”

Heat engulfed her.  “No crazier than you are for wearing those stupid tights!”

While glowering at her, he shook his mask as though trying to dislodge something.  “Stick with Ryan, will you?”

“Believe me, I have every intention of doing that.”  She swallowed the lump rising in her throat.  “As a matter of fact, we’re getting out of here in just a few minutes.  How’s that for sticking together?”

Dan narrowed his eyes, the tight costume emphasizing his bulging muscles as he folded his arms. “Nice.  Just where do you plan on going?”

“I don’t think that’s Teacher’s business. Especially when it comes to an eighteen-year-old student.”

“I don’t suppose it is, but I’d still like to know…out of concern.”

“Oh yeah- total concern.  Right.”  That’s it, keep pushing it.

“Yes, that’s right. I said concern.  You and Ryan both worry me, as I’ve said before.”

“And I still don’t totally buy that explanation.  If you were that concerned, you wouldn’t run away every time I show up at your house with Ryan.”

He shook his head slowly from side to side.  “Maybe I’m trying to keep our relationship professional.”

With a layer of cold sweat covering her body, she opened her mouth to laugh but only a tiny sound escaped her as Ryan marched through the gym entrance.  He hesitated when she saw Dan but then continued forward with Darth Vader-ish determination, enhanced by the long black cape.

“Look, Rose,” said Shields, “why don’t you just tell me what Brian had to say?”

She closed her mouth.  She’d reached her threshold for brattiness already but couldn’t deny the high it gave her to watch him squirm.  “I’d tell you if I thought I really needed to.”

While he rolled his eyes, she imagined shoving the punch bowl to the side and flinging herself at him.  Too many different flipping emotions to deal with.  When it came to him.  Slap him, ignore him, or kiss him, despite his protests?  That was the question.

Ryan swirled around the table and draped his cape over her shoulders.  “Let’s go, Baby.  I want to suck your blood.”

Between the warmth of his breath and the closeness of his body, it was super-tempting to smooch him hard and smooch him long. Not only would Ryan get a buzz but Dan wouldn’t know what the flip to do with himself. She could imagine him stammering for a few minutes and then barking at them to straighten up.  The redness of his face would make her night. At least for a while.

Ryan had just planted a kiss against Bekah’s cheek when Dan blurted, “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”   

Bekah raised her brow at his growing edginess, while Ryan countered, “Why the hell do you think it’s your business?”

“Look, Ry, I don’t want you two going back to the house tonight.”

“Who said that’s where we’re going?”

Amidst their stare-down, Thriller Night cut out simultaneously with the flashing lights and Taylor Swift’s sappy, rocky, gag-inducing song, “You Belong with Me,” began blaring.

Bekah fully expected to hear boo’s, but the other kids didn’t seem to mind the intrusion on their spook fest. 

Dan’s jaws began working and the veins popping out on his forehead suggested something had triggered the bad boy side. 

“I can’t stop you from leaving,” Dan growled, “but stay out of trouble, will you?  And I mean totally out of trouble.”

Ryan cursed. “You’re nosy, man. It’s none of your business what we do.”

Bekah cringed and pulled on Ryan’s hands until she’d unbelted herself from him.  When she spun, she wasn’t surprised by the shocked expression on his face, nor was she surprised to find Dan smirking, but man…why was he losing his cool so easily tonight?  Normally he played the good boy well enough to drive her nuts.

“Look, guys, don’t get into it, OK?” She looked at Dan. “I don’t plan on losing my virginity anytime soon, so relax.”
Ryan coughed into his fist and Dan shot her a double-take.

“Sorry for being blunt, but…sort of felt like I needed to.”

To her surprise, dimples appeared in Dan’s cheeks just before he covered his mouth.


“Man, Dan can be such a pain in the rear,” Ryan complained on their way up the attic stairs. 

From around a couple of corners and down the hall, she could still hear Allie plucking away on her guitar and singing, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining…” Perfectly on cue with her brothers’ moods. 

Bekah paused halfway up the staircase.

Players only love you when they’re playing.”

Wasn’t that the truth?

Ryan stopped at the top of the steps and turned as he removed his cape. “Something wrong?”

“Does she do that often?” She gestured toward Dan’s semi-messy room- he’d left a basketball in the middle of the floor and his bed unmade, not to mention some socks in one of the corners.

A wide smile chased Ryan’s grouchiness away. “For a while she wasn’t strong enough, but lately…yeah.  Doesn’t she sound great?”

“Totally.  I wish I had talent like that.”  Although Allie’s smooth voice wasn’t quite fitted to the Stevie Nicks tune.

“According to Dan, you’re an awesome writer.”

Bekah hoped her blush wasn’t too obvious…but it must have been, because his smile disappeared and he waved for her to follow. “Come on, Bekah, we need to talk.”

Great, not what she needed right now.  Couldn’t she be granted a little more time and space to figure out what she wanted?

She trudged upwards, removing the long, curly wig that hid her recent haircut, and static sent her fresh layers puffing out around her face.  As she straightened them, she rounded the railing and met Ryan in the middle of the small room.  He tossed his cape onto the couch and placed his hands on his hips while he studied her.

“What?” she asked. “Ryan-“

“Don’t.” He tapped his finger to her mouth. “I understand, Bekah.”

“You understand what?” Her reply sounded slightly muffled.  He smoothed her hair away from her face and smiled softly.

“You still have the hots for Dan, I get it…but I think you’ve also got them for me…at least a little, am I right?”

She returned his smile and liked the way the moon reflected through the skylight against his dark eyes.  He’d washed off the make-up and removed his vampire teeth, but his slicked-back hair still lent him a Dracula-like appearance.

“I think it’s safe to say that I like you…a lot.”  She wrapped her hand around his long finger, pressing it down to his side as he stepped closer. 

“And you’re smart enough, aren’t you?” he began.  “To know that it wouldn’t work with Dan.  He’s one of the most straight-laced guys I know and he’d never go after a student.”

“What do you mean?” She wished away the beads of sweat on her forehead.

“I mean, he might be attracted to you and I seriously suspect he is.  But no matter how much he’s tempted, he’s not going to give. Not now, not later.  If it were me, I don’t think I’d last, but he’s driven by morals I don’t even understand.”

Weird, she thought.  How could he not understand a teacher’s moral code?  Even she, as bratty as she could be, thoroughly understood that.

He seemed to read her mind, because he tacked on, “What I mean is…if you came to my house, no way I’d stay away.  I probably wouldn’t put the moves on you while you’re my student, but I’d be waiting- impatiently, I might add- for graduation day.  I’m kind of a thug, I guess.”

Bekah’s lips quivered as she attempted to smirk but she managed to keep her voice even. “You don’t really know how you’d act until you’re in someone’s shoes.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” His arms slid around her waist and she began fiddling with his top shirt button.  Feeling him stiffen from her touch, she braced herself for what she knew was coming, if they could get past this conversation.

Talking about Dan with Ryan just didn’t cut it for her, but he definitely earned points for approaching the topic in an understanding, non-judgmental way.

Huskily, he continued while running his hands up and down her back, “Dan won’t be charging you on graduation day, Bekah.  I hate to sound like a jerk but I hope you haven’t got your hopes up.”

Geez, would he just knock it off?  This wasn’t something she’d planned on thinking about right now, because it felt freaking good not to have Dan smeared right in front of her face for a while.  The times she’d spent with Ryan had been nice- he didn’t usually talk too much and he enjoyed showing her things- like how to use the telescope and his collection of sporting goods.  He’d taken her to see the latest zombie flicks and even paid for her haircut when she’d mentioned being sick of her long hair. 

He was a nice guy and she felt like a louse.  She couldn’t even attend the dance without gazing at his brother over his shoulder. 

“Bekah?” He tapped her under the chin and she slowly raised her head.  His knit brows reminded her of Dan, unfortunately and she averted her gaze.

“Ryan, I don’t want to talk about Dan, OK?  I know nothing’s going to happen and I really like you.”

His fingers laced into her shoulder-length hair again and she closed her eyes as she leaned her head into his hand.  Maybe he wasn’t as strong as Dan but he was strong enough.  Any other guy would have ditched her by now. 

“Don’t really know why you like me,” she whispered as Allie’s guitar music suddenly cut off.

Ryan chuckled. “I like you because you’re opposite what I’m used to…and you’re cute as hell and you can kick butt.”

“Is that all?” She opened her eyes and frowned at his confused expression.

“No, that’s not all.”  He blinked.  “I like spending time with you. You’re honest and you’re fun, what can I say?”

“Fun? Me?” She laughed. The only time she’d considered herself “fun” was when she was drunk. But lately she’d avoided the drink, mainly for Alice’s sake. Though preaching at her hadn’t been at the top of her priority list, she’d guessed that setting the example would eventually speak volumes to her alcoholic friend.

Still, something more needed to be done.  Alice had been spending a lot of time with some dudes from a different school, and with all the wild parties she’d been attending, Bekah seemed to have dropped to the bottom of her friend list.  They’d barely spent two whole days together during the past month.

“Yes, you’re fun.” Ryan grinned.  “And can I get back to cute?”

“I won’t argue with that.” She traced the line of shirt buttons, stopping just above his belly button.

Once she’d looked up, Ryan was already bending toward her.  However, he killed the moment by whispering against her mouth, “Promise you’re not holding out for Dan?”

Her stomach turned, but she nodded.

“Seriously, Bekah.  No matter how rich we are or how much we thought we could get away with stuff in the past, we can’t.”

Now there was a nice, juicy hint as to what had made Dan “conniving” in the past.  Was Ryan exactly the same way?  Why couldn’t she just like this guy without wondering what lie beneath the surface? 

“And Dan,” Ryan continued, “…well, you know about his thing with God.  That makes him twice as determined to behave himself as some other guys, you get what I’m saying?”

“I hear you, Ryan, but I told you, I don’t want to-“

“I know you don’t want to talk about it and normally I don’t push like Dan does, but this time I think I have to.” He pressed his forehead against hers and his punch-tinged breath rained down on her.  “You’re smart, you’re a great writer…you could do all sorts of things with your life, so don’t spend it longing for a teacher who isn’t going to bend the rules to be with you.  I’m not just saying this because I’m selfish, OK?”

 Maybe, maybe not.  But if he didn’t stop pushing this subject, she wasn’t sure the tears in the backs of her eyes would stay out of the way.

“Ryan?” Her whisper probably tickled his collar bone.


“Just kiss me.”

“Only if you promise me first.  You’re not holding out for Dan.”

She pursed her lips.  All along, she’d known how stupid it would be to hold out for Teacher and she doubted it would work with him, anyway. Maybe his less ‘straight-laced’ side tempted him from time to time, but Ryan was most likely right.  So far, he’d controlled himself pretty well while in Bekah’s presence and especially by staying away when she came to visit; so she doubted he’d be bending the rules any time soon.  He may have cared for her, found her attractive and all that goody-goody stuff but that was as far as it went. 

Swallowing, she sensed the night sky reaching down through the window to gobble her up. “I’m not holding out.  I’d be an idiot to do that.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not an idiot but you’d be deceiving yourself if you thought my brother would break any major rules.” 

“I never thought that, exactly.  I just found myself sort of attracted to him and thinking all sorts of screwy things.”  Discussing this craziness with Ryan felt a heck of a lot better than bearing her soul to anyone else…mainly because he wasn’t being paid to listen, he wasn’t demanding too much explanation like Dan or her mother would, and he wasn’t teasing her.  Alice would lace all of her advice with plenty of pain-in-the-butt teasing.

“I knew better,” she confessed, “and I still do.”

“Good.” Ryan pulled her closer, as though she needed the support.  “I don’t want to see you hurt and I don’t want to lose my chance with you, either.”

For a little while, she rested her head against his chest, eyes closed and his heart pumping in her ear while he stroked her back.  Tears wouldn’t ruin this moment, she decided and clenched her teeth in an effort to fight them off. 

What had she been thinking lately?  True, she’d been going back and forth between reason and romance but her main drive had been to attract Dan.

Apparently she was just as easily lead into la-la land as any other school girl, daydreaming about how to entice the hot teacher into her life.  Apparently she was far from the strong police woman type that she’d always strived to be. 

Might as well kick down that cardboard cut-out of herself.  What exactly was she made of?

Ryan’s lips pressed into the top of her head.  Slipping his fingertips under her chin, he seemed to be nudging her to look up so that he could finally do what they’d both been longing for.  But just as she raised her head, the bright overhead light flipped on.

Ryan recoiled, covering his eyes and cursing.  Without his arms around her, Bekah trembled and hugged herself, her head throbbing from the sudden assault on her vision.

Someone coughed obnoxiously behind them.

Chapter Twenty-One:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chapter Nineteen


Monday- first day back to school since she’d slugged Brian and surprisingly he hadn’t even shown up at her door.  But knowing him, he’d been plotting ways to get even with her, hence the reason she’d decided to carry a purse full of bricks with her.  None of the make-up Alice had insisted she tote around like a good little girlie-girl.  Just bricks from her mother’s dead flower bed in the backyard.

If he decided to get even in a non-violent manner, then she’d deal with it, but if he assaulted her again, he’d wind up with some bruised extremities.  Maybe she’d end up feeling guilty again, but better that than a trip to the hospital.

The early morning walk to her locker remained uneventful, except for Alice tripping around slightly in her spiked boots and sunglasses.  She’d been out drinking with some guy the night before and the icy feeling in Bekah’s gut begged her to try and set her friend straight. But how could she set Alice straight for something she’d been prone to do herself?

Not that she’d been out drinking with any guys lately.  Heck, she hadn’t so much as eaten lunch with Ryan, asking for a rain check because she needed more time to think things over.

Ugh, what had she done?

Shields may have seemed amazing in more ways than one, despite the fact that he never had commented on her rough draft.  So she’d hurriedly cleaned up the mess she’d sent him, printed it out and stuffed it in a folder, praying that she’d finally hit the jackpot with a decent essay.  Maybe he’d gotten too tied up with his “appointment” yesterday, who knew?  Or maybe he was sick of fussing with her and who could blame him?

While he’d brushed her off, Ryan had been all over her and he seemed like a nice, down-to-earth guy, rich or not.  So how could she push him away?

Because you’re not ready for a relationship.

Is anyone ever ready?

Alice gave her a pat on the back, removed her shades and grinned just before they parted for the morning.  “Have fun and if Brian messes with you, go for a second broken knuckle.” She crossed her eyes and feigned buck teeth before walking away.

Bekah shook her head.  That girl could be such a nut.

She steeled herself, books pressed hard against her pounding chest as she gazed down the hallway that lead to Shields’ room.  Why had he brushed her off yesterday?  Would he ignore her again today like he had before?  Was this day doomed to be as screwed up as last Monday?

She passed Kelly McBride, who leaned against a locker with a pink bubble rising out of her mouth.  Next to her, Brian’s girlfriend was busy scribbling something in a notebook. Neither girl paid the slightest bit of attention to her- suspicious behavior, to say the least.

The big, dumb jock was nowhere to be seen, so Bekah carefully weaved through her peers, glancing behind her, over heads and around the corner to make sure no one planned to jump out at her.

Once she finally made it to Shields’ room, she resisted the urge to straighten her hair. Though she hadn’t bothered curling her mop, she’d applied some make-up to keep from screaming the obvious after her fight with Brian.  Her makeover had been nothing but a ploy to attract him and find out what the heck he knew about her, but now that she’d settled down, she doubted he knew a flipping thing more than any of the other kids.  After all, he’d been drunk when he’d snarled about her teasing guys and Bekah had freaked out like a stupid drama queen.  When would she ever learn?

Now, she swallowed hard, wavering near Shields’ doorway.

Forward march, wimp, you can’t go on like this.  He’s just a guy, no matter how cool he sometimes seems. He’s just a freakin’ guy!

Finally she sprang forth, her leg movements as jerky as a toy soldier’s with broken knees, and just as she crossed in front of Teacher’s desk, he cleared his throat.

“Morning, Rebekah.”  He set a steaming mug of coffee down by a bowl of grapes.

She halted and stood there like a jello mold, all quivery and ready to collapse.  Shields checked his watch and raised his gaze to her without lifting his head. “A little earlier than usual, but that’s good.  We need to discuss your rough draft.”

It was her turn to clear her throat.  Mechanically, she set her books down on his desk, right next to a worn out Calvin and Hobbes volume—which seemed a like odd reading for a guy like him--- and whisked her red folder from the stack to produce the “real” Tess paper.  After sliding it across to him, she managed to make eye contact. 

He reached for the papers she’d tossed him and asked, “Is this another draft or the same thing?”

“It’s the final- I hope.”

“Cleaned up, I mean?” He raised a brow. “Entertaining as it had been yesterday, you know I can’t-“

“I’m not stupid, I know.”

“Then why did you send it to me?”

Twisting her ankle, she gnawed her inner cheek while she mentally scrambled for a plausible explanation.  Would it be acceptable to tell him that she’d been proud of her rant and wanted him to see it before she turned in the right paper?  That she’d needed him to understand how she’d been feeling?  Why would the teacher need to understand?  Only if he were a romantic interest would he need to understand and she doubted he considered himself her love interest, no matter what might have happened between them.

“I just…needed to.” She shrugged. 

After maintaining his typical, analytical gaze for a few beats, he nodded. “I figured that.” He glanced at the door just as Kevin Murphy came strolling through. 

The blond, tie-wearing nerd waved first at Teacher and then grinned at Bekah.  Passing behind her, he said, “Hey, Rebekah,” and seemed to pause in hopes that she’d return his greeting. 

Bekah peeked over her shoulder. “Hey, Kevin.” Maybe time for snubbing the nerd had ceased, but no sense in leading him on, so she refocused on Shields as Kevin continued to his seat.

Shields smirked and whispered, “Good thing Ryan’s not in this class.” Thumbing through Bekah’s papers, he added, “He wasn’t too happy yesterday, by the way.”

Bekah’s stomach tightened.  “I didn’t think he would be.”

“Are you OK?”  He began perusing the first page. 

She opened her mouth to shoot off her typical, tough girl reply. She was fine, don’t worry, she’d live. Nothing in life was so terrible that she needed extra special attention.

But the words died and the sinking feeling inside of her nearly warranted a tight hold on Shields’ desk to keep from drowning.  She lowered her head, her mind a blank.

Her papers found their way to the top of his laptop bag. She could feel him watching her and her cheeks must have been glowing like the power light on his computer.

“Stay after class, Rose,” he said softly while tucking the Calvin book into his bag.  “We need to discuss your paper.”

So he wasn’t ignoring her.  He was breaking their rule about not being seen together. Did he intend to discuss her paper in front of his next period or take her out in the hallway?  She questioned him with her eyes and he frowned.

“Have a seat.  We’ll work it out.”

Seemed he’d read her mind.  Grabbing her books, she continued to her seat.  Not until she positioned herself behind Murphy did she realize that the other half of the room had already been filled with quietly chatting kids. Some of them stared at her while exchanging whispers and she guessed they were still buzzing about her violent strike at Brian.  Who didn’t appear to have shown up today.

She watched the doorway as Kelly strolled in later than usual, and the other kids trickled to their seats.  A few of them watched her like awestruck kiddies in a toy store window while most of the others barely knew she existed.  Either they weren’t easily impressed or the news that she’d belted Brian had already lost its luster.

Whatever the case, she didn’t like being stared at, but what could she expect?

She sighed, ready to sink in her seat and doze like she did during every class.  But since her teacher had sort of become her friend, snoozing during his lesson would have been extra, extra rude.

Not to mention that she felt guilty about every little wrong thing she did anymore.

Thanks a lot, Shields.


“To be honest, I was surprised you didn’t send me an email yesterday.”  Bekah tapped her Spanish book while Shields seated himself in the borrowed desk across from her.  The noise drifting into the vacant room reminded them of the next-door class that awaited his presence, but Shields appeared in no hurry- at the moment.

He opened the folder into which she supposed he’d flung her papers and gave his head a side-to-side. “I thought it better to discuss it face to face…but I’m glad you cleaned up your work on your own.  You’re actually a darn good writer when you want to be.”  He pulled out a red, felt-tip pen and began circling errors on the top page. She leaned forward to see what the crap she’d done wrong now, but he waved her off.  “Relax, I’m pointing out good stuff, not bad.  You’ve got a way with words, you know that?  The personality you insert into your work, especially the rough draft, kept me from nodding off.”  He glanced up and smirked. “It’s hard to stay awake with most of the others.”

She sat back with heat in her face and couldn’t decide if she wanted more compliments from him or a quick pass out of here.  The more he talked to her like that, the more hooked she’d become.  No way of knowing how hard she’d fall before realizing he was a crook, after all.

“So…you actually liked the rough draft?”

He nodded and grinned without looking up.  “I have to admit I laughed more than once, but I’m also concerned…to quote Yoda, ‘Much anger I sense in you.’  Should I be worried?”

Bekah gawked. She’d never pictured him quoting a Star Wars character, but she guessed he’d been too high strung for much of that nonsense.  “Should I be worried that you’re quoting Yoda?”

He shot her a double take and then laughed briefly while scribbling a note on her paper- a note she couldn’t wait to read. 

“Maybe you should be,” he said.  “But it’s not completely unlike me to quote a Muppet.”

“Maybe you’re just lightening up, then?  Now that you’re getting the hang of your profession?”  Dizzy anticipation gripped her like it had at his dining room table and she hoped he’d keep talking about himself- his likes and dislikes.  She wondered how often this Ryan-like side of him came out to play.

When he smiled as he handed her his paper, she became aware of the fuzz growing above his upper lip.  Was he trying to grow a mustache now?  God, say it isn’t so!  A mustache would make him look older and too distinguished for the likes of her, but she suspected he was too far above her, anyway.

“Everything seems to be easing up at home,” he said, his leg wiggling.  “Allie’s getting better for the most part, but I’m not sure about Ryan.”  His smile faded. “I take it you called things off?”

Called things off? She frowned.  Called things off with…Ryan?

“No I didn’t!” She felt taken aback by her own snappy reply and Shields’ leg stilled.

“I mean…no,” she added. “Did he say I did?  I don’t want to, you know…write him off too quickly, I just needed a little thinking time.”

“That’s probably a good idea because to be honest, I’m not sure you two mesh.  You’ve both got some issues to work through and-“

“Yeah and maybe we can help each other.”

Geez, where was all this coming from?  Suddenly, her pulse was racing and her mind swirling with worry that Ryan had dismissed any chances with her.  Rubbing her palms on her jeans, she guessed she liked him a heck of a lot more than she’d realized.

“I won’t know unless I give him a chance!”

Shields sank back as though he’d been deflated, a move that normally would have provoked an internal girly squeal; but right now Ryan’s round eyes gripped her mind and she remembered the way he’d pleaded with her to have lunch with him. The roses that now sat in a makeshift vase on the kitchen counter- the same roses her mother kept probing her about. 

Ryan had tried to show her an awesome time the other night and she’d wound up pining over his brother.

“Geez.” She buried her face in her hands. “I’m such an idiot.  I don’t know what I’m thinking half the time.”

“I can tell you what you’re thinking half the time.” Shields sounded a little stern, so she raised her head and winced at the lines above the bridge of his nose that usually declared his disdain. “You spelled it out in your first draft, Rose.” 

Giving him a ‘what the heck are you talking about?’ look, she drawled, “Oh, please, I was just ranting.”

“I beg to differ with you. I think a lot of deep-seated rage came out in that paper, albeit in mostly a humorous form.”

“Rage? I’d hardly call it rage.”

“Why wouldn’t you?  You insinuated that most guys’ brains are in their pants and that they should be executed for their flaws.”

“Excuse me?  I did not-“

“Yes you did.” He smirked.  “You may not realize this consciously but that’s your heart attitude.  You feel that most guys are prone to hurting women and deserve to be punished.”

“What the heck makes you say that? I mean, come on- I was just ticked at Angel Clare and a bunch of hostility came to the surface. I guess it’s stuff I repressed after my dad left, but can you blame me?  My mom’s been torn apart and I feel like he hates me because of what happened with Towers. If he really loved me, don’t you think he would have stuck around? To support me, I mean?” Her hand shook as she shoved her hair behind her ear. “Instead he took off right in the middle of everything.  It only makes sense that there’d be some anger issues, but I don’t think most guys deserve to be executed. I seriously don’t know why you’d say that.”

“Think about it.” He shrugged one shoulder so nonchalantly that she wanted to smack him.  “Maybe you don’t think guys deserve to be executed as long they behave, but if they hurt an innocent woman, then they should be carted off to the gallows.”

“That’s bull!”

“Let me tell you something.” He leaned forward, his broad shoulders dwarfing the tiny desk top beneath his folded arms. “I left my girlfriend in Indiana.”

Bekah blinked.

“Yes, that’s right.  I left her and you know why?”

“I’m not sure you want to tell me.” She sneered, though her curiosity was starting to bubble. Not only had she not known they’d come from Indiana, but she hadn’t even considered the possibility that he’d had a girlfriend.  Which made no sense, considering everything about him.  “Isn’t that sort of an off-limits topic?”

“It’s all got a point, so let me tell you why I left her.  She makes fun of my faith, first off.  Secondly, she’s such a flirt that I doubted her faithfulness and thirdly, she’s as underhanded as I used to be and then some.  Do you think she should be executed or me for leaving her?”

“This whole conversation is absurd. What the heck are you doing?”

“Just answer the question.”

“I don’t think I need to!  We both know that I don’t seriously want anyone dead.”

“Maybe not, but punished.”

“OK, maybe punished.”

“So, who deserves to be punished?” His laughter shook his shoulders and caught her off guard. She could see now, by the humor gleaming in his eyes that he wasn’t totally serious in this line of questioning. He was driving at something…just like Daddy-O used to do and she was surprised she hadn’t recognized the ploy.  “Should I be drop-kicked or should she be horse-whipped or what?”

“Shields…” She leaned back and folded her arms, his grin deflating her anger as she became aware of her unsteady heartbeat.  “What are you getting at?  Just say it.”

“I think for the most part it’s obvious.  Men and women are both capable of inflicting serious harm and deserve to be punished.”

“So now you’re saying everyone deserves to be punished?”

Holding out his hand as though to say, “Ta daaa,” he shook his head, tugged his tie and sat back, looking rather satisfied with himself. “Now you’re getting it- at least part of what I’m driving at.  I’m no better than you and vice versa.  According to the Bible, we’re all equally sinful.”

Equally…?  “Wait a minute, how does that compute?  Are you saying I’m as sinful as an axe murderer?”

“If you’ve been hateful toward anyone, then in your heart you’ve killed them. Just the fact that you’ve envisioned having certain men executed tells me you’ve done this…so you’re a murderer in a different sense, you just haven’t acted on it.”

“OK…you just called me a murderer!”

“Not exactly, but in a way, yes.  We’ve all been there at some point.   We get angry and feel like lopping off heads.”

“Why has our little English lesson morphed into a Bible lesson?”

“Because I found a flaw in your thinking and thought I should address it.   I suppose I feel like I can get away with it because we’ve already discussed some of this, but moving on, Rose…”

Her neck began to throb from the tension in her shoulders and she remained still as he studied her like a specimen in a science lab. 

“I’m glad you were able to discuss your father a little…I hope you’ll open up for the counselor because you’ve got a load to deal with before you consider a serious relationship with anyone.”

“Why would I open up for someone who’s being paid to listen to me?  It’s stupid…and why would I have to discuss any of this with anyone before I get serious with your brother?”

“Because you and Ryan are like custard powder tossed in a Bunsen burner- an explosion is inevitable.”

She smirked, despite the fact that he was analyzing her again.  Maybe his concern felt a little good, but he deserved a nice, wet rag in the face for making so many nerdy observations within a five minute period.  Yeah, she’d known he tended to be this way but only at certain times did it annoy her

Was he always like this or just when he felt like lecturing a student?

Gripping her books and careful not to let her red-marked paper slide onto the floor, she narrowed her eyes but he maintained a calm and collected demeanor.  He looked darn cute, too.  Cute enough to reach out, grab his collar and kiss the living snot out of him, no matter what he’d just said to her.  He was bold as heck!

Yeah, he was bold to say so many of the things he’d said to her, bold to show up at the bowling alley in leather and bold sit so close to her at the dining room table in his attempt to counsel her.  But in that counseling session, he’d revealed more of what she’d suspected- he had a bad boy side. One that he thought he’d buried but she doubted it was so far gone.

How naughty could he be if he let go and why the heck did she want to know?  Wasn’t she through with bad boys and done giving into her own vixen-like tendencies?

One thing appeared certain- he wanted to sway her from Ryan.

Yeah.  Only a bad teacher would try to distract her from his younger brother but he wasn’t bad in a Towers sort of way.  He was sneakier about it and uninterested in assaulting her in the process. 

Maybe…and…“Maybe you’re jealous,” she said under her breath and peeked at the door.

Dan’s brow perked. “Come again?”

“You know what I said.  You don’t want me to date Ryan, do you?”

His jaws bulged, brow still raised. “I think I’ve made that clear but I didn’t say a word about jealousy.”

“You don’t have to…it’s obvious.”

“Give me a break, Rebekah.”  He leaned forward again.  “I can’t date you to begin with. I’m trying to help you but I can only go so far before this teeters on absolute inappropriateness.”

“I think it’s already there.” She raised her chin, her blood rushing in her ears.  Nothing felt more satisfying at the moment than watching him squirm.  He was jealous, she was sure of it.

Disappointment clouded his features and he stood, pointing toward the exit. “Fine.  Maybe you should go then.”

She returned his frown, though hers felt more like the pout of a woman jilted in love.  She guessed she’d brought it on herself, though- her and her freakin’ big mouth.  But she knew she was right, dang it, and she stood slowly with her books hugged close.  Her shoulders seemed to have squared on their own, making her feel more in control of this situation than she really was.

Shields pocketed his hands, waiting for her to make the first move toward the exit but she couldn’t budge.  He gestured toward the door with merely a nod.  “We need to get moving.  There are other things I wanted to discuss but they’ll have to wait.”

She imagined physically clearing the lines at the bridge of his nose with her finger, waving a magic wand and adding some spark back to his eyes.  But he just stood there, looking at her as though she’d slapped him.  But hadn’t he done the same thing to her?  Why should she feel so bad after he’d basically accused her of murder and suggested she’d cause too much trouble for his brother?

To be fair, he’d also hinted that Ryan would be trouble for her, but still…

She opened her mouth but had no idea what she wanted to say. 

Dan blinked.  “Come on, I’ll get you a pass for your next class.”

Bekah followed him, debating whether to toss a book at him or beg for his forgiveness for speaking her mind-- again.  There were so many conflicting messages coming from him and being sent to him- from her- that she suspected neither one of them knew exactly what they were doing. 
On one hand, she wanted to pursue him with twice the passion Kruger seemed to pursue her in her dreams. On the other hand, she sensed a blaring, red warning light in the back of her mind. Who knew how underhanded he could be?

She waited in the hall, glancing up and down for spies while he wrote her pass.  Once he silenced his current class, he poked his head out and extended the yellow slip.  “See you later,” he whispered while barely making eye contact, which seemed totally unlike him. 

And then he was gone.

Bekah felt as though someone had stuck a fork in her butt and deflated all of her air.  Leaning against a nearby locker, she inhaled deeply and looked down at the red marks on her paper.  He’d circled several sentences, some of which he’d marked with goody-goody phrases like, “Great word choices” and “snappy.” 

To the side of the paper he’d written, “You should consider the school newspaper.  I’m almost certain you could have your own column.”

Then at the top of the page:  “Great as this is, I can only give you an 89%, due its lateness.  If you haven’t started on Lord of the Flies, I’d put star-gazing on hold until you complete it.”

Her mouth hinged open and she scowled in the direction of his room.  She could hear his shoes scuffing as he directed the class to open their books to page one-forty-five.  Barely audible even to herself, she whispered, “You are so jealous!”

Chapter Twenty