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Teacher's Pet: Windy City Weddings, #1

Teacher's Pet: Windy City Weddings, #1

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Teacher's Pet: Windy City Weddings, #1

Length:
276 pages
3 hours
Released:
Sep 11, 2017
ISBN:
9781947595002
Format:
Book

Description

Not a single detail escaped Dennis's notice. Not the curls in Audrey's hair, or the graceful curves of her feminine shape. Not the easy way she sat on the classroom floor with his young son, or the way she smiled at their game.

And certainly not the way she looked up at Dennis and blinked slowly once, then again, before rising to greet him. He'd caught her off guard, but she was very good at hiding it and composing herself.

Dennis approved of her quick recovery.

That was his way – to carefully absorb every detail, and then to assess and manage everything within his control. He was methodical by nature. Precise. Thorough.

Why, then, as she walked forward to greet him, did he seem to forget everything around him but Audrey?

Just for the briefest moment, at the touch of her hand, he was utterly certain that nothing could ever go wrong if she was in his life.

But things could go very, very wrong. He knew that beyond any doubt. It was the reason he was now a single father, the reason he had to monitor every detail in his son's life. How else could he keep the boy safe? How else could he ensure his son would have a good and happy life?

Audrey could help with that. She owned a private daycare, best in the city. She understood children, knew his son, and even looked beautiful when she blushed.

Suddenly, Dennis knew exactly what he wanted.

And what Dennis wanted, he always found a way to get.

Released:
Sep 11, 2017
ISBN:
9781947595002
Format:
Book

About the author


Book Preview

Teacher's Pet - Kayla Drake

right?

Chapter One

Lincoln Park, Chicago

Audrey Turner–Miss Turner to a mob of three-foot-tall scamps–grabbed pushpins and a stack of patriotic cardboard cutouts and climbed onto the absent teacher’s desk. It was the second-to last Thursday of the school year, the second-to-last Thursday she’d have to fill in for her employee on maternity leave, and the second-to-last Thursday Theme Day. Today’s theme: the American Revolution. Stars, bars, and a Liberty Bell, the kind of theme that went over better with the parents than the kids. No matter. The truth was, Miss Turner’s School was designed to provide prestige to the parents as much as it provided organic juice boxes to the preschoolers.

And with the small downturn in the number of applications for next year, pleasing the parents was a new worry. What was causing the decline? Was it the economy? Or something more sinister? With high-achieving parents, even the tiniest downturn could signal the beginning of a radical change in attitude. Audrey needed the summer to discover some extra flourish that would convince Chicago’s upper echelon that Miss Turner’s School was still unquestionably the leader in early childhood education.

Audrey tacked up a length of bunting and stepped off the desk to survey her handiwork. The front of the classroom looked like a red, white, and blue explosion. Perfect.

Just then, little Olivia Sorenson bounded through the door.

Miss Turner, Miss Turner, look who I brought! She had a stranglehold on one manicured adult finger. It’s my mommy!

Hi, Mrs. Sorenson. This is a nice surprise.

Mrs. Sorenson pulled her finger free. "Actually, it’s Ms. Sorenson now. The D-I-V-O-R-C-E was final last week. She sounded nervous but her face was smooth and calm, courtesy of Botox. I was wondering...."

Yes? Audrey prompted. How can I help?

Well, it’s rather delicate. She waved her jeweled hand and almost managed to move her cheeks in a smile. Oh, I can just come out and tell you. I’m trying to contact Dennis Delaney.

Cole’s father?

Yes, Cole’s father. Dennis Delaney. You know, he’s quite the genius at managing stocks.

I thought he was an investment banker.

Oh, is he? I thought–well, just the same. Could you give me his phone number?

No, I can’t. School policy. We don’t disclose any personal information.

Oh. Well, what time does he pick up Cole? Maybe I could arrange to bump into him.

Something about the eager glint in Ms. Sorenson’s eyes made Audrey glad that she could demur truthfully. Cole’s nanny drops him off and picks him up.

Oh. Ms. Sorenson managed to look disappointed without moving a muscle.

Could it be possible that she had a little crush? Nah, couldn’t be. Audrey had never met Dennis Delaney, but from his numerous notes to her on heavy monogrammed stationery, she’d imagined him as an uptight, fastidious type with a bow tie and scrawny arms, a late-in-life father scrabbling for control over his offspring. Not the type to draw the interest of any woman, no matter how deep his pockets were.

I suppose I’ll just have to bump into him around the neighborhood, then. Ms. Sorenson dashed for the door, her heels clacking against the tile. She didn’t even say goodbye to her daughter, who watched her leave with a sad-puppy face. Audrey knew what to do.

Olivia, I’m so glad you’re here. I need a special helper with our decorations. Can you do the tape while I do the streamers? Olivia perked up and trotted across the floor to the teacher’s desk. Within seconds, she’d managed to tangle her fingers in a long and very sticky strand of tape.

Ow! Stuck!

Audrey bent to help Olivia just as Cole Delaney and his nanny Susie came in. Cole dumped his purple backpack with a wave and bounded for the turtle tank in the back of the room.

Hey, Susie said by way of greeting. She was dressed, as always, in a black tee that wouldn’t clash with her hair dye. The current shade was Ginger Passion, but it might as well have been named Orange Juice. Where’s the Starbucks?

Where’s the teacher’s aide? Audrey replied.

Susie understood her meaning right away. No aide, no freedom to make a coffee run.

Oh. Drag. Well, here’s today’s special delivery. She held out a sealed letter on Dennis Delaney’s stationery. It’s going to be tough to get through it without caffeine, you know.

Just drop it on the desk. I’ve got a situation here. Audrey tore the strip of tape and managed to liberate Olivia’s thumb.

I see. Susie grinned. A tape emergency. We have those all the time.

It’s too sticky, Olivia said in a matter-of-fact way.

Got any pointers? No matter how Audrey pulled, the tape only seemed to get tighter, like a Chinese finger trap.

Scissors. That’s what you need. Susie walked around to the front of the teacher’s desk and located a pair of blunt-nosed kiddie scissors with dinosaur handles. Here you go.

Audrey shot her a grateful glance and began snipping delicately at the snarls. Any chance I could persuade you to hang around today? I really need some help. Teacher out on leave, and a magically vanishing aide.

Susie shook her head. Nunh-unh. Daytime is Susie time.

Audrey groaned. Great. Hey, you must have passed Ms. Sorenson in the hall just now. Did she talk to you?

Nope. Who’s she?

One of the mommies. Wants to talk to Mr. Delaney about something.

Nanny Susie grinned. Let me guess. Thirty-something, recently divorced?

Yes, as a matter of fact.

They all want to talk to Mr. Delaney, if you know what I mean. Susie wiggled her bright orange eyebrows in a lewdly suggestive manner.

Really? I find that hard to imagine.

Eh, well, he’s not my type. Susie shrugged. But the second wife wannabes seems to find him appealing.

Audrey finally freed Olivia, who scampered off to play with Cole in the back of the room.

OK, let’s see. Audrey reached for that day’s letter from Dennis Delaney. Cole says he ate a cookie yesterday even though he’s not supposed to have sugar. Well, isn’t Cole the little snitch. No more cookies for him! She scanned the next line. Cole’s shoelace was frayed and dangerously close to breaking. I shouldn’t have let him walk home like that. Shame on me.

Susie groaned. Yeah, I heard about that one, too. I’m supposed to stop at the store this afternoon and pick up some spare shoelaces for you.

Thank heaven the school year is almost over. I’m running out of room for Cole’s spare everything.

The final lines wiped the grin from Audrey’s face.

I will be picking up Cole from school today. There is an essential matter that I wish to discuss with you personally. Please advise Nanny Susie of your availability.

He wants a meeting? Audrey dropped the letter on the desk. What’s up with that?

I can’t say, Susie said.

Can’t, or won’t?

But Susie only shrugged.

Well, you can tell Mr. Delaney that I’ll be here until six as always.

Will do. Susie walked toward the door, waving and blowing raspberries at Cole as she went.

Hey, Audrey called after her. Did I do something wrong?

Susie turned and shot her a devilish grin. Not yet. But don’t worry. There’s still time.

Chapter Two

Ten hours later–make that one naptime, two gym sessions, one bathroom accident, and three spilled cups of finger paint later–the second-to-last theme day for the year was over. Audrey had read Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, complete with sound effects. She’d worn a calico dress and bonnet and pretended to be Betsy Ross. She’d fed them a snack of corn bread, baked beans, and persimmon pudding and agreed that most of it was yucky. Finally, Audrey turned them loose on a stack of red, white and blue construction paper. She was too exhausted to cover her grin when they started cheerfully arguing about the best way to make the decoration of independence.

But through it all, like a radio playing softly in the background, hummed Audrey’s worry. Why does Dennis Delaney want a meeting?

By five till six o’clock, Cole was the only child left in the classroom. Audrey knelt beside him on the floor, her arms encircling a lap-load of bright plastic blocks and playing cards from a match-game deck. Cole pecked through the collection and selected a red block and a card with a yellow circle.

Now, he said intently, his dark eyes serious, the rules have to be followed unless you want to be called a cheater. You don’t want to be called a cheater, do you, Miss Turner?

No, it’s not right to cheat. Solemn, to match his tone.

That’s good. That’s the right answer. You’re very smart, Miss Turner. He carefully laid the card face up on a length of orange plastic road track, then positioned the block on top of the card. Now, the rules are you have to fill this road all the way up with colors that make colors. Like, here, I have a yellow card and a red block, and red and yellow make orange.

As Cole explained his rules, Audrey snuck a glance at the wall clock. Where was his father? With the teacher’s aide a no-show, Audrey had been unable to slip out of the classroom and into her office even once all day. It would be a late night, trying to finish the administrative tasks that she normally would have completed during the children’s naptime and other stolen moments. And now, Dennis Delaney was apparently going to be late. Audrey’s glance slid up to the clock again. Three minutes until six. Maybe she could get one of the other teachers to mind Cole for a bit, until Mr. Delaney arrived.

Miss Turner, you’re not playing right! Cole glowered at her.

Is it my turn? Audrey wanted to make up to him for her wandering mind. She ruffled his light brown hair. Blocks clattered from her lap onto the floor.

You forgot to go. Why did you forget?

I was thinking about Miss Amelia. She didn’t come to school today and I’m disappointed in her. Do you know what that means?

It means she won’t get to watch cartoons after dinner.

Cole’s explanation drew a noise from the doorway, part squelched surprise, part harrumph, a sound only an adult could make. Audrey rose from the play mats and wiped her palms on her twill pants before looking toward the sound.

Keeping a respectful distance near the door was a tall, swarthy man, his white shirt cuffs rolled up to expose his strong wrists. His face was as inscrutable and sharply boned as a hawk’s. His skin was burnished and his trim body was solidly muscled, as if he spent his days water skiing instead of working the desk job that his business clothes indicated.

This couldn’t be Dennis Delaney. No way. A new prospective parent, maybe?

Audrey smiled in a friendly way at him. He nodded, a quick, curt gesture, his dark eyes intent and locked on hers. Something about that dark gaze seemed familiar, but she couldn’t immediately place it. He didn’t return her smile.

Fine, be that way.

Can I help you?

I’m Dennis Delaney.

Daddy! Hi, Daddy! Cole finally lost interest in his game.

You’re Dennis Delaney? No. Impossible. This powerful man was not at all what she’d expected. How could a man like this, a man who wore an air of authority as others wore pants, be the same person who had penned all those neat, precise letters?

He inclined his head slightly. You’re surprised. It wasn’t a question.

I, um, it’s just that Cole is so fair-haired and you’re so dark. Get control of yourself, Audrey.

He stepped away from the wall and came into the classroom, a dark giant amid a sea of tiny bright tables and chairs. Every instinct told Audrey to step backward, away from Dennis, away from the towering, potent maleness of him. But she drew a deep, bracing breath and moved forward, her hand extended in greeting. Her fingers only trembled a little.

They met in the middle of the room and his warm hand engulfed hers. Her palm sizzled from the contact. She fought contrary urges to pull free and to lean closer.

A pleasure to meet you at last, Miss Turner. His voice rumbled through her like something primitive and hot. Cole talks about you every day.

He held her hand a fraction of an instant too long. When he released her hand, her fingers remained curled as if imprinted with the shape of his touch. She felt a cool breeze against her empty palm and heard her own breathing as if it came from somewhere outside her body. She couldn’t stop staring into his deep-set brown eyes. She felt impaled by his presence, a butterfly pinned to a black wool mat.

Dennis held her gaze for a moment, then stared at her shoes. Audrey looked down. A bright red fragment of crepe paper had attached itself to her sole. The sight of it snapped her out of her stupor. She shook her foot, chagrined, but the paper fluttered and wouldn’t let go.

Stubborn thing, she said with a twisted grin.

She sensed his dark eyes following her every gesture, soaking up every word she spoke. He seemed to be evaluating her. Judging her. A slight blush crept up her cheeks and she didn’t know why.

Audrey also noticed that Cole had grown subdued after his initial exuberant greeting. He walked slowly to one of the paper easels and selected a red crayon with great deliberation. Audrey saw him carefully draw red stripes that mimicked the American flag’s bars. He leaned over the crayon box, lips pursed in a very adult expression. With careful fingers, he withdrew a long blue crayon with a sharp point.

Hey, buddy, would you like to give your Daddy a tour of the classroom? Her tone was gentle. Typically, when a visitor arrived, the children bounded around the room like spinning tops, showing off the turtle tank, the computers, and the little cubbies for jackets and bags.

I’m working. Cole frowned at them and propped his fists on his hips. Please do not disturb my work.

Good man, Dennis boomed with a genuine note of approval. He inclined his head toward Audrey and spoke confidentially. I taught him that. Shows respect for the work process.

Oh, was all she could think to say. What four-year-old needed respect for the work process?

Perhaps it’s just as well, Dennis said. I do have a matter of some urgency to discuss with you.

Yes, your note mentioned something.

He held up one hand, forestalling her. She stared at that broad palm, those long fingers, as if mesmerized. Hard to believe that this hand, this masculine hand carved from granite, was the same hand that wrote those precise notes in perfect copperplate. He dropped his hand and the spell was broken. She looked back into his dark eyes and forced herself to close her soft, gaping mouth.

Nanny Susie will be taking a vacation as soon as school lets out. I need someone to watch Cole during the day while she is gone. It’s only for two weeks.

Oh! So she hadn’t screwed up something too serious to write into the daily missive. She felt relieved that she wouldn’t be on the receiving end of more of his demanding instructions, or, worse, a rebuke. We have half-day sessions in the summer, mornings only. Typically people sign up for the entire summer session, but for Cole, we could make an exception.

He was shaking his head as she spoke. His face settled back into its hawkish mask. No, that won’t do. I need someone to act as temporary nanny. He has a full load of summer activities to fill in the gaps in his education.

Gaps? What gaps?

Audrey’s stomach curdled. All the time that she’d been considering her declining enrollment, she’d thought of her curriculum in terms of substituting one adequate subject for another. Should they speak French or Italian? Or should they teach wave theory with a long, undulating slinky, or light theory with prisms and bright sunshine?

Never once had it occurred to her that it might not be a matter of tweaking what was already there. Never had she thought that something was missing.

Gaps.

What do you mean, gaps? Her voice quavered.

I’m sorry. Dennis extended one of his hands in a conciliatory gesture. She couldn’t stop watching his hands as they moved, advancing and retreating from the space between them. You took that comment as a criticism of your school. It wasn’t intended that way.

He dropped his hand to his side and she felt that there was suddenly a great chasm of hollow space between them. She couldn’t stop staring at him, couldn’t stop absorbing his every gesture even when her mind should be focused on work. She was acting like a moonstruck teenager. Next thing she knew, she’d start twirling her hair around her fingers. She couldn’t seem to stop herself.

No wonder Ms. Sorenson was so determined to meet the man.

A sobering thought.

She breathed deeply and clamped her hands together to calm them. We teach everything from computing to crayons. Where’s the gap?

He shook his head. It’s nothing. Please don’t concern yourself.

You tell me my school is providing a deficient education. So I ask you again, what gaps?

He sighed, betraying his own irritation. It’s not about your school being deficient. Your school is fine. Excellent, even. It’s about me. What I want for my son.

And I want to provide the best possible education for your son and the other children. If there are problems, please tell me.

There are no problems. Just additional things that I personally feel would benefit Cole. Please don’t worry.

His voice held and air of command that made her certain he would tolerate nothing less than absolute compliance. It dawned on her that she was in danger of offending her most demanding parent. She had no alternative but to let it go.

No matter. I can ask Cole later.

My apology, she said. My questions came from the desire to have the best possible school.

And you do, he said. I know. I checked.

To her shock, he grinned at her, self-mocking and dimpled. The playful expression seemed out of character on the stern, dark man. As before when he’d smiled gently at her, the effect transformed him. It nearly took her breath away, to see the traces of the boy he’d once been peeking out from under the strong facade of the man.

Wow, she said on one long breath. Now I see the resemblance to Cole.

But it was the wrong thing to say. Dennis’s face returned to its impenetrable mask, his dark eyes cool. Now that we have that out of the way, there’s the matter of the substitute nanny. I assumed that with school out for the summer, a teacher might be available.

Yes, Audrey said, nodding. We have several who don’t work here during the summer.

I don’t want just anyone, Dennis said. I want someone who already knows Cole, and knows him well. This vacation will be disruptive enough without bringing a stranger into our home.

Hmm. About half of her staff teachers were committed to summer sessions and wouldn’t be available. Of the remaining teachers, only one knew Cole at all. And she was spending the summer visiting relatives in Europe.

Well, there is our classroom aide, Miss Amelia.

Cole materialized at his father’s side and tilted his little face up at them. We’re disappointed in Miss Amelia, Daddy. Too disappointed to play our game.

Dennis raised his eyebrows. Oh, is she the one you were discussing as I came in?

Yes, Audrey admitted. I probably should not have discussed it with Cole.

Nonsense. He needs to understand about responsibility. But just the same, I don’t think we want someone unreliable.

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