About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Misty took her class of six-year-olds for swimming lessons before lunch every Friday. Even though swimming had finished an hour ago, her braid of damp chestnut curls still hung limply down her back. She smelled of chlorine. Her nose was shining.
Regardless, a Greek God was standing at her classroom door.
She looked and looked again.
Adonis. God of Desire and Manly Good Looks. Definitely.
Her visitor looked close to his mid-thirties. Nicely mature, she thought. Gorgeously mature. His long, rangy body matched a strongly boned face and almost sculpted good looks. He wore faded jeans and an open-necked shirt with rolled up sleeves. Looking
closer—and she was looking closer—Misty could see muscles, beautifully delineated.
But did Adonis have a six-year-old son?
For the man in her doorway was linked by hand to a child, and they matched. They both wore jeans and white shirts. Their black hair waved identically. Their coppery skin was the colour that no amount of fake tan could ever produce, and their identical green eyes looked capable of producing a smile to die for.
But only Adonis was smiling. He was squatting and saying to the child, 'This looks the right place. They're painting. Doesn't this look fun?'
Son-of-Adonis didn't look as if he agreed. He looked terrified.
And, with that, Misty gave herself a mental slap, hauled herself back from thinking about drop-dead gorgeous males and back to where she should be thinking—which was in schoolmarm mode.
'Can I help you?'
Frank, Banksia Bay School Principal, should have intercepted this pair, she thought. If this was a new student she'd have liked some warning. There should be an empty place with the child's name on it, paints with paper waiting to be drawn on, the rest of the class primed to be kind.
Are you Miss Lawrence?' Adonis asked. 'There's no one in the Principal's office and the woman down the hall said this is Grade One.'
She smiled her agreement, but directed her smile to Son-of-Adonis. 'Yes, it is, and yes, I am. I'm Misty Lawrence, the Grade One teacher.'
The child's hand tightened convulsively in his father's. This definitely wasn't a social visit, then; this was deathly important.
'I'm sorry we're messy, but we're in the middle of painting cows,' she told the little boy, keeping her smile on high beam. She was standing next to Natalie Scotter's table. Natalie was the most motherly six-year-old in Banksia Bay. 'Natalie, can you shift across so our visitors can see the cow you're painting?'
Natalie beamed and slid sideways. Misty could see what she was thinking. Hooray, excitement. And the way this guy was smiling Misty felt exactly the same.
Um focus. Get rid of this little boy's fear.
'Yesterday we went to see Strawberry the cow,' she told him. 'Strawberry belongs to Natalie's dad. She's really fat because she's about to have calves. See what Natalie's done.'
The little boy's terror lessened, just a little. He gazed nervously at Natalie's picture—at Natalie's awesomely pregnant cow.
'Is she really that fat?' he whispered.
'Fatter,' Natalie said, rising to the occasion with aplomb. 'My dad says it's twins and that means he'll have to stay up all night 'cos it's always a b '
She caught herself and gave Misty a guilty grin. 'I mean, sometimes he needs to call the vet and then he swears.' She beamed, proud of how she'd handled herself.
'Here's her picture,' Misty said, delving into the pocket of her overalls for a photograph. She glanced at Adonis, asking a silent question, and got a nod in response. This, then, was the way to go. 'Would you like to sit by Natalie and see if you can paint as well?' she asked. 'If it's okay with your dad.'
'Of course it is,' Adonis said.
'You can share my paints,' Natalie declared expansively, and Misty gave a tiny prayer of thankfulness that Natalie's current best friend was at home with a head cold.
'Thank you,' Son-of-Adonis whispered and Misty warmed to him. He was polite as well as cute. If he was a new student.
'We're here to enrol Bailey for school,' Adonis said, and she smiled her pleasure, but she was also thinking, Where is Frank? And why did this pair have to arrive now when she felt like a chlorinated wet sheep?
'I know I should have made an appointment,' Adonis said, answering her unspoken question. 'But we only arrived in town an hour ago. The closer we got, the more nervous Bailey was, so we thought the sensible thing would be to show him that school's
not a scary place. Otherwise, Bailey might get more nervous over the weekend.'
'What a good idea. It's not scary at all,' she said, warming to the man as well as to the son. 'We like new friends, don't we, girls and boys?'
'Yes.' It was a shout, and it made Misty smile. In this sequestered town, any newcomer was welcomed with open arms.
'Are you here for long?' she asked. 'You and your family?' Was Mrs Adonis introducing another child to another class?
'There's only Bailey and me, and we're intending to live here,' he said, stooping to load Bailey's paintbrush with brown paint. Being helpful. But Bailey checked Strawberry's photograph again, then looked at his father as if he'd missed the point. He dipped his brush in the water jar and went for red.
His father grinned and straightened, and held out his hand. 'I'm Nicholas Holt,' he said, and Misty found her hand enveloped in one much larger, much stronger. It was a truly excellent handshake. And his smile.
Manly Good Looks didn't begin to cut it, she thought. Wow! Forget Greek Gods. Adonis was promptly replaced with Nicholas.
She was absurdly aware of her braid, still dripping down her back. She wanted, quite suddenly, to kill Frank. It was his job to give warning of new parents. Why wasn't he in his office when he should be?
She didn't have so much as powder on her nose. It was freckled and it glowed; she knew it did. Her nose was one of the glowingest in the district. And five feet four inches was too short. Where were six inches when she needed them? If Frank had warned her, she might have worn heels.
Or maybe not.
'Miss ' a child called.
'I'm sorry; we shouldn't be disturbing your class,' Nicholas said and she managed to retrieve her hand and force herself to think schoolteacherly thoughts. Or mostly schoolteacherly thoughts.
'If Bailey's to be my student, then you're not interrupting at all,' she said and turned to the child who'd called. 'Yes, Laurie, what do you need?'
'There's a dog, miss,' Laurie said from across the room, sounding agitated. 'He's bleeding.'
'A dog ' She turned to the window.
'He's under my table, miss, in the corner,' Laurie said, standing up and pointing. 'He came in with the man. He's bleeding everywhere.'
There were twenty-four children looking towards Laurie's table. Plus Nicholas Holt. A bleeding dog.
There were kids here who'd make this up but Laurie wasn't one of them. He wasn't a child with imagination.
Laurie's table was in the far back corner, and the row of shelving behind it made for a small, dark recess. If a dog was under there it couldn't be a very big dog.
'Then we need to investigate,' she said, as brightly as she could. 'Laurie, can you go and sit in my teacher's chair, please, while I see what's happening?'
Laurie was there like a shot—the best treat in the world was to be allowed to sit in his teacher's big rotating chair. With the way clear, Misty would be able to see.
Or not. She stooped, then knelt. It was dark under the table. Her hands met something wet on the floor—something warm.
Her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom. Yes, there was a dog, cowering right back into the unused shelves.
She could see him clearly now, cringing as far back as he could get.
An injured dog could snap. She couldn't just pull him out.
'Can I help?'
He was Adonis. Hero material. Of course he'd help.
'We have an injured dog,' she said, telling the children as well as Ad as well as Nicholas. 'He seems frightened. We all need to stay very quiet so we don't
frighten him even more. Daisy, can you fetch me two towels from the swimming cupboard?'
'Do you know the dog?' Nicholas asked as Daisy importantly fetched towels. He was standing right over her, and then he was kneeling. His body was disconcertingly solid. Disconcertingly male.
He was peering underneath Laurie's table as if he had no idea in the world what his presence was doing to her.
What, exactly, was his presence doing to her?
Well, helping. That was a rarity all by itself. Misty was the fixer, the one who coped, the practical one. She did things by herself, from necessity rather than choice.
She didn't often have a large attractive male kneeling to help.
'Do you know the dog?' he asked again and she got a grip on the situation. Sort of. 'No.'
'But he's injured?'
'There's blood on the floor. Once I have the towels, I can reach in.'
'It'll be safer if I lift the table so we can see what we're dealing with. Tell you what. If we move the kids back, it'll give him a clear run to the entrance. If he wants to bolt, then he can.'
'I need to see what's wrong.'
'But you don't want a child getting in ...