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by Barbara Cary
Description: Widowed Cate Munro loves two things: her son and teaching music. But school board member, Tom Flannery, threatens both her loves and livelihood with proposed budget cuts. Cate must defend her principles while resisting attraction to Flannery, a man too much like her faithless husband. Single parent, Tom Flannery, suspects manipulation when Cate casts his daughter in a school musical. Yet when he confronts her, he finds an honest woman who gently opens his skeptical mind and bruised, mistrustful heart. Who is the student and who is the teacher when two battered souls must learn to trust and love again?
eBook Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: November 2001
13 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [389 KB]
Reading time: 246-344 min.
"A seemingly ordinary tale of a teacher's life blossoms into something more as Cary weaves in one hunk and a precious daughter to tie the two families together forever. TEACHER, TEACHER is a book contemporary romance fans should enjoy."--Review by Randi Bradford of Romance Club Reviews on aol
Chapter 1 Cate realized a half-second too late that she'd pulled down more than the roll of posters. A cardboard box teetered on the edge of the top shelf, then lost its balance. Muttering under her breath at the pack rat teacher who last used the walk-in storage closet, she cringed against the inside wall before a dozen pint-sized tambourines landed on her head.
The box burst apart on impact with the hardwood floor and the scattered contents filled the cramped space with a clangor that shot straight through her head. The last of the racket died away slowly. As she stared down at the mess, her mouth hanging open in silent protest, Cate wasn't sure if the ringing in her ears was the tambourines or the office bell alerting her that this session of evening parent-teacher conferences was finally over.
She checked her watch in the naked glare of an overhead bulb. It hadn't been the bell. She still had a full hour to go.
Not that it had been a hectic afternoon and evening, she decided as she hunkered down for a better look at the damage. Spring conferences were little more than a formality, even for the classroom teachers. By March, most parents had a fair idea of their children's progress. As music teacher, she had marked grades and written her report cards nearly two weeks ago. In the three sessions set aside for conferences, she'd had parents stop by to say hello, or offer their help with the spring fine arts program. But only one had wanted to discuss a child's progress.
And that parent, Mr. Thomas Flannery, should have shown up over an hour ago.
"This is all Flannery's fault," she grumbled as she picked up the tambourines and tossed them into the battered box. "I could have gotten down to the photocopy machine if ... Oh, for heaven's sake!" She had found a rotted wooden rim, minus most of its tiny cymbals. "How long have these things been in here?" she wondered in disgust.
Probably since Mrs. Meyer, the previous music teacher, started her career forty years ago. She duck-walked across the narrow closet tracking down loose metal disks.
Something glimmered to her left. She bent over and reached, and felt a draft as her one-piece knit dress rode up her thighs. She grabbed the hem and yanked down hard, nearly choking herself as the neck seam caught her throat.
"Okay, let's try that again," she muttered.
Once again, she felt the draft. This time, she ignored it. After all, no one was around to see her fanny stuck in the air.
Muttering nasty words, she didn't hear the footsteps until they stopped behind her. The muffled sound didn't bother her since Rosemary had gone to get her a soda moments before the box did its somersault. She smiled and deposited the last disk into the box and brushed her hands on the front of the apron. The flurry of dust motes made her cough. Kneeling, she rested her hands on her thighs and swung her head to let Rosemary know she'd really earned that can of soda.
A breath caught in her throat at the sound of a deep, smooth, male voice. A tall, dark-haired, startlingly handsome man stood where she expected to find the stout, graying art teacher. The man fixed her with a steely gaze and cocked his head.
"Yes, yes, I am. Catherine Munro, that is."
Riveted by the intense, narrowed blue-gray eyes, she felt her head swim, like she'd gotten up too fast.
"I'm Thomas Flannery. Megan Flannery's father."
"Thomas Fla ... Megan?"
"Yes, Megan Flannery."
His patient reply broke whatever spell his sudden appearance had cast on her. She felt a wash of vulnerability as she knelt in front of this man who peered at her as if she were slightly dotty. Feeling heat rushed to her cheeks, irritation overran her mortification.
She lifted her brows. "I didn't expect you anymore today. You're an hour late."
His expression hardened. "I had some last minute business to attend to in Chicago and was delayed by heavy traffic on the expressway. I called the school office from my car around 6:00 to reschedule my conferences with you and Miss Erickson. The secretary said that there would be no problem."
Actually, there wasn't a problem, except that he'd caught her on her hands and knees, backside hanging out of the storage closet. To top it off, a loose curl tickled her cheek, escaping from the clip behind her ear.
"I didn't expect you, that's all," she repeated and brushed her hands again. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have started this project."
He scanned the closet, then settled his eyes back on her. Only now, amusement teased the corners of his mouth.
The slight play of muscle and flesh, the lengthening of fine lines on his rather angular face, the hint of a twinkle in his otherwise cool gaze fascinated her.
"In that case, I am sorry to have driven you to such ... ah ... measures," he said mischievously. "May I apologize by helping you up?"
Her attention focused on the tiny groove in his well-defined chin, she almost missed the question. "No," she snapped. "I mean, I'll manage."
No way did she want his rather condescending help, thank you very much.
Only she wasn't exactly sure how she was going to get off the floor without humiliating herself further. Her legs were already half-numb. Swallowing what was left of her pride, she cast him a sheepish smile over her shoulder. "On second thought, maybe I could use your arm for a moment."
He seemed to be expecting it. He tossed his black cashmere overcoat across a student chair and moved inside the closet. The warm, cramped space filled with his spicy scent. Charcoal gray, worsted wool filled her vision. His legs seemed to go on forever.
Eyes level with his thighs, she dared not look up any further. The throb at the base of her neck and the heat that fanned her face warned her that if she did, her gaze might linger on some part of the man's anatomy that it shouldn't.
What was happening here, anyway? She'd been close to most of her students' fathers and she'd never reacted like this, even when the men were as good-looking as Thomas Flannery.
Well, maybe none of them had been quite this good-looking.
"Ready, Ms. Munro?" He sounded smug. She willed her eyes to stay even with the charcoal-gray trouser legs.
"Yes, Mr. Flannery."
She lifted her right arm, flailed until she found his. The wool of his suit scratched her palm and wrist.
"Ms. Munro?" he asked, his voice smooth and silky.
She lifted her head in spite of herself. "What?"
At the same moment, he bent down until his nose practically touched hers. Past the heat pulsing in her cheeks, she felt the shimmering warmth of his skin. Past the spicy after-shave, she smelled his warm male scent. In that fleeting second, she realized that his dark lashes were long and slightly curled.
"Do you want both of us to end up on the floor?"
Cate reared back her head. "Certainly not!"
"I didn't think so." He gripped her arms just past the elbows, straightened and hauled her up.
She gasped at the suddenness of the action, then gasped again when she realized she'd come up close and personal with that part of his anatomy she hadn't dared so much as glance at.
"Didn't you learn anything about the physics of balance in teacher's college?" he asked, letting the edges of his mouth lift into a faint smile.
She didn't much care about balance right then. It was off-balance that he'd taken her. And he had the gall to stand there and gloat about it.
Cate decided to control her temper if she couldn't quite control the situation. "I don't know what I was thinking. Of course, you're right. Thank you for helping me up."
He didn't let go, only stared down at her. "Can you stand?"
"Yes," she answered, though her legs stung with the renewed blood flow. "I'm fine. Thanks." She shrugged him off.
For a moment, she was fine. Then her legs wobbled and went to jelly. She pitched forward, right back into his arms, her face hard against his chest. He absorbed the shock easily, as if he'd been waiting. His tie lay cool and soft against her lips. His lapel scratched her cheek and temple. She wondered fleetingly if the man were not like the contrast of the materials he wore--smooth and sensual, but too darned prickly to put up with for long.
She stepped back and looked up into his steel blue eyes. "I must have been on the floor too long. I think I'm all right now."
He lifted one dark brow and released her. She would have walked stiff-jointed if it had meant getting out of the closet without any more of his help. Fortunately, her knees seemed to bend properly. She smiled her most confident smile and squared her shoulders, gathering her shattered poise.
"Shall we have a seat?" she offered, and extended her arm toward her desk.
The corner of his mouth quirked again before he gave a curt nod.
Cate led the way into her classroom, praying to every power in heaven that Thomas Flannery didn't hear the slamming of her heart against her ribs.