I can’t continue with The Beautician and the Billionaire until Thankful Hearts is publishing-ready. And since Halloween is only 11 days away, I’d love for you to enjoy my erotic romance Masked Hearts. I’ll post a chapter or three in serial on the blog like I do with The Beautician and the Billionaire. But PLEASE BUY IT! It’s only $0.99! Writing is my job. But it’s not paying my bills yet. If you enjoy my stories, I would truly appreciate your support.
1 | Toil and Trouble Extra Cinnamon
Sienna drove into the parking spot and stopped just before her tire hit the sidewalk. Her mind was a tornado of parents, students and other teachers vying for her attention at the end of the week. Even the cute pumpkin lights decorating the awning of the Holiday Cafe with their faint glow battling the dusk failed to calm her. She stepped out of her car and closed the door. The blur in her mind finally paused when her gaze fell on a witch and bubbling cauldron drawn on the door with window paints. The caption read, “Taste our Toil and Trouble Latte.” Ahhh. Despite the name, the thought of the latte yanked her out of the school whirlwind and settled her spirit. She’d been waiting all week for this moment.
She opened the door, expecting the aroma of coffee to wrap her in bliss, but instead desire fired through her.
Mark Townsend stood at the counter—the most sought after single dad at the school. When class lists came out at the beginning of the year, the other kindergarten teachers had swarmed her and rattled off his stats as soon as they saw she had his youngest child Tyler: millionaire, architect, thirty-eight, divorced, great butt. She hadn’t thought much of the other teachers’ excitement. Just twenty-eight herself, she’d always dated men much closer to her own age, and never anyone corporate. But when he’d strolled into her classroom the first day of school with his pride in his son and casual confidence, she’d known she was in trouble.
Seeing him now at her favorite cafe gave her a moment to admire him without little ones tugging at her hand for attention. In the city of Albuquerque, where business casual meant clean jeans and a t-shirt without swear words, he wore a suit every day like a CEO in New York. His short hair was mostly black, but the streaks of gray above his ears served as a distinguished match to his gray eyes. And his frame– “Wait till you see him on jog-a-thon day,” is what all the teachers said.
She shook her head: teacher-parent time. Tyler had had a problem at school that day, and Mark’s ex-wife had run off before she could discuss it.
Sienna took a deep breath, brushed off her Friday jeans and orange and black blouse and hoped she didn’t have stray graham cracker crumbs invisible to herself but obvious to the world.
“Oh my God!” called the barista named Chloe from the cash register. “Serendipity has finally happened!”
Chloe waved like crazy for Sienna to come up to the cash register, and Mark turned around. His smile and piercing eyes made Sienna forget what she needed to talk to him about. “Hello, Mr. Townsend,” she said as she arrived at the cash register. The school environment of noise and crayon wax always helped suppress her yearnings, but in a cafe of steaming drinks and mingling couples, she had no defense against his presence—her insides tightened, and her mind wandered to how his lips would feel on the sensitive spot just below her earlobe.
Chloe spoke up before he greeted her and before her thoughts became X-rated. “You mean you already know each other?” She’d dyed her short, spiky hair jet black at the beginning of October and wore spider rings on most of her fingers.
He held eye contact with Sienna as he spoke. “Please, call me Mark.” Damn, his gaze made professionalism impossible. To her relief, he turned to Chloe. “She’s my son’s kindergarten teacher.”
“Really? That’s so cool, but I bet you don’t know the truth about each other that I know.”
The way Chloe talked always made Sienna smile. It was half teen and half yoga instructor. Sienna guessed she was around twenty-two, so it worked. Sienna asked, “The truth?”
“I’m dying to know,” said Mark, leaning on the counter with his elbow.
“You are my two Toil and Trouble extra cinnamon customers. I’ve wanted you to meet since last October. And here you already know each other.”
Sienna frowned for just a moment. She’d been engaged last October, which Chloe knew all about. She didn’t dwell on it, though, because Mark raised his eyebrows and looked at Sienna as if her drink preference changed everything about her. “I wouldn’t have pegged you for someone who liked it so fiery, Sienna.”
Arousal flared through her again, and the layer of ice she’d shielded her heart in after the broken engagement began to melt. He’d never used her first name before—she didn’t even know if half the parents in her class knew her first name. She quenched the flames with an ice bucket of reality: dating a parent would be tricky, and romance was off her life list. But despite her internal admonitions, her response was flirtatious. “It’s a little known fact that one of the requirements for being a kindergarten teacher is to be part fire-breathing dragon. Has Tyler not mentioned it?”
Mark’s smile broadened, and he turned to Chloe. “Add hers to my check.”
“With pleasure.” Chloe bounced and grinned at Sienna.
Sienna blushed and said, “Oh, no, Mr. Townsend. You don’t need to buy my latte.”
“With everything you do for those kids, I should buy it for you every Friday afternoon. Is this when you usually come?”
Sienna nodded. “It’s my reward at the end of the week—not that teaching your son is anything but a joy.” Oh, god. That was pathetic.
Mark paid for the drinks, took her by the elbow and nudged her towards the pick-up counter. Even the light touch made goosebumps flare beneath her sleeve. As his hand lingered on her elbow, Sienna steadied herself by taking in the cafe. Couples sat at tables while groups of friends took up the sofas and chairs in the back of the room by a fireplace. Above them was a loft type floor where she could see people blending into the dim lighting. On the main floor, a stage took up one of the walls where they had the occasional poetry slam or indie music performance.
Mark dropped his hand and said, “I’m sure teaching a classroom of five-year-olds in your amazing way is a challenge. If I did it, every day would be a round of chaos, and I’d need a Scotch instead of a latte at the end.”
Sienna tried not to grin like a fangirl whose idol had just singled her out in a crowd. She forced her mind back to the problem with his son, even though the subject was about as far away from romantic coffee time happenstance as you could get. Besides, she really shouldn’t date a parent.