Masked Hearts Chapter 2b

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Sienna felt like a wine rack must’ve fallen on her when she walked into The Cellar and saw Mark holding hands across the table with Mia Warren. Her cheek burned where he’d kissed her, and rage almost made her shake. If the bastard was trying to decide which of his kids’ teachers to date, he could’ve at least mentioned he was coming tonight.

He pulled his hands away from Mia and turned to look at her as the other third grade teachers whispered and stared. They treated their grade level like it was a sorority and rarely deigned to collaborate with other teachers. Sienna’s vision blurred until a voice broke through, calling her name.

“Sienna,” yelled Krista from a table a few feet away from Mark’s. It snapped her out of her stare, and she stalked by him, knowing she’d look ridiculous if she turned and fled.

Krista sat on a long bench against the wall. She was fortyish, with sandy hair that fell to her shoulders. Her dress was maybe five years out of fashion, but Sienna knew Krista didn’t care about that. Anyway, it looked good on her. Krista scooted over and said, “Wow, you clean up nice.”

“Thanks,” said Sienna in a voice like one of her shy students. “You look nice too.” She sat in the space that Krista had left for her.

“For an old married lady, I know,” said Krista.

“Here’s to old married ladies,” toasted one of the other kindergarten teachers. It seemed as if everyone down the long table heard her because all the teachers raised their glasses, said, “Woo!” took a drink and laughed.

“What’s the joke?” asked Sienna.

“You missed a big ‘woo’ over at the third grade table before you got here. I took it from the shocked look on your face that you saw who came with Ms. Mia.”

Sienna kept her eyes straight ahead, refusing to glance over at Mark. “I shouldn’t be so surprised. She’s gorgeous.”

“He looks miserable, and he keeps staring at you.”

Sienna finally turned to see one of the third grade teachers draped over him getting a selfie. “Yeah, poor guy, getting all that attention.”

A waitress stepped up and asked for Sienna’s order.

“Just water please.”

“Water?” asked Krista. “You need something stronger than that!”

“Maybe later.” But she didn’t want to stay another minute. The waitress walked away, and Sienna tried to figure out what the hell was going on. The kiss at the cafe had been so weird but led her to believe he was interested in her. Mia’s high-pitched laugh pierced her ears, making her head hurt. At least this time the relationship had ended before it had begun. She gritted her teeth. How long before she could leave with some semblance of dignity?

After her water arrived she noticed Mark extracting himself from the third grade teachers. He ran a hand through his hair and approached her. Suddenly, the water became the most interesting thing she’d ever seen. She heard him say, “Ms. Carly, I’m sorry to interrupt your evening, but I was wondering if I could talk to you about the incident with Tyler yesterday.”

She wanted to sigh in relief at the out he’d given her, but at the same time it took every ounce of her professionalism to tilt her head up to him and say, “I was just leaving. We can talk about it on the way to my car–” she gave a scathing glance toward Mia, “if you can be away from your date that long.”

He cleared his throat and turned red before he said, “I’m sure she understands, being a teacher and all.”

Sienna rolled her eyes and said her goodbyes to the rest of the teachers. They protested her leaving so early, but she begged off by saying she had too much work tomorrow and needed to make it an early night.

When she stood to leave, Mark stepped back to allow her to pass in the narrow space. Her arm brushed against his chest, and she heard his breath hitch. Her body sang with all the bells and whistles of sudden desire just from that momentary collision. But she wasn’t going to let her body lead the conversation. So what if he was smoldering hot with a silky smooth voice? It didn’t make up for his actions tonight.

She strode to the stairs; her flats slapped against the tile. She could feel him right behind her, though he didn’t touch her as they climbed the stairs. It wasn’t until they were outside in the chilly October night that he said anything. “Sienna, I don’t want you to misunderstand this situation.”

She rounded on her heel and glared at him. “Everything looks perfectly clear to me. You’re on a date with Mia tonight, and you wanted to take me out tomorrow. What is this, a competition between your children’s teachers?”

He took her arms and pleaded, “No, it’s not that way at all.”

She shrugged out of his grip and said, “You could’ve at least told me you were coming to the Happy Hour so I would’ve been prepared or better yet stayed at home.”

“I didn’t know this was where your Happy Hour was. I didn’t even know I was going out with Ms. Warren. It’s a blind date, and I didn’t recognize her name.”

“She’s your daughter’s teacher!”

“Yeah, but I always call her Ms. Warren. I didn’t know her first name was Mia.”

“You knew my name.” Her voice mimicked his, “Call me Mark, Sienna.”

“That’s because I’ve been crazy about you since the first day of school.”

Sienna took a step back, too shocked to reply. Then the door opened, and Mia appeared. A breeze blew her hair back like she was in a perfume commercial, making her a striking compliment to Mark. “Everything okay with Tyler?” she asked with a voice that really said, “What are you doing alone with my man?”

Mark kept his eyes on Sienna, who finally found her voice. “If you’re so crazy about me, why are you on a blind date at all?”

She turned and strode down the sidewalk. She heard Mia plead with Mark to come back, and Mark made no objection. The pain in her heart was much sharper than it should’ve been. The headlights of passing cars seemed to shine like a spotlight on her, showing the world how vulnerable she’d made herself again. With relief she turned a corner onto a darker street and found her car. As she unlocked the door, she heard Mark calling to her.

 ***

When Sienna left for her car, Mark followed Mia but stopped just inside the door. He said, “Thanks for sharing a drink with me, but I think it’s a bad idea for you and I to date.”

Mia narrowed her eyes and said, “But it’s okay to date Sienna? She’s a teacher too.”

“You being a teacher isn’t the issue. You’re beautiful and fun-loving and very much like my ex-wife. There’s a reason we’re divorced. You would find out all too soon what a boring asshole I am.”

“I’m sure that’s not–”

“I’m sorry Ms. Warren.” He opened the door again and ran down the sidewalk in the direction he’d seen Sienna heading. He heard the click of her car remote before he saw her, and he called out to her. For one moment they stared in each other’s eyes, but then Sienna climbed in her car and drove off.

“Damn it,” he yelled to the streetlamp buzzing overhead. Walking back to his own car, he tried to figure out how he’d make things right with Sienna. Maybe tomorrow he could reason with her back at the coffee shop, where she seemed much more relaxed.

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