Secrets Copyright © 2017 Brenna Zinn
by Linda Carroll Bradd
design and photography by Croco Designs
book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or
dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used
publisher and author(s) acknowledge the trademark status and
trademark ownership of all trademarks, service marks and word marks
mentioned in this book.
he was truly serious about being a stripper, he’d have to invest in
a better mask. Preferably made of something soft, like leather,
rather than the cheap plastic one he’d used for the Iron Rods strip
club audition. The phantom marks of rough edges cutting into his face
from the disguise still lingered on his cheeks and around his eyes
though he hadn’t worn the damned thing since yesterday’s
Garner sat back on his friend’s couch and traced the line of
abraded skin above his cheekbone. Although his flesh burned slightly
at his touch, his well-earned placement on the entertainment team for
Austin, Texas’ one and only strip club for women was worth the
sting and the roughened red marks on his face.
indeed. They certainly were.
if the appreciative looks or hoots of approval he’d received from
the crowd of women while unbuttoning his tuxedo shirt and revealing
his abs at the audition were accurate indicators, he’d have the
paying clientele on Iron Rods’ opening day eating from his
hands—not to mention stuffing money in his thong. Especially when
they saw his opening number. His dancing, the mask and the props
chosen specially for his act would slay the ladies. Simply slay them.
cold and wet made contact with the side of Mack’s neck, scattering
his thoughts of women and stripping.
Gordon rounded the couch and handed off a Shiner Bock. “Do I even
want to know what you were thinking?” he asked before pushing thick
glasses up his freckled nose. “The grin on your face made me want
to lock up my neighbors’ daughters.”
the Iron Rods audition,” Mack said in his lazy drawl. He raised the
beer in thanks, then drank. The cold brew flowed down his parched
throat and hit the spot below. A perfect drink to celebrate his new
summer job and relax his overtaxed muscles. After practicing his
strip routines for over a week, his arms and legs were sore. He’d
have to do a lot more stretching to avoid feeling as though someone
had beat him with a hammer while he worked in the club. Plus, a lot
less drinking if he wanted to look hot in his thong.
frowned at the brown bottle in his grip. Beer and sculpted biceps
didn’t mix. Not at all. With only a few months to earn cash as a
stripper, he’d have to work out even more and watch what he ate.
The kids were counting on him.
Mack took one last, long swig. He had to learn the choreography for
his team’s dance number in a few hours, anyway. Better to arrive
sober and ready than have the other guys strut circles around him.
Especially if Angel, the guest stripper from Miami, was there. For
some reason, the guy already had a major chip on his shoulder about
Mack. No need to give him any ammunition.
pushed aside several old newspapers and X-box wireless joysticks on
the coffee table with the back of his hand before reluctantly setting
down his drink.
drinking buddy. At least, until the end of August.
can’t believe you’re actually going to take off your clothes and
dance around with your butt cheeks hanging out for a bunch of strange
women.” Neal settled on a nearby chair and adjusted his perpetually
wrinkled button-down shirt over his belly. As usual, the many creases
made his khaki pants look as if he’d worn them five days in a row.
“I mean, gosh, that’s a lot of exposure. Even for you.”
for me?” Mack raised an eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to
friend shrugged, the curls of his shoulder-length red hair catching
in his unkempt beard. “You’ve always been rebellious. You know,
‘fuck authority’ and all that. But stripping in a club is…it’s
just insane is what it is. No. Strike that. You
are insane. Aren’t you afraid
you’ll lose your teaching job if someone finds out?”
Mack crossed a leg over his knee then casually stretched his arm
across the back edge of the sofa. “To begin with, no one will see
through my act. The guy on the stage is the masked man from Scotland
who doesn’t look a thing like me. I’m a man of the south. The
other guy is a Scot. Big difference.”
heard your Scottish accent, Mack. It’s horrible. The worst.”
it’s not. I sound just like Gerard Butler.”
shook his shaggy head. “Not even close.”
I do. And what does a techie like you know about Gerard Butler,
anyway? You spend all of your time on your computer watching YouTube
and Doctor Who
on Apple TV.”
the record,” Neal pointed his beer bottle in Mack’s direction,
number twelve happens to be Scottish.”
he speaks with a Scottish accent on the show?”
threw his hands in the air. “Whatever. I’ll have the ladies so
mesmerized by my six-pack and dance moves, they won’t even notice.”
what if someone does? What if someone recognizes you?”
is ninety miles from Austin. Plus, I’m putting temporary dye in my
hair and will be wearing brown contacts and a mask when I strip. My
costume is bulletproof. You worry too much.” Mack glanced at the
half-empty longneck on the cluttered coffee table. One more sip
wouldn’t hurt. Not if he worked out a few extra minutes in the
you’ll be running around naked to make money for your after-school
program? Your job, not to mention your dignity, is a lot to risk for
a handful of high school students.”
won’t be naked. I’ll be wearing a thong.”
rolled his eyes. “We’re talking about your teaching career here.
You’re thirty-five, not some immature kid. The job market is tight,
especially for professionals. I should know. I get calls from people
looking for work all the time.” The big guy leaned forward, holding
his bottle of beer between his knees. “Take a moment to reconsider
what you’re doing before it’s too late.”
had taken an entire day making up his mind to audition for one of the
twelve available slots on the Iron Rods stripper team, plus ten
minutes to find a mask at Lucy in Disguise costume shop on South
Congress Avenue. Way more time than he’d given any other career
decision, including his short stint as a movie stuntman. But even
that job, and the bones he’d broken because of it, hadn’t been a
mistake. The experience had simply helped him re-evaluate his
priority was now helping the kids at Santana High stay in school and
out of trouble. Since the new principal cut the funding for the
Thespian Club, not to mention the budget for next year’s theater
productions, Mack had to find money to keep the programs alive. If
that meant secretly dancing for women who might also want him to show
up at their motel rooms for a night of down-and-dirty sex, so be it.
No one could ever say he hadn’t given his all to help his students.
Then again, hopefully, no one would ever know what he’d done.
I’ll reconsider.” Mack slowly scratched his chin and made a show
of looking as though he was giving serious thought to the situation
before nodding. “Done. I’m still doing it.”
don’t know why I bother. There’s no sense talking to you.” Neal
raised his beer to his lips and gulped. After wiping his wet mouth
with his forearm, he added, “Why can’t your students sell
wrapping paper and cookie dough like everyone else? I get kids coming
to my door all the time selling fundraising stuff.”
live in Travis Heights. You can afford to buy that crap. Look at this
place.” Mack waved an open arm around Neal’s living room.
“Compared to the average home in Santana, this is a palace. A
filthy palace, but a palace nonetheless.” He picked up his beer.
The damn Shiner Bock was too good to let go warm and practically a
sin to leave unfinished. “Santana’s one of the poorest
communities in the state,” Mack added after a last pull of the
tasty brew. “Most of the students have one or both parents working
minimum-wage jobs. Those families can barely afford to put food on
the table. Buying stuff to raise funds for school activities is
beyond their reach.”
not your problem. You’re the drama teacher, not a social worker.”
Did that just come from your mouth?” Mack’s jaw clamped and he
sat up. “You, of all people, know what growing up in a poor family
is like. We both know neither of us would be where we are today had
it not been for Mr. Farley. He may have only been a math teacher, but
he kept our asses busy and out of jail.”
that might be true, Farley didn’t put his johnson in a banana
hammock and parade around a strip club in order to get us the help we
needed,” Neal countered. “Have you even considered how to get the
money you make from stripping into the school’s books? Do you think
you can just hand a bag of cash to your principal and say, ‘Here. I
want to donate this to pay for next year’s production of Wicked.
Don’t mind the damp bills. It’s only sweat from my balls.’?”
let the question marinate in his head. His friend had a point. One he
hadn’t considered. How would he get the money to the school to pay
for production royalties, script rentals, costumes, sets and
everything else that went into a high school play? Shuffling money
into the Thespian Club wouldn’t be a problem. It was only an
after-school club. He should be able to pretend the students had
earned it through some kind of fundraising event like washing cars.
Granted, the money he hoped to pump into the club would be
substantial, but he could remind everyone that Texas was a hot, dusty
state filled with dirty vehicles, and it had been one hell of a
hearing the stories you’ve told about your new boss, I just don’t
see how you will do it,” Neal added. “Didn’t she fire someone
because he hadn’t reported a second job after she instituted a new
job declaration policy? I’m telling you, buddy, you’re playing
with fire, and you will get burned.”
yes. Ms. Armstrong. His beautiful blonde principal with the long legs
and an equally long stick up her tight ass. No way he could forget
her. That particular woman had appeared in his wet dreams on more
than one occasion. Too bad she was colder than Siberia in the winter,
not to mention being his boss. Given the chance, he’d warm that ice
queen up from the inside out. In a way, he probably already was,
considering the aggravation he caused.
for tat, baby. You take away my program’s money, I’ll be the
biggest nightmare on your staff.
of all, I’m not one hundred percent sure why Mr. Bridges was let
go. Could have been because he was a fuck-up who happened to have a
second job that he hadn’t reported. I mean, come on. The man was
stoned more often than his students.” Mack uncrossed his legs. This
conversation was getting far too serious for his liking, making his
Southern drawl more pronounced, even to his own ears. “Second, I
don’t want to talk about this anymore. Aren’t you supposed to be
showing me what needs to be done around here while you’re working
I’m done. Just don’t expect me to cry you a river when Armstrong
cans you.” Neal pulled his considerable girth from the chair and
gestured to the kitchen. “Let’s start in there.”
a second, bro.” Mack picked up a Home Slice pizza box from a pile
sitting next to the sofa. Something shifted inside. Probably a piece
of fossilized pizza crust. “Please tell me you’ll have the house
cleaned before you leave. Since your divorce, you’ve really let
this place go to hell.”
look of sorrow filled his Neal’s eyes. His shoulders fell.
I’m a little lost without—” Neal paused a moment while his
chest expanded then contracted. “Without Jen. I’ll get someone in
here this week.”
to go, Mack, you thoughtless prick.
shouldn’t have mentioned Jennifer. Though the ink on the divorce
papers with Neal’s ex had been dry for a while now, he was clearly
still hurting on the inside. “No. I’m the one who’s sorry,
buddy. I didn’t mean to bring her up.” Mack dropped the box back
on the pile, self-disgust kicking him in the pants, as it should. His
friend was a sensitive soul who only wanted to please. Always had
been. Just like in high school, he would take care of Neal until the
big guy found his feet again.
“It’s okay. I’m good. One day at a time, right?” Neal didn’t
wait for a response before trudging off to the kitchen.
How would Neal survive living alone for two months in a foreign
country like Malaysia? The poor guy didn’t even know the language
and had no support system there. He would be a total fish out of
several minutes, they discussed the water main cut-off valves, keys,
security codes and trash service, and then stood on the patio and
looked to the backyard where live oak trees provided dappled shade.
Despite the natural canopy, the Texas heat and humidity brought sweat
to Mack’s brow. He took in his friend. Wet spots already formed
around the armpits and chest of his untucked Oxford shirt.
as well show you the shack. Knowing you, it’ll be the first place
you snoop through when I leave.” Neal nodded to the large shed
constructed of natural stone near the fence line.
not true. You’ve asked me not to go back there, so I won’t.”
come on. I’m not that bad.”
don’t take no
for an answer. You have zero respect for authority. And you don’t
follow rules.” Neal raised a pointed finger for each tick off his
list. “You’re like a kid in a grownup body sometimes. I know you
better than you know yourself, man. But,” he sighed and glanced at
the stonework structure, “you don’t know everything about me.”
comment caught Mack’s attention. “What? Like you’re a serial
killer? A closet hoarder? Will I find some woman chained to the wall
he’d only been kidding, Neal flinched.
exactly.” He took a step toward the tin-roofed building.
grabbed his shoulder. “You don’t have to do this. If it’s all
that bad, I don’t want to see it.”
on. I know your little masked secret. You may as well know mine.”
hairs on the back of Mack’s neck stood on end. His senses jumped to
high alert. Whatever Neal had in the shed, he was pretty sure he’d
be better off not having anything to do with it.
on, you big wuss.” Neal beckoned, waving his chubby hand. His
friend pulled a loaded keychain from his pocket. He took only a
second to find the one he wanted, a red novelty key covered with
yellow flames. After unlocking the deadbolt, he pushed open the door.
Neal inside, Mack slowly stepped into the dark space.
brushed his hand against a wall and clicked a switch, then everything
in the room came into dim view.
blinked once, shook his head, and then blinked again. His brain had
difficulty comprehending what he saw.
from the stone walls and brown cement floor, the room had metal
sconces with flame-like bulbs befitting a medieval castle. The
fixtures provided just enough light to keep the space from being
pitch black. In one corner of the shed, metal climber hooks dangled
from a large wood X attached to the wall. At the opposite corner sat
a tall padded bench. In the middle of the two, various-sized floggers
and paddles hung in four neat rows.
turned and noted an unremarkable set of black cabinets near the door.
“You want to fill me in on what I’m seeing here?”
Neal began as he walked to the bench, “is a private dungeon.”
The word dragged uneasily from his lips as he rubbed the small space
between his eyes, not sure he wanted the answers to the questions his
mind generated. Some things a man simply didn’t need to know about
another man and his sex life. But, the expectant look on Neal’s
face when he turned back suggested they’d have a discussion about
the shack whether Mack wanted one or not. “And you have a dungeon
Jennifer is a Domme,” Neal said simply.
Jennifer is a Domme,” Mack repeated, as though saying the words out
loud would make them easier to accept. It didn’t. Neal’s ex was a
successful psychiatrist and a Domme. The secrets in their marriage
were deeper than he could ever have dreamed.
wanted me to be her submissive.”
bobbed his head and did his best to school his features. He’d
already upset his best and oldest friend once today. He wouldn’t
let it happen again, regardless of how absolutely uncomfortable and
weird things got. And things felt particularly funky at the moment.
“I’m not sure where to go with this.”
hoisted himself onto the bench and sat.
stomach dropped. Apparently, their conversation would last longer
than he’d hoped.
of the main reasons Jennifer and I split was because she wanted me to
be a full-time submissive. I only wanted to be a sub in the bedroom.
I like being dominated sexually. It helps me not be awkward when it
comes to sex, plus it’s a turn on.”
let out a quiet moan as his stomach continued to fall. He cared for
Neal like a brother, but, Jesus, this was too much information.
“Well, I can see how that might be a problem,” he finally managed
also a sadist. She likes to inflict pain.” He pointed to the
floggers hanging from the rack and shrugged. “I’m not into pain,
at least, not a lot of pain. Mainly just domination.”
surprise there. Neal had always been a follower, not a leader. He’d
trailed behind Jennifer as though he were a lost puppy. But Mack
thought that had more to do with her being a strong, intelligent
woman than anything else.
be honest with you, buddy.” Mack ran his fingers through his hair.
“I’m sorry you and Jen couldn’t make things work in the ol’
dungeon, but I really don’t know much about this stuff.”
is one of the reasons we need to talk about it.”
“You completely lost me.”
you say that your stripper stage name is going to be The Dom?” Neal
arched an eyebrow.
It’s only a stage persona though. The manager of Iron Rods and the
woman designing the costumes concocted the idea. They said BDSM is
very hot right now. Loads of women are reading books about it. They
think having a ‘Dom’,” he curled his fingers into makeshift
quotation symbols, “will be huge and will draw in a lot of ladies.
Hell, even the crazy old coot who owns the club loved the idea.”
crazy old coot is Lyle Truitt, who happens to be one of the richest
men in Austin. And yes, BDSM is extremely popular.” Neal nodded.
“But also misunderstood. You’re dabbling in something you, and
most likely the people from Iron Rods, have no expertise in.”
snorted, blowing off Neal’s concern with a whisk of his hand. “Me
playing a Dom is only a stage thing. No one is taking this seriously,
especially not me.”
said you are giving away pink dog collars to the ladies who pay you
for a lap dance.”
round face turned solemn.
you have any idea what collaring someone in the BDSM world means?”
of, but stripping as The Dom is only a gimmick. You know, a way to
make more money. The collars have fake diamonds in them. They’re
pretty and fun. It’s no big deal.”
the BDSM community, being collared can mean being a submissive, a
slave or even married to a Dom. You’re playing the part of a Dom in
a strip club and put collars on a bunch of women you know nothing
about.” Neal cocked a bushy eyebrow. “You think that’s a good
whole stripping thing probably wasn’t a good idea, but the
opportunity to save his theater programs and keep the kids he’d
grown to care for out of trouble and in school was staring at him
like a gift horse. Pretending to be a Dom as his stage persona would
only help him make more money. If dealing with a woman or two who
took things a little too seriously was the price of meeting his
goals, he was more than willing to take his chances.
really do.” Mack patted Neal’s knee. “I think the collars are a
hell of an idea. Don’t worry about me, buddy. You just run along to
Malaysia and leave me your keys. I got this.”
shook his head and huffed a breath.
Armstrong exited the boy’s bathroom and shook her head, her nose
crinkling. Why were teenaged males so disgusting and destructive?
a few steps from the foul smells wafting from the lavatory, Hannah
opened the case of her iPad, retrieved the stylus and added another
two tasks to her to-do list. These particular to-dos fell under the
“janitorial” category as line items twenty-three and
twenty-four—remove the giant-sized spitballs from the ceiling and
unclog stalls four and five in the north-wing boy’s restroom.
only knew the number of young men it took to completely fill two
toilets with excrement and toilet paper. As to why the stunt had been
pulled, the answer most likely had something to do with the short
amount of time remaining in the school year. With just a few days
left, the juvenile pranks performed by the youth of Santana, Texas
would inevitably spike. She’d seen similar antics while teaching
English and literature in Houston. Now, as the principal of this
underachieving high school, she had to resolve the issue and take
steps to ensure this type of behavior didn’t happen again.
smiling, Hannah added another item to her growing checklist before
sending a text to her secretary asking her to arrange a meeting with
the head of hired security. Being in charge of nearly three hundred
students and staff felt nothing short of exhilarating.
was making progress as the new principal, too. That much was clear.
Hallways were empty and quiet between classes, scuff marks and
graffiti no longer marred the gray cinderblock walls, and no trash
littered the gleaming linoleum floors. Just standing there and taking
in the remarkable scene filled her with pride. Although the changes
she made and would be making might not be popular with some, the
results spoke for themselves. Aside the physical alternations,
attendance at the school stood higher than it had in years and the
drop-out rate was coming down. The scores from the STAAR tests, the
State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams, wouldn’t be
available for a while, but they should also show improvement. As long
as she continued to put the school’s focus and money toward the
core, basic subject areas of reading, math, writing, science and
social studies, Santana High would crawl out from the “Improvement
Required” status it currently held.
opened her “staff” to-do list, and then checked her watch. In
just a few minutes, the end of fifth period bells would ring. She
needed to be at the Theater Arts room to corner Mack Garner before
his teacher preparation period began. Though having to chase down the
intolerable teacher made her teeth grind, getting him to come to the
office for a brief conference had proved too much of a challenge. If
she didn’t need him so badly, she would have written him up for
insubordination days ago. Why the school staff and students thought
so highly of Garner, she hadn’t a clue. Yes, he might be
attractive, charming and genuinely cared about the students, but he
was nothing less than a royal pain in her ass. Luckily for them both,
he also possessed a teaching certificate she valued at the moment.
quickly scrolled through other items on her list and grimly noted the
task of going to the bank and picking up cash for her sister
Rebecca’s bachelorette party. As distasteful as going to a strip
club in Austin might be, if she didn’t attend the party, her
younger sister would never forgive her. She might be forgotten in the
gaggle of women making up Rebecca’s pre-marital entourage, but as
the Maid-of-Honor responsible for organizing the event, Hannah had to
none of the ladies in the bachelorette party had relatives living in
Santana. Although she might fulfill her sisterly obligation by
attending the festivities, that didn’t mean the town residents
would approve of their high school principal being inside a club
where men stripped down to next to nothing. She would go for an hour,
see that everything was set for her sister and her friends to have a
good time, and then leave. No harm. No foul. No stain to her
a final smart tap of her stylus, she closed the pad and proceeded
down the hallway where her high heels produced a satisfying
on the tile floor. She smoothed down the hairs of her tight chignon
before opening the door to the theater room.
and his students immediately stopped speaking. They turned from their
activity onstage to watch her walk down the aisle.
and indignation stiffened her spine. Once again, the drama teacher
wore his ball cap, and his shirttails had not been tucked into his
trousers. How could such a poor role model be so beloved?
afternoon, students,” Hannah addressed the assembly before
unfolding one of the red velvet theater seats and depositing her
iPad. “Please, don’t mind me. I’m here to speak with Mr. Garner
after the bell rings.”
students, who hadn’t moved since her arrival, looked to their
smacked his lips before slowly lifting his booted foot from its perch
on a metal chair and coming to a stand. “Y’all go on and collect
your bags. Class is dismissed.”
needing to be told twice, the group grabbed their things and exited
the theater without a backward glance.
Garner,” Hannah said, tugging on the hem of her suit jacket. “I’d
like to have you accompany me to my office.”
could have sent a student aid to come and get me,” he drawled in
his slow Southern accent while crossing his arms. “No need to have
you come all the way across the building yourself.”
I think you and I both know that wouldn’t work.”
hint of a smile pulled on his lips. “I suppose you might be right.”
He sauntered across the stage and stepped down the small flight of
stairs to the seating area.
he made his way to her side, she found herself marveling at the deep
blue of his eyes. Dark and cool, they were reminiscent of the water
near Cozumel. His mouth a ripe peach waiting to be bitten and tasted.
end of period bells rang.
did the warning bells in her head. Why did the cocky drama teacher
always have this effect on her? He couldn’t be any further from the
type of man she wanted. The kind of man she craved.
sure this can’t wait until after school?” he asked, coming
closer. “I have some things I need to take care of. This is
my prep time.”
urge to step back and create more space between them taunted, but she
held her ground. Many men had tried to intimidate her by their size
and strength. Garner would not succeed with his good looks and
enticing cologne. Or did the alluring smell of evergreen come from
his body wash? All those fragrant little bubbles sliding over his wet
assure you,” Hannah lifted her chin in defiance of her willful
hormones and overactive imagination, “I’ll make our meeting as
short as humanly possible.”
brushed past so close she felt the heat radiating from his muscular
body. She bit her lip to keep from nipping his.
get this done.”
Garner.” Hannah leveled her voice to avoid sounding piqued. “Your
counted to three before speaking. He was doing his best to be sexy
and irritating and was succeeding at both. Squaring her shoulders,
she reinforced her resolve. Garner would not get the best of her, no
matter how hard he tried.
remove it. The staff dress code prohibits the wearing of a cap during
school hours, except for gym teachers. I believe we’ve discussed
chest tightened. She could sense her blood pressure rising and her
cheeks growing warm. The feelings of irritation and ardor that had
battled since first meeting Garner at the beginning of the school
year still raged.
internal reactions, she reminded herself. Her body language had to
stay neutral. Any effects he had on her simply could not be
displayed. The tall Texan with the overly-inflated ego did not need
encouragement. “Yes. We have.” Hannah picked up her iPad, flipped
open the cover, and then found her notes. “According to my
calendar,” she paused to search the information on the screen, “we
spoke about this subject two weeks ago.”
me look at that thing.” He came from behind and angled himself to
stare over her shoulder. Pressing his broad chest against her back,
Garner molded his body to hers then reached around her waist to grab
hold of the pad. “Well, son of a gun,” he crooned into her ear.
“You might be right.”
shiver rippled up her arms and down her chest, converging at her
breasts. Her nipples contracted, creating an ache so acute, she
nearly moaned. She forced herself to swallow, relieving her throat
which had suddenly gone dry. How could a respectable woman like
herself fall for such cheap, degrading tactics to weaken her
defenses? When she returned home, she would erase all the books
recommended by her friend from her Kindle. Reading and rereading
those novels, those erotic romances with their lust-filled acts, only
wet her secret desires. And those dark desires could only lead to
danger, both personally and professionally.
almost always right, Mr. Garner.” Stepping away, Hannah filled her
lungs to calm her aroused nerves before snapping closed her case.
all right?” He offered a lopsided smile. “You seem to be having a
hard time breathing.”
corner of her eye twitched.
clenched her fists, fighting the irksome twinge and her desire to let
out a cathartic scream.
remove your hat before we walk among the students. They need to see
that everyone at this school, including the staff, follows the
don’t understand what the big deal is, but if you prefer my head
bare, I’ll follow along.” Tipping the hat forward from the rim,
Garner slipped off the offending item before tossing the cap onto one
of the folded theater seats.
the shade of his well-trimmed blond hair wasn’t as light as hers,
his fair mane definitely brought out the azure in his eyes. Those
damn bedroom eyes.
turned her attention lower. “Would you mind tucking in your shirt?”
bent his head. “I don’t recall policy about having my shirt in my
Shirt. Bare. Did all the words Mack Garner spoke have to tempt her
into thinking of the man naked?
drew in another chest full of air. “No. However, doing so makes you
look more professional. School staff should provide an example to the
students. Show them how one looks when dressed properly. Modeling
appropriate attire for them to use as a guide after they graduate and
enter the job market is our responsibility.”
saying I’m not dressed properly?” He tugged at the first button
of his shirt.
The fabric pulled from his chest, revealing
smooth, sculpted terrain.
headache hinted on the right side of her skull near her temple. Why
was standing near him, let alone getting him out of the theater, so
she needed was to have him go to her office for what would,
hopefully, be a short conversation and then have him sign some
papers. Dealing with the local rival gangs proved much less
troublesome or hazardous.
to acknowledge his question, she skirted past him and made her way to
the theater entrance. She opened the door. “After you, Mr. Garner.”
his mind-numbingly slow manner, he moseyed up the aisle. But, instead
of walking out, he reached a hand above her head and held the door.
whiff of evergreen enticed her senses.
you, Ms. Armstrong.”
doubt she would need to see her dentist and a gynecologist after
their meeting. Her teeth were grinding down to the roots, and the way
her panties were becoming drenched when he stood so close simply
couldn’t be normal.
walked through the crowded school hallways, Garner always several
steps behind. The trip to her office that should have taken less than
five minutes ended up taking three times longer as student after
student stopped the popular teacher to say hello.
impatiently tapped the tip of her pointed shoe when a group of young
ladies, books clutched tightly to their breasts, surrounded Garner
and asked him the names of next year’s theater productions.
Considering the tight budget she placed the drama program under, most
likely only be one play would be performed the next school year. Like
the other arts and foreign language programs, the drama department
fell outside the core curriculum. There simply wasn’t enough money
to fully fund any class that didn’t help the school come out from
under its “Improvement Required” status.
finally arrived at the front office, and her secretary grabbed the
sides of her desk and stood. At almost seventy years old and thin as
a number two pencil, Gertrude Swaters might have difficulty standing,
but her mind couldn’t be sharper.
fussed at the tight white curls on her head with an age-spotted hand.
to the help of what had to be half a can of hair spray, not a single
looky what the cat dragged in,” the amiable secretary said.
turned to see Garner produce a dazzling smile before offering up a
wink at Gertrude.
my favorite girl?”
you came by more often, you’d know.” Gertrude, her pale skin now
stained a light pink, gestured to a gray metal filing cabinet. “I’ve
had some treats hidden for several days.”
homemade pecan turtles?”
old woman swatted away the question. “Like you need to ask.”
you sweet thing, you’re the best.” Garner leaned across the desk,
placed both hands on Gertrude’s cheeks and kissed her wrinkled
forehead. “I’m still looking for a date to the graduation
ceremonies. You want to go with the school’s most eligible
that invite include dinner?”
if we don’t have to eat before five.”
scrunched her face, and then nodded. “Deal. But I need to be home
before Dancing with the Stars comes on. The season finale is coming
loudly cleared her throat. Just how many delays must she endure
before finally getting Garner into her office for a brief meeting?
“Ms. Swaters, are the files I asked for and the papers I had you
draw up on my desk?”
that before I got your text about setting up your meeting with the
head of security. He’ll be here first thing in the morning.”
Gertrude plopped back into her chair.
such a frail-looking woman, the old gal had amazing agility.
the way,” her secretary continued, “He wanted me to let you know
the two of you will need to discuss the recent rise in gang activity
around town. He’s concerned it will eventually hit the school.”
shoulders tightened. “This sounds quite serious.”
shrugged. “We live in Santana and gangs are everywhere. What can
have to see, won’t we?” Hannah walked into her office. Bright,
neat and organized, the spacious room offered a place of power, as
well as a welcome respite. Here she conducted business, and did so
well. “Please close the door behind you, Mr. Garner. This should
only take a few minutes.” When she heard nothing but silence, she
turned to find the aggravating drama teacher had not followed her
right eye involuntarily squinted as the slight tapping at her temple
burst into a round of head-splitting pounds. Maybe she had pulled her
hair back too tightly today. “Mr. Garner. If you don’t mind,”
she ground out through clenched teeth, taking her seat. Pulling out
the top side drawer of her desk, she thanked herself for being
orderly. Just behind a box of paperclips and a tidy stack of Post-it
Notes, a bottle of aspirin lay on its side. She plucked up the
bottle, dispensed two small tablets and swallowed them dry as Garner
rounded the doorframe.
hurt?” he asked, his mouth full. In his hand, he held several
chocolate-covered pecan caramels. Without waiting for an answer, he
bumped the door with his hip, and then pushed it shut with his butt.
“Okay. You got me here. How much more money are y’all taking away
from my program now? Can I at least have enough to buy scripts?”