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Bastion watched—and grinned—as Piper headed up the outside stairs on the side of the detached garage. The backs of her knees flashed from the short slit in her navy blue skirt. A stripe of red on the back of her heels matched the narrow strip of red that belted her white shirt. She was definitely working the hot teacher angle.
It was definitely working on him.
Even if she looked a shade too young for him. Not young, actually. If she was teaching she had to be mid-twenties. No, she seemed innocent. Inexperienced. Her reaction had been something like when his niece’s girlfriends met him and fell into an instant crush. They tended to giggle and blush—which had been an exciting reaction when he’d been a teenager himself, but these days just made him shake his head at having ever been so young.
Not that Piper had acted quite that immature, but she definitely didn’t have a handle on her reaction. Women her age, with a track record and an interest, usually looked at him with invitation. That, he liked.
If she’d waved him in with something like that, he would be upstairs with her right now. She was cute. Her blond hair looked glossy and soft, her brown eyes warm and confident despite the air of jittery shyness she projected. The way she’d angled her face told him she was self-conscious about the birthmark on her cheek, which maybe accounted for some of her wariness. He wanted to say, Forget about it. I already have.
He wondered how she’d react if he told her he was feeling all the same sparks and runs of heat, just hiding it better.
He hadn’t expected that. He’d seen the twinkle of a set up in Piper’s mother’s eye as she’d offered their house, mentioning that Piper could use the help with the dog since she was so busy. There’d been a note of caution—protectiveness maybe—in Henry’s tone as he’d agreed that of course Bastian could use their house.
Bastian had read the undercurrents and figured he’d be facing a woman of marriageable age, but Piper was no desperate spinster who needed her mother to find her a husband. That was serious temptation living a short fumble in the dark away. Good thing he knew how to keep a lid on his libido, because he was really tempted.
But he wasn’t about to repay his hosts’ kindness by banging their daughter. The Tierneys were obviously solid folk and Piper struck him as equally conservative. Best to keep her on the no fly list. He was only here a few weeks then heading home to California anyway. An affair would be awesome, amazing, a huge relief, really. But wasn’t going to happen. Not here. Not with Piper.
Stepping into the house, he glanced around the laundry room, then walked through to the living area. It was a standard American bungalow, very middle-class and modest, like its owners. At the same time, it was luxury compared to some of the places he’d been staying. In those one-room shacks, the kitchen had usually been a single hotplate burner, the pantry a box about the size of a milk crate. If it had a tap, the water was cold. Refrigeration had been non-existent.
Scratching the prickling stubble on his jaw, he decided it was probably a good thing he’d come here instead of going straight back to L.A. The electricity and television were going to be culture shock enough, he thought wryly.
The old-fashioned landline and phone book were quaintly familiar, though. He used them to let Liz know he was in town and made plans to drive out and see her tomorrow. He was beat from over thirty hours of non-stop travel and tempted to fall on his face, but he would power through to the end of the day and hope to adjust his body clock quickly.
Besides, he wanted to talk more with Piper. He wasn’t going to make any moves, but flirting was harmless.
He watched her through the window over the sink, as she descended the stairs and he drank a glass of water. She’d changed into a pair of blue shorts and a white and blue striped T-shirt, losing the heels for a pair of open-toed flat sandals. Her legs were really nice. Long and slender with enough muscle and curve to make them very appealing. She’d tidied her ponytail, but otherwise didn’t look like she’d dressed to impress.
Maybe she isn’t interested, Bloom. Maybe you’re seeing something that’s not there.
He wasn’t at his best that was for sure. But even scruffy and decidedly white in a Latino and indigenous landscape, he’d garnered more than his share of female attention. Girls liked him. They always had.
“Are you going to behave yourself?” he heard Piper ask.
She was talking to Charlie, but he mentally answered with a beleaguered, I’ll try.
Charlie was acting like he hadn’t seen her in days. She bent to pet him and her shorts snugged her backside, making Bastian itch to take his time fondling and getting to know those bare thighs and plump cheeks.
He swallowed another gulp of cold water.
“If you bark, Mrs. Clements will tell me. Don’t think I won’t find out. Hear me? Ready?” she asked Bastian as she straightened, cheeks flushed, gaze skittering away from his.
She might not be interested, but she was definitely feeling the chemistry.
He patted for his wallet and nodded, silently letting out a slow breath as he took in the way her shirt hugged her breasts. Not heavy, but very nice.
He came to the door, but she didn’t move.
“I’ll just, um,” she edged around him in the small laundry room, taking a key off the hook behind his shoulder, giving him a whiff of girly smells and toothpaste. “Wait a sec before you lock it.” She grabbed a handful of kibble and stepped outside to throw it into the lawn. One foot came up and so did her shorts as she leaned over the rail, exposing even more of the backs of her thighs.
Dear God. Was she trying to kill him?
“That’ll keep him busy until we get back and I can run him.” She brushed past him again and rinsed her hands in the laundry sink, then motioned for him to lock up while she dried her hands on the seat of her shorts.
He had to consciously drag his eyes off her legs as she got behind the wheel of the car.
“I was thinking, you probably do know NancyLynn Pruitt,” she chattered as she backed out. “She’s Nancy Parsons, the goody-goody from that show—”
“The actress?” He brought his eyes up from where her breasts were straining against the fabric of her shirt. “Yeah, I know who you’re talking about. She was on that high school soap opera—That’s it,” he said, remembering the name of the show as she said it. “I didn’t watch it, but my sisters loved it. She’s here in Marietta? Why?”
“She grew up here. She’s getting married to Jared Lovell.” She paused at a stop sign and gave him a What do you think of that? brow-lift. “I’m meeting her to talk about the music for the wedding.”
Love ’em and Leave ’em Lovell was getting married? Bastian couldn’t help snorting with prediction of disaster.
Piper flung him another glance, this one amused, before turning left at the next light. “Celebrity marriages, right? Lots of people are taking that attitude, but I hope it works out for her. I, um, kind of know her.”
She spoke with the cautious excitement of someone who had never been around celebrities and didn’t know how many of them turned out to be assholes.
“She was older than me, but she came to our house for singing lessons when she was in the beauty pageant. Mom gave them to her for free, ’cause she couldn’t afford them.” Her tone changed to admiration. “She was so determined to find a ticket out of town. She deserves a happily ever after. She sure doesn’t get any on Sultry Suburbs.”
“Another soap opera of some kind?” he guessed, angling slightly so he could see her better. He ought to be getting his bearings, but the town was small and Piper was infinitely more interesting.
“You haven’t seen it?” The car was a standard and she shifted with confidence, legs moving easily to clutch and accelerate. Her hair ruffled in the light breeze coming in through the open windows. It was probably the sexiest thing he’d ever seen.
“I’ve been in South America,” he reminded absently. Her skin looked incredibly smooth, if still winter pale, but that creamy color was riveting. He wanted to touch it.
“You’ve been watching telenovelas then,” she teased.
“Right,” he agreed dryly. He was a little more concerned with genuine human drama, but didn’t have time to say so. She slowed and nosed into an open space alongside the curb, then pointed across the street.
“You want the western shop. Sometimes the boutique up the block has a few pieces of men’s wear, but this is your best bet unless you want to try the thrift store.”
“Jeans and a few shirts is all I’m after,” he said, then frowned as she climbed from her side of the car. “You’re coming in? I thought you had somewhere to go.”
She gave him a look of amused tolerance over the roof of the car. “I’m meeting Nancy at the bridal shop around the corner.” Moving to rest a leather portfolio on the hood, she walked her fingertips through the colored tabs, double-checking the contents.
He leaned his forearm above the windshield, enjoying the way she pursed her lips into a pout of deliberation. He’d bet she alphabetized the hell out of seating plans.
Her head came up as if she suddenly realized he hadn’t moved. “Problem?”
“Just wondering how any of those freshly wired teenaged boys learn anything over at Marietta High. Must be tough to concentrate.”
“What do you mean—” she started to say, then her eyes widened with surprise before doubt flickered. She lowered her lashes, shy and disconcerted. Her brow crinkled and her mouth firmed.
With her cheekbones flaring like brake lights, she said “Grocery store is that way. I’ll be half an hour. Meet you there.”
He touched the tip of his tongue to his bottom lip, realizing she was more unsure of herself than he’d realized. He almost felt like he should apologize for letting her know he was attracted, but he wasn’t sorry. She was so damned cute.
“What if I’m late?” he said instead, flirting openly.
“Then you’ll have to walk.” She pulled out her sternest schoolmistress tone and clipped the strap closed on her portfolio.
Oh, punish me, teach. Please.
Her gaze came up for his response, but he only offered his most appreciative smile, making zero effort to show he liked that tartness under the sweet.
A flash of vulnerability went through her expression and she dropped her gaze, then pivoted to skip onto the sidewalk and start down the block.
“Hey,” he called.
“Yes?” She spun back, definitely testy.
Must be the heat.
“Be careful,” he warned. “Hollywood thinks the universe revolves around them. Don’t let anyone push you around.”
“I work with teenaged boys all day,” she scoffed, brows lifting in a way that lumped him in with them. “They think the same thing. I never let them get away with it.”
Cute and tough. Absolutely perfect.
He watched her walk away, so enamored with her legs it was bordering on lechery. The next few weeks were going to be hard. Really, really hard.
He was going to be really, really hard.
End of Excerpt