My son is my life. Nothing on earth matters but him.
Soon, I’ll have to send him out into society. The cruel machine that gnashes innocence and spits out the hollowed remains of a child’s imagination. It’s a place I know all too well, considering my past. I’ve worked hard to separate myself from it, but it looms in the back of my mind—waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
My son, Logan, wants to have birthday parties, make friends, play at the park—all the normal things that seven-year olds want to do. All the things I want to do with him.
I’ve put up walls around our life to shield us from danger. Giant barriers to ward off possible threats.
Cora Chapman crashes through them like a wrecking ball. She’s intelligent and hilarious with soft curves and a spark that ignites a flame deep inside of me.
There’s only one problem—she’s Logan’s teacher.
When my past wraps its tentacles around my throat and threatens to strangle the breath from my lungs, I’m given an option—fight for my family’s freedom, or die as they’re stripped away from me.
I can’t lose. I won’t lose.
My name is Landon Lane and I am a warrior.
The door at the entrance to the school, down at the end of the hallway, slammed shut like a shotgun had fired. I jolted and tried to catch my breath. Logan grinned a little wider, which still wasn’t much.
“This place is so loud.” I inhaled a deep breath and brushed off my own embarrassment. Anything was worth it to set him at ease a little.
Footsteps pounded in my ears as whoever came through the door approached in a hurry.
Logan’s head tilted up and he leaped from his seat. I barely leaned out of his way in time. He took off in a dead sprint. My head craned around to the man’s shoes first—ordinary Nike cross trainers. Nothing special.
But the way they traversed the ground—Montague soles pounded the Capulet tiles.
My gaze roamed to the jeans—Levi’s, boot-cut, regular denim, frayed at the seams—worked in and worn.
My stare tilted up and drank the scenery. A charcoal-gray hood dipped down and cast a shadow over his eyes.
A breath cut too short and some sound I’d never made in my life escaped my lungs and dissolved into the tension saturating the room.
Logan’s father (I assumed) dropped to a knee, and Logan sprinted straight into his massive arms. His hoodie remained pulled up over his head. It’d probably been to shield him from the rain outside. I’d never seen Logan move so fast. He disappeared into the giant thunderhead biceps that engulfed him in a hug.
“I didn’t do anything wrong.” Logan sobbed into the man’s shoulder.
A giant hand wrapped around the back of his head and pulled him in tight. The hood dipped down and nuzzled up next to his cheek then turned and whispered in his ear.
I stood up about twenty feet away and noticed myself leaning toward them, trying to get a better view or hear what was said. I’d only met an older woman named Janet who usually brought Logan to and from school. She rarely spoke to anyone, but she was always polite.
“How long are they going to make us wait in here? Jesus Christ!” Charles Hastings’ voice roared once again from the office. Principal Williams was still nowhere to be found.
The hood-covered head popped up and turned in the direction of the words, but I still couldn’t make out his eyes.
God, what I would have given for a peek at his face.
The dark shadow under the hood turned to me. My heart threatened to explode out of my chest and my lungs stopped functioning. I still couldn’t see his eyes, couldn’t see his stare. Somehow, he managed to make my palms sweat. My palms never sweat.
Why’s he staring at me?
My head whipped to the door.
I inhaled a deep breath and stomped toward the office. I’d learned long ago that if I didn’t set a certain tone with unruly parents they’d walk all over me.
Throwing the door open, I glared at the short balding man of maybe fifty. “It will be a few more minutes. Watch your language, please. This is a school. Not your living room.”
I slammed the door shut before he could get out another word.
Where the hell is Principal Williams?
I wasn’t one to shirk duties or get out of responsibility, but I really could use some back up. Parents had fought over pettier things than the words Hastings was slinging left and right, in front of his son no less. Maybe if I’d been at this school longer I’d have a better idea of how they handled these situations.
I froze in front of the door for a quick second and schooled my features. Could I go back out and face the enigma comforting his son in the hall? I had to. It was my job.
I walked back out to make sure Logan was okay, each step with a pair of concrete bricks attached to my feet.
“My son didn’t hit that little shit out there! We shouldn’t even be here!”
I paused and gritted my teeth. The moment now took a firm seat at the top of the podium as the number one awkward situation of my career, and I’d taught at a low-income New York City elementary school.
Other teachers had warned me about Hastings. The general consensus was that the guy was a raging jerk with little-man syndrome. I had no choice but to concur.
The man in the hood squeezed Logan once more into a bear hug, seemed to whisper something else, and then released him.
Hastings railed off even more expletives and threats from the office.
Logan’s father didn’t take off his hood, just advanced straight toward me. Logan stood in the hallway behind him.
He was not a small man by any means. The closer he came, the tighter my stomach twisted into a knot. The walls closed in on me and the thunder seemed to rumble with each of his footsteps. I gulped when he was about five feet away.
His shoes squeaked against the tile when he stopped and crossed his arms over his chest. It stretched the fabric across his shoulders and I realized just how large he was. It was one hundred percent muscle. I tried to keep my thighs from squeezing together and nearly failed.
My father named me Courage—even though I went by Cora—when I was born, but I was not living up to it at that moment.
I stretched out a hand toward him. “Hi, I’m sorry we’re meeting under these circumstances. I’m Cora—”
I barely made out two eyes in the shadow of his hood. He sized me up and down, and gestured like he might actually reach out for my hand. Hastings belted out more empty threats from inside the office. The hood turned in that direction and left my hand abandoned mid-air.
I’d never had trouble speaking in front of a parent before, but something about Logan’s dad was just—I didn’t know what it was, to be honest—scary, exciting, mysterious.
I lowered my hand to my side. My mouth was drier than the Sahara. “I, umm, there was an incident, on the playground.”
I tried to keep my voice down. If Hastings knew Logan’s father had shown up there was no telling what might happen. Looking at the man in front of me, it wouldn’t be much of a fight, and I was definitely in no position to stop him if things escalated beyond a discussion.
My eyes strayed to the Levi’s again for a split-second before I caught myself. I had certainly missed Montana men and their jeans. Some might’ve called it a weakness of mine.
He turned back to me, slowly. I watched every move. He took in every piece of information the scene had to offer and actually listened before speaking. People didn’t do that anymore, and I silently appreciated it.
“What happened?” His baritone voice vibrated through me like the encroaching thunder outside.
I stood there, blood pounding through my veins, heart racing down a quarter mile track with no parachute or brakes. His voice demanded an answer, but it didn’t seem coercive. There was a hint of concern laced in it.
“Logan didn’t do anything wrong. Like I said before, there was an incident. We just called both—”
The sound of a chair shuffling and footsteps from the office cut me off. I froze. Hastings must’ve heard me talking.
A tingling sensation radiated through my limbs and goosebumps pebbled down my arms. I had to force a slight smile from my face and mashed my lips into a thin line.
Logan’s father took a few commanding steps toward the door and made sure he’d be the first thing Hastings would see. He put himself right between us and his shoulders were so broad I couldn’t see around him. My thighs tried to squeeze together again. I cursed them silently and stepped out to the side so I could at least see Hastings’ face.
“I’m not waiting for this bullshit any—” The door to Williams’ office burst open. Hastings froze right along with his sentence when he saw Logan’s dad.
His voice went down an octave, barely noticeable. His chest deflated a little too and he tried to recover. “You the dad of the little shit making up stories about my kid?” His words were shaky, and he nodded up the hall toward Logan.
The hood turned to Logan and looked right through me. “Wait in the car.”
I glanced back. Logan didn’t dare question him. Hell, I don’t think anyone would’ve. I nearly took a step toward the parking lot and caught myself. Logan turned on a dime and took off.
I wasn’t about to stand by and let a dick measuring contest happen on my watch. Both of my hands found my hips and I side-stepped farther so that Hastings could see more than just my face. “Mr. Hastings, get back in the office. Now!”
He ignored me, as expected. I wasn’t a threat to him. The ballsy bastard took a couple of steps toward Logan’s dad until he was a few feet away from him.
Where is Williams? Probably peeking around a corner somewhere, watching.
“Mister Hastings, that is enough.” I started toward him.
Hastings sneered at Logan as he walked toward the door, then he turned to me and his chest puffed out a little more. “You fucking people have—”
Where the hell are you, Williams? Help!
A single finger.
I stopped in my tracks.
He held it up. The man in the hood.
One powerful index finger in the air.
It was just a finger.
That index finger stole the words from Hastings’ mouth and the breath from my lungs.
One gorgeous, forceful finger commanded everything in the room and even the storm outside seemed to shut the hell up.
His left hand balled into a fist at his side.
And we’ve now reached the ‘Oh shit’ portion of the night’s show.
Complete silence fell on the school.
I swear I couldn’t have made it up if I tried. The door closed behind Logan and he walked to the car. Lightning cracked overhead, and the immediate thunder seemed to pick up the building and shake it at the same time the man in the hood dropped his finger.
I shuddered. Freaking thunderstorms.
Logan’s father closed the small gap between him and Hastings. Hastings’ eyes widened like saucers, then his brows narrowed into a V.
Then he did possibly the dumbest thing I’d ever seen a man do. He poked Goliath in the chest. “Listen here—”
The hood tilted down to the finger, and then back up to Hastings’ face. Hastings tried to look tough, but his face was pale as a ghost, and sweat beads formed along his hairline.
The hood glared lasers at Hastings. “Don’t touch me.”
Hastings’ hand dropped like it might fall through the floor.
“D-dad?” Cory Hastings eased open the office door.
The hood shot to Cory for a quick second. He glanced at Hastings and then back to me and then back to Cory. His voice softened a hint while he looked at the boy. “Sorry.”
He turned and headed toward the exit, but stopped at my side. He looked straight ahead. Straight where his son sat in the car, waiting. “Logan won’t be back.” He paced down the hallway.
I turned and watched him leave. I stood there, mouth wide open, catatonic, brain short circuiting all over the place. Logan’s father disappeared through the double doors, and I blew out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding.
Oh my God.
Maybe Desire, Montana wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“Okay, we ready?” Principal Williams strolled up from the other end of the hallway.
You’ve got to be shitting me.
Sloane Howell lives in the Midwest United States and writes dirty stories. When not reading or writing he enjoys hanging out with his family, watching sports, playing with the dogs, traveling, and engaging his readers on social media. You can almost always catch him on Twitter posting something goofy.
Visit his web page www.sloanehowell.com
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