FROM CHAPTER 5
“I’m so into him,” Nora whispered into the phone.
“Why are you whispering?” Darby tapped her pencil on the desk.
Nora explained she had to make all of her calls on what the other teachers called Signal Hill—the one high spot on campus that got cell service. “I didn’t wake you again, did I?”
Darby glanced at the clock. It was after midnight. She should be asleep, but instead she was knee-deep into her work. “No, I’m just finishing up some files.”
“You need some balance.”
Darby rolled her eyes, even though no one was around to see. “Did you seriously call me to deliver a lecture?”
“No, I called to talk about Cole.” Nora paused. “Oh geez, even his name sends shivers down my back.”
“Does he know how you feel?” Darby saved her files and shut down her computer, plunging the room into darkness. She’d started working in the daylight, but now without the computer’s glare, only the moon and stars shining through the window provided light. It took a moment for Darby’s eyes to adjust to the gloom and her mind to transition from her work to her friend.
“Are you crazy?” Nora squeaked. “No one can know…it’s so twisted.”
“He’s not your brother,” Darby insisted. She switched the phone to speaker so she could slip out of her clothes.
“If he’s my brother, then Irena isn’t my mom…and that’s heartbreaking.”
“Heartbreaking? Really?” Darby pressed as she stepped into her favorite pajamas.
“And this horrible thing happened with Chad, the P.E. teacher?”
Darby didn’t respond for a moment.
“Darby? Are you still there?”
“I’m here, and what happened to Chad,” Darby said, hating how strained her voice sounded.
“Okay, well, I went to his office to borrow some clothes to wear to play in the teachers versus students’ soccer game tomorrow and Cole walked in on me while I was changing.”
“You know, school issue P.E. uniforms.”
Relief whistled through Darby. “And that was horrible because he saw your panties?” Darby fought back laughter and collapsed onto her bed.
“He probably thinks there’s something going on between me and Chad!” Nora forgot to whisper.
“But there’s not, right?” Darby fluffed up her pillow.
“Of course, there’s not!”
“And there’s nothing going on between you and Cole either, right?”
“But I want there to be…even though I don’t.”
“You need to find out if Irena is actually your birth mom.”
“I know. You are so right. I’m thinking about hiring a private investigator.”
“Or you could just talk to your dad. That would be a lot less expensive.” Darby paused as memories of Nora in their high school P.E. class made her smile. Back then, Nora had seemed like she was made of long wiggly strings of spaghetti. Her parents hadn’t encouraged her in sports, or anything, really, and therefore, Nora had about as much coordination as a baby giraffe. “Do you even know how to play soccer?”
“I’ve spent the last few hours reading the rules and watching soccer games online.” Nora provided a typical Nora-response. “I’ll be okay if I can stay in the back corner. I think that’s called the left back person.”
Darby laughed and pointed her toes at the distant wall, wishing she had someone to play soccer with. When was the last time she’d played anything? It had to be before she’d started studying for the CPA exam. “Yep. You’ll be great. But I gotta warn you, I don’t think a students’ versus teachers’ game is going to be textbook.” She wanted to see this game. She also wanted an excuse to see Chad. “Is Cole playing?”
“I think so. Maybe we could trip over each other, you know--collide or something.” Nora sighed. “Forget I said that. What am I thinking? I’m out of control. I’m so out of my league! I always had Blake! I never had another boyfriend…and as far as I know, neither did he.”
“But now he does.” Darby’s thoughts wandered to Teddy, Blake’s new boyfriend. Darby had known and been friends with Blake even longer than she’d known Nora. The three of them had been inseparable in middle school and high school. Unlike most teen couples, Nora and Blake didn’t mind being a threesome and they’d never been into PDA. Mr. Klint, their high school sociology teacher, had a theory about public displays of affection. “When a guy kisses a girl in public, it’s exactly like a dog peeing on a plant to mark his territory,” he’d said. It became a joke the three of them shared. If they spotted any couples making out, Blake would heckle them and say, “Hey, get a toilet!” But looking back, maybe Blake’s lack of sexual interest should have been a red flag. Neither she nor Nora had ever suspected Blake’s homosexuality, and that hurt. Darby often wondered how she could have been friends with someone for so long without knowing what they were thinking or going through. She knew her mixed feelings were nothing compared to Nora’s. And Blake’s, because he’d not only fooled them, for a long time he’d probably also tried to fool himself.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” Darby said. “Why don’t I come up and pretend to have a fling with Chad?”
“What? You would do that?”
“Sure, it’ll be fun. And it will prove to Cole that you aren’t into Chad.”
“Do you want to do that?”
“Absolutely. Chad’s gorgeous.”
“But what’s he going to think?”
“I think he’ll be okay with it. Remember, he has a girlfriend, so he’s completely safe.”
Nora dropped her voice back to a whisper. “You don’t want to lead him on just for a gag. That would be mean.”
“It won’t be a gag, and I promise I won’t be mean.” Darby paused. “But Jessica won’t like it if the staff at the school think he’s fooling around, and he might not like them thinking he’s a cheater, either. I don’t know, is this a bad idea?”
“Okay. Maybe I could bring up Chelsea with me.”
“I would love that!”
“Great. I’ll check with her.”
“You’re the best,” Nora breathed.
“I know,” Darby said.
FROM CHAPTER TWO
She felt his gaze upon her. Slowly, she turned, quickly her heart accelerated. Tall, blue-eyed, sun-kissed blond, he looked like he should be carrying surfboard instead of a stethoscope. He strode toward her, and she backed away—
Cole Rowling tore himself away from his tablet when his phone buzzed with an incoming call. He smiled as he answered. “Hey, mom, where are you today?”
“Mexico—so much adventure! I can’t wait to tell you about it, but that’s not why I called.”
Only his mom would spend her much deserved vacations rebuilding houses in earthquake riddled countries.
“We have a new applicant for the English position,” his mom began.
“I’m reading her self-published novel now,” Cole said, stealing another glance at his tablet.
“What do you think?”
“Why? I thought we ‘d settled on Turner Lawson.”
“I’ve had a change of heart.”
“What? Why? This other applicant…she has an impressive academic and career background but absolutely no teaching experience.”
“Are there other applicants?”
“Well, yes. But none of them can match Lawson.”
“I can’t work with Lawson. Tell me about Nora Tomas.”
Cole shuffled through the pile of resumes and pulled out Nora’s. Just this morning, he had thought he should could cancel the interview, but then he’d ended up buying her book instead. He didn’t have any regrets. “Maybe you should come home,” Cole said. “I thought it was decided…”
“Lawson is no longer a consideration.” She sounded surprisingly firm.
“Okay. You want to tell me about what’s going on?”
His mom cleared her throat and launched into a description of her work with Habitat Rescue. Cole listened, but after a while, his thoughts drifted back to the novel on his tablet. He had only an hour until his interview with Nora Tomas. He hoped she was as adorable as her book.
Cole Rowling gazed the pale blond sitting across from him. She looked nothing like any president of a multi-million dollar company he’d ever met. “Tell me, Miss Tomas, why would you leave your position at Apex to teach at Canterbury?”
Nora blinked. She had amazing light blue eyes, so translucent they reminded him of opals.
“I studied English literature in college.”
Cole tore his gaze from hers to glance back at her resume. “I see that. But then you went to Horn for your MBA.”
“Yes, but that was my parent’s idea. Literature is my first love.”
She twisted her hands in her lap. A pink flush stained her cheeks. She looked nervous, but excited.
“We’re a small, private school. You must understand we can’t even come close to matching your previous salary.”
Nora nodded. “I didn’t expect you to.”
He frowned at her and tapped his fingers on his desk. “You self-published romance novels a few years ago.”
She looked pleased and for just a moment, she stopped twisting her hands. “Yes. It was…fun.”
“I was bored.”
“You find running a multi-million dollar company boring?”
She rolled her eyes. “You have no idea. All those suits and ties worrying about falling profit margins.”
He laughed. “A lot of powerful suits and ties send their daughters to Canterbury.”
“I know. But I also know you take a handful of scholarship children as well…girls who are deserving of a second chance, a new start.” Her voice warmed with passion. “I admire that.” She rehearsed the school’s mission statement. “Compassion coupled with edification. Canterbury cares.”
Cole flushed with warmth at her words. He stared at her as if seeing her for the first time. She wasn’t just an applicant for a job. She was something more. Something integral…but to what?
“I want to be a part of that,” she added.
Flustered more by his reaction than by her, Cole stood and held out his hand. “I have more candidates…” he stuttered.
“I understand,” she said, taking his hand.
“I’ll get back to you.” Her hand felt small and soft in his own. Heat radiated up his arm.
“I’ll look forward to hearing from you.”
Cole dropped her hand. “You aren’t…” he cleared his throat. “You would need to work on getting your teaching credentials.”
But he didn’t think she did, because he certainly didn’t.
This is my brother, Nora thought, holding his hand a little longer than necessary and liking the way his flesh made hers tingle as if her body recognized their similar DNA. If she made it to the second interview, she would probably get to meet her mother. Her real mother. A guilty sense of betrayal flashed through her which she tried to quell but couldn’t ignore.
Mr. Rowling yammered about credentials, the school’s reputation, class size, but all Nora could think about was meeting her mom. It had been all she could think about for the last two weeks—ever since Crystal had dropped her bombshell.
“Tell me, does Apex know of your decision to leave?”
“I actually left the company about a year ago,” she told him.
He raised his eyebrow, waiting.
“Apex was my husband’s—” she reddened and corrected herself, “my ex-husband’s baby. It still is. Well, actually, he also has another baby now.” A large, hairy one. “I still collect a salary, but I’m no longer involved. It was a mutual decision.”
“So you don’t need this position.”
“Oh, but I do. Maybe not financially, but not all needs are financial. Wouldn’t you agree?” He had the warmest eyes. Nothing like her own, but green with flecks of brown that matched his thick wavy hair. She had never had a sibling before, so she didn’t know if they were supposed to look that much alike. She flashed him a smile and decided that even if she didn’t get the job—and she really hoped that she would—just meeting her brother had made the hour drive to Oak Hallow worthwhile.