NO MATTER WHAT
Harlequin (August 7, 2012)
As a high school vice principal, Molly Callahan is used to being the one with all the solutions. Not this time.
Her teenage daughter's pregnancy has Molly questioning her own choices and unable to make the tough decisions. Figuring out what's right and wrong isn't so simple anymore, and now, more than ever, she needs someone to trust.
Little does she expect that person to be Richard Ward. Their teenagers' dilemma has forced them to meet, but something much more powerful is pulling them together. This is hardly the time for Richard and Molly to think about themselves…yet she can't stop this attraction. Letting herself count on him is one thing. Letting herself fall for him? That's guaranteed to make things very complicated.
Molly Callahan studied the boy slumped sullenly in a straight chair facing her desk and wished desperately she could hand off dealing with him to someone else. Anyone else.
She liked her job most of the time, although discipline was her least favorite facet of it. No choice, though. The high school was small enough that she was the only vice principal. She gave brief, wistful thought to steering Trevor Ward and his father, when he arrived for an emergency conference, into Principal Marta Bright-well's office. Unfortunately, Marta's strength was making everyone feel really optimistic about whatever was under discussion, at least as long as they remained in her presence. A fine quality, but one that failed to solve all those everyday problems that were Molly's bailiwick.
Even so…that's what she should do. Her feelings toward this particular boy—belligerent, defiant, aggressive—were not dispassionate. Considering the fight she and her daughter, Cait, had had only last night over Trevor, Molly could admit, if only to herself, that she wished he had never transferred to her school. It would be really good if he slouched out beside his father and never came back. She didn't exactly wish him ill. She'd be satisfied if Daddy decided to transfer him to a private school or ship him home to Mom. But she wanted him gone. Gone from her life, and especially gone from Caitlyn's.
She should be trying to understand what was throwing him into turmoil, but she couldn't make herself care. Knots were climbing atop knots in her neck, her head throbbed, she expected Trevor's father to arrive any minute and she had not the slightest idea what she was going to say to him.
Trevor held an ice pack over one eye, but the trickle of blood emerging from a nostril was turning into a stream. Molly sighed, snatched a handful of tissues from a box and went around the desk to thrust them into his hand.
"Your nose is bleeding again."
He grunted and pressed the wad of tissues to his nose.
"If it gets any worse I'll need to send you to the nurse's office." Which she had not done, because the victim of Trevor's rage was currently occupying one of the cubicles there, waiting for his mother to pick him up. Aaron latter was in considerably worse shape than Trevor. Molly could only be glad he'd gotten a few blows in, at least.
Which was unworthy of her, she reflected, surreptitiously massaging her temple. That said, she'd be talking to Aaron's parents later, too. One more thing to look forward to.
"Trevor, I'm going to ask you to wait out in front. I'll need to speak to your dad privately. Mrs. Cruz will help you if you get to feeling worse."
The stare he gave her from the one eye that wasn't swollen shut chilled her. It was almost emotionless, and yet.. full of something. She had never before been afraid of a student, but at that moment she came close.
And her daughter had a massive crush on this boy.
Boy? As he rose slowly to his feet, she realized part of the problem. Seventeen years old, a senior, he didn't look like a boy. He looked like a man. He was already six foot three. Although he hadn't yet achieved his full bulk, he had broad shoulders and more muscles than most of the male teachers had ever dreamed of possessing. He must shave daily and at two o'clock in the afternoon already had a dark shadow on his jaw. His eyes were so dark, brown iris melted into pupil. When he gave someone a black look, it was black.
He was also, unfortunately, exceedingly handsome. The minute he'd walked in the front doors the first day of school, he'd turned every female head in the building. Molly had seen even a couple of the younger women teachers flush at the sight of him. With his physique, dark good looks and sullen temperament, he was the Heathcliff of West Fork High School.
Didn't it figure that his brooding stare had turned to Cait, Molly's bright, perky, academically advanced, sunny-tempered, beautiful, fifteen-year-old daughter.
Molly realized that she was grinding her teeth together as she escorted Trevor out of her office. No wonder her head was throbbing.
Once he lowered himself to one of the visitors' chairs, she took the tissues from his hand and inspected his nose. "It seems to have let up," she said briskly. "Mrs. Cruz, please call Jeannie if Trevor's nosebleed worsens."
"Of course, Ms. Callahan." The school secretary looked past Molly. "Ah…Trevor's father is here."
Molly turned, and felt her heart sink. If it got any lower, she thought grimly, her stomach would start digesting it. A distinct possibility, since she'd missed lunch.
Trevor's father, striding down the hall toward her, looked like Trevor would when he finished maturing. If he was lucky. Mr. Ward also didn't appear to be any happier than his son, and it was Molly who was the target of that angry, frustrated stare, not the son who deserved it.
Her favorite kind of parent—the "my son can't possibly be responsible" variety. The "I am pissed at you for interrupting my day and attempting to hold my kid accountable" variety.
She stiffened. How fortunate that she was in the mood to deal with him.
"Mr. Ward," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm Vice Principal Molly Callahan. Thank you for coming."
Barely three weeks into the school year, and he'd already been yanked from his day to sit down with the vice principal to discuss Trevor's behavioral shortcomings. As if he hadn't noticed them.
Richard had become reacquainted with his son precisely four weeks ago, when he picked him up at the airport after a hysterical call from Trevor's mother, Alexa, who'd told him he "had" to take Trevor because she'd had enough. Richard's eyebrows had risen over that. Trevor's grades were top-notch, he was a superb athlete and this past summer he'd worked with kids at the Boys & Girls Club while coaching summer basketball. He was an all-around high achiever.
Richard would have loved to raise both his kids. He'd missed having them this summer. One of the worst days of his life had been when Alexa broke it to him that she and husband number two were moving to California.
At least he'd have Trevor for this last year, before he headed off to college.
Yet shipping him back to his mother was looking better by the day, he thought grimly.
With one swift, encompassing glance, he took in his son, who held an ice pack to one eye and sat slumped low in the chair. His head was bowed. He didn't raise it to look at his father, not even when the woman standing beside him said, "Mr. Ward."
Son of a bitch, Richard thought, ashamed to feel ready to kill the messenger as well as the creature that inhabited his son's body, but unable to smile at her and say, "Great to meet you."
Unlocking his jaw took some effort. "Ms. Callahan."
Her voice was familiar; they'd spoken on the phone briefly last week after Trevor's first fight. She had a hell of a voice, with a husky timbre that would stir any man's interest. Beyond that initial reaction, he hadn't given it much thought. Ms. Callahan—the Ms. was said with militant emphasis—was likely a rigid, cast-iron bitch. On the phone she'd been terse and had nothing helpful to say. He'd been able to tell she was disappointed to have to admit that she had as yet been unable to assign responsibility for the fight to either boy.
"However," she had declared, "unless a fight begins with a clearly one-sided assault, both students need to be penalized. We have zero tolerance for fighting." That time, she'd suspended Trevor and the other boy each for two days.
If she expelled Trevor now, what the hell was he supposed to do with him?
They were in her office before he really saw her and then it was a mild shock. Molly Callahan was young to be in administration—surely not older than her mid-thirties. She was also…okay, not beautiful, but something. Sexy, he decided, if you discounted the steely glint in her gray eyes. Tall for a woman, maybe five-ten. Possibly a little plump by current standards, which weren't his. Generous hips, even more generous breasts, sensational legs that weren't stick-thin and wavy hair of a particularly deep shade of auburn. Natural, if her creamy skin was any indication.
She circled around her desk and gestured toward a chair. "Please, have a seat, Mr. Ward."
He stiffened at her tone of voice. He was not one of her students.
"I gather Trevor was involved in another fight," he said curtly.
"Trevor unquestionably started this one. For no apparent reason. The other young man accidentally jostled Trevor in a crowded hallway. He turned around swinging. One of our teachers observed the entire altercation and described the 'flare of rage' on Trevor's face as frightening. Perhaps you can explain what's going on with your son."
His jaw had gone into lockdown again as she spoke. For the first time it occurred to him that he might be ill equipped to be a full-time parent. He had never, not once, gone to a parent-teacher conference. Yeah, he admired report cards, but he hadn't been there to set rules for homework, to do flash cards, to fold his arms and say, "You knew what you had to do this week to earn that trip to the zoo, and you blew it, buddy."
Not my fault.
No, it wasn't, but resentment that he hadn't had the chance welled up in him until he was all but choking on it.
Ms. Callahan's ill-disguised disdain and dislike rubbed him the wrong way.
"Trevor is a seventeen-year-old boy. If you've looked at his records, you'll find that at his previous high school—an urban high school with a significantly larger class than here in West Fork—he was in the running to become valedictorian. Colleges were scouting him for ...