Wed to You: Southern Heat Book Three

Wed to You

The release of Wed to You, Book Three in the Southern Heat Series is coming January 24, 2017! Check out reviews and read an excerpt below.

About Wed to You

Wed to You by Jenna HarteIrresistible playboy, Jagger Talbot left his flashy life in New York to properly take care of Kaden, a little boy he vowed to raise, gaining custody when the Kaden’s father died and his mother ran off with another man. Starting over in Virginia seemed like the perfect beginning. But when the boy’s mother comes back, clean and sober, fighting for custody, Jagger knows he needs a miracle to prove he’s what the child needs.

That miracle is Chelsea Beemer, sweet, perky kindergarten teacher. Down and out, and no stranger to tragedy, Chelsea is on the verge of losing her family home. She’d do anything to save the house—and herself—even marry the sexy playboy. Now it’s up to them to “play house” and convince everyone that they have perfect little family. But are any of them really pretending?

 

Join the Party! Don’t miss the Wed to You Author Takeover Launch Party! Stop by for fun, freebies and the chance to win books, giftcards and more! You can see the author line up and times here.

 

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Advanced Reviews of Wed to You coming soon….

“I absolutely am crazy about this series and this book was wonderful. I loved both Chelsea and Jagger and am only sorry this series has ended. This book easily stands alone and the other characters from other books are only seen in a handful of scenes.” Sharon M at Netgalley

The author has truly outdone herself – she wrote a book that completely blew me away. P Leslie at Goodreads

“Full of charm, wit, and lots of love. This particular book blew me away….The author’s writing is brilliant as she weaves each tale. 6 star read!” Danielle B at Netgalley

“The writing was very engaging, and the plot moved along at a great pace. I’m pretty picky about marriage of convenience stories, but this one avoided many of the normal cliches. It was funny, heartfelt, and uplifting, and I couldn’t put it down! ” Kerry at Goodreads

Excerpt from Wed to You

CHAPTER ONE

Chelsea Beemer checked her watch. Five minutes until Kaden Talbot’s parent-teacher conference. Just enough time for a quick snack. For some reason, most parents had picked Tuesday, the day before the last day of school, for their end-of-the year meeting, which left Chelsea no time for a lunch break. And because she hadn’t been to the grocery in a week, her only option for breakfast had been a spoonful of chocolate-nut spread. Tasty, but not enough to sustain her all day. At least she didn’t have to work at the diner that night; she’d be able to pick up food on her way home after Kaden’s conference.

She rummaged through her purse and found a stale granola bar. It would have to do. Taking it back to the table where she held her conferences, she opened the wrapper and bits of oats crumbled over Kaden’s folder. Chelsea brushed away the crumbs and opened it to Kaden’s test scores, report card, and certificate of promotion to the first grade.

Chelsea loved all her students, but she had a soft spot for Kaden. She didn’t know much about his history except that he lived with Jagger Talbot, a Yankee transplant from New York. Jagger was acquainted with her close friends, Mitch and Sydney McKenna, and he’d been friends with her brother, Brian, throughout Jagger’s teenage summer visits. She’d had a crush on him during his last trip to Charlotte Tavern when he was eighteen and she sixteen. Jagger hadn’t known she’d existed. Not then and not now.

She’d had a brief chat with Jagger at Mitch and Sydney’s wedding, which she thought was going well, until he left to get her a glass of wine and never returned. She hadn’t seen him since, and neither Mitch nor Sydney mentioned him much. What she knew of Jagger’s adult life, she’d read in the tabloids over the years. He’d been a well-known playboy from one of the richest families in America until he left the party lifestyle last year and re-opened the family’s summer home in Charlotte Tavern, Virginia, and moved himself and Kaden there full time. She might know him better if he’d come to any of the parent-teacher conferences held during the year. Instead, Kaden’s nanny, Mrs. Stanton, came. While the nanny was attentive to Kaden, Chelsea believed primary caretakers should be involved in their child’s education.

She took another bite of granola bar as the door to her classroom opened.

“She’s in here!” Kaden, with his usual exuberance, bounded into the room.

Chelsea stood, swallowing to avoid talking with her mouth full.

“This is my class.” Kaden ran back toward the door, grabbing someone’s hand and pulling it, along with a very compelling masculine body, into the room.

Jagger Talbot. Chelsea’s breath caught, as it always did when she saw him. She was sure he had that effect on all women, maybe even men too. He had that je ne sais quoi that drew people to him. It was his presence, the way he carried himself, and his impossibly good looks that made people stop and notice him. He looked like the devil, with combed-back, jet-black hair that was short on the sides and longer on top, and eyes the most incredible shade of blue, for which Chelsea had yet to find an accurate label, made even more compelling by the dark brows and long lashes hooding them. But what really gave Jagger his mystique was the dark, groomed stubble she was sure Lucifer bore as well. A sexy devil. If Jagger hadn’t been born rich and instead had to work, he’d have been the most successful male model ever.

“I hope you love school this much when you’re in junior high.” Laughing, Jagger allowed Kaden to lead him toward her. His gaze drifted to Chelsea and he cocked his head to the side. “Well now, I see why you love school.”

“Hi, Miss Beemer. This is my nephew, Jagger.”

“Nephew?” It was the first time she was able to draw her gaze away from the phenomenon that was Jagger. She looked at Kaden, who was still tugging on Jagger’s hand.

Jagger extended his other hand over the table. “It’s a long story.”

Noticing Jagger’s outstretched hand, Chelsea reached out to shake it. Although she’d never swooned in her life, she suspected Jagger might cause her to do so. It was annoying she hadn’t outgrown her crush, and that her hormones didn’t have the same sense as her brain. But because she knew they didn’t, she prepared herself for his touch. His hand was warm as his fingers wrapped around hers. She couldn’t stop her breath from hitching as tingles traveled from her hand through her body and made her heart do a loopty-loo. Dumb hormones. Wanting to keep from melting into a puddle, she withdrew her hand, and wished she had a bottle of water to douse the fire burning inside her body. She gestured for Jagger and Kaden to sit across from her.

“We’ve met before.” Despite the tiny chair and table, Jagger sat in a way that retained his very masculine image.

“Yes.” Her throat was coarse like sandpaper, and she chastised herself for having a dry granola bar before her meeting, even though she was certain it wasn’t responsible for her current state.

“I wasn’t sure you remembered.”

She would have laughed if she’d had her composure back. No one would forget Jagger Talbot. It would be like forgetting Brad Pitt or Ryan Gosling. “Yes. I wasn’t sure if you remembered me.”

“Sure. I remember you hassling your brother about wanting to go with us and Mitch to the quarry to swim. You must have been Kaden’s age.”

She’d been closer to ten, but it didn’t matter. Jagger remembered more than she’d expected, although apparently he’d forgotten how he’d dumped her at Mitch and Sydney’s wedding eight months earlier. Even so, she couldn’t blame him. Compared to the women he’d been with before, Chelsea was unremarkable. So it wouldn’t have mattered if she’d worn something more interesting than plain khaki crop pants and a white shirt or wrangled her auburn mess into something other than a ponytail for school today.

Jagger’s face softened. “I was sorry to hear about Brian.”

Apparently, he’d also forgotten their conversation at the wedding, because he’d expressed sympathy about her brother’s death then too. But she nodded and managed a “thank you” while working to keep her tears at bay. Five years had passed since Brian had been killed in Iraq, but she still felt the loss keenly.

“Who’s Brian?” Kaden looked up from the imaginary war-game between his fingers to Jagger.

“He was my brother.”

Kaden turned his gaze to her. “Did he die?”

“Kaden.” Jagger’s voice was soft but held censure.

“No. It’s okay.” Chelsea loved how honest and unguarded children were. Kaden was curious and too young to know the social norms around talking about difficult subjects. “Yes. He was a soldier.”

“He died in war?”

Chelsea nodded but didn’t go into details. Kaden didn’t need to know how her brother had been betrayed by the very men who should have protected him.

“My dad died.”

“I’m sorry. It’s sad to lose people you love.”

“He was old.”

Jagger shifted in his chair. “Kaden didn’t have a lot of time with him.”

Chelsea understood Jagger was trying to explain Kaden’s apparent lack of emotion about his father’s death, but she didn’t need it.

“He was Jagger’s grandpa.”

Jagger laughed and ruffled Kaden’s hair. “That’s right. My grandfather married Kaden’s mom.”

“I’m his uncle. But he’s the boss of me until I’m bigger.”

“Ah.” Chelsea did the mental gymnastics. Jagger’s grandfather had married a younger woman and had Kaden, which indeed made Kaden Jagger’s uncle. It made her think of the children’s song, “I’m My Own Grandpa.”

“That’s right, champ. As long as you passed kindergarten.”

Kaden turned his large blue eyes, which looked so much like Jagger’s, on her. “Did I?”

“With flying colors.” Chelsea passed the certificate of promotion to Kaden.

He picked it up. “This is me.” He pointed at the calligraphy spelling out his name. “What does the rest say?” He showed the certificate to Jagger.

“It says you have smarticles and you’re going to first grade. Congratulations.”

“Yeah!” Both of Kaden’s arms shot into the air in victory.

Chelsea studied the two Talbots. Her impression of Jagger up to this point had been that he was the shallow playboy depicted in the tabloids. Not that it swayed her reaction to him. That was involuntary; her hormones acting totally detached from her brain. But she’d never have guessed he’d be so fatherly, especially since he hadn’t managed to make a single school function over the course of the year.

“First grade is different than kindergarten. He’ll have a little homework, and there’s less of a play-element to learning.”

Jagger nodded. “I’m sure Big K here can handle it.”

“Parental—uh—guardian involvement becomes more important as he goes on in school.”

Jagger’s gaze jerked from Kaden’s certificate to her. His laid-back expression tightened and his eyes narrowed. “You don’t think I’m involved?”

“I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve seen you in regards to his education.” Chelsea sat straight, her chin slightly lifted, proud she’d found her bearings around this compelling man and was finally being the teacher she was.

“When I can’t be here, he has very good care.”

“Mrs. Stanton, yes. But she’s not his guardian. You are.”

Jagger’s sat back and studied her. After a moment, he leaned forward. “So none of the other kids in your class have families who need daycare?”

She shifted in her seat as his glare bore into her. “Yes. But the daycare providers don’t come to the parent-teacher conferences.”

“I see.” His eyes narrowed, making him really look like the devil now. “So what do the parents do when they can’t come? Who do they send instead?”

Chelsea swallowed as she realized what he was saying. Not all parents came to parent-teacher meetings. Some didn’t care, but many couldn’t make it. Apparently, Jagger couldn’t either, but he’d felt the meetings were important enough to send Kaden’s nanny.

“You don’t know me or my family. Kaden gets more love and attention than most kids. From me and from Mrs. Stanton. She raised me and thank God for it because my parents are as—” Jagger stopped.

Kaden looked up at him. “Are you mad?”

Jagger took a deep breath and set a hand on Kaden’s back. “No.”

Chelsea felt reprimanded and thought that, perhaps, she should. She’d made assumptions about Jagger based on what she knew about his playboy exploits and failure to show up to Kaden’s conferences. Still, he was Kaden’s guardian and needed to make more of an effort to participate in his education, instead of pawning it off on the nanny. Chelsea considered telling him so, but her mother had long ago taught her to control the expression of her opinions. “And if you have to say something, use a little tact, Chelsea, even if it tastes like vinegar rolling off the tongue.” She bit her lip to hold back her thoughts and rearranged her words. “I’m sorry if I offended you, Mr. Talbot. I can see Kaden is well taken care of, but it’s my job to make sure he gets what he needs educationally.”

“Are those his tests and grades?” Jagger nodded toward the folder.

“Yes.”

“Is there anything in there that suggests he’s not getting the education he needs? Because I can send him to private school.”

She knew he was poking at her, but she refused to take the bait. She was more interested in why he hadn’t sent Kaden to private school. “Why didn’t you?”

He leaned back, his furrowed brow suggesting he hadn’t expected her question. “Because I want Kaden to have a regular childhood. I want him to ride the bus to school and live in the real world with real people.”

Real people? Weren’t they real people?

“Someday Kaden is going to be very rich and expected to live as a Talbot. Until then, he deserves to just be a kid.”

The mixture of determination and pain in Jagger’s expression softened Chelsea but didn’t completely eliminate her criticism of him. She didn’t know what he meant by “expected to live as a Talbot” or what caused the sadness in his eyes, but she’d never put much stock in the idea of a poor little rich boy. It always amazed her to hear about rich people’s suffering. Not that they didn’t have problems, but they had money to help solve those problems.

Money might not buy happiness, but it could do a lot. It could allow a young man to go to graduate school instead of enlisting and dying in a foreign land. It might not cure cancer, but it could afford enough medical attention to prolong the life of a parent. For sure, it would keep away the creditors who were more interested in foreclosing on a home than renegotiating terms with the owner.

Chelsea shook her head of her problems and refocused on Jagger. He seemed sincere and serious in his love for Kaden, and he was clearly offended by her suggestion that he was otherwise. On the other hand, there’d been plenty of times he could have come to a school event, and he hadn’t. The question was why. Was it because he was doing whatever was “expected of a Talbot?” Did he work? No. Jagger Talbot didn’t have to work. His great-grandfather and grandfather made sure no Talbot would have to work ever again.

It was more likely that Jagger missed school events because he was bored living in the quiet rural town of Charlotte Tavern and was spending time back in New York with women and wine. Except wouldn’t that have put him back in the tabloids? Thinking about it, she realized she hadn’t seen anything about him in the media since his move south a year ago. The sleepy town and his domestic life must be too boring for the paparazzi. So why hadn’t he come to Kaden’s school events?

Realizing he was waiting for her to respond, Chelsea managed a smile. “I’m sorry if I offended you, Mr. Talbot. My intentions are good.”

“Yeah, well, you know what they say about the road to hell.”

“Ummmm, you swore. You owe me a dollar.” Kaden held out his hand to Jagger.

“Put it on my tab.”

Deciding it was time to get the meeting back on track, Chelsea pulled Kaden’s test scores from the file. “Kaden is a very good student and does well in all areas, although I’d encourage you to continue to work on reading over the summer.”

“I don’t like reading.” Kaden scrunched his face.

“We’ll find stuff you like.” Jagger looked over Kaden’s scores.

“Jagger?” Kaden tugged on Jagger’s sleeve.

“Yeah?” Jagger turned his attention to Kaden, scoring him a point with Chelsea. Many adults verbally responded to kids but didn’t give them their full attention. Instead, they listened with one ear while distracted with something else.

Kaden stood, lifted himself up on his toes, and covered his mouth as he whispered in Jagger’s ear.

Jagger’s gaze flicked to Chelsea as Kaden spoke then turned back to Kaden. “Sure, if you want. Let’s finish the meeting first.”

“You ask.”

Jagger shook his head. “It’s your idea, you ask.”

Kaden looked at Chelsea, who lifted her brows, expecting a question.

“Besides reading, is there anything else we need to be concerned with?” Jagger slid the test scores back to Chelsea.

“I don’t anticipate he’ll have any trouble in first grade, as long as he keeps up on reading.”

“Looks like we’re going to the library this weekend.” Jagger patted Kaden on the back.

“Aw.” Kaden slumped back in his chair.

“You can go on many adventures in books.” She put the paper back and closed the folder.

Kaden shrugged. “Can I ask now?”

Jagger laughed. “Yeah, go ahead.”

“Jagger and I are going to Luigi’s for pizza. Can you come?”

Chelsea wasn’t sure what she’d expected Kaden to ask, but going for pizza wasn’t it. She glanced at Jagger—after all, he was annoyed at her—but he kept his expression impassive.

She turned her attention back to Kaden. “Thank you, Kaden, but it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“Why?”

“Consider it his end-of-school-year gift.” Jagger nodded toward her desk on which sat a variety of presents from her students. “Besides, after tomorrow, he’s not your student and your grades are already in. What’s the harm?”

He was right. Wednesday was the last day of school. Three days longer than originally planned because of the days lost due to snow in January. Tomorrow wasn’t just the last day, but a half-day. Then she’d have two days off before starting full time at the diner for the summer. Of course, going out in public with Jagger, even with Kaden in tow, would likely raise eyebrows, but she was sure it wouldn’t get her in trouble at work.

“Please.” Kaden clasped his hands together and looked at her with pleading puppy dog eyes.

She was hungry and Luigi did make good pizza. She was pretty sure those thoughts were her hormones talking because they liked looking at Jagger. But her brain had to agree: she was hungry. “I guess it would be all right.” She glanced at Jagger again to make sure he was okay with it.

“Great. I’m starving.” Jagger stood.

“Yay!” Kaden jumped from his chair. “I like extra cheese and pepperoni.”

“That sounds good. Let me get my purse and close up the classroom. I can meet you at Luigi’s.”

“Promise?” Kaden’s eyes narrowed, as if he didn’t trust her to follow through.

She smiled. “I’ll be there.”

“Come on, champ. Let’s get a good table before it fills up.” Jagger reached out for Kaden’s hand.

“Don’t forget.” Kaden called over his shoulder as Jagger led him toward the door.

“I won’t.”

***

Twenty minutes later, Chelsea walked into a packed Luigi’s. She scanned the dining area until her gaze settled on Kaden, who was standing in a booth waving his hands at her while Jagger reached toward him, presumably to make him sit. As she made her way to their table, she had a moment to wonder what people would think about her having dinner with Jagger and Kaden. It wasn’t a date, Chelsea reminded herself, but Charlotte Tavern was small and its people loved to gossip and speculate. She scanned the room again, smiling and nodding at the few people she recognized. It was early enough in the evening that most of the people she recognized were older and only known to her as acquaintances or friends of her mother.

“Sit here by me.” Kaden patted the booth next to him. “We ordered, but Jagger said we can get something else if you don’t like it.”

“I’m sure whatever you ordered is fine. I’ve never met a pizza I didn’t like.”

The waitress appeared, setting a glass of water in front of Chelsea. “Would you like something to drink?” She was unable to keep her gaze from drifting toward Jagger.

Chelsea looked to what Jagger was drinking: milk, the same as Kaden. She’d have expected a beer, but maybe he didn’t drink in front of the boy. “Water is fine.”

“Sure.” The waitress ogled Jagger a moment longer before wandering off.

“Jagger says he knew you when you were little.” Kaden looked up from beside her in the booth.

She glanced quickly at Jagger, wondering what he’d told Kaden. As if there was anything to tell. “Sort of. When he’d come here for the summer, he spent time with my brother and another friend of mine.”

“Mitch,” Jagger said.

“Mitch is a policeman. He carries a gun.” Kaden formed his fingers into the shape of a gun.

“Yes, he does. Did you know he’s like a big brother to me?” Chelsea said.

“Because your brother’s dead?”

Chelsea tried to hide the sudden clench in her stomach from reaching her face. She nodded. “He and my brother were friends since they were your age. And his sister has been my best friend since I was little too. Maybe you and Matthew Sanders will be best friends that long.”

Kaden’s eyes widened and turned to Jagger. “Will we be here that long?”

“As long as you want, champ.”

The question reminded Chelsea that the last year had been a big change for both of them. “Do you like living down here?”

Kaden nodded. “Yes.” He drew out the word as if it was obvious he liked living in Charlotte Tavern. “I get to play more.”

“You didn’t get to play in New York?” Chelsea looked at Jagger for an explanation.

“Our lives were much more…dictated there. Here it’s more relaxed.”

“I can play in the woods.”

“You like the woods?” Chelsea turned her attention back to Kaden.

“I like to hunt bugs.”

“Bugs are fun.” She smiled at Kaden, remembering her childhood roaming the woods. “What about you?” She took a sip of the water the waitress had brought.

“I like bug hunting.” Jagger winked at Kaden.

“It must be a lot different here than in New York.”

Jagger’s smile faltered a little, replaced with a guarded, almost suspicious expression. “It is.”

She waited for him to say more, but he took a sip of his milk.

“My friend Lexie’s husband Drake is from New York. He says he likes Charlotte Tavern all right, but he misses New York pizza.”

“Well that goes without saying.” The tension in Jagger’s jaw lessened. “Since Luigi is from New York, his comes close, but it’s still not the same. What do you think, Kaden, Luigi’s or pizza in New York?”

“New York.” Kaden didn’t hesitate.

“But there’s other food here that’s good.” Jagger sat back as a small and a large pizza were set on the table. When the waitress left, he motioned for Chelsea to take a piece as he placed a slice on Kaden’s plate.

“Lexie took me to pizza once when I was visiting her in New York.” Chelsea pulled a large, floppy triangle onto her plate.

“And?”

“It was good.”

Jagger’s eyes widened. “Good? She must not have taken you to one of the better spots because New York pizza is spectacular.”

She laughed because he was right. “I bet we have better barbeque.”

“You’d be right.” Jagger handed Kaden a napkin. “That’s my new quest: To find the best barbeque in the area.”

“I can help with that.” The words were out of her mouth before she could think better of it. She glanced up, hoping he hadn’t thought she was being forward.

He cocked his head. “You know where to find good barbeque?”

She nodded. “I used to make it…or helped my grandfather make it.”

“You made it?” Jagger’s raised brows suggested he was dubious. Most people were. Barbeque was an art. There were cook-offs for barbeque like there were for chili, and with much of the same competitiveness.

“It’s an old family recipe.”

“I like barbeque. But Mrs. Stanton always makes me wear a bib. I’m not a baby.” Kaden pouted.

Chelsea laughed. “Barbeque sauce is messy.” So was pizza. She held her piece with both hands, trying to keep everything from sliding off.

Jagger frowned. “It’s easier if you fold it, like this.” He halved his pizza slice lengthwise, which gave it enough firmness to hold it in one hand.

Chelsea shrugged and folded hers.

They ate in silence for a few moments, but Chelsea’s curiosity started to get the best of her. “Now that you’ve been here a year, are you settled in? Does it feel like home?”

Jagger’s head see-sawed side-to-side. “More or less.”

“Do you miss New York?”

He set his pizza down and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Sometimes.”

She frowned at his short, curt answers. Was she asking something she shouldn’t be?

He sat back and studied her as if he was trying to assess her purpose for being curious. Then he leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. “Southerners are nice, with all that hospitality, but only to a point.” He paused and then sat back. “But Kaden seems to have fit in, and that’s what matters most.”

Chelsea felt a pang of guilt. She understood completely. In Charlotte Tavern, everyone showed good manners and was helpful, but outsiders were always outsiders. Someone like Jagger would always be apart, even though his family had owned a summer home in the area for decades. It was difficult to become a part of the community without someone on the inside bringing them in as Lexie had done for her husband, Drake, and Mitch had done for his wife, Sydney.

Still, with his money and looks, there had to be women in town who wouldn’t mind bringing Jagger into the community. “You haven’t made any…friends?”

His laugh seemed to suggest he knew she was referring to lady friends. After all, he had a reputation. “I probably could—”

“Of course you could. A single, rich man must be in want of a wife and all.”

His brows pulled together. “What?”

She smiled and waved her hand. “It’s from Pride and Prejudice. Rich single men are usually popular in small towns in which mothers want to marry off their daughters.”

“I don’t want that.” He picked up his slice and ate, but she noted the annoyance in his tone.

“You don’t want to get married?”

He waited until he swallowed his pizza to answer. “Maybe. Someday. But I’d like a woman to love me, not my money.”

She couldn’t blame him for that. She’d begun to see there were aspects of being filthy rich that weren’t great. Not that she’d rather stay on the cusp of losing everything, as she was now, but she supposed every situation had its pros and cons.

“How about you?” He followed his question with a gulp of milk.

“I have the opposite problem. I have no time and no money.” She reached for a piece of pizza at the same time as Jagger. Their knuckles bumped and she was hit with a zap of awareness. And then she realized she was reaching for a third slice. It had been so long since she’d been out with a man, she’d forgotten to curb her appetite. Men didn’t think gluttons were attractive. Not that this was a date, but still. She pulled her hand back.

“No, please.” Jagger turned the tray so the slice was closer to her then grabbed another piece.

She shook her head. “I’m fine.”

Jagger rolled his eyes. “If you’re hungry, eat it. For once, I’ll come close to feeling like I got my money’s worth when feeding a woman.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Heat rose in her cheeks.

“It means that for some reason, women won’t eat in front of men. I should just buy them a carrot to save me the cost of dinner. If you’re hungry, eat.”

“Well then, I better have two,” Chelsea said, feeling surly.

Jagger flashed a grinned. “Absolutely.”

She studied him for a moment, or maybe she was just mesmerized again by his amused crystalline eyes and devilish smile. What she didn’t see in his handsome face was judgment about how much she ate or for snapping at him.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Kaden’s inquisitive blue eyes gazed at her.

She was hungry. And this wasn’t a date. She wasn’t trying to impress Jagger. With a shrug, she took the pizza.

“I eat a lot because I’m growing.” Kaden set a piece of crust next to the remains of the last slice he ate.

“You are growing. I think you may have grown since we’ve been here.” Chelsea smiled at him.

“Really?” His eyes rounded to saucers and then he gave her a toothless grin. “Pretty soon I’ll be as big as you.”

“Pretty soon.”

“I’m not sure you realize it, but that was a marriage proposal.” Jagger laughed.

It wasn’t unusual for her students to have crushes on her or call her mom. Chelsea thought it was sweet.

“By the way, I know where all his food is going. Where do you put it?” His brows pulled together quizzically as he nodded toward her.

Chelsea wasn’t sure if he was teasing, but she decided to take the question at face value. “I burn it. I chase after five-year-olds all day, and many nights I work at the Dixie Diner. When I can, I like to play sports.”

Jagger grinned. “What kind of sports?”

There was a subtle, but visible twinkle in his eyes that made her think he had a different idea for potential sports activities. Even as her mind called him a pervert, her hormones sent a little thrilling chill through her body. “I used to play a lot of rec sports like soccer. When I can, I like to play tennis.”

“That’s right. You went to college on a soccer scholarship.”

She jerked back, surprised he’d known. While she’d been able to pay for college, graduate school was another matter. Those loan payments were a month behind.

“Brian was proud of you for that.”

“He told you?” She knew Jagger and Brian hung out when Jagger was in the area, but she didn’t think they were the type of friends that stayed in touch when they were apart or shared personal details of their lives.

Jagger nodded. “The last time I saw him, he was in New York. Mitch was there too. I took them out for a night on the town.”

For some strange reason, Chelsea was glad to hear her brother had a night of clubbing and possibly debauchery before heading to the Middle East.

“We have a tennis court.”

Chelsea tore her gaze from Jagger to Kaden. “Do you play?”

“Nah. I ride my bike or scooter on it. Do you ride bikes?”

“I used to. I don’t have one anymore.” It was one of many things she’d sold to help cover her bills and living expenses.

Kaden’s eyes widened in horror. “You should get one. They’re fun.”

The waitress arrived at the table. “Can I get you anything else?”

Jagger looked to Chelsea and Kaden. “Dessert?”

“Yeah!” Kaden clapped his hands together. “I want a sundae.” Turning to Chelsea he said, “We never get dessert.”

Chelsea turned her suspicious gaze on Jagger. Was he trying to get her to eat more? Feeling surly, she decided to poke back. “I’ll have the double chocolate brownie sundae.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s what I want too. Can I?”

“Two brownie sundaes and a coffee.” He nodded questioningly to Chelsea. She nodded back.

“Two coffees.”

The waitress left and Jagger returned his gaze to her.

“I wouldn’t want you to not get your money’s worth.” She hoped she succeeded in exuding a bravado she didn’t quite feel.

He grinned that devilish smile, completing it with a wink.

 Again, her hormones and brain warred. He was flirting, but she fought to think it meant he was attracted to her. Flirting was how men like Jagger related to women, wasn’t it? Of course, knowing that his flirtations meant nothing didn’t stop her heart rate from speeding up. Breaking away from his bewitching smile, she turned her attention to Kaden. All she had to do was get through dessert and then go home.

“Kaden, you said you didn’t like to read, but I know some books you might like.”

“Really?”

She nodded and reached into her purse for a pen and paper. “I’m going to write them down so you can look for them at the library. One is about a little boy who’s a pirate.”

“I like pirates.”

“And one is about a boy detective.”

“What’s a detective?”

“He’s a policeman that solves mysteries.”

She slid the paper to Kaden. He looked at it and then handed it to Jagger. “Can we get these?”

“This weekend, Big K.”

Chelsea chanced a glance at Jagger. He was studying her, as if he wasn’t sure what to make of her. It was better than the devilish look he’d given her earlier and yet, it was still unnerving.

***

Chelsea was filled with relief and disappointment as the evening came to an end and Jagger and Kaden walked her to her car.

“Thank you for the pizza.”

Jagger smiled and like always, it drew her in. Good golly, he was handsome.

“Are we still having a party tomorrow?” Kaden’s voice broke through the hypnotic state Jagger had her in. With effort, she turned her attention to Kaden.

“Of course. It’s the last day of school. That’s always a party.” She opened her car door, reminding herself she needed to stop at the store for groceries and baking goods.

Jagger held her door open, resting his arm on the top, while the other hand held Kaden’s. Stepping between the door and her car brought her in close proximity to Jagger and to the zap that always surged through her body. Jagger’s devilish grin suggested he knew his effect on her. Well, of course, he would. He had that effect on the entire female gender.

“Missy is making cupcakes.”

“Missy?”

“Miss Z. Her name is Mrs. Zmijewski, but I can hardly say it, so it’s no wonder Kaden can’t. We’ve both given up and call her Miss Z.”

“I see.”

His blue eyes…sapphire?…drew her in. She was certain if he asked her to sell her soul, she’d do it.

Stupid hormones.

“She makes really good cookies but tomorrow she’s making cupcakes.”

With effort, and relief, Chelsea tore her gaze from Jagger’s hypnotic eyes and looked at Kaden. With a smile, she bent down to him.

“I’m bringing my special brownies.”

“I love brownies.” Kaden grinned and Chelsea felt a little pang of sadness that tomorrow was the last day she’d be his teacher. Kaden was a great kid and Chelsea knew some of the credit had to go to Jagger. It made him even more attractive. Thank goodness, school was out and the odds of seeing Jagger up close and personal again were low. She wasn’t sure how much more titillation her hormones could stand.

Taking a deep breath, she steeled her nerves and looked at Jagger. “I’m sorry for earlier…for questioning your parenting skills.”

“You’re forgiven.” His words were soft, drifting around her. It gave her a chill. She stood, mesmerized again by his eyes…cobalt?…before finally getting in her car.

“Bye, Miss Beemer.” Kaden waved.

“See you tomorrow.” She winked at Kaden and nodded toward Jagger, who shut her door. She started the car and pulled away, quickly glancing in the rearview mirror as she drove. Jagger and Kaden stood, Kaden waving furiously and Jagger simply watching. Those irrational hormones tugged on her heartstrings. They were an unconventional family, but they were a unit. It would be nice to be part of something like that.

She turned her attention to merging into traffic, which effectively pushed away the image of family. As much as she wanted one, it wasn’t in the cards for her. Even if she had the time to date between two jobs, unless she won the lottery, no one would want to take on her financial burden. So she drove toward the grocery store, determined to be content in the life she had. And if she sometimes fantasized about those wonderful blue eyes…azure?…who could blame her? She wasn’t the first woman to lust after Jagger Talbot and wouldn’t be the last.

 

~ End Excerpt~

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