Authors: Cheryl Harper
Least Likely To
FALL IN LOVE
Running the place. Like a boss.
Lindy Mason is happy to be back at Lincoln High School. As principal, she’s faced with the tough decision on how to handle a bullying case involving Maddie Myers, daughter of the boy who made her high school days a misery.
Getting better all the time.
Ryan Myers is panicked when he rushes into the principal’s office to rescue his daughter and shocked to see Lindy behind the desk. Single parenting means plenty of sleepless nights, time he spends regretting his mistakes and worrying over Maddie’s future.
Lindy and Ryan have to come to terms with the way life’s twists bring change and for the better. But love? No one’s going that far.
Least Likely to Fall in Love
is an enemies-to-lovers, sexy contemporary romance (57,000 words) where the hero and heroine learn about forgiveness, bravery, and the challenge of controlling the radio with a teen in the car.
About Cheryl Harper
Whether she's writing, reading, or just checking the items off of her daily to-do list, small-town girl Cheryl Harper loves her romance mixed with a little laughter. When she's not working, you will find her ignoring housework, cursing yard work, and spending way too much time with a television remote in her hand.
Goodreads: Cheryl Harper
Copyright © 2015 by Cheryl Harper
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious and are not meant to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events or places is coincidental.
All right reserved. This work may not be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any manner without the author’s written permission. Brief quotes used for the purpose of promotion or review are permitted with proper attribution.
The buzz of the intercom startled Lindy Mason so badly she jumped two inches off her seat. After darting a quick glance at the young girl seated across the desk from her to see if she’d noticed, Lindy pushed the button on her phone. “Yes, Sue?”
“Principal Mason, Maddie Myers’s father is here. Should I send him in?”
What Lindy wanted to do was stand up and smooth sweaty palms down the sides of her black pencil skirt before adjusting her bra straps, fidgeting with her flat hair, and running fingers under both eyes in an effort to remove the mascara smudges that would be there at this time of day.
Or just climb out the tiny window.
Since she’d spent a lot of time and effort distancing herself from the insecure girl she’d been, those impulses made her mad, just one more offense she could pin to Ryan Myers’s photo right in the center of her life’s dart board. He rattled her with nothing more than the threat of his arrival.
But she’d come a long way since high school graduation. Letting him see her sweat was not an option. Not anymore.
So, after another quick glance at the fifteen-year-old girl dabbing her eyes with a destroyed tissue, what Lindy did was place both hands, palms-down, on the top of her desk. She pushed carefully, deliberately, and mindfully with her fingers and counted to ten, then took a deep breath.
The minute she’d been dreading ever since Maddie Myers had enrolled in Lincoln High School—and prayed now and then would never arrive—was here.
She reminded herself that she could handle just about anything now, even meeting the boy who’d made her high school years a misery, face to face. Here she was in control. She had nothing to be afraid of.
Then she reached over and pushed the button. “Yes, go ahead and bring him in, Sue.”
She stood calmly as the door opened and Ryan Myers strode in. He didn’t glance left or right but zeroed in on his daughter. Before Maddie had a chance to launch herself at him, he knelt beside her chair and gathered her in his arms.
Lindy was glad he was distracted. Even after so many years, she still felt the confusing jumble of heartthrob crush mixed with the urge to hide when Ryan entered her space.
Time had done nothing but improve his looks, even though his dark brown hair stood on end like he’d run his hands through it on the way in. She couldn’t see his face, but she could still remember his hazel eyes. She’d either loved them or hated them, depending on the day. He wore an expensive suit, which didn’t matter a bit as he knelt next to his daughter.
It was unfair that he should be so attractive.
Everyone knows it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Lindy rolled her eyes and straightened her jacket. Even if she wished he had lost his hair or gained a hundred pounds, she could still hear her mother reminding her what was important.
She knew very well what was inside Ryan Myers: a shriveled lump where his heart should be.
That’s why his daughter had surprised Lindy. On a good day, Maddie Myers was quirky. An excellent student with artistic interests, she preferred baggy pants and retro T-shirts to expensive brands. Sometimes there was a beret covering her dark curls, and she always wore enough black eyeliner for at least three rock stars.
Today all the makeup was gone, washed away in tears. Maddie was young and small, and Lindy was glad her father’s first instinct was comfort.
Of course, that also challenged her memory of Ryan Myers as a clever bully who liked to make her senior calculus class a complete nightmare, but none of that was his daughter’s fault.
Sue shot her a commiserating grimace before she closed the door quietly.
Lindy slid into her seat and tried calm her pulse. When she was eighteen years old, she had prayed to never meet Ryan Myers again. In the interval between high school graduation and today, she’d done her best to forget Ryan, his friends, and the teasing that had made her so uncomfortable. Since she’d moved back to Lincoln, she’d worked hard to improve herself, forget the past, and let go of some of the control that had always been her best defense against life’s challenges.
She surveyed her spotless desk, her ruthlessly organized calendar, and admitted she might still be working on the control thing.
Then she’d seen Ryan and Maddie enrolling and hoped that was the closest he ever got.
Unfortunately, she had never believed her luck would sink to this level and she’d wasted a lot of prime begging time with the man upstairs. Obviously.
Still, she sent up a quick last-ditch request to make it out of this quickly and painlessly, even as it reminded her of a hundred other times she’d done the same thing when she and Ryan were students at Lincoln High.
Annoyed with herself, Lindy reached over to hand Maddie a fresh tissue as Ryan leaned back. He kept his hands wrapped around her shoulders as he asked, “Maddie, baby, what’s happened? The phone call I got said you’d been involved in an incident with another student.”
Maddie miserably shook her head but no words came out.
Even though she’d tried to steel her nerves, the full impact of Ryan Myers’s stare was hard to combat. Right now, the ferocious glare was impressive.
“Mr. Myers, if you’d like to take a seat, I’ll be happy to tell you everything that’s gone on today.” Lindy motioned at the chair next to Maddie and took a small breath in relief as he lowered his athletic frame into it. He hadn’t let go of Maddie’s hand and she was calming a bit. That would be a big help.
She also saw the moment he recognized her cross his face. To be more specific, he thought he knew her but he wasn’t quite sure where they had met.
Determined to get as much of this out of the way as she could before the pieces clicked into place, Lindy said, “Mr. Myers, I’ve asked you to come because Maddie was the target of two bullies. Near the end of the second lunch period, I came upon Maddie in the hallway. Two boys had defaced her locker and were calling her names. I did not see this, but they also apparently dumped her backpack and kicked her things to scatter them in the hallway.”
Just the facts. Leave any judgment out of it, Lindy.
Thunderclouds were forming in his eyes. He was ready to do battle. She didn’t blame him, but she couldn’t stop the thought that she hadn’t had anyone to stand up to her bullies from crossing her mind. “Thankfully, Maddie is fine. I have the school janitor cleaning up Maddie’s locker and one of the teachers gathered up all her things. She’s not physically injured.”
He waved his hands like he’d already heard more than enough nonsense. “You mean to tell me, Principal…” He paused to read the nameplate on her desk. And the pieces clicked. “Melinda Mason?”
He shot a look at Maddie and then met her gaze. “Lindy Mason, class of 1997?”
Keep calm, cool, and collected, Lindy. Show him you’ve completely forgotten high school and him.
With a curt nod, Lindy answered, “Yes, Mr. Myers. Now, we have a couple of options on what to do about this.”
A quivering, girlish voice interrupted. “I don’t want to do anything. I just want to forget it happened.”
Ryan pulled the chair Maddie was sitting in closer to wrap his arm around her shoulders. “Baby, I understand what you’re saying, but you don’t think people should get away with hurting you like that, do you?”
Lindy managed to contain her snort and wanted to pat herself on the back for it. Ryan Myers had been a nightmare in high school, intimidating people, calling her names, stealing her lunch. Not once had he paid for that, but he hadn’t done this.
Maddie shouldn’t bear the brunt, either. She was a sweet kid. No one deserved to be bullied, and Maddie definitely shouldn’t be held responsible for her father’s youthful indiscretions, as much as Lindy wanted to throw her small power around.
But it hurt to agree with him.
Maddie crumpled up the second tissue and faced her father. “More than anything else, I don’t want to make this into a bigger deal. I just want to go to class. I have a Spanish test this week.”
Lindy’s righteous ire faltered a bit at Ryan’s confusion. He wanted to slay Maddie’s dragons, and she wanted to pretend they didn’t exist. Ryan was the only parent listed on Maddie’s paperwork, and Lindy had been unable to find out what happened to Maddie’s mother, but he and his daughter were close. His unhappy frown also made it clear he was unsatisfied with her answer.
“Maddie, if it’s all right with your father, you can go back to class for this last period.” She checked the clock on her desk. “You have about fifteen minutes before the bell rings. Why don’t you go to the bathroom and then grab your stuff from your locker?”
Lindy reached into her desk and pulled out a pad. After filling in the date, time, and Maddie’s name, she ripped off the top sheet. “Here’s a hall pass just in case you need it.”
Ryan slowly pulled his arm away from his daughter, clearly fighting the urge to argue. Maddie took the slip and asked, “Will you be here after, Dad? Can you take me home?”
He nodded once sharply. “You bet, Bebop. I’ll take you home, and we’ll stop for some yogurt on the way, okay?”
Maddie flushed and shot Lindy a quick look before she muttered, “How many times have I asked you not to call me that anymore?”
Ryan leaned forward to kiss her forehead. “Sorry, baby, but you’ll always be Bebop to me. Just start praying now that I don’t call you that at your wedding dinner, okay?”
With an aggrieved sigh, Maddie scooted the chair back to its original position and silently left the room.
When the door closed behind her, Ryan slumped against the chair. “She used to be a toddler who danced on her toes and jumped around whenever the radio came on. My mom called it bebopping. Some things stick.” He ran a hand over his jaw. “There are so many things to say right now that my mind is a complete jumble.”
Hardening her heart against a tired dad who had a cute nickname for his beautiful daughter took a minute. “I understand, but the first thing to do is talk about how you’d like to handle this.”
He tilted his head up to meet her eyes. “What do you mean? Murder’s off the table, right?”
She absolutely refused to smile sympathetically. In this, he could suffer. “I have both boys and their parents in the conference room next door. I wanted to meet with you first to find out what you wanted to do before I let them know what I had decided.” Lindy shrugged. “It’s a tough situation. Maddie is innocent of any wrongdoing here, but making a big deal out of this will call attention to it. Neither of the boys involved has any previous misconduct. Both are fair students.”
She held up a hand to stem Ryan’s angry answer. “But they definitely deserve consequences. We take bullying seriously at Lincoln High School.” She met his gaze deliberately before she added, “I’m sure you understand why.”
He didn’t answer but the light flush on his cheeks convinced Lindy he knew exactly what she meant. She wanted to watch him squirm, but that would not contribute to her whole “I’m so over you” goal.
Just the facts, Lindy. This is strictly business.
“One option, since it’s the first offense for both, is suspension. We could also notify the police.” Lindy straightened the sleeves of her jacket and waited for him to answer.
“But that’s not what you’re recommending.” His voice was calm, even if she could still hear the angry edge.
“No, but I’d like you to meet with the parents. I have had a few cases like this where the parents insisted that the children be involved so that the full story could be heard, but there’s no need. As I said, I saw enough to know the full story here.”
Ryan raked his fingers through his hair, tousling it in a way that was surely a crime against females everywhere. He looked good disheveled. Softer. More human instead of heartthrob. It was unfair. His appearance should match his cold, black heart. “You better tell me everything before we go any further. I don’t have the full picture.”
Uncomfortable with the way her bitter train was gearing up, Lindy thought about it for a minute. If she showed him the picture she had taken, he was going to get angrier, but he was Maddie’s father and deserved to know what she’d been through, especially if he was going to help her get over it. Her only priority in this situation was resolving this in a way to benefit her students. Interference from her own history or unresolved issues would have to be handled. Quickly.
With a sigh, she pulled out her phone. As she slid it across the desk, she said, “I took a picture in case we need to talk to the police.”
She watched his face as he stared at the photo of the pictures and names drawn on Maddie’s locker. He shook his head slowly. “So they’re calling her a lesbian?” Every derogatory word that Lindy knew for lesbian or woman in general was written on Maddie’s locker and a few that she’d never heard before.
He put the phone back on the desk before he covered his face with both hands. “She’s just a little girl.” As Lindy slid her phone back into her pocket, he said, “She’s not a lesbian.” Then he shook his head. “Is she?”
Lindy clasped both hands together. “Does it matter?”
Ryan rubbed his forehead. “Of course not. Nobody should be picked on like that. I just thought I had more time to figure all this out. To me, she’s still my baby who wants to grow up to marry a prince so that she can have twelve dogs and twice as many horses.”