Authors: Heather Graham
It was Donna, the student-assistant secretary, and her pretty round face seemed somewhat in awe.
“What is it, Donna?” Sloan asked.
“He’s here, Mrs. Tallett. To see you,” Donna said disbelievingly.
Sloan frowned, sighed, and forced herself to be patient. “He
is here to see me, Donna?”
“Adams. The quarterback. Wesley Adams, the quarterback!” Donna said the name with awe, then rambled on, “Oh, Mrs. Tallett! He’s gorgeous! What a hunk! And so nice. And he’s here! Right here in Gettysburg. To see you. Oh, Mrs. Tallett, what do you suppose he wants?”
Sloan couldn’t prevent the rueful grin that spread across her features. She lowered her eyes quickly, not to allow Donna to view the self-humor she was feeling. She might be the attractive and judicial Mrs. Tallett, but she was still a teacher, a mature if sophisticated woman.
Wesley was a national hero, living in the never-never land of eternal youth. It was hard to accept the fact that her students would think of her as a Cinderella chosen by the godlike prince in a miraculous whim of luck, but that was how they would see it.
“Donna,” Sloan said with tolerant patience, “Wesley Adams is from Gettysburg—and he no longer plays football. And yes, he is a very nice man. Show him back, will you please?”
“Sure thing!” Donna’s huge, cornflower-blue eyes still held wonder, and she hesitated as she backed out of the room.
“What else, Donna?” Sloan asked with a raised brow.
“Could you...would you...I mean, I’d love...”
“Love what?” Sloan prompted, holding in her exasperation.
“An autograph,” Donna breathed quickly.
“I’m sure he’ll be happy to give you an autograph.” Sloan smiled. “He can stop back by your desk on the way out and write whatever you wish. Okay?”
“Okay!” Donna grinned and disappeared.
Only as the door closed did Sloan realize she was once again a mess. Her leotard, tights, and leg warmers were at least new and unfaded, but her hair was drawn back in a severe bun, and the sweat shirt she wore was an old and tattered gray one. Her makeup had been through Monday’s schedule—Ballet III, Jazz II, Modern I, Advanced Tap, and Aerobics. So had her body.
And it would take Donna about fifteen seconds to walk back to the central office, another fifteen or twenty to return...
Sloan made a dive beneath her desk for her handbag and hastily gave herself a light mist of Je Reviens and glossed her lips quickly with a peach-bronze shade that matched her nails. Tendrils of hair were escaping the knot at her nape, but it was too late to worry. She had been thinking of Wes all day, but never expecting to see him.
The raps came on her door again, and she shoved her purse back beneath the desk. “Come in.”
A giggling and blushing Donna pushed open the door and led Wesley in. Sloan could immediately see why the girl had been so taken. Wes had dressed for business today, and he was stunningly, ruggedly good-looking in a way which could let no one wonder which was the stronger, virile sex. In a navy three-piece suit, stark white shirt, and burgundy silk tie, he looked every inch the cool, shrewd businessman while still exuding an aura of an earthy power. Very civil—his omniscient-seeming green eyes were light, his grin warm—while still conveying that raw, almost primitive masculinity that women, no matter how liberated, sought in a male.
He smoothed back the breeze-ruffled silver-tinged hair that was the only thing out of context with his sleekly tailored appearance as he entered her office, overpowering everything in the small space. “Hi. I hope I’m not disturbing you. Do dance teachers get off at five like the rest of the work force?”
Sloan rose and smiled. “Not always, but you’re not disturbing me.” He was disturbing her, but not as he thought.
Donna still stood in the doorway, agape at their casual greetings. “Thank you, Donna,” Sloan dismissed her gently. She cast a quick, apologetic glance Wes’s way. “Mr. Adams will stop by your desk on the way out.”
Wesley quirked a puzzled brow but agreed with her, smiling to the girl. “Sure, I’ll stop by on my way out.”
“Thank you,” Donna murmured, flushed and pleasantly pink as she closed the door.
I stopping by on my way out?” he asked playfully as he took the one chair before Sloan’s desk and they both seated themselves.
“An autograph. I hope you don’t mind.”
Dark brows knit loosely above Wes’s ever-changing green eyes. “I don’t mind at all, but I wasn’t planning on leaving. Not without you.”
“Oh?” Sloan felt her heart begin to pound harder.
“I was hoping you’d come to dinner with me.”
The pounding became thunderous. She certainly couldn’t pat herself on the back for playing the femme fatale too well, but he was coming to her anyway. Had he really cared something for her all those years? It was impossible to tell whether he spoke with meaning or if his words were the pleasant, teasing games that all men—she thought—played. All men except Terry. She couldn’t think about Terry right now, but unfortunately, neither could she accept Wesley’s invitation. She had nothing tangible to go on yet, and she had commitments she couldn’t disregard even if she did.
“Wesley,” she murmured unhappily, “I’d love to go to dinner with you, but I can’t. Jim and I do a dance as well as the students, and I need a little practice time by myself. And I have to pick up the children and spend time with them and feed them—”
“I’ve already taken all that into consideration,” Wesley interrupted her, giving her his dazzling, lopsided grin. He leaned his elbows upon her desk to draw closer, and the effect of his nearness was mesmerizing. “We’ll pick up the kids together and run to your house so that you can shower and change. Then we’ll take the kids over to the steak house, come back so that you can spend time with them and practice, and then we’ll go out. Florence will be ready anytime we are. And you won’t have to worry about your time with your children—they’ll be in bed before we go. We won’t stay out late—I know morning comes quickly on working days.”
Sloan stared into his eyes feeling a bit of awe and wonder herself. She may not be in love with Wesley, she decided, but she couldn’t recall liking or even respecting a man more! He was one of the most sensitive men she had ever met, understanding in every way, not just tolerating her children, but taking great care to keep their needs at the top of his priority list.
“You are marvelous!” she whispered, and she meant every word. Another smile spread slowly across her delicately boned face, erasing the tension and strain of the day. “Thank you, Wesley,” she murmured tentatively, strangely humbled by his thoughtfulness.
“For what?” he demanded, his gentle, probing green stare telling her all that she needed to know even as he brushed her gratitude aside as unnecessary.
“For understanding,” she said softly.
He chuckled, but his strong features were intense, and she was left to wonder about the depths of his sincerity. “I don’t have much time to convince you that I’m madly in love with you and should forever after be the only man in your life. Come on, we’ll take my car and worry about yours later.”
Sloan smiled a little uneasily and straightened the folders on her desk. She would deal with them in a much better frame of mind in the morning. “The entire evening sounds beautifully planned,” she said huskily. “Just give me two minutes to check out with Jim and five minutes to hop into the shower.”
“Take fifteen,” Wes laughed, rising. “I’ll go take care of your dancing football fan.”
There was more than one fan in the office by the time Sloan had slipped out the back of the maze to the showers and returned to go over a few notes with Jim. Some type of student radar had gone out, and an ensemble of dancers in tights and actors in various stages of costume from the drama classes had formed in a loose circle around Wes.
As she listened to him deal politely and quietly with the students, Sloan realized that the pleasant, low-timbred quality of his voice was truly becoming dear to her. Wes Adams did have everything; sinewed good looks, personality, charisma.
And a fortune.
She must have been blind all those years ago, but then they had been young. Neither had been what they were today.
Nervousness rippled through Sloan as she silently watched him. Cassie had probably been right—Wes could crook a little finger and have any woman he wanted. For some obscure reason he wanted her, and God help her, she wanted him too, even if the feeling wasn’t love. But he had to love her, really love her, because it had to be marriage...she
him. Desperately now, now that she had let the dream grow.
Her fingers clenched at her side. She was going to have to be so very careful...he had to keep wanting her. For a lifetime. And he had to keep believing in the illusion she hoped she was weaving.
An illusion of assurance, of sophisticated confidence. Of having every bit as much to offer in a relationship as he.
Green eyes suddenly met hers over a sea of faces. The lazy, incredibly sexy grin curled its way back into the strong line of his jaw. “Excuse me,” he murmured to the students, and then he was at her side, leading her out as young men and women watched and echoed good-byes to them both.
For a moment Sloan was tempted to laugh. Wesley would probably never realize how he had just elevated her in the eyes of the student body.
“Nice kids,” Wes said as he steered her to his Lincoln in the parking lot. “They filled me in quite a bit on you.”
“Really?” Sloan raised a curious and surprised brow.
“Ummm.” He grinned with amusement. “They say you’re the sexiest tyrant ever to head a dance class. I assured them they were probably quite right.”
“Oh,” Sloan laughed, wincing as she felt a blush creep over her cheeks. “About being a tyrant—or, uh...” Damn! What was she saying?
“Sexy?” Wes supplied, chuckling as he shut her door. He walked around and slid into the driver’s seat. “Both,” he said, smiling at her. “I know you’re sexy as hell, and I can bet you can be a tyrant.”
“Worried?” she queried in as light and teasing a manner as she could.
“Not at all. I can fight fire with fire, my dear.”
Sloan smiled, the right reaction since his answer had been teasing in kind. Yet a little trickle of unease worked its way up her neck. Had there been a hint of steel beneath his velvet tone, or was that only an illusion of her overactive imagination? She remembered the first night at her house...how bluntly he had called her rude. He hadn’t really been angry; he had been in complete control. Yet she shuddered at the vision of a man who possessed his dynamic force and depths of passion losing his temper.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Your children,” he replied, patient and amused by her wandering.
“Oh...” Sloan gave him directions to the day-care center.
Three hours later—having fulfilled all obligation to family and art—they were back on the highway driving to a hotel outside the city limits that offered rooftop dining and dancing. It was odd, Sloan thought, casting Wes a covert glance as he drove, that she had really only known him four days. She had known him years ago, of course, but that was a vague memory. On Friday night she had thought his appearance nothing more than a nuisance. The intensity of their relationship since was strangely comforting—while also disturbing. She was nervous—one couldn’t be planning on marrying a man who had no idea he was being baited without being nervous—but she was now beginning to relax. For whatever heaven-sent reason, Wesley seemed to be sincere. His patience with her situation was astounding. He also seemed to be determined to pander to her every whim with tolerant amusement. Little by little, it became apparent that her inexpert vamping was working—she could almost hope she was winding him around her little finger.
It was over rainbow trout, tenderly seasoned and cooked and perfectly garnished, that Wesley began to quiz her about Terry again.
“When you talk about your husband there’s a little light in your eyes,” he told her, his eyes darting to hers from the fish. “It sounds like you had the perfect marriage. Didn’t you ever argue?”
Sloan smiled, still curious that it was so easy to talk him. She sensed that the questions were relevant to their own relationship, although she wasn’t sure why. She answered him honestly—there was seldom a reason to hedge because he never brought up finances.
“It was a near perfect marriage, I suppose, but we did argue.” She laughed. “Terry spent lots of nights on the couch.”
“On the couch?” Wes seemed surprised.
Sloan frowned slightly, perplexed at his reaction, but still smiling. “Sure. He always knew when I was really angry because I’d throw his pillow and a blanket at him. By the morning—or the morning after, at least—we were ready to converse like human beings. I thought it worked well.”
“You would,” Wes said, and although he kept the teasing tone in his voice, Sloan noted an edge of sternness. “You weren’t the one sleeping on the couch.”
“I meant we both had time to cool down,” Sloan said. “You disagree with such a tactic?”
“I don’t believe you can run away from the issue,” Wes said, signaling their waiter for coffee. “But tell me, why do you think the marriage worked so well? Take it as research, if you like,” he added with a grin. “I’ve only heard of or seen three really good marriages—yours, your sister’s, and my brother’s.”
Sloan mulled the question over carefully. This talk about marriage was very tricky. Perhaps she should have told him she and Terry never argued...“I don’t really know. I think with Terry and me it was a question of both being artists. We loved each other, and also respected each other’s need to love what we did. We both knew we wanted a family. Cassie and I lost our parents when we were just out of our teens—and I learned then, and again when Terry died, just how important sisters can be. I wanted my children to have each other. So did Terry. He was an only child, and his parents died when he was young too. We had a lot in common. And I don’t think I ever saw Terry really mad. He simply didn’t have a temper—which was good, because mine was terrible when I was younger!” Sloan chuckled a little sheepishly. She hadn’t meant to say quite so much, and Wes was watching her now intently, the green eyes seeming to pierce through to her soul. She didn’t want him seeing her soul...