Underneath It All (Storm Series) (5 page)

BOOK: Underneath It All (Storm Series)
2.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Spying Rob, Alaina put a hand over her suddenly racing heart. This was ridiculous. She could not act like a schoolgirl every time she saw the man. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice anything different.

“Hey,” he said, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his jeans as he looked around at the chaos of teachers and students all scrambling for the door.

“Hi. Come on back to the classroom. We can talk while I clean up.”
As soon as her kids had gone for the day she’d opened her laptop, chewing on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich absently as she then did more searching. Before she knew it, the sounds of the day wrapping up reached her ears and she hadn’t done a thing to straighten the room or prepare for the next day, much less put together even a single lesson plan.

“I’ll help.”

Well, that was a surprise. “Okay, sure.”

Alaina gave him the task of cleaning up the bits of construction p
aper all over the tables and floor from the art project the class had completed that day. They’d been learning about bugs, so she’d helped the kids make their own ladybugs out of red and black paper. In her meager stash of stuff, she’d even found googly eyes, which had elicited a giggle from the children as they shook their ladybugs and watched the eyes move. Simple things that brought her students so much joy were the reason she’d gotten into teaching in the first place, and she smiled at the memory, though at the time, her eyes had misted over.

“What’s so funny?”

Her head snapped up. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

He pointed toward her face. “You were grinning. I asked what was funny.”

“Oh. Nothing.” Alaina’s face warmed as she thought about his reaction to her tearing up about something so small. He’d probably think it was stupid.

“Come on,” he cajoled. “Share with the class.”

Rolling her eyes and knowing instinctively he wouldn’t leave the matter alone, she said, “I was remembering how tickled the kids were to have googly eyes for their ladybugs today. They kept shaking the poor things so the eyes would move.”

He cocked his head, crossing him arms in front of his chest.
“You really love teaching, don’t you?”

Trying not to squirm under his scrutiny, she said,
“Yeah. I really do. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to be. And the teachers here are amazing. They’re an inspiration to me every day.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

Rob turned to fully face her
. “Why do you teach in the inner city? Is it just what you said before, or is there more to it? Surely you could get a job with another district.”


I could, but these kids need me.”

“Pretty selfless.”

She shrugged. “Maybe so, but if not me, who?”

He resumed sweeping. “I brought my checkbook. I thought it might be easier if you told me how much you need
rather than have me guess again and be too low.”

“I-I can’t do
that. Whatever you want to give is fine.” The last thing she wanted was to come off as greedy. He’d already done so much.

“I want to give you what you need,” he
said so slowly she feared he’d lose patience and rescind the offer if she didn’t decide soon.

How much
could I possibly ask for? Ugh, why does this have to be so hard?

“Um, can you maybe do another five thousand?” She winced as she said the number.

Rob chuckled and those laugh lines she’d noticed the day before crinkled the corners of his eyes. They lent character to his admittedly gorgeous face, making his expressions even more attractive and interesting. “Ah, that’s what I thought you’d say, though I applaud you for not making the number ridiculously small. We’ll make it ten then.”

“What? I didn’t
—”

As he bent
to write the check, he smiled. “I knew you’d never ask for what you actually needed, so I decided to double or triple whatever the number you gave me.”

Her hand flew to her mouth and tears welled in her eyes
yet again. “Thank you.”

Rob speared her with a look. “Before I fill in the amount, are you
sure
this is enough?”

“Oh God, more than. I mean, a need
is always lurking, but this will help so, so much.” Her stomach was tied in knots at how generous Rob was. She’d never be able to thank him enough.

“All right then.” With a flourish, he finished writing then tore off the check. “Here you go.” Looking around, he asked, “Do you need more help?”

“No, no. You surely have better things to do with your time than cleaning up after these guys.”

“Not really. Sad, but true.”
He shrugged, but the movement didn’t look casual.

Stepping forward, she threw her arms around him
, and he froze. Alaina immediately backed away and stammered, “I apologize. I shouldn’t have done that. I was just—I’m overwhelmed. By all of this.”

“I was surprised
, but don’t mistake that for something else.” This time he advanced and pulled her into the wide circle of his powerful arms. He breathed in deeply. “Oh Alaina, you smell so good.”

She leaned back and looked at him. “I do?”
God, he’s killing me. Does he even realize the effect he has? Surely he must.

Rob picked up a lock of her hair and sniffed. “What kind of shampoo is that?”

“A dollar-store brand.”

“Hmmm. What scent?
I can’t place it.”


Strawberry.” The conversation was getting weirder and weirder, and she fought not to squirm.

“Huh
. Smells great, not so perfume-y like some of those more expensive shampoos. Suits you.”

His long, blunt fingers were still caressing
that one piece, his gaze not leaving hers. Alaina swallowed past the lump in her throat, and he tracked the movement before slowly moving his gaze back to her face, briefly caressing her lips before meeting her gaze once more and holding it.

Her heart stuttered.
Is he going to kiss me?
A door slammed somewhere out in the hall, and Alaina scurried away then busied herself straightening some papers on her desk, turning her back to him. She needed to collect herself—pronto. Her face flooded with embarrassment as she considered what would’ve happened if they’d been caught cuddling in her classroom. The door was open—anyone could’ve seen and gotten the wrong idea.

What
wrong idea? They’d have gotten exactly the right idea. I want him to kiss me. I shouldn’t, but I do.

“I should let you go. I’m sure you’re busy.” She glanced over her shoulder, finding him still rooted to the spot and staring at her with an unreadable expression.
Alaina took a deep breath, wiping her damp palms on her brown skirt, and then started. “Oh crap.”

“What?” His voice didn’t sound entirely steady
.

Was it possible
he actually
was
attracted to her?

A few weeks ago she would’ve laughed in someone’s face at the very thought
, but now? Now she didn’t know.

“I got glue on my skirt.
One of my only unstained items of clothing. Well, it
was
one of my only clean outfits. Ugh.”

He
approached, reaching out a hand before pulling it back, his fist clenching at his side. “Will it come clean?”

“Elmer’s. Happens all the time. Occupational hazard.
It’s just annoying every now and then to know that everything I own ends up like this….”

You’re rambling.

At least she hadn’t mentioned she’d specifically worn this outfit because the style looked nice on her. That would’ve been admitting she cared about how he perceived her appearance. She shuddered at the thought.

“I’ll get out of your
hair, er, out of your way. See you next week.” He’d hardly finished the sentence before he was running out the door.

Disappointment flooded her.
She shook her head.
Yeah, a guy like that is really gonna want to get with you…

 

~ * ~

 

THREE

 

 

 

When the
regular season began, Rob was in high spirits. Getting back into the swing of things, the routine of games and practices, plane rides and hotels, always soothed his restlessness. That the Storm won their first three games, all against division rivals, also contributed to his good mood.

The only thing marring his sense of contentment was how long it had been since he’d seen Alaina. He hadn’t been able to make it to the classroom to read to the kids that week and felt badly. Even worse
, though he truly looked forward to seeing the students, he was more interested in spending a little time in Alaina’s company, despite it not being the quality alone time he was beginning to yearn for.

Some of his teammates hated bus
sing to Toronto for games, especially so this time because it was the fourth game in five nights, but Rob looked at it as a way to hang out with all the guys. The games against Toronto were always emotionally charged, since Toronto and Buffalo had a long-standing, nasty rivalry. The atmosphere in the Air Canada Centre couldn’t be beat, no matter where else they played throughout the season. Obviously storied places like Madison Square Garden were cool, but the level of animosity, both between the players and the fans, wasn’t present. Toronto was the perfect situation for Rob to operate in.

The ride up was raucous, with guys yelling over one another to be heard. Seb and Rob were sharing a seat, since Sarah always sat with th
e coaching staff. Rob tried to pay attention to his teammates, but his thoughts kept drifting back to Alaina.

“Dude.”

Busted.
Rob looked up as Sebastian waved a hand in front of Rob’s face.
How long has he been doing that?

“You are not yourself. You’re distracted. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Just thinking about the game. You know how crazy they can get.”

Sebastian looked dubious, but let the subject go
, and Rob blew out a slow, relieved breath. Soon after, they arrived at the Air Canada Centre and Rob put his game face on.

His line
, the team’s checkers, was chosen to start the game; not entirely surprising since the Storm was the away team, and Jon, the head coach, almost always went for Rob’s line in a game like this to set the tone and make sure the other team didn’t think they could physically out-man the Storm.

Rob
skated to the left wing position against Toronto’s leading scorer, Magnus Araleous. Frankly, he was baffled about why the Toronto head coach would start his scoring line against Rob’s line, which was obviously the Storm’s strongest defensively. But he wasn’t paid to second-guess the actions of opposing coaches, so he settled in to do what he did best.

Trash talk time.

“Hey buddy, how was your summer?” Rob asked. Magnus ignored him, having played against Rob long enough to know something else was coming. And Rob couldn’t disappoint the man, so he continued, “Tell your lady I said hi and sorry about breaking that lamp.”

Now the other man glanced at him, hatred and competitive spirit
doing its best to transfer from his eyes in an attempt to melt Rob where he stood. Yep, Rob had him now. Magnus was so focused on him he didn’t notice the puck coming their way, and Rob had pivoted around him and passed off to Marc, his center, before Magnus could even react.

“Son of a bitch!” Magnus screamed at Rob’s back.

The sniper was many things, but a great skater wasn’t one of them, and getting caught flat-footed didn’t help. Rob held in a chuckle and streaked to the front of the net. He’d get pounded, but his job was to screen the goaltender with his big ass, or so Jon kept telling him. His line didn’t score, but a good first shift in a game could get the entire team going, and it appeared to work since Buffalo beat Toronto on their own ice by three goals. One of Rob’s favorite sounds in the world was hearing opponents get booed in their own building, and he reveled in the night.

The team
straggled onto the bus. Most of the guys were quiet, nursing sore muscles or trying to catch a little sleep, a much different story from the laughing and joking that went on during the bus ride up. After a two-and-a-half-hour drive, the bus pulled up to the Barn, the Storm’s arena. It was shortly after one in the morning, and he’d be back here in a little over seven hours. Sometimes it seemed silly to even go home, despite living only a few miles from the away. The next day would be long with lifting and practice then reading to Alaina’s class.

He was ex
cited to see the kids again. When he’d first found out he’d been chosen for this reading program, Rob had been sure some of his teammates would’ve been better selections—guys like Ben, who were quieter and more serious—but now he enjoyed his time at the school. Of course, the fact he was inexplicably obsessed with Alaina might’ve had something to do with that too.

Normally he’d talk to Seb
astian about something like this burgeoning lust, but he felt kind of dumb confessing an attraction to the schoolteacher. She was the polar opposite of his type. Not that Rob went for Barbie-like bimbos, but he wasn’t usually taken with women who wore drab, shapeless clothes covered in paint and glue.

Well, the skirt with the glue
debacle certainly hadn’t been shapeless, but some of her other clothes begged the question of why she was trying to hide her body. He couldn’t explain what it was about Alaina, but he’d been scant seconds from kissing her the last time they’d seen each other. As he continued on his way home, Rob wondered what would’ve happened if they hadn’t been interrupted by the noise outside the classroom?

He
couldn’t wait to see what Alaina had gotten with the money. While the team had been out of town, the checks had cleared, so she’d at least cashed them. By his calculations, each teacher would have around sixteen hundred dollars to spend if Alaina had split the second check as well. Rob didn’t need confirmation to know she had. That was the kind of person she was.

 

Rob walked into the school the next day on light feet, despite the large bruise on his hip from a hard check the night before. That damn Magnus had caught him later in the game, probably to pay him back for the trash-talking incident during the initial face-off. Rob’s playing style lent itself to some bumps and bruises, and Rob was grateful for the opportunity to get them. He wasn’t the most talented guy on the team, nor the youngest, so he had to be the hardest-working.

H
e stopped dead in the door to Alaina’s classroom, his gaze flying around the area. Nothing was different. She spotted him then came over and tried to push him back out the door, probably after seeing the no-doubt incredulous look plastered on his face, but he didn’t budge. Instead, he leaned on the door frame, regarding her with the stare he used on opposing players when he was about to unleash a can of whoop-ass.

“Didn’t you get anything?”
His tone was harsher than he’d intended, and Rob felt a little bad getting out the big guns, but what the hell?

She bit her lip
and looked down, shuffling her feet. “Not yet.”

Annoyance
stole through him. Obviously he hadn’t put a deadline on spending the money, but he’d really been hoping he’d see something. These kids couldn’t wait forever. In the most level tone he could achieve, he asked, “Can I ask why not?”

“I, um,”
she stopped, blowing out a loud breath, and he frowned. What was going on? “I haven’t been able to decide what to get,” she finally confessed, still staring at the floor, wringing her hands.


Is there a problem? I can give you more—”

Her head snapped up. “No! No, don’t give me more.”

“So you have enough?” Rob felt like he was interrogating her, but this was such a surprise, he wasn’t sure how to react.

“The amount of money isn’t the problem.”
Alaina continued fidgeting like some student who’d been caught passing notes.

Rob
would’ve laughed in another situation, but now…. Afraid she was going to break a finger soon, he grabbed her hands in one of his and used the other to nudge her chin upward until she met his gaze. “Then what is? And please don’t lie to me or say what you think will make me happy.”

She deflated before his eyes
, and he felt like an ass for pushing her, but he needed to know. “I really,
really
can’t decide what to get. I’m completely stymied.” Pulling her hands out of his, she darted a look around, and he realized he’d been inappropriately touching her in the middle of the school again. Thank God the students seemed engrossed in their current activity and only a few noticed. “Let’s go outside.”

Once they’d stepped into the hall and she’d shut the door behind her, Alaina
covered her face. “I feel so stupid. I’m,” she threw up both arms, “paralyzed.”

“Paralyzed?”
Rob was getting more confused by the second.
What the hell is she talking about?

“Yeah. I want to do the best I can for them. They have so little
, and I keep waffling about what would do the most good.”

Okay, that made sense.
Rob took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He really couldn’t fault Alaina. She clearly hadn’t blown off the task—instead, she was putting too much thought and worry into the whole thing. Nodding, he said, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. Is there a teacher supply store around here? I assume a city the size of Buffalo has one. My friend Sebastian said that’s where his mom, who teaches kindergarten up in Quebec, goes to get her stuff.”

Alaina sighed, rubbing her temples. He could imagine agonizing over this was probably causing one hell of a headache
, and he wanted to wrap her in his arms. Where the urge was coming from he didn’t know.

Could be that
“you’re obsessed” thing, dumbass. Get a freaking grip. Now is not the time
.

“Yeah, in Amherst.”

“Good. After the kids leave for the day, we’re going. You and me.” The relaxing afternoon he’d planned evaporated, but he didn’t mind a bit. This was more important. “We’ll look at everything together, and we’ll spend your money.”

“Why would you want to do th
at? You don’t trust me?”

Rob debated briefly how much to say. He went with the safest tack, not giving her anything she could use to refuse him.
“I trust you completely. But I can see how stressed out you are, and I’m sorry for that. I wanted this to be a happy thing—”

“But
—”

He held up a hand. “The point of all this was to help. So I’ll help
you shop. No biggie. Don’t argue with me.” He grinned. “My teammates can tell you how useless that is.”

She looked at him, her eyes huge and round. “Okay.”

“It’s a date.” He walked into the classroom, leaving her sputtering—no doubt at his choice of words—and greeted the kids. A perverse thrill stole through him that she’d agreed to go. The date comment certainly wasn’t taking the safe way out, but Rob was a risk-taker and he couldn’t resist.

A half
hour later, he’d finished reading and answering questions and Alaina joined him at the front. “Thank Mr. D’Amico.”

Rob smiled as they dutifully responded, “Thank you Mr. D’Amico.”

He waved to them, setting the book on Alaina’s desk. As she led him out of the classroom, he said, “I’ll be back in two hours. Be ready.” He hoped she didn’t blow him off. As he’d read and seen the expressions on the children’s faces lighting up from such a simple thing, excitement about being more involved had blossomed. This could be a lot of fun.

 

When he returned, Alaina was waiting, wringing those damn hands again. He’d never known what that phrase actually meant until he’d met her.

“You really don’t have to do this.”

Ignoring her protest, he said, “Why don’t I follow you home, so you can drop off your car? No need to take two.”
Not very subtle. Oh well.

“That would work,” she replied slowly, nodding. “Oh, then I could pick
up my list too. That might make things easier. At least we’ll have somewhere to start.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

A short time later, she was climbing into the truck with his help, after having changed into a pair of jeans and a shirt. She’d made him wait in the car, which had annoyed him, but at least he’d gotten a good look around the neighborhood. It appeared safe enough, though the houses were really close together, which made him nervous. Too many places for people to hide. He was probably paranoid, but from what he knew, she was a young, single woman living alone. She couldn’t be too careful.

“This is very…
big.”


Helps when the weather is nasty. Sometimes we get in at two or three in the morning and the weather’s been stormy here, and it’s nice to know this thing’ll plow through about anything. Getting stuck in the middle of the night after playing a game then traveling back home sucks.” He glanced at her, trying to hide the fact he was checking her out now that she was wearing more attractive jeans and sweater that showed her body to better advantage. Rob heartily approved. “So where’s your list?”

BOOK: Underneath It All (Storm Series)
2.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Time Out by Cheryl Douglas
Destined for Power by Kathleen Brooks
Rockaway by Tara Ison
Dead Iron by Devon Monk
the Big Time (2010) by Green, Tim
The Magic Half by Annie Barrows