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The call Will Bishop had been dreading came at 2:45 in the afternoon, just when he was beginning to think he was home free. As soon as he hung up the phone, he grabbed his hat and headed for the truck. True to form, his daughter Kylie had started junior high with a bang.
Will knew the way to the office by hearthe'd visited the place a time or two during his own scholastic career at Wesley Junior and Senior High. He pulled off his hat and stepped inside.
"Hi, Will." The secretary was the same woman who'd kept him company years ago, only a little grayer now and sitting in front of a computer instead of a typewriter.
"Long time, no see."
"You can go in."
Will wondered how many more times he was going to hear those words over the next few years.
He pushed the door open. Four faces turned his way. Kylie, of course, looking defiant as only Kylie could; Mr. Bernardi, the principal; Pete Domingo, the PE teacher; and a lady he didn't know. "Have a seat, Will."
At least Bernardi had refrained from making any comments about old times. The last thing Will needed was for Kylie to think she was carrying on a family tradition, even if she was.
"This is Miss Flynn," Bernardi said, indicating the dark-haired woman who was now regarding Will with an inquiring expression. "Miss Flynn is Kylie's science and social studies teacher."
Miss Flynn acknowledged the introduction with a nod and a smile that stopped short of her striking green eyes. She seemed cool and professional, exactly the kind of teacher that KylieandWill, back in the dayalways butted heads with. In fact, Kylie was glaring at her now from under her lashes. Will sensed a long school year ahead.
"Will, Kylie has engaged in some questionable behavior that needs to be addressed immediately." Bernardi sounded as if he was reading from a cue card.
"I see." Will was an old hand at translating teacher speak. He'd heard enough of it over the years. "What did Kylie do that was questionable?"
Mr. Bernardi was about to respond when he was interrupted by Pete Domingo. "Let's let Kylie tell her father what she did."
"Good idea," Bernardi agreed. "Kylie?"
Kylie sent Pete a smoldering look. "I got caught." No kidding. "Caught doing what?"
"Caught smoking after PE," Pete Domingo said, forgetting his intention of letting Kylie fess up.
Kylie nodded slowly. If Will hadn't been so utterly ticked off, he would have noticed his daughter trying to send him a message.
He glanced at Bernardi. "I'll be taking care of this at home. What happens here?"
"We know there are others involved, but Kylie won't name names."
"I was the only one," she said.
"We know that's not true." Bernardi sounded tired. Kylie stubbornly shook her head, her straight dark hair shifting over her shoulders. She was no longer meeting anyone's gaze. Instead, she stared down at the floor tiles.
Principal Bernardi let out a sigh. "We've already discussed this with Kylie. If she won't tell us who else was there, then she'll have to bear the brunt of the punishment alone."
Will gave Kylie a long look. Her jaw was locked and she looked so much like his ex-wife at that moment that it almost frightened him. But even if she resembled Desiree, she mostly took after him.
"I understand why Pete is here, but " Will glanced over at Miss Flynn. She hadn't said a word and she didn't appear as though she particularly wanted to be there. Unlike Domingo. The little general was enjoying this.
"They were outside my room," she said. "There was a group of at least three, but Kylie was the only one I recognized."
Will gave Kylie one last chance, even though he knew it was futile. "Kylie?"
She shook her head. Will stood. "Unless she needs to stay now, I think we'll go home and discuss this."
"This means an automatic three-day suspension, Will. School-district policy."
"I understand," Will replied. "Come on, Kylie. We're going home." Kylie got up from the wooden chair and headed for the door.
"If I get any names, I'll let you know," he told Bernardi, and followed his daughter out of the room. He was almost at the main entrance when he heard quick footsteps behind him. What now?
"Go to the truck," he told Kylie, who went out the door without a word. Will turned to face Miss Flynn, fast approaching with purposeful strides, the expression on her face that of someone about to give helpful hints on how to handle his child. Well, he'd had enough input from educators for one day.
"Don't worry," he said, "I'm not going to beat her."
"That's happy news," she replied mildly, and Will felt somewhat ashamed of himself. "I actually wanted to talk to you about another matter."
"I'm looking for a horse. A pleasure horse, and I heard you have some for sale."
This was not what Will had expected. Not even close. He gave a slow nod of acknowledgment. "I did have some horses for sale, but they went fast. I only have one left at this point, and I'm afraid he won't do for you."
Miss Flynn's eyebrows edged upward. "Why? I'm an experienced rider."
"He's a man's horse."
She regarded him for a moment. "There's no such thing."
"He was abused by a woman and now he doesn't like womennot even Kylie. Some horses are like that."
She looked as though she'd like to argue the point with him, but she didn't. "Well, do you know of any other horses for sale around here?" She pushed her hair behind an ear, mussing the layers.
"Not right now." It was true. There weren't many suitable horses for sale in Wesley, Nevada, and he wasn't going to direct her to the Taylors, who always had a horse for sale at some ridiculously high price. "You might try closer to Elko."
One corner of her mouth tightened in obvious frustration and suddenly she didn't look so teacherlike.
"I'll let you go." She rubbed the back of her neck in a way that made Will think he wasn't the only one who'd had a bad day. "I knew this wasn't a good time to ask, but I really want a horse. And since I was going to call about your newspaper ad anyway ." She shrugged.
"Bad judgment on my part."
She turned then, walked back down the hall, leaving Will staring after her. He felt like a jerk.
He debated for a moment, then decided to rebuild his burned bridges later. Right now he needed to nudge the truth out of his daughter.
"So who are you covering for this time?" Will asked as he put the truck in gear. Kylie waited until they were officially off school property before she answered. "Mark. You know what his dad would do to him." Will knew. Mark's dad was a bully, but somehow Mark not only survived, he was a likable kid.
Kylie gave a brief description of events, which played out pretty much as Will had expected. Mark, the geek, had been proving he wasn't a geek by smoking, with Kylie watching his back. The part where Kylie had got caught and Mark hadn't was still hazy, but Will let that slide for the moment.
"If you're suspended, I can't exactly let you go to the horse show this weekend, can I?"
Kylie's jaw dropped. "But I didn't do anything."
"You were there."
"Smoking is wrong, and you were there," Will replied, holding firm.
"I was there because of Mark. People pick on him because they can. It's not right." Kylie let out a huff of breath to emphasize the remark.
"Well, I really don't think smoking was the answer. Do you?"
"No, but I couldn't talk him out of it."
"Then you should have walked away. You can't go through life protecting people, Kylie.And I don't see Mark standing up for you. He left you twisting in the wind."
Kylie gazed at her father earnestly. "He doesn't know. They got me after science and I didn't have time to see him. I totally missed my last class while we waited for you."
"And now you're going to miss three days."
"And the horse show," she muttered sullenly.
"You aren't going to be riding or working with your horse, either. I need some help fixing the pole corral and I think there's some housework that needs attending to. We'll stop by the school tomorrow and pick up your work."
They drove a few miles in silence and then Kylie asked, "How come the new teacher knew you?"
"What makes you think she knows me?"
"The way she was looking at you."
Kylie didn't elaborate and Will decided it was best not to ask. "She doesn't know me. She knows we have horses for sale and she's looking to buy a horse."
"But all we have left is the paint gelding."
"He won't do for her."
Will smiled in spite of himself. "That's exactly what I told her."
Regan turned to see Pete heading down the hall toward her, his whistle bouncing on his belly.
"Look, I don't know how they handled things down in LasVegas, but frankly, I'd appreciate a little more support."
"I'm not sure I follow you."
"A united front."
Regan frowned, wishing he'd given her enough information to enable her to respond. His expression shifted toward impatience.
"I really think you could have backed me when I pointed out the other two boys that had probably been with Kylie."
"But I wasn't sure it was them."
"Well, I was."
In spite of not having seen them.
Regan forced a smile and refrained from pointing that out to him, in the interest of maintaining a peaceful work environment. She liked her new school. A lot. It had a small staff, nice-sized classes and one of her best friends from college worked there. Actually, when all her carefully made plans had blown up in her face, thanks to Daniel, her former colleague and jerk of an ex-boyfriend, it had been Tanya who'd encouraged her to move four hundred miles north.
"I'll try to be more observant next time." Pete gave a curt nod. "It would help."
REGAN'S NEW PRINCIPAL lasted less than a week.
Bernardi experienced chest pains on Thursday. On Friday it was announced he was taking an indefinite leave of absence. Pete Domingo, the only person on staff with administrative certification, would become acting principal in the interim.
"Pete Domingo?" Tanya moaned on the day of the big announcement. She flicked her smooth blond hair back over her shoulder. "Do you know what we're in for?"
"A united front, I gather." Regan perched on the edge of a student desk, waiting for her friend to finish her lesson plan.
"I'd rather have a monkey as an administrator. No, make that a baboon. Pete's ego is entirely too big and he's not concerned with learning. He's a do-or-die coach. He just wants to dom-i-nate."
"So do you, only in the academic sense."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Come on, let's go." Tanya closed her book. "I can finish up tomorrow. Oh, by the way, my landlord knows a guy who's selling a horse. Some kind of fancy quarter horse. He told me about it, but I can't remember much. I think it's female, has four legs and a tail."
"Funny, but that's exactly what I'm looking for." Tanya reached for the phone book on the edge of her desk. "I'll find the number."