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Rumor Has It
By Cindi Myers
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSometimes the past sneaks up and bites you in the butt. You think you're doing great, planning for the future and then up pops a ghost from your personal history to prove you wrong.
"I hear Dylan Gates is moving back to town."
Alyson Michaels, who taught physical education as if it were merely an extension of her long career as a Cedar Creek Cyclone cheerleader, dropped this bomb as she stood with Taylor Reed and several other teachers on the bus ramp in front of the high school one bright September morning.
For half a second Taylor stopped breathing. She hadn't thought of Dylan Gates in a long time, but the memory of him was enough to bring a hot flush to the back of her neck, even after ten years. She swallowed hard and stared out at the lines of students who slouched up the steps of Cedar Creek Senior High with all the enthusiasm of cattle being led to slaughter. Ah, the joys of high school. How ironic that after enduring her own personal high school hell, Taylor had ended up coming back here to teach. Guess she was just a glutton for punishment.
"It'll be great to see Dylan." Fellow English teacher Grady Murphy sidled closer. "Last I heard, he was out in California."
"He was, but he's moving back to Cedar Creek to open a law practice," Alyson said.
Dylan, moving here? Taylor's stomach flip-flopped. "How do you know that?" she asked.
Alyson bounced on her toes like a hyperactive poodle. As usual, she was dressed in a too tight golf shirt, white shorts and tennis shoes with white anklets. She carried the bus duty roster on a clipboard and her blond hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. In her more vindictive moments, Taylor wondered if Alyson's whole face would collapse if that ponytail was undone. "Troy Sommers, the real estate agent, is a friend of mine. He said Dylan emailed him last week about renting space downtown, across from the courthouse. And he told Troy he intended to move back into his parents' old place."
"Who's Dylan Gates?" Mindy Lewis, freshman algebra teacher and Taylor's best friend, joined them.
"Before your time, child." Grady grinned at their younger colleague. "Alyson, Taylor, Dylan and I were all at school together, right here at good old Cedar Creek High." He laughed. "Those were the days!"
"Yeah, right," Taylor mumbled. Days of sheer torture as far as she was concerned. Even Dylan ...
"Speaking of our high school days, are you going to the reunion Saturday?" Alyson asked.
"Why do I need to go to the reunion when half our class is still here?" Taylor said the words only half jokingly.
"I'm on the reunion committee and I noticed you hadn't sent in your R.S.V.P." Alyson frowned at Taylor.
"I can't believe you'd think of missing our ten-year reunion. Everyone will be there."
"I won't," Mindy said. "Of course, I've got years to go before my reunion."
Alyson ignored the dig from her younger colleague and pointed a pencil at Taylor. "You don't want to miss out on this reunion. Trust me."
Taylor shrugged. "I guess I'm not very big on reliving old times." In fact, she'd just as soon forget her short career as a student at Cedar Creek High.
"It'll be your last chance to see everyone before you head off to London or wherever it is," Grady said.
"Oxford." In January, Taylor would start a graduate fellowship at the hallowed university, far away from Cedar Creek, Texas, and reminders of the past.
"Dylan will be there." Alyson studied Taylor through lowered lashes. "Maybe you two can pick up where you left off, for old times' sake."
"That's right - you and Dylan were quite an item senior year, weren't you?" Grady mused. "Is it true Coach Nelson caught the two of you in the boys' showers?"
For once Taylor was grateful for the shrill bell that announced the start of classes. Nodding goodbye to Alyson and Grady, she maneuvered past groups of students and headed toward her second-floor English classroom. Only four more months to endure Alyson's and Grady's snide comments and suggestive winks. Four months until she started life over in a place where no one had ever heard of her allegedly torrid past.
Mindy caught up to her. "What was all that about? Who's Dylan Gates?"
Taylor shrugged. "A guy I was friends with in high school."
"Friends? As in boyfriend-girlfriend?"
"No, it wasn't like that." Not that Taylor hadn't dreamed about the possibility. "There were some rumors about us, but they weren't true."
"Alyson and Grady apparently think they were." Mindy wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Of course, those two are still stuck in high school. I mean, look at them. Alyson still thinks she's the popular cheerleader and Grady is the dumb jock panting after her. It's pathetic, really, when people can't move on with their lives."
"Yeah, pathetic," Taylor echoed. But were they any worse than a twenty-eight-year-old woman who let high school teasing still get to her?
"Good morning, Mindy. Taylor." The principal, Clay Walsh, waved to them from the door of his office.
"Good morning, Clay." Mindy's cheeks flushed pink as they moved on down the corridor.
Taylor nudged her friend. "If you like him so much, why don't you come right out and tell him?"
Mindy's smile dissolved into a look of openmouthed horror. "Does it really show that much?"
"Relax. Only because I know you so well. But seriously, why not let him know how you feel?"
Mindy glanced back at Clay, who was still watching them from his office doorway. She quickly faced forward again. "I've tried dropping hints," she said. "But he doesn't seem interested."
"What kind of hints?"
"Well ... I always give him a big smile and say hello whenever I see him in the hall. And when I sent Larry Atwater to the principal's office last week for disrupting class, I walked him down there myself and told Clay I was available to discuss the situation further after school." Her shoulders slumped. "But all he said was that he appreciated the offer, but he didn't think that would be necessary."
Taylor couldn't hold back her laughter. Mindy glared at her. "What's so funny?"
"You! How are any of those things supposed to let a man know you've got the hots for him?"
"Well, what do you think I should do?"
Taylor composed herself. Who would have thought usually outgoing Mindy would have such a problem letting a man know she was interested? "Flirt with him," she suggested. "Make it a point to sit with him at lunch. Stop by after work and invite him to have a drink with you."
Mindy's eyes widened. "I couldn't do that!"
"Why not? The worst that could happen is he'd turn you down. And I'd bet money he wouldn't."
Mindy shook her head. "It's complicated, with him being principal. Not to mention fifteen years older than me."
"That shouldn't matter. I think you two would be good together."
"Like I'm supposed to trust the judgment of a woman who hasn't had a serious relationship with a man in how long?"
Excerpted from Rumor Has It by Cindi Myers Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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