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In the middle of the argumentthe same argument Jenny had with her teenage son every morningshe found herself lost in a daydream. Just once, she wanted someone to take care of her. Just once, she wanted to feel pampered. Just once, she thought with a sigh, she wanted to know what it was like to have the world at her feet, instead of having everyone walk all over her.
"Why can't I go with Tige after school?" her son, Seth, whined from the passenger seat. Not that a fourteen-year-old boy would cop to whining. "He got a new motorcycle, said I could ride it. Better than wasting time waiting on you to get done with your stupid meeting."
"No motorcycles," Jenny said in the tone she used for attempting to reason with her first and second graders when her patience was thin. Hopefully, she and Seth would make it to school before she lost her temper. Only a few miles to go. She drove faster.
"Why not? Josey rides hers all over the place, and you know she wouldn't do it if it wasn't safe."
"Josey is a grown woman," Jenny said through gritted teeth. This was the difference between fourteen-year-old Seth and eight-year-old Seth. The boy had always been able to tell when he shouldn't press his luck. "Josey's husband taught her how to ride, she's never had an accident, and you know good and well that she hasn't been on a bike since she got pregnant." Seth shuddered in immature horror. "May I remind you that Tige is a seventeen-year-old boy who drives too fast, doesn't own a helmet and has already crashed his bike twice? No. Motorcycles.''''
"Aw, Mom. You're not being fair."
"Life isn't fair. Get used to it." Seth rolled his eyes so hard she heard it in the dark.
"If my dad were still here, he'd let me ride."
Before she could come up with a coherent response to Seth's newest favorite guilt trip, she rounded the last curve before the Pine Ridge Charter School, where she taught two grades in one classroom. Trucks and cars were parked everywhere, with massive, stadium-style lights ripping through the soft dawn light.
Shoot, Jenny thought as Seth leaned forward to stare at the three-ring circus. The battle with Seth had made her forget that today was the first day of filming at the school.
The Pine Ridge Charter School was the only school for grades one through eight within a two-hour drive. The school had been funded and built by her cousin Josey White Plume and her aunt, Sandra White Plume. They'd finished it before the first day of school last fall, mostly thanks to the donations of Crazy Horse Choppers, which was run by Ben Bolton and his brothers, Billy and Bobby. The Bolton boys made money hand over fist with their highend, very expensive motorcycles. Josey had wound up marrying Ben Boltonand was now pregnant with their first baby.
If that were all there was to it, it would be weird enough. But the crazy didn't stop there. Oh, no. Bobby Bolton had been filming "webisodes"which Jenny didn't even think was a real wordof Billy Bolton building motorcycles at the Crazy Horse shop and posting the videos on the internet. Apparently, they were getting hundreds of thousands of hits, mostly because Billy cussed like a drunken sailor and occasionally threw tools at people. Jenny didn't have an internet connection, so she hadn't seen the show herself. She didn't want to. It sounded like entertainment aimed at the lowest common denominator.
But now the whole production had moved to her school. Billy Bolton was supposed to build a bike on site, teach the students how to use the tools and then the Boltons were going to auction the bike off and give the proceeds to the school. Bobby was going to film the whole thing.
Jenny didn't know which part of this plan she liked the least. Ben wasn't so bad. He was focused, intense and looked good on a bike, but he was a little too elite for Jenny's taste. He made Josey happy, though, so that made Jenny happy.
Bobby, the youngest of the Bolton brothers, talked to her only when he wanted something. He was handsome and charming and fabulously rich and she supposed that was more than enough for most women, but she didn't trust him.
She trusted Billy, the oldest, even less. He waswell, she didn't know if he was an actual Hell's Angel, but she wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to know he was in some sort of semicriminal biker gang. He was a massive man who everyone seemed mildly-to-severely afraid of. When she'd been introduced to him at Josey's wedding, he'd given off a vibe that had been something between quiet, dangerous and sexy. The combination had been thrillingor would have been if she'd let herself be thrilled. He'd been a sight to behold, with his brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, a neatly trimmed beard and a tuxedo that fit him like a glove.
Like the other two Bolton brothers, Billy was gorgeous in his rough way and richer than sinbut of the three of them, he had waved his wealth around the least. Ben wasn't showy, but everything he owned was the best. Bobby let everyone know how rich and popular he was. But Billy? It was almost as if the family money pissed him off. Jenny had been struck mute by the way he'd glared down at her. She'd barely been able to squeak out a "pleased to meet you."
And now that man was going to have the run of her school and interact with her students.
It was one thing for that man to make her nervous while she was wearing a frilly dress at a wedding that cost more than her house and car put together. It was a whole different thing if that man looked at one of her students with that glare. She would not tolerate a whiff of improper, indecent or dangerous behavior from any Bolton, no matter how muscled he was. One step out of line, and Billy Bolton would find out exactly what kind of woman she was.
She pulled into her regular parking spot, and Seth was already out the door, gawking as a small group of people scurried around. Jenny was usually the first person at the school. She liked easing into the morning before a bunch of six-, seven- and eight-year-olds descended on her classroom. She made some tea, made sure she had all of her supplies ready and got herself mentally prepared for the day. And since Seth usually hung out in the multipurpose room practicing guitar, it was as close to Zen as Jenny got.
But today? No Zen for her. Instead, a woman yelled, "We have a problemcar in the shot," into a walkie-talkie as she brushed past Jenny while a man adjusted the lightsand managed to blind her with the beam.
Before she could shade her eyes, a figure spoke from beside her. "Jennifer? Hi, Bobby Bolton. We met at the wedding. Great to see you again. So glad to be out here, doing something good for the school. You do good work out here, and we're thrilled to be a part of it, but we're going to need you to move your car."
Jennifer. The hackles went up on the back of Jenny's neck. Yes, he'd been trying to compliment her, but her name was not Jennifer. It never had been. She had the legal documents to prove it. She was Jenny Marie Wawasuck.
She swung around slowlyslow enough that she heard Seth make a noise that sounded like snerk. Even a teen-aged boy knew better than to call her Jennifer.
"Excuse me?" was the most polite thing Jenny could come up with.
Bobby had on a headset, and despite looking like the kind of guy who rarely got up before noon, he was as good-looking as ever. "As I'm sure you know, Jennifer, we're doing the shoot this morning. We're going to need you to move your car."
It was awfully early to have her last nerve snap, but it did. "Why?"
Bobby gave her the kind of smile that made her want to punch him in the stomach. "We're setting up a shot of Billy riding in, and we need the space." Bobby's voice was less complimentary now, more a direct order. "Move your car."
Of all the arrogant
Jenny pauseda trick she'd learned long ago worked on children of all ages to command attention. She drew herself up to her full height of five foot five inches, but she was still a good eight inches shorter than Bobby. She hated craning her neck, but she didn't have a stepstool handy.
"No. This is my spot. I always park here." Part of her knew she was being a tad irrationalit's not like moving the car was a huge dealbut she didn't want Bobby Bolton to think he could steamroll her whenever he felt like it.
Too often, too many people thought they could flatten her. They thought she wouldn't put up a fight because she was a nice girl or because she taught little kids or because she had nothingespecially that. Nothing but a parking spot.
Bobby's smile disappeared and he suddenly looked tired. "I know this is your spot, but I'd think a grown woman could handle parking somewhere else for one day. Thanks so much. Vicky?" he said into his headset. "Can we get Jennifer some coffee? Thanks." He turned his gaze back to her, and his fake-happy smile was back. "I know it's early, but once you move your car and have your coffee, I'm sure you'll feel better, Jennifer."
Jenny bristled under his patronizing tone, but before she could tell him that she didn't drink coffee, much less restate her position about not moving her darned car, a shadow loomed behind her, blocking out the spotlight.
A shiver raced up her arms and across her neck as a deep, powerful voice said, "Her name isn't Jennifer." As if to emphasize this point, a massive fist swung out from the shadows and hit Bobby in the arm so hard that he had to take a few steps back to keep his balance. "It's Jenny. Stop being a jerk."
Jenny swallowed as Billy Bolton brushed past her and stood next to his brother. She was not afraid of this man, she reminded herself. So what if he was a foot taller than she was, wearing really expensive-looking leather chaps over a pair of jeans and a tight-fitting black T-shirt that didn't look like the kind that cost seven dollars at Walmart? So what if he had on sunglasses and the sun hadn't even broken through the horizon? So what if he looked like some sort of bad-biker-boy fantasy come true?
He was on her territory, by God. She would not cower, and that was that.
So she squared her shoulders, put on her don't-mess-with-me glare and stood her ground. Then she realized what Billy had said.
He knew her name.
Weird goose bumps spread from her neck down her back. She would have been willing to bet that he wouldn't have been able to pick her out of a lineup, but here he was, punching Bobby because he'd called her the wrong name.
My school, my rez, she repeated to herself as she cleared her throat. "Right. Well, have fun making your little movie, gentlemen." She turned to walk into the building at a slow, deliberate pace, but Bobby circled around.
"We haven't solved our problem."
"Problem?" Billy asked. Jenny felt his voice rumble through her. She remembered now that he'd invoked that same sort of physical response in her the other time they'd met, too.
"JennifJenny's car is in the shot." Bobby quickly corrected himself before Billy took another swing at him. "We need to get you on the bike riding up to the school with the sunrise, and her car will be in the way. I've asked her to move itfor the day," he added, giving her another sexy smile, "but because it's early and she hasn't had her coffee, she hasn't yet seen the value of temporarily relocating her vehicle."
What a load of hooey dressed up in double-talk. Did he think he could confuse her with a bunch of fancy language and the kind of smile that probably melted the average woman?
"Just because Josey gave you permission to film at this school does not mean I'm going to let you and your 'crew' disrupt my students' educations," she said through a forced smile.
Then something strange happened. Billy looked at her, leaned forward, took a deep breathand appeared to be savoring it. "She doesn't drink coffee," he said as the woman Jenny had seen earlier walked up with a steaming mug of the stuff.
Okay, Billy Bolton was officially freaking her out. Jenny had been more or less invisible to the male race forwell, how old was Seth? Fourteen? Yes, fourteen years. No one wanted to mess with a single mother, and a mostly broke Indian one at that.
But Billy? He was not just paying attention to her name, or what she smelled like. He was paying attention to her. She had no idea if she should be flattered or terrified.
"You're not going to move your car?" he asked.
She couldn't see his eyes behind his glasses, but she got the feeling he was giving her the once-over. Then, with a curt nod, he turned around, walked to the front bumper of her car and picked up the whole dang thing. With his bare hands. True, it was a crappy little compact car that was about twenty years old, but stillhe picked it up as if it didn't weigh much more than a laundry basket. If she wasn't so mad right now, she'd be tempted to do something ridiculous, like swoon at the sight of all his muscles in action. He was like every bad-boy fantasy she'd ever had rolled into one body.
"Heyhey!" Jenny yelled as he rolled her car about thirty feet away and dropped it in the grass with a thud. "What the heck do you think you're doing?"
"Solving a problem." Billy dusted his hands off on his chaps and turned to face her, as if he regularly moved vehicles with his bare hands. "You."
That absolutely, totally did it. It was bad enough she had to take a constant stream of attitude from her son. She'd tried being nice and politelike the good girl she wasbut what had that gotten her? Nothing but grief.
"You listen to me, youyouyou." Before she knew what she was doing, she'd reached out and shovedactually shovedBilly Bolton.
Not that he moved or anything. Pushing his chest was like pushing against a solid wall of stone. And all those stupid goose bumps set off again. She ignored them.
"I am not here for you or your brother or his film crew to treat like garbage. I am a teacher. This is my school. Got that?"
She thought she saw Billy's mouth curve up into something that might have been a grin. Was he laughing at her?
She reached up to shove him againnot that it would hurt him, but she had this irrational thought that something physical might be the only thing a man like him understood.
This time, Billy captured her hand with his massive fingers and held it. In an instant, all those goose bumps were erased by a licking flame of heat that ran roughshod over her body.
With effort, she held on to her anger and wrenched her hand away from his. "You listen to meI don't care how big or scary or rich or famous you areyou're at my school, on my rez, mister. You make one mistaketouch one student, say something inappropriateI'll personally grind you up into hamburger and feed you to the coyotes. Do I make myself clear?"
Billy didn't say a thing. He looked at her from behind his dark shades. The only reaction she could see was the possible curve of his lips behind his beard, but she couldn't even be sure about that.
"Mom," Seth said from behind her.
"We need to get filming, Jenny," Bobby added. He stepped between her and Billy and tried to herd her away.
She leaned around Bobby and leveled her meanest glare at Billy. "We aren't done here." Then she turned around and stomped off.
As she went, she swore she heard Billy say behind her, "No, I don't think we are."