Every woman is a Goddess. Some simply don't realize it yet. That's when a Guardian arrives. She guides and protects. But most of all...she comes to set a woman's inner goddess free. Because in a mortal's strength is a Guardian's salvation.
Erin Sanders is a school teacher with a past that has scarred her very soul. She is close to no one until a chance encounter turns her world upside down.
Daniel Rodriguez is a man who knows what he wants. He's a serene soul who feels drawn to Erin through a brief meeting and vows to find out more about her.
But Erin has secrets that tear at her world.
Daniel doesn't heed Erin's words or warnings. He vows to gently open her eyes to a world she didn't know existed. A world where a man will give anything to be in her heart.
|Publisher:||Whiskey Creek Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.42(d)|
About the Author
To learn more about Crystal and her books, visit her website at: http://chryswriter.tripod.com/
Read an Excerpt
The man in the crimson G-string gyrated to the music and catcalls of the mostly female audience. The bow tie around his neck matched perfectly. He humped and gyrated to the beat while trying to look incredibly sexy. Perfectly honed muscles moved in time to the incredibly loud bass pumping through the club.
Erin had a headache.
She watched Tara motion to the man so she could slide a bill or two into his tight briefs. He worked his way over and winked at Tara while she slid her hands down his hard chest and into the front of his G-string.
Erin sipped her diet soda and watched the commotion around her with a dispassionate eye.
Who knew teachers could be such a crazy group of individuals? Erin looked at the various glasses and drinks on the top of the table. Apparently margaritas and rum loosened inhibitions considerably.
And she'd watched in disbelief as Mary, the fifth grade teacher, put another five into the man's g-string. If he didn't already have a month of Mary's salary in there, Erin would eat her sock.
Erin sighed and looked around at the garish lights and tried to tune out some of the loud music. No go.
Mr. Red G-String went back to his room while Mr. Sparkly G-String came out. Or at least that's what his bow tie indicated. The man's teeth gleamed impossibly bright in the dark room. And then he proceeded to do a little bump and grind.
But so were Erin's teeth. She glanced at Tara and sighed.
"Tara!" She tapped her friend's arm. "I'm going."
Tara blinked and tried to focus her brown eyes. "Huh?"
"I'm. Leaving." Erin stood and kissed Tara's forehead. "You all have a ride home, right?"
"Barowner took care of it." Tara tried to read the hands on her watch. "I think it's early. Why don't you stay?"
"I'm tired." Erin forced out a yawn and shrugged. "I'll see you Monday at school." She made her way through the maze of chairs and walked purposefully toward the front door.
Someone grabbed her arm, and Erin responded without thinking. She swung her fist and felt the satisfying connection of skin to skin. Her arm dropped quickly, and she turned to sprint toward the door.
A large man suddenly stepped in front of her, and Erin stopped abruptly.
Erin turned to study the dark-skinned man who rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Nice hit." He tried to smile through the pain. His olive complexion complemented hazel eyes flawlessly. "I have a feeling you would have broken my nose if I hadn't pulled back. Now." He spread his hands out as if talking to a child. "If you don't mind. You're not going anywhere."
"I would have." Erin nodded and showed her teeth. "And yes. I do mind." Her heart raced. She glanced from the smaller man to the giant behind her. "I'm going home." Erin glanced toward the door one more time.
"Can't let you do that," the giant rumbled.
Erin turned to him and nodded slowly, as though in agreement. Then she kicked the hell out of his balls. A second later, she was flying toward the front door.
The smaller man caught her arm halfway there and pinned her to the wall. "You're coming with us, Miss." He dragged her toward the stairs against the wall.
Erin tried to shout, but all the women who saw her struggle were grinning and clapping as though it were a big joke. Her heart hammered in her chest.
The man who had a hold of her opened a door and gently pushed her inside. The giant of a man, still holding his balls, hobbled in after.
"What do you want me to do with her, boss?"
Erin curved her fingers into claws, ready to do damage.
"I don't know, Max." The man rubbed his temple. "If I had known what a pain in the ass a bunch of drunk women would be, I would never have taken over this bar."
"What?" Erin sputtered.
"My bouncer's balls are in the vicinity of his throat, and I'm scared you're going to scratch my eyes out." The man sighed. Hazel eyes studied her. "Not a good sign."
"You're the owner?" Erin's blue eyes met his unflinchingly.
"Do you think that perhaps you could have let a woman know instead of molesting her?" Erin put her hand on her hip and regarded him distastefully.
"You're not drunk?" The man's gaze roamed over her flushed skin.
"Oh." Erin dropped her hands in sudden understanding. "You're supposed to take care of the inebriated guests." She blew out a breath. "Listen. I applaud your tenacity. But I'm stone sober. Okay?"
Erin turned to the man behind her. "I'm sorry, Max. I thought you were going to hurt me."
"We don't do that." The giant frowned.
"Miss. I'm so sorry." The man bowed regally at the waist. When he straightened, he offered his hand. "Daniel Rodriguez at your service. I hope you can accept my apology." He looked shamefaced. "Some of these parties can become a little rowdy. I only glanced in on your bachelorette party. There was," he cleared his throat, "a lot of partying going on."
She shook his hand quickly and then withdrew hers. "No kidding." Erin smiled. "Not a problem. I'll just be heading home now." She nodded at the bar owner and turned to go.
Erin turned back around and arched her eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Please. Let me make this up to you. Perhaps a dinner?" He grinned and showed the perfect teeth again. "My mother would never forgive me."
"Your mother need never know." Erin smiled at Max and turned to walk back down the stairs.
The adrenaline still coursed through her veins. Goodbye, sleep. Hello, ice-cream. She didn't look back at either man on her way out.
Kendra glided through the halls of the school and looked at every piece of art on the wall. She loved children. She often helped with the nursery back home. And surely magical children were harder to take care of than mortals.
Her hands lovingly traced a beautiful picture of a fairy with blue wings. The child had a gift as an artist. The picture gleamed golden around the edges. It was a strong gift.
Kendra moved invisibly from wall to wall and tried to get her bearings. She wasn't quite ready to undertake her assignment. Failure was not an option. Wilda came through with flying colors. And now she, the youngest, had to make her time count.
She didn't think Eden would try to interfere. But Tempest was another matter entirely. Her sister could drive a saint stupid without trying. But Wilda had managed her. And so would Kendra. If she had to.
Her steps faltered a bit outside Erin's classroom. Already, Kendra's energy seemed to want to reach out and encompass her mortal. To guide. To protect. Kendra opened herself up and sampled the remnants of her mortal.
Such sadness. It was palpable in the lines of life. But strength. Courage. Kendra nodded. She had chosen well. There was much work in front of her. But she was the Water Goddess. She would prevail.
Kendra smoothed down her plain brown skirt as her sensible brown shoes clicked on the cement floor of the school. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a loose bun at the nape of her neck. She tried to look as nondescript as possible. The spell helped enormously.
The office doors were right in front of her. She grasped the doorknob, turned it, and opened the door.
An older woman with red, corkscrew curls piled on top of her head muttered to herself while clutching a pencil between her teeth. Her tortoiseshell glasses balanced precariously on her small nose while the chain hung crazily by her cheek. She pecked at a keyboard while muttering under her breath.
"Um, excuse me?"
The typing stopped, and the woman peered up over her glasses. Sharp green eyes studied her.
"What do you need, hon? Run out of pencils again?"
Kendra frowned down at the woman. "No."
The woman blinked and pulled the glasses up. "Oh. I'm so sorry! I thought you were someone else. Can I help you?"
"I need an application."
"Teacher's assistant or janitor?"
Kendra blinked twice at the choices. She certainly hoped it was the teacher's assistant. How was she to help her mortal if she only saw the woman twice a day? Not to mention that scrubbing toilets was certainly not her idea of a good time. Not that she'd ever done it. But she was pretty sure she wouldn't care for it.
The older woman handed her a sheet of paper and pen. "You can fill it out over there, dearie."
Kendra took her paper and walked over to the small, brown, circular table against the wall. She put her purse in front of the paper and waited for inspiration to strike. As soon as she shielded her paper, answers automatically filled in the spaces. She muttered a brief, "Thank you."
And then the office traffic picked up considerably. Kendra watched the comings and goings with interest. The woman behind the desk had pencils, a rubber band, paper clips, staples, and highlighters. There were also shoestrings, band-aids, and Vaseline for chapped lips.
Elementary children filtered through with consistency until the first bell rang. And then they tapered off considerably. Kendra took a deep breath and walked back up to the secretary's desk. She handed the paper to the woman and waited while it was looked over.
"You're perfect, dearie." Those green eyes moved over her and missed nothing. "I think Erin will appreciate someone with so much experience." She lowered her voice. "I'm Ethel. Keeper of Tiny Treasures and the band-aids. And the truth is, we've got an overabundance of kindergarteners this year." She sighed. "A lot of parents kept their children out of preschool, and this is their first year. Erin has her hands full."
Ethel smiled. "She can handle it; I have no doubt. But we have to fill the position because of the large number of children."
"I understand." Kendra smiled back. "I look forward to your call. Would it be okay if I looked around a bit?"
"Oh, heavens yes!" Ethel waved her out the door. "I'll give this to the principal, Mrs. Barfield. She'll be the one contacting you." She winked. "And I don't think it will be too long. But go wander around, dearie."
Kendra thanked the secretary and left the office. She could hear the murmurings of hundreds of children and smiled. This was certainly where she was supposed to be. And then a shrill cry broke the air, and Kendra frowned and ran down the hallway.
Erin hurried down the hallway toward the cry that startled her a second ago. She had only dropped the children off at music when the cry stopped her in her tracks. The shrill cry tapered off into large sobs that echoed off the walls of the empty hallways.
She rushed into the bathroom and found Mary, a third grader, holding up her bleeding finger. It was a nasty cut, and Erin fought back the wince of sympathy.
"Here, hon." Erin turned on the cold water and ran the finger underneath it for a second so she could see the depth of the cut. "What happened?"
Between hiccups and sobs, Mary told of how she accidentally slit her finger on the toilet paper holder. Erin nodded and applied pressure to the cut. It didn't need stitches but certainly a bandage.
"I'll walk you down to Miss Ethel, and she'll fix you right up. Okay? Then we'll call your parents so they know what happened."
"Okay." Mary's lip quivered again.
"Is there anything I can do?" The soft voice startled Erin, and she spun quickly to see who was behind her.
A slender blonde with bright blue eyes studied her.
"Who are you?" Erin tucked Mary behind her and looked at the stranger.
"My name is Kendra." She smiled. "I've applied for the assistant teaching position. Ethel assured me I could look around a bit."
Mary moved from behind Erin and looked at the two women. "Are you sisters?"
"No, hon." Erin smiled down at her. "I don't have any sisters. But Miss Kendra is thinking about helping out in my room. So we might see more of her. Okay?"
The child nodded.
"Now let's get you down to the office."
Erin tucked Mary close and stroked her hair on the trip down to the office. Thankfully the cut wasn't deep enough for stitches. Those hurt like hell. And no child should have to have them. She explained to Ethel what happened and left Mary with her.
When she turned around, she met Kendra's eyes and motioned to the hallway. "Would you like to see the room you may be working in?"
Erin nodded and led Kendra down the long hallway to the last room on the right. "Home sweet home." She opened the door and motioned the visitor inside.
The alphabet trailed across the top of the blackboard in bright letters with animals hiding between the spaces. A map of the United States was on the left of the blackboard with colorful pushpins highlighting certain locations. The window next to it housed three beautiful flowers that seemed to strain toward the sunlight.
The far wall accommodated a bookshelf overflowing with picture books and easy readers. A plant on top of it trailed down a pale green vine that curled ever-so-gently on the second shelf. Three small bean bags in various colors curled around the carpet in front of the books. Several small words in bright blue, green, and yellow clung to the wall.
Erin's desk sat by the other window on the same wall with a collection of markers, pencils, and crayons. An apple-shaped hall pass lay on the corner. Behind her desk on the other wall were cubbies with children's prized possessions overflowing the small squares.
The last wall was a series of cabinets decorated with ribbons and bright pictures that captivated Kendra's attention immediately. There were fairy tale characters and clouds that seemed to drift down and float effortlessly against the wood.
Erin watched Kendra walk over and trace the pictures with one finger. "I like these."
"So do the children." Erin joined her and pointed to a princess and a frog at the top. All the green in the princess' dress and the frog was bright glitter. "They can't seem to get enough of the fairy tales. So we're exploring those first this year. I'm trying to find some books that have simple words but captivating pictures."
Kendra nodded. "Ethel told me there is an extra large class this year."
"Is that a problem?"
"Not at all." Kendra smiled. "I'm used to large groups of children."
"Good." Erin glanced at the clock. "It's nice to meet you, but I have to prepare the next lesson for the children. They'll be back in about twenty minutes."
"Pleased to meet you." Kendra extended her hand, and Erin took it with hesitation and shook.
"You can see yourself out, can't you?"
"Yes." Kendra walked back through the door and down the hall.
Erin sighed and rubbed her temple. Well, at least the assistant didn't seem like a pain in the ass. It was a complication she didn't need. Regardless, she would adhere to Principal Barfield's decision. The woman had a knack for hiring the best suited people. It's why the staff of the school was more like a family.
And speaking of family ties, she wondered how Saturday night ended. And if any of her single friends ended up with a nice gyrating man in her bed. Erin grinned. As long as Tara didn't, Erin didn't really care.
The night brought back memories of the bar owner and his bouncer. Erin had gone directly to her freezer and brought out the butter pecan ice cream pint when she arrived home. She hadn't been that shaken in quite some time, and she didn't like it. No one had put their hands on her in years, and it was an unpleasant feeling.
Erin rubbed her shoulders through her thin blue blouse and smoothed down her matching pencil skirt. She pushed the thoughts of that night to the back of her mind and opened her planner. The children would be bouncing off the walls when they came back from music, and she needed to have their attention immediately. Perhaps a story or two to calm them down and refocus them. She smiled and smoothed her blonde hair back into the tight bun at the nape of her neck.
The morning flew by, and Erin didn't have a chance to catch up with her co-workers until lunchtime. They all sat at one of the tables in the cafeteria. All in their thirties and all had similar tastes and preferences. Close enough to handle any problems but far enough away to have some adult conversation.
Tara and Mary already sat there, deep in discussion. Erin took a tray and walked over to the women and sat down.
"There she is." Tara smiled at her. "We wondered if you were bound and gagged in your room."
"No." Erin grinned. "How did Saturday night go?"
"Great!" Mary beamed. She patted her chestnut hair pulled back in a ponytail. "I have a date Friday night with one of the dancers."
Tara laughed. "Three of them asked her. But she only accepted one invitation."
"The other two didn't want a date." Mary wriggled her eyebrows.
Erin laughed and rolled her eyes. "TMI, woman. Seriously."
"And where did you skip out to?" Tara eyed Erin curiously. "We looked up around eleven, and you were nowhere to be seen."
Erin shook her head. "I said my goodbyes. You probably just don't remember." She took a sip of her milk and waved her hand. "A bit of a headache, so I skipped out a little early."
"A little?" Mary frowned. "Honey. You weren't even there an hour."
Tara studied her with concerned brown eyes. "Just not your cup of tea, is it?"
"Not really." Erin smiled gratefully and took a bite of the chicken the cafeteria prepared. Then she looked around and noted the groups of children. Everyone seemed to be doing well.
"You can't live just for the job, hon." Mary motioned to the children. "They're precious. And they're wonderful. But they don't take the place of a partner in your life."
Tara opened her mouth, but Erin shook her head. "It's fine, Tara. And I don't think Mary would be Mary if she didn't try to matchmake." Her blue eyes met Mary's, and she smiled. "I don't want a partner. I'm content to be single. And working. And not worrying about someone else the entire time. I'll leave all the men for you since Ms. Tara here is going to be a Mrs. Soon."
"It doesn't seem right," Mary muttered. "Look at you. Beautiful, blonde, thin, and smart as hell. Are you a lesbian?"
Erin threw back her head and laughed until tears streamed from her eyes. Tara simply shook her head and tried not to snicker. "No. I'm not. Though that would probably just mean you were shoving women in my path and not men."
Mary shrugged. "Got to have a hobby. And I've already set up Tara."
"And very well, I might add."
The words seemed to mollify the fifth grade teacher. "Okay. I'll let it go for now. But don't think you're totally off the hook. I have plans for you."
"Perish the thought," Erin mumbled, and Tara laughed.
The women talked and laughed for the next half an hour while a substitute handled the playground duties. Erin dumped her tray and bid her friends goodbye until after school. She passed the office when she heard Ethel call out her name. Erin turned quickly and walked through the doorway.
The secretary grinned broadly and motioned to a massive bouquet of red and white roses that now adorned the counter in front of her. "These are for you, dear."
"What?" All color drained from Erin's face as she regarded the large mass of blooms in front of her. "I think there's been a mistake."
"No mistake." Ethel stood and walked around to the side where Erin was frozen. "The delivery guy only dropped them off a minute ago and specifically said these were for you. Aren't they just gorgeous?"
"Gorgeous," Erin repeated through numb lips. She eyed them as if they were a nest of rattlesnakes.
"Well. Aren't you going to take them to your room?"
The question shook her out of her reverie, and she started. "No. I think it would be a distraction for the children. Is it okay if I tuck them in a cabinet or something to pick up after school?"
"Tuck them in a cabinet?" Ethel's mouth opened in horror. Then she shook her head. "They can stay on my desk. Aren't they just to die for?"
"Uh huh." Erin tried to smile and quickly plucked the card from its place among the stems. "I'll see you later." She fled the office without a backward glance.
No one had ever given her flowers. And there was no one in her life right now that would. Dread crept along her spine, and she tried to steady her hands. Erin opened the envelope and read the few lines scrawled across the white space.
Sorry for the misunderstanding
Dinner invitation still stands
Erin frowned and racked her brain. The name was certainly familiar. And then it all rushed back to her. The olive complexion and hazel eyes. The beautiful teeth and wide smile. The bar owner.
She grimaced and shoved the paper back into the envelope. Obviously loose lips had given out her name and employer. Damn alcohol, anyway. It's probably something the bar owner counted on to get information such as he did.
Well then. She would simply return his damn flowers and let him know that she wasn't interested. In no uncertain terms.