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Wilde For You
By Dawn Atkins
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
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Chapter OneIF HE GOT THE JOB, he'd forget women, Tucker Manning vowed, soaping up in the shower. He would be absolutely dedicated. Completely committed. No distractions. No hobbies. No sidetracks.
And no women.
He scrubbed his face, then shoved it under the spray to rinse. Steam rose around him, hot as his conviction.
He needed this job - assistant principal at Copper Corners High - if he was ever to get the one he'd lost.
Lost because of a moment of insanity with a woman who reminded him of someone he couldn't forget. A moment witnessed by three members of the freshman girls' volleyball team, who'd stumbled on him and Melissa in the equipment room ... on the vault bench ... working out ... of their clothes.
Who knew the girls practiced so late?
So, if he got this job, no more women. He scrubbed between his toes, hot water peppering his back, the shower air lush and thick as a jungle.
"Tuuuucker, I'm lonely," Julie, the woman he'd been seeing for the last month, called to him. He sighed, letting the water sluice down his body. Okay, maybe one more woman. Except she lived here -
Phoenix - over two hours away from Copper Corners, which was barely a cactus clump off the highway south of Tucson. If he was truly dedicated, he'd have no time for road trips. Or Julie.
He'd stay nose to the grindstone. Just for the two or three years he had to wait for another chance at the position at Western Sun High, when the guy who'd gotten the job retired.
He needed that time to prove to Ben Alton, the principal and his friend, that he had what it took to be a good administrator. An administrator who knew how to keep his head on straight ... and his zipper zipped.
The turndown still stung. Tucker hated to lose, but, worse, he'd let Ben down - disappointed the man who'd turned him around back when Tuck was in high school.
The whole reason Tucker had come back to Western Sun with his English degree from the University of Arizona was to work for Ben, who'd become the principal and been given the difficult task of guiding the school through the growing pains that came with a changing neighborhood. Once on the faculty, Tucker had started on his administrator credential, so he could work side by side with his mentor.
For the three years he'd been at Western Sun, he'd been busy - volunteering for curriculum committees, serving as English department chair and as a union rep - and he was liked by students and faculty alike.
But at the end of the interview for the vice principal job, Ben had told him no. Your heart's in the right place, Tuck. Folks like you, but they don't think you take the work seriously. You're young.
He'd been stunned. He'd argued - pointed out all he'd accomplished and that age was irrelevant to talent - until the truth had dawned on him that it was the thing with Melissa.
That didn't help, Ben had admitted. And I'd be playing favorites to hire you in spite of it.
Tuck had assured him it was a one-time occurrence, despite the gossip. I have not, quote, been with every female I could get into an empty closet. Melissa was special ... and I was just ... we were only ... okay, it was a bad idea, but it was after hours and we had our clothes on.
Though belts and zippers had been in motion when the three volleyballers bounded into the room to gape and gasp at Tucker and Melissa putting the horse vault bench to uses for which it was never intended.
The one good thing was that Melissa had been more amused than embarrassed by the incident, for which he'd taken full responsibility.
Tuck understood Ben's decision, disappointed though he was. The top job for an assistant principal was student discipline, so being respected was crucial. The make-out incident had made him the butt of too many jokes for much respect to remain.
Ben had put in a good word for him with Harvey Winfield, the principal at Copper Corners High - a friend of a friend from Ben's Ph.D. program. A small school would be great experience, Ben claimed, since the principal and the assistant shared most duties, instead of having distinct tasks like at Western Sun, where Ben had two assistants, each with different responsibilities.
After Tuck had a few good years at Copper Corners, some accomplishments and professional maturity to tout, Ben would feel comfortable hiring him. And Tucker wanted that. Bad. Because of Ben, of course. And because he'd be damned if he'd be chased out by one mistake and the rumor mill. He'd be back. No question.
And the road back ran straight through Copper Corners, Arizona.
Tucker ran the scrubber over his back, then turned to take in a mouthful of water to gargle and spit.
The interview had gone well, and he'd liked Harvey, who reminded him of his own grandfather - quiet and old-fashioned. Gruff, but with a big heart.
He leaned forward, fingers flat on the black-and-white checkered tile, water falling over his head and neck, and remembered Ben's final comment. If you get the job, behave yourself, he'd said, as if Tuck were an errant child. There are no secrets in a small town. You buy a pack of condoms and everyone will know whether they're ribbed or smooth.
That wasn't fair. The incident with Melissa had been unusual. She'd reminded him of a girl he'd had a major thing for in college - Cricket. Cricket what? He didn't even know her last name. She'd been Sylvia's roommate. One night senior year, right before Christmas break, while he'd waited for Sylvia to show up at her apartment, he and Cricket had shared a beer, an intense conversation and, once it became clear Sylvia had stood him up, the hottest make-out session he'd experienced. Ever, now that he thought about it.
Melissa had the same kind of fire and attitude as Cricket. She kind of smelled like her, too - sweet and spicy and all woman - and when she came on to him after a curriculum meeting, he'd lost his head. And, as a result, the job he was meant for.
He'd known better, too. He'd been wild in high school and from time to time fought the urge to just blow off responsibility, go with his impulses and play 24/7. Maybe that had shown in his work at Western Sun. He'd had fun with his students, but that didn't mean he didn't take teaching seriously. Worse, he had the uncomfortable sense that Ben was among those who thought he wasn't serious enough to be a good administrator.
They had him wrong, dammit, Tuck thought, smearing green shampoo into his hair and scrubbing hard. And twenty-six was plenty old enough to know what mattered.
Excerpted from Wilde For You by Dawn Atkins Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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