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  • Writer's pictureAlexis Winter

Very Bad Things - Sneak Peek



Prologue-Daphne

“I’m moving to Paris.”

“Right, and I just bought a house in London. We should summer together in Spain.” My best friend Xana laughs before biting into her eggs Benedict. I don’t laugh. “Wait,” she says around a half-chewed mouthful of eggs and English muffin once she realizes I’m not joking. “Are you serious?”

“Yup.”

She chews furiously, swallowing the bite. “Paris as in France? The country?”

“One and the same.”

“Why? How?”

“I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I will.” I shrug. “And you know why. The last two years for me have been a nightmare, for lack of a better word. I need a change of scenery, change of pace.” I glance out the window of our favorite brunch café in downtown Chicago. I love this city, always have, but ever since I lost my mom and my fiancé less than six months apart, it feels like this place is a haunted tomb to me. A constant reminder of what my life could have been, what it should have been.

“You can’t just up and move to another country, Daph. People like us don’t move to Paris. It’s one of the most expensive cities in the world and last time I checked, you’re not a secret millionaire.”

“I know but people do it every day.” Her lack of enthusiasm is a little frustrating, but I know it’s only because she’s worried about me. How would I feel if she just up and told me she was moving halfway around the globe tomorrow?

“What people?”

“I don’t know, people! I watch House Hunters International all the time and people are constantly relocating to other countries.”

“Yes, those people usually have a job that is already there or transferring them or they have family there to help them.”

“Yeah, well, I can easily find work. I can be an au pair, teach English, work in a pastry shop, or any number of jobs.”

Her face softens a touch when she sees my frustration. “Daph, listen, I’m not trying to be a Debbie downer who rains all over your parade, but running away to Paris isn’t the answer to your issues with Chicago and what you’ve gone through. What about that job at Crestwood Academy you applied for? You were so excited about that opportunity.”

“I haven’t heard from them and it’s been months. They made it sound so promising after that second interview, but then poof”—I make a motion with my hand for emphasis—“nothing.”

“Did you reach out to them?”

“Twice. No response.”

“Well, it is the end of the school year so maybe they’re just swamped. You know how it is being that we’re both teachers and going through it ourselves at the moment. Speaking of, I’ll be spending my Saturday night and all day Sunday grading my freshman biology students’ finals. Fun, fun,” she says sarcastically.

Xana and I met in third grade and have been inseparable ever since. As the always outgoing extrovert, she immediately befriended me. We bonded over the fact that we both thought Scooby-Doo was a far superior cartoon to any of the Nickelodeon ones. We went to the same college here in Chicago and both studied education.

“I can’t imagine teaching middle schoolers or high schoolers, they’re so intimidating.” I shudder at the thought of feeling constantly judged by teenagers every day.

“Nah.” She laughs. “You just have to know how to handle them. Most of the time they laugh and think I’m being super corny when I try to be cool. Sometimes, though, they can be little shits. I won’t lie. So are you doing tutoring this summer again or summer school?”

Every summer we usually pick one or the other, either tutor privately or teach summer school in our district. It’s not exactly like you make enough teaching at a public school to get by. Most of us have summer jobs to make ends meet.

“Um, about that.” I pick nervously at the wadded-up napkin on the table in front of me. “I may or may not have told the school that I wasn’t coming back after this year.”

“You quit?” Her eyes practically bug out of her head.

“Yeah, I guess that’s the correct way of putting it.”

“Jesus, Daph.” She drops her fork and rubs her forehead. “Why? Did you actually put in your notice and tell the district?”

“Yes, and because I—well, first I thought I was getting that job at Crestwood. They dangled that carrot pretty close so I thought I had it, but then after not hearing anything, I realized that moving to Paris was a better idea anyway.” I smile, really trying to sell the idea to Xana as a thought out plan and not an impulsive decision that I’m very close to regretting.

“Okay, well, I’m sure that your administrator will be more than willing to take you back. You’ve worked at Davis Elementary for three years. They love you there.”

“I already booked my trip to Paris,” I blurt out, knowing I’m only going to add fuel to Xana’s panicked fire.

“You what?”

“It’s just a fact-finding mission. I’m going for a week to explore and see the city.” It’s more than that; it’s the closing of a door. The end of a story that I never even had the chance to start.

“Alone? When?”

“Yes, alone. I leave next Monday.”

“You’re not going to sign some lease when you’re there, are you?” She eyes me suspiciously.

“No, it’s just a trip. You know I’ve always wanted to go there and that was where Carson and I planned to honeymoon. I figured it would be the final chapter in that part of my journey, a farewell of sorts.”

“Yeah.” She smiles. “I like that idea. I do worry about you traveling alone, but I think it will be the closure you need. Plus, you’ve talked about Paris for as long as I can remember.”

Paris has been my dream since I was in fifth grade and watched Funny Face for the first time. I begged my parents to take me, but when you grow up below the poverty line, that’s not really a realistic dream. My mom tried letting me down easy; she didn’t want to destroy my dream of going there someday even though there was no way we’d ever afford it. Instead, she bought us both berets, croissants, and cheese and we would pretend we were sitting at a Parisian café on our back porch. My gaze drifts away as I smile, remembering the one time she indulged us and bought real macarons from a local bakery.

“I bet your mom would be so happy right now.” I don’t have to tell Xana where my mind went just now. She already knows. Not only did I lose my fiancé Carson in a tragic car accident two years ago, but I was still mourning the loss of my mom to cancer just five short months before he passed.

“She would be… Carson too.”

“Did you tell your dad?” I can see the apprehension on her face as she asks.

I nod, finishing my tea. “Yeah. He was happy for me and I promised I’d send him a postcard from Paris.”

“How are things going with you two? Have you seen him lately?”

“Not since he moved, no, but we’ve been working on our relationship over the phone.”

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t think he was going to be able to go on, especially not after the doctor told us there was no hope. But then, three months after she passed, he told me he was in love with one of the hospice nurses and he wanted to marry her and move to Florida to start a new life. I stopped talking to him and only after Carson died three months later did we talk again. I couldn’t go through that loss and the loss of my mother alone, but I in no way had forgiven my dad for moving on so fast. I pushed him away again, then would reach out and attempt to understand, only to push him away again.

After several deep conversations and my dad assuring me thoroughly that nothing was going on while my mom was still alive, I have come to realize that I don’t understand it. I think because that’s not how I dealt with losing Carson, but at the same time, I wasn’t married to him for thirty years like my mom and dad were. I decided that he’s still my father and I do love him and want to work on mending our relationship.

“I think it’s finally time. I’m ready to move on and close this chapter of grief in my life.”

“Are you sure?” She gives me a hopeful look.

“Yeah.” I nod my head, reassuring myself as my fingers wrap delicately around my cup of tea. “It’s been almost two years now. I’ve allowed myself time to fully grieve and I’ve worked through a lot of my emotions and feelings in therapy. You and my therapist are both right; it’s time I get back to living my life.”

I’ll admit that after so much loss, I felt like I was slowly slipping away too. I couldn’t comprehend it for the longest time. When they talk about the stages of grief and one of them being denial, they aren’t wrong. I tried to just act normal for as long as I could, and I think even Xana was worried that when it all came crashing down on me it was going to be catastrophic… and it was. I always managed to keep my job, but I became a recluse, losing friends and motivation. I lost weight, became depressed, and was practically a shell of the person I used to be.

“That makes me really happy for you.” She reaches across the table and clasps my hand with hers after I place my cup down. “I never meant to rush you before you were ready, but I did worry I was losing you along your grief journey. You’re only twenty-seven and I do think you deserve to be happy and even find love again—when you’re ready.” Tears threaten to fall from the brim of her dark eyes.

“I know. I never felt that you did, but truthfully, love is kind of the last thing from my mind at the moment.”

She glances at her watch. “I have to meet Ryan in fifteen to look at a new apartment. Please, please, please, if I don’t see you before you leave, text me every day, send me photos from Paris, and whatever you do, don’t make any rash, off the cuff decisions. Seriously consider calling your administrator and seeing if you can get your job back. Okay?”

“I’ll consider it,” I say, reassuring her. “But for the record, it wasn’t a rash decision to quit. I thought I had that other job and I rebounded with the Paris idea. It was a calculated decision. I’m just apparently really bad at calculations.”

We say our goodbyes and I put my earbuds in, Édith Piaf’s voice flooding my ears with “La Vie en Rose.” “Paris is always a good idea,” I quote Audrey’s famous line from Funny Face to myself as I imagine dancing down cobblestone streets with Fred Astaire.



Chapter 1-Daphne

I let out a sigh, my shoulders falling as I stare up at the Eiffel Tower. I can’t believe I’m actually standing here right now. I’d give anything to experience this with my mom or Carson. I know that Carson wanted to go to some place tropical for our honeymoon and honestly, I loved that idea too. But after my mom passed, he surprised me one night by showing me the two tickets he had bought for us to Paris for our honeymoon. He didn’t say a word and I burst into tears, throwing my arms around his neck and sobbing as he held me.

I close my eyes, soaking in the moment as I clutch my latte in one hand, my buttery croissant in the other. I don’t care if I look like a cliché, an obvious tourist. I want to soak in every possible second I have in this magical city. I imagine what it would be like to have this be my view every single day as I walked to work or looked out my apartment window.

My phone rings loudly in my pocket, jolting me out of my fantasy and back to reality. Before I fully open my eyes again, I rapidly attempt moving my latte and croissant into one hand and reach into my pocket to grab my phone. I feel the phone tumbling from my hand and I step back, attempting to catch it, but I’m unsuccessful. The phone falls and my body twists unexpectedly.

“Oh shit!” I stumble, jutting out my hand to catch myself when I smash my cup right into the very broad, very firm chest of a complete stranger.

“What the—ow!” he yelps as my hot coffee soaks his pristine white shirt. I stand frozen for a second, completely shocked at what just happened.

“Oh my God, I am so sorry.” I feel my face already burning with embarrassment as I struggle to right myself. “Here, let me—” I look through the pocket of my cardigan for a tissue before seeing my now deflated croissant on the ground with the napkin nearby, a large footprint marking both. “Oh no,” I mutter as I bend down to grab the napkin. “Here.” I attempt to dab at the large brown spot now taking over his shirt.

“Sidewalks are for walking, not pictures,” he snaps.

“Oh, a fellow American.” I snap my head up when his accent registers. “Or Canadian?” I correct when he doesn’t respond. “I swear I am not one of those clumsy people who does stuff like this.” I shake my head, laughing to ease the tension when I look back down at my hands. “Sorry,” I gasp, realizing I’m clutching his arm, my other hand flat against his chest with the soggy napkin as his arms jut outwardly with no attempt to help me.

“It’s fine,” he mutters, reaching into his pocket to pull out a handkerchief, brushing my hands away. “Are you okay?” He dabs at the large brown stain on his shirt but it’s no use.

“Uh, yeah, yeah, I’m just a little discombobulated.” I laugh as I straighten out my skirt that has twisted a little, my eyes traveling up the strangers long suit-clad legs. His head is turned down as he focuses on his shirt, his dark hair falling over his forehead obscuring my view. His hands are large, his fingers long. I don’t know much about fashion, but I can tell that his suit is not an off-the-rack Calvin Klein from Macy’s and his watch probably cost more than my childhood house. “Are you okay?”

He dabs at his shirt once more, giving up before slowly lifting his eyes to meet mine. He stuffs the handkerchief back into his pocket, the sun catching his blue eyes that look piercing surrounded by his long, dark lashes. My breath actually catches in my throat as I take in the beauty of this man. His clean-shaven face has a jaw that looks carved by the gods, just a hint of gray at his temples. I feel like I physically choke on my own tongue looking at him.

“Christian Grey?” I whisper, completely taken aback by this man’s appearance.

This is it. This is that moment in the romance novels where we meet and fall in love. Paris really is a fantasy. Even the men are a cut above.

“Excuse me?” He looks confused, probably frightened actually by my Cheshire cat grin that’s plastered on my face.

“Uh, are you okay?” I repeat a little louder, hoping he buys it.

“Fine,” he grumbles.

“Again, I’m so sorry. I was trying to take it all in.” I gesture with my arms toward the tower. “First time in Paris and all.” I laugh nervously, practically tripping over my words as I blabber on. “I was supposed to come here on my honeymoon or well, I guess I should say with my mom first and then my honeymoon, but unfortunately life gives you lemons sometimes and man, did it give me le—”

“Lady, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really don’t care. I’m running late and now”—he motions toward his shirt that has become slightly see through thanks to the coffee I spilled on him—“I need to go change before my meeting.”

“Oh, right, of course.” I shake my head, sticking my tongue out like I’ve actually lost my mind. My eyes dart down to where the shirt is suctioned to his chest, the outline of his defined pecs causing my mouth to go suddenly dry. He moves to step around me right as I attempt to step out of his way in the same direction. “Oops.” I giggle, my face growing even redder as I do it again, this time with a little dance.

He stops, pinching the bridge of his nose for a second before offering up an annoyed smile. “I’m going right,” he says slowly. “You go left.”

“Wait.” I hold up both hands. “Could you possibly take a picture of me really quick? My best friend wants me to send her pictures and I would love a pic—” I reach into my pocket when I realize I never picked up my phone. My eyes dart around frantically when I see it between his feet. I reach down to pick it up. “Here it is!” I lift it up, checking to make sure the screen is still intact. “Phew!” I laugh. “I was so worried the screen wou—”

“Make it quick,” he says, cutting me off as he holds out his hand. I open my camera app and hand him the phone as I take a few steps closer to the tower. I pause for a brief second before posing, turning to look up toward the top, the wind catching a few strands of hair and wiping them around my face.

“What’s a good pose? I don’t want to look too touristy.”

“You have three seconds,” he says sternly and I turn around.

“Cheeeeese!” I place one hand on my hip, raising the other above my head with a huge smile as I pop my foot up like Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries. He snaps the photo, stepping forward to hand me the phone before turning and walking away.

“Thank you!” I shout after him but he either doesn’t hear me or doesn’t acknowledge me. I open the photo, sending it to Xana, but then I notice he took more than one. I slide my thumb across the screen. The second photo of me is a close-up of my shoulders and face, my hair blowing away from me when I was half-turned away from him, looking up toward the top. I look up from my phone toward the direction he walked but he’s already lost in the crowd.

In the heat of the panic and chaos that just unfolded, I completely forget that someone was calling me. I pick up my croissant and my now empty cup and toss them in the trash. I slide my phone back into my pocket and walk to the metro station to take the train to Père Lachaise Cemetery.

It’s calm here, quiet. Some might think it’s weird or even eerie to find solace in a cemetery but that’s where the two people I love the most are. Carson and my mom aren’t buried here obviously, but I feel like I’m closer to them here. At home, when I’m feeling overwhelmed or too sad to function, I go to the cemetery where my mom is buried. One of the hardest parts of accepting the fact that Carson was also gone was the fact that he wasn’t buried in Chicago, not even in Illinois. His family wanted him back home with them in Tennessee. I don’t blame them, but realizing I won’t be able to visit his grave when I want or need to is something I still struggle with. I sit down on a bench, the buzz of the city almost nonexistent in here. Tears threaten to fall, and my throat grows thick with emotion.

“Please,” I pray, “just give me a sign. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.”

It’s hard to admit but I’ve been so lost since losing them both, like life no longer has direction for me. My phone chirps and I reach into my pocket. I look at the screen, realizing I have a voicemail.

“Hello, Miss Flowers, this is Rick Fein, administrator over at Crestwood Academy,” he says in his almost singsong voice. “I am so sorry that I’ve taken so long to get back in touch with you. The end of the school year is always a bit hectic as you can imagine. Anyway, I’ll cut straight to the point. If you are still interested in the first grade teaching position here at Crestwood, we would be honored to have you on board. Give me a call back to discuss the next steps. Thank you.”

Now the tears cascade, unstoppable down my cheeks. I rest my head in my hands, crying, laughing, excited, and anxious all at once.

“Yes!” I shout, throwing my hands up in the air in celebration.

My week in Paris flies by but I make the most of every single second I’m here. I spend my mornings sipping coffee and eating pastries on the small balcony of my hotel room. My afternoons are filled with street art, strolls along the Seine, and sightseeing. Each evening, I savor a small glass of wine while listening to “Les Champs-Elysées” by Joe Dassin—another cliché but it brings me joy.

On my last night here, I triple-check that I’m checked in for my nine a.m. flight, then turn on a peaceful YouTube video to fall asleep to. The soft sounds of rain lull me to sleep in a matter of minutes, a smile on my face when I think about sharing my exciting news with Xana.

“Ugh,” I groan, stretching my arms overhead as I realize it’s my final few hours in Paris. I’m sad to leave but I’m also excited to start my exciting new job back home. I sit up, a little surprised I’m awake before my alarm. I reach for my phone, tapping the screen to check the time, but the screen stays black.

“That’s weird.” I tap it again, reaching to grab it when I realize that while the cord is plugged into my phone, it’s not plugged into the wall. “Oh my God!” I gasp, realizing it died sometime in the night and I, in fact, did not sleep through my alarm because it never went off. I plug it in, the little red lightning bolt on the screen confirming that the phone is completely dead.

“Shit, shit, shit.” I scramble across the bed, reaching for the clock on the other bedside table. “8:14!” I practically scream as I launch myself out of bed, tearing off my pajamas while hopping from one leg to the other to pull on my jeans. I dart to the bathroom, brushing my teeth while simultaneously brushing my hair and attempting to pull on my shirt.

My flight leaves at nine and I’m staying twenty minutes from the airport which means that I need to have left my hotel a solid thirty minutes ago to make sure I made it through security on time. I dash around my room, grateful I packed everything but my outfit for the day and minimal makeup which I now have no time to apply. Realizing I need to conserve my phone battery, I call down to the front desk for a taxi.

“Bonjour, yes, could I get a taxi to the airport as soon as possible, please? Yes, thank you so much.” I hang up, shoving my pajamas and toiletries into my bag before grabbing my phone and running toward the elevator. By the time I make it downstairs, the taxi has arrived.

“Hi, good morning. I’m in a crazy hurry. I’m so sorry. So if we could take the fastest way, that would be great.”

He looks up at me in the rearview mirror, muttering something beneath his breath in French before pulling out into traffic.

“Merci!” I hand him a few extra bills as I tumble out of the taxi, tugging my luggage up over the curb and into the airport. I’m sweating by the time I make it to security, glancing at my watch every few seconds. I stand on my tiptoes, looking over the crowd. There are only a few people in front of me. I look at my watch again. My flight leaves in eighteen minutes. I kick off my shoes once I show my passport and boarding pass, walk through security, and grab my bags again. I don’t even bother putting my shoes back on before I’m running through the terminal, darting around people right and left.

“Wait!” I shout, waving my arm overhead as I approach my gate, my chest heaving as I bend over to catch my breath, a stitch piercing through my side. “I’m here, I’m here,” I pant, showing my boarding pass on my phone to the gate attendant.

“Unfortunately, you’re two minutes too late, the door has shut and boarding has ended.”

“What?” I gasp. “But it’s only 8:47 and my fight doesn’t depart till nine.”

“Exactly. Boarding ends at 8:45 promptly.” She stares at me, her face stoic.

“Please, I’m begging you. Just let me on. I didn’t realize my phone wasn’t charging and it died while I was sleeping so I missed my alarm.” I plead my case with her but it’s clear it’s not doing a thing.

“Ma’am, please step over to the customer service desk. They’ll book you on the next available flight.”

I groan and walk over to the desk, explaining what happened when I see the door open again and the pilot exit the flight, waving toward someone.

“Ma’am,” the man behind the counter explains, “the next flight we can get you on doesn’t depart until tonight at midnight.”

“What? Seriously, there’s nothing else?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Sir, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to have you on our flight.” I look over toward the pilot who juts his hand out toward a man who has me doing a double take.

“Hey,” I say, stepping away from the desk. “I know him.” I point to the man who is the stranger I ran into in front of the Eiffel Tower.

“I highly doubt you know him, ma’am. That is the owner and CEO of this airline.”

“What? Seriously? Why is he taking a commercial flight?”

“Probably a quality check but you’d have to ask him that.”

“Hey,” I shout toward the man.

“I didn’t mean seriously ask him,” the man behind the counter scolds me. “Do you want to be booked on the red-eye flight or not?”

“Now wait a minute.” I walk toward the gate agent again as she ushers the stranger and the pilot through the door onto the gangway. “If the door is open, can’t I go in? I know him. He knows me,” I say, pointing toward his back.

“You know him?” she says condescendingly.

“Yes—hey, Mr. Eiffel Tower!” I shout after him, having no idea how to address him.

He stops in his tracks, slowly turning around to look at me. He squints at me, then recognition falls across his face and I smile.

“Can you vouch for me? They won’t let me on the flight because I kind of overslept and barely made it, but I told them you know me so can you just tell them so I can get on the flight because the only other flight they say they ha—”

“Sir, do you know this woman?” the gate agent asks, interrupting me.

He looks me slowly up and down, running his hand over his whispered jaw that is now dark with a heavy shadow. “Never seen her before,” he replies before turning back around and walking away. The gate agent smirks, slamming the door shut as my mouth falls open in shock.

“Rude!”

***

“Thank you, Miss Flowers,” my first graders say in unison before I dismiss them from their first day of school.

The summer flew by which is usually a universally agreed upon bad thing but not this time. I’ve been itching to start my new job at Crestwood. I spent the summer learning everything I could about the school, crafting the perfect introductory email that not only introduced me to the parents but also detailed my educational background and my passion for learning and children. I was tempted to include a photo but felt it was a little odd so I opted instead to request that they meet me after our first official full day so that we can get to know one another. Every single parent replied but one… a Mr. Weston Vaughn.

“Thank you, students.” I smile, greeting each parent as they line the back wall of the room. “And thank you all so much for coming today. I promise I won’t keep you. I know how busy all of you are, but I wanted to let you know that the paper I handed to each of you not only has my school email but also my personal cell phone number should you have any questions or need clarification on any assignments. I am so excited to teach your children and get to know each and every one of them as well as you. We do have quarterly parent-teacher conferences but if you ever want to schedule a one-on-one with me, that is perfectly okay with me. And lastly, you’ll see that there is a list of opportunities for you to get involved this year. There will be emails going out for volunteers before each event so please keep an eye out for those and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.”

I take the time to go through the line and meet each parent, documenting each food allergy, preference, and concern that they have as well as taking note of their nannies and au pairs along with a photo of them so I know who will be picking up each child.

“You must be Mrs. Vaughn.” I smile at the older woman standing next to Daisy, the last student in line. She looks much too old to be Daisy’s mother, but I don’t want to assume and embarrass myself.

“Well, yes, I am but I’m the grandmother, not the wife. Regina.” She smiles, holding out her slim hand. “Unfortunately, my son is running very late today so he instructed me to pick up Daisy.”

“Oh, is he still coming to the meeting?”

“Daddy is always late,” Daisy says, looking up at me with her big blue eyes. She rolls her eyes dramatically, making her grandmother and me laugh.

“Yes, he will be. Usually it’s me who picks her up from school and sometimes the nanny, Roxy. I’ve included both of our contact information here. If Roxy is picking her up, you’ll hear from me first. Otherwise, she has no allergies and honestly is a very easy little girl.”

“I can already count to two hundred in English, Spanish, and French,” she says emphatically.

“Wow, that’s even more than me.” I smile down at her. “Maybe you can teach me.”

“He’ll be here shortly but we have to get going to her ballet class. Pleasure meeting you.”

Whoever Weston Vaughn is, his mother is a very stunning, elegant woman who screams old money. She smiles politely, waving her manicured hand toward us as she and Daisy walk out of my classroom.

I finish cleaning up from the day, glancing at the clock. It’s now ten to five and I’ve been waiting for over an hour to meet Mr. Vaughn. I hear the soft click of steps down the long marble hallway, a frustrated voice muttering as the steps grow closer.

“Yes, listen, I need to go. I have to meet with my daughter’s teacher. Apparently, first graders require a parent-teacher meeting in the middle of the fucking day like we aren’t busy enough.”

I flinch at the harsh comment but straighten my back as the door swings open and in steps Mr. Weston Vaughn.

“You,” I say in disbelief as the stranger I dumped my coffee on in Paris steps over the threshold of my classroom. The same stranger who pretended not to know me so I couldn’t board my flight home.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he says, shaking his head.

Chapter 2-Weston

“I’m glad you could finally show up, Mr. Vaughn.” She smiles but it’s clearly hiding her frustration… or attempting to. Her hands are clasped tightly in front of her, her petite shoulders squared, her chin jutting out slightly.

“What? No coffee to throw at me this time?” She’s clearly not amused by my comment. “Some of us have important work to do that can’t just be rescheduled. My mother told you I was running late, didn’t she?”

“That doesn’t excuse it. All the other parents managed to make it on time.”

“Well, I’m here, aren’t I, Miss…?”

“Flowers, Daphne Flowers,” she says. “You couldn’t even attempt to pretend to remember my name from the three reminder emails I sent you about this meeting?”

“I don’t need a lecture from a woman who looks barely old enough to order a drink. I’m not one of your students. So can we get on with this meeting or not? Otherwise, I have another meeting I should be at.” I scroll through my phone, double-checking my next meeting time before flipping over to my text to respond to a message from my lawyer.

“One that’s more important than your daughter’s education?”

I snap my head up, sliding my hands into my pockets as I narrow my gaze at her. I can’t help but want to smile at her attempt to appear tough as she crosses her arms over her chest, her breasts pushing together so that the silk of her top scrunches between them. She might be young, too young for me, but I’m still a man and her defiant little attitude only spurs on the desire to bend her over my knee.

She’s even more beautiful than when she slammed into me in Paris. Annoyed is an understatement regarding how I felt at her clumsiness that day, but the second her big brown eyes looked up at me with those full pouty lips, I wanted to blow off my meeting and ask her what the hell she was doing there alone.

She’s stunning, a tiny little thing who clearly doesn’t like to be kept waiting and I don’t blame her. Though if I had to guess, her anger stems from our last interaction in the airport. Her pale-pink blouse accentuates her slim neck and narrow waist, tucked neatly into her full, flowery skirt that overwhelms her slight frame. With a name like Miss Flowers and her almost ethereal appearance, she’s everything you’d expect a sweet, innocent schoolteacher to be.

“She’s in first grade. I can’t imagine that her homework will stump me or that she’s having any interpersonal relationship issues on the first day.”

“Mr. Vaughn, if you could please have a seat, I want to go over communication practices between me and you or your mother regarding Daisy and this school year.” She gestures toward a chair in front of her desk and I oblige, taking a seat.

“Tell you what, why don’t you just text me should anything arise?” She’s clearly not open to negotiations.

“On this sheet,” she says, leaning forward to hand me a piece of paper, ignoring my rebuttals. My eyes drift to her neckline, her modest blouse dipping the slightest bit but her hand darts up to press it against her chest before I can see anything. “I have listed my work email as well as my personal cell. You can text, call, or email if you have any questions or need clarification. Your mother already gave me her contact information as well as your nanny’s information. I also gave her this sheet as well.”

“Great, so what was the point of this meeting, then? It could have been an email, Miss Flower.”

I know what I’m doing. It’s a cheap shot but she’s already under my skin so might as well burrow a little deeper under hers.

“Flowers. It’s Miss Flowers.” Her brows furrow. Gone is that giggly, stumbling woman I met in Paris. “As you can see on the bottom of the paper, there are several opportunities for you to get involved this school year.”

“I do get involved. I donate… a lot.”

“That’s not what I mean. I’m talking about volunteering at the annual bake sale and silent auction or perhaps building sets for the end-of-year play.”

“I don’t have time and I also don’t have time for this meeting,” I say, standing up.

“You know, it’s good for the kids to see their parents caring not only about their education and day-to-day life but being involved with it. It helps them feel important and builds self-confidence. Certainly, you can find a little time in your schedule for that… or is it not important enough?”

Okay, now she’s pissing me off. I can overlook her being snippy with me since I was technically an asshole to her the last time we interacted, but I draw the line at telling me how to handle my child.

“Are you a mother, Miss Flowers? Do you have children of your own?” I take a guess here based on no wedding ring and zero photos of children on her desk. Plus, she looks a little too young to have children of her own yet.

“No,” she says, confused.

“I didn’t think so. So don’t lecture me on what my child needs.” Her mouth falls open. “Are we done here?”

“No, we’re not.” She stands up, her chair shooting backward. “Someone really needs to teach you manners. Like when you see a woman who could use your help at the airport, try being a gentleman.”

There it is. I was waiting for the conversation to take this turn.

“I didn’t owe you anything. Per your own words, you overslept your alarm and missed your own flight. Rules are rules for a reason, Miss Flowers, and you look exactly like the kind of woman who likes to follow them. I’m not going to ask the airline staff to bend them for you.”

“But they could for you? Let me guess, you get special treatment because you own the airline? That seems hypocritical. I paid good money for my ticket; it’s not like it was a free ride.”

“Well, considering that plane wasn’t going to get off the ground without me, yes, they absolutely should bend the rules for me.”

“I’m pretty sure the plane would have been just fine getting off the ground without you on it, Mr. Vaughn,” she scoffs.

I take a step toward her, my size dwarfing hers as she stumbles back an inch. “I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have, considering I was the pilot.”

“What? Then who was the other man in uniform?”

“My co-pilot. I wasn’t in uniform but I’m also a pilot, not just the owner of the airline.”

“Oh.” Shock settles over her face. “I didn’t know that.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to, but now you’ve learned a valuable lesson about making sure you make it to your gate at least fifteen minutes before takeoff. Time management is a very valuable skill, Miss Flowers. One that can be learned with just a little discipline.”

“That’s rich coming from you, Mr. Two-hours-late,” she snaps and I can see regret on her face the moment she says it.

“Now, seeing as how this meeting about my daughter has turned into your frustrations regarding me, I think it’s time we end it so that I can get on with my evening.”

She folds her arms around her waist, her eyes falling to the floor to look at her shoes as I step around her desk.

“I guess once again I owe you an apology,” she says sheepishly as that pink glow stains her cheeks. Something about her has me thinking thoughts a man my age has no business thinking about a young woman. She looks far too young and innocent for someone like me to fuck over.

I stand, looking down at her, letting my gaze linger a little more than necessary. I have to resist reaching my hand out to slip it beneath her chin. That would be highly inappropriate which makes me want to do it all the more. Since my wife died four years ago, I’ve had zero desire to find any sort of emotional connection. My arrangements have been purely physical, just a sexual means to an end.

No emotions. No sleepovers. No attachments.

But this young woman before me right now, this tiny, innocent little thing that seems to be a complete mess, has me wanting to teach her a few lessons in discipline. To make her realize just exactly how powerful of a man to whom she’s speaking.

“No apology necessary but next time we speak,” I say, shoving my hands deep in my pockets to keep from touching her before walking out of her classroom. “I hope it’s under much more pleasant circumstances and if you have any further complaints about my behavior, feel free to send me another email I won’t bother reading.”


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