Isabella Capizzi closed her desk drawer with a smile and glanced up at the ancient clock on the back wall. In two minutes, she'd be free for the summer. Ten bliss-filled weeks of horseback riding, rodeo watching, and planning a kick-a*s senior year for her AP English class. In spite of the milestone birthday waiting for her the first weekend in September, today she was putting all thoughts of spinsterhood out of her mind.
As soon as the long hand slipped under the twelve with a loud snick, she pushed back from her desk, slipped her messenger bag over her shoulder, and raced to Peter Arnaud's office at the other end of the building. Slightly winded, she pushed through the door marked "Admin" and marched up to the counter.
"Hi Gloria," she said brightly. "Peter's waiting for me."
The older woman leaned forward, and stage whispered with a wink. "Don't let him hear you calling him that."
Isabella rolled her eyes. "He doesn't seem to have a problem with the men calling him Peter."
"He's just old-fashioned that way, sweetie."
Old-fashioned, her a*s. Dealing with Principal Arnaud was the worst part of her job. But he had no plans of retiring, so she bit her tongue. As much as was humanly possible, at least. "Thanks for the reminder, Gloria." She smiled tightly and waited for Gloria to wave her in.
Peter looked up from his desk as she hesitated in the doorway. "Come in, come in. Ready for the summer?"
Isabella hated small talk. "As soon as I know whether or not I need to be planning for FBLA club and the business writing class this fall?"
The smile on Peter's face froze. Isabella's heart sank and she struggled to keep her own smile in place. He didn't even have to speak. His tight expression spoke volumes. Once again, she was going to be passed over for an idea she had. Peter cleared your throat. "Ahh, about your idea."
"The idea is a good one, but I offered the position to Michael."
"Why?" Isabella swallowed and tried to hide her dismay. Arguing wouldn't change this outcome, but she was going to make it clear she disagreed with his choice. "We both know I'm more qualified."
Peter cleared his throat again. "Well, that's debatable. And Michael has a young family to support."
"What does a family have to do with this? I have a certification in business. Michael managed a hardware store in Kansas City. He doesn't know the first thing about writing or executing business plans. How's he going to help the FBLA members with their projects?"
Peter's face pinked. "Well, Michael-"
Isabella stood, clutching the leather strap of her messenger bag like it was a lifeline. "I think this has more to do with the fact that Michael's married to your cousin than with who's most qualified. You owe it to the students to give them a teacher who knows what they're doing."
"Now just a minute, Ms. Capizzi-"
"We're done here. Peter. Have a nice summer." She spun on her heel and marched out, clenching her jaw so the sudden prickling behind her eyes didn't overflow into something more embarrassing. "See you at the wedding tomorrow, Gloria?" Isabella waved as she rushed by, unable to bear the woman's pitying gaze. She couldn't vacate the building fast enough. Isabella's boots echoed in the empty hallway as she sped toward the exit, and right into the hard muscular body of Jaxon Boyd. She glanced up into the dark eyes she'd crushed on since the age of five, and now worked with every day at the high school.
In an instant, his hands came to her arms, steadying her. "Hey, hey. Everything okay?" Jaxon's voice rippled over her like the smoothest bourbon. She could only imagine how his voice must affect every female in his math classes. Did they even remember the equation for finding the diameter of a circle, or all those confusing calculus squiggles? How did anyone pass math class with a teacher as dreamy as Jaxon?
Isabella allowed herself one rough inhale of his masculine scent - a combination of cedar and leather that never failed to put her senses on high alert. "I'm fine," she said with a shake of her head.
His chest rumbled against her cheek before he stepped around and draped a bronzed arm across her shoulders as he fell into step with her. "That's code for everything's not okay. Wanna talk about it?"
She shook her head. "Not really. Same ole, same ole. Principal Arnaud passed me over for job expansion again. This time telling me Michael needed the income to support his family."
"Maybe he does," Jaxon offered.
Isabella stopped and glared up into Jax's affectionate, dark eyes, then pushed through the doors and out into the warm June sunshine. "You did not just say that. What happened to qualifications? Experience? Last time I checked we were in the twenty-first-century."
Jaxon followed her out, easily keeping up with her rushed steps. "You're right. And of course, you're more qualified. You're an amazing teacher. Do you want me to talk to him?"
"NO," Isabella gasped, horrified, stopping in her tracks. "That would just make it worse. Michael's married to Peter's cousin, he's not going to change his mind." She turned toward the parking lot with a shake of her head. "I'm just going to have to suck it up for another year." Another year of waiting to be noticed at her job. Another year of waiting to be noticed by her family. And worst of all, another year of waiting to be noticed by Jaxon Boyd.
"Why don't I bring over some takeout tonight? We can have a little pity party and watch the sunset? I have a business idea I'd like to run by you."
That perked her up. Jaxon had been so busy helping to train a couple of new guys out at the rodeo arena that their standing weekly hangout had been put off indefinitely. Isabella's mouth curved up. "That sounds great."
Jax brushed a knuckle across her jawline. "Ah, there's the smile I love." His brown eyes twinkled down at her. "I've missed our hangouts, Iz. It's been too crazy."
"Yeah," she agreed with a bashful nod. If only he knew what that did to her insides. Once again, she could feel herself falling into the hope that maybe this time he'd show more than friendly interest. "Eight o'clock sound good?"
"Sounds perfect." Jax pulled her into a hug and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "Later, gator." He stepped back with a smile that turned Isabella's insides to jelly and turned to jog to his truck.
Isabella sighed heavily, unabashedly ogling Jax's backside and the way his Wranglers perfectly molded to his muscles. If she wasn't careful, fifteen more years would pass, and in the blink of an eye, she'd be in old cat lady territory. Something had to give.