Chad Thurman, the only male in Joy’s class of ten, gave her a sympathetic glance when she checked the clock again above the blackboard.
“Do you want me to go out into the hallway and look around, Miss Hightower? Maybe he’s lost. Their kind aren’t always the sharpest tools in the shed.”
“No, that’s all right,” Joy said, opening the drawer to her desk and digging in her purse for her cell phone. “I’ll go out and have a look around and try to call him. Maybe he just got stuck in traffic or something.”
“This is it. We’re finally going to see what you look like with your shirt off, Chad,” Chancy Orbus said, a teasing gleam in her dark brown eyes.
“You wish,” Chad replied under his breath, the color in his cheeks belying his cocky negligence as he slumped in his chair. The rest of the girls in the class twittered. After spending six weeks with the talented, intelligent group of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds, Joy still wasn’t quite sure whether the experience of being the token male was an absolute torture or an utter delight for Chad; she daily saw evidence that argued for both.
“It’s not going to come to that,” Joy assured them, giving Chancy a wry, slightly repressive glance as she walked toward the hallway. “I’ll be right back.”
She grimaced when she opened the door and moved from the air-conditioned classroom to the stuffy, hot hallway. The Steadman School was located in a historical, enormous, Romanesque-style building on Chicago’s west side. The arched hallways were either freezing in the winters or stifling in the summer. There wasn’t a soul in sight. All the other classes being taught for summer school were located over in the academic wing of the building.
A wave of drowsiness hit her as she looked for the phone number, a combination of the sudden heat and a restless night. After Everett had left, sleep did not come easily. He probably thought she was a hysterical fool after the way she’d acted.
Why had she felt so shaken by the sexual experience—so vulnerable?
So what if it wasn’t a position she’d ever before explored? It was just sex, and Everett was just a man. That’s what she’d told herself repeatedly last night and this morning.
She was still waiting to actually convince herself it was true.
She suspected she knew what Cosmo would call the problem if a man were acting the way she was: intimacy issues. Joy would have called it healthy caution. Her life already existed on shifting sands. Falling for any guy at this point would be like adding an earthquake to her already shaky world. Falling for a man like Everett was like inviting a fiery, plunging meteor.
She forced her sluggish brain to its task. Her class schedule was going to be completely screwed up. She was going to have to use tomorrow for the final project versus today. She’d planned a casual checkout day in the classroom tomorrow, and then she was going to take the kids to an exhibit at the Art Institute and out for pizza. They would be so disappointed.
Frustration rose in her with every unanswered ring of her phone. Clearly, the young man she’d hired to model for the students’ final project was blowing her off.
Chances were Everett would blow her off, too. Isn’t that what usually happened after an awkward sexual moment with a new partner? A sharp pain of disappointment stabbed through her.
Surely it was all for the best.
She hung up when she heard the man’s recorded greeting. Strike his name from the eligible list of male models, she thought as she hung up.
For a split second, she thought it was the model she’d been trying to call. Relief swept through her. But that couldn’t be right, she thought as she peered down the dim, empty hallway. She was sure she’d never mentioned her first name to him.
Once the man came closer, she immediately recognized his tall figure and confident gait. He passed beneath a window, and a ray of sunshine momentarily hit the blond hair beneath his hat.
“Everett,” she said, thunderstruck when he approached her and stopped several feet away.
“Hi. I’m glad I caught you. I saw Max Weisman over in the other wing. He sent me this way.”
He carried a supple leather duffle bag on his shoulder. In addition to his plaid newsboy cap, he wore a pair of well-worn drainpipes, gray canvas tennis shoes and a slightly wrinkled ivory T-shirt featuring three ducks flying across it. It was an awful combination.
Everett looked amazing in it.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, still stunned by his appearance in the familiar, mundane location of her workplace.
“My agent booked me on The Shay Show tonight,” he said, referring to a popular late-night talk show. “The New York premiere of Maritime is tomorrow. I’m catching a plane in a few hours.”
“Oh,” she said.
He held her gaze for a second before he ducked his head. “I won’t take up your time. I know you’re busy. I couldn’t leave town without telling you that I’m sorry about last night,” he said.
“You shouldn’t be,” she rushed to say. “I had a wonderful time with you.”