The Teacher's Heart
There's no way Mandy Butler would ever let herself get attached to anyone. Sure, sex is fun, but love is for suckers. Her parents taught her that. She has her friends, a job she loves, and lots of fun flings. Everything she thinks she wants.
Ashton Gilmore is at a crossroads when he meets Mandy. She's every thing he's ever wanted in a real relationship, but she might have too much baggage for even this hot political fixer handle.
For the past few years, the women of Growing Strong Montessori have been discovering loves they’d never thought possible. Sans one, Mandy who has spent the last few years taking one hit after another and can’t see Ashton Gilmore as anything more than a bump in the road.
Ashton Gilmore as anything more than a bump in the road. Ashton has to find a way to teach Mandy that love exists, before she gives up on the concept all together.
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Genre: Contemporary | Interracial Romance
White Satin Romance
“Man may have discovered fire,
but women discovered how to play with it.”
—Candace Bushnell, Sex and the City
With a quick knock on the condo door, Mandy Butler leaned on the doorjamb and waited. Pretending to be bored, she examined her fingernails until the door opened to reveal Ashton Gilmore in all his hunk-tastic glory. His toothbrush dangled from between his full lips and his blond Abercrombie-type hair had the windblown falseness only a fool still fell for. Mandy smiled at the pair of soft, black pajama pants that hung a little low on his waist, sharing the luscious V that pointed to her favorite part of him.
“Your girlfriend just asked my roommate to marry her on local cable access.”
“I was there,” he replied with a mouthful of foaming toothpaste obscuring the words.
He opened the door wider to usher her in as he went to the kitchen and completed the whole rinse and spit from his toothbrush.
“You know what this means don’t you?” Mandy asked as she eyed his backside like a fat kid eyes cake. He leaned over the sink to catch the water in his mouth, giving her a better view.
“You’ll have to find other ways to sneak and fuck me.” Ashton snatched a towel and wiped his lips before turning around.
“Oh please, that’s so never happening again. You were there, I was there…but tonight they come home like I don’t live in my own apartment.”
“Uh huh.” He smirked. No doubt he knew all too well why she knocked on his door, and not Gabbie Thomas’, her best friend, who happened to have an extra bedroom.
Her thumb was the problem. It wouldn’t keep itself under control. Absently it swiped the corner of his mouth where a bit of toothpaste lingered. He caught her wrist in his hand and spun her around until she was pinned against the sink.
“Amanda Butler, why are you here?”
“Your girlfriend of like a decade just dumped you on local cable access for another woman,” she said mournfully as she held in her gasp from the hardness pressing against her hip. “Most men would be crushed. Are you crushed? You know, questioning your manhood and all?”
“Should I be?” he asked while taking a long lingering stroke from her hip to her stomach. Standing a good six-two to her five-seven had made leaning down a necessary evil at times. His lips brushed against her neck and she used her free hand to brace herself on the counter. “Do you doubt my abilities as a man?”
Somewhere deep down inside, she wanted to scream no. No to infinity. No because she actually missed his body in the morning, but she couldn’t.
She couldn’t tell the man who’d flipped her life upside down for the past two and a half months that the only reason she came home was to find him. The sneaking around on his closeted girlfriend of ten years sent her in a tizzy. She hated the arrangement, but then again, she’d been conceived from a somewhat similar “arrangement” made between her mother and father. One where she would sit back and be a single mother and he would go on raising his other family without so much as a word to Mandy about who he really was.
It had been Ash’s loyalty to Karen, his best friend, that kindled her attraction to him. She wasn’t one to have a guy, or girl, around for more than a day or two. Not believing in the whole monogamy thing had her at odds with her best friends, though they’d still do anything for her. Gabbie, Mary Beth, and her current roomy, Sarah, were the type of ride-or-die bitches a girl could go her whole life without meeting.
“Amanda…” he growled, and chills ran up her spine. Men didn’t call her Amanda—they preferred the cute and flirty Mandy. She preferred being the cute and flirty Mandy. But now…now she wanted to be Amanda. The Amanda who would spend the night and find Ashton Gilmore lying next to her in the morning. “Should I be questioning my manhood?”
“No,” she gasped as her gut clenched. Fingers curled, bunching her shirt as he removed it and tasted her stomach.
He had dropped to his knees in front of her and took time to savor her, not just pull down her pants and take her hard and fast the way she wanted him to. The way he usually did. No, this time they had something she’d been avoiding…true alone time.
“Wait,” she panicked, but her words went unheard. Or if they were heard they were completely ignored.
Either way, Ashton turned her around and removed her panties. She could have easily kept her feet firmly planted. That’s what people who said wait would have done. Instead she lifted first her right foot, then left, to which she got a sweet nip on her butt. He did know how to get her ass going…or not going as the case may be.
~ * ~
The last thing Ashton Gilmore expected to see at his door last night was Mandy. Sure, they’d been sleeping together for the past few months, but she had made it more than clear it was more out of boredom than actual attraction. He thought he knew better. She was a mystery to him.
If he thought last night was a surprise, this morning was downright monumental. Curled into his arms, with her head resting on his chest, lay the dark-haired beauty. Deep mahogany hair verging on black cascaded across a pillow, and he missed her hazel eyes with their brown speckles. Learning the origin of the eyes made the secrets and lies he’d been living with seem like child’s play.
Tapping the volume button on the remote, he tried to focus on the commentator. He had been reading the subtitles, but the sun crept across his room and highlighted Mandy’s hips, and then her chest. By the time the rays reflected off the smooth skin of her neck, he’d been entranced. Sadly, a flash on the screen of Karen made him refocus and reengage.
Mandy stirred, but stayed asleep. Even in her slumber her fingertips were so gentle and delicate as they unconsciously traced his body. It took everything in him to not squirm from the sensation—and he had lift off. Not a bad thing considering what had taken place the night before. Hell, the only bad thing about last night was that it had been so good, he worried he may have peaked. Maybe it was all downhill from here. Mandy’s leg wrapped around his hip and she woke suddenly.
“Oh shit,” she said as she quickly uncurled, leaving him cold and searching. “Fuck. Fuck. Triple fuck . . . what time is it?”
“Seven . . .” he craned his neck to see the digital display on his clock. “Sixteen.”
“Mother trucker.” Her quick switch into appropriate swear words always made him smile.
“What’s the matter?”
“I have work,” she balked. “I’m a teacher. Getting there before the kids is advised.”
“Jesus, I just realized I fucked a kindergarten teacher. Totally forgot to scratch that off my list.”
“Funny, jack hole.” She scrambled into the kitchen, and he swung his legs around to follow her. The closest thing to the bed were a pair of sweatpants, which he threw on and then followed her. “You’re a damn genius. Plus, I’m not a kindergarten teacher.”
Stomping her shoe on, she bent back to pull out the back of it. Her fingers tangled through her hair and she rushed to his bathroom.
“Magilla, how do you not have a brush?” she spat. “Seriously I don’t buy that windblown shit.”
Ashton used his index finger to open the top drawer. Mandy glared at him as she retrieved the brush and violently pulled it through her hair.
“Time?” she snapped. He leaned back to look in his bedroom.
“Shit. Shit. Triple shit.”
“How late are you?” he asked as he scratched his belly.
“Are you kidding me?” she pointed the brush at his crotch. “You seriously think I have time to fuck you?”
He hadn’t thought about that, having dropped to half-mast after the scramble and blur that was Mandy’s usual morning routine. He just wanted to know why she was in a panic. Everyone was late once in a while, and wasn’t she part owner of the school anyway? A fancy private one no less.
“I had an itch.”
“And I’m the only one who can scratch it…yeah, yeah. I’ve heard it all before.”
“That’s a horrible line. I have much better ones.”
Mandy scoffed. “I forgot you’re a master.”
“I’m not a twelve-year-old boy.”
“I tend to stay away from felonies.” She pushed past him and toward the counter to grab her keys. “I assume you don’t.”
“Boys aren’t really my style.”
“I meant twelve-year-olds.”
Ashton sighed and leaned on his counter. He knew he’d be going through this routine again someday, even though Mandy had sworn this would be the last time. Just like last time and the time before that.
“Do I get a kiss goodbye?” he yawned.
“Don’t let me keep you awake. Don’t you have a job to do?”
“Then why are you sitting here?”
“I’m getting ready. I’ve been working for the past three hours.”
Mandy stood in the doorway shifting from one side to the other before taking off and leaving Ashton confused as usual. Returning to his room, he pulled out a suit and continued watching the talking heads. Conservatives didn’t know what to do. Karen Schroeder was their best bet to win the congressional seat in the fifth district, but coming out had thrown the religious right into a tailspin.
“And what about Ashton Gilmore?” the female co-host said as she flashed a picture of Karen and Ashton snuggling at a picnic. “What is his part in the whole charade? Did he play along with the deception, or was he as big of a fool as the rest of the state of Minnesota?”
He flipped off the TV. That was unfair. Karen only had a small area of which she was the state representative. It wasn’t like the whole state had been duped. Really the only ones who cared were Karen’s parents. Last night Ash’s dad had laughed with him on the way home on the phone. Carlton Gilmore came from money and didn’t take too much seriously. After his mother left his dad, Ash let slip about Karen, so he already knew.
The talking heads had been calling him everything from a stooge to a fool. In their mind, he’d just lost the love of his life. Still, Karen was a good friend, but his lifestyle was definitely about to change.
After showering and getting dressed, he went in search of his wayward girlfriend.
“Morning,” Sarah said as she opened the door with just-been-fucked blonde hair. At least Karen had fun. “She’s still asleep.”
“She does know she has people wanting her to govern, right?”
“Know . . . versus care . . .” Sarah sighed with a slight yawn.
“How you doing?”
“Fine, still can’t believe it.”
“Me either. Guess I said the magic words to her.”
“What was that?” Sarah asked as she trudged to the couch and flopped as her eyes drooped.
“You were done.”
“Guess I wasn’t.”
“No guessing at all.” Ashton made his way to Karen and woke her with a cup of coffee and the news that she couldn’t go back.
“Morning, sunshine. You look worse than me. Did someone stay up past her bedtime?”
“Usually when I have to deal with your bullshit I’ve had two cups.” Karen swirled her coffee a bit before swallowing her go-go juice. “Now, what do I need to know?”
Ashton updated her on the cable and local news coverage as well as the information Howard had told him. Sponsorships, wins and losses, the interview requests, and where she stood in the polls.
“Because I’m from the LGBT community?” she spat at the request from Lavender wanting an interview.
He laughed as he passed her a croissant. She wasn’t part of the LGBT community, she’d been locked in the closet too damn long to even understand it. Although Karen’s phone had been turned off for most of the night, she had checked in with her family . . . at least the ones who would talk to her. That had brought her some solace.
“Maybe I didn’t lose my whole family then,” she said as she took the top off her coffee and swirled again.
“I doubt it. And you know your mom will come back if you win the primary.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Give her an extra week. You know she can’t go a whole week without calling you about something.”
“I hope so.” Karen finished her coffee and shook out the night. “Any chance you have a change of clothes with you?”
“I’m nothing if not your humble servant.”
“Thank you, I know you’re probably getting some backlash.”
“Nothing I can’t handle. I’ve been around your rages. The shit I’m getting is child’s play.”
“Ash,” Karen said apologetically as she dug through the toiletry bag he’d brought with him for a brush. “I need to know you’re okay.”
“I’m tougher than you think, my love.”
“No going back from this one,” she sighed. “I can’t really claim I was on allergy medicine or something.”
“Nope,” Ash replied as he kissed the crown of her head and then looked at a picture on Sarah’s nightstand of the Growing Strong Mafia, the nickname earned by Mandy, Sarah, Gabbie, and Mary Beth. The four women had their arms around each other, laughing after a softball game. “Even if you could, would you really want to hurt her?”
Karen looked at the picture and shook her head.
Thirty minutes later, they were in his car with Karen back in power suit mode. In a black DKNY skirt, silk camisole, and two button jacket with an American flag pin on the lapel, she was ready for primetime. Luckily, she had a handful of clothes at his house for emergencies. Her hair…well, the auburn tresses had been brushed out and quaffed in her helmet style.
“Do I still have a job?” he asked as they pulled into her parking space at her congressional office.
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“My main job was being your beard. I was man candy that kept the girls jealous at what an awesome catch I was.”
“You’re also an advisor. Here to help me, you know, make decisions.”
“How are we playing this? Am I your fool or cover?”
“I’m tired of lying,” Karen sighed with a voice full of hope instead of fear. It made him smile. After all these years, she had finally found peace. “You’ve always been my best friend.”
When they opened the car door, they could hear the reporters on the steps outside the parking garage. He was sure that was the closest Tyron the security guard would let them. And even then, they would be getting the patented stare of not interested, don’t care, and get the fuck away from my job.
“You ready, sweetie?” he asked as he took her cool hand. “You seem petrified.”
“No comment, getting back to the campaign trail, and governing for my constituents.”
“I’m still voting for you.”
“Are you even registered?” she teased.
“I’m hurt.” He nudged her as they walked. “You know Howard gave me a bomb pop for registering a few years ago.”
They were laughing as blasts of light blinded them from three different cameras. His hand instantly shot up so when his vision returned he’d be able to see through. His other hand he tightly wrapped around Karen’s slender waist. She curled against his side and they made their way through without saying a word. Not now, but later maybe, when Howard filled them in on everything.
Settling into the desk in his office, he let Karen decompress while he checked emails and finally turned his phone on. Only seventeen messages. Not bad for ignoring it for six hours. Right as he was about to check the voicemails, his phone rang with a two, zero, two number.
“Ashton Gilmore,” he answered, unsure of who from Washington D.C. would be calling him.
“Hello, Mr. Gilmore, this is Victor Turner, I’m the current liaison for the Midwest district of the Republican National Committee. How are you this morning?”
“Fine, and yourself?” Victor didn’t need an introduction. He’d more than made himself a fixture last spring when he talked Karen into running for the open House seat. She was part of his big plan to flip eight districts in the Midwest alone.
“I’ve been trying to reach your candidate.”
“I’m sorry. I can put you through to her right now if you need.”
“Not just yet. I did call to speak to you.”
“Then speak,” Ashton replied while picking up a pen and doodling on the Month at a Glance calendar on his desk. There were still a few eights that needed their circles colored in.
“I understand this may be a hard time for you and you’re trying to figure out where you went wrong.”
“So you knew?”
“Mr. Turner, if you’d like to talk to Representative Schroeder—”
“Ash, let me tell you what we here at the RNC think of you.” Ashton’s stomach tightened as he moved on to the nines. “Your sacrifice for your beliefs are tremendous. It is obvious to not only me, but those at the top of the RNC you knew about Representative Schroeder long before the rest of us, but you saw how she could benefit the party and sacrificed years of your life to be by her side.”
“It wasn’t a sacrifice.” Ashton’s jaw clenched. “Representative Schroeder has an integrity that can’t be matched.”
“There we disagree, Ash,” Victor said. “I see someone with a bit more, and we want him to come out to Washington as a part of our strategy team.”
Ash dropped the pen from his hand as he sat back. “You want me to be a member of the national committee?”
“We’ve looked at old videos of you and her. This game you two played has had you thinking on your feet quite a bit.”
It had become second nature to him—the evasion and instant body checks. Was he close enough? Was she? Public displays of affection and all the rest.
“You’re being called up into the big leagues, Ashton. It’s just a trial run with a few candidates and issues that would need your ideas and input. Then we’d see about making it permanent.”
“I’m part of the Schroeder campaign right now.” Ashton wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He wasn’t even sure he was ready to be a grown-up.
“Stay on it, hell, she might even make it past the primaries. Right now, we’d just need a few days from you in Washington here and there.” Victor paused. “Let’s keep this between you and I for right now.”
“And how will I explain running off in the middle of the campaign to Representative Schroeder?”
“Tell her she’s not the only one who found a lover.”
“She’s fucking with our core, but bringing in new supporters.” Ash heard him take a beat before words spewed that couldn’t be taken back. “The leadership is still trying to figure out, what if anything, to do with her.”
“When we win the primary will the RNC help with funding?”
“Of course. We back all our party elected candidates.”
For his entire adult life Ashton had looked out for Karen. He didn’t even think he knew how to do anything else. He’d never had another job, but as she moved on with her life, it was starting to seem like she didn’t need him to be a crutch anymore. Now Ash would need one to become a grown-up and decide what he wanted out of life, instead of helping Karen get what she wanted.
“You wanna help? Then you really help. Commit. She’s in a district you’re trying to flip.”
“A lot of candidates are,” Victor deadpanned back.
Wendy poked her head over his cubical wall. “Hey, Ash, the Snelling women are here.”
“I’ll be right in there.” He turned back into his cell phone. “When’s the first meeting?”
“After the primaries have finalized so we can see where the funds need to go and work through any problems.”
He stared down at the calendar. Circled dates with important notes stared up at him. His job, his duties, his life.
“Send me a ticket, I’ll make it work.”