The Smoky Blues Book 9
by Emily Mims
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Deke Gregory has a type – petite, feminine, pliable. His ex-wife was his ideal, but she wasn’t his, obviously. Faced with the realities of joint custody and a family “village” raising his son, Deke sets out to find a woman who ticks all his boxes and thinks he walks on water. Enter Doctor Taylor De Witt: tall, strong, willful, opinionated, and too busy to be bothered with soothing his rough edges. Imagine his surprise when he falls for her – hard.
OUT OF HIS HEART
Taylor De Witt knew she would be a heart surgeon since college. Now a single mother with a schedule that requires roller blades, she has little time for her family, never mind a social life. When she meets Deke Gregory she thinks he’s a Neanderthal – yummy, but from a different era. Little does she know what their mutual attraction will bring, including examining her life to include an everlasting love.
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Taylor nodded. “Please tell me what happened.”
“I’d like to hear it as well,” Deke Gregory murmured.
“There’s not a lot to say. For whatever reason, Charlie punched Brian in the face this morning.” Mr. Jenkins looked grim.
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?” Taylor demanded. “My son wouldn’t walk up and hit a kid out of the blue.”
“It looks like that’s exactly what happened,” Deke murmured. “And I for one don’t appreciate it, not one little bit. This kid needs to be punished.”
“And he will be, I can assure you of that.” Mr. Jenkins turned to Taylor and Charlie. “We have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying on this campus. We will be dealing with this in the strongest of manners.”
“And you wonder why I hate this school,” Charlie ground out.
Taylor looked from her son to Principal Jenkins to the irate father sitting next to the small blond boy with the darkening shiner. Deke Gregory looked like he was about to blow. Brian Gregory was small and pale and a good thirty pounds lighter than Charlie, and to her professional eye he looked like he might be contending with health issues. On the surface it didn’t look too good for her son, hitting a child so much smaller than him. But something niggled in the back of her mind. Something had been going on with Charlie ever since school started. Did Brian Gregory have something to do with that? Was that why Charlie had slugged him?
“As I was saying, we will have to deal with this in the strongest manner,” Mr. Jenkins intoned. “We have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying here at Mountainside Middle School.
Charlie will have to—”
“Wait a minute,” Taylor broke in. “We’re not through discussing what happened this morning.”
Deke looked at her unbelievingly. “It’s pretty clear what happened this morning. Your kid gave my kid a shiner. That’s all that matters, lady.”
She shot him a look of disgust. “No, it’s not all that matters. And that’s Dr. DeWitt to you. Or Dr. Lady if that’s all you can manage.” She ignored Deke’s glare and turned back to the principal. “Did you ask Charlie what prompted him to hit the other young man?”
“Why not?” she snapped. “Was it easier to blame Charlie than to get to the bottom of what happened?” She turned to her son. “Charlie, why did you hit Brian this morning? Does it have something to do with why you haven’t wanted to go to school for the last two weeks?”
Charlie nodded. His lower lip trembled and his eyes filled with tears. “He and his friends wait for me every morning. They watch me come out of Mrs. Foster’s room and say I’m stupid. They call me a dumb jock and say I’m not good for anything since I’m in special ed. I tried telling Mrs. Foster but she said to ignore them, they weren’t hurting anything and there was nothing she could do about it.” He raised tear-filled eyes and looked at Taylor. “I couldn’t stand it anymore, Mom. I couldn’t stand it and I hit him.” Charlie collapsed into noisy sobs.
“Weren’t hurting anything? That teacher’s out of her mind.” Taylor reached out and held her son. “It’s going to be okay, Charlie. I’ll get it stopped.” She looked at Mr. Jenkins with disgust. “Zero tolerance, huh? Looks more like zero give-a-damn from where I’m sitting.” She turned to Brian’s father. “Does your kid know what verbal bullying is? Haven’t you taught him that words hurt as badly as fists?”
“It’s still no excuse for hitting Brian.” Deke Gregory’s lips were set in a firm line.
“The hell it wasn’t,” she shot back. “There wasn’t much else Charlie could do. He’d already gone to the teacher and gotten zip. Maybe if you’d taught your son how to behave, my boy wouldn’t have had to hit him. Your parenting skills leave a lot to be desired.”
She ignored Deke’s sharp intake of breath and turned back to the principal. “Mr. Jenkins, I don’t know how you intend to handle this. But Brian Gregory is equally as guilty of bullying as Charlie, and whatever you do to one you’d better damned well do to both. Do you understand? And while you’re at it, you might want to counsel your teachers about what constitutes bullying, so the next time a kid comes to them for help, they get it.”
Mr. Jenkins had the grace to look embarrassed. “Yes, I understand, Dr. DeWitt. And you’re right, of course.” He turned stern eyes on Brian. “Charlie’s mother is right. You are guilty of bullying. Are you aware of that?”
Brian slunk down in his chair, guilt and embarrassment all over his face. “He’s certainly aware of it now,” his father ground out.
Mr. Jenkins looked from Brian to Charlie and then to Deke Gregory and Taylor. “You know, I’m not sure punishment is the route to go today. I think the name calling and hitting would come to a swift halt if these two young men had a chance to get to know one another. They’re both good kids coming from different worlds who maybe can’t appreciate what the other boy has to offer. So what we’ll do is this. The boys can do in-school suspension tomorrow. Then sometime over the weekend, the boys, under the supervision of the two of you”—he looked from Taylor to Deke—“can take them on a four-hour outing of some sort. Not a movie, but something where the boys can interact and get to know each other.”
“It will have to be Saturday,” Deke said. “I have to work all day Sunday.”
“Let me check my schedule.” Taylor punched up her iPhone calendar. “As far as I can tell at this point, I’m free on Saturday afternoon.” She held up her hand when Mr. Jenkins started to speak. “But I’m on call this weekend. If I get a call from the hospital, I’ll have to cancel.” She
looked at Mr. Jenkins and Deke Gregory. “Does everyone understand?” “I hope you’ll make it a priority,” Mr. Jenkins said archly.
“I hope I can make it a priority,” she shot back.
Deke smirked but said nothing.
The boys were escorted out of the office. She and Deke walked to the visitors’ parking spaces together. “Tell me. Do you always tell other parents and your child’s principal how to do their job?” he asked dryly.
Her lips twitched as she tried and failed to bite back a snicker. “Only when they need it.”
“I see.” If Deke was amused, it didn’t show. “Would you like me and Brian to pick you and Charlie up for the outing?” He looked at her BMW convertible and his Tahoe.
“That might be a good idea.” He programmed her contact information into his telephone and they agreed he and Brian would pick them up about one. “Talk to Brian about what he’d like to do, and I’ll do the same with Charlie. We’ll decide on something when we get together.”
“Works for me.”
She followed his Tahoe out of the parking lot.
Brian Gregory was nothing like his father. The boy was small-boned and delicate to the point of being pretty, and if it hadn’t been for their matching set of vivid blue eyes she would have wondered about Brian’s paternity.
Deke Gregory, on the other hand, was one tough cookie. Big, tall. Vivid blue eyes shining out of a face carved from granite. Probably all kinds of muscles under the sport coat tailored to conceal a shoulder holster. Did he carry because he thought it was manly, or was it part of his job?
Whatever the case, he’d made her tummy do a few flips, and that hadn’t happened for a long, long time.
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I’m going to make a confession right now. Writing a lovable heroine didn’t always come easy for me. I have been taken to task time and time again by my editors and occasionally by my readers because my heroines have not been the nicest people in the world. Oh, they weren’t cruel or vicious or evil. They didn’t deliberately set out to steal or cause trouble or hurt others in the story. But somehow they weren’t all that likeable either, at least not in the first draft. Unlike my heroes, who the readers and I fall in love with right along with the heroine, my heroines could sometimes seem cold and aloof and uncaring. And I had to change that, because along with falling in love with the hero, my readers also have to care about the heroine. They have to like her and root for her and really, really want her to have her happily ever after. Otherwise, why read her story?
So I had to sit down and think. Why were my heroines coming off less than wonderful? Why was I writing them so cold? A part of it was because I wanted my heroines to be very, very strong women. I grew up reading a generation of romance novels in which the women were seldom portrayed as strong. They were young, pretty, and just marking time until a rich, handsome older man came along (or rode up on his steed) and swept her off her feet. Or they let themselves be a doormat, both for the hero and for just about anyone else who cared to use them in that manner. I had a lot of fun reading those books but I would also get aggravated. No way, I would think. Where is her spine? Where is her gumption? Where is her career? Where is the strong woman I want to read about? Where is the strong woman I want to be? My heroines would be different!
And so at first I over-compensated. My heroines were strong and independent all right, but at the same time cold and brilliant and emotionless-or they were until my editor at Candlelight Ecstasy sat down with me and together we looked at my ladies. She took me page by page through the first few novels I wrote for her, patiently pointing out the places where my heroines were cold and needed to be ‘warmed up’. “Don’t make her so perfect,” she said to me. “Put her in a ratty robe and let her have laundry on the sofa. Make her human.” And that went for my heroine’s relationship with the hero. She could be strong, but she has to be loving as well. She has to care about him and it has to show.
I like to think I paid close attention and learned. But I struggle still. In the first read-through of ‘Solomon’s Choice’, my first book in the Texas Hill Country series, Caroline Stern was very cold, frozen in grief over her dead husband, bitter about the time lost with her child and totally uncompromising in her attitude toward Jack Briscoe, under the circumstances perfectly natural reactions-but not very attractive ones. So, taking the advice of a trusted reader I warmed her up and gave her compassion for Jack, a fellow victim of a cruel plot and the father of her child. I was more careful with my next heroine. Captain Holly Riley, the heroine of ‘Daughter of Valor’, is a wounded warrior who is understandably unhappy with the turn her life has taken, but she has channeled her frustration into helping her wounded warrior friends who are worse off than she, and in spite of her amusing tendency to pop out orders her soldiers and the four year old daughter of the hero adore her. Christi of ‘Welcome Home’ helps paraplegic Tommy Joe adjust to his new life in a wheelchair and Emily Riley of the upcoming novella ‘Unexpected Assets’ is able to look past her hero’s horrible scarring to see the wonderful man within. And what can I say about Angie Baxter, my heroine of the next full-length book in the Texas Hill Country series ‘Never and Always’? This woman stayed with an abusive husband because of her love for her beloved stepson. I made sure that her love for the boy shone from every page of the book.
So what qualities did I finally learn to create in my heroines? These days, they are strong, yes, but I’m also careful to make them caring of the hero and others around them. Caroline shells the pecans in her yard to make Jack pecan pies. Holly buys special pots and pans for one of her warriors so he can get a job as a chef. Angie bakes special cakes for her son. They are less than perfect-I let them get tired and frazzled and frightened and down, but they never let life defeat them. They accept or learn to accept the heroes for who they are, or better yet, help the heroes become better men than they were. And they too grow in the story. They are better women on the last page of the book than they were on the first. And we love them for it.
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