Fuming with anger, Eden Warner waited in the dark wings of the school's auditorium. Instead of being in class, her third graders stood on stage preparing to play backdrop for mayoral candidate Chase Mathews. One of four men vying for the office, his candidacy announcement was received with a great deal of excitement. However, as time ticked by and her students remained out of the classroom, missing subject after subject, Eden's patience was wearing thin. School children belonged in the classroom, and anyone who valued education would not support pulling them out of class for the purpose of being props to a political campaign.
She looked out into the growing audience and noticed the large campaign poster taped to the back wall. The man was a hottie, which was no doubt the reason for the large number of women sitting out in the audience. The men, on the other hand, were there to see and be near one of the city's power players. Well-bred and educated, Chase Mathews had a reputation for solving problems and making money. Actually, he was exactly what the city of Hilton needed. A neighbor to Atlanta, Hilton possessed many of the same problems as the sprawling city. The current mayor was a nice man, but unfortunately, had made some really poor decisions on behalf of his constituents. Feeling the heat and some recent health problems, he had decided to withdraw from the office, hence the need for a special election. The citizens hoped for a brighter future with the announcement of Chase's candidacy. To be honest, Eden too was hopeful. His announcement speech was well thought out and refreshingly informative. He clearly spelled out his desire for the city, and avoided using tried and true clichés. For those reasons, she didn't understand the need for this press conference at the school. It rang with insincerity.
The noise in the auditorium raised several decibels. She peeked from behind the heavy curtain as the throng of print and television reporters crowded around. They were like ants, scurrying for the best location to see and be seen. Today they would be the candidate's best friend, but by the end of the campaign season, they would be picking the flesh from his bones for a better story. Her students didn't need to be a part of such an event. They belonged in class preparing for their futures. But what did these people care? Most were far removed from the lives her students led.
"This really ticks me off," Eden complained to fellow teacher and friend, Angie Thompson, who stood to her right. She continued to watch the well-dressed audience, oozing prosperity.
"How candidates magically appear with the press in tow, at the nearest public school when it's time for election speeches and photographs to be taken. Where was this guy when the library's computers were stolen and we were literally begging the public for replacements? And look at his supporters. How many do you think attended a public school?"
"I don't know, but that doesn't mean people don't care."
"I know that, Angie. But it's disgusting how our children are used as political props during the campaign season, yet ignored the rest of the year."
"Wait a minute. I thought you liked this guy?"
"I do ... I did. This staged press conference leaves a bad taste in my mouth," Eden explained. "I don't like politicians pulling our children out of class for the sole purpose of promoting their agendas. It seems phony ... like going around kissing babies."
"I believe Mathews is genuine. He really wants to revamp the city's school system," the voluptuous blonde replied.
"They're all genuine about their promises during the campaign season, but once that final ballot is counted, their promises go right out the window."
"You're being a little cynical aren't you?" "I'm being honest. Mathews doesn't care about our children.
How can he, when he hasn't stepped one foot inside the classroom? Before you can make an agenda, you have to know what the issues are, and he doesn't."
"You don't know that." Angie folded her arms over her ample chest.
Eden gave her a get real look. "You know like I do that he hasn't visited any school. If he had, it would have been captured in black and white by the parade of reporters following him. They simply sit down and scribble the usual buzz words across a pad and think people are gullible enough to believe their every word."
"Honey, give the man a chance. He hasn't even stepped on stage yet."
"Okay, I'll give him a chance, but he sure better have something worth listening to."
"And what would that be?" Angie asked, annoyed. She was there to get a glimpse of the handsome mayoral candidate. The fact that he was a bachelor made his appearance there all the more exciting.
Eden picked up on the irritation, but chose to ignore it. "For starters, a sincere candidate would announce he's actually going to spend some time in the classroom, learning and observing before attempting to develop a plan."
"You aren't serious?" Angie glared at her. "Do you actually expect a candidate to do that?"
"Most definitely, if he's interested in improving the state of education, he should first educate himself, either by speaking to a committee of educators, or by getting inside the classroom." She looked over at her friend. "You know as well as I do that education is so much more than the books nowadays. There are real issues to be dealt with before we ever get down to teaching. These guys need to know that if they're going to make improvements," Eden responded passionately. She folded her arms with annoyance.
Angie nodded. "You're right, but it doesn't work like that."
"Well, maybe it should." Eden glanced back out into the growing crowd of reporters and supporters. "If we could drum up just half this enthusiasm for our schools on a daily basis, we could really improve things."
"Yeah, well, you keep dreaming Chase Mathews is going to sweep you off your feet."
Angie scowled at her friend. "Go ahead and burst my bubble, Eden Warner. I'll have you know that a lady has to utilize every opportunity to search for her true love."
Eden chuckled. "And you believe Chase Mathews is yours?"
"A girl can hope."
"Get real. That man isn't married by choice. He's either a playboy or gay." "You think?" Angie asked, alarmed. Eden laughed. "No. I was just running off at the mouth." "But you're probably right about his being a playboy. However, it doesn't hurt to hope."
"You keep hoping he'll notice you, and I'll keep hoping that he says something worth listening to." Eden waved to her students who were growing more restless by the minute. "This guy had better show before the natives revolt."
"We wouldn't want that, now would we?" a male voice spoke from behind them.
Eden turned quickly, searching through the darkness of the backstage area to make out an emerging figure. As it came forward, she recognized mayoral candidate, Chase Mathews. Her stomach dropped.
Chase greeted the two women with his trademark charismatic smile, while sizing them up. He couldn't miss the fact they both looked guilty. The blonde quickly scurried away, making an excuse, while the African-American woman held her ground with her head up, shoulders back, and spine stiff. He liked a woman with a backbone and couldn't help but admire her.
He also liked a woman who knew how to dress. This woman definitely had an eye for fine clothing, as the knit two-piece classic gray suit indicated. The skirt stopped fashionably above her knees, showcasing incredible legs that ran for miles. The black suede boots she wore were sexy and prompted all types of scandalous thoughts.
"Chase Mathews." He stuck out his hand to her.
Eden tried to determine whether or not he had been listening to their conversation as she accepted the offered handshake. "Eden Warner ... Ah, it's a pleasure to meet you." Their eyes met and held a beat too long, before Chase thought to withdraw his hand and glance away. Eden followed suit, worried that the man had heard their conversation.
"Is it?" Chase asked, as an afterthought.
"Is it what?" Eden couldn't think past the man's good looks. His handsome face possessed a strong, commanding jaw line.
"Is it a pleasure to meet me?"
Eden met his gaze, and for some foolish reason, believed that her response was important to him. "Of course it's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Mathews. You're the talk of the town."
"That's Chase, and it's a pleasure meeting you as well." He stood a moment, simply looking at her. "I didn't realize the press conference would cause such a disruption," he stated sincerely. "I thought it would be an in and out operation."
"Afraid not, but I'm interested to hear what you have to say." His earnestness didn't go unnoticed. It caused her to feel better about him. Her eyes wandered over his handsome face. Standing this close to the man, she realized he was far more handsome in person than on television. He was downright gorgeous. Now she understood why the majority of his campaign supporters were women. He was tall, with thick dark hair, stunning blue eyes and a wide, kissable mouth crafted by the devil himself. This man was hot.
Chase admired the woman standing before him. He liked a woman with height. "You might be surprised by what I have to say, Mrs. Warner."
"It's Miss," Eden readily supplied. She felt surprisingly feminine standing with him. At six feet tall, she rarely felt dainty in a man's presence, but Chase Mathews had to be at least six-three or four. "I might," she responded politely.
"Do I detect a hint of cynicism?" His eyes looked deeply into hers. The chocolate brown color of them was warm and vibrant with intelligence.
"More like boredom," Eden replied, arching her left brow. The movement drew attention to the intriguing little black mole next to her eye. "You political types tend to say the same old thing. It would be refreshing to hear something new."
Chase laughed with gusto. The richness of the sound was filled with warmth that drew one closer. "I can assure you, Miss Warner, you'll never be bored by me." His eyes locked with hers as the words hung in the air between them.
Eden's brows rose in response. She suddenly had the distinct impression that the man was talking about something other than his speech. Liking the sound of his voice, she slowly joined him in laughter. But, uncertain of what she read in his eyes, she glanced away before being pulled in to whatever game Chase Mathews was playing. Her eyes landed on her students as she suddenly remembered she and Chase weren't alone in the universe. But it sure had felt that way when he looked at her.
"It's been a pleasure, but I see my spokesperson waving at me," Chase said, drawing her attention back to him. He secured the button to his blue jacket. "I'm sure you'll have plenty to say after my speech, so I'll see you later." He turned and walked away. Then as an afterthought, he turned back around. "Miss Warner."
"I'm definitely not gay." Chase winked at her before heading back toward the stage and signaling his spokesperson that he was ready to begin.
Eden gasped with shock as she watched him go. She grinned to herself as she quickly took the steps leading to the auditorium floor, locating a place to stand in the crowded auditorium along the side wall. From this vantage point, she would be able to experience the full impact of the candidate's speech. The man intrigued her. Feeling an atmosphere of anticipation, she glanced around the room. The women waited with baited breath, while the men looked on with admiration. Hoping the man was more than simply a pretty face, Eden stood there.
Angie slid in next to her as Chase finally walked out on stage. "What did he say?" she whispered to Eden. "Nothing much."
"Are you sure? He was talking with you for quite a while for nothing."
Eden barely listened. She was distracted by the sight of Chase's commanding stride and broad shoulders.
"Did he hear our conversation and threaten to report us to Principal Daniels?"
"Ah, he heard some, but didn't threaten us." She continued to watch Chase.
"Hopefully he won't."
"Yeah, hopefully." Eden watched the man behind the podium. At that very moment, a pair of mesmerizing blue eyes looked down and connected with hers.
"Is he looking at you?" Angie glanced at Eden, but found her friend returning the candidate's gaze. "Now I know something was said."