Contemporary Romance Date Published: November 14 2016 One of America’s most reclusive rockers, Ryder Vaughn, gets an unusual sentence handed down to him. The judge, hoping to teach him the value of human life, sentences him to ten months of community service at Reach Within Centre for individuals with special needs. Ryder is convinced that, if he isn’t crazy already, he will be by the time his sentence ends. However, his only other option forfeits his band’s livelihood. Five minutes after stepping into the centre, his entire life changes when he meets a gorgeous, little spitfire who will challenge everything he has ever believed about himself and the world around him. Francesca’s devotion has always been to her family, friends, and the job she is passionate about. Her life hasn’t been easy. She sacrifices a lot for the ones she loves and for her dream to visit Italy. Then Francesca finds herself in a desperate situation, and the tattooed beast who is serving his debt to society must save the headstrong woman from a secret that could destroy her. In turn, Francesca teaches Ryder, if you love something enough, it’s worth fighting for. Ryder knows he isn’t worthy of love, but this incredible beauty makes him want it. Ryder can save Francesca from her secrets, but can she save him from his? Is Ryder strong enough to endure the kids she loves and her crazy Italian family? Ten months can fly by or it can last an eternity. Excerpt:
“The bailiff asks everyone in the courtroom to stand. The court of the Second Judicial Circuit Traffic/Criminal Division is now in session. The Honourable Judge Linda Belmore will preside.”
The judge finished walking up to her podium and took her seat. “Thank you, bailiff. I assume all parties are present and ready to hear my sentence?”
“Yes, Your Honour,” replied the Crown, Matthew Fairchild.
“Yes, Your Honour,” replied the criminal defence lawyer, James Quinn.
“Then I will proceed. Let me start by saying I have closed this court to the public for obvious reasons. The accused would usually remain standing throughout sentencing, but I am going to ask all parties to sit. I have a few things I would like to say to Mr. Vaughn.”
Ryder Vaughn looked at his lawyer in surprise as he sat. He knew his fame wouldn’t help in sentencing. He had a feeling it might work against him this time. What was the worst they could do to him? Throw him in jail for a year or two? At this point in his life, he didn’t give a fuck if they locked him up and threw away the key.
“Mr. Vaughn, you have been charged a second time within a year with racing/stunt driving and dangerous driving. One is under the traffic code section 168 racing/stunt driving, and the other is under the criminal code offence 117 of dangerous driving.
“Sir, these are serious offences, and you obviously have not learned your lesson after just acquiring your licence back three months ago. Therefore, I had to think long and hard on what type of sentencing would make an impact on you. Mr. Quinn has argued that, because of your fame, it would be unadvisable to place you in the prison system, and regrettably, I agree. However, if you don’t agree to my terms, you will in fact find yourself incarcerated.”
She busied herself with looking over papers as she continued, “Your financial situation is so immense that a substantial fine under the laws I must abide will be no punishment. Taking away your licence has no bearing—you just hire drivers. So, sir, I have a very unconventional sentence to hand down to you.” To this statement, she finally looked up at him.
“I have researched the letter of the law on this sentence, and consulted appellate court findings on the chance you could appeal my sentence. I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that it would be impossible to overturn. If you choose to go the other route, that is a criminal charge of ten years. Of course, you might get parole after serving one-third of your sentence. But with a criminal conviction, you would be unable to enter the United States ever again, which would not be good for your career or fans.
“Please keep in mind, if you choose that, I would have to place you in protective confinement because of your fame. You would only have access to the outdoors for thirty minutes a day, and no access to the gym. A third of your sentence will feel like thirty years. Or, you will take the sentence I have been working on and hopefully gain some insight.
“Mr. Vaughn, you have a blatant disregard for your life, and lack of judgment which, in turn, makes you a danger to yourself and possibly others. I came about my decision after reading the letters submitted for your character reference. The one that impacted me the most was from Sick Kids Hospital.” Now she flashed him a look that could only be described as regret or disappointment with a flicker of hope.
“I was shocked and instantly moved by the fact that you donated a million dollars a year for the last nine years of your career. Although that wasn’t what touched me the most—anyone with any wealth can donate to a hospital, if for no other reason than to get a tax break. It wasn’t until I read further and discovered that you donate your time—two weeks in the winter and summer—to teach sick children how to play the drums. I was also impressed you had a soundproof music room built for the hospital and furnished it with instruments.
“All of your donations of time, money, and equipment to the hospital has been strictly anonymous. I came to realize you have a deep connection with this hospital and its patients. I don’t know the reason, but I do applaud it. You help children you have never met, but you still have no respect for the life you were given.
“Therefore, my sentence is as follows. You are to report to Reach Within Centre for individuals with special needs for a term of ten months where you will volunteer and shadow a CYW—a child and youth worker.
“I understand you have a police check from the volunteer work at the hospital. It will start in September and will continue until June. You will not be teaching music; you will be in the classroom, working under the direction of Frankie Moratti, assisting students with life skills.
“I am very familiar with this facility and the work they do with exceptional children and adults. It’s a wonderful organization, and I believe they will teach you the value of life in every capacity.
“You will retain your anonymity since people don’t know your real name. You will work eight-thirty to three-thirty, five days a week. If you renege on this agreement, you will be incarcerated with the time you have spent deducted from your sentence and a criminal record will be instated. I will give you fifteen minutes to make your decision. Choose wisely.”
As the judge stood, the bailiff asked everyone to stand as the judge exited the courtroom.
Ryder was stunned into silence. When he regained his senses, he responded, “Can she do this to me? Can she force me to work with mental kids?”
His lawyer turned towards him. “This is very unconventional, but she has done her homework. And really, it’s not as bad as I expected. You’re the client, so the decision is yours, but I urge you to take this deal. Otherwise, you will never play another concert in the US, and you will never be able to volunteer again with a criminal charge.”
“Fuck!” Ryder couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t sure what sentence was worse. He thought he was probably as retarded as the kids. What could he possibly learn from them? Honestly, if he ever became like them, he wished someone would just put him out of his misery. Not only that, but the judge was putting him with some little, greasy Italian pussy boy. Frankie Moratti. Fucking perfect.
“Watch what you say, or you’re going to blow it before you have a chance to accept the deal,” his lawyer rebuked his outcry “Does this mean you’re going to accept it?”
“Like I have a choice.” Ten months were going to feel like a life sentence. Nevertheless, his band had a tour set for next year, and he couldn’t screw the guys out of their livelihood. “Yeah, I’ll take the sentence.”
Ryder left the courthouse and got his affairs in order. He had moved into the condo he purchased in Toronto, and had two of his cars and his favourite Harley transported to it. He might have to work in suburbia, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to hang out there afterwards. He didn’t sleep great at night and tended to hang out at strip clubs. He also didn’t cook, so he needed access to lots of restaurants.
His condo had a gym, but he needed more than the building provided, so he joined a huge gym by the centre. He could go in the morning and probably after school hours. He would need some way to excise his demons after working with mental kids all day.
He went for the touring bike, figuring he would spend his weekend cruising. This was the last weekend he had left before reporting for duty at the centre, and he was going to party hard and hopefully dull a few brain cells. He sure as hell didn’t need them.
Ryder arrived at the centre an hour early, unsure how long it would take to get to suburbia. He knew Mr. Fucking Frankie Moratti, the greasy, little Italian pussy, would be writing his hours in his bi-weekly reports for the judge until his sentence was completed. Dammit!
As he pulled up to the centre and parked in front of a room that was already occupied, he saw a flash of burgundy whip past the window. He slowly took off his helmet, leaving his sunglasses on, as he got off his bike, all while staring into the room.
There stood the most stunning little chick with gloriously long, thick burgundy hair and porcelain white skin. She was hot, and his dick acknowledged what he was seeing with a twitch. Damn, he hoped he got to see more of her around the centre. She must be the teacher in that room.
It was only seven-thirty. Christ, these nine to fivers were dedicated. With the band, he never woke up before noon.
He walked into the building, heading towards the main office. The door was locked and the lights were off, so he decided to sit on the bench outside of it and wait.
There was a window behind the bench with the blinds closed, but he knew it was part of the room that chick was in. He heard music blaring from the room, and she was singing. Well, not singing, per se. She sounded horrible. Thankfully, she was beautiful.
He could hear the female voice pounding out lyrics about not fitting in. He knew she couldn’t really feel those lyrics, because she would fit in anywhere.
Ryder was a lyrics man. He wrote a lot of lyrics for the band’s songs, and words were important to him. He didn’t speak a lot. Instead, he chose to let the lyrics do his talking. That was why he hated pop music. They just slapped words together and people bought that shit.
Holy fuck, now she was playing Bryan Adams and Barbara Streisand, singing “I Finally Found Someone.” He cringed then chuckled to himself when the beauty tried to hit the high notes. Jesus Christ, she had better keep her day job.
He was relieved when the song ended. His ears felt like they were bleeding.
He heard the door open around the corner as the beauty went barreling past him to the office door, completely oblivious to his presences, still mumbling the words to the song she had just decimated. She looked like she was on a mission as she tried to open the door, surprised when it didn’t budge.
“Oh, David, you must be out of practice after the summer. You usually open up the office before I get here,” she mumbled to herself as she turned then squealed at the sight of Ryder sitting there. “Holy moly, you scared me half to death!” She held her hand to her chest as she walked towards Ryder. “Are you waiting to get into the office? They won’t be here for half an hour or so, and the custodian obviously hasn’t opened the door yet.”
Ryder moved his glasses down his nose as he looked her up and down, blown away. This beauty had it all: whiskey coloured eyes with a ring of black lashes; flawless, smooth skin; and a full bottom lip with a delicate, thinner upper lip coated in sable coloured lipstick. He could envision them wrapped around his cock. Twitch.
She was wearing a feminine off-white jersey shirt with three quarter sleeves. Its scooped neck was tight on her bust with a satin ribbon woven tightly under her breasts. The shirt continued down and flared out to mid-thigh. Khaki green capris dressed her legs with dainty flat shoes on her feet. She also wore a chunky stone necklace in the shape of a dragonfly. She was captivating and delicate.
As Ryder pushed his glasses back up, in a deep voice laced with undertones, he said, “Sorry. I was admiring your necklace.”
“Yeah … okay. Well, the office will be opened soon,” the beauty replied rather peevishly as she quickly turned and stomped back towards her classroom.
She switched the music to some man-bashing shit, and Ryder smirked. He couldn’t think of the artist’s name, but she was the truest form of ball buster ever born. She always wrote about her on-again, off-again hubby.
Ryder respected the singer to the ninth degree. She could write a song like no other pissed off broad. Plus, she was a tad psycho, and he admired that quality equally as much. Despite that, he couldn’t help thinking he must have made the beauty angry. Not a great start to the next ten months.
“Hi, can I help you with something?” the administrator of the centre walked in after twenty minutes and greeted Ryder.
“Are you Mrs. Ramara? I’m Ryder Vaughn. You should be expecting me.”
“Oh, yes. Sorry. Welcome to Reach Within.” She stuck her hand out to shake Ryder’s. “Please follow me into my office.”
He entered her tastefully decorated office, where there was a big desk facing the door with two chairs in front of it. Off to the side, she had a smaller table with four comfortable looking chairs around it.
“Please take a seat, Mr. Vaughn. I am the administrator of the educational part of Reach Within. Today is the first day after the summer break, meaning it will be busy. I’m glad you’re here early so I can give you the rundown and our expectations of you during your stay.” She said “stay” like Ryder was on vacation, instead of the living hell that would be his existence for the next ten months.
“Mr. Vaughn, I don’t mince words, so let’s get right down to it.” Mrs. Ramara put on her serious face. “I’ve had many conversations with Judge Belmore about your situation, and I’m going out on a limb by accepting you to work with the most vulnerable sector in society. She and I are both putting a lot of trust in you, and I advise you to take it seriously.
“This centre is highly regarded, and we have an impeccable reputation to uphold. The work we do here is important, and the students have a lot to deal with. I expect your behaviour to be professional always.
“I understand you will remain anonymous, and refuse any press interviews. I’m the only one who knows your true identity and will keep your secret. But in return, you will not discuss any students outside of this facility. Confidentiality is a must, as I am sure you can understand.
“To be in this facility, the students all have to have a minimum of three disabilities, one being developmentally delayed. Most of the students are in this facility because they have severe behavioural issues, or are medically fragile and need specialized equipment. Our staff is trained in behaviour management and crisis intervention, and are very good at what they do. In fact, the teaching staff is top notch and work their tails off with very little recognition or rewards. I am telling you this because they deserve respect. They work in an extreme environment and are unfathomably dedicated to their students.
“Judge Belmore and I both decided to have you shadow and support Frankie Moratti. Frankie is dedicated, kind, and compassionate. The students love and trust her, and for good reason. I’ll let you discover that on your own.
“I spoke to Frankie last week about your situation. However, she is unaware of who you are. Frankie was more than willing to take you on and made the preparations needed. I do not want you to have any physical contact with any of the students—leave that to Frankie. You are not allowed to intervene under any circumstances. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” he replied, knowing he wouldn’t intervene if he could. He would leave that to Frankie boy.
“Good, then without further delay, I will call Frankie and introduce you. Then I’ll touch base with you later. Do you have any questions?”
“Okay, then, Mr. Vaughn. I understand this will be daunting and will be overwhelming to begin with, but I believe that, in one month, you will have a totally different outlook on this centre than you have this week.”
Mariana picked up the phone and dialed an extension. “Good morning, Frankie, and welcome back … I was wondering if you could come to my office and meet Mr. Vaughn … Great. Thank you.”
Not two minutes later, a knock came to the door.
“Frankie, I would like you to meet Mr. Vaughn.”
Ryder was still facing the desk and didn’t turn until Mariana finished her introduction. Then he stood and turned, hoping his height and size would intimidate the little pussy boy.
He nearly toppled over the chair when he came face-to-face with the beauty he had just pissed off. He must have looked like a moron with the shock on his face as he stuck out his hand.
“Ryder. Ryder Vaughn. Pleasure to meet you, Frankie …?”
She extended her hand with a chuckle, and his engulfed hers.
She could read his face. He thought he would be working with a man, one he hoped to intimidate with his bulk. He had met his match, because she might be small, but she could kick ass with the best of them. She had two brothers and could hold her own.
“It’s actually Francesca. One of my students overheard my brother call me Frankie, and it kinda stuck. Pleasure to meet you. Follow me, and I’ll get you settled.”
Ryder followed the beauty back to her classroom, feeling like he was in deep shit. He couldn’t take his eyes off the sway of her beautiful, curvy hips and ass. Twitch. He had extreme control, but she had splintered his reserve. How was he ever going to work with this beauty? Jail might have been a much better choice.
She could feel his glare on her back, thinking he wasn’t happy having to follow a woman around.
“This will be yours,” she said as she stopped at a locker. “You have a one-digit lock. The combination is thirteen. If you can’t remember it, let me know, and I will remind you.” She raised an arched brow.
The way her eyebrows curved over her eyes made them look like angel wings. Shit. Francesca was going to make him pay for giving her the once over. Well, game on, sweetheart. Give it your best.
He lifted a corner of his mouth into a semi-lopsided grin, not a smile. He never smiled. “Got it.”
Wow, a man of many words. Not. Perfect, she could deal with that. Her focus was for the kids, not this beast.
Francesca’s smile grew as the nickname she had just branded him with settled into her bones.
He was a very imposing man, standing closer to heaven than anyone she had ever met. He had to be six and half feet easily, and he was freaking massive. Her mom would have said he was built like a brick shit house.
His arms were huge, probably the size of her thighs. He had longish, brown, curly hair with natural gorgeous auburn highlights. His thick eyebrows were arched in way that made him look malicious, the right one having a scar through it. She was sure there was a story there.
His eyes were so dark brown they looked almost black, and they were extremely intense. His skin tone was a dark olive tone, with tattoos peeking under the sleeve of his shirt and one crawling up his neck. He had a goatee that was light brown, and a shadow of whiskers from his goatee along his jaw. Holy smokes, he was good-looking in a rough sort of way.
He reminded her of that actor, Jason Momoa, eyebrows and all. Sweet, now that would screw with her mind.
She looked up, way up, to see him with that lopsided semi-grin. He knew she was giving him the once over.
She blushed from her chest to the edge of her hairline.
“Just thinking it would probably take me a few more seconds than I originally thought to take you out at the knees,” she answered quickly and without much thought, knowing she was being equally as rude as he had been.
The intense moment was broken by his cackle.
“Give it your best shot.”
Goddamn, she had balls bigger than most guys he knew, and a sense of humour to boot.
“Follow me into our class so I can give you the rundown on the teachers and students.” She buzzed them in then went to the computer to turn down the man-bashing music. Then she grabbed some papers and sat down at a round table before the door even closed. She moved around like a bee on crack.
She got right down to business, looking at her papers. “Okay, Mr. Vaughn, Mariana and I formulated a cover to explain your presence at the centre. We decided to tell people you’re here from California because you’ve been asked to create a similar facility in your city.”
She lifted her eyes to his, then quickly moved them back to her papers. “Excuse me?”
“My name is Ryder, not Mr. Vaughn.”
“Okay, good. Because, unlike other places, we don’t insist on the students calling us by our surnames. We are much more relaxed than the school boards.
“Julianna Kerr is the teacher in this room,” she continued. “She’s responsible for the curriculum, while we, the CYWs—a child and youth workers—and teaching assistants, adapt it to the students’ individual needs. She is fabulous; you’ll like her. We have five students.”
She then went on to tell him about the other two CYWs and explained all about the students and their different diagnoses. She reiterated that, regardless of what the kids did, he was not to step in. He started getting uncomfortable with all the talk of this “hands-off policy.” Really, how much damage could a head case do?
The three remaining staff members eventually entered the room. Francesca greeted them all with hugs, and then introduced Ryder to Julianna first. She was friendly, average height, a bubbly woman with strawberry blonde hair. Layla was a tall, attractive black woman with a beautiful big smile and welcoming personality. Amanda was Southern European with olive skin. She made no bones about telling Ryder how delicious he looked.
He hated forward woman like her. She thought she was all that and more—cocky and blatant. After all the lectures he had received in the last hour, he was surprised by her unprofessionalism.
“Okay, people, the busses are here,” Julianna announced. “Let’s get this party started. Francesca, you get Mason. And just to warn you, his group home emailed and said he went off the rails on Saturday. They figure it’s anxiety about a new year starting.”
“Understood. Anyone hurt?” Francesca asked.
“Nope, but about seven thousand in damages. Feel out his demeanour and let me know.”
“ ’Kay, will do. Let’s roll.” Francesca gave Ryder a wave to follow her. “Just follow my lead, and I’ll introduce you once I know his anxiety level.” She buzzed to the busses just as quickly as before. Even with his long legs, he had trouble keeping up, meandering around all the staff and students.
He watched the seventeen-year-old kid who looked normal to him step off a bus, looking totally pissed off at the world until he spotted Francesca.
Mason was lanky, about five-nine; four-inches taller than Francesca. He had long, straight black hair with long bangs that he had to keep throwing his head back to move from his eyes..
“Hey, Mason. What’s shaken, my friend?” Francesca greeted him like a long-lost friend, giving him a high-five.
“Lookin’ smokin’ hot, Frankie. Did you miss me?” He smiled at her with worship in his eyes.
“Always miss you, buddy. But let’s not start with the inappropriate comments already, okay?” She gave him a big smile so it would seem like she wasn’t reprimanding him. Smart girl. However, her remark had instantly pissed him off.
“Whatever,” he retorted.
She didn’t let him withdraw as she linked her arm with his. “Did you have a good summer?”
“Yeah, same shit as always … like being in prison,” the kid answered as they walked into the centre with many of the staff welcoming him back, which he ignored.
The kid didn’t look like he had any issues, except a bad attitude, which Francesca had warned Ryder about, saying his behaviour was unpredictable. She had also told Ryder that he had been a crack baby and had Shaken Baby Syndrome. Thus, he was developmentally delayed and had a seizure disorder.
Francesca got Mason into the classroom where he grunted his hello to the teacher, then took his handheld game console out of his knapsack and started to play, ignoring everyone around him.
Francesca turned to Julianna and flashed eight fingers. Julianna nodded and headed out to warn the rest of the team that he could blow this morning.
“Frankie, who’s the wrestler? New staff or a bodyguard? If you think he scares me, you’re fucked,” Mason said without lifting his head.
Ryder couldn’t control his reaction, growling at the disrespect Mason was dishing out, “Her name is Francesca.”
Francesca’s eyes flew to Ryder’s with a scowl of her own as she shook her head no then gave him a chin lift to indicate he should move away.
“Mason, language, buddy. And yes, he is a staff member, but he isn’t teaching. He wants to build a centre like this in California, so he is here to learn from us.”
Mason still didn’t lift his head as he ground out, “They don’t have any school for crazy freaks like us in California?”
She ignored his dig. “Mason, this is Ryder. Please put your game down for minute and say hello.”
He ignored her, not acknowledging the comment about his game. Then, after about three minutes, he said, “What kind of stupid name is that, Ryder? Your mom must have been a junkie like mine.”
Ryder’s spine stiffened. This kid was a punk who was jealous of any male in Frankie’s vicinity.
“Come on, Mason; let’s turn this around. Don’t ruin our first day back together. I missed you, and I want to hear all about your summer. Now say hi to Ryder, and let’s start over, okay?” She moved over and rubbed her hand up and down his back in comfort.
When he lifted his eyes to hers, that worshipping look was back. He looked starved for her attention.
He turned to Ryder. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Ryder responded, figuring if Mason could move on, then so could he.
Francesca had said at least a dozen times this morning not to take anything personally. Therefore, he wouldn’t. Still, he didn’t like this kid, not at all. Francesca had said she loved him. He wasn’t sure how she could, or why.
Julianna looked at Francesca, and Francesca smiled. Their silent language inferred that Mason had been defused.
The door opened, and four more students walked in with the rest of the staff. They definitely looked challenged to Ryder.
A blond, curly-haired kid ran in the room and threw his arms around Francesca. “Give me some tongue, Frankie.” He tried with all his might to get his tongue near Francesca’s mouth.
Frankie laughed as she pulled him off. “Theo, let me look at you. How are you? How was your summer?”
“Give me some tongue, and I’ll tell you.”
“No. Nice try. How many other people did you try to tongue on your way in?”
Theo grinned from ear-to-ear. “Everyone. But I like your mouth the best.” He licked his lips.
“I bet you say that to all the girls.” She turned towards Ryder. “Theo, this is Ryder. Say hello and shake his hand.”
Ryder backed away, nervous the scrawny, little boy would try to tongue him. Gross.
“Fornication with elation, Ry Herr!” Theo said as he held out his fist for a bump.
Ryder was dumbstruck. The fucking kid knew his band’s name was Fornication, and his stage name was Ry Herr? Fuck!
He fist-pumped the kid and waited for the backlash. But Theo just turned away like he didn’t have a clue, on to better things, like trying to tongue every chick in the room.
“Sorry, Ryder. He says random stuff like that all the time,” Julianna told him.
Ryder just nodded, relief sweeping through him. They didn’t know the kid had him pegged.
He was introduced to the other three kids. Veeta was an Indian girl who walked with canes due to a severe limp, and she had a slurred language he couldn’t understand, yet everyone else seemed to. Katrina was a pretty, little redheaded thing, who didn’t even acknowledge his existence. And lastly, Taz, who walked in holding his ears, humming loudly.
Fuck. If he wasn’t crazy now, he sure as hell would be by the end of his sentence.
At the end of the day, Ryder was so mentally exhausted he couldn’t even go to the gym. First thing he did when he got home was grab a beer and turn on his music. “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood blared out of his speakers.
Since the day he heard the song, he thought it best described him. Great lyrics. But those kids gave it new meaning.
Contact Information Website: annemariecitro.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012775572222 Twitter: @AnneMarieCitro Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/amcitro/ Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30369363-under-her-wings?from_search=true Purchase Links Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lyrics-Heart-Soul-Sistas-2/dp/1540409945/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1482869020&sr=8-2&keywords=anne+marie+citro Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lyrics-heart-soul-anne-marie-citro/1125281150?ean=9781540409942 Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/lyrics-heart-soul iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/lyrics-heart-soul/id1183940131?mt=11
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