Desiring Romero by Raquel Riley

Chapter One

“Your homeworkfor tonight is to create a shopping list based on the ingredients from the menu you put together last week. You have a shopping budget of $100. Please try and make that food last all week. If you have an extra person in your household you’re feeding, you can add $50 for every extra member.” Ms. Louvelle surveyed her class, checking to see if anyone had questions.

Avery couldn’t stop staring at his teacher as she explained their assignment. He watched with rapt attention as she gathered her books and stuffed them in her bookbag. Maybe it was her lyrical voice, but he just wanted to hear her continue to talk. The words she spoke didn’t matter as much as how she said them in her stilted, sexy British accent. The sound was addictive.

“Try and be creative with your menu. Use leftover ingredients from one night to make something else for the next night. No repeat meals. Extra credit to those of you that actually attempt to cook something from your menu.”

Extra credit? Avery was down for that. He was only pretending, at best, with this assignment. He lived in someone else’s mansion, ate food bought on their budget and cooked by their live-in housekeeper. Oh, and the icing on the cake? He drove here in the Jeep they bought him.

Should I feel guilty about that? Fuck no. Most of the kids in this class had less than the allotted $100 per week food budget given for this assignment. So would Avery if his best friend, Emma, hadn’t struck gold with her daddy, Sebastian. But he’d endured a rough life for too many years to feel guilt over his recently elevated status. His life wouldn’t always be this easy, so he planned to fully enjoy it while it lasted.

Avery would ask Jenny, the housekeeper, to help him make something sweet for next week’s class, wrap it up cute, and leave it for his teacher. Maybe add a note asking if she would like to come over and personally sample the food from his menu.

Avery dashed ahead of her before she reached the door, blocking her escape. “Ms. Louvelle, if I needed additional help with my grocery shopping, are you available as a personal shopper? I might need you to coach me.” Her skeptical look told him she wasn’t buying anything he was selling.

“Mr. Colton—“

“Avery.”

Ms. Louvelle took a deep breath and started again, pinning a polite smile on her pouty lips as she spoke. “Mr. Colton, I’m not available as a personal shopper, coach, or anything else outside of this classroom. I look forward to seeing your budget and menu next week. Good luck.”

Ouch! That stung.

She breezed through the door and stopped short. The thing about Ms. Louvelle, she was too nice to leave it at that. The guilt of not helping someone in need would eat at her. “If you really need extra help, search for videos on how to make a budget on YouTube. There are also Facebook groups available to the public you can join that promote budget friendly meals. Google some recipes involving five ingredients or less. The internet has a plethora of resources available for you, Mr. Colton. I hope you find what you’re looking for. Good day.” And with that, she dashed to her car and out of his grasp.

Avery watched her pretty dress swirl around toned legs and thought, Thank you, Ms. Louvelle. I think I’ve definitely found what I’ve been looking for.

Avery waited by the door as she pulled out of the parking lot. Making his way back inside the classroom to grab his backpack, he walked by her desk and slowed. A small gold frame showcased a cute kid with messy brown curls and dimples. Could this be Ms. Louvelle’s kid? Her nephew, perhaps? Little brother, maybe?

He wanted to learn the answer to that question and many more. What made her tick? What was her favorite color? The last movie that made her cry? But so far, he hadn’t had any luck. Avery realized his teacher might not be impressed with his slick charm and transparent come-ons. He would have to approach Ms. Louvelle from another angle.

Avery figured his sandy brown hair and pretty blue eyes had gotten him further in life than his own merit had so far. So, he could reasonably assume that Ms. Louvelle might find him somewhat attractive. She couldn’t be that much older than he was.

The problem was that Avery Colton possessed less than zero dating experience. He’d only ever chased one girl, and that hadn’t worked out. So here he was, eighteen and clueless about how to flirt. This would take some thought, and Avery had nothing but time to figure it out.

Aside from ogling his teacher and developing lurid fantasies for his spank bank, Avery had gained plenty of useful information and skills from taking this class… much to his surprise. When his case worker approached him about completion of this class being a requirement before aging out of the foster care system on his eighteenth birthday, Avery had been skeptical. What practical life skills could he acquire from taking the Basic Adult Life Skills class that he hadn’t already learned?

For all intents and purposes, he’d been taking care of himself his entire life. But Ms. Louvelle made learning less boring. He was learning things he hadn’t realized he’d need to know. Things he’d never considered. And someday, when he didn’t live in a mansion with servants who waited on him hand and foot, he’d need to rely on those skills to survive.

* * *

When Avery walkedinto Sebastian’s historic mansion, Bellemeade House, in Coral Gables, he made a beeline for the kitchen in the rear. That’s usually where he found Jennie McCann, Sebastian’s housekeeper and cook. Needing to ask for her help in making something for his teacher, he sought her out.

Instead, he found his best friend, Emma, and her agent, Julian Chavez. Their heads were bowed together over some contracts they were shuffling between them on the kitchen table. Emma glanced up as he entered, dropping his backpack on a nearby stool at the island. “Hey, A, how was class?”

“Great. We’re working on making food budgets and creating a menu and grocery list to work within our budget. That will probably come in handy when I move out.”

Emma’s green eyes grew round and slightly panicked. “You don’t have to move out, A. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you like. Did Sebastian say something to you?”

Avery smirked at her insinuation of Sebastian’s character. “No. He’s been on his best behavior. But it’s not realistic for me to stay here forever. Someday, I’ll want my own place. And I’ll need to learn how to shop and cook and stick to a budget.”

“I swear I should take that class with you. I’m not joking. I don’t know how to adult.”

Avery snickered, his eyes rolling back in his head. “Lucky for you, you’ll never have to adult. You have an adult to adult for you. Sebastian doesn’t want you to worry your pretty little head about it. You have Jennie and Max to do life’s menial tasks for you.”

Emma scrunched her little button nose, deciding if she should be offended or not. “Are you being mean?”

Avery felt like a troll. Emma was the last person on earth who deserved to be insulted. She was a doll baby. Sweet, selfless, smart, talented, and loyal as hell. He was lucky to have her. He went to stand behind her chair and kissed the top of her silky head as he stroked her ponytail. “Of course not, sweetheart. I’m sorry. I have a lot on my mind.”

Emma twisted in her chair to peer at him. “You want to talk about what’s bothering you?”

“Nope. Not yet, at least.”

“Okay. I’m here to listen when you’re ready.” She popped up, kissed his cheek, and headed upstairs, leaving Julian to organize the paper trail. As he sheathed the papers in a folder, Avery took Emma’s vacated seat and turned his attention to Julian.

“Was there something you wanted?” Julian asked absently without looking up from his stack of papers.

“Not to be nosy, but what made you finally decide to take a chance on Russ?”

Julian looked up, laughing. The merriment in his bourbon eyes told of a long courtship with Russell Stanton. “When I first met Russ, he came at me all wrong. All suave and cocky and charming. At least, he sure thought he was.” Julian chuckled as he recalled Russ’ early attempts at seduction. “It took him a while to figure out that isn’t me. I was turned off by the idea that I’d be just another notch on his bedpost. Though I admired his tenacity. The man never gave up. At first, I thought it was simply the thrill of the chase. I assumed he’d tire of me soon after I let him catch me.”

Avery could see the similarities in his own behavior. He might have come across as the suave and cocky cowboy today with his teacher. She clearly wasn’t impressed with his act. She was too smart for that, like Julian. “But you finally let him catch you?”

“Not until he proved himself. I made him jump through a few rings like a circus monkey. For six months, he courted me like a gentleman.” Julian snickered. “Albeit, a dirty, gutter-minded gentleman. He lunched with my mother, attended my sister’s birthday party, escorted me to plays and movies, and treated me to countless lunches and dinners. We walked around town, holding hands and getting to know each other. I got the old-fashioned courtship treatment. I’ll never forget the day I folded like a house of cards. On Valentine’s Day. Russ pulled out all the stops. He recreated our first encounter with a cheesy, romantic twist. I was a goner, didn’t stand a chance. I was already in love with him by that point, and he with me. He took me home with him, made love to me, and proposed marriage and kids. He laid out our whole future together.” Russ’ eyes developed a dreamy quality. A schmoopy smile decorated his lips. “How could I say no to that?”

Avery smiled, enjoying the sweet story. “I know Russ well. I imagine there was more to it than that. I’m sure he drove you nuts, but I’m glad everything worked out.” Julian collected his files and disappeared.

Avery sat at the table wondering how best to approach Ms. Louvelle. She was obviously similar to Julian— in that it took more to impress her than a flashy car and a sassy pickup line. He needed to win her by exposing his true personality. By showing her he was mature, dependable, and trustworthy. He’d need to reveal his sense of humor and his sweet nature. Those qualities were what interested his teacher.

But how could he wiggle his way into her life so she’d take a chance on him? If anybody knew how to manipulate and bulldoze their way into a situation better than Sebastian Deschanel, Avery hadn’t met them yet. He headed to Sebastian’s office to check if he was in.

Sebastian Deschanel sat at his desk. An imposing man at six feet, with pitch black hair and eyes so light, the blue almost seemed as clear and cold as ice. “What’s up, kid?” He addressed him without even looking up, eyes on his paperwork. Avery entered the gray and blue office, taking a seat in a leather upholstered chair at the desk.

“I think I need your advice.” Avery chewed on his thumbnail as he waited for Sebastian to acknowledge him.

Sebastian laid his paper down and considered Avery, steepling his fingers as he chuckled. “My, my, how the mighty have fallen. Why would Avery Colton, the guy who knows everything, need my help?”

“Because I don’t know everything. Please don’t be a dick; just hear me out.”

“I’m all ears. This should be good.”

Avery took a deep breath, filling his lungs, and blew it out before beginning. “There’s this girl—”

Sebastian laughed knowingly. “There usually is. A pretty girl is always at the root of our problems. Go on; I knew this would be good.” The gleam in his eyes paired well with the devilish smile he wore. He was eating this up.

“She’s not interested in my slick charm. She doesn’t want to entertain my flirtation. I guess she’s holding out for something more genuine. I hope I didn’t already blow my chance with her. What do I do to get past her ice wall?”

“Hmmm, how well do you know her?”

“Not very well. I’d like to, though. She seems truly great. Smart, sweet, funny. And she’s got this accent that makes me…anyway, I really like her.”

Sebastian laughed as he guessed what Avery was about to say. “Let me ask you one important question before we go any further. Would my Emma like her?”

“Yes. Without a doubt. I bet they’d get along well.”

“That tells me everything I need to know about her character. She sounds like a good girl. So what makes you think she’s going to want anything to do with you?”

“Sebastian, come on.”

Sebastian appeared playful as he answered. “I’m kidding you. She’d be lucky to have you, kid. You’re a catch. You know, I could get you her address, info, and personal deets with just one phone call. The problem is, someday she’ll find out you manipulated her. If she’s anything like my Emma, she’ll be pissed. So, do you have a legit way to spend time with her?”

“Nope. Not really. I’m baking her brownies next week. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to get her alone.”

“Baked treats are a great start. Is she a girl you met at school?”

Avery nodded. “Sort of.”

“Okay. You need to convince her to help you with a school project, like studying, an essay, or some research project. Then, just be yourself, not slick Rick, and be consistent and on time with your meetings. Most importantly, listen. Listen to the little things she says. You might hear an opportunity to offer your help in some way. You want her to need you, to see you as someone she can rely on. Like washing her car, offering advice, or pet sitting her cat. Pay attention for your chance to insinuate yourself into her life. That’s the only way you’re going to get a do-over. Every girl expects a memorable ‘How we got together’ story. So, make it memorable.”

Avery’s head swam with all the information Sebastian just dropped in his lap. All sound advice too. As he processed everything, he imagined her long, honey brown curls, her bright violet eyes that changed to deep blue sometimes when she laughed or joked with the class.

He thought of her slim, willowy figure hidden underneath the flowing floral dresses she wore and her long graceful fingers as she marked their papers. Everything about her was pretty, including her personality. She was definitely worth a little planning and prepping. Avery would figure out a way to get closer to Ms. Louvelle. Now, to find Jennie about those brownies.