Excerpt From Educating Dr. Mayfield

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Green was not her best color.

 

Seated at a table in Sterling’s one and only pub, Delaney Driscoll stared glumly across the table at her two best friends as they chattered about their upcoming weddings like two teenagers hopped-up on one-too-many energy drinks.

 

McGinty’s Pub often played host to life’s happiest and saddest events. It was where birthdays were toasted, engagements were announced, Sterling Bobcats wins were celebrated, and lives were remembered. It was only fitting that weddings should be planned there too. 

 

Taking a swipe at the salt rimming her margarita, she stuck her finger in her mouth with a pout. She really needed to get over herself. Of course, she was ecstatic that her two best friends had found the loves of their lives. But, come on. Was it too much to ask that she find hers too?

 

“So, what do you think? Delaney? Earth to Delaney!” Sam snapped her fingers in front of her friend’s face.

 

“Where were you?” Shelby asked, with a quizzical look.

 

“Oh. Sorry.” She sighed then stuffed a fried pickle in her mouth.

 

Sam and Shelby exchanged glances.

 

“No, we’re sorry. All this talk about our weddings must be boring you to tears,” Sam said, a soft, understanding smile on her could’ve-been-a-model face.

 

Dr. Samantha Love, a psychology professor in the same college as Shelby and Delaney, had hit the news last year with a discovery the press called ‘the love test’—a blood test that determined a couple’s compatibility. One of the largest online dating services in the U.S. now offered the test as part of their premium package. And said ‘love test’ had found Sam’s match in one Ethan Quinn, hunky literature professor and dean of their college. Now their wedding was just two months away—in April.

 

A whiz kid at statistics, Dr. Shelby Wentworth was a mathematics professor, first at Stanford, and then for a short stint at Sterling, before she became the Director of Sports Analytics for Sterling’s athletics department. She and Sterling’s head football coach, Nash Taylor, got engaged—on the football field, no less—after Sterling won its first NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision Championship, thanks in part to Shelby’s mad number-crunching skills. It was one of the most romantic proposals she and probably a million football fans had ever seen, thanks to an eagle-eyed cameraman who captured the moment, much to Nash and Shelby’s chagrin.

 

Their wedding was coming up in June.

 

To make matters worse in the single department, Shelby, who had been Delaney’s neighbor, moved out to Nash’s farmhouse.

“Of course I’m not bored. I’m thrilled over both your weddings, it’s just I have a lot on my mind.” Like being the loving, supportive, not-jealous friend she should be . . . among other things. She absently stirred her drink with a finger.

 

Shelby reached over and squeezed Delaney’s free hand. “Tell me about your curriculum submission. Have you heard anything yet?”

 

“No. It’s with the curriculum committee. Ethan thinks there shouldn’t be any issues since I’ve done such a thorough job of incorporating existing courses, adding the few it needs, and because it’s a timely major.”

 

Delaney had been dreaming of creating a new major in her program—Bachelor of Fine Arts in Romantic Fiction and Literature—and now her packet was completed and in the hands of the university’s curriculum committee. She’d been working on it, in between teaching and conducting scholarly research, for months. She wanted Sterling University to offer this new degree program in the course catalog that would come out next spring. A couple of the course additions were already on the fall class schedule.

 

“Well, when the decision comes down from on high, we’ll have to celebrate.” Sam held up her martini glass in salute, and Shelby followed suit with her own margarita.

 

Delaney played along and lifted her glass. “To writing—and teaching—romantic fiction.”

 

They clinked glasses then took sips of their drinks. This being her second margarita, Delaney was beginning to feel the effects. Maybe she should stop there.

 

Nah. She’d walked the five blocks here, anyway.

 

The door to McGinty’s opened and in walked—hel-lo—Mr. Tall, Dark, and Brooding. She sat up a little bit straighter.

 

She’d always been attracted to the Mr. Darcys of the world. The dark, forbidden men. The ones who so clearly needed the love of a good woman but didn’t know it.

 

And this one fit the bill. Hair neatly cropped, the color of the mink stole her mom used to wear (before she went vegan), a strong chin with just a hint of stubble, and a body—clearly no stranger to the gym—that filled out the navy sweater he wore. Gray slacks. Conservative. And expensive, if she had to guess.

 

He walked over to the corner of the bar, away from the group huddled there watching NASCAR on the TV, and pulled up a barstool. Hugh McGinty, the pub’s owner, approached and took his drink order. Scotch, neat. Shuddering, she wondered how anyone drank that, especially when good tequila was at hand.

 

She wondered if he was meeting someone. A woman, perhaps? Or a friend? She’d never seen him before, and with a population of sixteen thousand, including the students, it was rare to see someone in Sterling you didn’t at least recognize. Was he new in town? Just visiting?

 

A comment from Shelby momentarily diverted her attention from Mr. TB&D to sigh over a picture of Shelby’s wedding dress. A simple sleeveless, bateau-neck gown in white silk with three wide pleats across the front and a chapel-length train in the back. Perfect. “Oh, Shelby! It’s lovely.” Her enthusiasm returned. “When are we going to Atlanta to try it on?” The town of Sterling offered little in the way of wedding boutiques.

 

“Next weekend, if that’s good for everyone. With the wedding only four months away, I’ve got to order it ASAP.”

 

“That will be perfect. I can schedule my final fitting.” Sam said as she checked her phone.

 

Delaney didn’t bother checking her calendar. God knew her weekends were free. Her weeknights, too, for that matter. “Works for me.”

 

“Great! The guys will meet us for dinner later.” Shelby entered the plans into her calendar.

 

Super. She’d be the fifth wheel. Again.

 

Delaney glanced back at the bar where Mr. TD&B sat. He had his drink in one hand, a magazine in the other. Hmm. Maybe he wasn’t meeting anyone. Never one to pass up an opportunity, she chugged the rest of her drink. “Oh, look at that. I need another drink. Anyone else?”

 

Shelby and Delaney looked up from the bridal magazine they were studying.

 

“No, I’m good.”

 

“Me too.”

 

Delaney got up, maybe a tad too fast, given how the room spun. “Okey-dokey. I’ll be back.” Moistening her lips with a swipe of her tongue, she tossed her hair over her shoulder and made her way to the bar and the open spot next to him.

 

Signaling Hugh with her empty glass, she perched on the edge of the barstool, took a deep breath, turned her gaze on him, and stuck out her hand. “Hi, I’m Delaney Driscoll. You must be new in town.” Although a bit tipsy, she thought she’d pulled that off with a dash of aplomb.

 

He shifted to look at her, put his magazine down, and held out his hand, albeit reluctantly. “Devon Mayfield.” Distant. No smile.

But when his big warm hand wrapped around hers, she shivered. “Nice to meet you, Devon.” And you smell delish.

 

“What was that?”

 

“What?” Oh crap, did I just say that out loud? Heat flooded her face. “Oh, I said, McGinty’s food is delish.”

 

He greeted her comeback with a muttered, “Good to know.”

 

Hugh handed her another margarita. “I see you’ve met our Delaney here.” He reached across and patted her on the cheek. “She’s a good one, that’s for sure.”

 

The warmth of a blush crept into Delaney face at Hugh’s words. Such a gem, that man.

 

Hugh continued, “You didn’t have to come to the bar to order another drink. Why didn’t you just signal Gabby? She would’ve taken your order.”

 

“Pfft,” Delaney said, with a wave of her hand. “I didn’t want to bother Gabby. She’s so busy.” They all gazed in Gabby’s direction, where she leaned against the register thumbing her phone.

 

Or not.

 

“Okay. Well. Thanks for the drink, Hugh,” indicating—nicely, of course—that he should buzz off. Carefully lifting the full glass to her lips, she took a sip then turned back to Devon. “If you’d like, you can join my friends and me. We’re just hanging out, talking about weddings.” She winced. Nothing like wedding talk to entice a guy into joining you.

 

“Thanks, but I’m good here.” He picked up his magazine as the now-busy Gabby brought him his dinner—McGinty’s specialty—lamb stew.

 

Since he’d basically dismissed her, she said, “Alrighty, then. See ya ’round, Devon.”

What a snob.

 

She grinned.

 

Just like Mr. Darcy.

 

*****

 

Devon shook his head as he watched one Delaney Driscoll weave her way back to her friends. Clearly, she’d already had one too many margaritas.

 

She dropped into the booth with an undignified plop and leaned over the table to whisper something to the women across from her.

 

They all lifted their gazes in his direction. Raising a brow along with his glass of scotch, he saluted them. Only one had the nerve to hold eye contact—the pretty blonde. She hefted her martini glass in return.

 

Feeling oddly self-conscious, he broke eye contact and turned his attention to the tantalizing aroma of lamb stew and the article in the latest issue of the American Journal of Business Education.

 

As the new dean for Sterling’s College of Business, he’d had a mandate: to make the college one of the top ten business schools in the country by the end of his third year as dean. A tall order, but one he believed he could fulfill. They only had to move up six slots in the rankings. An achievable goal with the right leadership and teamwork.

 

Nestled in the hills of Northeast Georgia, the town of Sterling owed its existence to two things: granite and knowledge. Granite, because Sterling held some of the richest granite quarries in the world—if it was made of granite, it probably came from Sterling—and knowledge, because Sterling University—one of the Southern Ivy League schools, a.k.a. The Magnolia League—educated almost ten thousand students inside its hallowed halls and sent them out into the world to share that knowledge.

 

While researching the job offer, Devon learned that the university was founded in 1835 by wealthy granite quarry magnate and town founder Samuel Sterling. The university’s arts department even offered classes in granite-carving, and of course its geology program was one of the country’s best. Sterling had endowed the university with one million dollars and three hundred and fifty acres of land adjacent to the family home.

 

When the last of the Sterling line, Victoria Eliza Sterling-Pickard, died in 1974, she left the family home to the university for use as its main administration building, aptly named Sterling Hall.

 

Devon quickly discovered that if you lived in or around Sterling, you most likely either worked for the university or for one of the many granite quarries or monument-makers.

 

An outburst of giggles drew his attention back to the booth of three women. Attractive women at that, each in their own way. The cool blonde was polished and sophisticated—classic. The petite one with light brown hair was fresh-faced and casual—the quintessential girl next door.

 

But Delaney, with her golden-blond hair and curvy figure, was a bombshell. And when he’d responded to her introduction, he’d been momentarily stunned by the most arresting blue eyes he’d ever seen. No. Not just blue . . . sapphire.

 

He had to admit, she’d smelled nice too. Something sweet but light, like orange blossoms. 

 

But he’d also been unnerved by that direct gaze. She’d looked at him like she could see right through his armor to the parts underneath that had been found lacking by those who should’ve loved him unconditionally.  

 

The subject of his assessment snorted then burst into another fit of giggles.

 

Clearly ditzy, though. Not his type at all.

 

He liked smart, sophisticated women, with excellent manners and polished social skills. Someone with goals of her own and the determination and drive to meet them.

 

Delaney slapped the table with her hands, laughing—no, guffawing—at something her companions said.

 

Definitely not his type.

 

He needed a woman and a partner, someone who would support him and who would be an asset to him in the pursuit of his goals while she also pursued her own. Someone who would make a respectable first lady to the president of an Ivy League university. Preferably someone in academe.

 

And to that end, he ignored the women and returned to his journal article on business and computer science degrees and job satisfaction in a vain attempt to turn a deaf ear to the still-giggling threesome.

 

*****

 

Devon had just paid his tab and was preparing to leave when two other men walked into McGinty’s. He recognized one from the dean’s meeting last week. Ethan Quinn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He didn’t know the other man, although he looked familiar.

 

After scanning the dining area, they made their way to the table of three women. The blonde rose from her seat, and Ethan gathered her into his arms, kissing her on the mouth. Well, that ended that. He’d thought to introduce himself to her at some point, strike up a conversation and see if she was interested. Clearly not.

 

The other man took the Girl Next Door’s hand and pulled her in for a kiss as well, while the Blonde Bombshell looked on, a touch of envy evident in the pout. 

 

Not only flighty, but an egg-timer on the final countdown. All the more reason to steer clear.

 

Devon picked up his magazine and headed for the door.

 

“Oh, Devon.”

 

He turned to see Ethan waving him over. Great.

 

“Devon, let me introduce you,” Ethan said as he stood. “Devon is the new dean of the College of Business. And this is Nash Taylor, head football coach.”

 

Ah. That explains why he’d looked familiar. “You used to play for the Broncos.” Devon stuck out his hand.

 

Nash nodded and shook it. “Nice to meet you. This is my fiancée, Shelby Wentworth,” he said, as he gestured to the Girl Next Door. 

 

“And, this is my fiancée, Samantha Love,” Ethan continued, taking the Polished Sophisticate’s hand.

 

Fiancée? Definitely off limits then. “Pleasure.” So, that’s the lay of the land. The weddings they were talking about were Bombshell’s friends’.

 

“Oh, and I believe you two met—this is Delaney Driscoll,” Samantha interjected.

 

“Yes. We met.”

 

Delaney narrowed her eyes at him like she had his number.

 

“Settling in to life in Sterling?” Ethan asked.

 

“Yes. I’m closing on my townhouse in Georgetown Square next week.”

 

“I used to live in Georgetown Square,” Samantha said. “You’ll love it. Very quiet. Nice neighbors.”

 

“Good to know.”

 

“We’re putting together a little three-on-three basketball game tomorrow, and we just lost our third,” Ethan said. “Care to join?”

“Sure. What time and where?” Devon asked. He needed the exercise, and a little competition couldn’t hurt.

“Four o’clock at the Granite Park courts.”

 

“I’ll see you then. Nice meeting everyone.” As he moved to the door, he could feel a pair of eyes boring into his back. And he’d just bet those eyes were the color of the Mediterranean Sea.

 

His shoulder blades itched with the thought that she could see far more than he wanted her to.

 

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