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Principal Justine Whitlock expects discipline in her school, from her teachers and from the students. When she has to downgrade a teacher for not following lessons plans she feels bad, but rules are rules. Unfortunately she learns soon after that her staff thinks of her not as a principal, but as "the warden." She's devastated by the news, but not sure how to change things.
Damas, a Taskmaster, knows that teaching Justine to relax and enjoy life might prove difficult. After delivering a few spankings, Damas decides he can't live without Justine. Will he be able to convince her of that fact, or will she decide to give him a failing grade, and kick him out of her life, forever?
Justine Whitlock put one hand on each of the two stacks of paper on her desk, making sure they were lined up exactly. She checked the top paper on each one to make sure it was a blank sheet, so that no one else�s business was revealed to the person about to come into her office.
She turned to her computer, taped a few keys and minimized all the windows, leaving only the screen filled with the backdrop of a dragon, the school mascot with the name Milestone Academy printed under the drawing.
Being the first woman principal of this private academy was definitely a milestone in her life. When she�d been given the job a few years ago she�d asked that they not use the term head mistress, thinking it concentrated too much on the fact she was a woman. She made sure all her paperwork was signed J. Whitlock, so that no one made judgments on what they were reading just because she was a woman. She worked hard to make sure things were done as they were supposed to be here, and she didn�t like confronting members of her staff that she thought lagged behind.
But she had to do it right now. There was no way around it, not after what she�d heard this afternoon. She ran a tight ship, and that tightness needed to filter down to the teachers who worked under her.
She took a deep breath and pressed the intercom button on her desk. �Please send her in.�
The door opened and young Debbie Tyson walked in. This was her second year of teaching. Her first performance evaluation during last year�s school year had been very good. Today�s would be good, but it would have a darker point to it that would be hard to discuss with the vivacious teacher who was coming through her door right now.
�Ms. Whitlock.� Debbie smiled nervously and Justine indicated the chair across from her.
�Ms. Tyson, please take a seat.� She reached into her top drawer and took out the folder on top. This was the fourth, and last, performance evaluation she had to do today. Milestone Academy was a small school nestled in Atlanta, Georgia. There were five hundred students, and fifty-five teachers, meaning there were approximately nine to ten students per class.
The teacher to student ratio was something parents and students alike enjoyed. It gave each student a feeling of being one on one with their teachers at some point during each school day. The academy produced wonderful students who went on to do fantastic things with their lives.
Justine knew there was more to education than books, but she also knew keeping things in order meant things were done correctly.
�Ms. Tyson, how was your day?�
�Great, Ms. Whitlock. How about yours?�
�It went very well, thank you.� Justine flipped open the folder and turned the first page on the performance evaluation contained inside. �As you are aware, I visited your classroom three different times this year as part of your yearly evaluation.�
�Yes, of course.� Debbie smiled and sat up straighter.
�I must say that I was impressed each time I visited. Your classroom was well organized and your students were engaged in learning, something we value very much at Milestone.�
�Thank you very much.� The young teacher�s face brightened and Justine sat forward.
�Having said that, however, I was a little disturbed when I passed by your class earlier today.�
The smile that had been on Debbie�s face disappeared. �Excuse me?�
�Well, it was quite noisy.� Justine clasped her hands together and waited for Debbie to offer up an explanation. Nothing came out of the woman�s mouth. Instead she stared at her principal, dumbfounded.
�I�m not sure I understand. We were putting on a play today, one that we�ve practiced for some time. All the classrooms around us were there. We were performing for them.�
Justine sat back in her chair. �I see. And did you clear this disruption with the head of your department?�
�Disruption? Ms. Whitlock I teach English, as you know. We were performing a shortened version of �Romeo and Juliet.� I�m sorry, but I don�t see that as a disruption.�
�Why don�t you explain to me why it�s not a disruption when I hear raised voices coming from inside your classroom.� She made sure to keep eye contact, to let her teacher know she was willing to listen to whatever explanation she had.
�As I said, we invited the classrooms around us. They were all inside, listening to my students perform, so I think it would be hard to disrupt others.� Justine had to admire Debbie for standing up for her beliefs.
�I see. I checked your lessons plans when I came back up to the office. I didn�t see a performance listed on them. Can you explain that?�
Debbie sat up just a little straighter. �The students were ready earlier than what I expected. They wanted to do the performance before Memorial Day, so I scheduled it for today. Originally it had been planned for the Tuesday after the holiday.�
�I see. So you changed the plans, on the whim of your students, not taking into account the fact that your fellow teachers might have had plans for the day.� She focused on Debbie�s face. �I think you can see now why I consider it a disruption.�
�I�m sorry you feel that way, Principal Whitlock.� Justine didn�t miss the fact that she�d gone from being Ms. Whitlock to Principal Whitlock. It showed that Debbie was definitely not pleased with the conversation. �I think staging productions of the plays helps the students get involved, and helps them to remember what they are learning.�
Justine nodded. �I have no quarrel with that, for I certainly agree with you. But a production should have been on your lesson plan, scheduled in advance. It also should have been done in the auditorium, and not in your classroom.�
�I understand.� Justine expected her to say more and when she didn�t she passed Debbie a copy of her performance evaluation.
�This was done before today, and it gives you quite high marks. Unfortunately today�s incident will bring them down a little.�
�You�re going to downgrade me for doing my job?�
Justine leaned forward, putting her hands on the table. �You misunderstand me. I am downgrading you for not following your lesson plans and for causing a commotion. Discipline, Ms. Tyson, is very important at Milestone Academy.�
Justine could see Debbie fight the urge to tell her how wrong she thought she was. Instead, she put the paper down on the desk and clamped her mouth closed. Her lips tightened, and Justine wondered if Debbie was afraid if she opened them something would come out that would get her into more trouble.
�Do I need to sign this?� Her hands were trembling and Justine felt a hint of sadness. She knew Debbie was just trying to be creative in her classroom methods, but it should have been planned creativity, not something done on the spur of the moment.
�If this play had been on your lesson plan, and on that of your neighbors, I wouldn�t have a problem with it. Do you see what I�m saying?�
�Oh yes, I see. No spontaneity. I understand perfectly.�
Her words crept up Justine�s spine, making her heart beat just a little faster. Debbie was making it seem as if this was her fault. It wasn�t. �Discipline will help with your classroom management, Ms. Tyson. If you had been able to follow your lesson plans properly then you would have had the performance after Memorial Day, as planned, and we wouldn�t be having this conversation.�
�Yes, Principal Whitlock.�
Justine stood and held out her hand. �Very good. I will revise the papers and have them ready for you to sign on Tuesday morning when we return from the break.�
Debbie gave her a lukewarm handshake, then moved toward the door without saying another word. �Have a good break, Ms. Tyson. We�ll finish this discussion on Tuesday afternoon.�
�Thank you, Principal Whitlock.� She left without saying what Justine had been expecting: the words, �you enjoy yourself, too.�
�Well, that didn�t go well.� Justine gathered the papers, stacked them neatly and put them back inside the folder. �She could have at least been polite.�
She straightened her desk, then checked the clock. Nine more minutes and the workday would be done and she would have off Saturday, Sunday and Monday in honor of Memorial Day.
Not that she had any plans for the holiday. There was nothing on her to do list until Tuesday, unless she took work home with her, that is. As much as she loved her job she really didn�t want to spend the weekend doing schoolwork.
Of course there really wasn�t anything else to do, was there? She had no husband or children, and her parents lived in New York, but were on vacation in Greece. Truth be told she had no friends, either.
Her stomach roiled as she thought about that little bit of information. At some point in her life she�d had friends. She�d even had a boyfriend or two. But things had always gone south, and they�d all given her the same reasons: she was too rigid. She played by the rules too often. And as much as she�d tried to change she just couldn�t seem to.
Justine glanced at the clock again. Two minutes had passed since the last time she�d looked. Although she didn�t have to punch a time clock she�d always let her staff know that the workday started at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 4:30 p.m. They were expected to play by the rules, and she did the same.
She stood and straightened her jacket. She would go to the restroom, wash her hands and then check the hallways just to give her something to do. When the time came she would get in her car and visit the video store, hoping they had some new releases she could check out to keep her company for the weekend.
After that, she would visit the grocery store, stock up on food so she didn�t have to worry about going out at all this weekend. If she went to the store on Saturday there was too much of a chance she would see people buying food for family get-togethers: hamburger meat and buns, hot dogs and mustard, and beer: all the things that would be perfect for barbecues.
If she saw that it would just remind her that her holiday weekend would be spent alone.
She left her office, nodding at the workers who still sat at their desks. They had everything put up, had their purses and keys in hand and were watching the clock. She wanted to tell them that in just a few more minutes and they would be able to leave.
Justine walked to the bathroom quickly, going to the sink to wash her hands. She dried them and had just put her hands on the door handle when voices from the hallway made her pause.
�Has Warden Whitlock left yet?� She recognized the voice of Jacob Tanner, one of her best science teachers.
�No.� Mark Mias, the drama teacher answered him. �I checked a few minutes ago and her car is still in the parking lot. Heaven forbid she would allow us to leave a few minutes early on a holiday weekend.�
�Rules are rules,� Jacob said, his fake falsetto voice, what she was sure was an impression of her, made her cringe. �Discipline begets discipline.�
�Mind your manners and walk the straight and narrow,� Mark responded. �I hear she dropped Debbie Tyson�s performance evaluation because her class did a production of �Romeo and Juliet� that wasn�t in her lesson plans until next week. Can you imagine? Downgrading someone for having their class doing a production, for trying to make learning fun. It boggles the mind.�
�Fun? I don�t think Warden Whitlock knows the meaning of the word.� There was a beep as if a cell phone had gone off and Jacob�s soft, �oh crap, I thought I had it on vibrate,� let her know it was his. �I have it set for 4:30 time�s up and we�re off.�
�We�re officially sprung for three days,� Mark said. �Hallelujah. Time for some fun.�
�Definitely time for fun. You have a good weekend, and get ready for the big one.� Their footsteps went in separate directions and Justine�s eyes filled with tears. Get ready for the big one? What did that mean? And they�d told each other to �have fun.� That�s what friends and co-workers did, didn�t they? They chitchatted and wished each other good for the coming holiday weekend.
Yeah, she thought, right after they badmouthed me for doing my job. Debbie must have run right out to someone and complained that Justine was too strict, that she was giving her black marks for not following her lesson plans. She�d get downgraded for that, too. Evaluations were supposed to be private.
Justine pulled on the door and stepped into the empty hallway. The teachers and staff had left in a hurry, ready to start their long weekend of fun. And what did she have to do? Nothing more than rush to the video store in hopes that someone else didn�t beat her to the punch.
She hurried to her office and picked up her purse, then, just before she left the office she turned back to her desk and picked up the performance evaluations she�d done but not yet given. She�d work on them this weekend, make sure everything was perfect and they were all done the way they were supposed to be.
Tears swam in her eyes as she stared at the folders. �Warden Whitlock.� That�s what they�d called her. That was obviously the name her staff had given her behind her back. They didn�t think they worked at a school. They acted as if they worked at prison, and she was their keeper.
How had that happened? She put the papers down, then sat down at her desk and put her head in her hands, letting her tears flow freely. What a great way to start the holiday weekend, she thought, to find out that your staff hated you with a passion.
�She�s quite pretty, isn�t she?� Damas floated near the doorway, then turned to his brother. �What was your problem with her?�
Sven shrugged. �She�s very uptight, in case you didn�t notice. I couldn�t get her to acknowledge me. I tried, believe me I tried. But I couldn�t get her to let me in. Not one little inch.�
Damas nodded, then turned back to where Justine Whitlock sat at her desk, crying. When his brother and fellow Taskmaster Sven had told him he needed a challenge after his last easy assignment, he�d been more than eager to take it. Now that he knew what the assignment was he was more than ready to fulfill his duty.
Taskmasters worked wherever they were needed, helping ladies who need a little push in their life to find happiness. The last subject he�d worked with had needed a few spankings to push her away from the rotten road she�d been on, to show her that you could catch more flies with honey that you could with vinegar.
Looking down at Justine, he knew she needed the same treatment. Well, not exactly the same. Justine was polite, or so it seemed to be. She just needed to learn to loosen up a bit, to let herself go once in a while, to laugh and joke and realize that you didn�t have to always follow every rule.
She was upset that her staff didn�t like her, that they called her the Warden. Well, over the next three days he�d make her laugh, he�d show her how to have fun and relax. This would be a piece of cake.
�What exactly is the wager, brother?�
Sven snorted out a laugh and shook his head. �You�re so sure you�ll win. This one won�t be easy.�
Damas winked at his brother. �Why, because she wouldn�t give you the time of day? She�ll give it to me. I can tell right now that she�s eager for a friend.�
Sven laughed louder. �Is that what you think? You will worm your way into her life, take her to bed and everything will be just fine? Trust me, Damas, this woman is like steel. You won�t find it so easy to penetrate her defenses.�
�Nonsense.� He crouched down next to her, wanting to reach up and brush the tears away from her face. �Do you see the way she�s crying right now? That means she�s sad, and she wants to be happy, I can tell. I�m not talking about sex, I�m talking about friendship. I can give her happiness, something you obviously couldn�t do. So I repeat, what is the wager?�
�No wager. If you make her happy then I will tell everyone how wonderful my brother is at his job.�
�I like the sound of that.� Damas closed his eyes and looked into Justine�s most secret, inner thoughts. A smile spread across his face as he saw her as she used to be, laughing and smiling.
Yes, this was definitely going to be a piece of cake.
Justine couldn�t shake off the feeling that someone was following her. She�d had a strange sensation in her office while she�d been crying, almost as if someone was there, offering her comfort. But when she�d looked around she�d seen no one.
Of course her feeling of being watched could just be her disgust at the way she�d fallen apart. She�d allowed a little bit of school gossip to throw her into a tizzy. That wasn�t like her at all. Instead of sitting behind her desk and crying like she was a child what she should have done was write up a report of what she�d heard so she could put reprimands in the teachers� files.
She would do that this weekend, during the holiday. Then she would confront all three of them Tuesday morning, let them know what she�d overheard and present them with the reprimands for them to sign.
That was the best way to handle things. She couldn�t allow gossip to make its way around the school so quickly. Gossip hurt everyone, not just the people that it was about. Taking care of it swiftly would keep it from happening again.
She picked up a DVD, stared at the title then flipped it over to read the synopsis on the back. It was a romantic comedy, and would probably provide her with light fare that kept her laughing. Just what she needed.
Justine put it in the hand-held basket, placing it on top of three others she�d already found. It was going to be a long weekend, and she would need the videos to help pass the time. Maybe one more would be in order. That way she had at least one a day, maybe two for Saturday.
Or maybe she needed to get six movies that would be two for each day. That would keep her busy. It would keep her from sitting around and feeling sorry for herself when she thought about her staff referring to her at the �Warden.�
�I hear this one�s very good.� Justine continued to study the racks in front of her. Yes, definitely two more movies. That would make six all together.
�Have you seen it? Do you think it�s good?� She blinked, then lifted her gaze to the man standing near her. She guessed him to be about thirty-five, with long black hair. His eyes were the bluest she�d ever seen and she gazed into them, feeling as if he could see straight into her soul.
�I should hope so. I�ve been trying to get your attention for quite some time now. When I see a beautiful woman looking over videos and loading her cart down I have to wonder why. And I know it�s just because she hasn�t met me yet.�
His line, which was probably well practiced, hit against Justine�s shield and bounced off. �Buzz off.� She turned her back on him and studied the DVD cases on the shelf. When he didn�t move she walked away slowly, going to the next aisle and perusing her choices.
�That�s not a very nice thing to say.� Justine jerked her head around, her eyes widening. How had he gotten behind her so quickly? She hadn�t heard him move, that was for sure.
�Listen, buster, leave me alone or I�ll call security.�
�I�m just trying to start a conversation.� He stepped closer and her senses reeled just a little. He smelled as if he�d been outdoors, with the sun and surf clinging to him. The smell was intoxicating and it made her want to pull him to her car and drive to the nearest beach, to lie down on the sand with him and hold him close while he made sweet love to her.
She shook her head to clear the images that had taken hold. �I don�t know who you are, but I want you to leave me alone. Understand? If you don�t go away, right now, I�m going to do more than call store security. I�m going to call the cops, tell them you�re harassing me.�
�Now that does hurt. I�m just trying to hit on a pretty woman.� He took a DVD from her basket and shook his head in approval. �I say we watch this one first.�
�We?� She snatched it out his hand. �And I say you get the hell away from me.�
He winked at her and leaned closer. �That�s not a nice word for a teacher to use, is it? Of course you�re not a teacher anymore. You�re a principal.�
Cold fear snaked through her body. He was a stalker. He obviously knew everything about her. Would he try to abduct her from here? There would only be one reason for an abduction, since her family didn�t have any money.
She shook her head at the thought. What sort of man would basically tell a woman he planned on kidnapping her before he did so. They were in a crowded store, and she could run to anyone for help. In fact that�s exactly what she planned to do.
Justine turned to run toward the counter, gasping when the dark haired man appeared in front of her. There was no way he could have done that. He�d been standing on the other side of her and now here he was, blocking her path toward the counter.
�What�s happening, Justine, is I�m here to spend the weekend with you, so that you�re not bored. You don�t want to spend the holiday weekend alone, do you?�
�Get the hell away from me you asshole. I mean it.� She raised her voice, screaming out the last words, hoping someone in the crowded store would come over and ask her what was happening. Ask if she needed help.
When that didn�t work she let out a string of cuss words that made her blush. She knew she shouldn�t be saying such things but she couldn�t stop herself. She called him everything she could think of, hoping that would make him leave her alone. When she was done her chest heaved as she fought to control her anxiety and anger.
Her body trembled when he looked at her and grinned, his laughter bubbling forth and surrounding her.
�Principal Whitlock you shouldn�t say things like that. I think it�s very bad that you would treat me that way when I told you that I�m here to help you. Do you want to know what I think now?�
She wanted to tell him she didn�t give a damn what he thought. What was going on here? Why had everyone in the store ignored her cussing tirade? Had their society changed so much that a woman could cuss a person out in the middle of a store and everyone around them would just walk up and down the aisles acting as if they�d heard and seen nothing?
�You don�t want to tell me what I�m thinking? Well, I�ll tell you anyway. You�ve been a bad girl, Principal Whitlock, and you need to be punished for all those nasty words you just spit out. You need a spanking. And I�m going to give it to you. Right here. Right now.�