Excerpt from Dixie Rebel

     
     Maya Alyssum watched her visitor struggle with his curiosity. Mr. Axell Holm looked like an absentminded professor lost in a particularly disturbing problem instead of the wealthy proprietor of the town's most popular—and only—watering hole.
     Holm was on the city council, she remembered with apprehension.
     "I didn't realize you were married, Mrs. Alyssum. I apologize." He backtracked and asked pointedly, "Is your husband available? Perhaps together we could discuss some arrangement..."
     Maya patted his arm and indicated one of the wrought-iron chairs. "Have a seat, Mr. Holm, and let me pour you some tea. Do you take honey?" She retrieved the pot from the counter, a little too aware of his fascination with her bulging belly. That was the problem with Aquarians, they were too darned nosy.
     He waited expectantly—not for the tea, she observed. "I'm not married. Your daughter is an exceptionally intelligent, talented child, and a delight to work with. You should be proud of her."
     She took the seat opposite him and sipped the elegant tea. She really didn't want to hear what new disaster loomed on her horizon. She wanted to enjoy her tea and the rainbow of colors through the prisms and the lovely man trying not to frown. And he was a lovely man: true golden-blond Nordic hair bleached by the Carolina sun, intelligent gray eyes with thick brown lashes, and a jutting cleft chin that would make Sean Connery proud.
     Of course, there were those thin lips and the flaring of his aristocratic nose to warn her of a lion-king's arrogance behind the knowing expression...
     "Umm," he hesitated, looking for a nice way of asking his next question, "Perhaps your significant other..."
     Maya laughed.
     Axell watched Maya Alyssum's features light with the pure joy of her laughter. Joy rang out as melodically as the musical metal chimes overhead.
     His gaze followed the prisms of color in her already rainbow-hued hair. The sensual atmosphere was radically different from the sterile environment of his own home.
     "You would very definitely not wish to include Stephen in our conversation, even were he here, Mr. Holm. Take my word for it. Do you like the tea?"
     He hated tea. From the disorder of this shop, he feared the cleanliness of anything ingested anywhere within a hundred yards of it. Still, in the interest of peace, he lifted the cup to his lips.
     "Interesting." He sought another approach. The colorful young woman across from him was the antithesis of everything he'd expected. A teacher at the utopian after-school program should be goal-oriented, efficient, independent, and eager to forestall the problems he perceived ahead.
     Instead of the rational, business-suited career woman he'd expected, she was an explosion of femininity. The thick cascade of red curls spilled over delicately boned shoulders. A satin-trimmed wide collar clung to high firm breasts resplendent with pregnancy. He didn't dare look any lower.
     "I disturb you, Mr. Holm," she said. "You do have a first name, don't you? May I use it?"
     "Axell, please do," he replied. "The mayor is dead set against the school, Miss... Maya." He set the tea cup down, adjusted the saucer so the scene of bridges and trees lined up with the edge of the table. "I suspect your liberal principles are anathema to his conservative soul, but mostly, the building occupies acreage the new shopping center needs for parking lot access."
     "I have a three-year lease on that building, Mr.... Axell," she imitated him teasingly, the tip of her tongue touching her top lip with mischief.
     Axell tried not to wonder if her tongue tasted of tea or honey.
     "The shopping center people really should have met dear Mr. Pfeiffer's selling price if they wanted the land," she continued. "My lease specifies he can't sell for three years. I don't see any problem. I trust Constance is happy with the program?"
     "It's the only thing that does make her happy," he said bluntly, and therein lay the crux of his concern. "She's very attached to the program." And to the teacher—an admission he wouldn't make aloud. "I don't wish to see that arrangement disturbed, but the mayor is pressuring the department of transportation for a road through there. The state can condemn the property if a road is approved."
     A frown wrinkled the bridge of her nose, then disappeared as she took another sip of tea. "Well, just tell the mayor that would be a misplacement of the public trust."
     "You don't understand...Maya." Axell hesitated over the preposterous name, wondered briefly what planet she hailed from, then ruthlessly dismissed all his nagging questions in favor of his goal. "A school of your size requires a license. Should the state decide to side with the mayor, you won't receive that license."
     She rose and drifted toward the counter where the phone was ringing again. He'd never seen a pregnant woman move with such grace. When Angela was...
     He shut down that path of thought. "We really must consider some alternatives."
     She poured more hot water over the leaves in the pot. His gaze fastened on the gauzy red-brown pleats of her jumper as Maya turned. He glanced away as the baby moved. She was definitely making him uncomfortable.
     She patted his shoulder as she passed by. "Don't fret, Axell. I know you like all your little soldiers in a row, but life isn't like that. I appreciate your concern, but fate will decide whether the school survives or not. You may try to steer the hands of fate, if you like, but I'm afraid I rather have my hands full dealing with more earthly concerns. Fate is out of my realm."
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