Worth the Effort by Sydney Scott

Heat Level 2
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SKU 978-0-3695-0977-2

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Sun Valley, 3

Noah Hunter spends his days teaching teenagers about physical fitness and his nights pursuing the women of Sun Valley. As he gets older, however, the less appealing one-night stands are and the more he longs for something real, but the last time the opportunity for love came his way, he blew it. Lucky for him, fate has a second chance at the ready.

Caitlin Walsh spent her high school days falling in love with the football quarterback, but after a misunderstanding over a love letter, she isn’t sure she can trust her own judgement. A new job forces her to come face-to-face with the man that caused her problem, but this time around, it seems Noah is determined to fix the issues from their past to create a bright future for both of them.

Will these two be able to work through the issues of the past? Or will their love story not be worth the effort?


As I stare in the mirror in the library bathroom, I analyze my appearance, looking for anything amiss. I’m wearing berry-colored capris, a flutter-sleeved, white floral blouse, and white kitten heels. My curls are looser today, so they hit about halfway down my torso. I don’t normally wear much makeup, but I added some eyeshadow and mascara to my staple face powder and lip gloss routine. Since I will be introduced at the first professional development meeting of the school year, I put a little more effort into my look today. There are still a couple of days left before students arrive, but the teachers and staff are here early to set up. I’ve been here for a few weeks and met a couple of people already, and they all seem very friendly, but I’m still nervous. It’s been a long time since I had to talk in front of a group of people who weren’t all librarians and my chest flutters with a touch of anxiety.

Pushing my nerves aside for the moment, my finger runs through the wine-colored lip stain, and I reapply it gingerly before touching up the smoky eye shadow I put on earlier this morning. I had to watch a YouTube tutorial three times before I could get it right since I’ve never been good at makeup, but thank God for the Internet, even if watching the video over and over almost caused me to be late. Speaking of which, I should make my way over to the meeting. Fortunately, it’s in the classroom at the back of the library, so it takes less than thirty seconds to get there. Quietly as possible, I slip in the side and see that the room is already mostly full. I grab a seat near the front and take out my notebook and a pen, ready to jot down any important information that may come my way.

After a few minutes, Principal Langley comes in the room and heads straight to the front. The older woman, along with two others, interviewed me for the job and she was very friendly and welcoming. When I look around, I spot the other two administrators I met at the interview. Mark Wilson was affable and seemed like a nice guy, and Gabriel Hernandez was nice as well, though more serious and focused than his two counterparts. He seems in good spirits today as he places his hand around the back of the chair occupied by a beautiful blonde woman. They look at each other lovingly and there’s no doubt they’re a couple. It’s hard not to smile at their obvious love, and it answers the question of whether fraternizing with colleagues is allowed, not that I intend on getting involved with anyone romantically anytime soon.

Principal Langley clears her throat loudly, garnering the attention of everyone in the room. “Okay, people, let’s get started. Welcome to another year at Central High School.” She pauses and everyone claps. There are even a few yelps of joy thrown in for good measure. I belatedly join in, bringing my hands together, and I’m happy that everyone at least seems enthusiastic about the school year. It bodes well for how my own year will go if the staff are this excited. “Before we get into reviewing the latest policy changes, I’d like the new members of the staff to introduce themselves.”

Okay, I guess it’s good to get this over with at the beginning. I don’t think I can hold my nerves for the entire meeting, but I’m still hoping that one of the other new staff members goes first so I don’t have to think of what to say and can just copy them.

“Because we have such an amazing school and such little turnover, we only have one new staff member this year. You probably recall that Derek Lombardo retired last year so we have a new school librarian and media center coordinator, Caitlin Walsh. Caitlin, why don’t you go ahead and say a little bit about yourself?”

Sharon Langley gestures for me to stand and I do so reluctantly. My legs tremble and I teeter slightly on my heels. I didn’t know I would be the only person doing this and I can feel the sweat forming on my brow and upper lip at the thought of being singled out. I guess I better do this quickly before I melt off all my makeup. Exhaling a shaky breath, I turn around to face the room, swallow my nerves, and plaster a smile on my face.

“Um, hello, everyone.” I start to wave, then quickly put my hand down because that seems silly and childish. “I’m Caitlin and I’m new to Sun Valley. I’m coming from the San Francisco Public Library, but I’m very familiar with high school libraries since I spent most of my time there when I was a teen.” I hear a few chuckles and that eases some tension in my shoulders. “I’m very excited to get to know you all and am available to help with anything you might need for your students or your own lesson plans.”

When I scan the room and see lots of smiling, friendly faces, I’m actually excited at the prospect of socializing with the staff. I start to turn back around when my eyes catch on a figure sitting in the back of the room. My mouth falls open as my eyes widen in disbelief. He’s older now, his hair is shorter and a shade darker, and he has a good amount of stubble lining his jaw, but there is no mistaking that the man I am staring at is Noah Hunter. Noah, the boy I loved, the boy who broke my heart. He’s staring directly back at me, and my mouth closes and pulls into a frown. What is he doing here? I didn’t try to look him up at all after that day in high school. I was tempted to, so very tempted, but I didn’t want to see how happy he was and how much losing my friendship didn’t affect him in the slightest when it all but crushed me. We stare at each other a moment longer before I hear Sharon talking to me. “Was there more you wanted to say, Caitlin?”

I pull my gaze away from Noah and look at her, confused, before I realize I’m still standing in front of the room. “N-no, I’m good,” I stammer out before I stumble back into my chair. I face the front, trying to slow my heartbeat and squelch the panic that is rising in my chest. Maybe I was seeing things. Maybe I got so nervous and being back in a high school made me imagine Noah. I have been thinking about him a lot lately. God, I should have torn up that stupid picture the other day. None of that would explain the change in his appearance, though, and I hazard a glance back to where he was sitting. When I peek over my shoulder, I see he’s still staring at me with a look of disbelief on his handsome face. It’s not fair that he still looks so beautiful after everything that happened. Couldn’t he at least be bald or something? Where is karma when you need her? I’m still staring at him when a smile pulls across his face. How dare he smile at me? I furrow my brow and turn back toward the front of the room.

I tell myself I won’t look back at Noah again, but I do at least half a dozen times and each time I do, he’s smiling at me like everything is completely normal, fantastic even, like the entire universe didn’t just flip over. The rest of the meeting goes by in a blur and I only half pay attention, thoughts spiraling about what to do and whether I can survive without the job I just started. It doesn’t take more than a thought of my current bank account balance to realize that I can’t. I need money to fix up the house and besides, I’m not going to let a little thing like seeing Noah Hunter stop me from doing what needs to be done. I’m not the same person I was in high school. I’ve grown, matured, and I can handle being in his presence, no problem. But as the meeting ends and the staff is dismissed, I sprint from my chair, not daring to stick around long enough to find out whether that’s actually true.