Authors: Tiffany King
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance
“Deal. Wait, does that rule apply to you too?”
“Hell no. We can have all the guys over we want.”
“Classy. You should make flyers and post that all over campus.”
“Whatever, douchehead. Even if I wasn’t kidding, it’s not like I have any prospects. Let’s just say we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Does that work?”
“I can deal with that.” A wide grin split his face and he let out a loud whoop.
“I’m guessing you told him?” Cameo stood in the doorway with a textbook cradled in her arms.
“What was your first hint?” I grinned as Derek scooped up Cameo into a bear hug, spinning her around. Her squeals filled the small apartment.
Derek stuck around another hour as we sorted through the logistics of our new roommate arrangement. Eventually, he had to go to work, and Cameo returned to studying. If I was smart, I would have worked on my own paper, but no one ever accused me of having any sense. Instead, I continued procrastinating, deciding to call Brittni and update her about my single status. Again.
Brittni picked up on the first ring. “I was hoping you’d call.”
“Yes, my eyes are literally bleeding grading these papers.” She sighed into the phone. “Remind me again why I thought teaching was a good idea.”
“Um, you wanted to corrupt a new generation.”
“That’s right. I plan on taking over the world by turning them all into my minions,” she said, laughing sinisterly. “Enough about my mouthy rug rats. How’s your newest heartthrob holding up?”
I bit back a sigh. I should have counted on the conversation going in this direction so quickly. Now that Brittni was settled down, she was ready to hitch me to the first acceptable bachelor we could find. I couldn’t understand her rush. We were all still so young.
“Tress, are you there?”
“Yeah, I’m here. I was just deciding whether to evade your question and switch to a less painful topic. Like a gynecologist with freezing hands.”
“As if I’d let you change the subject,” she reminded me.
“Fine, he turned out to be a total ass,” I answered, sinking onto my bed. “I couldn’t get past his constant nut scratching.”
She snorted. “It couldn’t have been that bad.”
“Think of a hound dog with fleas and it was twenty times worse than that. It was seriously wrong. I guess it’s back to the end of the loser line for me again.”
Even with a thousand plus miles separating us, I could see Brittni’s eyes rolling through the phone. I prepared myself for the lecture that was sure to come.
“Why do you always go out with assholes?”
“Oh, didn’t you know? It’s part of my personal ad on matchmewithadickhead.com. ‘Only pricks need inquire’ is one of my stipulations before I’ll even consider them,” I said dryly.
“Tress, you deserve so much better.”
“Yeah, well, maybe you and Ashton got the last good guys around. Thanks for stealing my soul mate, bitch,” I joked as she snorted with laughter.
“Your soul mate is out there, you just need to stop looking under rocks for your next date.”
“Gee, thanks for the advice. I was wondering what I was doing wrong.”
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” she said, trying to pacify me.
“Not wearing any.”
“Eww, TMI, Tressa.”
“Kidding. Laundry day was yesterday, so my lips are covered.”
“God, you can be so vulgar sometimes.” She laughed for a moment before turning serious. “You have to know you deserve better, right?”
“Right, better like Trent?” I instantly regretted bringing him up. With good reason. His name was all the ammunition Brittni needed.
“Yes. Exactly like Trent. He’s completely different than the asswipes you normally go out with. It was obvious at Ashton’s wedding he still has a thing for you.”
I rolled my eyes even though she couldn’t see the effort.
“Have you seen him since then?” she asked with her uncanny sixth sense.
I weighed my options on how I should answer her. I could fib and say I hadn’t seen him, but knowing the way gossip spread through Woodfalls, even when you’re not there, she would most likely find out. For all I knew, Trent had already told someone, who told someone else, who told Brittni and this whole conversation was one of her typical traps.
“Yeah, I saw him at a party last night,” I admitted, holding the phone away from my ear as she screeched loudly. Okay, so maybe she hadn’t heard about our encounter.
It took me five minutes to give her a glossed over version of the events from the night before. I left out the part about my freak show possessiveness over him and the fact that I had noticed his eyes.
“So he didn’t ask you out?” She sounded disappointed.
“No. I think you’re wrong about him. I’ve told you a million times: Trent and I are complete opposites. Besides, I’m thinking of swearing off guys completely. They’re not worth all the baggage. Maybe I’ll give girls a try.”
She snorted. “You think we’re any easier? Anyway, you like guys too much for that.” Her tone turned serious. “You just need to give the right guy a chance.”
“Maybe I’m different than you and Ashton. I’ll be She-Ra, queen of myself. That’s all I need.”
She laughed. “Look, we’re going to talk about this more, but I better go help Justin, who is attempting to hang shelves in his studio. I can hear him swearing already, so I’m pretty sure if I don’t go in and help, this could turn into a disaster. I love you, sweets.”
“Love you too, whore. Go help my soul mate,” I teased, hanging up while she was still laughing.
I was screwed.
My hand tightened around the note an aide handed me after my business communications class ended. I didn’t have to look at it. I knew what it would say. After several unsuccessful attempts to contact me by phone, Professor Nelson obviously decided to take matters into his own hands.
Hence, why I was screwed.
I could no longer avoid him. My stomach felt like it was full of bricks as I detoured from my apartment, where I had been heading, to the science building, where Professor Nelson was expecting me. If only I would have done some schoolwork this previous weekend like I intended to, I wouldn’t be in this situation.
I swear on Sunday I’d woken up with every intention of studying the entire day, but Derek and Cameo dangled consignment store shopping and Starbucks in front of me. How could I pass that up? I told them I couldn’t be gone all day, but one shop had turned into two shops and then two turned into three. My attempts to protest proved futile as Cameo and Derek dragged me along. Before I knew it, the day was gone, and I’m definitely not a “study all night” kind of person.
Now, in hindsight, I was mentally kicking myself in the head for my utter foolishness. The term was officially four weeks in, and I was failing three of my four classes. Even in the fourth class, I was barely maintaining a low-C average, and that was only because we had yet to take an exam. Rest assured when we did, my grade would match my other classes.
The science building was like a mausoleum when I pulled open the heavy door. During my walk of shame, I could hear muffled voices behind closed doors with lectures and classes going on. I looked at them longingly as I passed. I never thought I would wish to be in class, but right about now, I’d take anything over what I was about to face.
Professor Nelson’s door was closed when I reached it. It wasn’t too late to flee. That’s if I was a runner, which I wasn’t. My boobs would give me a concussion and a black eye.
Ripping off the Band-Aid before I could change my mind, I rapped my knuckles against the door before walking inside.
I breathed in deeply as I stepped into the office. The welcoming smell of rich leather, sweet spice, and pipe smoke assaulted my senses in a good way and reminded me of Woodfalls. For a brief second, I almost forgot about the trouble I was in.
I met the eyes of my mentor, who was sitting behind an imposing cherrywood desk that matched the floor-to-ceiling bookcases that bracketed the window. “Tressa,” Professor Nelson greeted me. “Have a seat.”
“Professor N,” I mumbled, sitting on the edge of the leather club chair that sat on the other side of the desk. I crossed my ankles and folded my hands demurely in my lap. He was the lone person who extracted this reaction out of me. I’d known him my entire life. His first name was Warren, but even as a child I had always referred to him as “Professor.” He was a close friend of my father. They were old fraternity brothers who kept in contact after graduation. When the professor’s wife died in a skiing accident, Dad talked him into coming to Woodfalls to grieve. What was supposed to be a one-year hiatus from his job at Princeton turned out to be a career move. Professor Nelson had a well-respected reputation and needless to say, Maine State College had been thrilled to offer him a tenured position. For as long as I could remember, he’d been around, and my brother and I always considered him a surrogate uncle.
He was the one I’d always turned to for advice, the one who sat with me when I broke the news to my parents that I would be taking a year off before going to college. He was the sole reason I’d gotten into MSC, which was why I was currently squirming sitting across from him.
I winced at his silence, unable to return his stare. His normally warm molasses eyes behind his glasses weren’t angry or filled with judgment. That I could have handled. As a matter of fact, I wanted him to yell at me. Call me a screwup. Tell me I deserved a kick in the ass. But his reaction was like a knife in the gut. Anything would have been better than his disappointment, which was so tangible I felt like I would choke on it if I inhaled.
“Are you done?” he asked, breaking the silence in the room.
His direct question made it obvious he didn’t summon me here to beat around the bush.
I looked up, trying not to flinch. “No, sir.”
“Are your courses too overwhelming?” He leaned back in his leather chair that creaked as it redistributed his weight.
I weighed his question. Either he was giving me an out or he was trying to trick me. I could claim my classes were too hard. I’m sure he would believe me. After all, it was common knowledge that I struggled academically. I had the perfect excuse. Statistics was totally making me its bitch, but deep down I knew that was my fault. All the partying I’d been doing since term started was the real reason I was feeling the pinch in all my classes. I knew if I applied myself, my grades would be different—maybe not stellar, but at least more respectable.
I shook my head, not taking the excuse he’d offered. “I’m just not focusing as much as I could be,” I answered without looking away. “I just need to find my rhythm.”
“Are you certain? You know, if you need help, it is up to you to ask for it. We have excellent tutors who would willingly step in if I asked. All you have to do is say the word.” His chair creaked again as he reached for a sticky note on the corner of his desk. He picked up his pen and started scrawling on the small yellow piece of paper.
I balked at his words. No way did I want a tutor. The idea of having someone leaning over my shoulder while I muddled my way through assignments was not my idea of a good time. I was a solo kind of student. It might take me twice as long with a fair measure of aggravation, but in the end, I was always able to figure things out. “No, I got this,” I interrupted him as he continued writing. I tried sneaking a peek at his note, but he finished up before I could get a good look. I suspected it had something to do with me.
He set down his pen, stroking the beard on his chin that was more white than brown. “A tutor could be vital in helping you get back on track. At the moment, you’re facing academic probation. Getting expelled in your senior year would be a great shame.”
“I won’t get expelled, I promise. I almost have all the assignments done that I need to catch up,” I lied.
He didn’t answer, but instead stared at me with unwavering eyes.
“I’ll catch up. I know I’ve let things get out of hand.”
I could tell he had his doubts, but he finally nodded his head. “See that you do. Don’t squander this opportunity, Tressa. The hard work will pay off in the future. I can promise you that. Now, tell me, will you be returning to Woodfalls to cause your usual ruckus during the Halloween festivities?”
My eyes narrowed at the sudden redirection of our conversation. “Did Dad put you up to asking?”
A smile spread across his previously stony face. “He may have mentioned it when I saw him at Fran’s a couple days ago.”
I shook my head, not at all surprised.
“You know your folks like having you around. They miss you while you’re away.”
“BizCake, I was just home during summer break.”
“Yeah, you know, like something that’s so bizarre it takes the cake,” I explained, grinning at him.
“Your vocabulary never ceases to amaze me.”
I laughed. “Admit it. You learn something new every time I come to see you.”
“Let’s just say that you have more creativity than you give yourself credit for. All the more reason why I expect more than you are giving at the moment. Now, I hate to cut our meeting short, but I have an appointment in a few minutes.”
Relieved to be getting off without more chastising, I jumped to my feet. “Gotcha,” I said, heading for the door.
“Not so fast.” His words stopped me in my tracks.
Nuts. So close.
“Yeah,” I said, turning back to him.
“No more avoiding my calls. I’ll send the posse after you next time.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, giving a mock salute and opening the door to leave before he threatened to throw my parents in the mix. In my haste to exit the office, I didn’t see the person waiting to come inside, who I completely bowled over.
A set of warm hands encircled my biceps as we both tried to keep our footing. My momentum knocked us together as my chest bumped his.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” I said. “Oh, sorry, Professor,” I yelled over my shoulder, knowing he didn’t care for cursing. I looked up at the poor soul I had bumped into to find a familiar pair of entrancing blue eyes looking down at me with complete shock.
“Not a problem,” Trent answered. His intense stare held mine for a long moment and had me second-guessing all kinds of things, including my mixed feelings for him. After a moment, his eyes drifted to my lips, which were only inches away. Suddenly, it felt as if we were frozen in some kind of time warp. Nothing around us moved, and all I could think about was what it would feel like if he kissed me.
I drifted backward into the wall, which jarred me back into reality.
“What are you doing here?” My tone came out more accusatory than necessary.
Professor Nelson spoke up before Trent could reply. “Trent, my boy. Nice to see you. We were just finishing up here.”
I wasn’t surprised the professor knew Trent. After all, we were from the same itty-bitty town. What did surprise me was the comradeship they obviously shared. I wasn’t trying to be selfish, but I always assumed Professor N was only my mentor, not anyone else’s. I wasn’t sure I wanted to share, and definitely not with Trent.
“Sorry about showing up unexpectedly, Professor. I finished the program earlier than expected. I thought we could go over it together before my presentation tomorrow,” Trent said animatedly, stepping away from me like I wasn’t there.
Within seconds they were completely engrossed in a conversation that lost me at the words
I looked at Professor N in disbelief. I’d always considered him to be a bit stodgy and uptight, but as I listened to him talk to Trent, he was strangely the opposite. He was enthusiastic and engrossed in everything Trent had to say.
“Well, okay then. I guess I’ll see you later,” I finally said, not quite believing I had been forgotten.
My words at least broke through their geek-lingo-filled conversation. “Tressa, my dear, you know Trent, right?” Professor N asked, clapping Trent on the back.
“Um, does he live in Woodfalls?” I asked sarcastically. I was still a little miffed that I had obviously missed their secret relationship.
Trent’s lips quirked at my sarcasm, but I ignored him as I stared blandly at Professor N.
“Don’t get cheeky with me, my dear.” His eyes narrowed as he reprimanded me. “Trent here is my protégé. He’ll be vying for my job before I know it.”
Oh brother. Go figure. This was just another prime example of why Brittni was wrong. Trent and I couldn’t be any more opposite if we tried. I get called to the professor’s office because he’s afraid I have one foot in Loserville. Meanwhile, Trent is his golden geek boy.
“Not your job, sir,” Trent said, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. For some reason, the gesture aggravated me. Why was he always pushing his glasses up? Why not just get his glasses tightened or get a new pair? I knew I was being ridiculous. Actually, I was being petty and mean, but it felt good at the moment.
“That’s my boy. Aim higher. One day you’ll be my boss.”
Trent’s laugh seemed a bit forced. “I wouldn’t go that far, sir,” he answered, looking uncomfortably at me. That was surprising since most of the guys I knew had egos so big they could barely get through a double doorway. Watching Trent now flushing made my stomach flutter slightly, and my aggravation from a few seconds ago evaporated.
“Don’t be modest, my boy. You’re destined to do great things,” Professor N declared, turning back to me. “Young Trent here was the tutor I had in mind for you. He has agreed to help as a favor to me.”
His words were like a bucket of ice-cold water dumped over my head as embarrassment flared through me.
Trent nodded his head. That was just great. They’d been discussing me. I was literally in hell. My feelings of goodwill toward Trent from a moment ago disappeared.
“No, thanks. I don’t need your help.” Acid dripped from my words. Turning on my heels, I stomped away from the office, slamming the door behind me.
I was halfway down the hall when I heard the office door open and footsteps running after me a second before a hand encircled my wrist. Unable to hold back my anger and embarrassment, I abruptly turned to let Trent have it, but I was unprepared for his close proximity and concerned expression. My eyes moved down to his fingers that gently held my wrist. Usually when a guy grabbed me, I felt trapped and overcome with the urge to fight him off, but here, now, I was feeling anything but entrapment. I felt oddly comfortable, like I was anchored to something important, something significant. My eyes moved to Trent’s face.
He looked at me earnestly before finally speaking. “Please let me help you.” A shiver ran through me. His voice was soft yet husky. Had it always sounded that way? A geek with a voice like his went against nature. That deep sexy tone belonged to some mysterious business tycoon trying to entice a sweet innocent virgin into his bed. Rational thoughts were finding it hard to hold court in my mind at the moment. It was time to lay off the steamy books that Ashton kept sending me. This was nerdy Trent, for God’s sake. My complete opposite. Electric blue eyes and sexy voice be damned.
“Tressa, I can help you catch up.” His words finally wormed their way through my mind, which was acting like a horny teenager.
I glared at him before jerking away stubbornly. “I don’t need your help.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. College can be hard for some people.” I bristled at his words. Hard for some people? He might as well have attached
morons like you
to the statement.
“Don’t worry about us stupid folk. You can go play with your intellectual kind,” I drawled before turning around and stalking away.