“So you can file a sexual harassment charge for me?” Liese asked.
“No, so I can shove my foot up his ass.”
“Liese,” he mocked, then tapped the roof of her car. “Drive safe.”
He rose to his full height and closed the door, shoving his hands into his pockets as she backed out of her parking spot. She glanced at him through the rearview mirror and waved goodbye. Judging by his expression, she wasn’t sure she’d been all that persuasive in her lie.
It wasn’t going to stop her from meeting Ryder, though. She’d just have to be more careful in her interactions with him, particularly after tonight. Liese tried not to think any more about her conversation with Blake as she followed the directions to Ryder’s house. He’d been working under Ryder for two years, and while it had been clear from the beginning that Blake disparaged him, Liese figured it had more to do with personality conflict than anything else. Blake’s laid-back attitude about most things, including curriculum, directly opposed the way Ryder operated. She could see where they would butt heads.
Pushing her reservations aside, she turned onto Sterner. The house was impossible to miss, as it was the only one on the street. She pulled into the driveway, mildly paranoid someone would recognize her car considering how isolated his property was. She cut the headlights and turned off the engine. Silence closed in on her, allowing her fear to surface. She adored her job, and the opportunities she had at FAHL were unbelievable. Beyond that, she’d made friends, and if her colleagues found out somehow, well . . . that would be complicated beyond measure.
The ding of her phone startled her out of her musings. She snatched it from the passenger seat and checked the screen to find several new messages. Marissa had left two texts asking her to call, and there were three calls from an unknown number. She didn’t bother to check the voicemail—and Marissa would have to wait. Besides, Liese had a feeling she might need to chat with her after this.
Turning her phone to vibrate, Liese left it in the center console. After a deep, steadying breath, she got out of the car and rushed up the front steps. She trembled as she pressed the doorbell and tried to convince herself it had everything to do with the drop in temperature and nothing to do with anticipation.
The motion sensor picked up Liese’s presence and blinded her with an obnoxiously bright floodlight. Unease crept in as she stood, illuminated, on Ryder’s front porch. Her imagination revved into high gear, and she pictured a news crew swarming her, snapping photos while they shoved a mic in her face, asking how it felt to get caught sleeping with her superior.
The black double doors swung inward, and Ryder stood between them, caught in the megawatt glare, looking as intense as usual. Liese drank in the sight of him, and her apprehension dissipated, replaced by the same craving that had brought her to him in the first place. His eyes were luminous in the dark, and the shadows that fell across his face made him sinister and sexy.
He hadn’t changed clothes, although he no longer wore his suit jacket, and he’d rolled his sleeves up to his elbows. His top two buttons were open at the collar, and his tie hung loosely off-kilter. In the time she’d known him, Liese had never seen him look so casual. While he typically exuded an aura of confidence, in his own home, that self-assurance multiplied tenfold. Seeing Ryder so clearly in his element made him more appealing than ever.
“You’re late.” Disapproval laced with a thread of relief—it made him sound almost vulnerable.
Liese warmed at the intensity of his gaze. “Sorry about that.”
He opened the door wide and motioned for her to come in. The entryway felt cavernous, the decor within sparse. Everything was pale cream and dark, rich wood, and a single large mirror adorned the wall. Its thick frame echoed the dark wood of the floor, and a side table complimented the piece, bare but for an avant-garde black bowl that held a set of keys.
Closing the door behind her, he whispered in her ear, “I worried you were going to stand me up.”
“Why would I do that?” She’d considered it when she pulled into his driveway. Fear had tugged at her conscience, but desire had pushed the unwelcome emotion down and locked it away—at least for the time being.
He shrugged. “To torment me?” Circling behind her, his lips found a sliver of bare skin at the collar of her blouse. “Should I let it slide this time, or should I make an example of you?” He was playing with her, teasing, testing. “I could add some time to your detention for being late, or maybe I should make your punishment more severe.”
There was a promise beneath the statement, sensuality combined with dark allure.
Excitement warred with apprehension. A detention from Ryder would be nothing like the kind doled out to tardy students. “That’s probably a good idea. Wouldn’t want to give me preferential treatment. That would be wrong.”
“I’m glad you feel that way.” She felt the curve of his lips against her neck. Then, giving her unwanted space, he asked, “May I take your coat?”
Fumbling with the buttons, Liese allowed Ryder to help her out of her jacket. Once he’d hung it neatly in the closet, he led her down an expansive hallway. His palm rested low on her back, his thumb stroking over the dip in her spine.
“What kept you?”
She debated whether or not to tell the truth. Honesty won, because he would likely see through a lie. “I ran into Blake.”
Ryder tensed and angled her body to face him. “Should I be concerned?”
“He asked if you’d done anything inappropriate.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“That our relationship was strictly professional.”
“Good girl.” He touched her cheek with the back of his fingers. The gentle caress paired with the compliment might have been offensive under different circumstances. But coming from Ryder, it sounded sinfully sexy. “Did he believe you?”
“I think so.”
He nodded pensively, running his fingers through her hair and watching as it slipped between them.
Unable to bear his silence, Liese said the first thing that came to her. “He’s not very fond of you.”
“The feeling is mutual. I hate the way he looks at you.”
“He said the exact same thing.”
“Is that so?”