Late in October, he stopped by the library while Liese was cataloging new resources. As she stretched up on her toes to return a book to the top shelf, Ryder plucked it from her hand, his chest touching her shoulder as he shelved it.
“Thanks.” Her response sounded breathless.
“How can I help you?” She needlessly rearranged several books, determined to avoid eye contact for as long as possible.
“It’s come to my attention that you still don’t have an advisor.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.” Of course, that wasn’t even remotely true. She had been evading the topic altogether.
“So you’ve found someone suitable?”
Liese smiled at his phrasing. She found his formality charming. “Not exactly,” she hedged.
“Have you spoken to the staff members on the list I provided? Are you having difficulty finding someone to fill the role?”
“It’s not that. I mean, no, I’m not having difficulty. It’s just that what I need in an advisor isn’t quite . . .” Liese sighed and rubbed her forehead. “I know it’s not traditional, but I’m wondering if you could advise me. Your background supports the initiatives I’m interested in pursuing, and I already ask you all the questions I would ask my advisor. It could be a very informal role.” She stopped rambling and pursed her lips, unsure how to read his complete lack of response. “It was a bad idea, never mind.”
Ryder remained expressionless for a long moment. “Principals don’t typically take on advisor roles.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward position, sir.”
Something dark flashed in his eyes, and his jaw tightened imperceptibly. “I said typically. However, I believe in this case I’d be willing to make an exception.”
“Mmm, seriously.” Ryder nodded, apparently amused by her reaction.
In a moment of impulse, Liese threw her arms around him. His body went rigid as she came flush against him, the air around them humming with energy. Lurid images formed in her mind, and Liese let go immediately, irrationally afraid he would absorb her thoughts through osmosis. She swore she’d felt his fingertips at her waist as she stepped away—as if he’d thought to hug her back at the very last second.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.” Her face felt like it was on fire.
Ryder blinked twice, his chest rising and falling as he took a deep breath. “It’s fine,” he said, his voice low and rough. He cleared his throat and smoothed his tie. “However, for the sake of propriety, I’d suggest any further displays of gratitude be saved for times when there aren’t witnesses.”
Liese glanced down the aisle, expecting to see a group of students with mouths agape, only to discover they were entirely alone. But it wasn’t hard to imagine the kind of rumors that would start if they were seen engaged in such a public display of affection, and between the stacks no less.
Ryder’s eyes went wide with mock horror. “How would I ever maintain order if the students found out I’d gone soft?”
“There would be absolute chaos,” she replied, expression somber. “Food fights in the cafeteria.”
“Overdue library books,” he whispered.
“Oh, the insanity!” Liese grinned, the tension dissipating.
“Come see me at the end of the day, and we can set up a first meeting.” Ryder moved past her, the back of his hand skimming her hip as he departed down the aisle.
Liese watched him leave, both elated and troubled. She’d gotten what she wanted; he’d agreed to be her advisor. But the feelings he evoked were still problematic. She’d be spending more time with him now, alone. If there hadn’t been reason to fret before, there certainly was now.
“I have a meeting with the principal tomorrow after work, so I’ll be late getting into the city,” Liese told Marissa, over the phone. The apology was implied.
It had been a few weeks since their last visit, and she was beginning to experience withdrawal. Leaving later wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though; she wouldn’t have to contend with the worst of rush-hour traffic in NYC.
Liese put Marissa on speakerphone as she rummaged in her underwear drawer. She picked up a lacy, white thong and debated the merits of wearing sexy lingerie under her clothes when Ryder would never see it. Something about wrapping her best assets in pretty things made her feel empowered. Confidence inspired by lace and satin, as it were.
“Didn’t you just have one last week?” Marissa asked. Liese could practically hear her wheels of perversion turning.
“We meet weekly.” She searched for the matching bra and held up the two pieces together. If her blouse weren’t white, she would have opted for her navy pinstriped set, or maybe something black. She could wear a sweater vest to hide them, but then she’d be too warm, as being in his presence gave her hot flashes.
“Is that normal?”
“Um, I guess? I’m not really sure because I’ve never had an advisor before, but I’ve been doing a lot of research. I want to get this literacy project up and running before second semester. Based on the research studies, it will improve test scores on the state exams in the spring. He’s completely supportive of the initiative, and he’s the one who arranges the meetings, so I assume it’s common practice. We’ll probably meet less often once the logistics are worked out.” Liese frowned at the thought. She rather enjoyed her frequent meetings with Ryder.
“Okay, whatever you say, most of that sounded like nerd gibberish to me. But I find it interesting that he plans these meetings for Friday afternoons.”
“He has a busy schedule; the end of the week works for him.” Liese moved to her closet and pulled out a navy skirt and freshly pressed blouse.
“Don’t you find it suspect that this hot, sexy man has nothing better to do with his time than meet his advisee afterhours on a Friday?” Marissa pressed.
“Don’t even start. He’s not interested in me like that. It’s strictly a professional relationship.” Liese twirled a lock of hair around her fingers as she surveyed her shoe selection. “Red heels or navy pumps?”
“Red heels, obviously. And I call bullshit on the professional relationship. No man gives up his Friday for the welfare of the education system, no matter how devoted he is to the cause. Besides, you’re so hot for this guy you’re on fire, and you’re asking me about footwear.”