“Navy pumps it is. It’s an hour of his Friday afternoon, not the evening. And it doesn’t matter if I find him attractive; nothing is going to happen.” The latter half of that statement had become her mantra. Liese rationalized that if she told herself often enough, eventually she would adopt it as truth.
“You keep saying that like you think I’m going to buy it, and don’t you dare wear pumps. Why do you even have pumps? Those shouldn’t be an option. Ever.” Liese prepared to defend her footwear, but Marissa cut her off. “Just send me a message when you’re done being bent over Ride-Me’s desk tomorrow—or whatever the hell it is you two do during these so-called meetings.”
“Marissa!” Liese didn’t know what was more undignified, Marissa’s new nickname for Ryder, or how much she personally appreciated the image of being bent over his desk.
“See you tomorrow!” A dial tone followed, leaving Liese shaking her head.
Since Ryder had agreed to be her advisor over a month ago, they’d been meeting regularly after school. It wasn’t unusual for staff to stay well past the end of the school day for a variety of extracurriculars, so Liese hadn’t thought much of it. Friday seemed like a logical option, as most school meetings took place between Monday and Thursday. Besides, as an administrator, Ryder often had late meetings beyond those, and Liese was only too willing to work with what his schedule demanded.
The problem was, what had started as a harmless attraction was turning into a full-on infatuation. After each meeting, Liese would psychoanalyze their conversation, dissecting every glance and scrutinizing every touch, looking for some verification that the connection she swore she felt was real. It was beginning to drive her batty. And Marissa wasn’t much help with her constant flow of photoshopped images.
The following morning, Liese spent an unconscionable amount of time primping before she left for work. Despite her preparations the day before, she changed her underwear three times; berating herself all the while because she continued to indulge in the ridiculous fantasy that Ryder might have romantic inclinations toward her. Still, she finally settled on the white satin and lace, complete with thigh-high stockings and garters. She was such a masochist. Even if Principal Whitehall felt something beyond collegial friendship, he was far too in control to ever act on the impulse.
By the end of the day, Liese’s state of being hovered somewhere between nauseated and anticipatory as the final bell rang and students vacated the building, chattering happily about their weekend plans. Her office line rang just as she was about to lock up the library, and she smiled when the principal’s extension came up. Her stomach twisted as she reached for the receiver, and she chastised herself for getting worked up. He was probably checking to make sure she hadn’t forgotten their meeting. As if she could.
It turned out he wanted to relocate the meeting to her office, as his secretary was staying late, and he didn’t want any interruptions. That was fine with her; the more privacy the better.
She checked her appearance in the compact mirror she kept in her desk drawer and applied a fresh layer of lip gloss. Coincidentally, she’d started keeping makeup at work after Ryder had agreed to be her advisor. The concealer she put on helped hide her under-eye circles from lack of sleep—thanks to her edginess. Her excitement over the impending meeting was too pervasive to be healthy. She ran her fingers through her hair, embarrassed by the amount of time she’d spent on it this morning with a curling iron. Ryder had once commented that he liked it wavy. She felt pathetic about the way such offhand remarks stuck with her.
Liese was in the middle of adjusting her skirt when her phone chimed. She dug in her purse and found Marissa had sent her a message. Against her better judgment, she checked it. There was no text, only a photo, and it was too small in the message window to adequately discern the content. She clicked the image, and it expanded on the screen.
A noise that sounded vaguely like a cat dying escaped her. Marissa had done it again. Ryder’s head was superimposed onto the body of yet another well-hung porn star, and this time the image also included a woman—superimposed with Liese’s face—sprawled out over a desk, much like the one she stood in front of now.
Liese screamed, caught completely unaware. She turned to find Ryder standing in her office doorway, leaning against the jamb, his coat thrown over his arm, briefcase in hand. His suit jacket was unbuttoned, giving him a more relaxed look than usual. And sexier. If that was possible.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said. “You seemed rather invested in whatever you were reading just now.”
Liese hit the button on her phone, and the screen went blank. “It was my girlfriend,” she explained.
Ryder stared at her, unblinking.
At his lack of reaction, she elaborated. “My best friend—she’s expecting me later this evening. She was just checking in.”
“Oh.” He sounded relieved. “Am I keeping you? We can reschedule for next week if you need to go.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I’m happy to meet with you, unless you have another engagement.” Liese slid her phone back into her purse, turning off the volume as she did so.
“I have no prior engagements.”
Their eyes locked on each other for a few interminable seconds before Liese realized they were on her territory, and she should invite him in. “Would you like to work in my office or out there?” Liese gestured to the empty library beyond.
He glanced over his shoulder and then surveyed their current surroundings. “I think your office would be more private.”
“Sure. Right.” Liese nodded, clutching the back of her chair.
“Unless you’d be more comfortable working out there,” he supplied, watching her from his spot in the doorway.
“What? Oh, no. Not at all. I’m perfectly comfortable with you in me.”
His shock formed a counterpoint to her horror.
“In my office! I’m perfectly comfortable working with you in my office.” Heat crawled up her chest to find a home in her cheeks. “I need some water, can I get you anything?” she asked.
It was best to pretend she hadn’t made that comment. Though she could have sworn she heard him chuckle as he hung up his coat and dropped his briefcase beside her desk . . . She opened one of the overhead cupboards, filled mostly with school supplies, and retrieved two glasses. Her hands shook as she held each of them beneath the spout on the water cooler.