“One last thing,” he said with quiet seriousness. “Just so you’re aware, sometimes you make me nervous, too. See you Monday.” He retreated and closed the door. More confused than ever, all she could do was gape after him as he crossed the parking lot. How the hell was she not supposed to read into a comment like that?
Liese hadn’t been able to get the principal’s parting comment on Friday out of her head. All weekend she kept imagining what could’ve happened if she’d had the guts to make some kind of move. Maybe she should’ve grabbed him by the tie and yanked him into the car. Each fantasy became more and more explicit, until she’d concocted an entire scene, which ended with them in the back seat of her sedan, windows fogged.
On Monday, Liese couldn’t wait to show Ryder the research she’d come up with over the weekend. She figured it was a good excuse to see him for a few minutes under the guise of professional business. But she was such a wreck in the morning she misplaced her thumb drive and ended up bringing her whole laptop to work instead.
Nevertheless, luck was on her side; the principal popped by the library during lunch, giving her the opportunity she’d been looking for. It might not have been a private meeting, but she’d take what she could get.
Liese stood behind the checkout desk with her laptop propped open in front of her. Ryder drove her to distraction as she tried to locate the right folder. He stood behind her, so close she could hear him breathe. Liese felt like a nuclear plant ready to combust. In the midst of all this, she was thankful for the good sense to stay put, otherwise she would have succumbed to the impulse to step back into him. Fortunately, her brain seemed to function independently of her hormones for the time being—sort of. Mostly. Not really.
Electric lust permeated the air around her as the images she’d conjured over the weekend resurfaced. Liese shut them down, though, because taming her physical, emotional, intellectual, and sexual response to Ryder in the presence of others had become her second job. Also, there were students present, and making a pass at him in front of them breeched the realm of inappropriate. Not that she hadn’t contemplated the idea anyway.
Though she’d been successful thus far in managing the impulse, it was becoming increasingly difficult to control. During the privacy of their meetings, his mask of professionalism dropped. He was passionate, well spoken, funny, attentive, and encouraging—none of which should have been an issue. They were all traits she wanted in an advisor.
Unfortunately, those same traits were what she sought in a boyfriend, and disentangling the two prospective roles proved a challenge. Not that she wanted to date Ryder. She only wanted to re-enact every single one of the photoshopped scenarios Marissa had sent her over the past months. Some of which were incredibly debauched.
Initially she discounted the sly glances and inadvertent touches she and Ryder had shared. As individual episodes, she hadn’t misconstrued them as improper, but cumulatively—well, that was something else. When he let his guard down and teased her, Liese tried to convince herself it meant nothing. It wasn’t flirting. But it was difficult when he followed up with comments about how she made him nervous, too. With so many conflicting emotions, Liese worried she would crack soon, which could have a catastrophic effect on their professional relationship.
“It’ll just take a second.” She glanced over her shoulder, fretfully clicking through folders.
Ryder rocked back on his heels, his hands shoved into the pockets of his pants, smiling patiently. “Take your time.” His voice was luscious caramel, wrapped in dark chocolate and rolled in sugar. She had the unconscionable craving to lick him and find out if he tasted as good as he sounded.
Liese found herself caught in the vivid teal of his eyes until they opened wide and his jaw dropped. One hand came up to pull at the collar of his shirt, and he coughed in a way that sounded much like a groan.
Liese’s head whipped around as the laptop screen flashed with bold red letters spelling out the word LUBE, followed by the encouraging tag line: “Ease into ecstasy.” In the ensuing video, the “easing” was anything but gentle. The figures slapped harshly against each other, making Liese thankful for the lack of sound. And, of course, the graphic scene was completed by Liese and Ryder’s heads photoshopped onto the fornicating bodies.
Her own stupidity smacked her in the face. She could lose her job over something like this and end up banned from working in a school. Shame rushed through her as she slammed the laptop shut; a futile apology spilled forth. “Oh my God! That wasn’t what I meant to show you. I’m so sorry, Mr. Whitehall.”
She spun to face him, checking the library to be sure no students had witnessed the show. Ryder looked positively irate. Although losing her job scared her, Liese also feared how this would taint his opinion of her.
His nostrils flared as he breathed, unmoving except for his mouth when his lips parted in preparation to speak. “That’s quite obvious, Ms. Harper.” His voice was a heavy rasp.
Liese opened her mouth, closed it, and opened it again, only to find no words would come out as the tension between them morphed from embarrassment and shock to something magnetic and dangerous.
Ryder addressed the students seated around the study tables. “Ladies and gentleman, the library is closed for the remainder of the period.” Completely in control, he embodied the cool authority that so enamored Liese. Currently, it also terrified her.
The students sitting at the computer banks and tables fell silent. They looked up in unison, regarded their principal with a mix of fear and awe, and hurriedly packed their books, stealing curious glances on the way out. Ryder followed behind them, a forced smile plastered on his face. He ushered the stragglers into the hall, closed the door behind them, and turned to face Liese.
She’d seen him angry with students before. Hell, she’d seen him angry with other staff members, but this was something new altogether. Fury seethed below the surface, fused with a foreign emotion. Her mouth went dry as he returned. Her unspoken desire—the fragile thing she’d worked so hard to quell—merged with a sense of dread. Her heart raced and her palms felt damp.
“You have no idea how much trouble you’re in.” His tone held none of the subversive humor that typically colored their private exchanges.
She swallowed as he stopped in front of her. The way he loomed over her now made her weak in the knees. The notion their relationship could be anything more than professional should never have entered her mind, no matter the temptation.