There he was, again, unable to keep his eyes off of her. And, although part of him knew that it made her uncomfortable, he couldn’t bring himself to stop. Dark brown eyes met his briefly before she turned her gaze on the rest of the room, trying her best to ignore him and failing horribly. But, she’d looked at him. He’d held her attention for more than a second, and the thought of it alone made him feel like he was floating.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” Professor Lanh said, quoting Aristotle as she leaned against her heavy, oak wood desk. She was in the middle of yet another lecture that, despite his rapidly decreasing grade point average, he couldn’t bring himself to pay attention to. Was it his fault that he was much more interested in the woman herself? In the thick, wild curls she wore barely contained in a bun at the base of her neck? In the rise of her full bosom and the curve of her hips? The fact that she’d called his flirting pitiful still stung, but he could understand why she’d lash out at him in the way she did. He’d been nothing but a butthead since the term started. He deserved her ire but, dammit, he couldn’t get her off of his mind. It wasn’t often that he felt attracted to someone physically and mentally. Sure, there were plenty of women his age on campus who would gladly return his advances, but there was something about Professor Claire Lanh that made his chest tighten and his lungs seize. And he was desperate to find out exactly what.
Thickly rimmed, black-framed glasses sat on the end of her button nose, a dark contrast against the dusky red that colored her golden, freckled cheeks. Obviously of mixed heritage, she was a rare beauty that hid her natural charm behind a brick wall of disinterest and feigned bitterness. Daniel sat forward in his seat to get a better look at her, his brain unable to register the words she spoke, but picking up every subtle move of her fingertips, every bat of her long, dark lashes. Dressed in a baggy, beige sweater, knee-length skirt, and oxfords, she looked every bit as boring and pretentious as she pretended to be. He found it odd that such an obviously sensual woman did everything she could to hide her body from his gaze. And gaze he did. As often as possible.
“Which means, what?” someone asked from behind him, pulling him out of his thoughts. He reached for the textbook he hadn’t opened the entire length of class, absently thumbing through it to hide the fact that he really wasn’t paying attention. He’d almost forgotten they weren’t alone, that forty other students surrounded them in distraction and interference. The Professor shifted with unease, adjusting her glasses more out of habit than necessity.
“Which means that absolutely none of you should be failing my class. Philosophy is the study of the nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. It isn’t a math course, there is no one set way to do things; philosophy is discussion and thought. It’s the reasoning behind everything we say or do. So long as you just keep talking about it, studying it should be a habit and you should all excel,” she explained. The class groaned and he smirked behind his book. He’d never met someone so passionate about teaching, especially something as boring as philosophy, but every word she spoke on the topic was as if it would be her last. He wished for what felt like the hundredth time that he could delve into her mind, pick up her thoughts and devour all the thoughts and intricacies that made her unique. But he couldn’t. And that was what made her so infinitely fascinating.
“Or, it just means this class is fucking stu–!”
“–pendous,” Daniel cut him off, turning in his seat to stare up at him. If he remembered correctly, his name was Jarred something-or-other. They shared a criminal law class. “Just like our Professor here. That’s what you were going to say, right?”
“Whatever, Daniel, you do this shit every day and get a kick out of it,” he snorted. Daniel returned his playful look with a smile, watching his eyes flicker like dead pixels before fizzling out. The color drained from the man’s face when they locked gazes, his mouth going slack as gibberish bubbled forth.
“You were saying?” he asked. Jarred shook his head to clear it. He didn’t speak again, just gathered up his things and bolted for the door. Daniel turned in his seat to smirk at the Professor who looked just as confused as the rest of her class.
“Well,” she cleared her throat, “I guess I should let the rest of you go, too. It is getting rather late.”
“About freaking time,” someone grumbled from the back of the room. His classmates gathered their things and bolted from the room like rats freed from a cage. Daniel stayed behind, once again, watching her gather a stack of papers and head through a side door into her office. He grabbed his bag and followed.
“I enjoyed your lecture today, Professor,” he said once they were alone.
“Is that so?” she asked, stuffing her papers into an oversized canvas bag before turning to face him. “Forgive me if I don’t believe you. Now, I have some things to finish up so perhaps–”
“Oh, I’m not going anywhere,” he said, smirking to himself when she glared up at him. “I spoke to Professor Cole again. She explained just how deep you are in the hole and urged me to help you with whatever I can. I know I’m not the best at philosophy but, I’m sure we can work something out in exchange for a passing grade. I’d even take a C minus if it means I’ll pass,” he told her. The Professor continued to glare up at him but it was obvious by the look in her eyes that she was weighing her options. On one hand, Professor Cole was very vague about what she needed help with but, through deductive reasoning, he could tell it must have been important. She was a new teacher at St. Lucia and he was well aware of how tough the school was on new faculty. From daily performance reports to monthly evaluations–it was hell. But, to be perfectly honest, regardless of his grade, he would have helped her anyway if it meant he got to spend even a minute of extra time with her.
“You tried this yesterday, didn’t you? What I told you then still applies. I don’t need your help,” she said pointedly. Daniel heaved a martyred sigh.
“Professor, if I have to chain myself to your desk in protest, leaving you to deal with me tired, hungry and smelling like God knows what every single day until I graduate, I’m not going to leave you alone until you accept my help. Seriously, save yourself the headache,” he said. Claire glared up at him. He was serious. He was freaking serious and she could see it in his eyes. He was just the type of jerk to deliver on his promise and if she didn’t give in she’d never be rid of him. But it was such a difficult situation! The logical part of her brain demanded she turn him down, that she insist he find someone else to bother. But, after having been yelled at by Dean Hughes yet again that morning, she couldn’t help but see the brat as her knight in shining armor. She needed his help but she knew it would kill her to take him up on his offer. What the heck could she do?
“And there’s nothing I can say to change your mind?”
“Short of a restraining order? No, not really. You see, Professor, here’s the thing, you need the help, I need the grade. Why not work together?”
“I don’t know? Why not do your classwork?” she retorted, folding her arms over her chest. Daniel shrugged a shoulder.
“Done,” he said and she gawked.
“I’m serious. I’ll do my classwork. I’ll stop interrupting your lectures and teasing you during class. But you have to let me help out with whatever you need. Deal?” he asked, a tad bit more enthusiastically than he’d hoped. He didn’t want it to be obvious that he wanted this more than anything. He wanted the chance to get to know her, to explore her brain the regular way, without use of his…abilities. He just had to get inside that head of hers, no matter what it took.
“Well…” She took a deep breath and hesitated a full twenty-seconds before agreeing. She didn’t look too happy but, even she couldn’t really deny she was in over her head, even if she wanted to. Her office was a total wreck, filled with messy stacks of paper, books, class brochures and a months worth of Starbucks cups. She could pretend she didn’t need him, but the proof was in the proverbial pudding. “Fine. So long as you stop acting like an idiot in my class. When would you have time to help out?”
“I’m usually free after class, but for you–”
“No,” she cut him off. Daniel raised a brow down at her. “If this is going to work out you have to stop this stupid flirtation game. Do you know what would happen to me if Dean Hughes even suspected I was attempting to come on to you? Do you even know what the policy is here? I would lose my job. And with my already less than stellar reputation, I’d probably never work in academics again,” she said then gave him a pointed look. There was fear in her eyes. A fear he really didn’t understand. She would lose her job, so what? It was just a job, right? “So, stop it. No more pretending to flirt.” If only she would acknowledge the fact that he wasn’t pretending. Daniel regarded her for several long seconds. He was attracted to her, that was a fact he couldn’t deny and, even though he had ulterior motives for taking the position, would he really be able to simply pretend those feelings didn’t exist? He may not have fallen head over heels the moment he laid eyes on her, but surely she felt even an ounce of what he did?
“Deal. I’ll stop…messing with you. Is that good enough?” he asked. Claire frowned, not understanding the ire in his voice.
“Fine. So long as you adhere to those rules we can work together after day classes have ended.”
“Great. What do you have for me?” he asked.
“Why don’t you head home for today?
“But you just said I can help–!”
“Look around you, Mr. Kang, there’s literally nothing you can do until I get this mess at least partially sorted out,” she cut him off, her arms rising and falling against her sides in frustration. “We’d just get lost in here and need a rescue team. You can help me out tomorrow, alright?” Daniel gave her an indecisive look, heaving another sigh before finally caving in.
“Fine,” she replied, watching the corners of his mouth turn upwards into a devious grin.
“See you tomorrow, then, Professor,” he said, his grin growing brighter as he tugged his bag higher on his shoulders and turned to leave. Claire sighed, the sound of the classroom door closing marking his departure, leaving her in silence.
“What the hell did I just get myself into?”
Find chapter one here!
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