Erin M. Leaf
Copyright © 2017
“‘…in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.’” Professor Wilson placed on his desk the dog-eared book he was reading to the class.
Saige frowned at him from her spot halfway down the middle row. She didn’t like her history professor. His tendency to pace across the front of the classroom drove her mad—the energy of his movements contradicted his nerdy exterior. Shaded glasses disguised his eye color, and his messy beard concealed most of his face, but it was the hideous sport jacket that really irked her. She knew the other girls in the class thought he was cute, with his hipster mannerisms and self-deprecatory jokes, but no guy who filled out an ugly jacket that well could be a real nerd.
“Winston Churchill said those words on June 6, 1944. He was referring to the physical conditions of the invasion, but I think his sentiments are equally valid when studying the controversy of alliance.” Arms crossed, the professor leaned back against his desk and surveyed the classroom from behind his glasses. The slouchy hat he wore most days had slipped slightly sideways, lending him a faintly disreputable air. Most women would love his boyish appearance. Not Saige.
He tilted his head, and she swore he was looking at her, but of course there was no way to know with those stupid lenses on his face. His eyes just looked dark and mysterious. She stared him down anyway. No bogus professor is going to get the best of me, she thought, annoyed.
After a moment, he stood up and went to the whiteboard, where he scrawled a date across the surface in red ink. “So, when the Allies hit the beach in Normandy…”
Saige barely heard the words. She knew the class material. She’d done the reading. Instead of listening, she focused on his hands. He gripped the white board marker lightly, as if used to wrestling much more complicated tools. And his handwriting was a mess, anyway. She rarely bothered to look at it. Instead, Saige glanced at the girl sitting to her right. The silly twit stared at the prof with her chin in her hands and stars in her eyes. Saige knew better. Most men were assholes at heart. Her father had certainly proven that to her enough times over the years with his drugs and booze.
“Saige? Can you tell me why?” Professor Wilson looked right at her, one eyebrow raised.
Asshole. Saige frowned harder, not caring if he could tell she didn’t like him. She didn’t need to like him to get an A in this class. She didn’t need him to like her. “Because there were a number of different leaks in the days before they actually landed in France,” she said. She knew he knew she wasn’t paying attention to his lecture. She could see it in the way he cocked his head as he listened to her answer. Screw you, Professor, she thought irritably. I know my history. This class is bullshit. Pity it was one of her general education requirements and she couldn’t avoid taking it if she wanted to graduate at the end of the semester.
“That is correct,” he said finally, turning and scrawling more dates on the board as if she hadn’t just flipped him off in her mind.
Saige sighed, not sure why her general dislike of men seemed to focus on him so intensely. It wasn’t fair of her to fixate on him. She didn’t know the guy, and she didn’t care to. He’s an oddity as a professor, but it doesn’t matter. You’ve got other problems to worry about, she reminded herself. Like where was she going to get the money to pay this month’s rent? She was eighty bucks short. She couldn’t move again, not with the semester only half over, and besides, there weren’t any cheaper shit hole apartments to stay in, anyway. She’d already hit rock bottom when it came to housing possibilities.
Professor Wilson erased the white board. Saige absently stared at his hands again while her mind spiraled in a completely different direction. At least dear old dad hasn’t found me again. Yet. Her classmates started gathering up their stuff, and with a start, Saige realized that the interminable class had finally ended. She slipped her notebook into her bag and slid her chair back, wincing as her back protested the movement. Thank God. I’m going to lose my mind if I have to stay in here for a minute longer. She’d was in the midst of mentally going over what she had to get done in the next few hours when the professor interrupted her exit from the classroom.
“Saige, could you hang on for a sec? I’d like to talk to you,” Professor Wilson said, unexpectedly. His eyes, hidden behind his stupid colored lenses, looked at her steadily. The expression on his face was that of a man who wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
Saige’s heart gave a hard thump against her ribs before she wrestled her response to him back down into a mild dislike instead of her usual flight-or-fight instinct. No, she did not want to talk to this guy. No, she did not have time. Her gaze strayed to his hands again. He had really nice hands. She frowned, angry with herself, and yanked her gaze back up to his face. He was leaning back against the desk at the front of the small classroom again. His pants pulled taut, showing the strong lines of his thighs.
He looks ridiculously strong, she thought, chewing on the inside of her cheek. Like he knows his way around a shit storm. She couldn’t imagine what kind of disaster this guy had ever faced in his life. She snorted to herself softly.
“Saige?” he prompted, voice raised slightly.
“Actually, I’ve got another class,” she lied, slinging the strap from her worn canvas bag over her shoulder. “Can you just send me an email?”
He shook his head. “No.”
Saige stopped in the middle of turning to head down the center aisle. “No?”
“No, I can’t send you an email,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. The movement highlighted the thick muscles hidden beneath the ugly jacket. Not an ounce of fat swelled anywhere on his body.
Saige narrowed her gaze as she fought her body’s knee-jerk bolt of attraction to the show of muscle. She had no time to crush on a guy she disliked. “I’m not flunking,” she told him. The classroom had emptied while she stood there, wrestling with her useless attraction. The heavy door thunked against the jamb as the spring in the hinge latched it shut. Saige fought to keep from hunching her shoulders. She didn’t like being shut in like this. Her eyes flicked to the row of windows along the left side of the room. They would serve as a suitable exit if she needed to leave in a hurry. The room was on the first floor, thank God.
“I know,” Professor Wilson said, frowning. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he added.
Saige huffed. Get a grip, girl. You’re safe here. Your father is far away, and this guy has never shown even the slightest hint of aggression towards you. And besides, you’re not a little girl anymore. You don’t have to deal with anyone hitting you ever again. She slid the strap to her bag off her shoulder and wound it around her hand. “Fine. What do you want?” She did not move closer to the front of the room. If he wanted to talk to her, he’d have to come to her. And if he tried anything … well. He wouldn’t be the first guy she’d left with a broken knee. For some reason—her short dark hair, her eyes, she had no fucking clue—she seemed to attract men whether she wanted to or not. And never the good ones. She wished she’d had time to wash her hair this morning, but she’d woken up late after yet another nightmare in the middle of the night. She hadn’t even put any makeup on. Her hazel eyes probably looked bloodshot to hell and back, not that it mattered.
He sighed. “I would like to know what I’ve done to piss you off. And I’d like to apologize for it. I don’t know what I did, but I’d like to start over with you.”
Is this guy for real? Saige thought, abruptly confused. This was a new tactic. Most men didn’t start off hitting on her with an apology. When she didn’t answer, he took off his eyeglass and rubbed his eyes tiredly.
“You’re not serious,” she finally blurted out. He looked up at her without his glasses on, and she froze, staring at the insane green of his eyes. Green shot through with silver. Before she could react, he’d put the gray lenses back on. The fuck? she thought, shocked. He has the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. And he hides them. Anger swelled up in her, at war with yet another spike of arousal. He’s fucking hiding something.
“Look, Saige—” he began.
She cut him off. “I don’t like you.”
He blinked. “I know.” He laughed shortly. “That much is blindingly obvious.”
Saige didn’t care what he thought of her. “I don’t have to like you to do well in your class, and you don’t have to like me in order to teach.” She squeezed the strap of her bag until the rough canvas burned her palm. “I’m quiet. I don’t talk back, and I know the material. I don’t see the problem here.”
“How old are you?” he asked, completely out of nowhere.
“What? I don’t see what business that is—” she began angrily, but he interrupted her this time.
“How old?” He stared at her.
She scowled. “I just turned twenty-one. So what?”
He shook his head. “Christ. You’re a child.” He seemed suddenly tired.
Saige shoved down a pang of regret for being so unfriendly. She’d been burned in the past. But maybe I can meet him halfway. He hasn’t done anything wrong. “Look, I can tell you’re hiding something. I don’t react well to men who do that.” She waited, wondering how he would take her mentioning his bullshit disguise so baldly.
He stared at her, then scratched at his beard. “I’m a professor. Students aren’t entitled to know everything about my personal life.”
Saige rolled her eyes. “That is a reciprocal arrangement, Dr. Wilson.”
“You’re saying I have no right to question you?”
She nodded. “Exactly.” She watched as his face tightened with irritation, then smoothed out again. She had to hand it to him: the guy has seriously excellent control of his emotions. That was yet another thing about him that was different, in her experience. That and the fact that she could not stop obsessing over his hands, not to mention the ripped body he took such pains to hide. She didn’t need to get involved with anyone, like, ever, and certainly not with a freaking professor.
“Perhaps we can call a truce,” he said softly, snagging her attention from where it’d locked onto the breadth of his chest and transferring it to his mouth.
Saige scowled. His lips looked too damn perfect, even with the disaster of his beard obscuring his jawline. She resented feeling so drawn to him. She’d planned on never having a boyfriend, and yet here she was, at the mercy of her hormones. Traitor, she thought to her body.
“What do you say?” he pushed, when she didn’t respond.
She sighed, loudly. “I don’t know what you want me to do. I have never been anything except polite in this classroom.”
He pushed off from the desk and headed down the aisle. The closer he got, the more anxious she felt. When he stopped in front of her, she tipped her head up to look at him. Since she mostly sat in the middle of the classroom, she hadn’t realized how flipping tall he was. Jesus, she thought, mouth going dry. Maybe I dislike him not because he’s hiding something, but because he’s exactly my type, she thought, face flushing at the direction of her thoughts. Talk about inappropriate. You do not have a crush on your teacher, Saige. No. A thousand times no.
“I’ll go first,” he said, then unexpectedly took off his glasses. “No, I don’t need glasses. I wear these to hide my eye color. It tends to distract people.” He looked at her, obviously waiting for her to speak.
Saige could feel her cheeks burning. “What is this, truth or dare?” she asked, looking everywhere except into his ridiculously green eyes. He was right. She was distracted. Dammit.
He laughed. “Sure. If that’s how you want to approach this.”
Saige tried to edge backwards, but her leg hit the side of a desk. “Fine.” She lifted her shoulders. “I don’t like guys who hide things because my abusive father did that, and it got my mom and sister killed.” She wondered how he’d handle having that conversational bomb dropped on him. “He was high, and he insisted he was okay to drive them to the grocery store. The tree he hit won the argument. They died. He didn’t. End of story.”
Dr. Wilson’s smile dropped from his face. “Wow, I’m sorry,” he said, voice going soft again. “That’s terrible.”
Huh. Not bad. Compassion is rare these days, she thought, unwillingly impressed with his honest reply. “Yeah, it is.” Even so, she was still not happy to be trapped here talking about uncomfortable things. All she wanted to do was get the hell out of this damned classroom so she could have a peaceful hour’s rest before she had to go to work. Maybe he’d let her go, now that she’d answered him. She eyed his face and saw resolve in his expression. The professor wasn’t backing down. She added a few more details. “He liked drugs too much to care that he was hurting his family. He hid that shit from us for years.”
Dr. Wilson sighed, correctly interpreting her suggestive comment. “I’m not hiding a drug habit. And I assure you, I have no intention of hurting you or anyone else in this classroom. In fact, I wear these in order to protect everyone.” He lifted his glasses, then placed them on the desk. His eyes were shadowed, although the tiny silver shards that punctuated his green irises almost seemed to glow.
“That makes no sense. You said you wore them so you wouldn’t distract people,” Saige said, then clamped her mouth shut. She didn’t care. She didn’t want any more explanations. The less she knew the better, and frankly, the idea that wearing glasses would protect anyone around him was absurd. She unwound her bag’s strap from her hand and put the whole thing on the desk’s chair, then massaged her palm. If this guy moved on her, a soft bag would be no protection. He was too big. She’d have to rely on her fists. And I hope I don’t hesitate just because he has a pretty face.
Dr. Wilson lifted a shoulder. “I’ll tell you more, if you tell me more.” As if sensing her wariness, he backed off a little, then sat in one of the student chairs. “I would never hurt you,” he repeated.
Shit. He seems sincere. Saige hated that her instincts kept telling her to trust him, even as they screamed that he was hiding a lot more than just his eye color. “Fine,” she said stiffly. Unwillingly. “What do you want to know?”
He studied her. “Why do you hate men?”
Of all the questions to ask… She glared at him. “I don’t hate all men.” She looked away from his penetrating gaze. “Just … most of them.”
“I asked you why, not to tell me I was wrong,” he said, as if she hadn’t already answered his question.
She twisted her hands together. “I don’t like men because of my father. I already told you that.” Saige felt a headache coming on.
He shifted his weight, then leaned forward and clasped his hands together loosely. “Yes, I understand that, but I’m not your father. Neither is anyone else.”
Saige huffed out a breath, frustrated. “Every guy I’ve ever met just wants in my pants. Most can’t even be bothered to have a conversation with me. It’s disgusting. Not even chopping off my hair seems to deter them.” She motioned to her messy, pixie haircut.
He tilted his head. “I’m having a conversation with you right now.” He smiled and leaned back. “Sure, it’s not a fun conversation, but we’re definitely sharing words.”
And he’s not staring at your boobs, a small voice at the back of her head pointed out. “It’s not the norm,” she said, unconvinced.
His eyes raked down her body, then back up again and steadied on her face. “Most men are idiots. They see a pretty face and hair and curves and think that’s what’s important.”
“And you don’t?” she shot back. No way was she going to believe he didn’t care about those things. Saige glared at him.
“I like beauty just as much as the next man, but I value brains a hell of a lot more,” he replied seriously.
Well, shit. Saige believed him. He said the words with too much conviction to be lying. “Who are you?” She didn’t understand him. He didn’t fit in with what she’d experienced.
He chuckled. “A teacher.”
“Oh, come on,” Saige said, disgusted. After all that, he expected her to believe he was just a teacher? Yeah, right. A teacher with secrets.
“Am I not teaching History 301?” he replied, opening his arms. The hint of a smirk on his face annoyed her. “And I’m good at it. You have to admit that.”
Saige picked up her bag and slung the strap over her shoulder. “Yeah, whatever. I’m out of here.” She headed down the aisle. This time he didn’t stop her.
“This isn’t over, Saige,” he called out.
She waved a hand at him without looking back. “Whatever you say, Professor,” she muttered under her breath. She pushed out of the classroom and hurried down the hall. When she finally stepped outside, the late afternoon sunlight hit her like a brick in the face. The students around her were laughing and joking. Greenery lined the sidewalks, and ponderosa pines dotted the city view. “Ugh. Welcome to high altitude happy town.” Sometimes she really hated living in Flagstaff.