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Professor next Door by Summer Cooper (1)

1. Galen

I stared down at the papers on my desk, brought by one of those people that looks at you with an inscrutable smile as they ask your name before they hand you a yellow envelope of doom. Was it satisfaction or pity? The look I got was full of assumptions and a smugness that foretold my doom when I took the large envelope from the man’s hands. Today, the man was obviously pleased with his job as a doom-bringer. Jerk.

“Elizabeth, hold my calls please,” I murmured to my assistant as I went back to my office.

Now all I could do was stare.

Bastards!

Jerks!

Presumptuous vultures!

Who the hell did these people think they were?

I wanted to fling the papers across the room, out of my window and down onto the students below, heading to class, heading to their dorms, heading to a life that was far less complicated than mine.

My office was larger than others. I was still riding on the laurels of selling two historical novels that had garnered quite a bit of attention and more than a few awards. My office wasn’t cramped, it was just full. The office was as full as my head as I stared down at the words written on the papers.

My in-laws, my daughter’s grandparents, were suing me for custody of Rikki!

Why? That was my first question. In the last year and a half, they’d not even attempted to make contact, they hadn’t even sent Rikki cards for her birthday or on holidays. There’d been no communication at all, and now they wanted to take away the one solid thing in my life?

Kayla, Rikki’s mother, had died two years ago, six months after our daughter was born. Where had they been then, when I needed them? When Rikki had needed them? I’d seen them at Kayla’s funeral but they’d left before I’d even been able to speak to them. I’d made a few attempts to contact them, but my calls, emails, and texts had gone ignored. Thinking it was their way of coping with their loss, I’d eventually left them alone.

Now, this.

Inhaling slowly, I stood and walked to the window for a breath of air untainted with the smell of paper and dust. What could they possibly want with my daughter?

I decided to head home, I had no more appointments and my class schedule was done for the day. I needed to see my baby.

“Elizabeth, I’m going home. I’ll have my phone on if you need me.” I brushed past the matronly woman who’d served me with diligence and skill for the last five years.

“Of course, Mr. Elliot. Enjoy your evening.” She barely looked up from the typing she was doing. Five years and I’m still Mr. Elliot.

It brought a small smile to my face as I went into the hallway, before bumping into one of my students.

“Oh, Mr. Elliot!” The student reached out, clutching at my bicep to keep from falling.

“Steady, Lucy. Sorry about that.” I gave her my usual charming smile and she blinked up at me with false eyelashes that looked like they belonged on a cartoon elephant. Why did women do that to themselves?

“Thank you, Mr. Elliot. Actually, I was just coming to see you to talk about my grade. I need to, well…” She paused, giving me what I knew was a practiced look of seduction. “I need to get it up, if you know what I mean.”

“I’m afraid I don’t, Lucy. I need to get home, if you’ll excuse me.” I made to brush past her but she put her hand on my chest this time, fingers splayed over my heart.

“That’s a shame, Mr. Elliot. I really wanted to show you some of the things I learned this year. Some rather, well, grownup things.” Her blue eyes stared up at me, a light burning in them that put me right off any further conversation.

At least once a semester one of my students would develop a crush on me. They’d come to my office, hoping to tempt the professor, hoping to lure me into breaking the rules. The naughtiness of it drove them to distraction. For a moment I forgot I was being sued as I stared down at the student, a 21-year-old girl in my advanced history class. Blond, leggy, breasts that drew my attention and a tiny waist that would barely fill my hands. Lucy was certainly my type but one thing held me back.

She was obviously not as experienced as she hoped she’d appear. And that look in her eyes was scary because it could end my career. I wasn’t above the attention, I’d been tempted before, I’d even given in a time or two, but I wasn’t a monster. I was also choosy, taking only the ones that were truly mature, that knew the importance of discretion, that didn’t hold dreams of luring me into marriage.

Admittedly, just after my wife died in the car accident, I’d lost myself in drink and women, my good looks and the sadness of my loss, leading many to want to comfort me. I’d let them, but always with the unspoken understanding that it wasn’t a permanent relationship.

Little Miss Lucy here, with her blinking and unskilled seduction technique, was more trouble than she was worth.

“I don’t give grades for ‘demonstrations' Lucy,” I told her. “I give grades for the work turned in. Now, I really must get home. My daughter is waiting for me. See you in class.” I walked away from her, hoping our exchange hadn’t been witnessed.

I didn’t need any more grief today.

I strolled out of the building to my car, the only self-indulgence I’d allowed myself from the proceeds of my book sales. A low-slung, sports car with a paint job so shiny it looked like it was liquid. I saw my reflection in the paint, but ignored it. I knew what I looked like. A tall man, just a tad over six foot three, I kept myself in shape by running and weight-training. My body was physically fit, and I’d maintained a muscular frame that the ladies definitely appreciated.

I pushed blond hair that had grown too long out of my green eyes, revealing the face that had earned me so many bed partners. Women had described it as strong, kissable, with chiseled cheekbones, a nose suitable for my face, an angular jaw, and my best weapon of all: my eyes. They were rimmed with dark lashes, and apparently mesmerizing. I didn’t even have to try most of the time, women just found me appealing and since I’d lost my wife, I hadn’t really minded.

I threw my briefcase in the car, the papers inside souring my day once again as my life as a father, and not just a lover of the ladies, came back to me. Sometimes I felt like I lived two lives and the heat in the car was a further reminder. The interior of the car was so hot it took my breath away, and my forehead grew damp. As I’d learned to do I checked all of the seats, my fear, that I’d somehow drive off with Rikki inside, never leaving me since I’d heard about so many cases of children being left in hot cars by distracted parents.

My fear was irrational. Rikki had a babysitter, I didn’t take her to daycare or drop her off with anyone, and she never left the house with me in the mornings. Yet the fear was always there after Kayla died. I didn’t want to lose my daughter too. Every morning when I pulled into my parking spot I checked the seats, and checked again before I left. Despite the fact I knew better, I did it anyway. Just in case.

As I drove home I thought about calling my lawyer. Surely he could get this lawsuit thrown out?

 

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