Out of My LeagueBy: Michele Zurlo
Safe Word: Oasis 3
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was the worst day in the school year. Most students at Sault Ste. Marie State University would be heading home for break, and many had already begun the trek from Sault Ste. Marie to the Lower Peninsula. Canada was closer than home for most students. Some took the entire week off. Brave souls.
Mia sighed and wished she had enough courage to blow off even a half day of school. Working as a teaching assistant got her a discount on tuition and helped defray the cost of room and board, but it also meant that she didn’t have the option of ducking out early. Her boss was an anal-retentive professor who liked to pontificate and who insisted on marking down papers a third of a grade for every mistake in grammar or punctuation. That meant Mia got to spend hours poring over papers, assessing them for correct content and looking for the tiniest error. Even the best papers had two or three proofing errors.
She hoped and prayed to be assigned to another professor next semester, but Dr. Brindley had taken a shine to her as an undergrad, and so he had requested her for the last three semesters. Soon, though, she’d have her master’s degree in sociology. Then she could pursue her doctorate at a school with no Dr. Brindley. Two of the programs to which she’d applied were located in warmer climes. While she loved the Upper Peninsula, after seven years, the six months of winter had lost its charm.
The sharp squeak of the door opening interrupted her musings. Though she shared the common area connecting the sociology professors’ private offices with all the other TAs, the other professors had let their student slaves leave early. Some had even canceled class. Not Dr. Brindley. He was holding office hours until the very last minute, which, thankfully, was fast approaching.
That left Mia as the only person in the reception area. A divider halfway across the room conspired with her diminutive height to block her view of the door. Based on the heavy footfalls shaking the floor and heading in her direction, it could only be Kaelen. Well, that and the fact she hadn’t checked off his name as one of the students who attended class this morning and turned in his paper. She tapped her pen on the paper on her desk and glanced at the clock. Office hours officially ended in thirty seconds. He was cutting it close.
She saw the top of his head over the divider a second before he came into full view, but the extra second didn’t give her the time she needed to steel herself against what was coming.
Light brown hair, straight as a board, flopped over his right eye. Smooth skin covered his high, sharp cheekbones, underlining the intensity of his slate gray eyes. A day or two of beard growth darkened his cheeks, and she wondered if it would be scratchy or soft. He covered his broad shoulders and lean body with a black fleece jacket, jeans, and heavy work boots.
If anyone fit the perfect model image of a sexy lumberjack, Kaelen Sebastian did. Only he wasn’t a lumberjack. He was a student in Dr. Brindley’s Advanced Methods class, and he had a nasty habit of coming late to class. Dr. Brindley absolutely hated Kaelen. He railed against the man’s cockiness, his lackadaisical approach to life, and any other perceived flaws.
This marked the second semester in a row that Mia had to deal with Kaelen. It also marked the second semester in a row that she tossed and turned at night whenever Dr. Brindley had a paper due. Without fail, Kaelen always appeared for office hours and asked for help with his paper. And without fail, she became a bumbling idiot who couldn’t think straight around a drop-dead-sexy man.
Kaelen was nothing if not consistent. He flashed a crooked smile that showed one dimple. Charm oozed from his pores. He shoved one hand into the pocket on his jeans, lifting that fleece enough to give her an unobstructed, eye-level view of how well his package filled that denim. “Hi, Mia. Why aren’t you already on the road?”
She could roll her eyes and incline her head to Dr. Brindley’s office, blaming him without saying a word, but she didn’t believe in blaming other people for her actions. Sitting up straighter and squaring her shoulders, she gave him a tight-lipped smile. “I’m scheduled to work until five.”
Those smoky eyes glanced at the clock above her head and back down. “It’s five o’clock.”
On cue, the door to Dr. Brindley’s office opened, then closed. He locked it and slid the keys into his jacket pocket. The polite smile on his face turned into a mild sneer when he spied Kaelen.
He froze for a second, and then he dismissed Kaelen completely. Tipping his hat at Mia, he bowed his head. “Have a nice holiday, Ms. Calloway. I’ll see you Monday at one.”
Kaelen didn’t seem to notice Dr. Brindley’s terse dismissal of him. He turned all the power of his brilliant smile on the self-aggrandizing professor. “Hey, Doc. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.”