Lauren Grace Frasier
On my way to the office, I stop to get Silvy a coffee. She’s always doing small things like that for me. I owe her more than just a few specialty drinks. Though, I’m not even sure you can call what she drinks coffee—I think it more closely resembles dessert, in my uneducated opinion. I don’t drink the stuff. I’m more of a Diet Coke girl.
The shop is booming with Monday morning patrons in the throes of caffeine withdrawal. There’s a lot of grumbling and heads buried in their cell phones. There are no smiling, happy faces, except those working the counter, and with how fast they’re talking and moving, I’d say they’ve already exceeded their caffeine quota for the day.
I’m not in caffeine withdrawal, and I left my phone in the car, so I just might be the only customer who’s actually happy and looking around people-watching. We’ve got two lines going. I’m fourth from the front in mine. Glancing over to the other one, my eyes land on a smoldering, handsome man in a suit and overcoat. I say smoldering because he’s hot as hell but seems pissed off all at the same time.
He’s facing forward, hands clasped—not on his phone. Bonus for him. His short brown hair is tousled with hints of curl that make him look playful, whimsical even. Though his strong profile, etched with chiseled features, sharp nose, furrowed brow, and clean-shaven jaw erase my whimsical musings. Everything about him is hard and cool—except for his lips—his lips are full and sensuous. A stark contrast to the don’t-fuck-with-me aura he’s giving off.
Sadly, the young woman behind him is trying in vain to get his attention. She bumps into him and apologizes with a hopeful smile, but he simply nods and turns back around. She sways from foot to foot. I imagine she’s trying to think of another tactic.
Bravely, she taps him on the shoulder, and when he turns, his scowling face doesn’t soften. I can’t hear what she says, but he simply shakes his head, no. I can feel her dismissal from here. He’s not open for business, and she’s blind to his “closed” sign.
I feel sorry for the girl but also find the whole situation amusing. She’s trying so hard to be seen, and he is trying so hard to be left the fuck alone.
As he turns around, his eyes catch mine and stop—locking in like a missile heading for its doomed target. My breath hitches. The intensity of his stare sends tingles in places I’ve ignored for far too long. I hide my reaction behind a smirk that grows into a full fledge smile and a chuckle. His eyebrow raises, and I’m sure despite his best effort, the corners of his succulent mouth curls into a just-barely-there smile.
Be still my heart. Seriously, get a grip.
I bite my bottom lip and turn away, focusing on the menu above our heads, but really, I’m needing to steady my treacherous heart that’s trying to jump ship and climb onboard his.
Is it hot in here?
Our eyes only connected for seconds, but it was enough to see a flash of warmth in those chocolate, almond-shaped eyes. I thought he was hot in profile, but the full-on frontal is defcon delicious, and dangerously panty-dropping worthy.
Actually, I think my panties might have incinerated.
I make it to the front of the line and place my order. After paying, I move to the middle, waiting for Silvy’s coffee.
A flush of heat radiates from my right, and I realize Mr. Dark and Dreamy is standing beside me, close enough for his arm to graze mine.
Oh god, he smells good. Like fresh shower, cologne, and sexy edible man.
I close my eyes and take a moment to just breathe his scent and feel his presence.
“What was the smile about?” His deep timbre, close to me ear, sends a tremor down my body.
Holy hell. He has a British accent.
I look up, and I mean up. He has to be six-three, at least. My eyes connect with his, and the warmth from before is still there. “I’m sorry?” I manage, even though my heart is racing again.
“Back there.” He motions behind him. “You were watching and smiling. Why?”
“Oh, well—” Honest or lie? “—You have a quite a don’t-fuck-with-me look going on.” Honest it is then.
He seems stunned by my bluntness, but before he can respond, my name is called. I grab my coffee and plan my escape route before forcing myself to face his deadly, heart-wrenching beauty. No one should be this handsome. There’s no way this man isn’t hit on every day, all day. It has to take tremendous effort to remain so stoic and closed off. “Good luck with that.”
Yeah, his indifference, is really a siren song to women, and probably men, to meet his challenge and climb his icy Mount Everest.
His hand shoots out to stop me, his head shaking in disbelief that I’m running off.
Yeah, I hear your siren song, but my climbing legs are broken.
He must read something in my eyes, or on my face, or my own neon sign above my head that says “out of order” as he lowers his hand and graces me with what I think is a rare, full-on smile. He nods, his eyes gleaming with warmth and sadness. “Goodbye, Lauren. It was a pleasure.”
I arrive at the office on time, wishing I’d picked up a Diet Coke for myself along with Silvy’s coffee…errr—dessert. It’s going to be a busy day. There’s print work to finalize for our in-flight magazine. I’ve got one more layout change I need to finish, approve, and then it’s off to the printer. Water is my usual drink, at least until the afternoon, but today I need a little more. The run-in with Mr. Dark and Dreamy has left me shaken. But not stirred. Definitely not stirred.
“Lauren,” Silvy calls as I turn the corner to my office.
Glancing over my shoulder, I motion with my head for her to join me and continue to my desk. I plunk down her coffee and pull out my laptop as she walks through my door.
“Good Morning, sunshine.”
Her perkiness brings a curve to my lips. Why does she even need coffee? “Mornin’, Silvy.” I hold out her drink. “For you.”
“Oh my god, you didn’t?”
She takes her coffee from my hand and replaces it with a larger Styrofoam version. “I did, too.”
She brought me a Sonic Diet Coke. “I was just wishing I’d gotten one on my way in.”
“Great minds think alike.” She plops in a chair, beaming, and takes a sip of her morning sugar fix. “Oh my God! This is so good.”
Chuckling, I imagine the sugar racing through her body making every cell vibrate with excitement. “I don’t know about great minds, but we definitely have each other’s back when it comes to feeding our addictions.”
“Yes, great minds,” she reiterates with an exaggerated eye roll.
“Thank you.” I sigh in relief, some of the stress leaving my body as I take a long draw.
It’s just a Diet Coke, Lauren. It’s not like she just took away all your work and sent you on vacation. Still, it’s the small things that matter sometimes.
“Yeah.” I meet her apprehensive gaze.
“Have you thought anymore about that class?” She places her hands on my desk, leaning forward. “I know you’re not crazy about trying it, especially not alone. I was thinking I could take the class with you. You know, for moral support. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a thing or two.” She sits back and shrugs. “Who knows, we may meet some cute guys.”
Her look of hope is hard to deny, but I’m not ready.
Will I ever be?
“Can I think on it?” I know I said that last time. “A week. Give me a week.”
“Sure.” She’s disappointed.
“I promise, I’ll give it serious consideration.” I think I’ve said that before too, darnit.
“Okay, no problem.”
I catch her just before she disappears through my office door. “Thanks again for the drink.”
“Yeah. Thanks for the coffee.” Her smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
I hate disappointing her. I’m not sure what a week will do to make me ready to take her up on her offer, but I breathe a sigh of relief knowing I have seven days to think it over before she brings it up again.
As I wait for my laptop to boot up, my thoughts return to the coffee shop and the overwhelming need to go back inside as soon as I stepped foot out the door. It was as if I was losing the ability to breathe the farther I got away from him. I stopped on the sidewalk just a few feet from the entrance, clutching my chest—breathing—just to be sure I still could. Nearly as fast as the episode hit me, it was gone.
Mr. Dark and Dreamy delivers a powerful punch. It’s a good thing I escaped as quickly as I did—relatively unscathed.
Theodore Thomas Kellen Wade
Bloody. Fucking. Hell. What was that?
She completely blindsided me. For a man who speaks for a living, I lost the ability to do so when my eyes locked on her smiling face. Quite a remarkable face at that. I don’t think I’ve seen blue eyes such as hers. It wasn’t just the colour. It was the intensity behind them, the need, the desire, the recognition—a feeling of coming home—that was a punch to the gut.
Her comment about me giving off a don’t fuck with me vibe is spot on. It’s a persona I’ve perfected quite effectively over the years. Yet, she was completely unaffected by it. She found it humorous, and I was flustered by her all-too-seeing eyes.
I managed to pull myself together long enough to spit out two phrases, but I was foolish enough to let her leave without anything more than her first name and a lingering ache in my chest.
Coffee in hand, I rushed the door hoping I could spot her on the street and remedy that misstep. Unfortunately, the vision from a moment ago was nowhere to be seen. Air missing from my lungs, blood pounding in my ears, and a hunger I have never felt before had me struggling to get to my car so that I could sit before I fell over.
Never has a woman affected me like this. Never.
It’s exam day, and I’m restless. My morning coffee exchange has put me off-kilter. I have papers to grade, but I need to make the appearance of watching their studious faces as they work their way through the test, ensuring no one cheats. Thankfully, this class meets in the lecture hall where there are more seats than students, allowing room to spread out.
Only twenty minutes remain, then I’m done for the day. I’m usually more attentive, but exam days bore me, and LaurenGate isn’t helping. I prefer interacting with my students, keeping myself and them engaged. Lately, though, the distraction carries over to non-exam days too.
I need to work on that.
She’s doing it again, Susan James. The blonde in the front row. She is staring—openly—making me more uncomfortable and anxious for class to be over. I’m used to getting noticed—glances, smiles, flirtations. But her attention says more about her than me. She wants me to see her, notice her, know she is interested in more than our teacher-student relationship.
My father, a professor himself, warned me when I started my studies at university. If I pursued teaching—particularly higher education—I would have to be guarded and keep students at a distance. I would need to take proper steps to ensure the line of impropriety is not crossed—or perceived as being crossed—by myself or my students.
I am young for a Professor. The difference in age is not much and often leads my students to think of me as their mate instead of their teacher. As a result, I’m tough, strict, arrogant, dismissive, and basically a right ole arsehole, with minimal office hours to keep one-on-one time at bay. My stodgy persona is a joke amongst the SMU faculty. They know it’s all for show to ensure learning is the priority and not a relationship with me. My façade does take a toll. It can be difficult to shake. I have to remind myself that is not who I really am.
I often think of changing careers. I’m keen on investments and writing. I long to shed the charade before it is no longer an act. Maybe someday, but not today. Today I am faced with Susan James and her leering. It’s January, and the semester has barely begun. I must find effective means to distance myself and deflect her overtures.
“Ten minutes. Ensure you have your name on your exam if you don’t want a zero,” I bellow to the class.
Come on clock, can’t you tick any faster?
I check my phone hoping for a distraction. Ah, a text from Miles.
Miles: Wanna meet for a beer?
Me: Sure. What time? Where?
Miles: 5p. Usual place.
Me: See you there.
Perfect. I could use a pint or two, and it gives me time to run my errand before meeting him.
“Five minutes. As you finish, place your exam on the corner of my desk, then you may leave. Quietly.” That is my final warning.
I eat up the last few minutes responding to emails.
“Time’s up. Turn in your exam, complete or not.” I shut my laptop. “See you on Wednesday.”
After the last student turns in their paper, I head out, sloughing my unrest with each step that brings me closer to my car.
When I arrive, Miles is comfortably situated at our usual table, grasping a pint. He spots me and orders another from a passing waitress. As I hang my coat on a hook close to our booth, my pint arrives. Perfect timing. I thank the waitress, smile, and shake Miles’ hand. “Hey, mate, what’s up?”
“It’s been a crazy week, and it’s only Monday.” He proceeds to tell me about his day and this bird he fancies at work, which rarely turns out well.
Miles is a good-looking guy—muscular build, blond hair, blue eyes, silver-tongued devil—who does not have the best track record with women. He loves them. He just can’t commit to one. He’s twenty-eight, the same age as me. This really is the time to be wild and get it out of our system, right? At least for him this works. For me, not so much.
I’ve always been a one-woman kind of man, looking to find what my parents have and what my grandparents had. I desire quality over quantity.
I thought I’d found her a few years back. It ended up not to be the case, at least not for her. She ran off with her ex the week before our wedding. I should be grateful she did it before and not after we said I do. Since then, I’ve pretty much given up on women.
“So, how’d it go with Simon? Did you like the place?” Miles pulls me back from my trip down cringe-worthy memory lane.
“Yeah, it’s great. Thanks for introducing us.” Simon is an acquaintance of his that has space for lease in his new dojo. “It’s perfect for my needs. Top notch. It’ll be aces.” I smile, thankful for this break. I’ve struggled to find good accommodations. I only hold a few sessions every couple of months, so it’s difficult to find quality locations with space for evening classes.
“Glad to hear it. When does your next class start?”
“Next month.” I’ve held off registration since the day and time couldn’t be confirmed without a location. Now that I have it, I’m ready to go. It will be good to get another class going. I need the distraction.