Just my luck. I always seem to have trouble finding a parking spot in the mornings.
Attempting to calm myself, I gripped the steering wheel tight, let my head fall back onto my headrest, and took a few deep breaths.
My early morning photography class was one of my favorites and I’d be damned if I let parking issues make me late. It would have made sense for the college to have more ample parking on this side of campus, but I guess the administrators never ventured far enough from their offices to notice our daily parking issues.
Even though the parking lot was rather large, it still seemed impossible to find a spot first thing in the morning. So, I continued to circle around the large lot in search of anyone who would be pulling out soon.
Searching for a spot on the backside of campus was imperative since all my classes were around the fine arts department and I kept most of my art equipment and tools in my car.
The large, white, two and three story buildings were only about a quarter mile away from a thick patch of pine trees, which separated the school from the interstate. Although my spare time was limited, I loved any moment I could spend walking on the trails behind the school.
Since I was stuck playing ring-around-the-rosie with other cars in the parking lot, I decided to plug my phone into the FM transmitter and listen to Mandy Brooke. Her voice always cheered me up and made me smile. Singing along with her was challenging and fun.
As I was enjoying the sounds of the silky voice and guitar strums reverberating from my speakers, I glanced in the mirror to check my makeup and hair. I wasn’t the type to lavish my face in layers of makeup, but I did try to keep a clean, neat look to the little bit I would apply.
Silky blonde curls framed my face and tickled my cheeks. The Florida sun beamed through my open sunroof, making my curls glisten with golden specks. Green eyes stared back at me in the mirror and I couldn’t help but smile at the fact I inherited my grandmother’s hair and eyes. She was so beautiful in every way and I miss her dearly.
Plumping my curls a bit, I closed up the mirror and forced myself to concentrate on finding a dang parking spot. I started strumming my fingers on the steering wheel, not in an attempt to keep in time with the music, but because I was getting anxious as I continued circling the rows of parked cars.
The sun caused luminous glares to shine bright off the mirrors and chrome of parked cars as others droned around in circles in line with me through the half-mile long string of parking lots. Some of the lots were only a few rows deep, while others spanned at least a dozen rows and began to wrap around the south side of the building.
I should be thankful. From what I hear, getting a spot on the University campus downtown was even more challenging.
I continued to vibrate with impatience because my class was going to start in five minutes. A new surge of urgency overwhelmed me at the realization of what time it was.
As soon as I began wringing the steering wheel tight with nerves, I noticed a student bounding through the parking lot towards her car. Her short, black hair was a mess of straight strands flowing behind her as she ran to an old beat up VW Beatle with large tires covered in mud.
“Great! Perfect timing!” I cheered to myself as I fist-bumped the cloth roof inside my car.
My heart started to race and I slowly pulled forward towards where the girl was headed. I put my blinker on and sighed in relief when I saw the bug’s weak reverse lights glow to life. Yesss!
The spot couldn’t have been better either, because it was only two rows away from the building and smack in between my first and last classes of the day. I was thankful I came upon it just in the nick of time.
With the calm collectiveness in knowing I wouldn’t be late for class, my demeanor cheered and I began singing louder along with the music, swaying my head back and forth and patting on my steering wheel to keep rhythm.
As the girl’s bug pulled away, a sleek blue Miata zipped into the spot I was patiently waiting for and I all but jumped out of my seat in surprise. I probably would have if it weren’t for the damn seatbelt keeping me in place. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe my eyes. That person just stole the spot I was about to turn into!
My heart leapt into my throat and my cheeks burned with anger.
“What? That was my spot! UGH!”
I could feel the adrenaline start to radiate inside of me like the fireworks grand finale on the Forth of July. If I were stronger, I guarantee the steering wheel would have been ripped completely clean from my dash with the amount of fury being pumped through my veins by the pounding muscle in my chest.
With pure rage and adrenaline coursing through my body, I surged forward and rolled down my window, just as a breathtakingly handsome male climbed out of his teeny, beautiful car.
Oh, God. Of course he had to be gorgeous. That was just my luck. Well, regardless of his devastatingly good looks and scrumptious body, I wasn’t going to allow him to get away with making me late!
Rich, smug bastard probably lives off daddy’s money and has no sense of courtesy and responsibility.
“Hey! What the hell? You just took the spot I was waiting for!” I hollered with my head and torso all but hanging out of my car window, gesturing to his piece of blue tin foil that was now parked in the spot I lusted after. It seems he almost thought about ignoring me as he began a slow amble towards the school buildings in the opposite direction.
He didn’t say anything in response to my angry tirade. Instead, he simply turned toward me, continuing to jog backwards, and shrugged with a sympathetic smile on his infuriatingly handsome face before turning back around quickly to face the direction he was headed.
“What an arrogant piece of shit!” I said, hopefully loud enough so he could hear me. If he did, he didn’t acknowledge my outrage.
I noticed he had a nice, professional camera draped around his neck and right arm, dangling along his lean hip and stomach.
I wondered who he was because I thought I knew all the photo-nerds on campus. It actually made me even angrier to know I had something in common with this snatch-and-park god.
The chirping of his car alarm being armed made me flinch and look over in his direction. He was standing on the sidewalk in between two of the buildings and looking at me. Shoving his car keys into his pocket and running his fingers through his hair, he stood and watched me for just a few moments before finally turning and walking behind a large building, out of sight.
I banged my fists on my steering wheel with a loud thud and several curses emanating from my mouth.
“Damn, that hurt.” I winced and rubbed my wrists as they protested my angry fit.
I was beyond pissed. Red blurred my vision. Thoughts of slashing those pretty little tires of his flashed through my mind.
I huffed and tried to calm my erratic heartbeat. The last thing I needed was to sweat before class because I couldn’t calm my boiling rage at the fact assholes were allowed to roam the earth with normal human beings.
I continued to circle the lot and thankfully found a spot about ten minutes later. Unfortunately, this spot was only two rows away from the shiny blue toy car that, just by looking at it, made my mouth mutter angry little curses under my breath. He’ll be lucky if a rock doesn’t randomly make its way through his shiny little window.
“Just great.” I muttered as I waited for the other car to back out, realizing I was now more than five minutes late for my photography class.
I darted into the spot quickly so some other inconsiderate prick wouldn’t snatch this spot from me as well. There weren’t many people around because most of them were likely in class by now.
With fumbling fingers, I quickly closed the sunroof and gathered my backpack, camera bag, and portfolio folders before slamming my car door and hauling ass. Just before I had a chance to turn and run, I noticed I forgot to roll my window back up in my haste.
“Figures.” I rolled my eyes and used my keyless entry to unlock the door.
Scrambling to turn the ignition just enough to power the car, I dropped my photography portfolios, spilling some negatives and prints all over the dirty asphalt. I squeezed my eyes shut and cringed as I saw my photos scrape along the rough parking lot surface. Even a few of my negatives managed to slide out of the protective plastic sleeves and kiss the pebbled ground.
“Aaargh! Perfect! Just f-ing perfect!” Boy, was this day turning out to be smashing! My stomach turned as I realized how many hours of work I probably just ruined by being a fumbling idiot.
I sat there and tried to reign in my breathing, sucking much needed air into my oxygen-starved lungs. After the window took forever to roll up completely, I carefully stepped over the clutter on the ground and slammed my car door in a huff. Bending to pick up my mess, my hair fell around my face in a curtain full of curls and I wished I had remembered to bring a hair tie with me. With all this agitation first thing in the morning, my hair was beginning to stick to my neck and cheeks in a sweaty, sticky disarray of tresses.
Reaching out for the scattered remnants of my portfolio, a warm hand came into my vision and brushed my fingers.
“Here. Let me help.” His voice was deep and… did I detect a bit of humor in his tone? Even though his attempt to help was commendable, I didn’t need to be laughed at right now.
My eyes trailed up the strong, flexing muscles of his tan forearm, up to his bicep, which stretched and undulated under a tight, green Abercrombie t-shirt. Oh, damn, those shirts were always so soft and touchable. I bit my lip at the thoughts of feeling his hard muscles beneath the soft shirt.
Attempting to get a better view, I brushed my hair out of my face with the back of my hand and met with his piercing, big, brown eyes. A strong brow hovered over his dark eyes, making him look exotic and dangerous. He was grinning at me with a perfect set of teeth and a chuckle sounded from his mouth like this entire morning was some sort of personal joke of his.
Even though he looked down at the disarray of prints he was helping me gather, I couldn’t help but feel self conscious as I quickly covered my cleavage with a few prints already in my hand. I clutched the photos to myself like a barrier—a sudden embarrassed feeling washing over me.
It wasn’t like I was showing him much, but these skimpy spaghetti strap tank tops didn’t exactly keep my big breasts under cover, especially when bent over and exposed like a harlot in front of a stranger. And I’m sure my ass was probably spilling out the back of my low-rise jeans, causing my cheeks to play peek-a-boo with the rest of the world.
Damn, I was a mess.
I wasn’t necessarily heavy, but I did have some extra cushion, which caused me to be a little cautious of what I wore and how I wore it. I had a small hoodie on, but because of the warm weather, it was casually unzipped and therefore not protecting me much.
Suddenly realizing I hadn’t responded to his offer to help, I quickly recovered and forced my voice to function.
“Thank you. This morning has been nothing short of disastrous and I’m late for class as it is. I really appreciate your help.” I tried to sound polite, even though I was still smoldering from my earlier encounter with the parking-spot-thief.
“It’s my pleasure. I’m sorry your morning isn’t going well. Can I walk you to class?” He still had that smirk on his face, but I started to think it wasn’t about my absurd spillage of photographs. Maybe it was his attempt at flirting. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to find out—which was a shame, really, because he was cute.
He seemed sweet, but I also noticed a hint of determination in his face, like he was expecting something from me. Wait, did he just ask me a question? I must have been completely losing it because I couldn’t even remember what he asked.
I tried to help, but my mind felt lost as I watched him gather my photographs with a gentle touch, which was odd because he looked to be anything but tender. He didn’t look dangerous, but his expression carried a fierce undertone that made me cautious.
As he fingered the last few prints, we both stood. Wow, he was tall. Tall and very lean.
“My name is Vic.” He gripped a handful of my photographs and I smiled as he gestured to set the stack he was holding on top of the piles in my arms.
“Thanks Vic. I’m Julia,” I introduced as I awkwardly held my hand out to shake his, which was stupid because both my arms were full with my stuff.
He gave me a nice smile that crinkled the skin around his eyes. “Well, Julia. May I walk with you?”
“Oh, of course. I’m late, so I will need to practically run, but you’re more than welcome to join me…” I began to smile slightly as I continued. “… if you can keep up.” Now I was sporting a full-on cheesy smile as I quickly turned and began to speed-walk towards the towering white buildings.
I meant it as a fun challenge, but I’m sure I probably came across as a complete bitch.
I never meant to, but I’ve been told a few times that my first impressions are not good and most people don’t like me when they first meet me. It was not something I tended to dwell on. First impressions were highly overrated.
He trailed behind me and I thought I heard him chuckle at my joke. Or, maybe he was laughing at my ridiculous display back in the parking lot.
“So, What class are you late for?” he asked as he jogged a few steps to catch up to me.
I cocked an eyebrow and looked at him sideways as I brought attention to the piles of prints in my arms. “Photography,” I answered with a derisive tone to my voice—as if the camera hanging off my shoulder and the portfolios weren’t evidence enough. I should give him a break though. He was probably just trying to make conversation.
There goes that snarkey attitude as a first impression again, Julia!
I attempted a polite smile to smooth over my previous snide answer.
“Oh, cool. I’m headed to the graphic arts computer lab, which I believe is just up stairs from the photography lab, right?” He said as he lifted his chin in the direction we were headed.
He looked cute with both hands shoved in his cargo shorts, short dark hair, slightly longer on the top and trimmed nicely on the sides, and those eyes… dark, beautiful, big brown eyes.
I nodded to answer his question and just smiled, bringing my attention back to where I was going. Gawking at him was going to make me trip over my own feet if I wasn’t careful. Or maybe run into one of these big pillars that lined the outdoor hallways between the buildings. That would be truly embarrassing.
Usually, I had a tendency to become extremely nervous around strange men, especially if they showed an interest in me. I had no desire to become involved with anyone and therefore tried to keep my distance.
To my surprise, Vic didn’t make me feel nervous. Well, not with fear like I usually experienced.
It only took us about a minute before we were walking through the glass double doors of building P.
“Thanks for your help Vic. Hopefully we’ll see each other around?”
I turned around to look for his answer to my question, but when I glanced at him, he had a look of disappointment and a little anger on his face.
After I realized he was unresponsive, I leaned down slightly to get his attention and bring him back to planet earth. In response, he ran his long fingers behind his neck and shifted uncomfortably.
“Uh… yeah. See ya,” he mumbled, then walked back out the glass double doors and rounded the corner quickly, heading towards the outside staircase.
Well, that was odd. My first-impression-disorder probably made him change his mind about me. I thought for sure he would ask me out, or at least attempt to get my number.
No time to think about the uncomfortable departure though, because I was already going to be disrupting class as it was.
Quietly and carefully, I eased the classroom door open and slithered through the small opening before hustling to my usual stool around the large lab table.
The photography lab was one of my favorite classrooms.
To the right of the classroom doors was Mr. Barnes’ private office where he kept his personal equipment and student records. His big desk was straight ahead along with several iMacs and digital photo printers set up as stations along the backside wall where thin, tall windows brought in just a hint of sunshine. To the left was the classroom seating area, several large lab sinks, and the door to the hallway leading to the dark rooms and other lab facilities.
Instead of individual desks, we all gathered around a large high-top lab table in the center of the room.
Advanced Photography was a smaller size than the usual college classes because it was such a specific subject, not to mention expensive when it came to equipment and supplies. There were only 14 students in this class, which made for a very intimate and competitive learning environment. But the competition between us classmates wasn’t malicious in any way. We thrived off each other, using our different talents and experiences as inspiration for one another. The healthy competition motivated us all and made us strive to do our best.
“Thank you for joining us, Ms. Petersen. Since you are now ten minutes tardy, I will need to see you after class,” a silky, seductive voice said just as I attempted a beeline for my seat, making me jump and look up in surprise.
My heart pounded in my head and I felt all the blood completely leave my body. In front of the class stood my parking-spot-thief!
The man casually standing in front of the class was so young and attractive—very attractive—infuriatingly attractive.
He was still wearing that smug grin while leaning his ass against the desk with his arms crossed over his chest, causing his muscles to strain against the white button up shirt he so casually wore. His black slacks trailed down his long legs as he crossed one ankle over the other and lounged against the desk.
What I wouldn’t give to be that desk right now.
All I could do was nod and blink rapidly, my eyes matching my heart rate. I definitely didn’t trust my voice as irritation and embarrassment began to boil below my skin.
I wanted to glare at him with a venomous look so he would know of my distaste for his lack of parking courtesy, but seeing as he was my new professor and, seriously, the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen, I just kept my head down. In a daze, I took my seat quickly.
Crossing my arms around myself, I attempted not to look as upset and uncomfortable as I felt.
Glancing up in his direction to see why he hadn’t continued talking, I realized he was still staring at me. Crawling further into my hole, I quickly looked away, burying my chin in my chest. Noticing my cleavage was as obvious as two watermelons popping out of my shirt, I hid my grin as I comprehended what he was actually staring at.
Even though I was angry, I couldn’t help but replay the sound of his warm voice. My last name rolling and dripping off his tongue, like licking sweet ice cream.
Oh, knock it off, Julia!
I knew we would have a new professor today. That was not surprising.
Mr. Barnes, my beloved photography teacher for the past year and a half, told us he was retiring from teaching due to medical reasons.
In a private meeting with him over a month ago, he informed me he was suffering from stage 4 Lymphoma. He had been fighting the cancer for quite some time now, but was losing the battle. He explained how tired and sick he felt all the time and how much he was truly going to miss teaching photography but that he missed spending time with his wife even more. If he was going to spend the last of his days battling this disease, he wanted to do it by her side.
Mr. Barnes was a rugged biker type on the exterior, but once we all got to know him, we knew he was a big softie who loved his job, his students, and above all else, photography. He had long gray hair pulled into a small ponytail at the nape of his neck and a gray goatee rimming his lips and chin. His attire often consisted of jeans, t-shirt, and a leather vest with various buttons on it, showing pride in the places he has visited on his motorcycle. He recently shaved all his hair off completely and I knew now it was because of the cancer treatments.
Oh, I was going to miss him.
The infuriating yet striking man standing at the front of the class rambled on about how he planned to work with Mr. Barnes electronically to make sure the class stayed as close to the original syllabus as possible.
With medium-toned skin, his body was a perfect combination of height and muscle. It seemed he spent some time out in the sun by the looks of his dirty blond hair with different shades and highlights. His hair wasn’t necessarily neat, but uneven and free. I wanted to run my hands through each strand and feel the texture beneath my fingers.
I was only half listening as he explained his sincere apologies for the reason behind Mr. Barnes’ sudden departure and how he planned to make the transition on us as easy as possible without letting it effect our learning. He likely had no idea just how much Mr. Barnes meant to me. No words from a stranger could make me feel any better about losing my mentor—my friend.
I was somewhat dazed when he took that moment to approach the entire group.
Even though there were two empty stools mingled around the table, he ended up dragging a stool from the side of the room and settled next to my left, plunking his elbows down on the tabletop, and propping his chin in his palms.
He was too close for comfort. Chill bumps crawled up my spine and my mind went confusingly blurry. He was so good looking and smelled divine. A mixture of light cologne and rugged man assaulted my senses. But I was also very aware how freaking annoyed I was at him for what he did to me earlier.
Didn’t teachers get special parking anyway? Why did he have to mooch a parking space in the student lot?
He was going around the table, asking each one of the students to introduce themselves and explain what subject matter they liked to photograph the most as well as what film and medium they preferred. This was a traditional photography class where we used SLR cameras with film and developed them ourselves in the darkroom. So, his requests were valid.
Even though we all knew these answers about each other, he needed to know more about our personal preferences and us in general. It seemed he had ulterior motives to the class-wide interview session, but I had no desire to figure him out. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself.
I became a bit antsy as I listened to each of my classmates speak, knowing full well it would be my turn soon, and I was not completely positive I would be able to speak to the man just yet. I needed to get control of myself. Show no fear.
Deep breaths, Julia.
To distract myself from the nerves that were taking over my body, I decided to let my mind wander.
One of the things I love about college is the diverse people I get to work with everyday. Not only diverse ethnicities, but also a rather large scale of different age groups as well. While most of my classmates are in their early to mid 20s like me, there are the occasional few that decide to come back to college at a later age.
In this particular class, I’ve had the pleasure of bonding with an older lady, Maddy. At the age of 52, Maddy decided to take a few courses, just to broaden her horizons and learn a few new things. Maddy very quickly became a dear friend of mine, despite our 30 year age difference.
Maddy sat on my right and I sensed she could tell my unease because she kept checking on me with sideways glances.
He was still too close.
I could hear each breath that pulled in and out of his full lips. I could hear each time he tapped his finger against his jaw. I could smell his scent—clean linen, cologne, and rugged man. I could feel his leg bouncing under the table as he propped his foot on the slats beneath the stool, his other foot planted securely on the linoleum floor.
It unnerved me to know a man’s presence had such a powerful effect over me—my body—my thoughts.
He paid close attention to each student as they went around the table, nodding and commenting appropriately to their speeches.
I felt him shift, turning slightly as the next student, who was only a few seats away from me, began their introduction. My cheeks reddened with the knowledge he had to practically look through me to see my classmate who was speaking. There was no way I could sit there calmly while he stared in my direction.
In an attempt to get out of his line of sight, I shifted back in my stool marginally. In reaction to my movement, he brought his hand to my back as if he wanted to brace me and keep me put. As his fingers touched the small of my back, I felt an odd, exhilarating shiver run up my spine.
Such a feeling over a simple touch should not be possible. It was like a million tiny fireflies scalded my insides, leaving me breathless as his fingers grazed just above my ass.
He kept his hand on my back for a lingering moment before removing it and placing it flat on the black tabletop. My stomach was doing summersaults and I felt my pulse through my entire body. The voices around me were completely drowned with the sound of the blood thumping through my ears.
Looking down at the table, I noticed his hand was shaking ever so slightly. There was no way I affected him that much. I didn’t want to have an affect on him. It must be nerves on his first day teaching. It had to be.
As I was beginning to calm slightly, I realized Maddy was plowing through her introduction, which meant I was next. She flicked her silky, gray hair back behind her shoulder and looked at him as she continued explaining her skills.
My nausea came back and my pulse began to race again as Maddy finished up her speech. Speaking in front of everyone was always a bit of a challenge for me, but knowing I had to speak kindly to this man who had bombarded my mind with thoughts of anger and lust made my anxiety take over with a vengeance.
Steeling myself, I took a long, strengthening breath through my nose, begging my voice to cooperate long enough for me to muddle through. With a slight hesitation, I finally began my introduction to our new teacher.
“My name is Julia Petersen. I am majoring in fine arts with a focus on sculpture. I personally enjoy photographing black and white infrared landscapes on cotton rag, but occasionally enjoy the task of shooting infrared portraits in the studio as well.” I smiled, thankful I didn’t stutter, and looked down at my hands.
I could tell my parking-spot-thief was a bit shocked with my choice of film because he just stared at me for a moment too long for comfort. I could feel his gaze blazing through my skin. All the other students were silent as he sat there staring at me. He was so quick to respond to each student with constructive comments, yet here he sat, just staring at me like I had three heads.
Did he recognize me from the parking lot?
Eventually, I braved a glance in his direction and he seemed to be studying me before he began to speak.
“Julia, what do you find so enjoyable about working with black and white infrared?” My name rolled off his tongue and gave me a new set of chill bumps all over my already sensitive skin.
He steepled his fingers against his mouth and looked at me. His gray eyes were dancing with serious amusement—such a walking contradiction.
Because I sat there with stunned confusion on my face, he took a quick intake of breath, pulled his fingers away from his sexy lips, and continued, “I mean, the only reason I ask is because infrared is quite difficult to photograph properly and capture the full essence of the subject, not to mention the process of developing is a bit more tedious. Is it the challenge you enjoy, Juliana?”
His voice sounded so seductive, I had to do a double take at his expression. His gaze was smoldering, burning a deep hole through me.
My full name spilling from his lips caught me off guard. Heat pulled in my gut as I thought of all the possibilities and innuendoes that could be formed from his words.
And, damn it, I blushed.
“Uhm… well… “ I stammered.
Shuffling noises from the other students as they gathered their things and began to stand interrupted me. I internally praised the time displayed on the clock that saved me from my embarrassing stutter.
Then realization hit me…
I have another class with Mr. parking-spot-thief, right now.
I felt each nerve-ending split as I watched my fellow classmates leave the room.
He didn’t attempt to get up or move as he explained to the class what he expected of them come Wednesday.
Maddy gave me a tight smile, knowing I had to stay behind, and quickly confirmed our scheduled weekly shoot for tomorrow before saying goodbye and leaving me in the dust.
My second class was a one-on-one personal Digital Photography session with Mr. Barnes. Only now, Mr. Barnes was not here to rescue me.
My handsome parking-spot-thief just sat there, looking at me, probably still expecting me to answer his loaded question.
In all honesty, the question wasn’t what threw me for a loop. It was the sound of his voice, so silky and seductive, with a hint of humor, and my full name running from his lips like he’s known me for years. It was the look in his eye as he waited, gray eyes filled with hidden promises and a slight warning all rolled into one smoldering gaze. It was the fact that now, once the classroom cleared out completely, his body was even closer than before.
He repositioned himself so he was fully facing my left side, his long legs spread so they almost encompassed my stool. His left knee slightly brushed against my left leg while his right leg was positioned behind me.
Too close. Way too close.
“Do you have a class to get to, Juliana?” His question was almost a whisper and it made a shiver roll up my spine—not because I was cold, but because his breath on my face made a thousand sparks flicker through my skin, like sparklers on a hot summer night.
Didn’t he know I was his next class? He had to have known. He was probably just toying with me because I’m sure he could tell how I was reacting to him—how he made me feel. But, then I remembered, my digital independent study class was really just a favor from Mr. Barnes and wasn’t really a scheduled class. Damn. I really wanted to keep my schedule. I had to forcefully compose myself and explain.
“Um… actually, my next class used to be a personal session with Mr. Barnes. The Digital Photography class didn’t fill up, so they cancelled it. Mr. Barnes kept me on—sort of as his protégé. But it doesn’t count toward my credits, nor do I pay for it, so… “
So, what? What was I saying? I didn’t want to give up my Digital Photography lessons. I was learning so much about how to work the digital SLR camera and Mr. Barnes was impeccably schooled when it came to touching up and manipulating in Photoshop.
But, was Mr. parking-spot-thief capable of continuing my lessons? I had no idea what his level of expertise was, so I just let my sentence trail off.
“I would be more than delighted to continue your one-on-one lessons, Julia. Mr. Barnes did not inform me of such an arrangement, but since I don’t have a class during this time slot anyway, you might as well continue to use me while I’m available.” An adorable smile worked its way onto his perfect face.
He wants me to use him?
I had to shake my head at the thoughts that crept into my mind. I was supposed to be mad at this man and here I was lusting over his every word—his every breath—his every touch.
“Thank you for your consideration.” I tried to sound polite as I stared into his gray eyes. In an attempt to sound confident, my words mistakenly came out harsh and cold instead.
Something shifted in his demeanor—like he was worried. Or maybe my tone made him realize just how inappropriate this chemistry between us was.
He backed away a little and it felt like he took all my air with him.
I couldn’t explain the feelings that were bombarding me. All I knew was, he was way too close before. Yet when he backed away, I craved to pull him closer. My body begged for him while my mind scolded me for even feeling such a primal need as his touch.
He still sat next to me, but his knee no longer brushed against my thigh. One of his elbows was propped up on the black tabletop while his other hand ran through his rugged, sandy hair.
“I probably should catch you up on what you missed due to your tardiness, Ms. Petersen.” His words were clipped, like he was irritated with something—or someone. He was probably irritated with me.
Switching to my last name told me he was trying to stay formal. But I noticed some sort of internal battle in his expression. Pain and confusion etched his face. I wanted to do something, say something, to make him feel better—to ease his pain—to wipe away any confusion and tell him it will all be okay.
Instead, I took the defensive route, knowing full well any comfort I offered would open doors I was certain would get me in trouble.
“I was only late because you stole the parking spot I was waiting for,” I pointed downwards toward him while my other arm curled protectively around my abdomen. My words blurted out harsher than I had planned, but nonetheless, they were true.
Humor entered his eyes as the sides of his mouth quirked up a bit. “Ahh. That was you? I’m terribly sorry, Julia. I honestly didn’t see anyone waiting for the space. I was in too much of a hurry because I did not want to be late for my first day as a new teacher. The administrators have not assigned a space for me yet and I only found out this morning. Will you forgive me?”
Oh my, he switched moods so quickly it almost gave me whiplash. And he looked so adorable in that moment. The puppy dog look definitely melted my insides. There was no way I could stay mad at him if he looked at me with such a vulnerable stare.
As much as I wanted to act kind, I knew I had to keep my distance. I had to stay strong.
“You really didn’t remember it was me you screwed just an hour ago? I was all but jumping out of my goddamn window when I yelled at you,” I said. I actually meant for my words to be harsh this time, however, they now came out as more of a whine—pleading for him to remember me.
Grinning even wider now, he continued with his apology and said, “How could I forget that beautiful face of yours? Yes. Yes, I remember it was you. However, I was really being honest about not seeing anyone waiting for the parking spot. I was so ticked off at the idiots from administration, I completely lost my cool with the fact I had to battle for a spot in the student lot. I do wish you could forgive me for my actions.”
Damn. He had to be so charming and sweet. It was infuriating. Attempting to make him feel bad, I decided to pretend mercy.
“Forgiven. Although in my haste to try to get to class as soon as I could, I managed to dump most of my spring project all over the asphalt. I’m praying my negatives aren’t ruined.” I looked down at the messy pile of negatives and prints sitting in front of me.
He slid closer—this time, much closer. His legs spread wide to straddle my stool again. His knee now pressed firmly against the side of my thigh and his other leg brushed my backside behind the stool.
My breathing hitched and my hands began to shake. Closing my eyes, I tried to steady my breath. I placed my hands in my lap to hide my weakness as he reached over to assess the damaged rubble that was once the beginning of a damn good project.
“It doesn’t look like anything is damaged, although the negatives did get a bit of dirt on them,” he paused for an assessing moment before continuing. “Julia, these prints are astonishing. I can’t wait to see how you arrange them. You truly do have a passion for black and white infrared and your interpretation of the subject matter is amazing to say the least. Do you still need to print more from these negatives for your project?”
His compliments took me off guard. He sounded so truthful, so passionate, so enamored by my photos. It made me happy to hear someone speak so highly of something that touched me on a very vulnerable level. God knows I never received this kind of praise from home.
I looked at him, first at his distractingly luscious lips, then into his eyes. I wanted, no, needed to see if he was being sincere. The last thing I needed was a teacher blowing sunshine up my skirt so he could get into my pants.
I tried to compose myself and answer his simple question, “There were a few more shots I wanted to play around with before making my final decisions on which prints will be displayed and which ones I will set aside.”
Standing quickly, he walked to the double doors leading out of the classroom and closed them with a gentle click. The noise made a lump form in my throat as I tried to suppress my nerves. Now we were officially alone. I knew this because those doors were always locked unless propped open.
Stalking back over to me, he picked up my negatives and offered me his hand. My stomach did back flips as I reached up and slipped my fingers into his. Tiny little flickers shot up my arm when my fingers slid across his palm.
He led me over to the large light table to lay out all my negatives neatly and with quick precision. I watched each movement of his fingers, each brush of his palm, as he took great care with my work.
He was probably the type of man that took great care with his lovers, too. Using those long, strong fingers to caress and entice a woman…
I had to get control of myself.
He carefully began brushing the negatives with a fine haired dust brush. Once he was finished, he slid the handle of the brush in his back pocket, bringing my attention to his ass.
Not noticing I was staring at his finely sculpted butt, he grabbed the small loupe magnifier and bent over the light table to look at my work—all while successfully giving me a better view of him from behind.
I smiled and then realized I should talk about my plans for these negatives.
I tried to steady my shaking hands and instill poise to my voice so I could explain where I was at with my project.
“These are the prints I’ve already completed,” I explained as I gestured to several different rows of negatives and pointed out the few I printed from those rows. “And these are the three I think I want to play with a bit more. The infrared glow of the plants is so vibrant, I worry I may lose some detail, but I can’t pass up the challenge to try and bring these shots to life.”
“Oh, so you do like a challenge, don’t you, Juliana.” It was more of an accusation than a question. His tone took on that seductive quality again and it made my stomach turn up in knots.
This man could make me melt with just his words. With surprise that I was still able to stand, I began to feel lightheaded at his seductive tone.
He looked up at me while still bent over my negatives and dazzled me with a smile that had my mind hanging in mid air. He rose up and made the few short steps it took to be right in front of me.
Tracing my jaw with his finger, he whispered, “Breathe, Juliana.”
I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath. The sound of my full name from his lips sent a thrill of shivers down to my core. This man had an affect on me more than words could express.
I closed my eyes and began to breathe. With each breath, I could smell his scent—feel his warmth. When I opened them, he was smiling again.
“Green, clear, and beautiful, like sparkling sapphire gems…” he whispered as his finger still lingered on my cheek, his words stopping as if he thought better of touching me so intimately.
It took me a moment of gawking before I realized he was talking about my eyes.
He stepped away and bent back over the light table to look at the few shots I pointed out to him.
God, what I wouldn’t give to sink my fingernails into that ass while…
His voice brought me out of my personal daydream and I bit my lip in an attempt to hide my embarrassment.
“These are really great shots. You should definitely try to play around with these. I could almost see these three being a series all on their own. So vibrant and full of life…” His praising trailed off as he continued to examine all the negatives in that series.
I never received this kind of approval and support from my parents and I never realized how important it was to me until now.
I had no idea a single person’s appreciation could mean so much to my pride. Just listening to him talk about my work made me giddy inside. I couldn’t help the small smile that splayed across my face as the glare from the light table became blurry with my emotion.
“What thoughts are putting that beautiful smile on your face, Angel?” His words sucked me right back to the real world and made me blush profusely.
What did he just call me? How well did this man know me? It was like he knew so many private things. He seemed to know more about me than I ever anticipated and he was playing me like a well-tuned violin.
I backed away and turned my face, not sure what to say and wanting to run from this intense, enigmatic man.
“Oh, Julia. Please don’t hide your face from me. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. You had such joy written on your face, I just wanted to know what thoughts made you so happy.” He was being so sweet, yet I kept asking myself just how close I really should get to him. Also, seeing my parents’ faces and wishing I had them doting over my accomplishments like this stranger was so eager to do assaulted my mind.
“Julia? Look at me.” He lifted my chin with his finger and made me look into his eyes. “Tell me what makes you happy, Angel.”
Oh God! There’s that nickname again. Maybe it is just a coincidence. He is seriously a sweet-talking, sweet-smelling, sweet-looking man. I wonder what his lips taste like. Oh, no. I can’t start thinking like that in front of him.
His words made heat pool in my gut, my insides clench, and my clit throb. He could obviously turn me on with the simplest of words and the simplest of touches.
As if he could sense my arousal, he smiled and his touch became more sensual—his eyes offering a promise I could only ever dream of.
I had to say something, do something, before I lost full control.
“I’m just happy you find my work so… “ I trailed off, unsure of exactly what to say.
“Inspiring? Vibrant? Beautiful?” He continued for me. “There are many words I could use to describe you, Angel. Although, I’m having a hard time putting into words just how your photographs touch me. You say you’re focusing on sculpture and not photography?”
Now that was a loaded question. Both were my passions, but I had a feeling I was more talented when it came to sculpture.
I was proud of my sculptures on a different level than my photography. I’m sure it didn’t help matters that my father seemed to identify with my sculptures more than anything else I had ever accomplished. I was hoping if I focused on sculpture, he would approve of my desires to pursue art. But, again, I was let down by his lack of excitement and his pressure for me to go into the Architecture program instead.
“Yes, I’m focusing on sculpture even though I have an equal amount of passion for photography as well. They are both loves of mine. I could get lost for hours, even days, when working on my artwork. However, the sculpture program at the university is very highly recommended. I would be nothing short of lucky if I even had a chance to apply let alone actually be accepted.” I let my words rattle out of my mouth before I even had a chance to filter them.
He looked at me with wary eyes, like he was contemplating something. Then his gaze softened and he spoke, “Well, we’ll just have to see about what photography programs are available also.” He finished his sentence off with a wink before turning and stacking up my negatives.
I glanced at the clock and realized my next class wasn’t for another 30 minutes.
He helped carry my negatives back over to the lab table and I neatly put them back in the sleeves.
As I was putting the negatives away, he laid out several of my prints that had hit the asphalt. He carefully began brushing them with the dust brush that was so finely seated in his back pocket before. Once he was finished, he slid the handle of the brush back in his pocket, bringing my attention to his ass once again.
Oh, hell. I’m never going to get anything accomplished when I’m around this man.
He backed up two steps and crossed his arms over his tight chest. As he stood examining my photographs, I sat on the stool and examined him.
He was fairly tall. Of course, it didn’t take much for someone to be taller than my 5’4” height.
He looked to be about six to eight inches taller than myself, which was perfect in my opinion, because it brought my nose right to the center of his muscular pectorals. I imagined nuzzling into his chest and letting his scent fill my nose.
My eyes fluttered shut and I subconsciously allowed a sigh to leave my throat.
As I snapped out of my luscious reverie, I opened my eyes to his gaze on me, burning me with intensity. I knew he could feel the fierce chemistry between us as a low grumble left his chest—evidence of his desire toward me.
It only took a swift shift of his weight to approach me.
He brought his thumb to my bottom lip and tugged on it, releasing my lip from the grip of my teeth. His thumb slowly traced my bottom lip and then grazed toward the corner of my mouth.
My hand reflexively came up and touched his, pressing it against my face.
I leaned into his touch, gliding my fingers over his and down to his wrist, where I let my grip settle, holding onto him and hoping he wouldn’t ever let go. I knew it was wrong, but it still felt so right. I needed the comfort and affectionate touch of a man more than I was willing to admit.
As he wrapped his fingers behind my neck and began pulling us together, a door banged shut just outside the classroom, making us both jump and immediately release each other.
I pulled away quickly and couldn’t help the embarrassment that flushed its way into my skin.
“We can’t…” I said as we both realized how close we were to making a huge mistake and getting caught in the process.
What in the world am I thinking? Oh, that’s right. I’M NOT THINKING!
This man causes all my mental capacities to fly right out of my ears.
“I know we can’t. But don’t worry. I locked the doors so we wouldn’t be disturbed during your independent study,” he said, as he looked away from me and ran his fingers through his sexy, golden blond hair.
I looked down at the table while he stepped back and resumed his stance. I still couldn’t help but stare as he stood so strong and confident, like he wasn’t affected by our near discretion.
After several seconds, he went toward my prints on the table and rearranged them. I watched him as he backed away again and stood with his strong legs shoulder width apart. His arms were crossed over his chest, making every one of his muscles bulge beneath his white shirt. The look of determination on his brow made him appear even sexier. He did this several times until he finally stepped back and smiled.
He looked at me, and with a crook of his finger, he said, “Come here, Juliana.”
My pulse quickened and I slowly, but confidently, slid off the stool and made my way over to where he stood, not veering my eyes from his for even a moment.
He grabbed my shoulders and turned me, positioning me in front of his body so my back was pressed to his front.
I immediately saw why he was smiling. He was fucking brilliant!
He quickly went over to the other side of the room and brought back a small stepping stool. Offering me his hand, he helped me climb to the third step so I could see the prints from a higher vantage point.
At first my focus was solely on his hands positioned low on my hips. Strong and bold, he held me with a gentle touch. But then, I readjusted my gaze on my prints that were strategically laid out on the table.
Before I could react to the overwhelming view in front of me, he spoke up.
“You see what I see, right?” he asked. I could do nothing but nod my head and gape in amazement, my jaw clearly on the floor seven feet below me.
He continued, “The lines flow through each piece perfectly, like they were random puzzle pieces just waiting to be met with their mates.”
“Oh, my!” I whispered as my hand came up to my lips.
Nine of my photos were all arranged vertically in sets of three in a seemingly random order. Only, they managed to blend together in such a way that flowed, making a beautiful multi-piece abstract.
“This is perfect,” I said as I leaned forward towards the photos.
He held my hips protectively, making sure I didn’t fall.
With his fingers pressed into my hips, he lightly gestured for me to come down off my pedestal. I complied willingly because I craved to be next to him again.
Without warning, he increased his hold on my hips and lifted me. I almost squealed in surprise, but he quickly brought my body against his and allowed me to gently slide down until my feet grazed the floor. His muscles flexed deliciously as I dug my fingers into his arms. He held onto me firmly, one hand in the center and the other at the small of my back, just above my ass. Pressing our bodies together, he lightly groaned as he regretfully let me go.
Gently pushing the stool away with his foot, he turned me and guided my hips back in front of his, my back barely brushing against his taught abdomen.
“If you use black mats and frames to separate each print, it will give the viewer a chance to use their imagination while the photos provide suggestions and guide their visualization down the right path.” He held his left hand in front of me, gesturing as he spoke—his left arm brushing just above my left shoulder as his right hand stayed protectively on my right hip.
I finally found my voice. “And what’s even better is, the three other negatives I want to play around with will work perfectly in the top row… assuming they come out well. They would make it complete.”
As I turned around, his hand, which was on my right hip, grazed the small of my back, then softly landed on my opposite side. I tilted my head and looked up into his eyes and simply said, “Thank you.”
“No, Julia. I should be thanking you. The caliber of work you do inspires me. I love watching prints transform into something so remarkable. And to see the look on your face right now is such a reward to me.”
Footsteps out in the hall caused me to attempt to break away from his light, single-handed embrace. With firm hands, he caught me, not letting me back away from him.
Out of instinct, my arms lightly snaked around his waist and touched his strong back muscles. My eyes met his in our embrace, and we lingered there for a few moments, just staring, wondering what was going through the mind of the other.
Finally, we both lessened our hold and I brought my head down to attempt some sort of balance after staring into his powerful eyes.
I figured it was probably getting close to time for my next class. It would be a good idea to mark the order of the photos he so carefully arranged. Doing so would also keep me busy, because I was clearly losing my control around this man.
With a pencil in hand, I bent over the tall table and very lightly marked the white border of each photo with a number and gathered the prints into a pile while he walked over to open the classroom doors.
I felt his gaze on me as I worked and I enjoyed the strength and confidence it gave me. Obviously I affected him and it made me feel potent.
Since I was still slightly bent over the table, I turned my head, looked back at him, and smiled.
A smile lit up his face and he let out a little chuckle while gliding his fingers through his silky hair. I thought I heard him whisper the word ‘tease’ but it was so quiet, I couldn’t quite tell. Either way, it made my stomach flutter again.
He turned to shut off the glow from the light table and my trance was lessened a bit by the distance put between us.
It was a good thing too because a student walked in a few seconds later. Thankfully, he set his bags down, grabbed his camera, and left the room to go to the studio across the hall. I was worried the severe blush on my face would have made my guilt evident.
I quickly packed up all my prints and negatives, then glanced over to say goodbye. I realized then that I didn’t even know his name.
I stood up straight and attempted to look strong and confident.
Walking over to him, I stuck out my hand to shake his and said, “Thank you for taking the time to look at my work and speak with me, Mr. … “
“Stone, Mr. Stone,” he said with a smile. Then he leaned in and quietly added, “but when we’re alone, you will call me Aiden.” His instructions were spoken with authority as he smiled a dazzling, heart-melting grin.
Looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was looking, he grabbed my hand, brought it to his mouth, and brushed a light kiss over my knuckles.
“And, Juliana? The pleasure is all mine.”