In the privacy of his office with Miss Jackson standing penitent before him, Conn found himself in what his Daddy would have called quite a pickle.
If he didn’t allow this unknown student to stay in his class, he’d be forced to scratch it completely from the schedule, and the dean had refused to reconsider her decision. The class he’d personally created and taught over the years, his hallmark work at Drury University, would be swallowed by blowing sands. His life’s passion would be forgotten. Instead of advanced poetry, he’d teach more remedial composition classes, because students couldn’t figure out how to write a paper in complete sentences without LOL and BFF and whatever other ridiculous abbreviations they texted on a daily basis.
But if he were completely honest with himself, the fate of his favorite class was the least of his concerns. Deep down, he feared that if he allowed this frankly highly-unqualified student to remain, he’d do something unforgiveable. He’d never been tempted by a student before, but Miss Jackson spelled Temptation with a capital T and damn it all to hell, this was only the first day of class.
It was her eyes that did him in. Oh, she had a luscious body, no doubt about that, but he’d never been one to ogle the female students. In fact, his best friend and fellow Drury professor, Mason Wykes, had resorted to calling him Dr. Perfect. Conn had never even felt a twinge of interest in one of his students.
Until Miss Rae Jackson walked into his class and turned those soul-deep eyes on him.
Shyly yet earnestly, she gazed at him, her eyes big and solemn and dark with emotion, and he felt his rigidly polite professional veneer crack. Somehow, she’d managed to pick up on his hidden dominant side. Some secret signal that he’d unconsciously broadcasted had drawn her like a moth to a flame, and she fluttered toward mortal danger, fully aware he would singe her wings clean off if she got too close, but still hopelessly unable to flee.
As soon as he focused on her, she bit her lip, her breath caught, and it was all he could do not to come around the desk, cup her face in his hands, and ask how far she’d let him go.
The devil on his shoulder whispered that he should test her. Give her a few simple, innocent little requests to see if she would obey as sweetly and quickly as he suspected. He clenched his jaws and flipped the mental bird at the evil bastard. The last thing he needed to get into was an improper relationship with a student.
Especially one that stared at him so hopefully, innocently, and naturally submissive. Did she even have a clue that she was sending off a “please gobble me up whole” vibe in waves–a vibe that was irresistible to a man like him? Son of a bitch. Mason would laugh his ass off if he ever found out that Dr. Perfect had met his match and then some.
Conn softened his voice and tried to begin, “Why don’t you sit down–”
She dropped like a stone into the seat so quickly he couldn’t help but wonder what she would’ve done if there hadn’t been a chair available. Sitting behind his desk made him vaguely uncomfortable, as if he was abusing his position of authority as her professor, so he did something very rare during office consultation: he stood, came around to the front of his desk, and casually sat on its edge. It put him closer to her, making the devil cackle with glee, but hopefully took him out of the authority position.
“I’m not going to bite, Miss Jackson.”
Her eyes flared wider and her gaze dropped to his mouth. Definitely not an improvement.
Quickly, before he could dwell on any inappropriate vision of which delicious bite he’d like to sample first, he rushed on. “That is, I’m not an ogre, despite whatever you may have heard. I’m truly concerned about your wellbeing” and my sanity “in my class.”
A hint of a smile flickered on her lips. “They didn’t call you an ogre, Dr. Connagher.”
“Troll? Demon? The wicked professor of Pearsons Hall?”
“You are rather famous,” she admitted, smiling wider and beginning to relax. “Everyone I talked to sincerely enjoys your classes despite your…quirks.”
“And what do they say about my Romantic Period class?”
“It’s the hardest class in the entire English department,” she replied sheepishly. “Casual English majors won’t take it because they don’t want to risk lowering their overall GPA.”
“And since it’s such a difficult class, non-English majors are too intimidated to sign up. That’s exactly the argument Dean Strobel presented to me when I protested her decision to cancel this class.” Sighing, he kept his face and voice equally soft. “So why were you brave enough to sign up, Miss Jackson, Accounting major with barely enough English requirements for your business degree?”
She ducked her head. “It was your only open class that I haven’t already taken.”
“It’s very important that you be truthful with me.” He risked reaching out, slipped his fingers beneath her chin, and gently tilted her face back up to his. Risk indeed, because he found that once he had her in his grasp, he didn’t want to let her go. “Why were you looking for my classes in particular? Do you know me from somewhere that I regretfully don’t remember?”
Uncomfortable, she hesitated, clenching and opening her hands in her lap, torn between fleeing and blurting out the truth. He waited in silence, his gaze steady. I’ll have her answers, however long it takes.
“No, sir,” she finally whispered, earning a smile and an encouraging nod to continue with her explanation.
He felt her swallow beneath his fingers and she moistened her lips. The faint glimpse of her tongue made him suck in a breath. What the hell was he doing? These little games might seem innocent, but once he accepted this challenge, he’d find it difficult, if not downright impossible, to back off.
And I need to back off. She’s my student!
“I heard you, Friday, outside the dean’s office. You quoted poetry, and your voice… I wanted to hear more. Poetry, that is.”
She winced at the rather lame excuse, betraying herself. She’d definitely wanted to hear more, and it wasn’t because she had a sudden interest in Shelley. She’d responded to the hard edge of anger in Conn’s voice, the desperate need to keep what was his, and she’d been drawn to seek him out in any way she could. Naked attraction shimmered in her eyes, darkened by her response to his voice, his presence, and most of all, his very position of control and authority that he could not violate one iota if he valued his career.
He forced himself to release her. Too many thoughts crowded his mind. The small challenges she’d unconsciously set for him to master were adding up alarmingly. He already knew that no harsh word would be required to earn the truth from her; his unapproving silence and the strength of his will were enough. He also knew she found it very difficult to prevaricate even slightly. If she ever thought to lie to him, all he’d have to do was look deeply into her eyes to see every truth laid bare before him.
Now, the fledgling truth he saw burning in her eyes promised that she would be the greatest test of his life. Mastering himself with and for her would be like earning his doctorate all over again and a hell of a lot more pleasurable than slogging through another four years of graduate school.
Retreating to his chair, he put the desk between them. Quickly, he ran through his options. He hadn’t said anything that could be misconstrued later. She could walk out now, find an easier class, and perhaps they’d accidentally on purpose run into each other about campus. It would still be frowned upon for a professor to involve himself with a student, even if she wasn’t in his class, but it wasn’t worthy of reprimand.
However, if she remained as his student, she’d not only enable the last semester of his favorite class, but she’d also challenge him to keep that control he valued so much. He could test her, and she would test him and not even know it.
If I can survive such a challenge to my self control.
He shifted in his chair, already rather uncomfortable. The longer he looked at her, watching as she tucked an errant strand of chocolate brown hair behind her ear and bit her lip, waiting for his decision, the more he responded in a way that no teacher ever wanted to feel about his student. Too young, too pretty, too damned sweet and innocent for a man like him. Every dominant instinct he possessed urged him to wrap his arms around her and set about finding each and every limit she threw up at him until she was utterly and completely his.
Irritated that his libido was running amok on the very first day of class, he muttered, “’The desire of the moth for the star,/ Of the night for the morrow,/ The devotion to something afar/ From the sphere of our sorrow.’”
“Oh. Okay. That’s your answer, then?”
He arched a brow at the quavering despair in her voice. “Do you know what I just quoted?”
She dropped her gaze to her hands and her shoulders slumped with dejection, but she nodded. “It’s Shelley’s ‘One Word is Too Often Profaned.’”
At least she didn’t see the shock that must be written all over his face. How on earth had she recognized Shelley, let alone that particular poem? She was an Accounting major with absolutely no English poetry background, for God’s sake. If she knew that much poetry, why were they even discussing her right to remain in his class? “What line in particular did you think was my answer?”
She jerked her gaze up to his, and the fierce determination blazing in her eyes sent a jolt of unexpected delight through him. Ah, here, too was the rebellion and spirit that he would relish exploring.
“’I can give not what men call love.’ Or how about the line which gave its title: ‘One word is too often profaned/ For me to profane it.’ If you’re not interested, Dr. Connagher, all you had to do was say so. Dropping your class will be a hell of a lot easier than studying nonstop all weekend and reading everything about Percy Bysshe Shelley that I could get my hands on simply because everyone says he’s your favorite poet, all before the stupid semester even started!”
She leaped up out of her chair, whirled, and strode toward the door. Her braid swung dark and heavy down her back, drawing his gaze to the sweetest ass in tight blue jeans that had ever crossed his desk.
She wanted a chase. Good. He gave it.
In a heartbeat, he rounded his desk, planted his palms on either side of her flat against the door, and hovered at her back without touching her. Inappropriate, yes, but it wasn’t exactly physical contact. She froze with her hand on the doorknob.
“Rae,” he purred, savoring her name on a low rumble that made her shiver beneath him. “I never said I wasn’t interested. I’m cursing my own impossible desire as the moth is drawn to the stars.”
On a low moan, she started to turn to face him.
“No, don’t. Don’t look at me, not this close, or I’ll likely do something that we’ll both regret.”
“I won’t regret it,” she whispered, her voice ragged. “I was hoping–”
“You came to me as a student. My student,” he growled out next to her ear. “You defined the exam the moment you enrolled in my class. If you’re my student, then this is as close as we’ll be for the rest of the semester.”
“Then I guess I’ll be dropping your class, Dr. Connagher.”
“Conn,” he whispered, deliberately letting his lips brush her ear. “Right here, and only right now, I’m Conn.”
“Conn,” she repeated on a low ragged groan. “Are you sure I can’t turn around?”
“Absolutely sure, and although I know it would be easier for you to drop my class, I hope you don’t.” He chose his words carefully so she wouldn’t feel as though he were demanding she stay in his class, because he feared very much that she’d comply just because he asked. “Instead, I hope you come to class and torment me every single day.”
“If you decide to drop my class, leave your number so I can call you as a man and not your professor in a month or two. But–” he hardened his voice, stilling her immediate eager response, “I think a semester of getting to know each other in a controlled environment would be best for both of us. You’re testing my control to the breaking point already, darlin’.”
“Sorry.” She laughed shakily, although he didn’t think she sounded repentant at all. In fact, she backed that tempting ass so she could rub her back against him like a cat. “When you say darlin’ in that smooth Texas drawl…”
“Yeah, darlin’? What does that do to you?”
“It makes me weak in the knees.”
“Good,” he drawled, rewarding the truth with a quick nibble on her ear. “Now I want you to march that delectable ass out of my office. I’m going to do some serious thinking about the course syllabus and how we can make this class fun and rewarding for you, for all of us, and who knows, in the end, we may come up with something even the dean will approve so I don’t lose my favorite class. Wednesday morning, I’m Dr. Connagher and you’re Miss Jackson. We’ll get to know each other as professor and student. I won’t say inappropriate things–like how much I want to squeeze your ass and haul you into my lap–and you certainly won’t rub said ass against me. And that’s the way we’ll behave until you’ve turned in your final and I’ve turned in your grade.”
She blew out her breath on a long, mournful sigh that made him chuckle. “I never thought I’d actually look forward to finals week.”
“You and me both, darlin’.”