“He is so hot!”
Kathy didn’t turn toward her coworker. Her eyes were glued to the gorgeous man making his way across the crowded cafeteria.
Lani, however, was not at a loss for words. “He can grade my papers any day,” she enthused. “None of us stands a chance, though.”
The tall, broad-shouldered man in the gray suit paused to say hello to a student, then went his way again, heading toward the Stuffed Soup store across the food court-style cafeteria. Kathy finally found her voice, barely above a whisper, as though he might hear her over the din of the lunchtime crowd. “Who is he?”
“You’re so new at Holy Name! I keep forgetting, ‘cause you’re a junior,” Lani said. “That’s Professor Emory. He teaches legal studies, business law, paralegal stuff. He’s a lawyer, or was a lawyer, before he started teaching.”
His thick honey-gold hair shone with red highlights as he passed under the skylights. Kathy itched to touch it. “I don’t have any of his classes,” she told Lani.
“I did. He’s a wonderful teacher, though a hard grader. I didn’t want to take Law for Entrepreneurs, of course, but with a professor like that…” She sighed. “Who could resist?”
Indeed, who could resist? Unfortunately, Kathy’s program had a defined scope and classes. It was possible she could wiggle out of one for this semester, but then she’d have to wiggle it back in later. Besides, each unit cost money. To spend her educational fund dollars taking something that didn’t apply to her major would tick her mother off seriously. Even Kathy saw the foolishness in it. Embarrassing foolishness wasn’t unknown to her, that’s for sure, but she also knew how hard her parents had worked to pay into that fund since she was a baby, especially her mother.
“You should take one of his classes. The eye candy alone is worth the work.”
Kathy shook her head slightly, still staring across the room. Professor Emory was standing in a long line at Stuffed Soup. “I shouldn’t,” she told Lani.
“Too bad. Well, you can watch him from afar, in that case. He jogs around the campus and the trails a little north of here every morning. You’d have to get up early to catch him, though.”
Kathy was not an early bird, but it might be worth the effort to take up jogging. Nah. She was looking forward to her modern dance class and that would be all the exercise she needed to keep in shape. It was only the first week in the semester, and she would have plenty to do, too.
“Can I get some service here?”
A student stood at the counter with a frown on his face and a five-dollar bill in his hand. Kathy reluctantly took her eyes off the professor and helped the young man with his fried rice order.
Feng Suey was not busy, so Kathy found herself searching for the professor again. It looked like he’d made it to the head of the line. Glancing at her watch, she realized that she was due to take a break. She removed her apron and hair net and told Lani she’d be back in fifteen minutes. A moment later, she set the timer on her phone to remind her when her break was up, grabbed her backpack, and was out the back door. Although she’d have liked to find a better vantage point from which she might watch Professor Emory, she knew she had to call her mother. She hadn’t talked to her for a couple of days, and her mother would be interested in her experiences at the new college. It wasn’t anything like Glendale Community College in the Los Angeles suburb where she’d grown up and studied her first two years. Her mother had sacrificed so much to get Kathy where she was, despite Kathy’s screw-ups, the least she deserved were a few phone calls.
Mom was full of church news, a bit of gossip, and questions about Kathy’s new school. Kathy answered as best she could, though she should have taken her break time to get a bite to eat. She was pretty sick of Feng Suey’s menu, but it was quick and she could sneak bites between customers.
As she went to tuck her phone back into her backpack, she glanced at the screen and realized she’d missed a call. Distracted, she made her way through the crowded food court and pushed buttons on her phone. It was a new phone—a gift from her absentee father—and she hadn’t quite figured it all out. As she rounded a group of tables, her backpack slipped off her shoulder and beaned a guy eating a burger nearby. He gave her a dirty look, and she gave him an apology and a sheepish grin. She hoisted her backpack onto her shoulder again and knocked a tray belonging to a girl walking along behind her. Cola sloshed onto the tray.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” the girl protested.
“Sorry. I didn’t see you back there. I’m really sorry. You’re okay, though, right?” Phone still in hand, Kathy talked as she walked backwards ahead of the girl. Kathy’s phone began to bark, the noise loud and staccato as the tinny German shepherd woofs made people turn. The timer was going off.
Something caught her foot and she stumbled, yanking on the back of the chair where she’d tripped. The big woman in the chair stood up, the chair tipped over, and Kathy fell clumsily toward the floor. She caught herself, but her phone went flying.
There was a startled gasp among the nearby students, and Kathy looked up to see Professor Emory, a food tray in his hands and green pea soup dripping down his fine oxford shirt and the lapels of his gray suit jacket. His cartoon skunk tie was irretrievably ruined, and had little bits of ham clinging to it. Kathy’s phone was still barking. The noise was now muted and coming from Professor Emory’s soup bowl.
“Oops,” Kathy breathed, too embarrassed to say more.
Emory held the tray with one hand and fished in the soup bowl with a spoon. He handed Kathy’s phone back to her, dripping with green soup. The phone oozed in her hand, still barking for a moment, then it vibrated weakly and stopped making noise.
“I don’t need to make any calls, thanks,” the professor said. His eyes were pure gray, darkly lashed, and twinkling. He had a soul patch under his lower lip. Red, like the highlights in his hair.
Kathy felt about an inch tall. She’d flung her phone into Professor Emory’s soup! She was a little accident-prone, but she hadn’t done something so stupid since nearly setting her chem lab on fire in her sophomore year. She grabbed some paper napkins off the table and rushed toward him, intending…she didn’t know what. She had to do something!
Unfortunately, there was pea soup on the floor and with a sickening squelch, Kathy’s feet went out from under her once again, sending her hurtling toward Professor Emory and his tray. She knocked him backward and they both fell to the floor, Kathy on top. The soup bowl had overturned, of course, as the tray clattered nearby, and Professor Emory made a small grunt as her 115 pounds hit him in the chest. The phone, now on the floor, began barking again; this time, the cadence was something like a Chihuahua with a sore throat.
Kathy forced her eyes open and looked at Emory. Green pea soup ran in rivulets down the lower half of his face, and in drips into the longish hair that touched his collar. “Oh, nuts,” she groaned. A bystander hesitantly handed her the yapping phone and Kathy pressed the button that turned off the timer. Everyone around seemed a little dazed.
Professor Emory looked at her, and a moment later a small smile turned up one corner of his perfect mouth. His grin grew until it was broad, and he began to laugh. It was a rich, baritone laugh, the kind that sounded like the lower registers of the pealing bells in campus bell tower. She was so relieved that he wasn’t mad at her, so overcome with joy that she’d not offended the man irrevocably, that she too started laughing. At first it was a nervous laugh, but as his laugh went on, hers got more enthusiastic. They lay there, her body on top of his, for a minute or two, until their spontaneous laughter died down into chuckles.
Kathy realized where she was, knew they were a spectacle, though the room had begun to buzz with conversation again and with a wave from Professor Emory, the nearby students reluctantly went back to their lunches. She struggled to get off him, barely managing to miss kneeing him in the groin. Her face flamed. Once she stood, he got up too. His fingers were sure as he unknotted his tie. “I’m so sorry,” Kathy told him, finding her voice. “Let me get you some napkins.” This time, she carefully stepped around the mess on the floor, reaching a napkin dispenser on a nearby table. At first, she took out a handful of napkins, but realizing how inadequate that was, she took the whole dispenser and turned back to him.
Her attempts to clear some of the goo off his suit jacket were feeble, practically pointless. Bits of disintegrating napkin replaced the spilled soup, sticking to his lapels like so much toilet paper on the bottom of a shoe. Ignoring the shreds, he took napkins from the dispenser and wiped some of the soup off his face. And what a strong, masculine face it was, too. Kathy nearly gasped as she got a good close-up look at him. Catching herself before she made an even bigger fool of herself, she continued to wipe the soup off his lapels.
He gripped her wrist, halting her. “It’s okay. I didn’t want that soup anyway. It was kinda cold.” Once again, his grin was infectious, and Kathy returned it self-consciously.
“Your suit is ruined; your shirt, too. And your poor tie.” The fine fabric of his suit was wet and stained, the rakish little skunk on his silk tie spattered with congealing peas. “I’m sorry. Honest. I can’t believe I was so clumsy.” Actually, being clumsy wasn’t new to Kathy, but usually it wasn’t all her fault. This time, though, the blame rested solely on her shoulders, unlike her backpack, which had fallen in the puddle of soup on the floor.
He let go of her and started to remove his jacket. “You didn’t intend to do it, I’m sure.”
Professor Emory was being so nice! Kathy felt even more stupid, the nicer he got. “I-I’ll make it up to you. I’ll have your suit cleaned. Maybe I can find another tie.” She could have bitten her tongue. There was no way she could afford to have his suit cleaned, let along get him a new hand-painted silk tie.
“No worries,” he told her, the twinkle in his eyes never leaving. “You can buy me lunch, though.”
Even that would be tough. She had a stipend from her fund, but it barely covered her own food. Still, she agreed. If she missed a meal later in the month, it wouldn’t kill her. She had to do something. Her face got hot again. “Of course. But I have to go back to work in a minute.” His eyes traveled up and down her body. Wow. Was he about to make a pass at her? Realization dawned on her; she was covered in pea soup, too. She wanted to sink into the floor. “Oh.”
“I’m thinking maybe you should go home and change before going back to work.”
“Yes. Of course. Of course I should,” she stammered. A young woman in a janitor’s uniform came up with a mop and a bucket. They were still standing in the muck. Kathy grabbed her backpack and stuffed the phone into it, still coated in pea soup.
Professor Emory took Kathy’s arm and drew her out of the little puddle, his jacket and tie draped over one arm. As they went by the trash can, he dropped the tie in. A hundred-dollar tie, completely ruined. There was no way Kathy could make amends.
“What’s your name?” They were heading out of the food court, people pointing and chattering as they walked by. Kathy managed to avoid tripping or smacking into anyone on the way.
He turned slightly and offered his hand. “Hal Emory.”
“I know,” she said before thinking. She squeezed her eyes shut. Maybe this was a nightmare and she’d wake up in a minute.
Nope. This was reality.
Hal grinned. “My reputation precedes me, huh?”
Kathy nodded. “You teach law studies.”
“Yes, I do. And you’re a student here.” They paused in the courtyard of the building, the campus quad spread out before them. “Now about that lunch…”
“Right. Uh, we can’t go anywhere dressed like this.”
“True. I have classes and you have work. What say we make it dinner instead?”
She nearly groaned aloud. “Well…”
“Bobby’s Burgers,” he told her.
Bobby’s was a place she could almost afford. It was so gracious of him to consider her student status. Of course, a lot of the students at Holy Name were rich kids whose parents wanted them to go to a small Catholic liberal arts college. “Okay. If you’re sure.”
He nodded, with another of his hundred-watt smiles. “I’m sure. I’ll meet you there at six-thirty.”
She’d be long off work by then and her classes would be done for the day. “All right.”
Turning, he paused. “Miss McGillicutty,” he said. “It’s okay. Really. It’s just clothes, not anything more important. Stop kicking yourself.”
Kathy knew she’d kick herself for the rest of the semester for making such a scene. It would be a semester throughout which she’d undoubtedly get a lot of teasing from the other students. “Thanks, Professor Emory.”
He put a strong hand on her shoulder and gave it a little reassuring squeeze. “Dinner. Six-thirty.”
Kathy stood there, watching him walk away until he turned a corner and was out of sight. Well, she’d met Professor Emory and had exchanged laughter with him. It was something the other 122 girls at Holy Name would have given their eyeteeth to experience. And now she was going to buy him dinner. They were going to meet off-campus. Together. Alone. Well, okay, not quite alone; Bobby’s was a popular hangout.
On the walk back to her apartment dorm, she had an internal argument with herself. Maybe she could meet him at the end of his last class and bow out, give him the money for Bobby’s, and make some excuse. Guilt washed over her. She owed him a decent dinner at least. One dinner, and afterward she could slink off into the sunset and hopefully never have to face him again.
* * *
Nervously, Kathy stood next to her moped in the parking lot of Bobby’s, smoking a cigarette. It was her third of the day, one beyond the limit she normally set for herself. But she was a wreck. Professor Emory was going to show up any minute and expect her to be a decent dinner companion. What would she say? They had nothing in common. Well, how could she know? Maybe they both liked opera or something. Except Kathy didn’t particularly like opera. Gads, did she even know the name of an opera? Aida! Yes, that was the one with Madonna. Probably. Maybe they shouldn’t talk about opera.
She stubbed out her cigarette and a pair of brown loafers appeared in front of her. Loafers filled with graceful feet, leading to strong denim-clad legs, narrow hips, a wedge-shaped physique, and the handsomest face Kathy could remember aside from a few male actors. Hal Emory was frowning.
“Nasty habit, Miss McGillicutty.”
She stiffened. She knew it was bad for her, in a way self-destructive, but she’d started smoking in high school and now it was something she was compelled to do. Talking about it made her feel defensive. “Only two or three cigarettes a day, Professor. I’m a big girl.”
The lecture was over before it began. His stern expression slowly cleared, and he nodded. “Yes, you’re a big girl. If you’re done with the carcinogens, we can go inside. Don’t leave that filter on the ground. They don’t biodegrade well.”
He was right, of course, but it didn’t make her feel better about her habit to have the ickier parts pointed out. Irritably, Kathy picked up the squashed butt and realized she had no place to put it.
Professor Emory’s hand was warm on the small of her back as he steered her toward the little burger joint. The concrete planter near the door to the place looked like a promising place to leave her cigarette butt. She tried to be subtle as she dropped it into the planter.
“Use a trash can inside, Miss McGillicutty. Littering is not acceptable.”
The dirty look she gave him was lost as he turned toward the door, but she fished the cigarette butt out of the shrubbery all the same.
As the professor opened the door to Bobby’s, Kathy’s mouth began to water at the appetizing smells coming from the open kitchen behind the counter. Fries. She had to have fries. Working in a Chinese restaurant frequently left her with a desire for western food. And who could resist Bobby’s fries?
The professor slid his hand up her back and away from her. “Nice dress.”
Kathy couldn’t help but be flattered that he’d noticed her flowered dress. It was a little dressy for Bobby’s, but she’d had a hard time deciding what to wear. The dress was meant to be respectful. “Thank you.” A nearby trashcan became the receptacle for her butt and she washed her hands with the sanitizer she kept in her purse.
After a brief survey of the menu, they gave their order to the counterman. Hal went for the jalapeño burger and fries. Kathy had the same, somewhat surprised that he’d go for something so spicy. He seemed like the deluxe bacon burger type, for some reason. Of course, she knew so little about him.
“You like jalapeños?”
He smiled. “So do you, apparently.”
“Love ‘em. I’d eat them on everything if I could.”
“I don’t think I’m quite so enthusiastic as that,” he said with a chortle.
Kathy smiled back. He seemed like a nice man and unlike the young men in her classes. Professor Emory was older than she was, of course, probably in his early thirties. He was sophisticated far beyond any of the college men she’d met. Of course, that was one big reason they couldn’t be better friends. There was no way a successful professor would be interested in palling around with a twenty-one-year-old coed. If wishes were fishes…
They waited quietly for their food and, as promised, Kathy paid, digging out her last change to do so. The professor protested when he saw her fish out some nickels and dimes, but she insisted and after a moment, he relented. He did put two dollars in the tip jar for the counterperson, for which Kathy was grateful. After she closed her purse, she and the professor took the trays to a booth against the windows. The sun was beginning to set, lending a golden glow to the cars in the parking lot and the white Formica of the tables outside. The town of Sonoma was still busy enough, with traffic on the street flowing in a steady stream.
Kathy tried to be nonchalant as the silence stretched between them. The professor was mainly focused on his food, but she did catch his eyes on her as he paused.
“I haven’t seen you around campus before today, Miss McGillicutty. How long have you been a student at Holy Name?”
“This is my first semester. I’m a transfer student.”
“California native?” His gaze went back to his food.
“Yes. Born in Glendale.”
“I’ve been there, though I’m a northern California native.”
Kathy wanted to give him thoughtful conversation, but subject matter eluded her. She reached for her soda and accidentally gave it a shove. Cola sloshed out and ran in a rivulet toward the professor’s lap.
“Oh! Oh no!”
He stood immediately and the stream ran down onto the seat instead.
“No harm, Miss McGillicutty.”
“Let me clean that up.” Kathy grabbed a handful of napkins and stood, cleaning the mess up pretty easily. She felt like the worst kind of clumsy oaf as she sat back down. Apparently, food was her enemy this semester.
He smiled. “I’m fine.”
Although her face was still hot, Kathy waded back into the conversation. “How long have you been teaching?”
He gave her a strange look and a shadow passed over his face. “Two years.”
That appeared to be a tender topic for some reason, so Kathy went back to her food.
“What’s your major?” he asked.
The professor smiled. “Do you paint?”
A little embarrassed, Kathy got defensive. Why did everyone think you had to have manual dexterity and talent to work in the art field? It made Kathy feel like she was barking up the wrong tree and everyone was looking at her like she didn’t belong. “No. You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate art.”
He held up a hand. “Whoa. I didn’t intend to accuse you of being an imposter.”
Of course he didn’t. She was so nervous that she was jumping at shadows. “I’m sorry.”
“No worries. What do you intend to do with your degree?”
“I want to become a curator. I have to get a Master’s for that, but the BFA is my start.”
“Did you always want to be a teacher?”
“No. I practiced law in San Francisco for a while.”
Kathy finished her fries and sipped at her soda. She was little more relaxed. He didn’t seem quite as intimidating as their dinner wore on, but he was nearly finished. It would be over soon.
“Have you been a smoker for a long time?” Although he asked the abrupt question in quiet tones, Kathy could sense an undercurrent of steel in his voice. Once again, she was on the defensive. Smoking was bad, bad, bad…blah, blah, blah. It wasn’t like she didn’t know!
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Fair enough,” he said amiably. “If you’re ashamed…”
“I’m not! It’s a habit. I am not thrilled to have it, but the nicotine calms me down while making me more alert at the same time. If I could quit, I would have. Nicotine gum tastes awful, you know, and the patches make my skin break out. I’m stuck.”
“Would you quit if the incentive was right?”
“What are you getting at? Like I said, I’d quit if I could, but all the things I’ve tried have been failures.” Kathy wrapped up her burger leavings and squirmed in the seat. She wanted to be polite, but he was poking at a sore spot. Guilty feelings about spending money on a habit she ought to have the self-discipline to quit sometimes had her grasping at straws. It was almost better to keep smoking than to disappoint herself again.
“Maybe I can help you.”
“Help me? Why?”
He shrugged. “Frankly, I don’t know. I like you, I guess. You…remind me of someone. I don’t like the idea of any young person being saddled with an addiction.”
Kathy tried not to take his declaration of “like” to heart. He was probably just being kind. But, at the same time, she didn’t like feeling like a project. “I’ve tried to go cold turkey,” she told him. “The first stressful issue that comes up, I go right back to my cigs. I don’t think it’s something that’s fixable.”
Smiling, Professor Emory shook his head. “Fatalist.” He wiped his mouth with a napkin and tossed it into his wrappers.
“Well, what’s the cure du jour?”
His gaze held hers for a moment and he appeared to be choosing his words carefully, but his response surprised her. “Never mind.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I must sound ungrateful.” She was messing this all up.
“No. I don’t think you’re ready for what I have in mind. And, as I think more about it, I don’t think I’m ready either. It’s been a long time.”
Now Kathy was really curious. “Been a long time since what?”
He grinned and gathered up their rubbish. It was a few steps to the trashcan, and Kathy stood and followed. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It must matter if it stops you from doing something.”
Hal shrugged. “Yeah. You’re right. But I don’t want to talk about it.”
Kathy knew her words were being thrown back in her face, but she had the feeling that it wasn’t deliberately hurtful. She put her hand on his arm as he walked toward the door. He’d already said he liked her; maybe he really could help, and besides, more time with him was better than calling it quits so quickly. Sure, she was still embarrassed about the pea soup fiasco, but if he was willing to forgive her—as he clearly was—she ought to forgive herself, too. And, besides, she really did want to quit smoking if she could. “Please. I’m interested in a way to stop smoking. I’ll listen.”
The air from outside was fresh and starting to cool as the sky darkened. “There’s a way that bad behavior can be curbed, but it takes cooperation. Two people are involved and there has to be trust.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, we don’t trust each other enough, Miss McGillicutty. Not for what I’m thinking about. I haven’t trusted like that for quite a while. I don’t think I’m ready to go there yet.”
He was speaking in riddles and it was so frustrating. “Fine. Be that way. You dangle a carrot in front of me one moment, pull it away the next.” Kathy tried not to pout, but she didn’t think she was particularly successful. What was all the mystery about? Either he had an idea of how to get her off cigarettes or not. She was dying to know what it was. “Why won’t you tell me? I thought you wanted to help.”
A slight frown drew his dark brows together. “Don’t push me, Miss McGillicutty. You’re asking for more than you know.”
The parking lot was quiet. The lights from the restaurant lit up all but the furthest reaches of the lot.
Kathy didn’t know what possessed her, but she couldn’t leave it alone. “You’re being mean to me.”
He turned on her, his voice stern, almost angry. “It’s off-limits, Kathy. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“Geez. What a grumpy-ass.”
Now his frown was mighty. “What did you call me?”
“I’m rethinking my aversion therapy idea,” he threatened.
Even angry, he was gorgeous. It was distracting. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I think you really didn’t want to help me after all. Or you don’t have any bright ideas.”
He stared at her, his gray gaze darkening visibly. “Do you have a roommate?”
“Do. You. Have. A. Roommate.”
“Yes.” Georgia wouldn’t be home right now, but he didn’t need to know that. The whole situation was confusing.
“I shouldn’t even think about it,” he muttered to himself.
Was he thinking about sex? Was that what this was about? Wow. Could good sex take away your craving for nicotine? Kathy had never had sex. She was waiting for the right guy, though she wasn’t necessarily waiting for marriage. But, geez. They’d just met. Maybe because he was so gorgeous he could have any of the campus cuties he wanted and she happened to be in the vicinity. But…no. Lani had indicated that none of the girls stood a chance with him. Curiosity, and not a small amount of excitement, drove her forward. He wanted to be alone with her. Really alone. There couldn’t be too many reasons for that. She reached out and squeezed his forearm. “Please, Professor Emory?”
Someone passed between the window and the light and shadows crossed the tall man’s face. “There’s no guarantee it would work. It worked with my wife, but…”
His wife? He was married? Why hadn’t Lani mentioned that? Maybe he fooled around on the side. She dropped his arm like it was on fire. “Well, I’m not your wife.”
“No, you’re not,” he said, a strange note in his voice. Was it sadness?
“The smoking is no big deal. It’s not a great habit to have formed, but I can deal with it.”
Sighing, he put his hand on her shoulder and guided her away from the doorway and out of the path of people coming and going to the restaurant. “I don’t like it. It’s not good for you.”
“It’s also not your business.”
“I would like to know what your idea was, though.”
“It’s a pretty old-fashioned method for aversion conditioning. You do the unwanted behavior, and then you get something negative in response.”
“Oh. Like an electric shock or something.”
“Or something, yes.”
“I don’t want electric shocks.”
“I’m afraid my methods are somewhat more primitive.”
“Will you spit it out? I’m on a merry-go-round here!”
His frown returned, the shadows making it somewhat saturnine. “I could spank you.”
“S…spank me? What kind of crazy-ass thing is that?”
Hal turned away and began moving across the lot toward a sporty BMW. “I told you it wasn’t a great idea. You’d have to trust me. I’d have to trust you. It’s not something I’m ready for.”
Kathy definitely didn’t want to be spanked, no matter how much the idea of being free from cigarettes appealed to her. Her bottom fairly tingled under her dress, though. It made her think of those old romance novels she snuck into her bedroom at home when she was a girl. The heroines in them were always getting spanked. In a weird way, it kind of turned her on. But that was her secret. It was not something she could do in reality, though this professor was apparently into it.
Maybe he was some sort of pervert, sneaking around on his wife, having kinky sex with the coeds. Or maybe not. He’d said it “worked for his wife.” Past tense. What did that mean?
It was possible that there was something to his spanking idea. It worked for romance heroines, after all. But it wasn’t okay. Not really. Guilt over the hurt to his wife nagged at her harshly. How would she feel if her husband behaved this way? She should push him away, and that’s what she intended to do. However, a new question came to her. She hurried behind him and touched his arm again as he reached for the door of his car. “Why don’t you trust me? What does trust have to do with it?”
The professor put his hand on hers. It was warm and firm. He gave her hand a little squeeze, before letting go and reaching over to slide his fingertips over her cheek. Kathy had the strongest urge to turn her cheek into his palm, but she resisted. “You remind me of her.” He stopped abruptly and pulled his hand away as though stung.
“Your wife again?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
It mattered to Kathy—very much. She wanted to know him better, almost no matter what. There was something sad about him, something vulnerable that made him ultra-appealing. He needed a hug. Of course, that would be inappropriate. Maybe if they were alone, but not in a parking lot in public. Kathy had never been so torn before. Should she, or shouldn’t she press? It was only a spanking, and although that was kind of sexy, it wasn’t sex per se. If Kathy kept it impersonal, a method rather than a step toward something else, that would be okay.
“I do trust you,” she said before thinking further. What made her say that? She could have bitten her tongue. Did she truly trust him? Kathy tried to remind herself that he was probably a philanderer. She’d surely burn in hell if she committed adultery. The potential consequences weren’t working to make him less appealing, though.
He gave her a steady look. “Why would you trust me? We only met today.”
Face growing hot, Kathy looked down at her feet. “I know. I…I don’t know why I trust you. I just do.” It wasn’t cheating on his wife if it was only a spanking, right? He hadn’t mentioned sex at all. Why was she thinking about sex, anyway? That was just stupid.
“I’m flattered.” Hal reached out and tilted her chin up. There was no choice but to look into his face. “I should spank you for trusting a stranger.”
Gaze searching his face, Kathy thought she saw a small smile turning up the corners of his mouth. She started breathing again. “You’re not a stranger. Not exactly.”
His fingers lingered on her chin for a moment and his voice was soft, intimate as he spoke. “You really want to stop smoking? You really want my help?”
Could she do it? Getting rid of the smoking habit would be so freeing. Like he said, he was a stranger, but it felt less and less like she’d only met him that day. And, there was not inconsiderable appeal to spending that much more time with Professor Emory. Plus, getting spanked wasn’t like a date or anything. “Yes,” she whispered, closing her eyes.
“Look at me.”
Slowly, Kathy opened her eyes again. Hal was watching her, a serious expression on his face. He nodded slightly, apparently making up his mind. “Okay. We’ll go to my office. It’s on campus and you’ll probably feel safer there.”
“You’re not going to hurt me, right?”
“I won’t harm you, but, yes, it’ll hurt. How will aversion make a difference if it isn’t unpleasant?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Her bottom tingled again. Was it a good tingle or a bad one? Kathy couldn’t quite tease the difference out.
“Get in my car. I’ll bring you back here to your moped after we’re done.”
Both dreading and anticipating eagerly her session with Hal, Kathy slid into his sports car and buckled up.
The campus was about five minutes away, and their walk to his office took another five minutes. By the time they got there, Kathy’s nerves were stretched tight as a drumhead.
There was a little click as the door closed behind them, leaving them standing in his quiet office alone. A window near his broad desk was dark; the sun had set completely. Stacks of leather-bound books were piled up in the corners of the room and on his desk. Papers were neatly piled, straight, and tidy. He had tall bookcases, filled to overflowing with books, and a small bookcase where there were a few bottles of water and a coffeemaker. A battered saxophone rested in a stand in a shadowed corner.
Hal drew up a leather-upholstered chair. “Have a seat.”