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Parking his ass, he steepled his fingers and watched her.

’Cuz that’s what bodyguards did, right?

But he also kept an eye on everything else, too. Without moving his head, he constantly scanned where they were, tracking the movements of the few-and-far-between students who wandered around like zombies, all hollow-eyed and worn out. A skeleton crew of staff were on duty, too, and he ID’d them based on their age demographic and the fact that they didn’t look like they’d been living off of coffee and vending-machine dinners.

The library was so quiet that even though Troy and Elise spoke softly, he heard their convo just fine. Lot of discussion about passages in the final papers. Debates about certain students’ trajectories at the university. Questions about whether something had been plagiarized or properly cited.

Whatever that meant.

Man, Elise was so smart, he was intimidated. She threw around terms he didn’t recognize the way a pro tennis player covered a Grand Slam volley. And then it came to her desertion … distillation … dissertation?—and everything was ratcheted up even higher on the IQ scale.

Her thesaurus … theory? … thesis? … was about bipolar treatment in adolescents and whether or not kids could appropriately be diagnosed with the mental disorder during puberty. Whatever that was. And how they should be treated, both pharmacologically speaking, and in terms of talk and art therapy.

Big stuff, and Troy was clearly impressed.

When Axe checked his watch a little later, he was surprised to find that three hours had passed and the pair of them were starting to pack up. Axe got to his feet and stretched, but kept his distance because he wanted to show her that he wasn’t a wild animal—and it wasn’t like he couldn’t hear what they were saying, anyway.

And yup, he knew Troy was getting ready for some kind of ask because the guy started looking over at Axe, his eyes jumping around like he was a kid about to put his hand in the cookie jar.

Axe glanced at Elise. The female had looked over in his direction a number of times, and he had to admit, he enjoyed the attention. At the start of the night, it had clearly been because she was wondering whether he was going to fuck off the new-leaf routine and pounce on her little human buddy—but later, he got the impression it was something else entirely.

Which again, made him warm up even more to good ol’ Troy.

When there was an awkward pause, Axe smiled at them both. “Anything you want to say to her can be said in front of me. I’ll take it to my grave.”

Elise had to give Axe credit. He’d not only backed off, he’d functioned with perfect professionalism, staying out of the way, but keeping close enough so that if anyone approached the table or tried to do something, he could respond in an instant.

It gave her a lot of hope.

What was difficult? Hell, nearly impossible?

The feel of those eyes of his on her. For some reason, his yellow stare made her feel more alive, her skin prickling with sensation even though he wasn’t touching her, the urge to check and see if he was still looking at her a constant, underground buzz in her head.

“So …” Troy glanced back at Axe. “Ah …”

Of course, Axe telling the man he was free to speak had helped override the awkward sooooooo much.

Not.

“Yes?” she prompted Troy. “I mean, if this is about Christmas, I told you, I’m totally fine to work. We’ll just have to meet somewhere else.”

“Um, yeah.” Another glance at Axe—who was standing right there, a little smile on his face like he was enjoying how antsy Troy was. “I think we’re done with the finals, though. And your dissertation is about ready.”

“I’m feeling good about it.”

Troy cleared his throat. “Are you prepared to help me with my winter-break seminar, still?”

“Absolutely. You want to plan that out tomorrow? When do the classes start?”

“Ah …” The human took out his cell phone and fiddled with it. “January third. I have thirty students signed up, almost all non-trad professionals in the field.”

“Great. I can’t wait.”

As she zipped shut her backpack, he blurted, “How’d you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night.”

Elise jerked her head up. Blinked. Tried to process the invitation.

Which was nuts. She’d been well aware of where things were headed the night before. Funny, though, meeting Axe had changed so much. Too much.

And she refused to look in the male’s direction.

Then again, she didn’t need actual eye contact to get a load of the arrogant pleasure on his face: He was assuming she was going to turn Troy down, and he was going to be happy about it.

You better slow your roll, buddy, she thought with uncharacteristic rancor.

“I’d like that, Troy.” She formed a smile with her lips. “That would be great. But it needs to be after eight? Is that too late?”

The fact that Axe bug-eyed gave her a gotcha in the center of her chest. Not that she was proud of it.

God, what was she doing here?

“That’s perfect.” Troy grinned in a way that made his eyes glimmer. “Would you like me to pick you up?”

“Ah … it’s probably best for me to meet you. Where were you thinking?”

As they discussed alternatives—seafood was out for her, he liked Thai, she preferred Chinese, how about that Brazilian steakhouse, Ignacio’s, fantastic-it’s-a-date—she kept her peripheral vision on Axe.

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