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Professor: K

K? That’s it? That’s all the reassurance he has for me? K? Men are stupid. They take everything so literally.

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It’s only been a few months since Jenna died. I’ve mastered the “I’m good” on the outside, but having a miniature reminder of her makes healing on the inside nearly impossible. My sexual urges are rare and easily handled in the shower once or twice a week. The last time being the night after I thought about Daisy touching me after my uncle’s funeral.

Until … Swayze sent the text this morning. An accident? Yes. I knew it the second it popped up on my screen. I should have been able to laugh it off, and I tried. But then I thought about it all the damn day.

I considered walking across campus to talk to Professor Albright about it since she knows the Swayze/Daisy connection. Then I really thought about telling an eighty-four-year-old woman about my inappropriate thoughts toward a twenty-one-year-old girl, and I decided to make an emergency appointment with Dr. Greyson instead.

I skip the reincarnation part. Maybe Swayze has already told him, but there’s no way he would tell me that. I hope he does know about it because I think it gives merit to why I might have these thoughts about Swayze after her text. At least, that’s what I tell myself to keep from feeling like a terrible father, terrible husband, and terrible boss.

“Nathaniel, what you’re feeling is normal. The desire. The guilt. The conflict. There’s no right or wrong timeline when it comes to grieving the loss of a spouse. Your thoughts about this young woman don’t diminish the love you had with Jenna. Happily married people have thoughts about people who are not their spouse. Thinking something and acting on it are two different things.”

“What do I say to her when I get home?”

“From what you’ve told me about her texting you back, I think less is best. If it’s awkward, just reassure her you know it was an embarrassing mistake and there’s no need to discuss it beyond that.”

“And how do I stop thinking about it?”

Dr. Greyson chuckles. I appreciate the rare occasions when he lets his professionalism slip a bit. Sometimes I need an unbiased guy’s advice more than I need to be analyzed and have every emotion redirected back at me in the form of another question.

“I can give you some exercises to focus on other things. Visualization tools for when you want to think about something else. Not a fix. Time might be the only true fix. Maybe you’ll find someone else to fill those kinds of thoughts.”

“When I want to think about something else? Are you implying there will be times that I don’t want to think about something else?”

Dr. Greyson steeples his fingers at his chin. “Again, they are thoughts. Unless you get the impulse to act on them or they keep you from doing your job or attending to your daughter, I don’t see any reason to berate yourself if your mind occasionally goes there.”

I sigh. “Are you giving me an out to ‘be a man?’”

“I’m giving you an out to be human.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Are you attracted to her?”

I shrug. “She’s attractive … and young.”

“And your employee.”

“Yes.”

“Think of her as a student. I’m sure you have plenty of attractive students every year.”

I nod slowly. But none of my students are Daisy. I don’t know how I would have reacted to the text if Swayze were just a nanny I’d known for a couple of months.

Feeling a little less guilty, I make my way home. I don’t know how I’m going to ease Swayze’s mind when I can’t ease my own. “Hey, I know you’re really embarrassed and I’m horny as fuck, but let’s just forget it ever happened.” Yeah, that’ll work.

I ease open the door and muster some confidence as I walk into the great room. “Hi.”

“Hey,” Swayze says with her back to me as she washes up the bottles at the kitchen sink while Morgan swings.

“Did you two have a good day?”

“Yeah.” Her answer comes out like a squeak, but she still doesn’t look at me.

“I’ll wash the rest of those so you can head home. I’m sure you have stuff to…” I can’t back up the train “…do,” I whisper the final word. She has a boyfriend waiting for her to wrap her lips around his cock. Why didn’t I simply tell her thanks and that I’d see her tomorrow?

“Okay, thanks.” She wipes her hands and takes the long way around the kitchen island to avoid passing by me. “Bye, sweetie.” After pressing a kiss to the top of Morgan’s head, Swayze grabs her bag and speed walks to the front door. “Goodnight.”

I should let her go. Lord knows I’m just as embarrassed as her, but I can’t. We’re both adults. I’m the older adult. The boss. It’s up to me to make this right.

“Wait.”

She stops at the door. Her shoulders deflate. “Uh, yeah?”

“Turn around.”

She doesn’t.

“Swayze, look at me.”

Like tightening a screw that’s already tight, she turns a tiny fraction at a time.

“Look. At. Me.”

Just as slowly, she brings her eyes to meet my gaze. Her face wrinkles like looking at me causes her physical pain.

I remind myself that I am fifteen years older. I have a doctorate degree. I have weathered the loss of people that I love. I have survived brutal fistfights, broken bones, hockey stick jabs to my ribs, and pucks to my face. I have reprimanded students for cheating on tests and plagiarizing reports. I can handle a text.

“It was a mistake. I’m not upset. You are a grown woman. I need you to be the responsible adult who takes care of Morgan while I’m at work, and you can’t do your job if you’re focused on something as trivial as a text sent to the wrong person. You have to pretend it didn’t happen. Okay?”

She nods, but her grimace stays cemented to her face. “It’s just … I don’t want you to think that I’m …” Her brow draws even tighter as she seems to look for the right word.

“I think you’re great with Morgan. Clearly I’m intrigued by your knowledge of my past. I enjoy your company when we find time to talk. But what you do when you’re not here is not my business or my concern.”

“Thank you.” She blinks and averts her eyes to the floor.

I don’t push her any further. If she asked me what I thought when she sent the text, I too would focus on anything in the room but her.

“You’re welcome. Drive safely. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Emotionally drained from the past week, I drag my tired ass to the door of my apartment building as thunder echoes in the distance.

“After you, lovely.”

I cringe at the creepy, gravelly voice of Doug “Dougly” Mann, Erica’s strange neighbor who entertains a slew of women. He has to be paying them. It’s the only explanation.

“Thanks.” I give him a quick glance as I step into the building while he holds the door for me. It’s the first time I’ve seen him up close, but even now, sunglasses cover part of his face and a gray fedora hides his clown orange hair.

“Everything okay?” he asks as I stop to stare at his face for a brief second.

I never noticed the raised, pearly scar stretching from the right corner of his mouth to the top of his cheekbone. It’s clearly an old scar, but it’s also familiar. I don’t want to feel an ounce of familiarity toward this cringe-worthy man, but I do.

“Cold?” He chuckles.

“What?” I duck my head and hustle the rest of the way inside the building.

“Your whole body just shook like you’re shivering.”

“Oh, did it?” I take the stairs two at a time hoping if I physically distance myself from him, the familiarity will fade as well.

“Would you like to come up to my place for a drink? Maybe something to warm you up.”

Skin-crawling.

Vomit-inducing.

Stranger-danger alert.

“Can’t.”

I fumble my keys to find the right one.

“Can’t?” He towers behind me.

I drop my keys. Before I can retrieve them, they’re in his hand, dangling in front of me.

“Or won’t?”

I should scream. But why? Because I’m scared. Again, why?

My eyes don’t move from the scar, even with my keys dangling in my peripheral vision. I know that scar. “How did you get that scar?” I mutter with what little air is left in my lungs.

Doug traces it slowly with his finger. “Just a misunderstanding. Why? Do you like it? I’ve got other scars if you’d like to see them.”

I shake my head, still mesmerized by the familiarity of that scar. Squinting, I try to see his eyes through his dark sunglasses, but I can’t.

“Sweetie? Is everything okay?”

My head snaps toward the stairs. “Mom.”

Doug steps back. “You dropped your keys, Miss.”

I snatch them and he pivots, climbing up the next flight of stairs.

“We’ll have that drink another time,” he says.

I watch him, feeling frozen in place and even more chilled than I was when he opened the door for me.

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