Authors: Bronwyn Green
Tags: #Romantic Suspense, #Thriller
Tessa smiled at her friend’s indignation. “It’s for the best—no sense of humor.”
“You should bring Zander,” Annie suggested.
“Still trying to get him to model for you?”
“Of course, I am.” Annie laughed. “What am I? Stupid? The guy is hot.”
Tessa couldn’t argue with her friend’s assessment. Zander was gorgeous, but it was more than that. For reasons she didn’t understand and had no intention of exploring, she’d been drawn to him from the first time they’d met. She’d known then acting on the attraction would be a mistake. When he’d moved into her apartment building two years ago, he’d just gotten out of a relationship. Tessa had no desire to be the rebound girl or to find a new apartment when the romance inevitably ended. Besides, she needed far more control in a relationship than someone like Zander would be willing to give.
Still, she couldn’t help the way she reacted to him. It was more than his flawless body and kissable mouth. His eyes called to her—deep, fern green and bright with laughter and intelligence. Given half a chance, he’d see right through her and find every secret she hid. He had a gaze she didn’t dare get lost in, but there was vulnerability, too. He didn’t reveal it often and never intentionally, but she sensed it all the same.
No, they were better off the way they were. Just friends. They had each other’s apartment keys for emergencies. He watered her plants when she was gone, and she fed his fish when he was on vacation. They did their laundry together on the weekends. They talked and occasionally watched ballgames together. They were friends—nothing more, nothing less. And that’s how it would stay.
“Tessa, are you still there?” Annie’s voice broke into her musings.
“Sorry. I spaced out for a minute.”
“Uh-huh.” Laughter tinged Annie’s voice then she sobered. “I wish you’d consider dating guys like Zander—you know, ones who actually interest you instead of terminally dull ones.”
“At least, I’m dating.”
“Ouch. How about if I give you directions to Professor Greer’s office before this conversation turns into an in-depth therapy session on our inner fears about finding Mr. Right?”
Tessa laughed. “I like the way you think. I know I’m not up for that particular mental journey today.” Especially since the showing would likely bring back unpleasant memories of the one and only time she’d
she’d found Mr. Right.
“You’re awfully quiet,” Annie said. “And it’s not in a good, fantasizing-about-your-neighbor kind of way. Do you want me to pull your pictures from the show?”
Doodling absently on the paper on which she’d written the directions, Tessa marveled at the connection she shared with her two best friends. Annie and Cat always seemed to know what she was thinking, just as she knew their thoughts. They’d been through a lot together. Intense, emotional turmoil either tore people apart or bound them closer than most families. They’d grown closer.
“No. I’d rather they stay where they are.” Many of Annie’s portraits were nudes, and several of them featured Tessa. Posing for those photos had played an important role in her healing process during the years following the assault and its aftermath. Her body image had been completely skewed, and Annie’s offer had been effective therapy. She’d always be grateful to her friend for giving her that opportunity. Besides, Tessa was sure she wouldn’t be recognized, since her face wasn’t visible in any of the poses Annie had chosen.
“You were thinking about
, weren’t you?” Annie asked gently.
“Yeah. Sometimes, memories rear their ugly heads when I least expect it.”
“I’m sorry if I said something to trigger it.”
Tessa shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. It’s part of the territory.” She cleared her throat. “I should get moving if I’m going to make it to Holbrook then back to work on time.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about anything?”
“Nope. I’m good. Really. I’ll see you tonight, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks, sweetie. I really appreciate your help.”
Tessa hung up the phone and signed herself out of the building. Glancing out the front door, she noticed another envelope pinned to her windshield by the wiper blade. The worry she’d forced away earlier bubbled to the surface. She had to dry her suddenly damp hands on her skirt before she could turn the door handle.
She scanned the neighborhood around the shelter. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. No suspicious strangers skulked about. The usual array of litter blew down the street and chased after the homeless.
Her attention returned to the envelope. She carefully removed the packet and got into her gray Saturn. Realizing that someone might be watching her, she feigned indifference and followed Annie’s directions to the Holbrook campus. Once there, she pulled into a parking space and opened the package.
Wear this tonight, and think of me.
Her stomach leapt into her throat as she peered inside the envelope and removed a wide, white satin ribbon. It smelled faintly of cigarette smoke and expensive cologne. She shoved the slippery fabric back inside and fought to keep her hands from trembling.
Previously, she’d received letters only in the shelter’s mail. Whoever had given her the gift had watched her closely enough to know her car. And worse, the shelter’s pathetically out of date surveillance system focused on the front and back doors to the building. Her car would have been out of the camera’s range.
Her stomach twisted in a painful knot. Did he know where she lived, too? How many times had she walked by this person? Was it someone she knew?
Swallowing the metallic taste of fear, she shoved the parcel in her bag. She refused to show the anxiety that pounded inside her chest. If he watched her now, he wouldn’t get any satisfaction from her rattled emotional state.
Tessa locked the car door and scrutinized the area. Young, twenty-something students milled around the buildings, taking advantage of the nice weather. It looked like any other college campus in Michigan at the beginning of fall term. No maniacal stalkers were evident. But in her experience, people were rarely what they appeared to be. She’d learned that the hard way.
Hopefully, she could get her errand done quickly and leave. The unsettling messages troubled her, and being on a college campus at this time of year only made it worse. Pushing away the ugly memories, she focused instead on the directions to Watterson Hall. She found the squat, limestone building right where Annie had said she would. Professor Greer’s office was supposed to be right around the corner from the entrance.
Tessa welcomed the noise of students between classes as she walked through the front doors. The sounds of laughter and half-heard conversations helped chase away any lingering apprehension.
Avoiding a rush of people, she turned left and scanned the room numbers of the offices. Seven female co-eds leaned against the wall outside the door she needed. They must have recently doused themselves in their favorite perfumes. The hallway smelled like a department store fragrance counter.
“Are you all waiting for Professor Greer?” Tessa asked.
“As if,” a could-be cover model answered. “We’re here for Dr. York.”
Zander? Couldn’t be.
“They share an office,” the girl volunteered sullenly.
A rich, velvety voice drew her focus from the pretty brat. Zander, gorgeous Zander, stood in the doorway and tried to disengage himself from the grip of another young woman. His, chestnut hair flopped across his forehead, and he wore the green sweater she’d given him for Christmas last year. It matched his eyes almost perfectly. With his broad shoulders and easy grace, he was perfection in a package, as far as Tessa was concerned. Except for the fact he was completely wrong for her.
“Please, Dr. York,” the girl breathed. “Isn’t there
I could do for extra credit? Anything at all?”
Oh give me a break.
“I don’t give extra credit, Tracy,” he explained as if he’d said it far too many times already.
Plainly irritated, the girl cleared her throat.
“Lacy,” he corrected himself. “But you can reread chapters seven through ten. That should help your grade on the next exam.”
Lacy flounced away in a cloud of expensive perfume, giving Tessa the once over as she passed. In her conservative linen sheath, Tessa got the distinct impression she’d been found lacking.
Zander sighed and looked at his clipboard. “Okay, who’s next?”
The cover-girl pushed by Tessa, looking as if she were about to press her chest against Zander as she entered his office. He stepped away from her and glanced up.
“Tessa?” A grin slid over his face and brightened his features. He took her hand. The combined warmth of his smile and his skin rocketed through her as he drew her inside his office and shut the door. He nodded to the girl waiting at the empty desk. “Courtney, I need to have a word with my colleague. I’ll continue office hours in a few minutes.”
Courtney glared at Tessa as she exited, leaving the door ajar. Zander pushed it closed, and Tessa bit back a smile.
“Your fan club is going to be angry that you gave me cuts.”
“See? I’m not crazy,” a heavily accented voice behind her said. He sounded as though he were Irish or perhaps Scottish. Something sort of British. She turned as a darkly attractive man rose from his seat behind another desk.
“He actually thinks those girls flock outside during office hours for help with their class work,” the man continued.
Tessa laughed. “You must be Professor Greer.”
“Which would make you Tessa. Please call me Aidan. Annie rang me a bit ago and said you’d be stopping by in lieu of Cat.”
“You’re here to see him?” Zander asked. Struggling to mask his annoyance, he drank in the sight of her. She’d pulled her honey-blonde hair into a tight bun. He preferred the silky looking, shoulder-length strands loose and framing her face. Tilting her head, she studied him. Her blue eyes sparkled with amusement, and he wondered if his infatuation was obvious.
Smiling, she shrugged. “I had no idea you shared an office.”
The untouchable neighbor he’d fantasized about for longer than he cared to admit had finally walked into his office—to meet with his co-worker. Jealousy tasted bitter in his mouth.
Aidan looked meaningfully between them. “You know one another, I take it?”
“Zander’s a friend,” Tessa said.
“Lucky Zander,” his so-called-friend murmured.
Tessa smiled at Aidan, and Zander’s gut tightened. For the first time, he regretted agreeing to share office space with the other man. It wasn’t his problem the university had hired more adjunct professors than they had room for.
“What did you say you stopped by for?” he asked, hoping to draw her attention away from his friend. Aidan was a great guy and all, but he didn’t deserve Tessa.
Okay, Zander could admit it. He didn’t deserve Tessa either, but Aidan…? No way. There wasn’t a pedestal high enough for the angel next door. He and Aidan generally preferred the same type of date—wild, willing and with no interest in permanency. None of these classifications fit Tessa—which reminded him… He still needed to talk to her about the tenure situation. She turned her smile on him, and for a moment, he couldn’t think clearly.
“I’m picking up some pictures for Annie.”
He nodded, vaguely remembering the gallery showing. “What time does your library shift end?”
“Six o’clock. Why?”
“I need to talk to you. Can you come over when you get home?”
Concern dimmed her smile. “Is everything okay?” she asked, her voice lowered.
“Yeah but it’ll take longer to explain that either of us has time for, right now. I’ll make dinner,” he added.
“Okay. I’ll head over as soon as I get home.”
An impatient rap from the hallway rattled the door. She pressed her full lips together as if trying to stifle a laugh. “I’d better grab those prints and let you two get back to your office hours.”
Aidan pulled some large frames, cocooned in cardboard and bubble wrap, from behind his desk. “Can I carry these out to your car?”
She smiled at Aidan, and Zander wondered if she was as susceptible to that damned Welsh accent as nearly every other woman on the planet. He wasn’t about to lose precious time with Tessa simply because he had to compete with exotic pronunciation.
“I can do it,” he blurted.
Tessa took the package from Aidan’s hands and moved close enough for Zander to see the midnight-blue flecks in her irises.
“I’ve got it,” she said. “Besides, I think your fan club is planning a sorority-style lynching out there.” Her eyes shone with mirth. “I need to get out of here while I still can.”
She stepped forward as if to move past him. The spicy-sweet, floral scent of her perfume wrapped around him, and her teasing words wriggled under his skin. Vanilla, cloves and some flower he couldn’t place enticed him closer. Before he could think to stop it, he lifted his arm and circled her waist, halting her movement toward the door. Her eyes widened in surprise, and her lips parted on a breath.
His fingers convulsed briefly on her hip. What was he doing? Awareness bounded between them like ricocheting bullets. Her drowning gaze held him suspended, and he fought the insane urge to back her against the wall and kiss her.
“Shall I cancel the rest of your office hours, then?” Aidan asked, with poorly concealed amusement.
Zander relinquished his possessive grip and glared at his friend. With the spell broken, a flush bloomed across Tessa’s cheeks and she retreated. For a moment, he thought he’d seen something in her eyes. A smoldering heat. If it had been there, she’d smothered it before he could be sure.
“Bye. Thanks for the pictures. Nice to meet you, Professor Greer,” she stammered. “See you later, Zander.”
He watched as she walked out the door. Her steps slowed as she reached the hallway. She turned, confusion and embarrassment etched clearly in her face. He met her eyes over the heads of his students, and her expression changed. Smiling, she waved and headed toward the front door as if his behavioral aberration hadn’t occurred.