When choosing the perfect panties for a seduction, one couldn’t be too selective. Careful consideration had to be given to the cut, the style, and, most importantly, the almighty color. Honey Perribow rifled through her underwear drawer from her position on the rug, picking up and discarding undies with the efficiency required of premed students the world over. Red silk was a little too on the nose. It didn’t give the guy any credit. Blue? Hinted at mood swings. Yellow with a strawberry pattern…what am I, five?
There was no help for her. She had to call in the big guns. “Roxy!”
Her roommate of one month propped a hip on the inside of Honey’s door a moment later, biting into a piece of toast. “Did you lose your indoor voice in that pile of underpants?”
“What color would you wear if you wanted to seduce your English teacher?”
The toast paused halfway to Roxy’s mouth. “Aw, shit. Today is the day?”
Honey took a deep breath and nodded. “I’ve finally worked up the nerve. No more hiding under my hoodie in the back row. Professor Dawson is going down to Honey town.”
“How long have you been waiting to say that?”
“A while. How was my delivery?”
“Not too shabby.” Roxy shoved the remainder of the toast in her mouth and plopped down onto the floor, cross-legged, eyeballing the mountain of panties. In the month since they’d become roommates in one of the oddest interview processes of all time, they’d formed a friendship that sometimes seemed as if they were feeling their way in the dark. Honey could still sense some hesitancy on Roxy’s part to open up completely, but Roxy’s new boyfriend, Louis, seemed to be unlocking a new part of her. Considering Roxy had hidden out in her room at the outset, commiserating over panties was a vast improvement. “All right. So, we know he’s studious. He teaches Intro to Literary Theory. How does he dress?”
Honey hid her swoon by turning and pressing her face into the rug. “He has this tweed jacket. It’s like a greenish-brown, which should be ugly, but it looks so dang amazing on him. If I got up close, I bet it would smell like honest-to-goodness man mixed up with old book leather. He keeps candy in the pockets, too. I can’t tell from the back of the room which kind of candy he always pops into his mouth, but if I had to guess, I’d say butterscotch. So the jacket might have a hint of butterscotch smell going on, too.”
“Are you telling me tweed inspired all that?”
“It’s crazy, right? I know it. I can hear myself.” Honey rolled back over and stared up at the ceiling. In the few weeks since she’d started courses at Columbia University, Professor Dawson had wiggled his way under her skin like a splinter from a yellow poplar tree. No one back home in Bloomfield, Kentucky, would ever have accused her of being shy. In fact, they would have laughed over the very suggestion. She’d won first prize two years in a row for mud wrestling a pig at the county fair, after all. Shyness and pig wrestling simply didn’t add up. But the day she’d walked into the lecture hall, a mixture of confidence and nerves, and seen Professor Dawson, quietly gorgeous, in his tweed jacket and black-rimmed glasses,, she’d slunk into the back row like a scolded basset hound.
Then. Then he’d spoken. Good Lord, she still remembered the shift of energy in the room. Each and every female student had leaned forward and propped their chin on their hands. Spellbound. There was no other word for it. His voice filled the room like sexy fog, rich and nuanced. It held a subtle hint of New England, not an all-out Boston accent, but occasionally he would drop an R in a way that made her shiver. It wasn’t just the sound of his voice, either. His passion about the subject material came across in every word, every endearing head scratch or thoughtful chin rub. She’d been more of a science girl in high school. Give her physics or chemistry any day of the week, but English had become her favorite subject with enough speed to inflict whiplash.
Since she’d been bitten by the shyness bug, talking to the object of her nightly fantasies directly hadn’t been an option. Yet. Oh, and there was that teensy little issue of college professors not being allowed to fraternize with students. But she’d cross that rickety bridge when she came to it.
All her life, she’d lived in a small town where the most exciting thing to happen was a fistfight between two grannies at the Dairy Queen. She’d purposely applied for universities with strong premed programs in New York City because she wanted, needed, excitement. Needed to take life by the short and curlies and tell it who was boss. She loved her parents and her hometown dearly, but she wanted more. Starting small wasn’t an option, either. She wanted to start with something so far outside her wheelhouse she needed binoculars to see it. This was her life, and it was time to live it.
Starting today, she would seduce Professor Dawson. Just the thought of it raised goose bumps all over her arms. From the back of the room, he looked like a movie star. Something she watched on a screen from a safe distance. What would he be like up close?
“If you rub your thighs together any harder,” Roxy broke into her thoughts, “this pile of panties is going to turn into a bonfire.”
“Sorry.” Honey pushed some unbrushed blond hair out of her face. “Let’s focus on the matter at hand.”
Abby, their third roommate, breezed into the room. “What are we focusing on?”
“I was focusing. She was fantasizing about tweed.”
“Tweed is still in style, but elbow patches are out,” Abby stated offhandedly, taking a spot on the floor. Of the three of them, Abby was the one gainfully employed in a corporate gig downtown, which explained her tailored black pantsuit at eight in the morning while Honey and Roxy, an aspiring actress, were still in pajamas. “What’s with the panty mountain?”
“I’m beginning the seduction process this morning.”
Roxy rolled her eyes. “Try not to make it sound so sexy, Perribow.”
Honey threw a pair of plaid panties at Roxy. “I’m not you. I can’t just flash a little leg and leave a trail of man-drool in my path.”
“Have you tried?” Roxy asked, looking smug when Honey stumbled over a reply. “Look, you’re not going to flash him your panties in class. That’s not your style. Worry about the top layer first, drag him back to your cave later. Worry about the panties then.”
“I agree.” Abby nodded. “This is premature panty picking.”
“Of course I’m not going to flash him.” Honey shrugged. “I was thinking it might boost my confidence a little if I had something sexy underneath my jeans. Might give me an extra boost so I won’t chicken out.”
Abby gave her a warm, encouraging look. She fished through the pile with one manicured hand and picked out a silky, mint-green thong with lace detail. Still with the tags on. “Wear these. They’re unique and subtly brilliant, just like you. You won’t chicken out.”
“And you’re not wearing jeans,” Roxy added, standing and dragging Honey to her feet. “To my closet, Batgirl. Where you will behold the wonder of humankind’s finest invention.”
Honey shot a nervous look over her shoulder toward an amused Abby. The brunette practically skipped along behind them down the hallway. “What would that invention be?”
“The strapless maxi dress,” Roxy breathed.
Ben Dawson gathered up the papers he’d spent his lunch break grading and tucked them neatly into his leather satchel. A quick check of his wristwatch told him he had seven minutes until his next class started. Since it took exactly three minutes to walk to the lecture hall from the teacher’s break room, he should probably get moving. As far as arriving at class went, there was a sweet spot three minutes before class began that allowed him enough time to gather his thoughts and arrange his lesson plan on the podium, but didn’t leave enough time for the students to engage him in conversation.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like conversation. He just liked to keep his social life and his professional life completely separate. He called it his laundry theory. Talking to students about their weekend plans or the shitty coffee in the cafeteria was the equivalent of throwing a red sock in with a load of whites. It just wasn’t done.
He snapped his bag closed with a definitive click and took a deep breath before leaving the break room. Yes. Separation of his social and professional life was key. The minimal age difference between him and the college sophomores he taught sometimes gave them the false impression that they were his peers. Being a professor at the age of twenty-five made him seem accessible, when, in fact, he wasn’t. He came to class, he lectured, and he went home. If he wanted to grab a beer and talk baseball, he did it with his buddies, Louis and Russell. Not students. Never, ever, students.
Ben taught English because from the moment he’d cracked his first book, words had hummed in his blood. They were something he breathed and slept and lived for. If his students left with an impression of anything, he wanted it to be his lectures, the contents of the assigned reading. Their opinion of him as a person couldn’t be allowed to enter the mix, or it took away from their experience. Conversely, he didn’t form opinions of them. Ever.
Which is why he shouldn’t have read Honey Perribow’s latest essay seven times. Seven.
He didn’t know which of his students happened to be the insightful Ms. Perribow. They were just a sea of faces, none of which he focused on for more than a few seconds now and again. He wouldn’t find out, either. Didn’t want to know what she looked like, because it didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter.
His reading assignment of The Things They Carried and subsequent essay had been met with the usual moans and gripes. Honestly. The book was a work of art. But his students’ lack of enthusiasm for anything other than a rooftop kegger had carried over into their lackluster essays. Then he’d read Ms. Perribow’s paper and he’d actually spilled his coffee in his haste to turn the pages. Instead of listing the items men carried into war, as was done in the book, she’d written a clever modern spin about what college students carry to class. What they’d chosen to bring from home. What they kept in their book bags and dorm rooms. It was obvious from her nods to the book that she’d not only read it but enjoyed it, too. She’d made him laugh. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard the sound coming from his own mouth.
Ben banished that depressing thought as he entered the lecture hall, where students were flopping down into their seats, clicking pens, finishing up their oh-so-urgent text message conversations. He hooked a thumb into the strap of his bag and lifted it over his head, placing it carefully on the podium. Don’t look up. Don’t try and figure out which one she is. It’s irrelevant.
The problem was, he kind of felt like he knew her after reading the essay. Her voice had drawn him in and locked him up inside of it. More, he felt like she’d been talking directly to him. That simply wouldn’t do.
The big hand on his wristwatch landed on one o’clock. He made sure the edges of his lesson plan were perfectly lined up with the podium and looked up at the class to begin.
Front row. Who was that blonde in the front row? He might not pay any attention to what his students looked like, but Ben was certain he would have remembered her. Yes, he definitely would have remembered a petite little goddess with big golden eyes and shoulders made to be gripped. Oh fuck, where had that thought come from? Stop looking. Stop looking. But he couldn’t, because her lips parted just slightly, as if she was surprised to find him staring at her. Who wouldn’t stare at her? Okay, as long as he didn’t look any lower than her face—
He looked. There was no stopping his gaze from dipping down to her cleavage. Not enough to be classified as provocative, but enough to be sexy in an I-don’t-even-have-to-try kind of way. Thank God her legs were covered. He wished her legs weren’t covered. What was happening here?
When every head in the class came up, Ben realized he’d said the single, horrifying word out loud.
A male student wearing a Rangers hat spoke up. “Lolita?”
This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. His neck had grown so hot that he swore it was on fire. Kind of like the rest of him. Thank God he was standing behind the podium, because his dick was hard enough to give someone in the front row a black eye. What was wrong with him? He was acting like he’d never seen a beautiful girl before. This city was packed full of them, just walking around looking like they’d stepped out of a glossy magazine, but this one. Oh, this one. Something about her made him ache everywhere. Innocent looking with a hint of excitement in her eyes, like maybe he was making her just as hot. But that couldn’t be right, because he was wearing the ugliest thrift shop tweed jacket he’d been able to find just to make himself the opposite of hot. Unappealing. Unapproachable. Just their professor.
This—all of this, including his hard-on—had to be dealt with later, though, because his students were still looking at him like he’d sprouted a third eye. Think fast, Ben.
“I, uh…” He started to adjust his glasses, but he forced his hand to lay flat on the podium. “I’ve decided to give extra credit for a paper on Lolita. The book, not the movie. Although, if you ever want to watch the movie, I’d recommend the Kubrick version. Not the one with Jeremy Irons.” Oh my God. This is such a massive fail. “Um. Okay, so. Three-thousand-word minimum. Due this time next week. Let’s talk about The Things They Carried.”
“I’d rather talk about Lolita,” baseball cap said, earning a few laughs.
This is what happens. One crack in his armor and suddenly they’re making jokes in his joke-free environment. He tried not to look at the blonde in the front row and failed miserably. When he saw her frown over baseball hat’s comment, he found himself frowning at her. He didn’t like how good it felt to have her on his side. They weren’t on the same side. Teacher. Student. That’s it. That’s how it would stay.
Ben spent the next hour reading passages from the book and giving several different interpretations of what the author wanted the reader to glean about each fictional character based on the items they carried into war. Every once in a while, his gaze would stray to the blonde, and he’d find her watching him steadily from underneath her long eyelashes. Like clockwork, every ten minutes, she would switch the leg she had crossed. Right, left, right, left. Her toes were unpainted. He liked that. Stop looking. Stop.
At two o’clock on the nose, he dismissed the class with the promise to return their graded papers next time. As the students filed out of the class, he briefly wondered which one was Honey, but the blond Lolita captured his attention. She wasn’t leaving like the rest of them. Why wasn’t she leaving? He needed her to leave. His mouth went dry when he realized they were the only two people left in the room. They stared at each other, him behind the podium, her still seated. His cock strained harder and more insistently behind his fly the longer he kept his attention on her, but he couldn’t look away. He should say something, otherwise it would be weird. She’d know how much she affected him. But he didn’t. He could only stare back as she rose to her feet and sauntered toward him, her breasts swaying underneath the dress. No bra. Red. Alert. She’s not wearing a bra. I’m screwed.
She shook her long hair back over her shoulders and he groaned. He fucking groaned, right out loud. Amusement lit her eyes. Satisfaction. None of the pretense employed by females her age. Only confidence that her girl-next-door looks were hooking him like a half-witted sea bass. And they had. There was more, however. She looked at him as if they already knew each other on some level and this face-to-face meeting was long overdue. Which is exactly how he felt. Jesus. He’d never wanted to fuck a girl so badly in his entire life, and it was wrong on so many levels. So many. It broke every rule. The school’s rules. More importantly, his own rules. He knew too well what happened when a man gave in to temptation. Knew what the consequences could be. He’d seen it. He’d lived it.
Her tongue came out to wet her lips, and he watched it happen in slow motion. Felt the muscles in his abdomen tighten at the image of her mouth skating down, down, to deal with the turmoil in his pants. She stopped right at the front of the podium and traced a finger over his lesson plans. No one had ever touched his lesson plans before, and it felt intimate. Maybe more intimate than a kiss for someone like him. She opened her mouth to speak—
The familiar voice broke through his red haze of lust. His colleague, Peter, stood at the entrance, eyeing him strangely. Why? Oh, probably because he was sweating and staring at a student like he wanted to eat her for lunch. Eat her…fuck. What color panties was she wearing? He’d give anything to know.
“Hey, Ben,” Peter said with a little more oomph. “We’ve got that faculty meeting.”
The blonde, looking more than a little disappointed with their audience, gave him a small smile and walked away. Just like that. She’d aroused him out of his mind, made him question his strict rules, then walked away so casually she might be headed to a beach party. When she passed Peter in the doorway, the fellow teacher looked at her speculatively, and something ugly reared its head inside of Ben. Don’t look at her. Don’t you fucking look at her, he wanted to shout.
Jesus, man. Reel it back. Repeating those words on a loop, he gathered his things quickly and joined Peter at the door. At least he had his body under control now. The icing on this cake of a day would be explaining his peter to Peter.
“What was that about?” his often nosy colleague asked him. “That looked…bad.”
Ben scratched his chin. “No idea what you mean. It was nothing.”
“It didn’t look like nothing.” Peter bumped him with his shoulder, and Ben gave him a dark look. He found Peter irritating on a regular basis, but something about him discussing the blonde in any capacity was making him twice as unbearable. They were both new to the faculty, though, and taught the same course. They were required to share notes and compare lesson plans, which put them in one another’s company pretty frequently. “Listen, we have to be careful. We don’t have tenure yet. One wrong move—”
“Stop. I don’t know what you think you saw, but you need to drop it.”
Peter held up his hands. “Just looking out for you.”
Ben stayed silent the rest of the walk to the meeting. He thought of the blonde the entire way.