Reckless Kiss: Episode 18

Reckless Kiss: Episode 18

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Episode 18

The entire concept of promising each other six months was genius. Gold. Brilliance. Really, it was my finest decision after falling for Esme in the first place. It took pressure off us and we both just fell into a relationship that was easy and necessary. She essentially moved in with me as if it were the most natural thing in the world because, I quickly learned, Esme wasn’t like most women. At least the women I knew. She didn’t want to redecorate my house. All she really wanted was space for her pots and pans. The woman loved to cook.

After visiting her house I understood her a lot better. Esme was an academic through and through. Her house was neither messy nor bare. It was stuffed with bookshelves covered in books. Her coffee table littered with science journals (that were tagged and highlighted.) She essentially lived in an extension of her office at the university—except for the kitchen.

That room could have been lifted from the centerfold of a fancy home decorating magazine. Every appliance was top of the line and the layout was designed for ease of use. Don’t get me wrong; it was as beautiful as it was functional. If there was a room she spent time thinking about, it was this one.

So she packed a few bags and moved into my closet, brought her pots and pans, and planted (yes planted) an herb garden out back. We were officially an old married couple and all it took was a week.

And yet she still held so much of herself back. In many ways she remained a mystery to me . . . which was how I found myself standing outside the door to a lecture hall at four in the afternoon. Esme taught three courses and I’d learned that this one in particular was one of the most popular on campus. Students fought over seats in the class and there was always a waiting list at least a hundred students long.

At least that’s what Jeffry told me when I asked. At first I thought maybe it was because the teacher was pretty. I certainly took more than one class in college because I thought the professor was hot. But Jeffry laughed at me and told me to go listen.

He was right.

I was transfixed.

I almost wished I could enroll in her class and spend this hour with her three times a week. Yes, I was jealous of all three hundred people inside because they got to see this, be part of this experience.

She wore jeans to class. Jeans and science t-shirts with a black blazer or sweater, depending on the day. The first time I saw her leave for class she had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Then she explained that she reserved her dresses for when she was Esme. When she was Professor Brown she liked to be comfortable.

That’s exactly how she looked now, sitting on top of the desk at the bottom of the lecture hall, legs crossed beneath her as she grinned. There was a very lively debate taking place between two of her students about whether disease, war, or famine ultimately killed thousands.

“All right,” she laughed, holding up a hand to end the debate. “Let’s stop before there’s an actual war in the classroom.” There was lots of laughter as she hopped off the desk and began pacing. “The entire point of the exercise is to explore all the options without information bias. Of course we’re all still informed by our own experiences, shaped by our cultural norms. All of this will be evident next week when—”

The classroom erupted into cheers. I heard a few exclamations of finally and yes and oh my god!

“You didn’t let me finish,” she teased, waiting for everyone to settle down. She paused dramatically. “All of this will be evident next week when  . . . you are given your keys.”

There was a lot more cheering and applause. Students clapped each other on the back and high fived.

Whatever these keys were, they were excited.

“But before you get your key you’ll need to turn in the final draft of your projects. Once the TAs have verified your completed project they will allow you to enter the lecture hall. No one will be allowed inside until this is verified. Your keys will be sealed. Do not open them. Everyone will open them together on Monday.”

There was lots of murmuring and the energy of the room seemed to jump even higher. It was addictive to watch.

“See you all on Monday!” She dismissed the class.

I moved out of the way of the door and waited for the main rush of students to dissipate before I slipped inside. There was a small line on either side of her. A couple of the boys (men? Young men?) who definitely had a crush on Esme. They never took their eyes off her. I understood their infatuation and I didn’t completely hate them for it. Esme was beautiful and smart and engaging up there under the lecture hall lights.

By the time she’d answered most of their questions I’d worked my way down to the front row and taken a seat directly in front of her. I waited for her to look up but she didn’t. Her students were her world right now and so I enjoyed the opportunity to learn this side of her.

In jeans and with her dark hair down in waves she looked impossibly young. Like she should be one of the students, not the professor. The other detail that really stood out? She never stopped smiling. Not completely. The corner of her lips and eyes remained tilted slightly upward.

This was Esme’s world, not football or dinner parties or the Brown mansion. She may have been born there, but it wasn’t where she thrived. She was an academic through and through.

Then the last student left and we were alone.

“How long have you been sitting there?” she asked as she gathered her stuff together.

“Long enough to know you’re a great professor.”

“Compliments will get you everywhere. You get an A, Leo.”

“What I really want is a key. Everyone was very excited about those.”

She slung a bag over her shoulder. “I’ll give you a key. To my panties.”

I pretended to be shocked. “Dr. Brown!”

She sauntered up to my seat and gave me her fuck-me-eyes. “You gotta work for those A’s”

I grabbed her by the hips and spun her into my lap. “Oh, I’ll work for my grades, Dr. Brown.” Then I trailed kisses down the sensitive skin behind her ear until she quivered.

“Leo,” she sighed.

“Esme.” I gently bit the skin just above her collar. “Let me take you to dinner.” She’d been cooking almost every night, not that I minded. Her food was amazing.

“It’s still early.”

I bit her again, this time a little harder. “Then we’ll have plenty of time after for me to earn my A.”

She moaned softly.

“Come on professor. Let me feed you.”

Over Dos Equis at our favorite Mexican restaurant I learned exactly what these magical keys were about.

“So at the beginning of the semester everyone is given a set of clues. Basic elements of real civilizations.”

“Elements?” I added extra salt to the chips and dove into the spicier of the salsas.

“Things like population size, type of political structure, technical capabilities, family structures. They don’t know when or where these cultures lived. From there they spend the first half of the semester building their ideal culture from these elements. It’s all at their discretion. During class each week I give them real scenarios that they debate.”

“What kinds of scenarios?” It was fascinating how animated she became when she talked about work.

Her eyes were so bright, her cheeks flushed, and that smile . . . it was amazing. Her hands moved through the air as she spoke almost as if they had a life of their own. “Today, for instance, I chose two students. Kyle’s society is very large and cohesive but Martin’s society, which is much smaller, was invading. They had to debate what events would take place and what the effects would be. They document everything and before class next week they’re turning in the data.”

“And the key?”

She sat back as our waiter delivered our burritos. “Their imaginary cultures are all based on the elements of a real culture. On Monday they’ll get that information. It’s their key to the clues I gave them at the beginning of the semester. We’ll spend the rest of the semester analyzing what they got right and wrong, where their personal biases influenced their thought processes, and learning how to approach research in the future knowing all of this.”

I sliced through the massive tortilla. “That sounds like a life lesson a lot of students could use, not just anthropology students.”

“You would be correct. It’s why I have such a large class. There are anthro, sociology, psychology, and most of the hard sciences, in there. My class is recommended for anyone going into research.”

I wondered if she knew how much happier she was now than when I first met her. “You’ve found your calling. You’re radiant, Esme, and so very good at teaching.”

“I like teaching but my research is really what drives me. Can I have some of your beans?” She paused with her fork an inch from my plate.

I pulled it away. “You were just going to take them, weren’t you?”

“No!”

“You were. You think that’s the kind of boyfriend I am? A food sharer?”

She laughed and it was a light, intoxicating sound. “If you let me taste your . . . food . . . I’ll let you taste . . . me.”

If there was an award for fastest and most inconvenient erection, I would have just won it. Hands down.

I moved my plate across the table. “Oh trust me, Dr. Brown, I was going to have dessert whether you wanted my beans or not.”

She took a generous scoop with her fork and made a sexy show of tasting the food and then slowly placing the fork in her mouth. It was sexiest beans had ever been or ever would be.

“When did dinner turn into foreplay?” she murmured.

“When I got the hots for teacher.”

She laughed again. “Oh, I see.”

Sometimes my brain doesn’t consult with my mouth. Instead it simply says what I’m thinking. These incidents typically take place when I’m excited or aroused. Seeing as I was both excited by Esme’s laugh and aroused by . . . everything about her . . . it shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did when I blurted out this next part.

“Your smile is everything and I want to hear you laugh every day. What do I have to do to make Edmund leave you alone?”

She froze, then very carefully placed her fork on her plate, wiped her lips with her napkin, and then folded her hands in her lap.

“Shit. Esme, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Not here.” At dinner. When we were having a great time. Two seconds ago we were flirting and about to rush home for what I was absolutely sure would have been some pretty amazing sex.

Instead she had her eyes trained down on the table and the air between us was as cold as ice.

“No,” she finally said, “you shouldn’t have said that. Not here. Not when you know we’re being watched.”

I grimaced because she was right. I knew exactly where the private investigators were sitting and that the agents didn’t even bother with food. They sat at the bar nursing seltzers and shooting glares our direction. I’d gotten used to their constant presence. Sometimes they even followed me to work instead of Esme. I had fallen into the trap of complacency.

“But that’s not why—” She huffed, ran her hand through her hair, slumped back in the booth. “That’s not why I’m frustrated.”

I leaned forward hoping she’d let me hold her hand. She didn’t. “Why are you frustrated?”

“You have a hero complex, Leo. You think I need to be rescued and that you’re the man to do it. I know this is at least partially my fault. My father gets to me and I crack. You’ve seen me crack and I think it’s given you the impression I’m the victim here, but I’m not. Not really. Yes I’m stuck and no matter what I do I seem to be destined to pay for my mistakes, but I’m fine, Leo. I’m good. I promise.”

“If you’re good then why do you crack? Why do you look so sad everywhere but at work? Why,” I leaned forward, dropped my voice, hoped I wasn’t about to get myself strangled for being the stupidest man who ever lived, “why do you need me?”

Her eyes flared. The fire in them was the other end of the passion I usually loved coming from her. She shook her head and looked up at the ceiling. “You should be in my class. That way I could give you a key.”

“A key to what?” Her secrets? Her past? I’d take anything at this point.

“Me! You stupid man.” She buried her face in her hands for a few moments, then let them drop away, meeting my eyes. “Stop looking at me as the victim. Choose a different point of view.”

If she wasn’t the victim then what did that make her? The villain? I tried to picture Esme as the bad guy (girl) but I couldn’t. Nothing about it added up. Besides, she had little to nothing to do with her father’s business these days.

She leaned forward, the frustration gone from her voice. Instead she sounded . . . proud. “Just because I don’t enjoy the role I chose doesn’t mean it isn’t exactly where I want to be.”

I tried to follow along. “Where you want to be?”

“We’ve all got biases. We all see the world the way we were trained to see it. We follow patterns we learned as children, we accept limits because we don’t know any different. We expect people to fill the roles we give them.” She ran her index finger back and forth over her lower lip. “I don’t ever want that for us, Leo. I want you to see all of me.”

“I want that too.” This time she let me take her hand.

“So I’m telling you I’m not the victim. Just you.”

Just me.

Not her father or brother, or the agents or the investigators. To all of them she was weak, reluctant, uncooperative. When in reality she was the opposite. Their blinders gave her freedom, access to her father’s house and business, information on where things stood with the investigation.

She was playing all of them.

“Information,” she said, answering the question I hadn’t asked yet.

“Why?”

Her gaze dropped to our hands. “I really wish I could’ve stayed away from you.”

“I’m glad you couldn’t.” I tugged her hands, waited for her eyes to meet mine. “I’m not the victim here, either. I might not like everything that happens but there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be.”

“You think you’ll still feel that way in the end?”

I brought her hand to my lips. “Yes, Esme. Even in the end.”


IF YOU HAVEN’T READ:

EPISODE ONEEPISODE TWO | EPISODE THREE | Episode Four | Episode Five | Episode Six | Episode Seven | Episode Eight | Episode Nine | Episode Ten | Episode Eleven | Episode Twelve | Episode Thirteen | Episode Fourteen | Episode 15 | Episode 16 | Episode 17 | Episode 18

Thank you for reading episode 18 of Reckless Kiss! New episodes will release in my newsletter every Tuesday. If you enjoy this story please check out my free book Tease. It has a very similar style, level of heat, and types of characters and I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Some characters from my previous books will be appearing in this serial. If you haven’t already, check out When Lighting Strikes, to read Marie Bancroft Hamilton’s story, Summer Heat, Night Games, and Last Fall to meet more of the Bancroft Sports gang. (But you absolutely do not need to in order to enjoy Reckless Kiss. This book is 100% it’s own story!)