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Jennifer Hillier

Creep

Copyright © 2011 by Jennifer Hillier

For Steve Hillier,

for so many reasons.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

So many people helped make my first novel a reality, and I’m very grateful for all the love and support I’ve received.

I’d like to thank my agent, Victoria Skurnick, for taking a chance on me, and for being relentless in helping me whip the manuscript into shape.

I’d also like to thank my editor, Kathy Sagan, and her assistant, Jessica Webb, for making the publishing process such a wonderful experience. Huge thanks to my copy editor, Steve Boldt, for all his hard work. And to Louise Burke, Jennifer Bergstrom, and everyone else at Gallery Books, thank you. I’m lucky to be part of such a great team.

I’m deeply grateful to my mother, Nida Allan, who always believes in everything I do, and to my father, Roberto Pestano, for his gift of storytelling. And much love goes to my big brother, John Perez, who always has my back.

Big thanks to my best friends, Annabella Wong, Dawn May Robertson, and Winston Charles Jr., who don’t write, but love that I do. You guys always said this would happen, and you were right (but please don’t let it go to your heads).

Special thanks to my very first writing buddy, Gregory G. Griffin, for tearing apart my earliest chapters (rather obnoxiously, I might add), and then cheering me on as I put them back together again. May your inner dwarf always shine, my friend.

Numerous other writing pals also offered their feedback on this book long before I ever got an agent, and I’m so grateful for all your constructive criticism and encouragement.

Lastly, I’d like to thank my guardian angel, Helena Rosts, who was my first real fan and who blessed me early on with the confidence to chase my dreams.

CHAPTER 1

Three months. That’s how long Dr. Sheila Tao had been sleeping with Ethan Wolfe. Three months, four days, and approximately six hours.

The problem wasn’t the sixteen-year age difference. It wasn’t even that she was his professor and he was her teaching assistant. The problem was that Sheila was engaged to Morris, and now the affair with Ethan had to stop. No more weekly “meetings” at the Ivy, the motel just off campus that rented rooms by the hour. No more sneaking around. No more lying. No more falling into that chasm of depression that consumed her for days after each of their trysts.

It had to end. All of it. Sheila and her therapist had been working hard on this. Yes, even psychologists had psychologists.

It wouldn’t be easy. Ethan was good-looking and prone to getting his way. Hell, he had seduced her, though Sheila suspected not even her therapist believed that.

They were in her bright corner office on the fourth floor of the psychology building at Puget Sound State University. He was relaxed, casual, his jean-clad legs spread open in that cocky way he liked to sit. The desk between them was strewn with papers, an organized clutter that served as a makeshift barrier.

Observing him, she watched his full lips form words she only half-heard. There was nothing vague about Ethan’s attractiveness, but he downplayed it by wearing ratty vintage T-shirts, worn jeans, tennis shoes. His hard, flat stomach wasn’t evident through the loose-fitting shirt, but Sheila could damn well picture it.

She had no idea how he was going react to her news. She’d known him long enough to understand his propensity for structure, and she was about to upset the routine they’d established over the past three months.

Of her five teaching assistants, Ethan was the brightest and most ambitious. His intelligence and drive had been a big part of his appeal. They were discussing grades for her popular summer-session undergraduate social psychology class, and so far neither of them had commented as to why they were meeting here this morning, in her office, instead of room sixteen at the Ivy Motel. She knew he had to be thinking about it, because she was thinking about it, too.

She forced herself to focus on what he was saying.

“Danny Ambrose doesn’t deserve a B,” he said, fingers resting lightly on the arms of his chair. He never talked with his hands, even when he was passionate about something. “The similarities he drew between Milgram’s experiment and the Nazis? Too obvious.”

His brows were furrowed. Sheila was about to overrule the grade Ethan had assigned to one of her undergraduate students, and he didn’t like it. He wasn’t used to it. They didn’t disagree often.

“He loses points for originality, but don’t you think his argument is solid?” Sheila smiled to soften her words. “This is only a sophomore class. He did what was asked of him and it was better than average. I spoke to Danny personally the other day. He risks losing his scholarship if we give him that C. He’s a good kid. I’d really hate to see that happen.”

She could almost hear the wheels in Ethan’s mind turning as he thought of a counterargument. Most of the time she encouraged healthy debate, but she wasn’t in the mood this morning. There was a conversation they needed to have, and she was having a hard time steering them in that direction.

She waited, saying nothing. If she didn’t push it, he’d come around. The key was to let him work through it on his own.

“Okay,” Ethan said finally. “You win, Sheila. Danny gets a B. Lucky bastard. God, I hate it when you assert your authority over me.” Lowering his voice, he glanced over his shoulder at the open door behind him. “You’ll have to make it up to me later.” He leaned forward and ran a finger down the back of her left hand, lips curled into the half-smile she liked so much.

His finger brushed over the band of her new diamond ring, turned inside out so the stone was tucked into her palm. His gaze dropped down to her hand.

She was surprised it had taken him this long to notice. Here we go.

Her first instinct was to yank her hand away, but that would only make things worse. Willing herself to appear relaxed, she twisted the platinum band around. Ethan’s eyes widened at the sight of the four-carat diamond.

“What’s this?” The lightness of his tone did not match his face. A flush emerged just above the neckline of his T-shirt. He touched a finger to the top of the stone, leaving a smudge.

She resisted the urge to wipe it off. The face of a diamond this size was like glass. Morris was a senior partner at Bindle Brothers, the largest investment bank in the Northwest, and he hadn’t held back.

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