wants to be a skinny-minny in her wedding dress. You know women.”

“I sure do.” Ethan’s eyes gleamed. “Dr. Tao, since I caught you, I do have a favor to ask. Unfortunately I didn’t bring any cookies.” His tone grew serious, and Sheila felt another wave of nausea roll over her.

“What is it, Ethan?” She forced what she hoped would pass for a natural smile.

His gaze zeroed in on her new diamond bracelet. “I was hoping you would let me out of my proctoring duties for next week’s finals. I’m getting behind on my thesis and want to schedule some interviews down at the soup kitchen. Try as I might, I can’t be in two places at once.”

He’s not serious. In all the years Sheila had supervised teaching assistants, she couldn’t recall a single one asking to be let out of exam duty. It was part of the job.

She searched frantically for the right words, struggling to keep her voice composed. “This is rather short notice. I’ll have to ask someone from Dr. Easton’s class to cover for you. Midterms are next Tuesday. And don’t you have several requests for early writes?”

Ethan shrugged. “Yep, I actually have four scheduled. But you know, you have been working me really hard lately, so I kind of think you owe me a favor.” He stuck his hands in his pockets, head cocked to one side.

Motherfucking asshole bastard.

Sheila risked a glance at Morris and saw that his expression was one of wary politeness. Morris was big, and Morris was loud, but Morris wasn’t stupid. She knew he’d picked up on the subtle tension that had suddenly dropped into the air.

“I guess I have been,” Sheila said. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you.” Ethan looked at Morris. “She really is fabulous to work for. All the grad students in psych request Dr. Tao.

I’m very lucky to have her as my adviser. Anyway, I should get home, but it was terrific meeting you, Morris.” Ethan stuck his hand out again.

Morris shook it, but this time he didn’t pump with quite the same enthusiasm as he had moments earlier. “Likewise. Be careful getting home, son. It’s raining pretty hard out.”

Ethan bristled at the word son, but he turned and left the office as quietly as he’d come. Sheila headed back around her desk and slumped into her chair, exhausted. Wiping her palms on her skirt again, she worked at controlling her emotions, keeping her hands under the desk so Morris wouldn’t see them trembling. She listened for Ethan’s footsteps and was relieved when they finally receded.

“What was that about?” Morris said, closing the door firmly. “Why do I get the distinct impression you just got lassoed?”

Sheila waved a hand. “Don’t worry about it. He’s a bit of a spoiled brat.”

“Oh, I got that.” Morris leaned forward, scrutinizing her face. It took every ounce of strength Sheila had not to look away. “Listen, darlin’, it ain’t my place to tell you how to do your job. Lord knows I wouldn’t want you telling me how to do mine. But I think a little well-meaning advice is called for here, and trust me when I say that you need to rein that boy in. He works for you, remember. It ain’t his place to tell you what his schedule’s gonna be next week. You’d be smart to call him tomorrow and tell him he’d better be where he’s supposed to be or he ain’t gonna do so well on his next performance review.”

“You’re absolutely right, babe.” Sheila’s face was tight. “It isn’t your place.” She attempted a smile to soften her words. “Don’t worry, I can handle my students.”

It was a lie, of course, but she delivered it with ease.


N othing was showing up on CampusAnonymous.com, or anywhere else on the Internet.

Sheila had been googling herself obsessively for almost two weeks, and she was now positive Ethan was bluffing. There was no video. If Ethan were really determined to destroy her life, certainly he’d have done it by now.

Thank God she hadn’t said a word to Morris. What if she’d told him for nothing?

As far as she was concerned, it was over.

She picked at the seasoned nuts in front of her as she worked her way through her second cranberry lime. Her barstool seat at the Seafood Grille had a nice view of the waterfront, but her attention was focused on the young bartender serving her. Dark skin, dark eyes, tight black T-shirt, gold-plated name tag that read LUKE. Just good- looking enough for her to feel flattered every time he smiled at her, which was often. Bartenders had to make a living, too.

Sheila enjoyed the attention anyway, feeling rather celebratory, and watched as Luke deftly poured another martini for the sixtysomething man sitting three seats away. The older gentleman-a silver fox, as her students might have described him-was wearing a wedding band, but that hadn’t stopped him from trying to catch Sheila’s eye. He was appealing in a James Brolin kind of way, with maybe twenty extra pounds and a ruddiness to the cheeks. Not that she was interested. Those days were behind her, once and for all.

The new engagement ring flashed fire on her left hand. Sheila stared at it in that pretentious way women do when they’re looking at their diamonds or their manicures. She couldn’t help herself; it was a work of art. Morris had discreetly left the certificate of appraisal in the car when they’d stopped for gas the other day, and she’d peeked-a four-carat solitaire on a platinum, pave-set diamond band, worth lots of zeros. She thought back to the night of the proposal and his earnest face when he handed her the blue Tiffany box. She’d stared at the ring in shock, and Morris had laughed and said, “You know me. Go big or go home.” That was Morris, always a Texan at heart.

“Is it real?” Silver Fox from three barstools down finally said, interrupting her thoughts. She looked over to see him grinning at her. He was chewing an olive, a toothpick dangling out the side of his mouth. “Or do you just wear it to keep the guys from hounding you?”

His voice was nasal and higher than Sheila expected. She didn’t answer.

“He must think the world of you to get you a rock that size,” the man said, trying again. “It’s blinding me from here.”

Sheila relented. “Thanks. We just got engaged.”

“Congratulations. Buy you a drink to celebrate?” Silver Fox’s body language told her he was ready to slide over at the slightest hint of interest. He downed the last of his martini and winked at her, his lips still working the toothpick.

Sheila glanced at his wedding ring. “Won’t your wife mind?”

“Not if you don’t tell her.”

“My fiance would.”

“Not if you don’t tell him.” He grinned, the toothpick bobbing up and down between his unnaturally white teeth.

Sheila smiled sweetly. “Why don’t you tell him yourself. He’ll be here in a few minutes.”

“Ah. I assumed you were in town on business.” Silver Fox’s tone was polite but his face had turned a shade ruddier. “Enjoy your evening.” He eased up from his barstool and strolled away, leaving a twenty for the bartender.

“Ouch,” Luke said, stuffing the bill into the pocket of his apron. “Guess he doesn’t take rejection well.”

“I thought I was pretty nice about it.” Sheila’s laugh was sheepish. “I feel sorry for his wife, wherever she may be. Tacky guy.”

“You’d be amazed how many tacky people come into this place. And God bless ’em,” Luke said with a grin. “I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent otherwise.”

He was polishing the inside of a wineglass with a clean white cloth, his biceps flexing as he turned the glass back and forth in a rhythmic motion. He was close enough for her to smell his musky cologne, and she suddenly imagined what Luke’s lips would feel like on her nipples.

She mentally slapped herself. “You must see everything working here.”

“You’d be surprised.”

“Nothing surprises me anymore. What about you?”

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