David Hawthorne has a great life. His job as a professor at a prestigious Dallas college is everything he hoped for. Now that his brother is back from the Navy, life seems to be settling down. All he needs to do is finish the book he’s working on and his tenure will be assured. When he gets invited to interview a reclusive expert, he knows he’s gotten lucky. But being the stepson of Sean Taggart comes with its drawbacks, including an overprotective mom who sends a security detail to keep him safe. He doesn’t need a bodyguard, but when Tessa Santiago shows up on his doorstep, the idea of her giving him close cover doesn’t seem so bad.
Tessa has always excelled at most anything she tried, except romance. The whole relationship thing just didn’t work out for her. She’s not looking for love, and she’s certainly not looking for it with an academic who happens to be connected to her boss’s family. The last thing she wants is to escort an overly pampered pretentious man-child around South America to ensure he doesn’t get into trouble. Still, there’s something about David that calls to her. In addition to watching his back, she will have to avoid falling into the trap of soulful eyes and a deep voice that gets her heart racing.
But when the seemingly simple mission turns into a treacherous race for a hidden artifact, David and Tess know this assignment could cost them far more than their jobs. If they can overcome the odds, the lost treasure might not be their most valuable reward.
**Every 1001 Dark Nights novella is a standalone story. For new readers, it’s an introduction to an author’s world. And for fans, it’s a bonus book in the author’s series. We hope you'll enjoy each one as much as we do.**
Reviews for Treasured:
“A fun read with great banter and fantastic characters.” - awlovestoread
“Readers are treated both to an expansion of the couple’s hotter than Hades chemistry, as well as lots of mystery and suspense. The combination of the two made this a five star read.” - cheryl33610
“All the ingredients necessary for heart-pounding action, high heat romance, and naturally a HEA” - A Wonderful World of Words
“Treasured is a quick, fun, and steamy read.” - Becky on Books
Release date: June 22, 2021
Publisher: 1001 Dark Nights Press
Print pages: 224
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Treasured: A Masters and Mercenaries Novella
Tessa Santiago stepped into the lobby of the restaurant and wondered if she could still beg off. No one had seen her yet. She could slip back out and text her host that she’d gotten caught in traffic or something.
It was weird to be invited to an anniversary party for an ex-fiancé’s twin brother and his wife, wasn’t it? Who did this? There were definitely times she wished her breakup had been way less chill. If she’d thrown a couple of dishes at his head, maybe left some nasty messages, she wouldn’t be here. But no, she’d had to stay friends with the man because at the end there hadn’t been passion between them. It hadn’t been his fault or her fault.
But this awkwardness was definitely his fault.
“Tessa! Hey, I’m so glad you came.” Nina Malone was a gorgeous woman with a smile a mile wide, but then what did she have to frown about? She was happily married to the CEO of a billion dollar company and had the most adorable kids. Nina wore the kind of designer gown that probably could feed a small country, and killer heels that made Tessa’s feet ache looking at them.
Yeah, Nina was the kind of woman who invited exes to parties because she stayed friends with everyone. Nina was one of the reasons Tessa wished things had worked out with Michael Malone.
He was a genuinely great guy. His family had been awesome, and she’d loved them all, but the truth was there hadn’t been a spark between her and Michael. That lack of true passion had been the reason they’d ended the engagement. Lately she’d been wondering if she was the problem, if she didn’t have any passion at all.
Even as she hugged Nina, she caught sight of her ex. Michael stood across the private dining room looking stunning in his custom-made tuxedo.
Why, oh why, couldn’t she have truly loved that man?
“Happy anniversary,” Tessa said, stepping back. “You look amazing, as always.”
“So do you,” Nina said in her British accent. That accent, Tessa had been told, had softened over the years Nina had lived in Texas. She’d been a McKay-Taggart employee when she’d met JT Malone and fallen in love, and now Nina ran security for Malone Oil.
Nina had been the one who had tried to help Tessa fit into the Malones’ wealthy world. They’d come from similar backgrounds, though Tessa had grown up in Dallas and Nina in London. The middle class was still the middle class, and it was a big step up into the world the Malones ran in.
Or her current bosses, the Taggarts. Tessa worked in the personal security department of McKay-Taggart. While Ian Taggart might have started out middle class, he hadn’t stayed there. None of the Taggarts had. After all, this party was being held in the cornerstone of Sean Taggart’s restaurant empire. Top was one of Dallas’s celebrated fine dining spots. It was the kind of place the wealthy frequented and the not so wealthy aspired to go.
She hoped they had tacos.
“Like I said, I’m so happy you came. It’s been an age since I saw you. How are you?” Nina asked.
She was the same as she’d been for the last year. Since she’d broken things off with Michael, she’d worked and worked and…worked some more. She took every long-term assignment she could and tried not to think about the fact that she’d walked away from a beautiful billionaire who’d been kind to her.
If she couldn’t love a man like Michael Malone, who could she love? She’d started to consider the fact that she was broken in a way that couldn’t be repaired. And the real trouble was she couldn’t even figure out why she was broken.
“I’m good. I just got back from a six-week assignment in Loa Mali.” Tessa plastered a smile on her face. “When I wasn’t following the queen around, I worked on my tan.”
She hadn’t. She’d sat in her room and read books and worked out and gone to the shooting range and took her frustrations out on paper targets.
“I seriously doubt that,” Nina said with a sigh. She waved to someone behind Tessa. “I’ve got to say hello to some board members, love. Please stay for dinner. I miss you.”
“Sure. Wouldn’t miss a free meal.” Especially if it was tacos or a nice juicy burger. She had a terrible suspicion that she would be offered neither. Oh, she could totally get those off the menu, but tonight’s party would be a plated meal, and it would likely be super fancy.
She wasn’t a super-fancy girl.
Nina gave her another hug and walked off, always the gracious hostess.
“Hey, how you doing?” a familiar voice said.
She turned and didn’t have to smile because she and Michael didn’t pretend. They’d always been good friends, and even after the breakup she still cared about this man. “It’s weird, isn’t it?”
“Being at my twin’s anniversary party? Yes. I would have sworn JT would never get married,” Michael said with a shake of his head.
He could be obtuse at times. Or rather not very self-aware. “I’m talking about me being here.”
Michael frowned as though he’d never even had the thought. “I wouldn’t want you to stay away. Nina and JT are your friends. At least I hope they still are.”
She sighed. “Of course. It’s just weird that we still work in the same office and run in the same circles. And I heard you took my mom to lunch two weeks ago.”
“No, I didn’t. We happened to be at Mario’s at the same time, and we were both alone,” Michael corrected. “The place was crowded, like it always is, and it made sense to share a table. I like your mom.”
She’d heard all about how nice Michael was and how her mom wished it could have worked out. And shouldn’t she try again? After all, Michael wasn’t seeing anyone. “She likes you, too.”
“If it helps, my mom talks about you all the time.” Michael took a drag off his beer. “I’m constantly being reminded that my brother’s kids are growing up without cousins, and you could have solved that problem. She firmly believes I could be happy right now if I hadn’t screwed things up.”
He hadn’t screwed anything up. “Should I talk to her?”
He shook his head. “No. Not at all. And I promise the next time I see your mom I will be a bastard and make her thrilled we broke it off.”
Maybe she needed to stop worrying about how other people might view their situation. “Don’t. I’m glad you had lunch with her. My brothers are all busy, and I’ve been on assignment. She’s lonely. She’s been missing my dad lately, and I think having someone to talk to made her feel good. And you think you catch hell from your mother about your single status? Try being the only daughter with three brothers who married young and started their own football teams. You would think my mother would be happy with eight grandchildren, but I swear until I pop one out she won’t feel like she’s done her job.”
“I sometimes wonder how she keeps up with all the names,” Michael mused.
“Years of teaching high school.” That was her mom’s secret. She’d had to learn roughly a hundred names every year.
“Well, I’m glad I only have to deal with JT’s two.” Michael frowned suddenly. “Speaking of. I should stop Jasper from climbing up that banister. They’re going to kill me.”
Michael ran off to save his toddler nephew from himself, and Tessa looked around the beautifully decorated room. It was filled with people from JT and Nina’s lives. Tessa recognized a few people from the office. Ian and Charlotte Taggart were talking to Ava Malone. A couple of guys from Tessa’s unit seemed to be working security.
She made the rounds, saying hello to the people she knew and awkwardly explaining to some of them that she was no longer engaged to Michael. It was a lot, and dinner was still thirty minutes off. She found herself making her way to the bathroom to take a break from all the small talk.
She would eat dinner, stay for the toast, and then get home as fast as she could because there was a bath and a book waiting for her. Like there was every single night.
It was a good thing, though. She’d decided to take some me time after the breakup. Some work-on-herself time. No dating. No hook-ups. Just time to reflect on where she was in life.
Tessa stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. She was thirty-four and took bullets for other people for a living. And even that was getting a little boring. She hadn’t actually been shot at in a long time. Her last assignment had been watching over the queen of Loa Mali and her two daughters. There had been sun and sand, and an odd amount of science talk she hadn’t been able to completely follow. Those girls were smart.
Was it time to try again?
From the expression she’d made in the mirror, absolutely not. A genuinely horrified look had come over her face when she’d thought about putting herself out there.
Perhaps it was time to accept the fact that there wasn’t some magic person out there for her, that what her parents had was rare. They’d been soul mates, and even after her dad had died, her mom kept his memory alive, still smiled every time she said his name. She was practical enough to know that didn’t happen for everyone.
She straightened her blouse, smoothed down her hair, and braced herself for a couple of hours of talking about how great she was doing and answering awkward questions and watching happy couples being happy.
She could do this. Tomorrow she would ask for the most brutal assignment her boss could find and maybe lose herself in it. If she was dodging bullets, she wouldn’t be thinking about her nonexistent love life or listening to her mom casually mention how long a woman’s eggs were viable.
Tessa walked out of the bathroom in time to see Charlotte Taggart exiting the private party room. Charlotte, who had set her up with Michael. Charlotte, who now wanted to make amends by setting her up with someone else.
She was such a coward, but she ducked into the bar to avoid that conversation. She was sure Charlotte had some guy in mind and he was the nicest man and they would look so cute together.
Nope. Wasn’t going there again.
Tessa eased onto the barstool with the most coverage. It was in the corner, behind a pillar. Charlotte would have to actually walk into the bar to see her.
“What can I get for you?” A slender woman in a white collared shirt slid a coaster in front of Tessa.
Maybe she could hang here until dinner. The tables had place cards, and she was sitting at a table with Simon Weston and his wife Chelsea. They wouldn’t be hard to deal with and totally knew what subjects would be weird for her. She just had to hide until she could slip into her seat at dinner. “I’ll take an old-fashioned.”
The bartender nodded.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay.” The man beside her was talking, his voice hushed, but then the place was kind of quiet, so she could hear him. “You know you’re never going to please those girls, right? There’s a reason they’re called mean girls.”
There was a loud sniffle and a feminine voice saying something Tessa couldn’t quite make out.
“I know it hurts, and I’m ready to talk to you anytime you want. I need you to understand that you haven’t done anything wrong. I don’t care what anyone else says. You’re allowed to love who you want to love, date who you want to date. Shame is a weapon, and they’ll use that to try to hurt you. Don’t let them because there’s no shame here. You stand tall and know that your family is behind you all the way. So are your real friends.”
Another big sniffle and the girl slid off her barstool. Tessa got a glimpse of auburn hair and a youthful face. She hugged the man and walked away, saying good-bye.
“You’re good with her. Is she your daughter?” She wasn’t sure why she’d asked the question. She hadn’t even gotten a good look at the man beside her. He had a stack of books and a notepad in front of him. And a beer.
Something about the way he’d spoken to the teen had made her heart twist. She remembered asshole high school girls and how they could drag someone down. Her brothers had told her to try harder to fit in. Her dad had told her maybe if she acted more feminine they would all get along.
She loved her father and brothers. It had been a different time, but she admired how this man had handled the situation.
“Only if I had her when I was…oh, god. Nineteen. I could be her dad. No. She’s my sister. And thanks. I try. I’ll be honest, I didn’t spend much time with teenaged girls when I was a teen. I had a brother and chess club. It did not make me an expert at dealing with this kind of thing.” The man beside her had golden brown hair that was slightly shaggy and warm hazel eyes.
He was cute. Not so stunning that she was put off. He was that warm guy who probably had a lot of women friends because he was nice.
“You were nineteen when she was born?” That was a big age gap. For some reason she wanted to keep the conversation going.
“Yep.” His lips curled up, and he was awfully cute when he smiled. “She’s my half sister, though that’s a ridiculous qualification. She’s my sister, and I have an even younger brother. My mom’s second act was pretty spectacular. Hey, Leslie. Can I get another beer?”
The bartender slid the old-fashioned in front of Tess and nodded the man’s way. “Sure thing, David. Is she okay?”
“Carys? She’s dealing with mean-girl crap,” the man named David said. “It sucks, but she’ll get through it. She’s a smart kid, and she’s got a network of friends who don’t go to her high school.”
The bartender popped the top off a longneck and replaced the one David had finished. “I’m glad to hear it. Your burger should be ready soon.”
A burger. That sounded so good. She was probably going to be eating something super fancy like pâté or Cornish game hens with caviar.
“I think you’ll find Leslie makes an excellent old-fashioned,” David said. “It can be a tricky one to get right.”
“Don’t I know it?” She took a sip, and it was excellent. “That is good. I bartended for a couple of years.”
“Me, too. It’s how I got through college.”
“With all those books, I would say you’re still in college.” Those weren’t fiction books. They were older tomes, reminding her of the science books her dad collected. That was when she realized who she was dealing with. Not the man, but the type. There was a reason the guy in front of her felt comfortable. “You’re a professor.”
He grimaced. “I’m not even wearing a tweed jacket. Do I give off ivory-tower vibes or something?”
“Nah, I just know the type. I’m the daughter of two teachers. My dad taught biology at a community college, and my mom was a high school Spanish teacher. She’s retired now, but she still volunteers. And it’s the books. They’re older and not from a library or a college bookstore. You’re taking notes. You’re either a writer researching something or a professor researching something. I made an educated guess.”
He tipped his beer her way. “Well, it was a good one. I’m a junior professor at UT Dallas, and I am working on a biography of a quirky South American billionaire who bought an island and created his own country.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. When I think ‘history professor,’ I think of medieval England or the Ottoman Empire.” She relaxed a bit, enjoying the conversation. How long had it been since she’d talked to a guy simply because it was nice to talk to him? And not about the security industry. That was all the guys in her office talked about. Work and sports.
“I know about those, too. They emphasize European history in American schools, but I did a semester at University of São Paulo and kind of fell in love with South American history and contemporary politics,” he explained. “And I’m surprised. Your eyes haven’t glazed over yet.”
Oh, she liked his smile, and he wasn’t wearing a ring. Hadn’t she told herself she wasn’t going to do this? But really, what was she doing? Talking to some random pretty man in a bar she didn’t frequent often. She’d been to Top for office-related occasions and a couple of times with Michael, but she typically went to less fancy places for food. She was more of a food truck girl. Why shouldn’t she spend the half an hour or so she had chatting up the attractive professor? “Well, like I said, I’m the child of two teachers, so you can hit me with all the lofty terms you like. It makes me feel at home. I come from a long line of intellectuals.”
Her brothers had all gone into white-collar professions. Two lawyers and an accountant, and their precious baby girl had screwed everything up by going into the Army and then becoming a bodyguard.
“Well, that’s good to know.” He held out a hand. “I’m David Hawthorne.”
She took it. His hand was warm and surprisingly callused for a professor. He’d done work in his time and probably still did. “Tessa Santiago. Nice to meet you.”
“Same.” He sat back. “You know it’s funny. One of my favorite teachers was Mrs. Santiago. She taught Spanish at Bell High School.”
Her jaw dropped because it was such a small world. “Seriously? That’s my mom. She taught at Bell forever. Dad was at TCC.”
“You’re little Tess.” His whole face lit up. “Sorry. Your mom talked about you. She used your name in many assignments. La pequeña Tess no tiene zapatos.”
“I wasn’t that little, and I always had shoes. I’m roughly the same age as you.” It was crazy how embarrassed she could still get. And his accent was good. He didn’t sound like some Texans speaking Spanish.
“Were we in the same class?” David asked.
“I went to Trinity,” she admitted. “We actually lived in Euless, so Mom taught at Bell, but all of her kids went to the enemy school.” Bell and Trinity were high schools with a healthy rivalry. It was something she and her brothers had regularly teased their mom about. It was nice to talk to someone who came from her old neighborhood. “I’m sure that we passed each other at the stadium on Friday nights, though.”
“Ah, you are under the mistaken impression that I attended football games. You need to meet my brother. He was the football guy. I was likely studying for Academic Decathlon.” He winced. “I was kind of a nerd in high school. I’m probably still a nerd.”
He was a hot nerd, and she couldn’t forget how he’d handled his sister. “I only went for the soda. It wasn’t allowed in my house, but I could sneak it at the games.”
“Here you go.” The bartender was back, and she’d brought heaven with her. She placed a burger and some of the crispiest-looking fries she’d ever seen in front of David before glancing back Tessa’s way. “Can I get you some food?”
Tessa frowned. “No. I’m supposed to eat froufrou stuff. I’m here for a party.”
The bartender sighed in obvious envy. “Oh, they are having the most delicious quail this evening. And the foie gras is divine. You’ll love it.”
The bartender turned away.
“You do not look like you love duck liver,” David pointed out. “I’m going to admit something, and you can never tell a soul. I think it’s gross, and I don’t like escargot. I don’t care how much garlic and butter you smother it in, it still tastes like snails and dirt.”
She liked him quite a bit. “Why can’t I tell anyone?”
“Because my mom works here, and she’s proud of the food. I’m going to admit that I’m more of a Tex-Mex guy.” He gestured to the basket in front of him. “But they make a fabulous burger and fries, and I can share if you like. It might fortify you for the four-course extravaganza to come.”
Her stomach rumbled. She was actually hungry, and it was for more than food. She wanted to talk to this man. “All right, David. I’ve got a couple of minutes. So how did a kid from Bell High School end up in Brazil? Did you know your Spanish wouldn’t work there?”
She sat back as he started to talk, and the night didn’t seem so lonely anymore.
* * * *
David had walked into Top this evening because Carys had seemed to need someone to talk to, and he’d known she would be here since she always helped out on Friday nights. He’d spent the day on campus, grading papers in his office and researching his book in the stacks at the library. The restaurant his stepfather and mom had started was on the way back to his town house, and the thought of microwaving a burrito held no appeal.
Of course, he would have been able to eat that whole burrito. Instead he’d had to share his burger and fries with Mrs. Santiago’s daughter. Little Tess had grown into a stunning woman who held every bit of his attention in a way only an article on the current Chilean political situation usually could.
He also wouldn’t have ended up ordering the molten lava cake and watching her eyes close in pure pleasure. He wouldn’t have sat here and talked for hours.
“Hey, guys, I hate to interrupt you, but this is last call,” Leslie said. The young bartender had done her job perfectly, only disrupting the bubble they’d been in to bring them food or coffee after they’d both had a couple of drinks. The richness of the coffee had gone perfectly with the dark chocolate of the dessert.
His stepfather knew how to cook.
“I think we’re good,” he told her. “I’ll take the bill.”
“Sure you will,” Leslie said with a shake of her head.
He didn’t want to have to fight over this. He hadn’t come in for a free meal, but his mother would likely make a big deal out of it.
“Oh, my god.” Tessa had glanced at the clock behind the bar. “Is it that late?”
He checked his own watch. Almost eleven. Top closed earlier than most of the bars in the area. “Yes, it is. I guess we lost track of time.”
Four hours. They’d been sitting here for four hours. They’d talked a lot about her family and his work. They’d discovered they both loved Marvel movies, and she’d been surprised that he shared her obsession with muscle cars. They’d spent a good hour talking about the 1969 Ford Mustang he was restoring. It had been a present from his mom and Sean when he’d passed his dissertation. Tessa had seemed interested in both his job and his hobby.
She was a unicorn.
She went the loveliest shade of pink. “I can’t believe I did that. I missed the whole party.”
He should have pointed that out to her, but he’d been too happy to sit and talk. “Sorry about that, but I had a nice time tonight. Probably the best time I’ve had in a while.”
He dated. He tended to follow a pattern. Meet a woman, date for a couple of weeks, and then she got bored with the fact that he was far more interested in his work than anything else. He’d even dated a woman in his department, and it had floundered.
But Tessa held every bit of his focus. He’d listened to her stories about growing up with three brothers, and the rest of the world seemed to fade away.
Her long raven-dark hair fell around her shoulders, drawing him in deeper as she gave him a half smile. “Me, too. Why is that hard to admit?”
“For me? It’s hard to admit because then I have to acknowledge that my dating life’s been crappy lately.” He knew he should play it confident and present himself like the stud he wanted to be. Except he’d never wanted to be a stud. He was pretty happy being who he was. Mostly. Though he had to admit that since his Navy officer brother had moved in, he’d noticed that he’d started to fade into the background when compared to Kyle.
But then that was what happened when one was always surrounded by heroic military men. The prof didn’t quite live up to expectations. Kyle fit in with their Taggart stepfamily far better than David ever had.
“Mine’s sucked,” Tessa said with a breathless sigh, as though it felt good to admit that. “I was engaged for a while and since we broke it off, it’s been pretty sad.”
He wasn’t about to let this one slip through his fingers without at least trying. “Well, what do you say we try to turn it around? Any chance you would like to have dinner with me? I promise this time I’ll get you your whole own plate. I know this great Tex-Mex place a couple of blocks over.”
“I would like that.” She practically glowed in the low light. It kissed her golden skin and made her dark eyes flash. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, with lush hair and a generous smile. Beyond her obvious beauty, there was a warmth about her that called to him.
He pulled out his phone. This was the customary trading of digits, a sacred ritual in the modern mating game. The minute he saw her hesitate he realized he was being too aggressive. He set his phone down and decided to go the more secure route. He picked up the pen he’d meant to use to take notes on Ricardo Montez’s manifesto. He hadn’t picked that sucker up all night because he’d been far too interested in her. He quickly wrote his numbers down. “Here’s my cell and my office number in case you want to give me a call. I would love to take you out to dinner.”
She sighed and picked up his phone. “Unlock it. Sorry. I’m female, and giving out my number can be a risk, but I think I’m willing to take it with you.”
That was good to know. He unlocked his phone and handed it to her. She put her number in and then her phone was buzzing, the ritual of exchanging digits complete. She handed his cell back and saved his number in hers. “I would lose the note. I’m way better at keeping up with digital things.”
And they were at the awkward part of the evening, the part where it was over but they didn’t want it to be over. The point where they both knew damn well it was way too soon to go any further than they’d gone. “How far away are you from home? I’m not trying to figure out where you live. I just want to make sure you get home okay.”
She slid off the barstool and stood in front of him. “You are a sweet man.”
He didn’t like the sound of that. He’d learned that women like her tended to not appreciate sweetness. Or rather sweet got a man locked in the friend zone. It wasn’t a bad place to be. He had lots of women friends, but he wanted something more from her. “There’s more to me than meets the eye.”
Her hands came up, eyes taking him in. “I bet there is, Professor. I don’t know what my work schedule is going to be like, but I would definitely love to continue our conversation. And I would definitely love to see that Mustang of yours. Why don’t you give me a call and we’ll take it from there?”
Desire flooded his system in a way it hadn’t in ages. He’d been so focused on his brain that if felt good to let his body want something. Someone. Her. “I will.”
Was she going to kiss him? He held himself still, willing her to brush those luscious lips against his. He wasn’t about to scare her off though. He would let her set the pace in the beginning, and then once she trusted him, he could take control and show her how not sweet he could be.
“Tessa?” A feminine voice broke through the intimacy of the moment.
He turned, and a somewhat familiar woman was standing there. He couldn’t remember her name, but he’d seen her around the restaurant.
Tessa had stepped back, and an apologetic expression crossed her face. “Nina, I’m so sorry. I…uhm…”
“You obviously found something more fun to do than my boring anniversary party.” Nina had a smile on her face. The name rang a bell, too, but a distant one. His mom had mentioned someone named Nina was having a party tonight.
Malone. She was Nina Malone, and she was married to some guy who had a connection to Ian’s company. Malone Oil.
Did Tessa work for Malone Oil? That might fit. She definitely seemed to know the boss’s wife. If he was making the proper connections, Nina was married to the head of Malone Oil.
“I lost track of time,” she admitted. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to miss it.”
Nina waved her off. “It was a bit boring, like the celebration of a long-term marriage should be. And it’s closing down. Can we give you a ride home? JT’s bringing the car around.”
Tessa waved off the offer. “Oh, it’s fine. I can grab a cab.”
“Absolutely not. It’s late, and we didn’t even have a chance to talk. It’s the least we can do for dragging you out here, and your place is on the way back to Fort Worth.” An elegant brow rose over Nina’s eyes. “Unless you have another ride.”
Oh, he would love to give her a ride, but it was too soon, and he wasn’t that guy. He was the guy who made every woman feel comfortable, who built a foundation before showing off his wild side.
He had a wild side. He just didn’t indulge it often.
“I took a train, but I would be happy to escort you.” He would probably look way cooler if he’d driven, but the train let off close to his town house, and there was a station right at the college he worked at.
She shook her head. “I appreciate it, but she’s right. My place is on their way. Nina, I’ll be right with you.”
Nina nodded and moved toward the front door.
The waitstaff was winding down orders and settling up checks. Any minute now his mom would walk out of her office and start helping.
The night was over, and he was about to be left with his books and papers to grade, and normally that didn’t make him as sad as it did tonight.
“It was good to meet you, Tessa.” He held out a hand.
“You, too, David. Do you mind if I kiss you?”
The amount of relief he felt should have scared him. “God, I wish you would. I’m trying to be a gentleman and…”
She stopped him, pressing her lips against his and brushing them softly.
When she put her hands on his shoulders, he let his find her waist and gently dragged her closer. She’d given him permission, and he would let go the minute he sensed a second’s hesitation, but he wanted this kiss.
It was his final argument as to why she should answer when he called her, why she should take that date with him.
He took over, and she seemed to easily follow his lead. He explored her with slow kisses, one wave after another, warming him and stealing his breath.
At the first tentative touch of her tongue, he knew he couldn’t go any further or he would cause a scene. He gave her one last kiss and pulled back.
“I can’t wait to see you again.” He should play it cool, but he’d never been cool, so she should get used to that.
She stepped back, obviously as affected as he’d been. “Me, too. See you soon.”
She gave him a warm smile and grabbed her bag before turning and walking away. Her backside was as pretty as the rest of her.
Tessa. Who would have guessed his dream woman would be the daughter of his favorite high school teacher? It was a strange and small world.
But for once, his own piece of it held some wonder.
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