Everything done in darkness, will eventually be brought into the light.
I ran, but all it did was keep me one step ahead of my past. I tried to start over; new name, new identity. But you can't change your soul.
A fresh start at college was just what I needed. For a while, it worked. I was the party girl, the one that seemed confident, but it was a lie.
When guys kissed me--I felt only pain.
When they touched me--Nothing but fear.
Deep inside, every girl wants to be the beauty in the story, to find someone that will see you as their world.
But the truth? I was the beast. And as much as I wanted redemption, I wasn't fool enough to think I'd ever get it.
Until he walked into my life.
I wasn't prepared to fall for someone. My scars were too deep, the wounds too raw. But he offered me peace, he offered me security. I should have known it was just another lie--I should have known that falling in love with my professor was a bad idea.
But I was powerless to stop myself from falling.
And he was powerless to catch me.
Because the darkness finally caught up to me, and as fate would have it, a cruel twist almost bled me dry. But I'm stronger than I knew. I'm stronger than you think.
You think you know my story, but you don't....after all everyone has Shame in their lives-- and I'm no longer afraid to show you mine.
“Just hold still!” I yelled, holding up my phone while Gabe gave me the finger. I grimaced and dropped the camera away from my face. “Nice, thanks for that.”
“I’m a giver.” He smirked.
Saylor, his wife, smacked him on the arm and rolled her eyes.
I scrunched up my face when he leaned in and took Saylor’s mouth with his, kissing her senseless in the local Starbucks like they were doing a romance scene in a movie. I coughed.
They didn’t pull apart.
So I took a picture.
I earned another finger, but Gabe still didn’t dislodge from his wife.
“Whoa!” Wes’s voice sounded from behind me. “They been at it long?”
“Are all newlyweds disgusting?” I voiced aloud.
Wes moved around the table with his wife, Kiersten, and gave me a goofy shrug. I wanted to roll my eyes, but Wes was too nice and hot. Let’s not forget the hot part. Both he and Gabe were like walking poster boys for GQ. Both blond, now that Gabe had decided to dye his hair back to his original color. It was like staring at two really bright superstars.
Hating them was like hating the Easter bunny. Try all you want, but you’ll eat every piece of chocolate in the basket, just you wait.
“So, classes?” Kiersten leaned forward. “I heard you got stuck with that hot new psych prof.”
Wes growled low in his throat.
“Down boy.” I braced my hands on the table and laughed. “Besides he’s not that hot.”
“A girl passed out.” Kiersten’s eyebrows shot up. “Like in class.”
“Dehydration?” I shrugged, taking a sip of coffee.
“Or…” She leaned forward. “…the rumors are true.”
“Rumors…” Gabe backed away from Saylor, his lips swollen. “…are always based on truth.”
“So you really did do a naked dance in your underwear last week after getting drunk downtown at Pike Place Market?” I tilted my head and waited while Gabe rolled his eyes and popped his knuckles. “Exactly.”
He opened his mouth.
I took a picture.
With a grimace, he snatched my phone away from me. “Never thought I’d have to tell you to lay off the pictures, Miss Paparazzi.”
I slumped in my seat. “It’s for an assignment with that hot professor.”
“Aha!” Kiersten jabbed her finger at me. “I knew it.”
I pinned her with a look. “Sarcasm, friend, sarcasm.”
“Boys get girls pregnant,” Gabe offered, while Wes choked on the coffee he’d just stolen out of my hand.
Serves him right!
“Don’t date them.”
“You’re going to be a great dad.” I smiled sweetly. “What? You’re just going to lock your girls in their rooms and go—” I mimicked his voice. “—uh, you see boy parts are bad, they make girls have lots of babies, like rabbits, and you know how rabbits make dad nervous and—”
“Hilarious,” Gabe’s eyes narrowed. “And please don’t talk about kids yet…”
Saylor laughed quietly next to him then squeezed his arm.
My heart dropped.
A very long time ago, I’d wanted to be that for Gabe, then Taylor happened and well… I shuddered, blocking out the painful memories, the things I’d done, the things he’d done, the things we’d done.
“You okay?” Wes asked, his voice soft. He was way too perceptive for my taste. If I’d wanted to share, he’d be the guy I’d talk to, but I was a vault. Sharing meant admitting my guilt, and admitting meant I’d probably go insane just like he had.
“Yeah…” I straightened in my seat. “…I just don’t want to fail my class, and I need to write down nonverbal cues and take at least one picture. And pretty sure I need to ace this first assignment on account that I was late to my prof’s class, and I got in trouble.”
“He spank you?” Gabe’s eyes mocked across his coffee.
“Yes, Gabe,” I said calmly. “Because that’s how they punish bad students here at UW — with a yardstick and a smile.”
“I wish.” He whistled. “What I wouldn’t give to have Saylor—”
I plugged my ears.
He threw his head back and laughed while Saylor turned bright red and put her hand over his mouth to shush him.
“So…” Wes ignored Gabe as was his usual and leaned across the table. “…why don’t you take pictures of people here in the coffee shop? I mean, ask permission, but most people here are super interesting, right? Studying? Stressed out? Tired?” He pointed to a guy in the corner. “He looks like he’s running on five cups of coffee and one hour of sleep. Go ask, take the picture, make some notes, project done.”
“You make it sound so easy,” I grumbled.
He grinned. “I’m Wes Michels.”
I hung my head lower and grimaced.
“Phone.” He held out his hand and stood.
Within minutes, not only had he snapped two pictures for me but had taken notes on two pre-med students who had stayed up all night cramming for what they’d assumed would be a pop quiz, only to find out that they’d been in the wrong class on the wrong day.
“And that’s why I'm not pre-med.” Gabe shuddered.
“Really?” Kiersten asked. “I thought it was because big words scared you?”
“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. What now?” He nodded. “Keep talking, Kiersten, or keep walking.”
“Spell it.” She smirked.
“So this professor…” Gabe changed the subject. “If he tries anything, use the Mace or the rape whistle.”
“Right.” I nodded. “I’ll be sure to do that. In class. With a hundred other students. When he looks at me cross-eyed.”
“Good,” he huffed.
“I was kidding.”
Saylor patted Gabe’s shoulder. “Gotta let the baby birds out of the nest someday, Gabe.”
I closed my eyes and leaned my forehead against hers. A shaky breath escaped her lips. “I’m going to kiss you now.”
“Are you trying to prepare me or ask permission?” she whispered, her voice beckoning me like a siren’s call.
“Both.” My lips hovered near hers. “I figure it’s only fair.”
“Fair?” She pulled back slightly. “How so?”
“Ten thousand.” I angled my head and watched the pulse jump on her neck. “That’s how many nerve endings, on average, are in your lips. Consequently, when your body anticipates pleasure, the build-up is the best part. Imagine, those ten thousand nerves are swelling, allowing blood to surge through them in anticipation of… what?” I swept my tongue across her lower lip and whispered, “Of being touched. I ask permission, not because I’m being a gentleman. It’s actually the complete opposite. I ask permission so your brain anticipates the pleasure before I’ve ever even touched you.”
I tasted her lower lip again and abruptly dipped my tongue into her mouth. Then just as quickly retreated. “The human body is an instrument. Know how to master it… and well…” I let my voice drop as I moved my hands slowly to her shoulders and tugged her body flush against mine. Our mouths met softly at first. I deepened the kiss, memorizing her taste, knowing I wouldn’t experience a kiss like this again in my lifetime. The way her scent, her soft moans destroyed my body, wrecked me from the deepest part of me, was nothing short of life-altering.
And I’d like to think I’d kissed a lot of women.
I’d studied the psychology of sexuality.
I was an expert in pleasure.
But she was schooling me, absolutely wreaking havoc on every logical thought as her soft whimper cascaded over me. Blood surged through my body as it tightened with awareness at her proximity.
She pulled back, her lips swollen. “That was… not a good enough warning.”
Laughing softly, I cupped the back of her head and gently drew it toward mine and kissed her again, angling my lips differently, searching her, consuming her, drawing pleasure from her lips as if it was my life goal to discover every single secret she owned.
Her arms wrapped around my neck. She was shy; she didn’t push against me, didn’t wrap her legs around me or moan into my mouth like I was having sex with her rather than kissing her.
My hands moved down her corset to her hips, and I lifted her into the air and walked her backward toward the brick wall. The whole time, our masks collided. In frustration, I ripped hers off, then mine. The shadows of moonlight hid our faces as I kissed her harder, losing myself in her.
Her nails dug at the back of my neck as she jerked my head harder. Groaning, I let her fall to the ground as I placed my hands on the brick wall to keep myself from ripping the dress from her body.
Shouting started from the ballroom.
“Eight,” I whispered against her mouth. “Seven.”
“Six.” She sighed, her breathing labored as her tongue found mine again. “Five.”
“Four, three.” I pulled back and trailed kisses down her neck.
We broke apart, both breathing heavy. “One.”
People burst out onto the balcony as the fireworks started, lighting up the sky. And our faces.
And the only thing I could say as she gasped in horror was “Oh, shit.”
It was hard to explain the way he spoke to me; at times he was flirtatious and well… happy. Other times? It seemed like he was fighting another side of himself, one that was more reserved, uptight, controlled. And if you were to ask me which side scared me the most? I’d say both. Because both sides were dangerous to me — both pushed a person like me past the point of no return. His seriousness made me curious; his flirtation made me want more.
“Just dinner?” I asked. “Isn’t that against the rules?”
“Yeah, well…” He glanced down briefly before flashing a sensual smile, his eyes dilating. “…it seems to be an impulse I can’t really control around you.”
“Control’s overrated, you label-making fool.”
At that he laughed, a rich chuckle that had my entire body relaxing and heating at the same time. I took a step toward him and smiled. “So, rule-breaker, where are we going?”
He grabbed his messenger bag and keys. “You’ll see.”
“Cryptic.” My eyebrows arched as I crossed my arms over my chest. “This isn’t going to turn into one of those six o‘clock news things where the crazy professor takes the girl out then buries her in the woods, is it?” I tried to sound like I was joking, but the minute the words left my mouth, it was no longer funny. Suddenly, I realized how stupid it would be to go with him. I knew nothing about him, nothing at all!
He smiled, tilting his head toward me. “Why am I getting the sudden urge to pull out a list of character references?”
“Because I just scared myself,” I admitted out loud.
“You want my social security number?” He winked. “Credit score? First grade class photo? Oh, and by the way, in first grade I was nominated most likely to own a pet store… so, if you aren’t okay with that, we probably shouldn’t continue this.”
“Because you liked pets?”
“I wanted to own a lizard farm.”
I covered my mouth with my hands and nodded solemnly. “All little boys have dreams.”
“A bully crushed mine when he told me lizard farms don’t exist.” He shook his head. “In second grade I was voted least likely to succeed, on account that I didn’t speak for the entire year.”
“Why’s that?” I took another step toward him.
He took another step in my direction and shrugged. “It took me a while to get over the lizards.”
“So you stopped speaking?”
“It was more of me trying to make the public aware of my outrage.”
“Ah, like lizard strike.”
“I made shirts.”
“Tell me, professor, is that when the label-making started?”
“No.” He nodded toward the door and started walking. I followed, genuinely interested in what he was going to say and hating that it was possible he was stringing me along only to go all cold-crazy-psycho on me again. “That was an entirely different situation.” He pulled the door open.
“What? No more stories?” I asked.
“Dinner.” He shrugged, his eyes a stormy gray. “I’ll tell you at dinner.”
“My trump card. Label-maker stories. You know, I do actually know how to romance a woman.”
“Well...” I cleared my throat and broke eye contact. “…since I’m your student, I’ll just take your word for it.”
“Right,” he said quickly then repeated, “Right, shall we?”
“Lead the way.” I forced a smile and tried to remember that this was dinner, nothing romantic, just my very sexy professor once again apologizing for being a jackass during class.
About Rachel Van Dyken:
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she's not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband and their snoring Boxer, Sir Winston Churchill. She loves to hear from readers! You can follow her writing journey at www.rachelvandykenauthor.com