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Out of My League Michele Zurlo 2022/8/3 13:51:39

Though she wore a bathing suit, she hadn’t done more than walk along the shore. “Yes. I just came back a little while ago for some water and air-conditioning.”

“Storm’s rolling in. I was gonna shower and grab some lunch. Want to go down to the restaurant with me?”

She closed the report cover and set it on the table. His eyes tracked the movement, narrowing as he realized what she’d done.

He picked it up, flipped through the pages, and then threw it back down on the table. He parked his hands on his hips. “You went into my suitcase.”

“It’s a really good paper. Why didn’t you turn it in on time?”

“I told you I was working.”

“It’s a brilliant idea. You’ve laid out your research strategy so well it would only take a few tweaks to turn this into a real study. What do you do that’s so important you couldn’t stay home and finish this?”

He smirked. “Don’t you think your opinion is a little biased? After all, I put a bit of that theory into practice, and I think you enjoyed it.”

Heat crept up her neck and bloomed on her cheeks, but she wasn’t going to let him derail the conversation. “Kaelen.”

“I’m a firefighter. We had a three-alarm blaze. They needed me.”

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Mia recalled seeing reports of the fire on the morning news. It had taken them all night to get the blaze under control. Fifty-two people were now homeless. One person had died, and three others had been hospitalized. The thought that Kaelen had been there, had likely been inside the building as it burned, scared the hell out of her. She closed her eyes to tamp down the after-the-fact worry.

“About the time class started, I was showering off a night of grime and soot. Then I headed home and fell into bed. When I woke up, I finished the paper and brought it to Brindley’s office. Most of campus was deserted. I didn’t expect to see you there.”

He sat on the corner of the table, leaned his elbows on his knees, and combed his fingers through his hair. She wanted to put her arms around him and hold him close. “I don’t understand why you didn’t say anything. You were busy saving people’s lives. Even if he refused to take the paper, you had a pretty strong case if you wanted to challenge his decision.”

He jumped to his feet and paced in an aimless pattern. She let him gather his thoughts.

“You already think I’m some kind of idiot.”

Mia’s head jerked backward as if he’d smacked her. In a way, he had. “I never thought you were an idiot.”

“Fucking hell. There isn’t a single time I’ve been up to your office that I didn’t have to manufacture a reason to be there.”

She frowned. Certainly he didn’t need a reason to see Dr. Brindley during office hours, and her boss wasn’t in the habit of sharing the details of meetings with her or anyone else. The man might be a hard-ass, but he had professional ethics.

“I fell for you the first time I saw you standing up in front of my class in that dark blue, shapeless dress with a sweater over it to make it more shapeless. I have no idea why you try to hide how unbelievably beautiful you are, but I don’t really care. Less competition.”

Her heart fluttered. She remembered the first time she saw him, how strongly he’d affected her. His smoking-hot good looks had certainly made him stand out, but when he spoke, she found she liked how his comments lent depth to the discussion. Sometimes she designed questions for the class just because she wanted to hear his opinion on the subject.

He flashed that half grin, but she could tell his heart wasn’t in it. “I wanted to ask you out. But then you opened your mouth. By the time class was over, I’d decided I was going to marry you. We’d have two or three kids, your choice, and a house with a decent-sized yard.”

Mia reeled, and her mind raced. He’d never asked her out, not once.

“Filling out all those questionnaires for Oasis made me realize I’d never have you, not after asking you stupid questions for a year and trying like hell to flirt with you. You never flirted back. You showed zero interest in me. You’re too far out of my league. I’d resigned myself to having the fantasy.”

So had she. “I thought you only flirted with me because you thought I could improve your grade in the class.”

He faced her, his mouth pressed in a grim line. “I don’t need Advanced Methods to graduate, and I don’t need help getting good grades. I took it thinking I’d get up the courage to ask you out even though you didn’t seem interested.”

It had never occurred to her that he might actually find her attractive. The surgery to fix her breasts hadn’t been until last summer. They didn’t make a prosthetic bra that hid her problem, so until her surgery, she’d made do with a push-up bra and stuffing so the left one looked like it was the same size as the right. No man, especially one as good-looking as Kaelen, wanted to settle for a disfigured woman.