In case you missed it, you can find Chapter One here.
Evan couldn’t decide whether to be amused, irritated, or flat out pissed. The way she’d sashayed out of the classroom, that extra sway in her step obviously for his benefit, pulled him toward amusement. But the way she acted toward him the rest of the time had his irritation bubbling towards full-on anger.
He followed her across the brick center mall of campus to the library, his Marycliff Football sweatshirt not quite enough to block the early February chill. Layla glanced at him over her shoulder a few times to make sure he still followed, but he kept his distance a few feet behind her. She’d made it abundantly clear that she didn’t value his company. If they didn’t need to figure out when to meet next about the project, he’d bail. Maybe he should anyway. He could catch her in class the next time.
His breath puffed in front of him as he let out a sigh. He had to get the book anyway. Might as well go to the library and get this over with. Plus, he wanted to prove her wrong about her assumption that she’d be doing all the work and that he would be just a lackey along for the ride. He got the dumb jock assumption a lot. It came with the territory. If he did well at football, then he must not be good at school, right?
He took advantage of the team tutors during the season because it was easy to get behind in classes, and borrowing notes was always a crapshoot. Some people took good notes that made sense. Others … not so much.
He’d always thought Layla looked like the type to take good notes. They’d had classes together twice before. He’d managed to sit next to her once. She’d caught his attention, both because of her looks—long, straight black hair, smooth, golden skin, and large, dark eyes—and because she seemed so focused in class. But the next class, she’d been surrounded by other students and never met his eyes any time he tried to catch her attention. He’d thought she must be shy.
With the way she’d treated him today, he wasn’t so sure. She didn’t seem shy. For some reason she’d decided she didn’t like him. When he’d offered her his usual smile and a handshake, she’d looked at him like he was some kind of unidentifiable slime she’d found on her shoe after exiting a public restroom.
That was new for him.
He flirted a lot. He knew it. Not all girls responded the same. Some flirted back. Some threw themselves at him. Some expressed their disinterest, but remained polite and friendly. Disgust had never happened before. It wasn’t like smiling and shaking hands was an offensive move.
Layla yanked the library door open with more force than necessary, and Evan didn’t bother hiding his grin. He was behind her, after all. She couldn’t see him. Ever the gentleman, though, he caught up to her in two quick steps and held the door for her to enter. She glanced back at him, and he let his smile grow wider.
He stifled the laugh that threatened to escape, turning it into a cough just in time. Christ, she was easy to needle. He made the decision to go with amusement instead of irritation or anger. It’d be fun to see how much his usual behavior pissed her off. So flirting, smiling, fun Evan was back in action. Not the full force that he used to get in a girl’s pants. Just his usual. He could always turn it up later if he felt the need.
With that being the case, he didn’t hang back like he had since leaving the classroom. She stopped at a computer station to look up The House of the Spirits in the online catalogue, glancing at him as he leaned against the counter next to her, his eyes never leaving her, his customary smile turning up the corners of his mouth. Usually it happened without thought. Today, he was extra aware of it, wanting to make sure it never faltered, but didn’t veer into creepy territory either. Flirting was definitely not the same as creeping.
She let out a frustrated sigh, hitched her backpack higher on her shoulder, and headed for the stairs without a word. Rubbing a hand over his face, Evan stifled another laugh, catching up to her at the bottom of the stairs, being sure to stay close behind her. With another quick glance over her shoulder, her eyes narrowed as she saw him right behind her. Flinging her hair over her shoulder, she caught him in the face, his nostrils filling with a citrusy scent. This time he laughed out loud. Oh, this was going to be fun.
Evan followed her through the stacks, more determined than ever to see how far he could push her. If smiling at her and walking close behind her provoked this kind of reaction, what would she do if he actually flirted? Run screaming back to Dr. Rankin demanding an assignment change? Even if she did, he somehow doubted Dr. Rankin would go for that. The woman had a reputation of being unbending, rarely granting extensions except in cases of University-sanctioned absences (which he’d taken advantage of more than once) or a documented crisis. Not getting along with your assigned partner didn’t qualify as either of those. Unless Layla got appendicitis or had a real family emergency, she was stuck with him.
She stopped in front of a shelf of books so suddenly that he couldn’t stop before running into her, catching her by the shoulders to keep her from falling. She glared at him. “What are you doing? Don’t touch me.”
He let her go, holding up his hands palms out. “Yes, ma’am. I apologize. Just trying to keep you from falling.”
She huffed. “I wouldn’t’ve been in danger of falling if you hadn’t run into me.”
“Give a guy a little warning next time before you stop, and I’ll be sure not to run into you.” He smiled.
Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t follow so close behind me.”
“Right. I’ll walk next to you from now on.”
A little growl of frustration came from her throat, but she turned to the books before she could catch him grinning. While she examined the books, he took another opportunity to examine her.
He considered himself something of a connoisseur when it came to women. He’d heard one of his old teammates use the term, back before he graduated and got pussy-whipped by some chick he met at a party. Evan felt it fit him even more than it had Lance Kane. As much as he liked to sample women, he also enjoyed watching them, figuring them out.
Layla didn’t fit in the neat classifications he’d come up with for the majority of the female population on campus. He had the most experience with the jersey chasers, for obvious reasons. They kept themselves made up and primped to the max, with regular salon appointments to keep up with the hair color, nails, and waxing. Then there were the female jocks, who he came in contact with nearly as often as the jersey chasers. They were lower maintenance, which he appreciated when he was waiting for a girl to get ready, and more aggressive in bed, which he liked when he was in the right mood as well.
There was a large subset of outdoorsy types around here. Layla almost fit that description, but not quite. She didn’t look like she’d stepped out of an L.L. Bean catalogue like he thought of those types of girls. Nor did she embody the hipster chick that dominated the English department. She had a similar wardrobe, but lacked the ironic air that went with it. And today, for example, with her fitted skinny jeans that clung to her legs and showcased her ass, and solid purple long-sleeved T-shirt with its deep V that gave just a hint of the swell of her breasts, she didn’t look like either of those. Since he’d seen her in shorts or a skirt a few times, he knew she shaved her legs, so she couldn’t be a hippie.
No, she was in a class all her own.
A book slapped into his chest, and he grabbed it reflexively.
Layla stood in front of him, brown eyes flashing. “Here. There’s only one copy. I’ll see if I can get it from the public library or buy it somewhere.”
“Uh, okay.” He pulled the book away from his chest and glanced down at it. “Is this a good translation? Wouldn’t it be easier if we got the same one? If you’re going to buy it, I can buy it too.”
She rolled her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest, which pushed her breasts up more, framing her cleavage above her shirt and between the sides of her open jacket. “Eyes up here, jackass.”
His eyes snapped to her face, and he had to fight the urge to turn sheepish. He hadn’t meant to check her out like that, but much better to make it seem deliberate since he was trying to push her buttons.
“What difference does it make if we get the same edition. Are you even going to read the book?”
He took a sharp turn toward anger again, but fought back toward amusement. If she wanted to assume he was a dumb jock and a horny asshole, then let her. Letting his eyes wander over her again, his eyelids heavy, he leaned against the bookshelves, rubbing his thumb along his lower lip. “I’d be open to private tutoring.”
Another eye roll from her, this one so hard that he almost worried she’d get stuck like that. He worked hard to suppress his smile, keeping it to the level of flirty and sexy that worked like a charm on most women, but he knew would infuriate this one more.
“I have better things to do than teach you to read while you ogle my chest for the millionth time.”
His jaw clenched at her insult. Normally he didn’t give a shit if people assumed he wasn’t smart, but from her it pissed him off for some reason. He forced himself to relax, raking his eyes over her once more.
“You misunderstand my meaning. I was offering the private tutoring to you. Help you learn to loosen up.”
She gasped, taking a tiny step back, her mouth open in shock. That sound, the way her lips parted, had a thousand dirty thoughts flooding his mind and his blood rushing south. But in an instant she recovered, her eyes narrowing. He could tell she was trying to think of a suitable comeback. When nothing came, she let out a low growl and pushed past him, her pointy elbow making contact with the tender spot below his ribcage on her way past.
He waited until she got to the end of the row of shelves before calling after her, “So I’ll see you tomorrow to plan out our project?”
She froze, her back to him, her shoulders going up to her ears as though to defend herself against his words. When she turned around, her eyes were little more than slits. “Read the damn book. I’ll tell you what you need to do when the time comes.”
With that, she stormed off.
He stared at the space where she’d stood, trying to figure out why she hated him so much. She was so striking that he would’ve remembered if they’d talked at all before now. Maybe she was friends with someone he’d slept with and never called back?
That seemed possible. Girls talked. So she might’ve been in on some girly ice-cream-and-guy-bashing session.
With a sigh of resignation, he glanced down at the book in his hands. She didn’t even expect him to read it, so having the same edition wouldn’t matter to her at all. Might as well save his money and check this one out. How would she react when he actually had an opinion about the book and their project? She’d probably just get pissed off, since that seemed to be her default reaction to him no matter what.
Female voices chatting and laughing drifted to him from somewhere else in the library. Walking out of the shelves, he spotted a couple of girls he recognized at a table with their books and laptops out. Just what he needed to feel better.
His usual flirty smirk in place, he sauntered over. “Hey, ladies. Mind if I join you? I need to get through some reading for a class.”
The girls eyed him up and down where he stood with a hand on the back of a free chair. The blonde drew her hand across her chest to move her hair behind her shoulder while the brunette pulled his chair out for him, a welcoming smile on her lips. “Of course! We’d love to have you join us.”
Evan smiled as he sat down. Yeah, his mojo worked just fine. It was all Layla acting like a frigid bitch, not something about the way he treated her. Good to know.