“I will not accept any late assignments.” Calista Prescott
snapped her laser pointer shut and swept her gaze over the lecture hall of a
hundred shuffling, slouching undergraduates. “If your paper is not either in my
hand, on my desk, or in my mailbox by five p.m. Friday afternoon…that’s the day
after tomorrow, to avoid any misunderstanding…then you will receive an
incomplete. And no, emailing me a copy does not count. Printed copies only. No
exceptions. Class dismissed.”
The air filled with chatter and sighs of relief. The
students stuffed notebooks into their backpacks and started checking their
phones. Her graduate teaching assistant, Jordan, approached from the projection
booth with a stack of slide carousels.
“If you ever want me to put your lectures and slides on a
twenty-first century computer, I would be delighted.” He set the carousels on
the table with a grimace, as if he were carrying forty-pound cement blocks.
“The slide projector suits me just fine, thank you,” Callie
“You mean the ancient relic?”
“A perfect tool for teaching ancient history.”
With an unsubtle roll of his eyes, Jordan wound up the
electrical cord and placed the carousels and remote control into boxes. “I’ll
put this all in your office.”
As he and the rest of the class began heading toward the
doors, a barrage of anxious-looking students approached the podium like a
Spartan army on the march. Callie stiffened her spine.
“Professor Prescott, did you get my email about my grandma
in the hospital…?”
“I can’t get my printer to work, Dr. Prescott…”
“The book I need hasn’t come in at the library yet…”
Callie encompassed the group in a tight smile and hardened
her heart to their puppy-dog eyes and beseeching pleas. In her early days of
teaching, she’d learned her lesson about showing any weakness. These kids might
look all scruffy, ear-pod-wearing innocence, but they could smell blood.
“You’ve all known about this assignment since the first day
of class.” She closed her leather satchel and snapped the latch. “No
exceptions. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
The group sagged with dismay, and one girl—Laura—bit her
Walk away, Dr.
Callie stepped back from the podium and slipped into the
cashmere cardigan she’d left on the back of a chair. She started toward the
door, her heels clicking purposefully. Behind her, the students radiated
Keep walking. Keep
Was that a sniffle?
Her heart sank. Gripping her satchel strap tighter, she
swiveled and leveled the group with an icy glare.
“I will have extra office hours today, tomorrow, and Friday
afternoon until five. I will also plan to check my email more often than usual.
Should you encounter further obstacles in your research and writing, you may
either come to my office or email me. I will do my best to assist you. But
there will be no exceptions. I wish
your grandmother well, Mr. Hamilton.”
Without waiting to see if her remarks mollified them, she
strode from the lecture hall. Hopefully her hard-ass attitude would still
deflect any notion of weakness.
She glanced at her slim gold wristwatch. One hour until her
meeting with the senior professors in the Classics department, which gave her
just enough time to drive over to the Bliss Cove Library and pick up the books
she’d ordered through interlibrary loan.
She preferred using the local library since the college
library was always so slammed with requests from students and other professors.
Not to mention, the Bliss Cove librarian Beatrice was highly efficient, a
quality Callie both appreciated and often found lacking in other people.
Outside, the grassy expanse of the quad at Skyline College
teemed with students trudging to their next class, backpacks slung over their
shoulders as they balanced their cell phones with takeout coffee cups. The May
sun peeked through a fluffy layer of clouds, and a breeze strengthened the
scent of the Pacific ocean and the surrounding redwood forests.
Callie had always loved the picturesque beauty of the small
private college with its brick buildings and tree-lined flagstone pathways. If
it weren’t for her meeting, she’d have gotten herself a coffee and found a
quiet place to sit and enjoy the lovely day.
But…junior professors who were up for tenure and trying to
finish a book proposal on Greek mythology didn’t have time to enjoy the day. Or
to enjoy anything, really.
Her phone buzzed with a text from her sister Rory: Drinks at the Mousehole tonight?
Callie paused to type a reply: Sorry, going to Mom’s then working.
Dropping her phone back into her bag, she got into her car
and drove toward the library. Ocean waves splashed against the rocky coastline,
and downtown Bliss Cove bustled with people out walking and shopping.
Everything about the town—from the ivy-covered buildings to the town square
presided over by a white gazebo to the Mousehole Tavern tucked away in a grove
of redwoods—was part of Callie’s blood. Even when she was a child, she hadn’t
been able to imagine living anywhere else.
Flexing her hands on the wheel, she let out a long breath.
Now more than ever, she wanted—needed—to stay in Bliss Cove. Being awarded
tenure would ensure her job security and also allow her to continue living
where her roots were planted.
She followed the coastal road north out of town to an
expanse of land where a massive, old Victorian mansion sat beneath a bower of
trees. A round tower rose from the back, giving the place a fairy-tale quality.
Grabbing her satchel, she ascended the columned front porch
and went inside. A hush filled the cool, dark air, and a few people sat at the
long tables reading and studying.
Callie approached the weathered, wooden front desk where the
librarian, Beatrice Delaney, was busy checking in books.
The young woman startled, pushing her glasses up the bridge
of her nose. “Callie, sorry. I didn’t even hear you come in. How are you?”
“Fine, thanks.” Callie set her satchel on the desk. “I just
wanted to pick up the books you ordered for me through interlibrary loan. You
messaged me that they were in.”
“Yes, the last one just came in yesterday.” Bee turned
toward the hold shelf and perused the alphabetically stacked titles. “I told
Peter to put them under your name, but I don’t see them here. Hold on a
She picked up the landline phone—cell service being spotty
on this isolated stretch of coastline—and dialed. “Peter? It’s Bee.”
With a sigh, Callie glanced at her watch. Forty-five minutes
to her meeting. She also needed to stop at her office on the way to pick up her
An elderly gentleman approached the desk with a stack of
mystery novels, giving Callie a nod of greeting.
“Callie, I’m sorry.” Bee turned, a frown creasing her smooth
forehead. “He mistakenly put them back in the stacks instead of on the hold
shelf. I’ll run up and get them for you.”
Callie stifled a rush of impatience. She shook her head,
indicating that Bee should help the gentleman check out his books. “It’s okay,
I’ll get them.”
Before Bee could protest, Callie picked up her satchel and
hurried toward the worn staircase leading to the upper floors. She reached the
third floor and crossed the expanse of looming shelves to the very back where
the Greek mythology section was located. She checked the list of call numbers
on her phone.
Eight books—and she’d left her book bag on campus. No time
to come back later either, as she had to get over to her mother’s house right
after the meeting. Besides, she was here now and she wasn’t about to waste
She perused the shelves and hauled out the heavy books from
between others that were coated with dust. The last volume was so large it was
stacked sideways on a lower shelf. Callie knelt to yank it out and grimaced as
cobwebs clung to her cashmere sleeve. Some of the shelves had apparently never
seen the benefits of the library’s cleaning budget.
After piling the books on top of each other, she hefted the
stack into her arms and hurried back to the stairs. From the corner of her eye,
she caught a glimpse of the narrow, gated elevator, which she usually avoided
due to its advanced age. She started toward it. Her arms were already strained,
and she’d need to shave seconds off this errand to avoid being late.
She punched the call button with her elbow, shifting the
books into the crook of her other arm. Smears of dirt and dust covered her
beige silk blouse and the front of her sweater.
She groaned. All she needed was to walk into the meeting and
face six senior professors with smudges streaking her clothes. If Bee got her
books checked out quickly, she might have time to stop at the ladies’ room and
try to clean up.
Where was the elevator? The darned thing didn’t even have
numbers indicating its location. She shifted again, hitching her satchel higher
up on her shoulder. Her long, straight brown hair was starting to escape its
usual neat chignon, which meant another repair before the meeting.
She blew a stray lock of hair away from her forehead and
hefted the books to her other arm. Strength training at the gym had nothing
compared to hauling around Greek mythology books.
“Come on.” She
glowered at the elevator, as if irritation would make it move. If she’d taken
the stairs, she’d be at the check-out desk by now.
“Can I help you?”
A deep male voice rolled over her skin. She turned, her gaze
colliding with eyes so blue that looking into them was like diving into a pool
of pristine, tropical water.
Her breath caught. A hot shiver ran down her spine. “Um…excuse
“Those look heavy.” He stopped beside her and reached for
Reflexively, Callie clutched the dusty stack tighter against
her chest. Words dissolved in her throat. If a Greek hero statue came to life,
this man would be the result.
He was big, well over six feet, with strong, classical
features—high cheekbones sloped down to a square jaw and beautifully shaped
mouth, and his thick-lashed eyes studied her with penetrating intensity from
behind a pair of black-framed glasses. His longish hair, a strikingly uniform
and heavy shade of dirty blond, brushed the collar of his jacket, and his wide
shoulders looked as if they could bear any weight in the world. A black strap
cut across his chest, holding a camera at his side.
Callie struggled to pull in a breath. Though her arm muscles
ached from holding the books, she shook her head. “I…I’m fine. Thank you.”
Turning, she stabbed the elevator button again. Why was it taking so long?
He angled his body toward the elevator, tucking a thick
paperback under his arm. Just standing beside him was an exercise in awareness,
as Callie couldn’t help but notice the breadth of his muscular chest beneath a
navy T-shirt, or the way his worn jeans hugged his long legs…
The elevator pinged. He stepped forward to pull open the
gate, extending his hand to hold the door for her. Callie’s appreciation of the
chivalrous gesture faded as she moved past him, the close quarters causing her
arm to brush against his abdomen. The half-second contact elicited a
ridiculously disproportionate surge of heat in her veins.
Stiffening her shoulders, she strode with purpose into the
elevator. Halfway in, her heel stuck in the gap between the elevator and the
floor. With a squeak of alarm, she pitched forward.
Her books crashed to the ground. Before she could put her
hands out to break an inevitable fall, he darted in front of her, grabbed her
arms, and hauled her upright.
“Careful.” Concern laced his voice. He tightened his grip on
her. Heavens, he was strong.
Callie’s heart raced. She nodded, struggling to control her
erratic breathing. He was right in front of her, so close that she caught his
scent—something earthy and masculine, like autumn leaves and salt. She stared
at the tanned column of his throat, the hollow where his pulse beat visibly
beneath his taut skin.
God. Was he as
affected by their contact as she was?
“You okay?” He flexed his hands and peeled his grip from her
Not trusting herself to speak, Callie nodded. He bent to
retrieve her books. She started forward to help him, then stopped. She couldn’t
move. Her narrow heel was still stuck in the elevator door gap.
“Hold on.” He stacked her books in a neat pile on the floor
and stepped to her side, putting up an arm to keep the doors from closing on
Before she could issue a protest—and really, at this point,
she was in no position to reject his help—he closed one strong hand around her
shoe and the other around her stocking-clad ankle.
Callie almost jumped out of her skin. Her pulse skyrocketed,
and warmth flooded her. She couldn’t help imagining what his big hand would
feel like sliding up her calf, around to her knee, then clear up to her thigh
“Pull,” he ordered, his tone brisk and business-like.
“Pull your foot. I’ve got your heel.”
A flush scorched Callie’s neck. She silently prayed that one
of her students, or worse, a fellow professor, didn’t decide to wander by at
that very second. Bracing one hand on the wall, she tugged her foot. He pulled
at the same time, and her heel jolted free from the gap.
“Success!” Straightening, he flashed her a smile so white
and engaging that pleasure constricted her chest—and then familiarity struck
Wait a second. Did she know
No. She shook her head to rid herself of the preposterous
idea. She wouldn’t have not
remembered a man like him.
“No problem.” He picked up her books. “Wouldn’t want you
falling head over heels.”
Callie laughed, her tension relaxing. He grinned and shot
her a wink before turning to press the first-floor button. Why did he suddenly seem so familiar?
The elevator doors closed. He studied the book titles and
covers. “Greek mythology, huh?”
“Yes, I teach in the Classics department at Skyline.”
He glanced over at her, a crease appearing between his
eyebrows. Callie realized she was still staring at him. Maybe he was a new
resident or another professor—though of what, she couldn’t imagine. Love 101?
Her cheeks warmed. “I’m sorry.” She smiled weakly. “It’s
just…I’ve never seen you here before, but you look familiar. Do we know each
His shoulders stiffened. A shield appeared to descend over
his features, closing off all traces of warmth and humor.
“No.” He faced forward again. “We don’t.”
Before Callie could respond to his sudden change in tone,
the elevator bumped and rattled to a stop. She extended her arms to take the
books from him.
“Thanks for the…” Her voice trailed off.
Why weren’t the doors
opening? Didn’t the bump indicate they’d reached the first floor?
Since she didn’t usually take this elevator, she wouldn’t
know. Maybe it was just slow.
Blowing her breath out impatiently, she hit the Open Doors button. Nothing.
“Maybe we need to say ‘Hocus
Pocus’?” Though his tone was light, he frowned slightly.
For some reason, a spark of anxiety lit in Callie’s belly.
She shifted her weight and pushed the button again. “I knew I should have taken
Setting the books down, he punched the other buttons on the
panel. Nothing happened. The overhead lights flickered.
“Could be the ghost of Captain Marcus.” He glanced up at the
Callie shot him a narrow look. If he knew the library was
rumored to be haunted by the ship captain who built the mansion, then he was
either from around here or he’d read up on the history of Bliss Cove. It had to
be the former. But why couldn’t she place him?
His frown deepened as he studied the panel and pressed the
alarm button. A buzzing noise echoed in the small space. “So at least we know
Callie clucked her tongue with irritation and checked her
watch. Half an hour before her meeting. “Bee knows I went to get those books,
so even if she didn’t hear the alarm, she’ll wonder where I went.”
“What if she thinks you’re just browsing the stacks?”
“I don’t have time to browse
the stacks.” She started to pace to the other side of the elevator before
remembering they were in an enclosed space that was about fifteen square feet.
And he took up a lot of room. His presence radiated beyond his considerable
physical form, warming her from the inside out.
Her heartbeat increased. She stepped back, trying to put as
much distance between them as possible. “I…um, I just mean I’m busy. I have an
important meeting in half an hour. I always know exactly what books I want. No
need to browse.”
Oh my god, stop
“I figured that’s what you meant.” Amusement gleamed in his
blue eyes. He pressed the alarm button again and leaned toward the intercom.
Silence. Callie pulled her phone out of her satchel and swiped
“No signal.” Her heart sank. “Big surprise.”
She dropped her phone back into the side pocket and walked
one step forward and two steps back. “I can’t miss this meeting. Do you think
we can climb out the top?”
She half expected him to laugh at her. Instead he shrugged
and stretched his arm toward the ceiling. The movement caused his T-shirt to
ride up, revealing a stunning, washboard abdomen with a light trail of hair
leading straight down into his jeans. Though Callie had always prided herself
on her self-control and discipline, she was helpless against the hypnotic pull
of this man’s abdomen. Until now, she’d only seen an actual six-pack in
underwear ads, and his very real muscles—which were right in front of her—had her fingers twitching with the urge to
explore that expanse of smooth, taut skin.
“Close.” He brushed his hand across the panels, but they
were too high for him to get a grip. He muttered a noise of frustration. “I
once did a…I mean, I can lift you up and you can try to get those light panels
off to see if there’s an escape hatch.”
“Well, let’s give it a shot.” Callie forced her attention
from his abs back up to his face. She tried to ignore a surge of awareness at
the thought of him touching her again. “I really can’t miss this meeting.”
“So you’ve said.” A grin tugged at his mouth.
Another bolt of familiarity shot through her. Shaking it
off, she looked at ceiling. “So go ahead. Lift me.”