TLF TITLE.png

By Michaela Cole

Copyright © 2022 by Michaela Cole All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, brands, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

Content note: This book contains explicit sexual content and is intended for readers 18+.

 

Editing by: Angela O’Connell at Indie Author Creative

"...but love is many things, none of them logical."

—William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Author’s Note

 

The Love Factor was originally part of the Untouched Heroes Vol 1: A Men's Health Charity Anthology. It has since been edited but the story remains largely unchanged.

Chapter 1

 

Finn

     The decorum my mother and father drummed into me years ago is the only thing stopping me from putting my head in my hands and groaning loudly as Colin’s—Corwin’s? Calvin’s?—nasally voice drones on and on. I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t remember the name of the man sitting across this tiny table from me, but in my defense the irritating buzz of his words, paired with the chaos of the restaurant, beats rapidly against my eardrums and it’s all I can do to sit here with a neutral look on my face. Another drop of sweat beads down my neck and I tug the knot of my tie to loosen it. A jacket and tie were a poor wardrobe choice for a southern summer evening, particularly here in Calingston, Georgia, so close to the Florida border. I’m hot and uncomfortable, and more than a little cranky, although the cranky is likely due to the fact that—

     “Because there’s a fine line between a numerator and a denominator!” My obnoxious date snorts and takes a loud, slurping gulp of wine. I scrunch my nose up but manage to hide my grimace behind my napkin. “Conway, you are quite the clever devil,” he says with a chuckle before taking another swig.

     “More like witless devil,” I mutter under my breath, and slide my chair over to the right an inch.

     I fully admit to being a bit of a nerd; as a college math professor, it tends to come with the territory. But his jokes fall flat, even for me, each worse than the last. And ah, yes, Conway. How could I have forgotten, considering he’s been referring to himself in the third person all evening. It was humorous for the first few minutes, but as the last remnants of the sun now set through the window behind him, I want to strangle Cadie for setting this date up in the first place. She calls herself my best friend, but tormentor is perhaps a more fitting title. 

     My own glass of wine sits untouched, and I’ve been quietly sipping from a glass of water instead. One might think that alcohol would make the evening more pleasant, and I would typically agree, but not five minutes after meeting and sitting down at our table, I’d made the mistake of complimenting Conway on his footwear. He then proceeded to launch into a story about his dog’s bad habit of leaving little presents in his shoes. After listening to a story about dog shit drag on for ten minutes, I’d decided that stone-cold sober would get me out of here the fastest. 

     Conway has slowly been inching his chair around the table, closer and closer to mine. With every slide of his chair, I move mine farther away. I can only scoot over so many times before it becomes obvious that we’re basically playing duck-duck-goose around plates of chicken piccata, but I genuinely don’t care if he notices. We’ve circled the table approximately ninety-five degrees so far, and received a few curious looks from nearby customers. With each scoot, I find myself more irritated than the last.

     I manage three more bites of pasta and a small wedge of bread by the time Conway clears his plate, the rest of the bread, and begins to eyeball my plate. I have no idea where he packs away all the food; he’s rather short with a wiry frame. His physical appearance is pleasant enough, but the problem is that I’ve had to endure the sound of him chewing and swallowing every single bite of that food. 

     A guy can only handle so much.

     Conway continues his endless talking as he starts in on the fresh basket of bread our waiter has dropped off. To distract myself, I begin running through the Fibonacci Sequence in my head, while randomly nodding along to his words and eating a few bites of food. I’ve mentally recited through the thirtieth Fibonacci number when Conway clears his throat. Shit, I hope he didn’t just ask me a question. I set down my fork and sit up straighter, perched on the edge of my seat.

     “So, Finn, have you ever—”

     “It’s Finnick,” I remind him curtly, for at least the seventh time. I actually like the nickname Finn, and generally that’s what I go by, but it feels all sorts of wrong coming from his lips—and not just because they’re covered in greasy butter and a small bit of parsley at the moment.

     “Oh, that’s right. You are quite the stuffy stickler, aren’t you?”

     I raise an eyebrow and stealthily palm my jacket pocket until I feel my phone. My limit has been met. It’s time to raise the flag and call for reinforcements. Under the guise of straightening my napkin, I text Cadie.

     ME: SOS

     Her response has me gritting my teeth and squeezing my phone a little harder than necessary.

     CADIE: *le sigh* Really, Finn? What’s wrong with this one?

     After a quick glance at Conway, who is amusing himself with yet another story—this one about needing a new pool filter; the man loves to hear himself talk—I send her another message.

     ME: NOW.

     ME: Please.

     CADIE: Ok fine, but you owe me.

 

     I owe her? I shake my head, turn my phone ringer on, and wait.

* * *

     Ten minutes later I hightail it out of the little Italian restaurant with my phone to my ear, Cadie chattering away loudly. I jog across the intersection of Centennial University Parkway and Main Street, then head down the tree-lined brick path that cuts through campus. Swatting an overgrown crepe myrtle branch out of the way, I shake my head vehemently, then remember she can’t see me.

     “No, Cadie, listen. I’m sure your cousin had perfectly good intentions when she told you about this guy. I’m not knocking her. I get it. Two math nerds, how can that possibly not add up? But he kept referring to himself in the third person. The third person, Cadie! It was all ‘Conway, this’ and ‘Conway, that.’ I wanted to stab myself with a fork.” My voice is strained so I take a deep breath. “And his poor table manners aside, which I haven’t even told you about yet, I cannot entertain the idea of being with someone who finds that kind of nonsense acceptable.” I’m prattling away but it seems I’m triggered by crassness. “Can you imagine going home to that every night? ‘Come here, baby, and kiss Conway. He missed you today.’ Puke.”

     “Oh, Finn.” She sighs in my ear.

     Move-in days have started, and I pass a rowdy group of students lugging boxes to their dorms. One of the loudest—a redheaded sophomore who was in my Elementary Differential Equations summer course that recently ended—waves at me. I nod and lift my hand to her in reply, but pick up the pace, walking briskly down the path. I’m anxious to be as far away from that restaurant as possible.

“There is nothing wrong with having standards, Cadence,” I remind my best friend stiffly. Balancing my phone between my ear and chin, I pat one of my front pockets in search of my car keys, silently admonishing myself for parking on campus and walking to the restaurant. Had I driven there I’d be nearly home by now, with my disaster of an evening in both my literal and figurative rear-view mirror.

     “Ohhh, bringing out the full first name. Someone is definitely on the defensive.”

     “I am no—”

     “Listen, Finn,” Cadie cuts me off. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having standards. I agree. And, okay, Kooky Conway sounds pretty awful, but your ‘standards’ are an insurmountable mountain of requirements that no sane, or hell even real, person can scale. What you need is—ugh, hang on a sec.” Her voice becomes muffled, but I still easily make out her words. “Babe! Do you not hear the dog barking? Please let her out before she pees all over the rug. I can only handle one crisis at a time, and the dog ain’t it!”

I roll my eyes to the sky and huff out a breath. My love life—or lack thereof—is not a crisis situation.

     “Okay, seriously, where are my freaking keys?” I mutter, then switch the phone to my other ear and dig into the right-side pocket of my blazer. There’s a man jogging in my direction, just a few feet away, so I move to the side of the walkway to continue my search. I don’t notice the crack in the pavement until it’s too late. My loafer catches the uneven edge of a brick and I tumble forward. I throw my arms up to brace myself and knock my glasses off in the process. The jogger reaches out and catches me with two strong, but very sweaty, arms, giving a noticeable “ooof” as he takes the brunt of my weight. My glasses clatter to the ground and I cringe, hoping they aren’t broken. I have no idea where my phone ended up; it went flying in the commotion as well.

     “Whoa,” the man exclaims, firmly holding my sides until my chaotic limbs stop flailing like a newborn foal taking its first steps.

     “I-I’m so sorry,” I stutter, blushing furiously. My head swirls and my pulse pounds in my ears. Why oh why did I not drive to the restaurant?

     “No harm, no foul. It’s not every day a gorgeous man just falls into my arms.” I stare up at him and he winks. “Twice a week, tops.”

I blink a few times, and his handsome, but fuzzy, features sharpen a bit before my eyes. He’s got thick chestnut brown hair that’s currently sporting a messy, wind-swept look; a chiseled facial structure with a strong jaw, framed by well-groomed stubble; smooth lips quirked up on one side that I want to touch to see if they’re as soft as they look; and warm, magnetic blue eyes that penetrate my hazy thoughts and pull me out of my head.

     “So, did you want to stand here and cuddle a bit longer, or you got some place to be?” he murmurs, squeezing my sides playfully. I’m still leaning against his chest and my arms are pretzeled around his biceps, essentially preventing him from moving.

I untangle myself and jump back. “I’m so sorry,” I repeat. I go to push my glasses up on my nose, a nervous habit I’ve had since childhood, only to remember they’re currently missing, so I trail my hand up and run it through my hair to smooth it, as if that was my intention all along.

     “I wasn’t complaining.” He gestures toward his chest. “But I’m kinda sweaty.”

     “Oh, well, yes. I suppose that is unsanitary.” I absentmindedly swipe at the front of my shirt and reach up to tug my tie back into place. He blinks at me a few times, and then plants his hands on his hips.

     “Well, the next time I valiantly save someone from scraped knees and bruised elbows, I’ll be sure I’ve showered first.” Those lips of his twitch with a held-back smile. 

     Forget bruised elbows, what about bruised egos? Mine seems to have taken a tumble along with the phone. I wince, closing my eyes, and rub my temples. If it were possible for the ground to split wide open and suck me into the Earth’s core, well, I’d be very much obliged right about now. I look up when he taps me lightly on the shoulder. 

     “I’m Jace, by the way. Jace Matthews,” he says as he hands over my lost phone. Trying to ignore the fact that I was just in this man’s arms, I reach for it, and a shiver races up my spine when our fingers brush against each other.

     “Thank you,” I mumble, stuffing the phone into my back pocket after glancing at it to make sure it isn’t cracked and the call with Cadie disconnected.

     It’d be just my luck that she’d hear this entire humiliating exchange, but luckily it hung up. I do see two missed calls and about ten text messages from her that look to contain increasingly colorful language. After my “emergency call” from Cadie during my date from hell, I’d turned my ringer off as I left the restaurant. She probably thinks I’m either ignoring her or have been violently murdered. The truth is much more painful, and she’s never going to let me hear the end of this.

     I inspect Jace closer, squinting slightly. He looks younger than me but I’ve never been a good judge of age. I try to shove my absent glasses up, yet again, and heat creeps over my cheeks when I realize my mistake. Jace glances around, then squats down and picks my glasses up from the grassy area next to the walkway.

     “Your specs, Specs.” He hands them over with a bemused smirk. I pull out my handkerchief and wipe the smudges off the lenses. The glasses appear unscathed. I wish I could say the same for my dignity.

     “Thank you,” I repeat, polishing the second lens.

     “You gonna tell me your name, Specs? Or I gotta keep calling you ‘Specs?’”

     I smirk as I slide my glasses back on and everything slips into focus. “It’s Finnick.” Though every time he says Specs, it makes me want to smile.

     I peer up at Jace over the top of my frames and am struck once more by how attractive he is. A gentle breeze passes through and rustles his hair, and with it a whole new level of awareness hits my senses. I’d like to say that he smells like repulsive man-sweat, but I’d be lying, and I despise liars. There is the salty tang of sweat in the aroma, yes, but it’s not unpleasant, and beneath it is a bright, spiced, woodsy note, like Thanksgiving and Christmas fused together. I inhale deeply. His scent ricochets through my body and lights up spaces that have been left in the dark for quite a long time. Warmth spreads through my blood as if I’d had that glass of wine at dinner. 

     The last time I found someone this attractive—I close my eyes for a moment and straighten my spine, pushing those thoughts away. There’s no point in dredging up old memories of Alec. However, that little nudge from the past is enough to remind me that good-looking and charming or not, delicious smelling or not, it’s time for Jace and I to part ways. He’s an attractive dating disaster just waiting to happen. Unfortunately, Jace hasn’t gotten the memo. He reaches his right hand out and I clasp it without a second thought.

“It’s nice to meet you, Finnick.” Jace’s voice goes deeper and a little rumbly on my name.

     “You as well, Jace.” I’m drawn to his eyes, particularly now that I can see them better. They’re deep blue-gray with flecks of gold, bringing to mind for me the belted kingfishers my father and I saw on our many fishing trips when I was younger.

     “Yes, very nice,” he adds.

     We’re still shaking hands. Jace’s expression is all flirty mischief, and the unspoken words and undisguised interest come through like a blaring alarm. I clear my throat and relax my grip. He lightly squeezes my hand once and drops it. My ability to form complex sentences has greatly diminished in his presence. But enough of that; this is ridiculous. Yes, he’s cute, very much so, but he’s not the only attractive man I’ve ever seen, and I’m over thirty for crying out loud. It’s time to stop making a fool of myself.

     Just as I open my mouth to say goodbye, Jace asks, “So, do you go to school here?” He waves a hand around, gesturing toward campus. The question is innocent enough but, as is always the case, it rubs me the wrong way. I completed my PhD at a slightly younger than average age, and I’m on the shorter side and can at times appear younger than my thirty-two years. But I’m no student.

I straighten my blazer and stretch myself to my full height, which, aggravatingly, is quite a few inches shorter than Jace. “I work here. This is my second year teaching.”

     “Oh.” The pitch of his voice raises. “That’s cool. What do you teach?”

     “Students.”

     My reply is sharp, which doesn’t sit well in my gut, but I need to discourage this conversation from continuing. While it’s all very platonic sounding on the surface, an electric current of desire flickers and crackles just below. I feel it, and if the heat in his eyes is any indication, he feels it too. But I cannot imagine going on a date with Jace. Well, no, I can imagine it, and that’s the problem. With someone like him, I’d get excited, get my hopes up, and then inevitably have my typical disastrous first-date-never-turns-into-a-second-date fiasco. For some reason, the thought of that happening with Jace—even though I just met the man, and in a most humiliating manner—feels like the blow would hit harder than usual. And ultimately, it would be a waste of both of our times.

     “Ah, yeah, I gathered that. I mean, what subject do you teach? What’s your area of expertise?”

     He peels his sweaty tank top up to wipe his brow, revealing a cute little happy trail and the beginnings of ab muscles peeking through. That there’s some softness there is more of a turn-on than if he had a perfectly tight six-pack. He drops his shirt and looks at me expectantly, one eyebrow raised. I take a deep breath and run my hands down my jacket, smoothing it again, then tug on the lapels and square my shoulders. Yes, this is definitely for the best. I shove aside my other thought—the one that suggests there’s something inherently wrong with walking away from a man like Jace while I suffer through dates with men like Conrad. Conway. Whatever.

     But I’m doing us both a favor, and that’s what I need to remember.

     “Please accept my apologies again, Jace.”

     He opens his mouth, closes it, and then crosses his arms over his chest. “For nearly bowling me over, or for giving me the brush-off?” He’s smiling but the brightness in his eyes is more muted now. As I’m about to reply, he speaks first. He shakes his head and drops his arms to his sides. “It’s fine. Have a good night. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime.”

     I doubt that very much.

     Jace reaches up to adjust a pair of wireless earbuds that I hadn’t noticed him wearing; it’s a miracle they didn’t fly off in the chaos. He pulls his phone out from a hidden pocket in his running shorts and scrolls through a playlist, and when he doesn’t look up as I walk past him, I'm hit with a pang of disappointment that I have no right feeling. 

     “Oh, and Finnick?”

     My stomach flutters as I stop and pivot around. He’s slowly walking backward, away from me.

     “Keep your eyes open, yeah? Maybe don’t maul anyone else on your way home.” One corner of his mouth quirks up.

     I let out a huff-like laugh and nod. “Thanks for the tip. And, you know, for the save. My elbows and knees appreciate it.” I bite the inside of my cheek, and then smile. 

     His smirk deepens into a full-fledged grin that lights up his face. “Anytime.” When he turns around and starts jogging, my eyes zero in on his shorts.

     Don’t look at his butt. DO NOT look at his butt.

     I stare at his butt as he jogs away. Jace glances back, totally catching me in the act, and shakes his head. He calls out over his shoulder with a laugh, “See ya ’round, Specs.”

Chapter 2

Jace

     “Thank you so much, Isaiah,” I tell the sharply dressed man standing in the doorway, and take a half-step in his direction to shake hands. “I appreciate you showing me around.”

     We shake and I step back to set my bag on the small metal desk behind me, then turn to face him again. It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic because I’m nearly elbow to elbow with the walls in this tight office. It’s fine though. It’s just a for office hours and a place to squat, as needed, between my own classes and the two courses I’ll be TAing this semester. It’s not like I have to live here.

     “You’re quite welcome, Jace. I’m happy to do it. Between you and me, I’m glad to have another person join the department that doesn’t have a stick up their ass or one foot in the grave.”

     Isaiah is the office administrator for Centennial University’s Department of Mathematics, and he keeps the wheels turning, the boat afloat, and the balls in the air for the stodgy, stuffy people that work here—his words, not mine. I’d been a late addition to the TA program, which is why I’m here on a weekend only two days before the fall semester starts. Another grad student had to pull out at the last minute. Sucks for them, but I was happy to slide in and take that spot. My Master of Science degree is nearly complete, and this TA gig will give me both experience and some extra cash while I finish up and decide what my next steps are. 

     “Bit stiff around here, huh?”

     “Ehh.” Isaiah shrugs. “I suppose I’m stereotyping. It’s not awful, but the place could use some new energy. Professor Becker is nice though. He’s a good guy. I think you’ll like him.” 

     Professor Becker wasn’t here when I was an undergrad, and I haven’t had him for any of my grad courses, so this’ll be the first time we meet. He’ll be here in a few minutes so we can walk through expectations and run through some of the prep work for the semester.

“Seems I’m a tad underdressed,” I lament, eyeing his outfit from head to toe now that we’ve wrapped up our tour of the faculty area.

Isaiah is sporting a white button-up shirt with a tiny navy anchor print tucked into a pair of dark-wash jeans, brown leather sandals, and his smooth umber skin is freshly shaven. I’m rocking a pair of gray cargo shorts, a fitted black T-shirt that’s so faded it’s almost the same shade as the shorts, a pair of camo-print Converse, and my stubble is a day or two too long. It’s Saturday and it’s hot as hell outside. Business casual was the furthest thing from my mind after I’d jumped out of the shower this morning. Plus, I’d overslept and hadn’t had time to shave. My neighbor—and best friend—Tate Landry and I were up way too late playing video games and I ignored my first three alarms.

     Isaiah cocks his head and props his chin on his fist as he sweeps his steady gaze over my outfit choice. “It’s the weekend. There aren’t many people here to judge you.” He winks at me and leans out the door when a sound rings out. “Main entrance chime,” he explains when he pops back in. “That’s probably Professor Becker. Have a seat and get comfortable. Or at least have a seat. Avoid the chair on the left; it’s a metal death trap.”

     I turn my head to either side and eyeball the desk hesitantly. “Your left, or mine?”

     He laughs and nods to my left. “Sit there. He’ll be in soon.”

     Isaiah slips out of the room and leaves the door cracked behind him. Neither of the chairs look particularly good for my health so I perch on the edge of the desk instead. I’m digging through my bag in search of gum when the door creaks open. Abandoning my search, I turn my head and do a double take.

     “Specs!”

     Finnick’s dark eyes widen and I don’t miss the flicker of interest behind the surprise before he narrows them and juts his chin out.

     “Ja—Mr. Matthews. Why are you in my office?”

     His office? This is Professor Becker? And, I’m sorry, Mr. Matthews? It’s been not quite a week since our run-in, and I distinctly remember how he tried to brush me aside and bail not five minutes after nearly knocking me over, even though he was clearly interested. The way his eyes kept moving to my lips, and the whole checking out my ass thing…. Yeah, no. His feigned indifference didn’t work then and it won’t work now. But this is Professor Becker. The professor that I’m TAing for. That may present a few challenges. Not for me, but I suspect for him, should I be so lucky as to catch and actually hold his interest again. This is some weird fate shit, though, and I’m not going to squander my chances this time. I wanted to kick myself when I jogged away from him the last time.

     I hop off the edge of the desk and stand before him. “Technically this postage-stamp-sized room is my office for the next sixteen weeks. I believe yours is,” I gesture to the wall with my thumb, “over there.”

     The room shrinks as we stand face to face, barely a foot of distance separating us. His soft brown hair is short on the sides and styled neatly into a pompadour on top. He has one wayward lock hanging in his face and I shove my hands into my pockets to keep them from reaching out and stroking it back into place. I sweep my eyes down his body. Of course he’s dressed well, even nicer than Isaiah. It’s no surprise, considering he was in a freaking suit jacket and tie in the sweltering heat the last time I saw him. Why should a weekend day be any different? There’s no tie today, though, just him looking insanely hot in an ivory lightweight jacket over a crisp white T-shirt, and perfectly fitted slacks that look tailor-made for his body.

     He sucks in a breath, then stiffens and blinks. “You’re my TA? But I thought…” He shakes his head and turns around. “Hey, Isaiah?”

     His smooth, rich voice washes over me, calm and soothing, regardless of his actual words. It doesn’t escape my notice though that he calls Isaiah by his first name, while I get Mr. Matthews. I don’t think so.

     A few seconds later Isaiah pops in the door. “Oh, good, y’all met.”

     Finnick scratches his chin. “I thought Rory Kinley was my TA again this semester?”

     Isaiah huffs out a breath. “Did you not get my email?” Finnick looks at Isaiah cluelessly and shakes his head. “Well, surprise! Rory decided to transfer to the Warnersville campus because he and his fiancé are looking to buy a house out that way and he doesn’t want to commute for school.” Isaiah’s lips pull up on one side and he looks down his nose. “But if you ask me, that mama of his is still trying to run his life and wants him closer to home, and he don’t have the balls to put his foot down.” Finnick raises an eyebrow and nods, murmuring. I feel sorry for this Rory person, whoever he is. “Anyway, we’re lucky Jace was able to take the TA spot at the last minute. Did you really not see my email?”

     “Ah, no. I left my laptop here while I was off the last few days.” Finnick shoves his hands in his pockets and rocks back and forth on his heels once. “And I recently broke my phone. Dropped it. Thought it was okay but it’s been acting up.” He flicks his eyes over to me and away again quickly. I press my lips together firmly to hold back a smile. “I had to replace it and just haven’t set up everything on it yet. So, no, I did not see your email.”

     He bites his lip when he looks my way again and our eyes lock. Isaiah’s head ping-pongs back and forth between us a few times, and then he sets his dark, calculating gaze on Finnick.

     “I see. That’s a pity. The phone, that is. Not you, Jace. I’m glad you’re here, as I mentioned earlier.” His grin shows off his pearly-white teeth. I return his smile and Finnick crosses his arms over his chest. When I turn my head, he’s glaring at both of us but schools his expression quickly. Not fast enough though, because I catch it, as does Isaiah, who looks at Finnick with a raised brow before facing me. “I’ll leave you two to get settled. If you need anything, Jace, anything at all, just come find me. Or shoot me a text.” He whips a pen and business card out of nowhere and scribbles on the back of it. “Here’s my personal number, just in case.” With a sly wink, he turns. “Send him my way if he needs anything, ‘kay Professor B.?”

     He walks away chuckling as Professor B. grumbles in response and moves away from me, and closer to the small desk.

     “So. Professor Finnick Becker.”

     He uncrosses his arms and leans back against the desk, propping himself up with his hands. The sides of his jacket hang open, better revealing the fit of the T-shirt underneath. I let out a quiet breath and try not to stare at his very well-defined pecs. They’re firm but not overly bulky, and definitely hot as hell.

     “Mr. Matthews.”

     I blink a few times and then shake my head. “Okay that.” I gesture toward him. “That ‘Mr. Matthews’ shit’s gotta go. Every time you say that, I expect my grandad to pop up behind me. Please call me Jace. There’s really no reason not to.”

     His eyes soften and he nods toward the chairs. “Why don’t we talk for a few minutes before we get started. I suppose…” he trails off, as if carefully considering his next words. “I suppose that we should know at least the bare minimum about each other since we’ll be working closely together.”

     The bare minimum, my ass. Not if I have anything to say about it. “Sure, but I’m not sitting in the death-trap chair.” His deep, warm laughter wraps around me like a hug and the tension I hadn’t even realized I was carrying through my neck and shoulders disappears as I relax into the sound. It’s very different from the stuffy, formal persona he’s worn so far today.

     I like it. A lot.

     “We can use my office, come on.” He pushes off the desk and toward the door. “Oh,” he pauses. “You may call me Finn.” Just before he exits the room, he glances back over his shoulder. “Specs is also fine.”

     With what I’m classifying as a flirty smirk on his face, he shoves his hands in his pockets and walks out. I stare after him with my head cocked to the side. Those pants of his hug his legs and ass and I fully enjoy the sexiness until he disappears from view, then I pull my bag across my chest and trail out behind him.

* * *

     We’ve been in Finn’s office for about thirty minutes and I’d eventually abandoned my seat on the small sofa across from his desk to peruse his bookshelves as we talked. His selection of books here is fairly eclectic. I thumb through a copy of The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky and hold it up in one hand. “Little bit of light reading in between lectures?”

     “No.” He chuckles from where he’s perched on the edge of his desk, and crosses one foot over the other, clasping his hands together loosely in his lap. “I haven’t been able to get through that insipid book. I’ve started and stopped more times than I can count. Have you read it?”

     I slip it back into its place on the shelf and nod. “Read it in a literature class elective during my undergrad years. I never understood all the hype around it.” I run my fingers over the spines of the next few books, stopping short when another title catches my eye. “Inconceivable! I’d have never taken you for a fan of The Princess Bride. Book or movie?” Finn’s brow furrows. “Do you prefer the book or the movie? Of The Princess Bride.”

     His brows dip closer together. “Usually, I would say the book is always better than the movie, but the movie was very well done. If I’m not mistaken, William Goldman himself adapted the novel into a screenplay. He did a fantastic job. That’s a tough choice. There are a lot of considerations.”

     I’m learning more about him by discussing what’s on his bookshelf than the entire conversation leading up to it. He has to be an extremely intelligent man, capable of understanding and solving complex calculations, but he overthinks the smallest things. His favorite restaurant, favorite class he’s taught so far. These are all basic things, small pieces of himself, but it’s like you can see the wheels turning in his brain until smoke starts to pour from his ears. Do you prefer the book or the movie? It’s a simple question.

     “I’m not looking for a thesis, Specs. Just a simple answer will do.”

     “The book. I’d say the book, I guess.”

     I turn to face him and move a few steps closer until we’re only a few inches apart. “Don’t guess, Finn. It’s your opinion, which do you like better?” I ask him softly.

     His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. “The book.” He nods decisively. “Which do you prefer, Jace?” He drags his teeth over his full bottom lip and peers up at me behind black-framed glasses which only seem to add to his studious appeal.

     Every damn time he says my name while looking at me with those dark, intelligent, soulful brown eyes of his, my brain scrambles a bit and the thoughts trying to form into words get lost before I can speak them. His face is a bit flushed and I can see his pulse fluttering in his neck. Oh yeah, he definitely feels what I feel.

     I cough lightly and finally manage to answer. “The movie is amazingly good, but I’d pick the book also. There’s just something about creating your own mental images while reading.”

     Finn’s mouth quirks up on one side. “Yes, that’s true.” He clears his throat. “Well, let’s get started on some of that class prep we need to do.”

     I'm transfixed, watching him step away from me and stride around his desk to take a seat. He clasps his hands together and rests them on the desk, back straight. He looks all extra-hot in that slim-fit linen blazer in an ivory shade that pairs ridiculously well with his light summer tan. Visions of sitting before him like some good little schoolboy waiting for directions flash through my mind, and I blink several times at the bizarre thought, then take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Finn is smaller than I am, shorter anyway, but he has a large, commanding presence about him. When he’s not tripping into my arms, that is, or overthinking his opinion on trivial issues. I smile to myself and sit down across from him.

     We do have work to do, and I’m glad to do it, but in the back of my mind, my own wheels start turning as I consider how exactly to get this smart, sexy professor to go on a date with me. And I definitely wouldn’t mind getting a closer look at what he’s got hidden beneath those prim suits of his.

     Definitely would not mind that at all.

I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.

Chapter 3

 

Finn

     Monday morning arrives, and with it, the first day of the new school year. I’m excited to get started. I expect a mix of attitudes in class, which is typical for undergrads. There are those who are clearly there because it’s a box they need to check, while others are there because, well, also because it’s a box they need to check, but you can tell they enjoy the material and want to learn. I’m hoping the class rosters are heavier on the latter this semester. What’s also adding to the thrill shooting through my stomach is the thought of seeing Jace multiple times throughout the week and working closely with him. He’s TAing two courses for me this semester: Introduction to Graph Theory and Elementary Differential Equations.

     I really should turn off these feelings of excitement and move past my little infatuation. It’s very impractical, particularly given my bad luck in the dating space. Ever since Alec and I broke up about six months ago, after our lackluster year-long relationship, I’ve been cursed with a long line of bad first dates that never lead anywhere. There’s always some sort of fiasco. We disagree about everything. I find out the guy lives in his mother’s basement and has no job. Or my personal favorite, halfway into dinner when things are looking good and I’m feeling hopeful that we’re heading toward some action under the sheets—I’m a nerd, not a saint—and maybe even a second date, they launch into a tirade about how eating meat is disgusting and cruel and they could never consider getting serious with anyone who thinks it’s okay…as I slice into my bloody steak and take a huge bite. And let’s not forget about the guy who gave a list of reasons why giving head was beneath him and then looked me square in the face and said he was always happy to be on the receiving end though.

     I kid you not. These are the sorts of winners I attract.

     It seems like when Alec cheated on me, all sorts of negative vibes got thrown up into the universe, but instead of karma landing on him for being a cheating jerk, it deflected off him and came crashing into me in the form of bad luck in the dating department. He’s living his best life in California dating some movie producer—not even the guy he cheated on me with—while I’m here in the armpit of Georgia trying to find a guy to date who doesn’t talk about himself in the third person.

     I’d given up for a while, but recently came out of “dating retirement,” as Cadie refers to it, because I need to find a date for my parents’ big anniversary party coming up soon. It’s a whole weekend thing, lots of family and friends will be there, and unfortunately one particular person I am not too excited to see: Malcolm DuPont. I don’t want to show up alone, so I’ve gone on some dates to see if I can find any potential weekend-away date candidates. I’ve struck out so pathetically hard that I’m about ready to call it quits again. Maybe I’ll pretend to come down with the flu and beg off from traveling that weekend.

     My phone rings, and I tug it out of my pocket as I walk down the path that leads through the main campus on my way to class. I smile and tap the screen.

     “Hi, Cadie.”

     “First day of class, yay! Are you all set?” I love Cadie. She’s always so enthusiastically supportive of me and everything in my life.

     “Yes, things are in good shape. I’m looking forward to classes today. I…” My voice falters. “I have a new TA this semester.” I rearrange the shoulder strap of my bag after it tries to slip down my arm.

     “Oh? What happened to what’s his name? Even nerdier than you, kinda shy but easy on the eyes, and had the sweetest smile? That guy.”

     Cadie and her family were on a short trip these last few days and we haven’t talked since they returned. While I’d finally called her back last week after my embarrassing moment with Jace and filled her in, she doesn’t yet know that Jace is my TA. I wrinkle my nose. I didn’t really think my statement through before I mentioned having a new TA.

     “Do not scream or squeal or make any other ridiculously loud screeching sounds in my ear when I tell you this, okay? If you bust my eardrum, I won’t be able to hear you to answer any of your questions and I won’t finish the story. Oh, hey,” I tease her. “That’s actually not a bad idea.”

     “Hilarious. Tell me what’s going on. Wait, hold on.” In the background I hear her get into her car and start it up. A few seconds later she’s back in my ear. “Okay, switched over to Bluetooth. Now spill.”

     I roll my eyes. “Rory ended up moving away, but I thankfully got a new TA at the last minute. I met him over the weekend.”

     “And so…what? This isn’t exciting yet, Finn.”

     “Shut up.”

     “Please continue.”

     “Anyway, I met my new TA, Jace Matthews, this weekend.” I pause and let my words sink in.

     “Wait just one damn minute. Back up. Isn’t that the name of the guy you fell into, after your date with Cooper?”

     “Conway, and yes.”

     “Your new TA is hot-ass Jace Matthews?!” She screeches the words in my ear. I hold the phone away and glare at it.

     “What did I say about not screaming in my ear?”

     “Sorry, sorry,” she apologizes. “I’m just shocked and—holy shit, this is great, Finn!”

     I jog up the stairs of Lancaster Hall, the math building, and step around a group of loitering students to make my way to the door. “Why exactly is this a great thing?”

     “Hot. Ass. Jace. Matthews.” She makes a sound of disgust, like it’s so obvious and she’s already exasperated with me this early in the day.

     “I. Don’t. Know. What. You’re. Implying.” Never let it be said that Cadie and I are overly mature when we get into it. Not everything improves with age.

     “Cute, Finn. What I mean is, you’re clearly attracted to Jace, but your dumb ass—”

     “Excuse you!” I protest loudly and a few people nearby sneak glances at me as I walk briskly past them.

     “—let him jog away from you without getting his number the last time. But now here he is, your TA for the semester. How completely, adorably serendipitous.”

     I mutter under my breath and round the corner down the hallway that leads to my classroom. “He’s my TA, Cadie. Besides, you know my fantastic dating history. I’m not even going to attempt that. In fact, I’ve decided to throw in the towel and skip my parents’ party. I’ll just send them a fruit basket or something.”

     “No, Finn. You are NOT sending your parents a fruit basket in lieu of showing up to their party. You, their only son, whom they adore and love dearly. I won’t let you do it.”

     Despite myself, I chuckle as I enter the classroom. “I’m not going without a date; we’ve been over this. Anyway, I gotta go. Talk later?”

     She makes a kissing sound and we hang up. I sigh and plop my bag onto the desk at the front of the classroom and pull my laptop out. A few minutes later, Jace saunters in from the back entrance and makes his way to the front of the room. I try to stay focused on my task of logging in, but my eyes keep darting up as he makes his way down the row of stairs toward me. He always looks so relaxed and effortlessly put-together; his style rides right on the cusp between cool college student and suave adult. Just his presence makes my cheeks warm and my stupid heart stutters in my chest. I fidget with my tie and will myself to focus on work.

     “Hey, Specs,” he greets me with a smile. In his hands are two cups of coffee and he passes one over to me, then sets his bag down on the desk. I gladly accept the drink. It’s an unexpected gesture that I appreciate very much.

     “Good morning, Jace, and thank you.” I hold my cup up and incline my head toward it.

     He nods, sets his own coffee down, and plops into my chair, spinning it around in a circle a few times. “It’s weird being on this side of the classroom.” He stops abruptly and pins me with a stare that I feel all the way to my core. “It’s weird, but I like it.”

I swallow hard and run my free hand through my hair. “It’s a little strange the first few lectures, being on the teaching side rather than the student side, but you get used to it fairly quickly.” Students start to trickle in now and take their seats, and the room fills with the hum and buzz of conversation.

     Jace scoots the chair closer to where I’m standing and reaches for his cup. “What are you doing for lunch today?”

     I take a sip of coffee—I don’t know how he managed it, but it’s made exactly the way I like; two creams, one sugar—and peer down at him. “I plan on eating food. Why do you ask?”

     He smirks at me and pulls my laptop over toward him to open up the slides for today and connect the laptop to the projector. “Glad to hear that. But I meant it as in, would you like to eat lunch together somewhere?” I eyeball him and try to decipher his intent behind the question. “Because I kind of wouldn’t mind seeing more of you outside of the classroom, Finn.” Well, that clears up any confusion on the purpose of his invitation. He looks up at me with a half-smile and his eyes shine brightly. “I’ve been thinking about it since, well, since you fell into my arms.” He winks at me. “It could be fun.” In an even lower voice, although there’s no chance of any students overhearing us anyway, he continues. “I’m a fun guy, Finn. I think we could have a lot of fun together.”

     Dear Saint Hubert. My dick stirs and I turn away from him quickly, pretending to search for something in my bag. How I’d love to take him up on that offer, but he’s my TA and that doesn’t add up to a smart decision. A pleasurable decision, yes, but smart? No.

     “I’m not sure that would be such a great idea, Jace.” I glance over at him. “As fun as that sounds.” He smiles with a shrug, and drops the subject. I study his profile while he busies himself finishing with the laptop setup.

     “All set, Professor.” He hands me the small remote that controls the slides and stands, looking around. “Uh, I forgot to ask. Where the hell am I supposed to sit during class?” The front row is full and there’s only one chair at this desk. Him looking a bit frazzled is endearing. I want to reach over and run my fingers through his hair and pull his mouth to mine, to put his mind at ease.

     “I don’t need to sit down while I’m lecturing. You can stay right here.”

     His shoulders relax and he sits and settles back into the chair again. “Thanks.”

     In the brief time we’ve spent together so far, he’s comes across as extremely confident. This is the first time a little uncertainty has slipped through, and the sudden hint of vulnerability reminds me of his youth. He must sense my wheels turning, trying to figure him out, because he turns his head toward me and waits expectantly.

     “How old are you, Jace?” If he says anything less than twenty-six, I may not be able to hold back my groan. Not that we’re going to date. But still, if we were to theoretically go on a date, it would theoretically be good to know how old he is.

     His grin rivals the brightness of the sun shining through the classroom windows. “Does it matter how old your TA is, Finn?”

     “No, I suppose not.”

     Theoretically.

* * *

     The first few days of classes go off without a hitch. My lectures go well, most of the students seem to want to be there, and they've asked some great questions that show they’re paying attention even if everything we’ve walked through hasn’t totally clicked yet. Jace has done a fantastic job so far with lecture prep and grading, and he’s already held office hours himself this week.

     He’s also asked me out to lunch every single day, and every single time I’ve said no. I don’t want to decline. I want to eat with him, to spend time with him outside of campus, and I’d really like to wrap myself around his body and see what he tastes like. As that thought swirls through my head, my internal temperature rises. I swipe a manila folder from my desk and fan myself with it. It’s been way too long since I’ve had sex. Freaking date curse.

     Isaiah knocks on my open office door and steps inside. In his hands are two bags from Micah’s Bakery, and he shakes them lightly as he takes a seat at my desk. My face perks up when he slides one of them in my direction. “I come bearing gifts, Finn.”

     I grab the bag and pull it the rest of the way over, and take a peek inside. “Have I told you lately that you’re the best person in this department?”

     He preens and pretends to polish his nails on his shirt. “Yes, but I absolutely don’t mind hearing it again.”

     I pull out my sandwich, a BLT with mayo and sliced avocado, and grin at him. “You’re the best person in this department and things would fall apart here without you.” Next out of the bag are the fresh potato chips and a little container of ranch to dip them in. “Including my stomach. Thank you.”

     “You’re welcome. Figured you could use something more than the soggy pre-made sandwiches from the student center.”

     I nod and dig in. Isaiah unwraps his lunch, a grilled ham and mozzarella sandwich with chipotle mayo and tomato, and we eat quietly for a few minutes. Isaiah’s the closest thing to a friend I’ve got at work. No, that’s not accurate. He is definitely my friend. He’s really great. Although, at times a little too nosy for his own—

     “So, Jace is pretty cute.”

     My head snaps up and I cough on the bite I’m chewing. “What?” I finally manage to spit out.

     Isaiah carefully wipes his mouth with a napkin and takes a sip from his bottle of sparkling water. “I said that Jace is cute. He’s pretty hot, actually. Don’t you agree?”

     I take a drink from my own water and settle back against my chair. I size him up and try to decide if he’s interested in Jace, or if he’s poking and prodding because he senses that I am and is looking for confirmation. His poker face is too damn good though. He gathers all of our trash now that we’re finished eating, crumples up the paper and stuffs it all into the bags. He’s waiting me out, staying silent so I’ll be forced to either answer the question or change the subject, and he’ll read me like an open book if I abruptly change topics.

 

     He’s good.

     “Does Kaprekar's Constant always result in 6174?” I finally respond, completely deadpan.

     “Except with repdigits,” we recite at the same time.

     Isaiah smirks. “So, basically, I’m stating the obvious about Jace. Is that what you’re trying to get at?”

     “We both know he’s very attractive, Isaiah.”

     “Hot, Finn, is the word that you’re looking for. Not just attractive. He’s a total hottie.”

     I open my mouth, but before I can respond there’s another knock on my door. I look up as Isaiah turns around. Jace stands in the open doorway with a smirk on his face, and runs a hand through his hair. He really is ridiculously attractive, and kind of cocky, but there’s something about him that seems almost innocent. I can’t put my finger on it. It’s probably just his age, not that I know how old he is yet. Or maybe those blue eyes of his that look almost angelic at times. He sweeps those angel eyes of his over Isaiah and then lower, to my desk.

     “I’m sorry to interrupt. I was about to head to class and wanted to see if you were ready, Finn. Hey, Isaiah.”

Isaiah grins. “Hi, Jace.”

     Should I walk to class with Jace, where I may do something idiotic because he’s already front and center in my brain? Or stay here a few more minutes and decrease the probability of that happening?

     I clear my throat. “I have to make a quick call, so I’ll meet you there in a few?” He nods, raps his knuckles against the door, and walks away.

     Isaiah frowns at me when he turns back around. “Do you actually have to make a call, Finn? Or are you trying to avoid Jace because you’ve most definitely got at least a crush on him?”

     “I do need to call my mother back. Although,” I glance at my watch, “I actually don’t have enough time right now.”

     “Great. So go catch up with Jace and ask him to dinner or for drinks.”

     Isaiah gives me a look when I shake my head. “You know my history and bad luck with dating. I do not want to go down that path with Jace. Besides, I’m taking another break from that whole scene.”

     He stares at me with his top lip curled up and his brows dipped down low. “You are not serious right now.” When I don’t respond, he continues. “Not every man is like Alec, Finn.” Isaiah stands up and gathers the two bags of trash, then tosses them into the waste bin beside my desk. He props his chin on his fist and assesses me. “Have you ever considered that you might be unfairly looking for someone’s flaws when you’re on a date, to use as an out of sorts, instead of giving yourself a chance to really get to know them? Maybe because you don’t want a repeat of Alec.” He holds his hands up quickly when I frown. “Which I get. You didn’t deserve that shit. But that’s all on him, that’s his loss. You get a fresh start; you just have to give yourself a chance for it to blossom into something. Whenever you’re ready, of course. Just something to think about.”

     He gives me a small smile and heads toward the door.

     “Isaiah?” He pauses and turns around. “Thank you.”

Chapter 4

Jace

     Five days and multiple office hours later I’m feeling comfortable with this whole TA thing, but no closer to getting Finn to agree to a date. I would just give up and stop asking, but I’ve caught him staring at me with more than a little interest in his expression. Each time our eyes meet during one of his less-than-stealthy glances, his eyes sparkle but then he presses his lips together and looks away. So, I ask him out, and he declines. Talk about mixed messages.

     “Exactly how hard are you crushing on Professor B.?”

     I look up to find Isaiah standing in the doorway of my little office. “What do you mean?”

     “Jace, my friend, I’ve seen you staring at him like he holds the answers to Cereceda's conjecture.” I snort and Isaiah continues, stepping further into the room. “I see all. It’s kind of in my job description.”

     I rub the back of my neck and puff out a breath. “Yeah, well, I don’t know what to tell ya, man. It’s apparently all one-sided.”

 

     He plants his hands on the metal backrest of one of the chairs in front of me and leans down a little. “You sure about that?”

 

     “You’re gonna have to take that question up with Specs.”

     Isaiah raises one perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Specs?”

     “Finn. Professor Becker.” I wave my hand around airily. “Take it up with him.”

     “Take what up with me?” I whip my head up and peer past Isaiah to find Finn standing in the doorway with his arms crossed, staring at Isaiah and I like we’re a couple of deviants. “Take what up with me?” he repeats firmly. His voice is deeper the second time, and it sends a wave of goosebumps down my arms. My dick hardens at the commanding tone.

     Isaiah scoots past him out the door and I stand up and grab my bag, strategically holding it in front of me. “We better go. You’ve got a class to teach, and I’ve got a professor to assist.”

     Finn eyes me up and down once, slowly, and then nods. “After you.” He turns sideways and gestures out the door.

* * *

     Our last class of the day ended a few minutes ago, and students slowly trickle out of the room while we pack up our bags. As the last few exit, I once again catch Finn staring at me before he looks down to shove some papers into his bag. And so, like the glutton for punishment that I am, I step closer and speak up once again.

     “Finn, I was thinking.”

     He startles and presses a hand to his chest. “Thinking about giving me a heart attack?”

     I laugh and make my way around to the other side of the desk. “I gotta say, that grimace on your face right now is really doing loads for my confidence,” I tease. “I’ve been a few feet away from you all class. It’s not my fault your ass is so jumpy.”

     He rolls his eyes and my chuckle tapers off. I lean forward and press the tips of my fingers onto the desk, then clear my throat. “So, I was thinking about something. Well, two somethings.”

     A small battle plays out on his face and then his curiosity wins. “About what?”

     I drum my fingers onto the desk and rap my knuckles against it twice. “First of all.” I pause until he looks up. “It’s late Friday afternoon and we’re both done with classes for the day. No night classes.”

     “Yes, such an astute observation, Jace.” He bites his bottom lip to hide a smile. I eye the movement and want so badly to tug on that lip with my teeth.

     Instead, I give a half-shrug and move the conversation along. “I don’t think I’ve heard you talk of doing anything fun, not even once, since classes started. That’s practically a crime against nature.” He snorts but props against the desk, leaning closer to me. I reach over and squeeze one of his hands. His breath catches in his throat and when I pull away, my skin tingles where we touched. Finn flexes his fingers slowly, like he’s feeling the same thing. “The other thing I was thinking is that we should go get a drink together, seeing as how we’re both free right now.”

     He raises his eyebrows. “Isn’t that a little presumptuous, assuming that I’m free?”

     “Do you have other plans?” I retort dryly. His dark eyes bore into mine, and instead of answering, he shoves the rest of his stuff in his bag and zips it shut. “There’s no rule against socializing with coworkers is there?” My arms are crossed over my chest and his eyes zero in on my biceps. They pop in the short-sleeve polo shirt I’ve got on, and yes, I am absolutely flexing right now so the material is stretched extra tight.

     “No,” he finally answers and forces his eyes back up to my face, crossing his arms tightly, too. “But I have a personal rule to not mix business with pleasure.”

     I cock a single brow and move my hands down to my hips, planting them there firmly. “Are you sure it isn’t a ‘have no fun at all’ rule? Because that’s the vibe I’m getting from you. No fun, let alone pleasure. You know what they say. ‘All work and no play makes the professor a sad and touch-starved boy.’”

     His lips press into a firm line before he responds. “If you’d perhaps deign to do your actual job, which is grading student work at the moment, instead of wasting both my time and yours worrying about my personal life, that’d be great.” His tone is clipped, but there’s more bark than bite behind the words.

     I offer an amused smile that he misses because he’s avoiding my eyes at the moment. “Just curious, do you also have a rule that requires you to be a total dickhead to TAs? Because I reckon you’re following that one to a tee.”

     When my words finally sink in, he whips his head back and is met with a grin so wide my teeth are on full display.

     “No, I do not,” he replies stiffly.

     “So, it’s just an added bonus that you see fit to bestow on me personally?” I almost walk around the desk toward him but think better of it and instead walk over to the first row of seats. I brush my hand along the long table, then look over at Finn pensively. “Come on, Finn. Have a drink with me. Please?”

     A little sigh slips out as he struggles to find the right words to say. “I’m just not sure that’s appropriate, Jace.”

     My chest tightens and I shake my head. “Relax, would ya? There’s nothing exciting about a drink between two grown men. I’m just asking you out for a drink, not inviting you into my bed. At least not tonight.” I wink at him and his eyes narrow. He looks conflicted and my lips twitch as I try to hold back a smirk. I’m sure I’ve very nearly exasperated him with my annoying, persistent behavior. But something has to crack through that thick skull of his. “I was up late last night studying. I’m a growing boy, and growing boys need their sleep.” My face breaks into a wide grin and I lean back against the front row table. I stretch my legs out and cross them at the ankles.

Finn pulls himself up to his full height and readjusts his tie. And where he finds the brazenness for his next statement, I don’t know. “I suppose that’s true,” he agrees. “But orgasms produce a cocktail of hormones and other neurochemicals that make people sleepy. One might argue that sex helps with falling asleep faster.”

     I’m hard as a rock in zero point two seconds and stalk over to him, stopping barely a foot away. My grin is gone, and in its place is an intense gaze focused solely on Finn. “I like it when you talk nerdy, Specs,” I murmur quietly.

     Nerdy is maybe not the right word, bold and direct perhaps. I’m not sure he heard me, but then my heart somersaults and flips erratically when he grabs onto two of my belt loops and pulls me closer.

     My eyes search his, silently begging him for I don’t even know what. Something in his expression changes, a flicker of a decision or desire. I don’t know what it is or what set off this change, but he blinks a few times, then reaches up and runs his thumb along my chin. He follows it up with a smile I haven’t seen on him before, almost like the two of us share a secret.

     I let out a slow breath and then throw a little prayer up to the dating gods that I get the answer I so desperately want. With a wide-eyed hopeful look, I ask my question again. “So, how about that drink?”

     “Are you even old enough to drink, Jace?” His sass is unexpected and my lips slowly quirk up into a half-grin.

     “I’m old enough to do lots of stuff, Professor.” My smirk deepens. “Let’s go.”

* * *

     I can’t believe I’m having a drink with Finn. And it only took how many days of persistent nagging to get him to agree to it? I smile as I take a drink of my beer. Hell, just seeing him loosen up and turn into a veritable chatterbox since we got here was worth the frustration. I can’t believe the difference between college professor Finn and this Finn. He’s still completely nerdy though, and I can’t get enough of it. Right now, he’s rambling about a particularly fascinating biography he’s reading about Isaac Newton, and waving a hand around erratically.

     I cringe at something he just said. “But why, Finn? Why would someone want a ring with an actual human tooth as the stone? I don’t care whose tooth it is. That’s disgusting.”

     Finn snorts and takes a drink of his martini. His second one. I’ve been nursing the same beer since we got here. He’s already looking a little bit glassy-eyed, but still coherent and chatty. I’ve learned in the last half hour all about his first date woes, his scumbag ex, and I’ve also learned that he likes his martinis extra dirty. I have a feeling he might like things extra dirty in the bedroom, too. I have one hell of an imagination and would love to try anything he has to offer, should I get so lucky.

     In the blink of an eye, he’s back on the topic of first dates, and his bad luck with never scoring a second date.

     “I don’t know what it is. My best friend, Cadie, says my standards are too high, but if you saw some of the guys I’ve been out with…” He shudders, looking over toward the dining area of the little Italian restaurant. “Oh hey.” He taps a hand on the table. “This is where I was fleeing when I literally ran into you on campus over the summer. Remember that?”

     Do I remember that? “Yes, Finn. Vividly.”

     He blows out a breath and shakes his head. “It’s always the same. One after another. Attractive guy turns out to be a total weirdo, or some other thing makes the date crash and burn.” He grabs the little stick with olives on it and swirls the liquid around his glass. “It’s particularly frustrating because I haven’t, uh, had much action lately because of it.” He makes a frustrated noise and takes another sip.

 

     “My dick probably thinks it’s gone into retirement too, along with my dating life.”

     He’s talking quite freely, probably due to the alcohol, but figure I can be open with him as well. I'm still a bit hesitant to admit this, but I throw it out there anyway. “I wouldn’t know anything about that. I’ve never, uh, well you know.”

     Finn’s eyebrows fly up and he raises his eyes to meet mine. “You’ve never had sex?” I shake my head. “How is that even possible? Look at you.” He waves a hand up and down in my direction. Our conversation pauses as the waiter brings him a new drink.

     I shrug. “I don’t know. For the longest time I was trying to figure out who I was, plus I was busy working, going to school, and helping out with my sister, Jillian, while our mom worked. The longer I waited, the bigger of a deal it became, until it was this huge, festering thing looming over me all the time. Eventually, I gave up. I got tired of stressing about it. Now, I’m too busy.”

     “Can you please not use the word ‘festering’ in reference to sex?” Finn winces. “Because that’s repulsive. Also, that’s the biggest load of bull I’ve heard in a long time, the last part, I mean, and I have to listen to undergrad students give me ridiculous excuses as to why they need assignment extensions on the daily. Not being ready to have sex is one thing, that’s totally valid, but acting like you just don’t have time for it? The quickie exists for a reason, Jace.”

     The nerdy, sexy man beside me keeps tossing surprises out left and right today. I’m intrigued as hell by this side of him. “I suppose that’s true.” I bite my lip and watch Finn’s throat as he swallows the last of his second martini and then reaches for the new one. “I could probably find someone interested in that, but…”

     “But what?”

     “I’d fumble through it and worry the whole time about whether or not things felt good for them. That doesn’t sound like a great first experience with dick.” An idea forms in my head and I inhale slowly. “I need someone who knows what they’re doing to show me first, maybe someone more mature, before I dive into the whole quickie thing.” I hold my breath and hope that my words hit the mark. Finn’s brown eyes darken even more as his pupils dilate. Bingo.

     “You’re saying you need someone a little older, more experienced, to teach you how to make a man feel pleasure during sex?” I swallow hard and nod, taking a drink of my beer and remaining silent. He narrows his eyes and assesses me, taking in every nuance to my expression, looking for what, I don’t know. “And do you have someone specific in mind? To teach you.” Finn’s husky voice grabs me by the balls and squeezes, and all I can do is nod again in response. “Tell me,” he commands.

     “Y-yes, I do.” My tongue feels as dry as sandpaper and keeps getting stuck to the roof of my mouth so I drain the rest of my beer. He pins me with a stare that has me squirming in my seat. I clear my throat and go all-in. “I was thinking you could teach me, Specs.” Heat flashes in his eyes and my heart pumps wildly in my chest.

     “You want me to show you the sexual ropes? The figurative ones, that is.” He winks at me and I actually blush at his words. It feels like the tables have turned, now that I’m seeing Finn more open like this, and holy shit does it turn me on.

     I clear my throat again. Damn sandpaper. “Yes, if you’re interested.”

     “And we…” He pauses, then continues in a lower tone. “We’d be exclusive, physically, during this period of time?”

     “Absolutely.”

     He sits back in his chair and rubs his throat with one hand. A moment later he speaks. “I need a date for my parents’ wedding anniversary party. It’s a weekend thing, a few weeks from now. Would you be willing to come with me, as my date? It will keep everyone off my back, hopefully, if they think we’re dating.”

     Hell yes.

     “Yes, I’d be happy to, assuming I won’t embarrass you. It’s more than a fair trade, I’d say.” I give him a lopsided smile and he chuckles.

     Finn runs a hand through his hair and looks down at the table, and then a little bit of nerdy Finn comes back out. “Is this that fun you were pestering me about?” I grin at him while he drains martini number three and nods decisively, then holds a hand out to me. I grab it and we shake. “Okay. Looks like you’ve got yourself a deal, Jace.”

     Assuming he still agrees to this later when he’s not three martinis deep, yes, we have a deal.

Chapter 5

Finn

     Saturday morning I lie in bed wondering what has become of my life. I’ve either lost a few IQ points or should plead temporary insanity, because I still can’t believe the arrangement that Jace and I agreed to yesterday and I have not reneged on. I run a hand over my face, then let it trail down my body and slip inside my briefs. There must truly be something wrong with me. I’ve essentially stooped to fake-dating my TA. How pathetically pathetic can I get? And I don’t mean that as a slight against Jace. Definitely not a slight against that beautiful man. I groan as I jerk myself off to thoughts of his handsome face and all the things I’m going to do to him.

     Of course, the third option as to why I’ve mentally justified this deal with him, the most likely option, is that I’m horny as all get out, and am thinking with the wrong head, my non-intellectual head.

     “Ohhh, yesss,” I moan, apparently agreeing with myself as I shoot all over my hand and stomach. I sigh, temporarily sated now that I’ve taken the edge off, then hoist myself out of bed and head to the bathroom for a quick shower.

     I’m puttering around the kitchen in my small one-story house, half-dressed, pulling out a coffee mug and selecting which coffee pod flavor I want, when my phone dings with an incoming text. I set everything down on the counter and pad over to the table, swiping open the screen to read the message.

     JACE: I was thinking about something. If we’re supposed to look like we’re dating at your parents’ party, we should probably get some practice in, like actual date practice. I’m heading over to The Quadratic B Café in a bit. Meet me there? Coffee. Muffins. Me. What more could you ask for?

     I chuckle and type out a response. Freshly ground coffee and some sort of pastry—and yes, Jace’s company—does sound much better than what I’ve got going on this morning.

     ME: Wow, you had me until that third thing there.

     JACE: I’m going to ignore that.

     ME: :-p I can meet you there in twenty if you’re ready.

     JACE: Yup. It’s a date.

 

     Butterflies dive-bomb into my stomach, zipping around as a nervous thrill of excitement winds through me at the thought of spending more time with Jace outside of campus. Fake-date, essentially, I remind myself. It’s not real.

     The cafe is actually pretty close to where I live, so I decide to walk there. It’s beautiful out this morning.

     ME: You’ll never guess where I’m headed.

     CADIE: If it’s not to grab donuts for me, then it’s too early for me to care.

 

     ME: I would, but I’m about to go have breakfast with Jace.

 

     CADIE: Okay, now you have my attention.

     The phone rings and I swipe to answer without even looking.

     “Babe. Spill.” Cadie sounds wide awake now.

     “Well, I’ve done something either entirely brilliant, or entirely stupid. I haven’t yet decided.” She gasps a few times as I fill her in on what happened yesterday evening.

     “I reserve judgement until I see the two of you together at the party. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get a sitter for an entire weekend, but I will be there, come hell or high water.” I scoff and she laughs lightly in my ear. “I have to applaud his creativity, Finn. He’s good. He clearly wants to date you and you’ve tried to be all Mr. Responsible by not giving in, even though you like him. So, he changes tactics and gets all virginally cute and puppy dog eyed, appealing to the bossy side of you, and you fold like a deck of cards.”

     “I’m flipping you off in my head right now, Cadie.”

     “Oh, hush.”

* * *

     “So.” Jace settles back into his chair, then blows on his coffee and takes a small sip. “Tell me how this type of date would typically go down for you. I’m curious, since you mention how awful your dates have been lately, and this is like a practice date for us.”

     We sit at a small corner table on the outdoor patio at The Quadratic B Café, enjoying our breakfast. I jab my fork into my coffee cake and scoop up a bite, chewing thoughtfully as I consider his question. A small gust of wind sweeps through and I catch a whiff of Jace’s coffee. He takes it unsweetened, with a drizzle of almond milk, and a dash of cinnamon. The cinnamon is what hits me, and I inhale the sweet, spicy scent.

     “Well.” I set my fork down and take a drink of my iced cold brew coffee. Delicious. So much better than the sad stack of coffee pods at home. There’s nothing like properly made cold brew coffee on a warm late-September morning. I glance around and smile. This is one of my favorite places in town. We’re surrounded by a smooth, flat-top wrought iron fence that encloses the patio area. The ground is paved with dove gray limestone, and every inch of free space on the patio is filled with pots of snapdragons, violas, and decorative cabbage and kale starting to take off for the season. The tables are two-seater bistro sets, with tall chairs and tables in traditional bronze, as well as some sets painted a deep cherry red. It’s all very picturesque.

     “Well…?” Jace prompts me before tearing off a piece of his chocolate chip muffin and tossing it in his mouth.

     I set my cup down and turn back toward him, then spread my hands out before me, gesturing at the table. “We sit here enjoying breakfast, chatting about nothing of consequence, and I mention something about a book I’m reading. The next thing I know, my date goes off on a tangent about his ex and starts to rip his beard hairs out one by one, placing them on his plate. The very plate where his food sits that he’s still actively eating, while complaining about the fact that his ex had the nerve to move on. I mean, we’re in the middle of a date. Is he not also moving on?”

     Jace stares at me like I’ve just explained how 2 + green = dinosaur, and honestly, that would make more sense than the unfortunately true story I just spewed at him. He blinks a few times with his mouth open, sets his cup down, and rubs the stubble on his chin. Then, as if he realizes what we were just discussing he stops, grimaces, and sets his hand in his lap. I bite back a smile at his reaction, but honestly, I get it, this is my life. This is the dating hand I’ve been dealt thus far.

     “Please tell me you’ve got a weirdly creative mind and just made that up as an example of how a date may have gone, and that’s not an actual thing you’ve experienced.”

     I spear my coffee cake and scoop up another bite, pausing before I eat it. “I’m a mathematician, Jace—very factual, not creative—and that is sadly an account of a real date I’ve been on.”

     He runs his hands through his hair, leaving it sticking up everywhere in an adorable mess when he lets go. “You deal with that sort of shit and still think there’s something wrong with you in this whole dating equation? I’m beginning to think that the missing love factor has nothing to do with you. Finn, honestly, how do you find these people? That is not normal behavior.”

     I take another bite, then wash it down with my iced coffee. “Dating curse? I don’t know.”

     He shakes his head and digs back into his muffin.

     Fifteen minutes later, we’ve both nearly finished eating and are just relaxing and talking outside, neither of us in a hurry to leave. I realize how natural it feels just sitting and spending time with him; even the moments of silence seem calm and comfortable. Not many people are able to just sit and not feel obligated to fill the void. It’s nice.

     It’s not uncomfortably hot out yet, and it’s gotten busier on the patio. Jace smiles over toward the table to our right. There’s a kid maybe around eleven or twelve years old trying to convince her mom that she needs a cell phone and I admire her tenacity and creativity. She’s going with the safety angle of how a cell phone would be beneficial and seemingly wearing her mom down.

 

     “Creativity at its finest.” I chuckle and swallow down the last gulp of my iced coffee.

     Jace snorts. “Reminds me of my sister at that age. Always wheelin’ and dealin’ and trying to finagle something out of our mom.” He shakes his head and drains his cup as well.

     “How old is your sister? It’s Jillian, right?”

     He nods. “Yeah, or Jillybean as I call her.” Jillybean. So sweet. I’d love to see them together. As an only child I’ve always been a little bit fascinated by the variety of sibling dynamics I’ve seen at my friends’ houses, or with my cousins over the years. “She’s seventeen,” he continues. “Seventeen going on thirty, I swear. She’s the most mature teenager I know. Way more mature than I was at her age. I was a bit of a troublemaker in comparison.”

     My finger absentmindedly taps against the side of my empty cup. “I have a hard time buying that, and yet at the same time, I completely believe it.”

     Jace’s smirk deepens into a grin. “Nothing serious. I don’t have a criminal record or anything. Don’t worry,” he teases. “You’re not taking a felon home to your mom and dad.”

     “I figured. That would have shown up on your background check.”

     His eyes widen. “You ran a background check on me?”

     I snort and shake my head. “No, Jace. I’m talking about your TA application. They run background checks on everyone they hire. I did not personally run a background check on you.”

     “Ah, okay. For a second there I thought you were some secret control-freak or something. But what am I saying? You’re all hot, nerdy professor.”

     I hold back my smile and shrug. “I may be a bit of a nerd, but there’s a lot you don’t know about me, Jace.” He tilts his head and looks me up and down. I wink at him and stack my trash up, then grab his and add it to the pile. “So, are you from Calingston?”

     He shakes his head. “Georgia, yes, but not here specifically. I grew up a few hours away in Knoxton Falls. It’s a cute little place. Doesn’t have the whole college-town feel that I love, but I always liked it there.”

      “Knoxton Falls. That actually sounds familiar. I think my uncle Ira did some consulting work near there. We’re all from upstate New York originally. My parents and I moved here when I was young. What made you move here? College specifically?”

     Jace nods. “Yeah, it was hard moving away from home, mostly leaving Mom and Jillian. My parents divorced when my sister was a baby, and I never saw my dad much. Mom, Jill, and I have always been very close.” He holds his hands up in a shrug. “But Mom convinced me to give it a try, and really it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love it here. I don’t know what I’m going to do after I finish my master’s—if I’m going to move home or whatever—but I’ve got a little bit of time to figure that out.”

     I don’t know why, but the thought of Jace moving away is like a sucker-punch to the gut. I suck in a sharp breath. He pulls his phone out and taps away on it for a few minutes, and then looks up at me. “So, where to next?” I look at him blankly and he continues. “What’s the next part of your date usually?”

     “Oh, there’s rarely a next part to the date; remember the beard hair guy? I usually make a quick exit once we’re done eating, if not in the middle of the date.”

     “Okayyyyy,” he draws the word out. “What do you usually do on Saturday mornings?”

     “Boring adult stuff. Groceries. Farmer’s market. Pick up my dry cleaning. Whatever needs to be done.”

      Jace stands up, grabs the small stack of trash in one hand, and holds his other hand out to me. “Okay. Let’s go adulting.”

* * *

     “Jace, seriously, you don’t have to do this.” He peeks over his shoulder at me as he loads up my dry cleaning in his arms. “Seriously. You’ve already put up with me dragging you all over the farmer’s market. This cannot be fun for you.”

     He turns around and purses his lips, peering down at me. “If I didn’t want to be here helping you, Specs, I wouldn’t be. Besides, this is time well spent. How will I be believable as your date if I don’t know anything about your non-work life?” He hoists a stack of jackets covered in plastic over his shoulder and gestures out the door and toward his car, then starts walking that way without waiting for me.

I huff out a breath and trail behind him. We made the rounds of boring errands this morning, and it’s been oddly fun. I didn’t realize how much I missed spending time with a man, just doing mundane, everyday stuff. There’s a sense of comfort settling in my gut the more time Jace and I spend together.

     “At least let me feed you lunch for helping.”

     Jace smiles at me over his shoulder as he hangs the clothing on one of the hooks in the backseat of the car. “I will never turn down food.” He stands up and shuts the door, turning to me again. “I’ll also never turn down an excuse to spend more time with you, Finn.” There’s such a feeling of honesty and vulnerability in his tone, and in that sweet smile of his.

     I swallow hard and step closer to him. It’s time for me to hold up my end of the bargain. I slide my palms up his chest and his breath hitches. His hard dick presses against me when I lean in and brush our lips together, and he moans softly when the tip of my tongue finds his.

     We’re in the middle of a crowded parking lot, so I pull away slightly. “I can make lunch, if you want to come over.”

     His eyes, bright and full of expectation, meet mine. “Sounds good. Will you, uh, what exactly is on the menu?” His voice is hoarse and my dick responds.

     “I don’t know, I’ll find us something.” I reach between us and rub him slowly over his shorts. He swears under his breath when I gently cup him and squeeze. “But I did have something very specific in mind for dessert.”

     Jace dives his hand into my pocket and yanks my keys out, then drops them unceremoniously into my hand. “Let’s get the fuck out of here, Specs. I’m very hungry.”

* * *

     I prep sweet potatoes to roast and toss them in the oven, and whip up chicken salad for sandwiches. We’d picked up a loaf of French bread at the farmer’s market that will pair nicely with it. While the potatoes cook, we lounge on the living room couch, drinking wine and talking.

     “I’ve got beer if you prefer that, Jace.” He doesn’t seem like much of a wine drinker. He made a funny face at his first sip, although he’s been keeping pace with me since then.

     He cocks an eyebrow and gives me a pointed look. “I’m not completely unrefined, Specs. I don’t not enjoy wine. It just takes a little getting used to each time because I don’t often drink it.” His lip juts out and I smother a smile behind my hand because he’s just too damn cute. I check the clock on the wall; it’s almost time to pull the sweet potatoes out.

     I turn back toward Jace and am met with a glare. “What? What’s wrong?”

     “I saw that look. Don’t play all innocent with me, Professor Becker.” His eyes narrow when I laugh. “What exactly is so funny?”

     I grab his glass and set both of ours down on the coffee table, then shift to face him again. “You’re like a petulant child sometimes. I hadn’t really noticed that before.” My grin deepens as his scowl intensifies. I squish his cheeks between my palms and lick his bottom lip. “It’s hot, Jace, when you get all pouty like that. It makes me want to—”

     I’m interrupted by the buzz of the kitchen timer. I kiss him and stand up. He trails after me into the kitchen.

     “Makes you want to what, Finn? Finish your thought.”

     I wave a hand in front of my face to clear the hot steam from my glasses, set the sheet pan on the stove, and turn off the oven. Jace comes up behind me as I toss the oven mitts aside, and pins me to the counter with his hips.

     “Don’t leave me hanging, Specs,” he murmurs against my neck, dragging his lips over my skin and sucking lightly.

     I spin around and grab his ass, yanking him closer and squeezing roughly. Desire flashes in his eyes at my rough handling of him, and I bite back a groan. Oh, the things I’m going to enjoy doing to him. But first we have to eat lunch.

     “Eat your lunch like a good boy, and maybe I’ll show you afterward.”

     Jace opens his mouth to protest but his stomach growls loudly. He smiles sheepishly. “Okay. Lunch first.”

     I squeeze his ass again, lightly this time, and then pat it gently. “Have a seat and I’ll bring the food over.”

     We devour the food, both of us having worked up an appetite walking around the farmer’s market this morning. Jace eyes the remaining sweet potatoes when I gesture toward them, like he’s sizing them up, but then pushes his plate aside.

     “I’d normally finish those off easily, no questions asked, but I want to leave room for dessert.” He gives me a devilish grin and I can’t help but chuckle in response.

     Jace helps me gather the dirty dishes and loads them into the dishwasher while I put the leftovers away. I click the last lid in place and pop the bowls into the refrigerator, and turn to him. He stands propped against the counter, watching me closely. I wipe my hands on a towel and walk over.

     “I was thinking our dessert could start in the shower.”

     His whole body perks up. “I like the sound of that.”

     I give Jace one of my extra toothbrushes and we brush beside each other, bumping elbows in front of the bathroom mirror. He grins a toothpastey grin at the sight of us together, then rinses and wipes his mouth. I finish and he holds his toothbrush up like he’s not sure where to put it.

     “Stick it in the toothbrush holder, Einstein, that’s what it’s for,” I tease him.

     He narrows his eyes, reminding me of the living room earlier. “I didn’t want to seem presumptuous.”

     “By letting the toothbrush holder do its job?” Jace flips me off and I laugh, shaking my head. “And you call me the nerdy one.”

     I get the shower going and we strip down. My eyes run over his broad, tight body as he pulls his shorts off, and my mouth goes a little dry when I glance at his large erection jutting out. He doesn’t seem at all insecure about being naked—and he has no reason to be, he’s sexy as hell—but it surprises me that he’s never been sexual before.

     We step under the warm spray together and my hands have a mind of their own, roaming over Jace’s body, rubbing his shoulders. He’s tense.

     “Hey.” I reach my hand up and cup his cheek. “We won’t do anything you’re not ready for. Hell, we don’t have to do anything at all.” Jace slides his warm hands down my back and palms my ass. I hold back my moan because I need to know that he’s good with whatever happens or doesn’t happen. “Just this is fine. Fantastic. Amazing. Or we can stop this, too. Whatever you want to do, Jace. You just have to say so.”

     He clears his throat. “Would you maybe…” He trails off, blushing.

     I cock my head to the side and look up at him. “What do you need?”

     He bites his lip. “I don’t want to stop. Would you maybe wash me?” He blushes again and my stomach flips over.

     I reach for my body wash and the new loofah I tossed in here and smile. “Definitely. Just relax. I’ll take care of you.”

     He closes his eyes and sighs as I wash him, a smile on his lips the whole time.

Chapter 6

 

Jace

     “What exactly do you want to happen here, Jace?” Finn runs his palms over my chest and down my stomach, glancing at me briefly before slipping a hand inside my towel.

     While we’d showered, Finn massaged my back, arms, legs, nearly every inch of my body really, and everywhere his fingers touched he worked magic, putting me completely at ease. After that we moved to the bedroom, where I promptly fell into bed and closed my eyes. I’d go to sleep right now, if it weren’t for the giant hard on I’m sporting beneath my towel, and the fact that I’m desperate for more Finn.

     A low hum rumbles deep in my chest when he runs his palm along my dick and then down to my balls, cupping them softly. “That feels pretty damn good.”

     “But what do you want?” He’s lying naked next to me, his lips on my neck and then my chest, peppering light kisses over my skin, still flushed from the shower.

     What do I want? What do I… Oh. What do I want?

     My eyes flash open. I peer down at Finn and my cheeks heat. He smirks as the backs of his fingers caress my cheek, and then he kisses me softly.

     “How about I try some different things so you can see what you like, what feels good. That’s an important part of the learning process, knowing what you yourself like.”

     My response is one whispered word. “Please.”

     Finn smiles and kisses me again, then pulls my towel open, exposing all of me to him. He slides down and resumes his exploration of my body, running his tongue down the grooves of my stomach, to my hips, and then lower. Things in the shower were very sensual but not sexual, other than a little ass grabbing and light kissing. They’re heating up quickly now, and I need more. More of Finn’s lips, more of his fingers, more everything.

     “Oh, God, Finn, yes,” I groan and drag my hands down my face when he wraps his lips around the head of my dick and sucks lightly. My hips jerk up and he squeezes my ass, all while licking the underside of my dick as he sinks lower. I nearly explode when he hollows out his cheeks and sucks me hard, then wraps a hand around the base of my dick, jacking me while sucking and licking. Fuck, don’t come already. It feels insanely good and I’m so close to that tipping point. Our eyes lock as he slows down, and with those perfect lips of his wrapped tightly around me, he takes me so close to the edge I nearly blow not only my load, but my mind as well. Finn takes me in deep, swallowing around my length as his throat squeezes around me.

     “Holy shit,” I hiss. My thighs tremble with the force of a minor earthquake. If someone had told me a few weeks ago that the adorably cute nerd that literally fell into my arms could deep-throat like a champ, I’d have laughed and waved it off as wishful thinking or a joke.

     And damn, I’d have been wrong.

     Finn stops and pulls away, panting a little, then comes up and crushes his lips to mine in a hard kiss that has me sucking air afterward.

     “You taste amazing, Jace,” Finn murmurs against my lips, kissing me again. I stare at him blankly when he leans back and holds the first three fingers of his hand out and makes a gimme motion. “Spit,” he clarifies.

     I grab his hand and suck on his fingers, one at a time and then all together. His lips quirk into a small smile and his eyes eat me up while I do to his fingers what I can’t wait to do to his dick. Once they’re sufficiently wet, he slips his hand between my ass cheeks and brushes his fingers over my tight hole. He resumes sucking me off while he teases my ass, and when he presses lightly, just barely inserting one finger, I know what I want. I’ve known all along, really.

      I gently grab the sides of his face to stop him, and he peers up at me.

     “I want you to fuck me, Finn.”

     He smiles with his mouth full, nodding slightly, and then gets back to it. I drop my head to the pillow and enjoy every sensation. He licks along my dick, then lower, swirling the tip of his tongue over my nuts. I could shout thanks and praises to that mouth of his and create a shrine in its honor when he gently draws one into his mouth, and then the other. Professor Finnick Becker sucking on my balls while playing with my ass? Not only am I close to short-circuiting, but it’s the highlight of my whole damn year.

      “Jace.” I look down at him and he nods his head toward the nightstand. “Grab the lube and a condom. Top drawer.”

     I reach over and fumble around blindly until I find the items, and toss them onto the bed.

     “Bring me your lips, Finn. I need them.”

     I can’t get enough of them, and moan into our kiss while I wrap my hand around him and Finn rocks his hips back and forth, sliding his dick through my tight grip. He’s smooth and hard and perfect, and I’m pretty desperate for it at this point, as evidenced by the way my ass twitches at the thought of being taken by Finn, of being fucked hard and fast. My fingers are slick with precum when I draw my hand back up and my mouth is his sole focus as I lick them clean.

     “You taste pretty damn good, too, Specs.” I smirk at him and reach for the lube and condom off to our side. “You wanna fuck my mouth first, before you suit up?”

     Finn swears under his breath. “I’m going to come right now if you keep talking like that.”

     “I’d prefer your cum in my mouth or my ass, but if you wanna unload on my stomach I’m down with that, too.”

     He sucks in a breath at my words and leans down to bite my nipple. “You’re a naughty boy, Jace Matthews. You’ve got an awfully dirty mouth for someone so supposedly innocent in the bedroom.” He flicks my other nipple with the tip of his tongue before sitting up and yanking the two items from my hand. He gets down in my face so we’re just a few inches apart and grabs my chin. “I will fuck this dirty mouth of yours sometime.” The pad of his thumb strokes my bottom lip. “Clean it up, teach you another lesson.”

     “What? To respect my elders?” I grin when his eyes narrow into tiny slits.

     “Keep it up, Jace, and you’ll soon find out.” I bite my lip to keep my mouth shut, but he tugs on my lip gently to release it. “I don’t want you to hold anything back. All your words, all your sounds, I want to hear it all. And you need to tell me if you don’t like something. Okay?”

     He brushes his lips over mine and I nod. He leans back a little, one eyebrow raised. I smile and stroke his cheek with the back of one hand.

     “Okay.”

     Satisfied that I’ve answered out loud, he moves back down and settles between my legs. I spread them wider as he coats his fingers with lube and sets the bottle aside. I expect the pressure of a finger when something touches me but he’s got something else in mind. Finn circles my rim lazily, then begins to tongue-fuck my ass, lightly at first, and not too deep. Then he really dives in, licking and exploring like it’s his job and he’s aiming for a promotion.

     “Finn, holy shi—” I interrupt myself with a loud “fuuuuuck,” when he flattens his tongue and licks from my hole to my taint and back, then dips his tongue inside me again.

     I’m no prude, but I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my life. I grab my dick, jerking myself off. His tongue feels too good. I need to fucking come. Finn reaches a hand up and places it over mine, shaking his head. My body relaxes as I groan and slow down, finally stopping completely.

     “You’re killing me, man.” I’m whining and I don’t even care. “Fuck me. I need to come.”

     “You’re so impatient,” he murmurs and kisses the inside of my thigh, then bites it softly. “You’re not ready yet. Trust me. Just relax.” With that, he presses one lubed finger to my hole and pushes past the tight ring of muscle. My ass clamps down at the intrusion. It feels different than the pressure of his tongue, but I don’t hate it. Finn sucks my dick slowly, rolling my balls in one hand while he fingers my ass with the other. Slowly I relax into the pressure, and begin to enjoy it.

     When he starts to work me over with two fingers, I grip the sheets tightly and try not to blow. I’m well past feelings of intrusion and fully into this feels fucking good territory. I concentrate on holding on because I know he doesn’t want me to come yet. Hell, I don’t want to either now. I need him in my ass and I want to come with him deep inside me. When he eventually adds a third finger, I swear loudly. His sucks on my dick become soft licks and his fingers slow down, until he pulls them out and sits back on his haunches, reaching for the condom. After he slips it on and slicks himself up with lube, he grips the base of my dick firmly, which helps alleviate the urgent need to come.

     “You want me to fuck you.”

     It’s a statement, not a question, but I answer him anyway, looking him square in the face and spreading myself open for him as I bring my legs up. “Yes.”

     He smiles down at me, then situates himself and presses his dick to my ass. “If you want or need me to stop, just say so.” I nod and he slides in slowly, giving me time to adjust to his size while I take a few deep breaths. “You’re doing so well, Jace.” He brushes a few strands of hair from my face and runs his fingers down my neck. My heart soars at his praise and my body relaxes, then he jerks his hips forward and sinks the rest of the way inside my body.

     “Fuck. You fill me up, Finn,” I pant. He gets into a slow, steady rhythm, fucking me, stretching me as he slides in and out. In a moment of sweetness mixed with the fire blazing between us, he leans forward and presses his lips to my forehead.

     I crane my neck up, wanting his lips on mine, I don’t care. I grab his face and bring our mouths together and kiss him hard, then run my lips and tongue along his throat, sucking on his sweet skin. He smells like heaven after our shower, and tastes like a dream. He shifts a bit and I’ve got a great view of his abs as they flex with each thrust inside me. I run my fingers over the smooth ridges of each muscle. One of the things I find hottest about a guy is when their ab muscles flex while they’re a bit bent over, and they get those lines of skin that kind of collect above and below their belly button. I have no idea why I find it so hot, but Finn’s are staring me right in the face and I’m obsessed. I brush my fingers over them and then back up along each muscle. His hum of approval is a shot of fire through my blood. I like making him feel good, pleasing him.

     “Your ass is beautiful. Your virgin hole is perfect. So tight,” he hisses. I’m a little bit shocked—and completely turned on—by Finn’s dirty talk, but it just goes to show that nerdy and dirty are not mutually exclusive. I prop up on my elbows to peer down and watch in fascination as Finn’s thick dick disappears inside my ass, over and over again. He feels this good because of me, from my body, and that makes me feel like a fucking king. The way his dick disappears is hot as hell, and I’m definitely not a virgin anymore.

     My head plops back against the pillow as I jerk my hips to meet his. “Harder, Finn. I can take it.”

     Finn pulls out of me and leans forward, taking my dick in his mouth and sucking hard and fast, making my toes curl and my fingers grip the sheets tightly. And then he suddenly stops and sits up. “Turn over,” he commands. “Get on your hands and knees.” I roll over and scramble into position. He smacks my ass roughly and I groan. I’ll have a handprint there, and the thought of being marked by Finn nearly makes me come right here and now.

     “Lower your chest and stick your ass up.” He runs a hand along my spine and presses a kiss to it. “That’s perfect. Now show me what’s mine, Jace.” I reach behind me and spread my ass cheeks apart, presenting myself to him, and within seconds Finn slams inside of me again. I let my hands drop back down and prop my forehead on them.

     “That’s right, this is mine.” Finn runs his fingers lightly along my stretched hole as he thrusts deep inside me. Then he reaches around and grabs my dick, stroking it once. “And this.”

     “Finn,” I whine. I need more of him. He runs his hands over my back and sides now, caressing me gently while his dirty words rain down on me and his dick completely owns me.

     “You feel my dick stretching you open? How’s it feel?” I moan and mumble a response into the pillow. He slowly pulls out almost the whole way and pauses with just his tip inside me. “Tell me, Jace. Tell me what you like.”

     “You, your dick, deep inside me. It’s so good.” I gasp and shiver when he slides back in and hits a new spot.

     “Come on, boy. You wanted me to fuck you harder, then work for it.” Finn grunts out each word as he slams into me over and over again. I rock my hips and ass back to meet his every move. With each pump of his hips, he grinds against me, angling his thrusts so he hits my prostate, and I’m nearly delirious from the pleasure. Our bodies collide together in a mix of sweaty mumbles, grunts, and slaps. Finn grips my hips and pounds into me, nailing me right where I need him, his balls smacking against mine. I reach beneath me and rub his, rolling them in my hand while he’s seated deep; they’re full and heavy and the thought of him unloading all of that cum inside me makes my ass clench in anticipation.

      “Oh, shit,” he mutters. “Jerk yourself off. I’m gonna come.” I grab my dick and jack myself fast, matching the tempo of his thrusts.

With a grunt my cum shoots onto the bed below me, and Finn follows suit immediately, unloading in my ass on a low moan. Once he stops moving, I lower myself to the bed. Finn lies on my back with his cheek against my skin, breathing hard.

     “That was amazing,” I pant into the pillow and Finn chuckles. He kisses my back once and then pulls out and rolls over beside me. I peer over at him. “Where have you been hiding that assertive, dominant dude? Because I like him, Specs. I like him a lot.”

     Finn turns his head and smirks at me. “I’m not just a nerdy math professor.”

     “Yeah, I kinda get that now. Okay, new deal. You keep teaching me all this, showing me this hot, aggressive, sexy side of you, and I will be the absolute best damn fake-boyfriend for you at your parents’ party. Like two hundred percent effort on my part.” My eyes widen in hope, paired with a matching grin, and Finn laughs again.

     He leans over and kisses my nose. “Deal.”

     I smile and he cleans us both with a washcloth before cuddling up next to me. Bossy Finn is hot, yeah, and sexy, obviously. But even more so, he leaves me feeling whole, like maybe this is where I belong.

Chapter 7

Jace

     Monday morning I’m locking my apartment door to head over to campus when the door across the hallway cracks open. I peek over my shoulder and see a head of mussed dirty blond hair pop out.

     “Jace, is that you? Or a figment of my imagination? Because it’s been so long since I heard from my best friend that I’m thinking maybe he died and you’re his ghost.”

     I roll my eyes and turn around. “It’s been less than two days, Tate. Calm your nuts, man.”

     Tate opens his door the rest of the way and steps into the hallway. He’s wearing pajama pants and a band T-shirt, his standard uniform when he’s home. “I’ll have you know that my nuts are—oh my God, you had sex. Hey, Shea!” He sticks his head back in the apartment and calls for his fiancé. “Baby boy finally did the nasty!”

     “Would you shut up?” I hiss between clenched teeth. “Mrs. Johnson probably heard that three floors up.”

     Shea appears by his side and eyes me up and down while sipping from a coffee mug. He turns toward Tate and holds his hand out, palm open, and wiggles his fingers. “Told you he’s a bottom. Pay up, honey bunny.”

     “How the fuck do you know just by looking at me? And why were the two of you discussing that in the first place?” They completely ignore my question.

     “So, how was it?” Tate asks, walking over and wrapping an arm around my waist.

     “And who was it?” Shea adds, leaning against the doorframe as he takes another sip of coffee.

     I open my mouth but Tate cuts in. “We already know it was Professor Nerdy McHotness. He’s only been going on about the man for the last few weeks.” I glare at Tate. He squeezes my side and lays his head on my shoulder. “We’re nosy because we care, Jace.”

     I shake my head and chuckle. “You’re nosy because you’re a nosy ass.”

     “A nosy-ass what?”

     I pat him on the cheek. “That’s it. Just a nosy ass.”

     “Rude. Now spill.”

     I untangle myself from Tate’s grip and readjust my bag over my shoulder. “I don’t have time. I gotta get to campus.”

     “Come on, give me something to tide me over until we can actually talk about this.”

     “There was a dick. There was an ass. That good enough?”

     “No, but I know you have to go, so I suppose it’ll do for now. We’re still on for tonight?”

     Monday evenings are reserved for gaming, pizza, and beer. Sometimes Shea drops in but it’s really mine and Tate’s thing, and has been since we met freshman year. Once we discovered our mutual love of video games, we latched onto each other and never looked back. Where one of us was, you’d likely find the other, hanging around, playing pool, gaming, or stuffing our faces with the cheapest food and beer we could get our hands on. There were heavier times, too, like when Tate royally fucked things over with Shea and thought he’d lost him forever. We went through so much beer and pizza, had a shit-ton of ice cream, and I couldn’t tell you how many rounds of Midnight Carnage III we played. I dreamt about strategic warfare for quite a while after that. He came out the other side of it with his relationship intact, thankfully, but between all the extra calories and the lying around like sacks of potatoes, we were both temporarily a few pounds heavier. I feel so fortunate to have him for a best friend and I know he feels the same.

     “Hell yes. Prepare to be slaughtered. That last round was a total fluke.”

     Tate smirks and pinches my cheeks. “Oh, baby boy, how I look forward to making you eat your words.” His expression softens. “Are you good? We’re giving you a hard time, but really, you’re good?”

     I nod and smile. “I am.”

     “Okay,” Shea calls out from the doorway. “Leave Jace and his heart-eyes be, or he’ll be late for class.”

     With promises of catching up later, I finally make my way out of the building, and head to campus.

* * *

     “Morning, Isaiah.” I stop and greet him while I shove my keys into my bag. “Have a good weekend?” I glance up when he doesn’t answer.

     “You had sex, didn’t you?” No, hey it was fine, you? He goes straight for the jugular.

     My eyes widen. “How do people keep doing that? Is there a sign on my forehead or something? Spilling my guts in big neon letters: NO LONGER A VIRGIN.” I flash my hands open and closed sarcastically with the last few words.

     “It’s my—”

     “Isaiah,” I interrupt him. “Do not say it’s your job to know. That shit ain’t in your job description.”

     He smirks. “I was going to say it’s a gift of mine.”

     My lips quirk up on one side. “Yeah, well, if you wouldn’t mind keeping it quiet, I’d appreciate it.”

     Isaiah mimes zipping his lips and throwing away the key, and I salute him and continue on to my office. My phone dings as I set my bag down on top of the desk, so I dig it out and take a look.

     FINN: Join me for lunch today?

     ME: *gasp* Do my eyes deceive me? You’ve been declining my lunch invites for how long now? Who are you, and what have you done  with Professor Becker?

     FINN: Aren’t you quite the smart-ass this morning.

     ME: Always.

 

     ME: Are you running late or something?

 

     FINN: No, I’m in my office. Why?

 

     I chuckle and shake my head. A warm, comforting feeling spreads through me and it dawns on me that I missed him. I don’t know how well that bodes for me, considering we’re not together-together, but I’m not going to dwell on that right now.

     ME: You couldn’t walk the five steps over here and ask me to lunch in person?

     The message shows as “read” but no response comes through. A few seconds later, however, there’s a knock on my door. It’s already open, so Finn steps into the room and shuts the door behind him. He looks fantastic as usual, but more casual today. Slim-fit jeans, a light gray V-neck T-shirt, a darker gray sports jacket, and sneakers are the perfect mix of studious and sexy, and make his already handsome self, look absolutely amazing.

     “That was seven steps.” He grins and pushes off the door, coming to stand before me.

     I bite back a smile and set my phone down on the desk. “May I help you?”

     “Some smart-ass told me I should ask them to lunch in person. So, here I am, inviting said smart-ass to lunch.”

     I laugh and wrap my arms around his waist to pull him closer. “I’d love to. By the way, you look really hot today, Professor.” Goosebumps trail over his neck following the path my lips make. Finn runs his hands up my back and tilts his head, giving me better access to his neck. I kiss my way to his throat and up his jaw, finally landing on his lips.

     “Mmm, Jace,” Finn mumbles against my lips. “It’s—” I interrupt him with another kiss. “We have to—” Kiss. “Class, Jace.” He tears his lips from mine. “There’s about to be a room full of students waiting to be instructed, with no instructor present.” I try to capture his lopsided smile with my lips but he ducks and turns toward the door. “Can’t be late.”

     “I suppose not, but Professor Becker?” Finn pauses with his hand on the knob and looks over his shoulder, waiting for me to continue. His eyes shine like he knows I’m about to get bratty again. “I require instruction, too.” My skin prickles from the heat in his gaze and my stomach flips when he turns back around and beckons to me with one finger. I shuffle over and stop directly in front of him. “Who’s gonna teach me if my instructor isn’t present?” I whisper and lick my lips. “I don’t really want a substitute, but…”

     There is not and will never be any sort of substitute or replacement for Finn, and I know he knows I’m joking, but the change in the room’s atmosphere makes any sort of repercussion worth it. The air is thick and heavy, and full of anticipation. Finn’s eyes narrow and he steps closer until we’re chest to chest. He gently grips my chin and draws my face forward to meet his.

     “You just earned yourself an after-school detention, Mr. Matthews.”

     He tugs my bottom lip between his teeth and then kisses me so thoroughly, so wholly, claiming me with his lips and tongue, that I’m dazed and out of breath when he pulls away. He smirks at my loopy expression, then reaches down to adjust himself and straightens his jacket. Finn steals one more quick kiss and leaves the room.

     I let out a shaky breath, gather my things, and head out behind him.

* * *

     After the last class of the day, I’m back in my tiny office grading student work and inputting grades into the system. My door is open, and I hear people slowly finishing up for the day and heading out for the evening. The walls in this place are paper thin, and Finn’s muffled voice comes through. A few minutes later his door opens, and I hear him parting ways with a student.

     “You’re quite welcome, Kyle. Great progress. Keep it up.”

     “Thanks, Professor B. Um, I was also wondering if you’d...”

     I look up as Isaiah enters the room and slides into the chair across from me. He starts speaking while I strain to hear the conversation taking place in the hallway. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but I swear that student just asked Finn out. Isaiah’s voice gets louder when he realizes I’m not paying any attention to him, and I totally miss Finn’s reply.

     “So, who is Tate?”

     That grabs my attention and I tune in to Isaiah. “What?”

     “Tate called and left a message.” He holds a piece of paper up and reads from it. “He said, and I quote, ‘Please tell baby boy it’s really hard to reach him when his phone is turned off, and ask him to call me when he has a moment, before he picks up our dinner.’”

     Someone clears their throat. Finn. He’s propped against the doorframe with his arms crossed. The expression on his face isn’t a frown per se, but one eyebrow is raised and his top lip is twisted up a bit, like he’s annoyed but trying to hide it.

     Isaiah glances back and waves at Finn over his shoulder. “So. Who is he? Is this the guy you—?”

     “Okay, then,” I interrupt him and grab the note, crumpling it up, and tossing it into the waste bin beneath the desk. “I’ve gotta finish grading these last few things.”

 

     “And call Tate,” Isaiah points out as he stands. “Before he calls back and I get sucked into another conversation about the merits of the fourth versus the tenth Doctor.”

     I smile and shake my head. That is definitely Tate. I pull my phone out of my bag and turn it back on. I turned it off during class earlier and just forgot.

 

     Isaiah gets a good look at Finn when he turns to leave. “Why the sour face, Finn?”

     “Goodbye, Isaiah.”

     He rolls his eyes and walks past Finn without another word.

     My phone dings with numerous text messages, most of them from Tate. One of them reads: Future MIL dropped by unexpectedly. Yay. *insert eyeroll* Sorry to bail on our Monday night ritual, but we’re taking her out to dinner.

     I peer up at Finn after responding to Tate’s message. “Hey, Specs,” I finally say after he stands there and stares wordlessly for a few seconds. I raise an eyebrow when he still doesn’t respond. He opens his mouth, but then just turns and walks back over to his office. I stare after him with my mouth frozen open. What the hell? A few seconds pass, and when it’s clear he’s not coming back, I walk over to his office. He’s in front of his desk with his back to me when I enter the room and shut the door behind me.

     “You were going to say something, Finn. What is it?”

     He turns around, arms crossed again. “Baby boy?”

     “Oh, that.” I chuckle. “That’s what Tate calls me. It’s goofy, I know. Old habits die hard, and all that.”

     “And Tate is...?” Finn sounds very blasé, but there’s something in his undertone that pokes at me. Where normally I might be annoyed by unfounded jealousy—I’m not his cheating ex, after all—I know that it can be hard to let go of the past. Besides, I’m fairly certain I also just got jealous over a non-issue with that student. Finn pushes his glasses up higher on his nose, and that subconscious display of uncertainty grabs my heart and pulls me over to him.

     I tug on his arms until they drop to his sides, and then grab his hands and place them on my ass. He squeezes once and rubs lightly. “Tate is my best friend and neighbor. He and his fiancé live across the hall from me.”

     Finn blows out a breath and grimaces. “I’m an idiot. I mean, I know we’re not even… but…” His brow wrinkles. “I’m sorry for being an ass just now.”

     “You’re such a cute, nerdy ass though. Besides, I was kind of a paranoid idiot just now, too. I thought that student asked you out.”

     “He did.” My eyebrows fly up and Finn snorts.

     “Oh. What did you…how did you respond?”

     He squeezes my ass again. “I’ve got my hands more than full enough at the moment. Besides, he’s a student. I’d never do that.”

 

     “So am I, technically.”

     “But you’re not my student.”

     “Coulda fooled me.”

 

     “That’s different. Although that reminds me, you haven’t served your detention yet.”

     “I’ve got time now, Professor.”

     Finn smiles and hops up on the edge of his desk. He pulls me forward and kisses me, then wraps his palm around my neck and rests his forehead against mine.

     “Are we okay, Jace?”

     “Yeah.”

     More than.

Chapter 8

Finn

     The next couple of weeks pass by in a blur of lectures, grading, office hours, and Jace. Spending time with him, both in and out of bed, has been the highlight of it all, hands down. I’m starting to feel like I never want it to end.

     “Oh my God,” Jace exclaims as I turn onto the short private road that leads to our destination. It’s the weekend of my parents’ anniversary party and we’ve been on the road for a couple of hours, finally arriving just after lunchtime. “This is your parents’ beach house?”

     “Yes.”

     Jace’s eyes are huge when he turns toward me. “It has to be over four times the size of the house I grew up in.”

     I shrug as I pull into the driveway and up to the garage bay that’s for my use. “It’s rather large, I admit.”

     “Rather large?” he parrots back to me. “Try massive. It’s gorgeous, for sure, but holy hell, it’s huge.”

     I shove my glasses up my nose and turn off the engine before putting the garage door back down. My family’s wealth is a source of anxiety for me at times, a definite sore spot. Not long after Alec cheated on me, I found out that one of the main drivers of his interest in me was my perceived wealth. I’m not wealthy, my parents are wealthy, and once Alec realized it, that’s when things started to sour for us. I just hadn’t known it at the time.

     “Is that a problem?” I ask Jace quietly.

     “Is what a problem?”

     I wave my hand around, though we’re still in the garage. “My parents have money; I won’t try to pretend otherwise. But I don’t.”

     Jace rubs my leg. “I don’t care about that, Finn. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable, I was just surprised by the house. I wasn’t poor growing up, by any means, but definitely on the ‘we eat what the coupons buy’ side of things. I’ll try to reel in my shock and be the BDFB from here on out.”

     “BDFB?”

     Jace’s face breaks out into a grin. “Best Damn Fake Boyfriend.”

     I reach over and stroke his cheek. “You’re already doing a hell of a job, Jace.”

     We grab our bags and head inside. Mom is on us as soon as we step across the threshold of the main garage entrance.

     “Finn!” She wraps me in a hug and squeezes. “I missed you, sweetie. I’m so glad you came.” She has tears in her eyes when she pulls away to look at me, and I feel guilty for ever having considered bailing and sending a fruit basket in my place.

     “I missed you, too, Mom.”

      She holds me firmly by the shoulders and stares lovingly, in that way only moms can pull off. “There’s something different about you, but I can’t quite put my—” Mom stops and smiles, then clears her throat demurely. “Are you going to introduce your friend?”

     “Of course. Jace, this is my mother, Catherine Becker. Mom, this is Jace Matthews. Jace is my….” I trail off. I don’t want to lie to her.

“It’s great to meet you, Mrs. Becker.” Jace reaches a hand out but Mom bypasses the hand and wraps him in a hug. She whispers quietly in his ear. Jace has a shy but pleased smile on his face and his cheeks are slightly pink when she steps back.

     I hear Dad before I see him. Or more specifically, I hear his shadow come bounding down the hall ahead of him. Their black Labrador, Shelby, runs circles around us, her tail wagging. I kneel down and pet her, then look up at Jace.

     “I forgot to mention the dog. I hope you’re okay with dogs.” Jace reaches a hand out and Shelby sniffs it, then gives him a big lick and nuzzles up into his palm. “I’ll take that as a good sign,” I tease. Dad catches up as I stand, and hugs me as well.

     “It’s great to see you, son. We missed you.” He pats my back and drops his arms, then holds his hand out toward Jace. “I’m William Becker.”

     Jace gives him a firm shake and a smile. “Jace Matthews. It’s nice to meet you, sir.”

     “Nice to meet you too, Jace. It’s nice to see Finn finally bringing a nice fellow home. I hope we’ll be seeing more of you in the future,” my dad says with a wide smile. I blush, rubbing the back of my neck, and turn to lead Jace up the stairs.

 

     Yeah, me too, Dad. Me too.

* * *

     A few hours later we’ve rested up, had something to eat to hold us over until the party, and are now back in the bedroom getting ready.

     “I’ve never been to a fancy beach party.” Jace sits on the edge of the bathroom counter while I shave. He’s already dressed. Well, mostly dressed. His tie still hangs around his neck, undone.

     I glance at him and smile. “It’s like any other beach party, except everyone is dressed up, nobody swims, and the food is good but comes in annoyingly tiny bite-sized pieces. And most of the time is spent inside rather than down near the water.”

     

     Jace laughs. “So, it’s not at all like a typical beach party, got it.” He starts to tie his tie and quickly gets annoyed and tosses it on the counter. “Ties and I, we don’t get along.”

     I wipe my face and neck with a towel to remove any remaining bits of shaving cream I missed, and then pick up his tie. I put it around my neck and tie it loosely, then pull it over my head and step between Jace’s legs to slip it on him. He watches my hands as I tighten it for him and shift it into place, then pop his collar back down. When he raises his eyes to meet mine, they’re full of heat.

     “What?”

     He swallows hard. “That was one of the hottest things I’ve ever seen, Finn.”

     I smirk and pull him forward by the tie. “If I’d known you’d like that so much, we could have been having a whole different kind of fun in the bedroom.”

     The apples of Jace’s cheeks redden as I wink and let him go.

* * *

      Another hour later and the party is well underway. The place is teeming with well-dressed people everywhere you look; some are strictly social climbers, but others are genuine friends of my parents. Jace has been speaking with my father’s best friend, Jonathan Parker, about a Big Data conference coming up next spring. Jonathan will be lecturing on current trends in deepfake technology and I’m planning to attend. He’s trying to convince Jace to check out the conference, and I’m trying to both eavesdrop on their conversation, and focus on what Cadie, who had arrived about twenty minutes ago, is saying.

     “Finn.” Cadie taps on my wrist.

     “Mmm hmm, yes.” Did Jace just say he may move back home once it’s time to look for a job?

     “Clowns are sexy,” Cadie says.

     “Yep. Did you hear what Jace just said? I know for a fact he likes Calingston better overall. Other than his family not being here, obviously,” I mutter.

     “Have you been listening to a word I’ve said, Finn?”

     “Uh huh. Doesn’t Jace look incredible? I must admit, I prefer him in his normal uniform of jeans and T-shirts, but holy wow does he look great this evening.”

     “Finn.”

     “That tie…”

     “Algebra is boring and stupid.”

     I turn toward Cadie with my eyes wide and mouth frozen open. “What did you just say? Algebra is neither boring nor stupid.”

     She rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “Out of all that, of course that’s what you hear. Now that I have your attention, tell me how things are going with Jace.”

     “Going?” I play dumb but she’s not having that.

     “Yes, Finn, how’s it going between your cute nerdy self and the sweetie who won’t stop staring at you as we speak.”

     I glance behind me and catch Jace’s eye. My smile falters when I notice who’s walking up behind him in our direction.

Malcolm DuPont.

     One of the two people on this planet I’d prefer never to see again. I’m about to complain to Cadie when she pulls her phone out and speaks. She hasn’t seen Malcolm.

     “Oh, shoot. That’s the sitter. It would figure. I’ll be back in a few.” She taps away at the screen and puts the phone to her ear, walking away before I have a chance to respond.

     “Hello, Finnick. Long time, no see.”

     I stiffen as Malcolm strides up to me and stops uncomfortably close. I catch the frown on Jace’s face before I turn to Malcolm. He’s still as handsome as I remember, in an uptight, pretentious sort of way. His jet-black hair is gelled into a perfect swoop and his green eyes twinkle—with mischief I presume.

     “Malcolm? I almost didn’t recognize you without your dick up Alec’s ass.”

     He chuckles and steps even closer, resting a hand on my arm. My nose is assaulted with the overwhelming scent of his cologne. “I only did that to prove a point, Finnick.”

     Here we go with this again. “I don’t really want to hear your excuses, Malcolm. Don’t try to act like some noble hero for sleeping with my boyfriend to prove that he was a sleazeball. For any normal, decent human being, a simple conversation would have driven the point home. Walking in on you balls-deep in Alec was a bit overkill.”

     “You deserved better, Finnick.” His grip on my arm tightens, almost to a painful level. “Alec told me a bit about your, how did he refer to it? Your bossy, commanding attitude in bed.” He leans down and whispers in my ear. “I can be that other person for you, better than Alec ever was. I still want you; I always have. And let’s face it.” Malcolm leans back and his lips turn up into a lecherous smirk. “I’m the best you’ll ever get.”

     I yank my arm from his grip just as someone wraps their arm around my waist and pulls me back a bit, giving me some much-needed breathing space. I know it’s Jace without even looking, and I relax into his side. I’m not afraid of, nor ashamed of, how much better being near him makes me feel.

     In a bored voice, Jace addresses Malcolm. “We’ll take two martinis, thanks.”

     Malcolm’s eyes narrow and he stands up straighter. “I beg your pardon?”

     I sneak a peek at Jace and he winks at me. “You work for the catering company, do you not?” I bite back a smile because that is the exact way to get under Malcolm’s skin.

     Malcolm sputters and turns red in the face. “What kind of…no, I do not…who the fuck are you, to speak to me this way?”

     “Oh, sorry, dude. You’re dressed like them, so I just assumed. And I’m Jace Matthews, Finn’s boyfriend.” Jace holds a hand out to shake but Malcolm looks at it like it carries the plague. Jace chuckles and draws his hand back in.

     “I’ll see you later, Finnick. We can continue this conversation then.”

     “Can’t wait,” Jace responds with a smirk. Malcolm glares at him and stomps away. “Wow, what a real dickhead. Are you okay? Sorry if I was a jerk, but I didn’t like the way he grabbed your arm. I’m sorry if I—”

     I interrupt Jace’s words with my mouth, pulling him in for a long, hard kiss right in the middle of the party. He looks a little dazed when I finally pull back.

     “Thank you.”

Chapter 9

Jace

     The next morning, we sleep in late, not stirring until well after nine. I wake before Finn. He’s dead to the world on his stomach, one arm thrown over his head, and a little drool spot on his pillow. Something about the sight of him so soft and rumpled, sends a flood of warmth through my veins and dangerously close to that organ in my chest pumping that very same warm and fuzzy feeling through my body.

     I slip quietly from the bed and head to the bathroom. As I empty my bladder, peeing a circular shape around the inside of the bowl—because why not—I glance out the window and, in the distance, make out Finn’s parents and some of their other guests lounging by the outdoor pool. After flushing and washing my hands, I splash cold water on my face and brush my teeth, then take a quick shower. When I pop my head back into the bedroom, Finn is just barely starting to rouse, so I do what any mature adult would do, I run over and cannonball into the bed beside him, jostling him awake.

     “Ugh, Jace, stop. I hate you,” he groans into his pillow and then reaches blindly down and pulls the sheet over his head with one hand. I unceremoniously rip the sheet back and smack his bare ass. He yelps, more from shock than anything, because there was no sting in it.

     “Good morning to you too, lazy bones.”

     “You’re going to regret that slap,” he mumbles. “And it’s too early for that much energy.”

     “Says the man who typically rises no later than five in the morning. It’s after nine. I need breakfast and then the pool is calling our names.”

     Finn rolls over on his back and blocks the sunlight streaming through the bay window with his hands. I take in his lean, naked form, and now I’m very hungry…and my favorite menu item is sprawled on the bed. I run a hand along his thigh and plop back next to him. He smiles behind his hands.

     “You’ve come around to the dark side. The right side. The staying in bed side,” he jokes.

      “I’ve come around to the dick side.” I bite my lip. “Kiss me.”

     I reach for him but he rolls away from me, into a massive sea of bed pillows and to the other side. I stand on my knees on the mattress and put my hands on my hips.

     “Just what do you think you’re doing, Specs?”

     His eyes are bright and fully alert now. He points to his face and shakes his head. “Morning breath.”

     I raise an eyebrow and shuffle over to him on my knees. “Do I look like I care?” He slaps a hand over his mouth, and that fucker’s basically got it super glued down, because I can’t lift even one of his fingers. He snorts behind it but clenches again when I finally work a finger under his palm and wiggle my fingers to try to loosen his hold. “Come on, I want your lips. Give ‘em.” I poke him in the side with my free hand until he uncovers his mouth, but as soon as I scoot closer, he clamps it back over.

     “Wait,” he says behind his palm, sitting up quickly. “I need to brush my teeth.”

     I roll my eyes and shove him back down on his back.

     “You can fight it all you want, but I will have that mouth.”

     “The probability of that happening right now is very low, Jace.” He glares and grabs a pillow, smashing it down over his face. “Now let’s go back to sleep.” I wait for him to peek out from behind the pillow again, and pout a little as soon as our eyes lock.

     “Please?” His eyes narrow. “Pretty please? I want—no, I need—to kiss you. Right now. I need to, Finn.”

     “Argh,” Finn growls and sticks his head behind the pillow again. “You’re lucky you’re cute, Jace. Give me two minutes.” He rolls out of bed and stumbles to the bathroom, naked as the day he was born. I watch his ass the whole time until he disappears into the bathroom, then plop back down on the mattress and pull the sheet up. I lie here with my head propped in my arms and wait, a big smile on my face while I do so.

     “I can hear your cocky smirk from all the way in here,” Finn shouts from the bathroom. My grin deepens. The toilet flushes, I hear the water running, and a few minutes later, Finn heads back over to the bed, stopping beside it with his fists propped on his hips. He looks me up and down, his eyes lingering on my wet hair as a drop of water slides down my neck. I didn’t really take the time to properly dry off. “Are you going camping, Mr. Matthews?” He nods to my dick. It’s hard as a rock and, yeah, tenting the sheet.

     “We’ve been waiting patiently, Professor Becker. You took damn long enough.”

     Finn bites his lip and grips his dick, pumping slowly into his fist. His eyes zero in on the sheet where I’m fisting myself now, too, matching his movements. He reaches down with his free hand and slowly draws the sheet aside. I bend my knees and spread my legs as wide as they’ll go, fully exposing myself.

     “Kiss me, Finn,” I whisper.

     Finn gestures toward me with one hand. “Come here.” I start to get up but Finn shakes his head. “Just over here, to the edge.” I scoot over, still on my back, eyes on him the whole time. He’s one of those men who make bedhead look sexy, hair sticking up every which way. He leans down and brushes his lips over mine, then teases my mouth open with his tongue. “You’re so gorgeous, Jace,” he breathes the words into my skin, and kisses me, just like I needed.

     With a mischievous smile, he starts this next part of our day by worshiping my collarbones with his soft lips and hot tongue, by breathing whispered praises into my skin. He kisses and licks a slow path down my chest, stopping at each nipple to give them a little bite. I squirm when he brushes his thumbs lightly along my hip bones. Finn presses an open-mouth kiss to my stomach and slides down, peppering kisses along my hips and down the fleshy spot where my leg and hip meet. He works his way ever so slowly to my dick, which still stands at attention, and swipes a few drops of precum up with his thumb and licks it clean.

     Oh, man, am I in trouble. I want to bury my nose in his skin and inhale him, breathe him into my lungs. Everything about this man turns me on, and so many emotions run through me like a wildfire, each building upon the last. There’s absolutely nothing fake about any of this. Not for me.

     He drops to his knees at the side of the bed and peers at me with dark eyes full of heat and curiosity. While I’m held captive by his stare, he runs his hands lightly down my sides. The soft touch is heaven. I reach for his hands and he jokingly slaps mine away.

     “Come on, Finn,” I beg.

     “So impatient,” he murmurs. I reach for him again and he pinches the side of my ass. “No touching,” he growls mock-sternly. I open my mouth to protest, but he pulls me right to the edge of the bed, distracting me when he taps his shoulders. “Bring your legs up, Jace.” I do as he says. He holds my gaze while he grabs my dick and slowly pumps it with one hand while massaging my balls in his other, tugging on them lightly. Still working my dick over, he brings his other hand to his mouth and sucks on his thumb, then rubs my taint so fucking slowly I’m about ready to growl out in frustration.

     “I told you you’d regret that ass slap.” He chuckles when I try to shove myself into his hand.

     “Finn, please,” I mumble and fist the sheets.

     “Please what?”

     I glance at him, my eyes heavy with lust, but they narrow into a glare when I see the laughter in his. “Stop teasing.”

     His lips twitch as he holds back a smile. “Since you asked so nicely.” Finn thankfully puts me out of my misery by running his tongue up my dick, tracing the veins, and sucking on the tip like it’s some kind of candy prize. There’s something so personal about receiving head. Besides the fact that, hello, it’s your dick in someone’s mouth, how much more personal can you get, there’s a unique intimacy in trusting someone else to give you pleasure, to placing yourself in their hands. Or, their mouth, as it were. I’ve learned this from my time with Finn.

     His head bobs up and down as he finds a rhythm I like, slowing down or speeding up based on the sounds I make. After a few minutes he slows way down, sucking and licking almost lazily. It feels incredible, but he’s teasing me again and I need more of his mouth. I reach forward and dig my fingers through his hair, gripping it tightly, and use it as leverage to thrust faster into his mouth. It goes against his no touching command, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Our eyes lock and my hips stutter as I realize just how aggressively I’m moving. He pops off my dick and lies down on the bed, shoving a pillow under his head.

     “What are you—” Before I can finish my question, he’s got me by the wrists and yanks me on top of him.

     “Get back in my mouth.” The direct, commanding tone shivers down my spine. I’m addicted to that sharp tongue of his, in more ways than one. I scramble up his body and plant a knee on either side of his chest, and feed him my dick again. Once I bottom out deep in his throat, I grip the headboard and throw my head back, eyes closed, and sigh. Finn runs his palms over my thighs, making a figure-eight shape while I fuck his mouth.

     I have to say, roughly fucking Finn’s hot mouth is quite possibly the most arousing thing I’ve ever experienced in my life; he’s stunning, and watching him lie there and let me take this moment of control is absolutely breathtaking. The feel of sliding between his lips, his tongue stroking my dick, and even more so the expression on his face, the emotion in his eyes, these are things that will stick with me forever, seared into my brain for eternity. My hip movements become more erratic and stuttered, and I’m panting, drawing in short, ragged breaths.

     “I’m going to,” I utter and try to pull out of his mouth. He grabs my ass and locks me in place. “Finn, I’m going to come, watch out.” All he does is yank me closer, so with one final thrust I let go, letting out a guttural cry as I paint the back of his throat with my release. He swallows every drop. I slouch forward against the headboard, breathing heavily after I pull out.

      “Jace, baby.” His tone is strained. “I need to come.”

     I peer down at him, his pupils are blown so wide the dark brown ring is barely visible, and then over my shoulder to his dick. It’s standing at attention. I shuffle down and straddle his legs. When my mouth closes around him, all it takes is me swirling my tongue along his shaft once as I suck him in before he shoots down my throat. A loud “Fuck!” hits my ears and I swallow him until there’s nothing left.

     “Jesus, Finn.” I suck in air and wipe my bottom lip with the back of my hand. “That was….” I can’t even finish my thought. I lie down beside him on the bed and he peers over at me.

     “I know,” he rasps out, nodding.

     Our fingers are laced together. I don’t even know who grabbed whose hand. When I look over again, he’s staring at me. I can’t quite discern the expression on his face. His lips are turned up into a tiny smile, yet there’s a V forming between his eyebrows, and he worries his lip between his teeth.

     I reach over with my other hand and brush a strand of hair from his face. “What’s the matter, Specs?” He stares back up at the ceiling without answering, so I squeeze his hand. “Finn?” He opens his mouth and hesitates. A breeze comes through the open windows and flutters the sheer curtains. It’s not at all chilly, but Finn reaches down for the sheet and pulls it up to our waists. “Finnick Becker, if you don’t tell me what’s going through your brain right now, I’ll…”

      He smirks. “You’ll what? I don’t know about you, but you sucked all the energy out of me. I’m ready for a nap.”

     “Okay, old man,” I tease. “Nap after you tell me what’s wrong.”

      His chest expands and deflates with a dramatic sigh. “There’s nothing wrong, Jace.”

     I raise an eyebrow and gesture up and down his body. “Your body language says otherwise.”

     “There’s nothing wrong, that’s just it. I’ve been…” He hesitates again. “I’ve been enjoying our time together.”

     I snort. “Yeah, no kidding. You just came down my throat. Pretty enjoyable.”

     He frowns. “That’s not what I… Never mind.” He shakes his head. “Forget I said anything.”

     I turn onto my side and erase the half foot of distance between us. “I’m just kidding, Finn. I’ve had a great time, too.” I’ve had more than a great time this weekend, and not just the sex.

     “Does it have to be past tense?” he blurts out. This is a bit of nerdy Specs coming through, the Specs that fell into my arms that very first day.

     I cock my head to the side. “Please elaborate.” A tiny thread of excitement starts to spin inside me. Is he finally getting on board with where I’ve been since day one?

     He draws his shoulders to his ears and pushes an invisible pair of glasses up the bridge of his nose. “God, this is awkward. Why am I so bad at this part? I’m a grown man. This is ridiculous.”

     I splay my palm against his bare chest and he relaxes a little. That small thread of excitement strengthens and lengthens and winds through me when his eyes meet mine. His expression is bright, happy, and a little uncertain, but full of hope.

     I take a deep breath. “Finn, I don’t want us to be past tense either, and I don’t want to fake date you anymore. I want to legit date you, I always have. Is that what you want, too?” The last remaining bit of tension leaves his body, and he rests against me, completely slack. Finn always makes me feel important, cherished—maybe even loved, I don’t know. What I do know is that I can and want to do the same for him. I wrap him in my arms and kiss the top of his head. “Don’t leave me hanging, Specs.”

     He bites his lip, turning to meet my gaze. “That’s exactly what I want, Jace.”

     I close my eyes and give a huge sigh of relief at those words. Finally.

     Finn touches my cheek and I open my eyes as he continues speaking. “So, we’re not past tense, we’re not fake dating, we’re for real dating. To be very clear, I don’t want to casually date you, Jace. I want to know that when we walk down the street together, people can drool over you all they want, but they can’t touch. I belong to you and you belong to me.”

     “I’d love that. I’ll boyfriend the heck outta you, Finnick Becker.”

     He bursts out laughing. “And again, you call me the nerdy one.”

     I smile and shrug, and my smile deepens into a grin as I untangle myself from Finn and push him gently to his back. “Guess we’re both a little nerdy.” He cocks an eyebrow and nods in silent agreement, waiting to see my next move. I grab the sheet and pull it over our heads, then roll on top of him and press my lips to his. “And horny.”

     Finn smirks against my mouth. “Always.”

     I grind against him and he reaches around and kneads my ass. “So, we should probably do something about that, yeah? Like right now.” I kiss his neck. “And later today.” I lick a path to his ear and suck on his earlobe. “And tomorrow.” I bring my lips back to his.

     “And always,” Finn whispers.

 

 

The End!

TLF.png

Need to own it?
Get your signed copy here!

If this is a purchase OUTSIDE of the U.S. - please note that I will need to charge additional postage which will be invoiced separately once I have an exact amount. Please do not complete this purchase if you cannot pay additional shipping costs. I apologize for the inconvenience.