Finished with perfecting the art of procrastination, Liese decided to give the remaining students a few extra minutes before she closed the library. She couldn’t kick them out as soon as the bell rang; they needed the space to work. It seemed a reasonable excuse if the principal confronted her about not going straight to his office after final dismissal.
But stepping out of the stacks, she noticed all the computer banks were empty, as were the tables in the center of the room. That seemed odd. She paused and looked around for stragglers in the reference section, but those stacks too were vacant. Her time to put off the inevitable had come to an end.
She crossed the room to her office and froze upon opening the door. With a sharp gasp, she took in Ryder’s relaxed form, seated behind her desk with her laptop flipped open, facing him.
“Holy—” She pressed her hand to her chest.
“Did I startle you?” he asked, looking smug. His fingers were tented under his chin, elbows resting on the arms of the chair. He crossed one leg over the other and swiveled lazily back and forth.
“I thought I was going to meet you in your office.”
“This is more private.” He looked from her to the screen and back again. “Close the door, please, Annaliese.”
The use of her full name had a visceral effect on her. She stepped inside and did as she was asked.
“If you wouldn’t mind locking it,” he prompted with a wave of his hand. Then he refocused his attention on the screen, as if asking her to lock the door was no big deal.
With trembling fingers, she turned the lock, the click so loud it echoed through the room like a gunshot.
“Have a seat.” He motioned to the chair on the opposite side of her desk.
She dropped into it, fearing her legs might give out. Head bowed, she clasped hands and waited.
She obeyed the implied command, forcing her eyes up to meet his. When she did, the ghost of a smile curved the corner of his mouth before he grew serious. Uncrossing his legs, Ryder shifted forward in the chair. He turned the laptop so they both could see the image on the screen. It definitely fell into Liese’s Top Ten, as the sub-folder was duly named. Along the bottom bar she noticed several tabs open—likely more images from her collection.
“What exactly were you thinking when you brought your laptop to work today?” Mild disapproval, or something of the like, creased his brow. His eyes moved from hers to the screen and back again. He tapped the scroll bar impatiently, then slid his thumb over the cursor, clicking on another open tab; the image that appeared was even more graphic than its predecessor.
“I couldn’t find my thumb drive,” Liese said, her voice rough. “I didn’t want to postpone showing you my new research because I’d misplaced it, so I brought my laptop, which was obviously a very bad idea.” She tried to get a read on him, but he regarded her with such scrutiny that she averted her eyes again. “I had no intention of viewing pornography in my place of employment.”
Ryder choked back a cough. Phrased as such, it sounded much worse than expected.
“Sugar.” She sighed and slumped in her chair. Liese felt like a teenager caught drinking in the bathroom, or hacking into blocked sites on the library computers: ready for a suspension. If only that was the worst that could happen.
A dark chuckle issued from across the desk, and Liese looked up to find Ryder browsing her Internet tabs. “What are you doing? That’s personal!”
He raised a brow in challenge. “Oh? And what you showed me earlier wasn’t? I only looked at what was open.” She worried he would think she was some kind of sexual deviant, which she wasn’t. Not really—she just preferred her sex life to fall slightly outside of the vanilla range.
“It’s also come to my attention that you attempted to place an order for this particular item . . .” The newest and best vibrator on the market came up on the display. “However, it appears as though you forgot some personal information. See right here?” Ryder pointed to the screen where her state and zip code didn’t match up. “Shall I submit it for you now?”
Liese stared at him, unable to tell if he was mocking her. He had one hell of a twisted sense of humor, if that happened to be the case. Dignity demolished, she was about to tell him off, but didn’t get the chance.
Ryder cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck before he continued. “My hope—” He leaned forward, a small, devilish grin spreading across his very kissable lips. “—is that in the meantime, you might be willing to have dinner with me and explain exactly what you plan to do with that item once it’s in your possession.”
Despite his words, his passivity made him difficult to gauge.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Liese uncrossed her legs, smoothing her skirt over her thighs. He followed the movement with his eyes. She prayed he wasn’t propositioning her as a means to sink the final nail into the coffin of her career, but that the months of pretending the attraction between them didn’t exist had finally come to an end. “I’m not sure I understand.” God, she hoped they were done pretending.
“You’re an intelligent woman, Liese. I’m sure you can figure it out.”
She remained silent. Tucking her chin in, she looked up at him demurely. “So, to paraphrase,” she began in a conspiratorial whisper, “you’d like to have dinner with me so I can tell you about my masturbation habits? Would that be accurate, sir?”
Ryder’s eyes widened. “When you put it that way—”
“It sounds inappropriate?”
“Everything that’s happened between us today has been inappropriate.”
Ryder raised his hand to cut her off. “Don’t misunderstand me. While I am very aware this is a dangerous path to take, I seem to have lost my ability to give a fuck. And after finding this—” He rose from the chair, gesturing to the laptop. “—I admit I would like to procure several of the other items available on this site. But I have to assume some may already be in your possession, rendering such purchases unnecessary. Again, we could discuss the items you do have as well, if you’d like.”
Liese blinked at him.
“Sorry, I ramble when I get excited. Of course, you already know that.” He leaned forward, his hands flat on the desk, the tick below his left eye belying his nervousness.