Pass me By © Kyra Fox Author

Chapter One

Zoe

The crispy freshness of the evening autumn air mixed with the sweet-scented steam wafting from the cup of mocha firmly gripped between the palms of my hands fills my nostrils. Fall is definitely my favorite.

“Doctor Lawrence,” one of my colleagues greets me as he hurries by to make it to class. I nod with a smile.

I need to start getting to my own class soon, too. Usually, I’d be running to make it on time after getting sucked into a longer than necessary conversation with my two best friends, Trista Edwards and Phoebe Jenkins, during our traditional Thursday evening coffee date. But I’m the only one still in Boston, except for my cousin, Brian, but he’s going through a thing and is in some sort of self-imposed pity bubble.

The observation makes me inwardly roll my eyes, pot meet kettle.

He didn’t want to leave just to have coffee with me on campus. So, here I am, hugging a Grande to-go cup, making it with time to spare for a change.

I sigh as I make my way through the Emeritus Community College grounds to my lecture hall, feeling somewhat deflated and maybe a bit abandoned when my phone pings, a message in our girlfriend group waiting for me when I pull it out, causing me to break into a wide smile.

 

Phoebe: Hey, Sweetie, just checking on how your first week alone in the apartment was.
Zoe: The apartment is quiet, but it’s not that bad 🙂
Trista: You were sadder three months ago when I left, admit it.
Phoebe: It definitely got quieter when you flew off to LA. I’ll admit to that.
Zoe:

No, no. I don’t have time for this now, and I’m changing the subject.

How was your first week at the new firm, miss junior associate? How’s New York?

Phoebe: Kind of crazy. I’ve been at the office non-stop since I got here. What are you up to?
Zoe: Got my mocha and on my way to class.
Trista: I miss our Thursday coffee dates; I miss you guys.
Phoebe: When you make it big as a photographer, you can work from anywhere you want, Hun.
Phoebe: Speaking of work, I got to get back to doing it.
Zoe: Yeah, I’m going into my lecture in a few minutes.
Trista: I’m texting you from the toilet. I ran away from the god-awful models “Garderobe” hired for this shoot. They may be the biggest online fashion magazine and all that, but they are poor judges of character. I can’t get these people to make a facial expression!
Zoe: You’ll figure it out, Tris, you always do. Happy hour Skype date tomorrow? East coast time this week, right?
Phoebe: Yes! I need a drink after the week I’ve had, and I need to see your faces.
Trista: Ditto. Love you guys <3

I stare at the screen a second longer before returning my phone to my bag, tucking my hair behind my ear only to have it fall back on my face because it’s just too short.

Figures, I think with a sigh before commencing my walk.

I’m happy for the girls. They’re chasing their dream careers and making a name for themselves, and it’s not the first time we’ve been apart. Throughout the twenty-five years we’ve been friends, life has taken us to different parts of the country, in my case the world, but it always came with a deadline, a timestamp as to when we’d all be back together.

But now that we’re in our mid-twenties with long-term ambitions and goals, it all feels very permanent, my loneliness not excluded from the ominous feeling.

Trista’s always been easy with people, approachable and fun. She makes fast friends wherever she goes, and many of them end up being true friends who stay for the long run. Phoebe is more guarded about who she lets in, but she’s the type of person who walks into a room and all heads turn, always surrounded by people and the center of attention.

I’m the invisible one. Not that I mind, I tend to lose myself in a crowd and prefer it that way. As a result, my social life has always been closely interwound with that of the girls. And now that they’re gone, I’m starting to realize that maybe it was a bit too thoroughly, to the point of dependency.

And though I love my academic career, excel in my field, and adore teaching, there’s a sense of stagnation in the romantic aspect of my life. One would even venture to say it’s comatose.

For as long as I can remember, guys have always been intimidated by my IQ. It was all fun and games until they realized I didn’t just skip a grade or two—I was a legit genius with a Ph.D. in chemical physics from Harvard University. Guys my age, at least the ones I dated, struggled with the fact that, on paper, I was smarter than them, and my diploma was more impressive than theirs. Eventually, they couldn’t handle trying to prove they’re smart enough and said they just wanted to go back to dating “normal girls.”

Their words, not mine.

I mean, what does “normal girls” even mean? Trista and Phoebe aren’t geniuses, and they out crazy me ninety-nine percent of the time!

So, I stopped trying. I’m all of twenty-five and have resigned myself to the simple fact that my type of smarts is just too intimidating for boys to handle.

I still say boys because, deep down, I hope that somewhere out there is a guy man enough to see my brains as a turn-on rather than a relationship kill switch.

Like my dad sees my mom. Given, my parents are divorced, but that was never about my mom’s intellect, and I know for a fact they’re still madly in love and keep each other company often, even though they try to be sneaky about the latter.

I grab the strap of my tote with conviction. The girls are out living life, chasing dreams, getting laid. God, I need to get laid. I have to start taking chances as well, meet new people, put myself out there, or I’m going to end up pathetic and alone while everyone else around me moves on with their life.

I’m a few minutes early to reach my lecture hall, so I wait at the faculty entrance watching Professor Ned Thorne wrap up his engineering design class. He notices me standing there and gives me a grandfatherly wink.

Taking on the teaching gig at the community college was an ego-driven whim. I saw a post about an opening and sent my resume on a spur-of-the-moment decision. I felt like doing something crazy and untypical, like applying for a job teaching night classes when it was obvious my schedule didn’t allow it.

Yes, that was crazy in my book, though even I realize how silly and downright sad it is.

The experience has been so thoroughly enjoyable, though—meeting people who have a passion for learning new things at all ages, from all walks of life—that I’ve been doing it for three years now.

I should do crazy more often. Or so I keep saying.

The shuffle of laptops and pens being packed is my cue to walk up to the podium and set up my presentation. I stop to give Ned a quick peck on his cheek and receive a fond pat on my shoulder.

“When are we sitting for coffee? I want to hear all about that new polymer you’re working on.” The wrinkles around his kind blue eyes deepen with his smile.

“Anytime you want, Ned, just say the word.” I smile back, and he raises an eyebrow, studying me.

“A beautiful young lady such as yourself should have a full dance card.” He ponders for a few seconds before sighing. “My grandson, Matthew, is visiting us next weekend. I know you went on a date with him a few months ago, but he was fresh out of a bad breakup. Try again. Maybe it will be different this time around.”

I smile politely. “Matthew is a very nice man,” with whom I felt zero sexual vibes. “We did remain good friends. I even referred him to that job with my best friend’s older brothers, remember?”

“Alright. I’ll stop pressing the matter.” Ned shakes his head at me in amusement. “He’ll show up eventually, Zoe, the man who’ll sweep you off your feet.”

“Thank you, Ned.”

I go to the podium and start setting up my laptop. A movement catches the corner of my eye, and I distractedly glance up from the screen, only to do a double take. A gorgeous man I’ve never seen before, no older than twenty-six, by my estimation, is taking a seat in the front row. His full lips are stretched in a smile as his emerald-green eyes scan me, a sparkle of mischief promising dirty secrets that only we would share igniting in them when he catches my lingering gaze, glued to his on-display abs.

In a feeble attempt to stop my overt glaring at all those hard plains barely hiding under a tight-fitted gray T-shirt and brown leather jacket, I force my gaze up.

Not fucking helpful! Because with all due respect to what is undeniably a firm hard body packed in straight-legged jeans, those soft waves of shockingly black hair casually falling over his forehead are practically begging my fingers to tangle in them. And that is just a whole new level of erotic daydreams I should not be having about one of my students.

I clear my throat, forcing my eyes back to my computer, away from all those soft features of his face pulled perfectly together by a strong square jaw and high forehead.

My fingers go through the motions, pulling up files and setting up presentations. My lips form a smile when I greet my students as they walk in and take a seat. But the entire time, my full awareness is of his gaze still on me, hot and full of undeniable intent. A blush creeps up my cheeks.

The tingle tickling up my spine is getting to me, and I tamp it down to the best of my ability. I make a rule never to engage with my students socially, definitely not on a romantic level. It’s unprofessional at best and blatant abuse of power at worst.

Shaking the embarrassment off, I take a sip of my mocha. The sweet beverage serves as a reminder of my crippling sense of loneliness and my ongoing three-year unfulfilled resolution to take more chances and venture into the unexpected and unknown.

Hoping he won’t change his mind once my lecture starts, I lift my head to the man sitting in the front row, still looking at me as if he’s gradually peeling every garment off my body in his head, I’m definitely returning the favor later tonight, a sexy grin stretching those inviting lips ever so slowly when he notices my gaze. And there go the panties.

I smile back with the friendliest smile I can muster under the circumstances. It must have been a reasonable effort because that panty-melting grin just broadens, naughty promise lighting up those dazzling green eyes, and damn if it isn’t the sexiest thing I have ever seen.

Mac

I’m packing my laptop, feeling almost reluctant to leave the study hall. Two nights a week is all I get. Six hours where I can pretend to be an average guy whose only care in the world is getting his college graduate at twenty-six instead of the person I’m forced to be outside these walls. Usually, I don’t bother myself with these pointless thoughts, but today they’re being extra clingy and refusing to go away.

My phone vibrates with an incoming message. Work. Someone called in sick, and Lenny, my boss, is asking if I can pick up his Friday shift tomorrow. Of course, I can. It’s not as if I have somewhere better to be.

Not that I don’t love my job, I do. But that last thought leaves a sour taste in my mouth. With a sigh, I finish packing up. I’ve never lingered this late after class, and people from the next lesson are already starting to pour in.

Just as I sling my backpack over my shoulder, I notice Professor Thorne stop and greet a young woman with a warm embrace, and I pause my ascent to the exit.

At first glance, she isn’t really my taste. A timid little thing that seems to be doing her best to hide anything remotely feminine about herself. Short latte-brown hair and innocent brown eyes. A simple tan sweater that looks too big for her frame blurs her body’s outline to the point where she seems a bit like a stick figure, dark brown slacks, and run-of-the-mill brown heeled boots. Everything about her appears small and… And brown except for those vibrant purple streaks in her hair.

Despite her out-of-the-mold appearance, I’m intrigued.

Not that I’m the change ‘em like socks type. I’m more of a long-term acquaintance, mutually beneficial booty call kind of guy.

When I am out and about, though, I prefer a woman with a bit of danger in her eyes who doesn’t have a problem flaunting her body with confidence. The kind that doesn’t carry any expectations aside from a good time. But something here warrants a second look, so I move to sit in the front row and scan her over more closely as she steps up to the podium to hook up a laptop.

At first, she barely registers my presence. Then she looks up with a start, her eyes growing wide as they look me over, a pinkish hue creeping up her neck and to her cheeks as they focus on my chest, and I wonder where else that enticing blush has spread, making a mental note to make her blush when I have her naked.

And yes, I’ve officially decided I want her naked, in my bed, under me. On me as well, come to think about it. I can think of a great number of fun positions I’d like to have her in if I’m being real honest here.

Her doe eyes grow wider and her curvy rose-hued lips part on a silent gasp, fucking hot, before her gaze jerks back to the screen, cheeks burning a deep shade of pink. Fucking hotter.

I keep my gaze on her, wondering who she is. She’s young, so I assume she’s from administration, preparing a presentation for the next lecture. The layered fringe haircut with purple highlights further solidifies my guess about her age.

She’s going through the motions, working on her computer, smiling at the people walking in. But she knows I’m still looking, the way she’s shifting under my gaze and her slender fingers push her short hair behind her ear just to have the brown and purple strands drop back across her eye. One such purple streak gently caressing her cheek and teasing the corner of her eye, making my fingers itch to get up on the podium and brush it back.

God, I want to touch her.

She looks up at me again, and something in my chest squeezes for a millisecond when, in a completely unexpected epiphany, I realize what about her is drawing me in. Because, despite my affinity for women with the need for a thrill written in their eyes, something about how hers seem to gleam with a joyful sparkle makes me desperate to learn all her secrets.

Her rosy lips shape into a shy smile, and her chestnut eyes gleam with mystery. A single dimple forms to the left of her upturned mouth, and I can’t help but smile widely back, determined more than ever to get to know her. So, I stay put, waiting for her to finish setting up, planning to follow her out and invite her for a drink.

I have no idea how much time I sit gawking like an idiot until she walks to the front of the stage with much more authority than I’d imagine an administrative employee would have over a college class and opens her mouth to speak.

“Good evening, everybody. Welcome to Gen Chem Two. Some of you took my Gen Chem One course last semester, but for the benefit of the new faces, I’m Dr. Zoe Lawrence, and I’ll be the main lecturer for this course.”

She isn’t a secretary, she’s the fucking professor!

“Every Thursday, we’ll have a ninety-minute lecture and then, on Tuesday, two hours in the lab.”

She keeps talking, but I’m no longer listening.

I am not one to be blindsided, but that curveball hit me right between the eyes. The petite brunette with the shy demeanor and an unhealthy affinity to the color brown has a goddamn fucking Ph.D. in chemistry. This, in complete contrast to her flabbergasted reaction to me, is something she exudes an air of unwavering confidence about.

Sure, this side of her is hot on a volcanic eruption level, but what in the world am I doing even looking at a girl so out of my league I’m not sure we exist on the same astral plane?

My hand runs over my neck, and I scan the room looking for the easiest way out when I catch her gaze. I see a flash of acceptance pass through her eyes, and for the smallest second, the amusement is gone when she gives me a sad but understanding smile without breaking her lecture pace.

She expected me to leave once I realized what she is.

I mentally slap myself upside the head for her benefit. I had spent the better part of the last fifteen minutes not so subtly undressing her with my eyes, and now I’m ready to bolt because she’s smarter than average? Something I assume she’s accustomed to judging by her reaction when she understood I was prepared to flee. It was a dick move, and I’m a dick for considering it.

So instead of bolting, I sit back comfortably in my chair and pull out my laptop. Zoe’s voice falters with a note of surprise, and she clears her throat.

Pulling up Professor Thorne’s latest assignment to work on while I’m stuck in a class I have zero interest in, I peek up at Zoe every once in a while and see she’s looking at me warily, constantly with a futile attempt to tuck her too-short hair behind her ear. I smile at her and wink, though I have to be honest—it’s with false confidence.

“Man up, Eric,” I grumble to myself. “She’s just a girl. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Still, I have a sneaky feeling that I am in way over my head with this one.

Zoe

Class is over, and I’m taking questions from some of the students, mainly about course requirements and schedule conflicts.

Chiseled and broad is behind me, watching and waiting, his gaze sending a tingle of static electricity up my spine.

The panicked look on his face the second I had introduced myself didn’t escape me, and I was sure he would head for the door, but he stayed, and I caught him glancing my direction every now and again with curiosity and half-grins I didn’t know what to make of. It made me nervous, and I don’t like it. So, I keep going through the periodic table repetitively in an attempt to regain composure and control of my racing heartbeat.

Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium…

Finally, I’m free to turn to him. Now that he’s standing in front of me, I can see him more clearly, make out his broad tapered form under his jacket.

Beryllium, Boron, Carbon…

“Dr. Lawrence.” The deep, warm bass of his voice is in stark contrast to the hard lines of his face.

Nitrogen, Oxygen. That’s an important one, Oxygen.

“What can I do for you, Mr…?” I need to tilt my head upward because he’s at least a half-foot taller than me, and though my knees melt a little at his proximity, I keep my posture straight and my smile professional, waiting for his name.

Fluorine, Neon, Sodium, Magnesium…

“Eric Mackenzie, but everybody calls me Mac.” He shrugs, then rubs the place where his shoulder and neck meet.

Aluminum, Silicon…

“What can I do for you, Mr. Mackenzie?”

“You can start by calling me Mac.” He gives me another one of those panty-melting grins and my stomach flutters.

Oxygen, Oxygen.

“And agree to join me for a drink.”

I smile, though I’m rapidly losing the fight to slow my racing pulse. Phosphorus, Sulfur… Oxygen.

“I appreciate the offer, Mr. Mackenzie, but I don’t fraternize with my students.” He laughs at my comment and shakes his head, running his fingers through his thick black hair as if contemplating the right answer, then rubbing his big palm over his neck again.

I’m starting to realize he may be as nervous as I am, and it makes my insides melt a bit. Eventually, he lets out a low huff and meets my eyes.

“In that case, Dr. Lawrence, it’s a good thing I’m not one of your students.”

“You’re not?”

Chlorine, Argon, Potassium…

“Nope. I’m from Professor Thorne’s course; I only stuck around to ask you out because I thought you were an administrative worker here to set up a presentation for the next professor and ended up sitting through an entire lecture about hydrogen bonding. So I could really use that drink.”

I laugh despite myself. “Going for the honest approach, I see.” I turn back to the podium to hide my lingering smile, contemplating his invitation as I slide my laptop into its protective sleeve and shove it into my giant tote.

I grab my coat and turn back to him. “And yes, I could go for a beer, Mac, as long as you call me Zoe.” Mac smiles, his entire face lighting up, and I feel the flutter double, forgetting to resume my mantra.

“How does Stout sound, Zoe?” Stout is a student pub that prides itself on having all the local beers, from the biggest breweries to the micro-breweries, but more importantly, it’s right outside campus grounds which means it’s a short walk to my apartment.

“Perfect.” Definitely perfect, I muse to myself, watching his sculpted rear-end walk ahead of me to open the door.

Not ten minutes have passed from when I was fully resigned to tucking him into the fantasy drawer in my mind and spending the evening with a glass of wine and maybe a toy from the shoebox under my bed if the mood struck.

Taking a chance never looked so good.

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