Wyatt suppressed a grin at the audible gasps and awe-filled sounds coming from the small group of undergrads that had followed Mia into the hub.
His eyes met Mia’s and they exchanged an amused glance as she led the half-dozen prospective future DPhils to the common area, ushering them to the sofas that were pre-arranged in a semi-circle.
Once they were seated, Mia came to stand next to Wyatt. “Welcome to the Social Genomics Science hub,” she started, turning to look at Wyatt with a professionally amicable smile. “This is Doctor Wyatt Jenkins, head of the hub, and he’ll answer some of your questions before you continue the tour with one of our DPhils.”
“Thank you, Doctor Bissonnette.” Wyatt returned her courteous smile and nodded when she indicated she had to make a phone call. It was an act they’d perfected since getting involved, being mildly polite towards one another while on campus.
The pretense was a huge turn-on. By the time they’d get home they had an entire day of buildup burning through their veins. Even now, even while he was telling the grads about the future of sociogenomics and the opportunities it presented in helping underprivileged and underrepresented groups, the unanswered itch to touch Mia was prickling at his fingertips.
Denial was one of Wyatt’s favorite games, after all, and practicing his self-restraint under conditions of extreme temptation was proving the best version of denial he’d ever experienced. The fact that Mia made a point of pushing all his buttons made it all the better.
“And those are just a few examples of the research we conduct at the hub,” Wyatt concluded his well-rehearsed speech, gesturing at the small group of wide-eyed post-teens. “Any questions?”
A multitude of hands shot up, and Wyatt pointed at a girl with big, round glasses and dark hair.
“Are you reallyProfessor Brian Jenkins’ son?” The entire room hushed at her question, staring at him expectantly. Wyatt felt burning heat rise from his chest and spread through his limbs.
He forced a smile, tucking his hands into his pockets. “I am.”
Another hand, this time a boy who didn’t wait for Wyatt to give him the go-ahead. “Are you planning any joint projects with him?”
“Social genomics isn’t really his field of choice,” Wyatt answered with entirely fake amusement. “You’d know that if you’d read his research.”
People around the boy snickered as he turned beet red and looked away.
“How has he influenced yourchoice of field, Doctor Jenkins?” a different boy asked, which Wyatt guessed was a fair question.
“My father always instilled the notion that we should use science to change the world for the better. Social genomics is where I felt I could have the largest contribution in that aspect.” There was a murmur of approval from the crowd. “Ask me how.”
Even more hands than before were raised, and although he was apprehensive, the rest of the questions were on-point to the tour. Wyatt made a few notes on the students who showed most potential before giving Giles the signal to cut him loose.
“Thank you for those wonderful questions,” Giles said with a bright smile, coming to stand next to Wyatt. “I’m Ron Giles, one of the most promising DPhils here in the hub.” There was a collective chuckle. “I’ll be taking you on a short tour of the labs and answer all the questions you were too scared to ask the bosses.”
Everyone laughed and followed Giles keenly, allowing Wyatt to slip away to Mia’s office.
He could hear Mia speaking French through the partially open door. Her tone was almost business-like though he detected a strained edge to it. It was the first time he’d heard Mia speak fluently in her mother-tongue. Even when he spoke in French she’d answer in English. Wyatt was even more curious than before as to why.
He knocked on the door and walked in, closing it behind him. Mia shot him a wary gaze from her seat on the couch and wrapped up her call.
“That went well,” Mia said, as Wyatt came to sit on the couch next to her.
“For the most part,” Wyatt agreed. “Who were you speaking to?”
“Why is that your business?”
“It isn’t.” Wyatt shrugged. “I’m just curious since I’ve never heard you use French unless it was to swear, mostly at me.”
“I was speaking to my mother,” Mia answered with a wry tone, indicating the subject was not open for discussion. “What part of the tour didn’t go well?”
“The questions.” Wyatt grimaced. “They seemed more interested in my dad than the hub, until I managed to steer them back to the subject.”
“And it bothered you, when they asked about your father?” Wyatt nodded. “Why? You must be used to it by now, and they meant no malice.”
“I refuse to get used to it and I’m aware that it isn’t done with bad intentions.” Wyatt fixed Mia with a pointed gaze. “Most of the time.”
Mia laughed softly, her eyes shining with amusement. “Are you fishing for an apology?”
“Why? Will I get one?” Wyatt matched Mia’s teasing tone. He wasn’t hopeful, though an apology would have been nice.
“I think you know the answer to that question, Doctor Jenkins.”
“I really am too smart for my own good,” Wyatt said with a grin, and Mia lifted an eyebrow. “No snarky comeback?” he asked, and Mia pulled a single shoulder. “Oh, you want something.”
“What makes you think that?” Mia asked, but her expression indicated he had guessed correctly.
“You’re being nice.”
“I can be nice!”
“Mia,” Wyatt warned with a shake of his head before leaning close to her. “Qu’est-ce que tu veux, ma Figue de Barbarie?”
“Your mouth.” Mia’s fingers traced his lips and Wyatt’s eyes fluttered shut with a soft groan. “And your tongue. All over me, inside of me.”
Wyatt kissed the tips of her fingers. “We’ll see how the rest of the day goes.”
He was full of it. Wyatt would do anything Mia asked of him, especially when she was looking at him the way she was right now, with her witchy gaze full of need.
“I can be nice for a few more hours,” she said with a sly smile, finger lingering on his lips as she stood. “I’m going to get something to eat. You want anything?”
“No, thank you.” Wyatt loved the feel of her fingertips brushing over him as he spoke. He loved the way things were between them now, still full of fire but not so much animosity.
He wasn’t delusional, he knew Mia wasn’t falling for him the way he was for her. She was adamant in her refusal to talk about anything personal and reminded him often that she still wanted his job, but he dared to believe she didn’t loathe him to the depths she had when he had only arrived at Oxford a couple of months ago.
Wyatt took what he could, fully aware that he was setting himself up for a world of pain. But that was in the distant future. For now, he allowed himself to enjoy the sight of Mia sauntering in front of him as they exited her office without dwelling on the repercussions.
A few minutes later, Wyatt was in his own office, engrossed in answering emails when yelling pierced through his closed door, causing him to jump out of his chair and bolt to the common area. People were starting to gather with alarm and curiosity in their stares.
“Why did you move it?” Wyatt recognized Amika’s panicked voice coming from the clinical applications lab. He sprinted there, pushing people aside and away from the door, shutting it in the face of the onlookers to try and provide a semblance of privacy before turning to take in the scene in front of him.
One of the undergrads that had joined them earlier that week was standing, seemingly shell shocked with her mouth gaping as she stared at Amika who was screaming at the open door of a laboratory refrigerator.
“Carissa, what happened?” The undergrad turned to Wyatt, but just kept gaping. “Carissa.”
His commanding tone must have penetrated, because Carissa started sobbing, telling him she was only doing as she was told, and now Wyatt had two hysterical scientists to deal with.
Deciding Amika was the priority at the moment, he went to stand beside her.
“Amika?” he said her name tentatively. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“She moved it, the tray.” Amika pointed at the blue tray with her samples. “It was in the front right corner on the second level, and now it’s in the back right corner on the third.”
“Okay, can we move it back?”
“I don’t know how long it’s been there, it changes everything, all my variables, my baseline.”
Wyatt was thoroughly confused. “These are state of the art refrigerators, Amika. I assure you, your experiment hasn’t been compromised because of its location in the fridge.”
Apparently, that was not the right thing to say.
Amika turned a deep shade of red, her eyes livid as she fixed her gaze on him, seemingly ready to unleash her fury.
“Oh, no, your tray.” Mia’s voice seemed to immediately change the atmosphere. Wyatt hadn’t even noticed her walking in on the scene, and he didn’t recognize that soft and sympathetic tone, but it worked like a charm.
Amika immediately deflated. “What am I going to do, Mia?”
“Do you have the baseline data and last recorded data from your samples?” Mia asked in that same gentle voice, and Amika nodded. “Well, how about you take Carissa and the two of you run the samples through the spectro, run some labs, compare it to what you have and make sure nothing’s changed?”
“Yes.” Amika nodded again, turning to look at Carissa, her eyes growing large when she saw the tears still streaming down Carissa’s face. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
“I’m sorry I moved your tray,” Carissa answered, sniffling.
“You didn’t know,” Mia assured Carissa, patting her on the arm. Wyatt noted she hadn’t touched Amika to offer comfort. “Go clean up and come back to help Amika, okay?”
Carissa nodded and turned to leave, squeaking in alarm when the door slid open and she was met with a sea of curious eyes.
“Back to work,” Wyatt barked at the onlookers, who scurried away in a slight panic. Wyatt had yet to yell or scold anyone since he arrived. He didn’t like doing so now.
“My apologies, Doctor Jenkins,” Amika said, meeting his gaze to show her sincerity. “I like things a certain way and sometimes don’t react well when they aren’t how I need them to be.”
“No, Amika, I’m the one who owes you an apology.” He tucked his hands into his pockets, looking over Amika’s shoulder at Mia. “I should have known how to handle the situation better.” Amika opened her mouth to respond, but Wyatt needed to get out of there, fast. “I assure you, you did nothing wrong. I’ll let you get to your testing.”
Amika nodded and Wyatt hurried away, ignoring the clicking sound of Mia’s heels following him.
“Wyatt,” Mia said once the door to his office closed behind her.
“No, don’t.” He lifted a finger in her direction before pulling his hand back and raking his fingers through his hair. “I know what you’re going to say, but please, don’t.”
“What is it you think I’m going to say?”
“That you were right. That you should be the one running this hub and I’m only here because my dad’sname helps get funds.” Wyatt felt the weight on his chest grow heavier with every word. “I can’t do what you do, I don’t know the people who work for me the way you do. Jesus, Mia, I’ve been fucking you for over a month and I wouldn’t know what to do if you had a meltdown like that. What am I even doing here?”
Wyatt let out a sharp exhale, willing himself to calm down, reason away the self-doubt gnawing at his insides.
“Are you done?” Mia asked in a calm voice, waiting for Wyatt to nod. “I wasn’t going to say any of that.”
“But you were thinkingit.”
“Since when do you care what I think about you?” Wyatt snorted. If only Mia knew how much he cared.
“Never mind.” Wyatt shook his head, rounding his desk and plopping down in his chair. “I’m fine.”
“Bullshit,” Mia said, following him and straddling his lap. “You’re frustrated because you can’t manage your underlings. You’re a control freak who lost control of his kingdom today.” Mia pressed her breasts against his chest, cupping his jaw. “Do you need to feel powerful over a subordinate, Doctor Jenkins?”
Wyatt knew Mia was only trying to make him feel better, but that knowledge didn’t stop the bile rising from his gut, so he pushed Mia off him and stood.
“Don’t ever play that game with me, Mia,” he warned through a clenched jaw before grabbing his satchel and coat, intent on putting as much distance as possible between himself and the hub.
Could this day get any worse?