“No,” Mia said, hurrying to step in front of Wyatt before he entered the small lab dedicated to the clinical translation of their genomic studies. “Amika is working in there, she doesn’t like being disturbed.”

“I appreciate that, but I would like to observe her methodology and process,” Wyatt replied in his ever patient and level-headed tone that got under Mia’s skin. He was too accommodating, to the point where she felt as if she were being played.

“Then you should have talked to Amika beforehand.” Mia was putting her foot down on the matter. If it were anyone else, she would have let Wyatt go ahead and blindside them, probably even encouraged it. It was a good method for assessing how dedicated, professional, and versed a researcher was in their current work, one Wyatt had been utilizing well in the past two weeks.

He’d spent the first week studying the binder she’d given him, having different members of the hub walk him through the labs and their research, learning how each cog saw the system and their part in it. Mia was beyond impressed, and it was an irritating sentiment since it made her constantly second-guess herself as to why Wyatt was chosen in her stead.

“I’m not asking for your permission, Mia.” Wyatt was still calm, but his words took on a layer of command, as they tended to every time she’d cross a professional line with him in the past three weeks, and his large palm gently rested on her arm to move her aside.

Mia knew it was a disaster waiting to happen. Though it would play in her favor, considering the outcome would hinder Wyatt’s confidence in his ability to manage the lab, she couldn’t do that to Amika.

“Please.” Her fingers closed around Wyatt’s wrist, and he froze. “Amika is a brilliant young woman, a brilliant scientist, she can repeat the entire research log from memory, she’s more serious and dedicated than any DPhil I’ve ever worked with, but she doesn’t handle surprises well.”

Wyatt stared at her, seemingly torn between acquiescing to her atypical pleading or following through with his executive decree.

“You’ll put her in distress,” Mia continued. “Amika doesn’t deserve that.” She squeezed his wrist for good measure. “Please, Wyatt, I’m asking you, on this one thing, please trust me.”

“Okay.” He nodded slowly, sliding his hand down her arm as if to release his hold, but Mia felt his fingers tighten ever so gently as they kept a firm contact over her lab coat before reluctantly dropping to his side.

“Thank you.” Mia breathed a sigh of relief. She wasn’t sure she’d have listened to Wyatt if it were the other way around, and she was thankful Wyatt wasn’t willing to wage their war on the back of the other members of the hub.

Wyatt nodded again before turning towards the lab where they focused on using their findings for decreasing health disparities among marginalized groups.

Mia took a stabilizing breath and followed, reaching Wyatt with a few hurried strides. He was standing, staring at the keycard held in his hand before turning his gaze to her. “I do trust you, and I hope in time you’ll learn to trust me back.”

He never gave her a chance to answer, swiping his card against the panel and opening the door to the lab, where a pair of DPhils they’d recently accepted immediately went silent and looked up, wide eyes visible behind their protective glasses.

Mia couldn’t concentrate on the exchange between Wyatt and the DPhils, tossing his words around in her mind, trying to make sense of them. He must know trusting her was a terrible idea and that she could never allow herself to trust him, not when, since the moment they met, she’d wanted him out of the way.

Mia knew this was her own doing. Wyatt had arrived hoping for an ally, but she’d decided he was the enemy even before she’d learned his identity. Maybe that was the variable she was missing – Wyatt was still hoping they could overcome the initial animosity and learn to work together. Either that, or it was what he wanted her to believe.

“Lunch?” Wyatt asked once they left the disparities lab, and Mia shrugged, following him into his office.

“Why would I trust you?” she asked once the door was closed behind her.

“Because I’ve never given you a reason not to?” Wyatt answered with his back to her, organizing his notes into tidy binders. “Or are you one of those people who distrusts everyone they meet until proven otherwise?”

“It’s more sensible that way, don’t you think?”

“Probably.” Wyatt finished tucking away all the papers and turned to her with a thoughtful gaze. “But, every once in a while, someone comes along that deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

Now Mia knew he was bullshitting her. “No, they don’t.”

“Oh?” Wyatt shoved his hands into his pockets and leaned against the table. “Sounds a bit harsh.”

“Sounds safe.” Her response was snippier than she’d intended, and she realized that Wyatt had somehow managed to sneak past her guards and push one of her buttons.

“I’m sorry someone made you feel that way,” Wyatt said in that sincere and understanding tone that grated against Mia’s nerves. She was not going to let him play this dirty game with her.

“It’s not about feelings, it’s about rationality,” she replied with an indifferent tone, mimicking his posture and leaning against the door with her hands tucked behind her back. “When we choose rationality, we give up a lot of exciting and questionable things that we would otherwise pursue without a second thought, don’t we, Wyatt?”

His eyes lit up at the underlying meaning of her words, and though nothing else about his body language indicated she was affecting him, Mia could feel the air between them fill with sparks. This wasn’t part of her strategy, just a way to divert the conversation from uncomfortable topics, and Mia knew it would backfire. She wasn’t immune to whatever this thing between them was, but she preferred it to Wyatt psychoanalyzing her.

“What’s your angle, Mia?” Wyatt asked, his voice low. “You’ve been at it since the day I set foot in the lab, what are you playing at?”

“Who said it was a game?” Her heart was beating erratically in her chest, a pulse starting low in her abdomen when Wyatt stood and started towards her in a slow prowl.

“What is it then?” he asked, russet eyes intense as they stayed focused on her face. “Are you trying to prove how untrustworthy you are?” He was getting closer, and Mia pressed herself into the door. She wasn’t afraid of Wyatt, rather of him feeling the heat she was sure was radiating off of her like a furnace. “Because the rational course of action would be to let me believe you’re on my side, use it against me.”

“Maybe I just enjoy seeing you lose your cool and show your true colors.”

“Is that so?” Wyatt caged her between his arms, a sinful half-grin breaking across his face.

“Yes, it proves you don’t have what it takes to run this lab.” She stuck out her chin, daring him to take a step back and resume his professional façade, unsure if she wanted him to. “You can’t separate what you want from the logical course of action.”

“The logical course of action would be to fire you,” he grumbled, more to himself than to her, it seemed, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “You smell like pears.” One palm slid from the door to her neck, thumb rubbing against her pulse. “A very prickly pear.”

Mia’s body was throbbing, painfully aware of Wyatt’s body almost pressing against hers.

“Tu es une bête,” she repeated the insult she’d thrown at him his first day at the lab, though with less venom this time.

Wyatt’s eyes opened lazily, meeting hers with unwavering confidence and a burning fire, thumb pressing more firmly against her pulsing vein, sending a bolt of desire through her. “If I’m a beast, does that make you the belle?”

“Google translate?” Mia asked with a snicker. “It also means brute.”

“I like my version better,” he replied with a smile of his own, loosening his hold on her neck. “You keep talking about what I want, but what do you want, Mia?”

“I want what’s rightfully mine.”

“And bewitching me with those indigo eyes is how you’ll get it?” Wyatt bowed his head, and Mia’s eyes fluttered shut, her lips parting, expecting the soft contact of his. Instead, his breath was light on her ear. “Or are you having a hard time separating what you want from what makes sense as well?”

Mia was close to her breaking point, she was desperate for him, wetness pooling between her thighs as his scent clouded her mind.

“You don’t get to fuck me over twice, Wyatt.” She placed her hand on his chest and pushed him back, needing room to pull herself together and remind herself who, or rather which body part, was in control.

“I haven’t fucked you over at all,” he reminded her.

Mia was about to retort when a knock on the door stopped her.

“One minute,” Wyatt called out, closing his lab coat to hide the tenting in his slacks before walking over to the door and opening it, cool as a cucumber. “Yes, Giles?”

“We’re headed out for lunch, are you two joining?” Giles asked with a big, friendly smile that indicated he had no idea what he’d interrupted.

“I have some work to catch up on…” Mia sensed the next words out of Wyatt’s mouth were going to somehow force her to stay back as well, so she beat him to the punch.

“I’m starving,” she chimed in. “Give me a second to grab my bag?”

“Sure thing.” Giles gave her two thumbs up before turning back to Wyatt. “Should we get you takeaway?”

“Sure, thanks,” Wyatt answered, eyeing Mia with a frown.

“Cool.” Giles was completely oblivious to the tension in the room, happily grinning in typical Giles style. “We’re going clubbing tonight to welcome all the newbies, you included, so no skipping out!”

“I’ll add it to my calendar,” Wyatt promised with a wink, opening the door wider for Mia to exit. Giles went back to the group waiting next to the exit, and Mia walked past Wyatt with her head held high as if nothing about their interaction had affected her.

Despite her aloof attitude Mia knew they had crossed a line. She and Wyatt weren’t done yet, the only question was what happened next.