Mia was officially worried. Wyatt had stormed out of the hub almost three hours ago and seemed to have disappeared.
At first, she figured he’d cool off and come back, but after an hour she realized he wasn’t going to return.
She went to the campus café, to his flat, to her own, then circled back to the hub. Wyatt was nowhere to be found.
There was only one place left, the one place Mia was hoping not to find Wyatt at barely 4 pm. Of course, that’s exactly where she found him when she pushed the doors of the dimly lit pub open, sitting on the bar and nursing a lowball of clear liquid.
“Gin on the rocks before 5 pm, Doctor Jenkins?” Mia said as she took the stool next to him. “Seems out of character.”
Wyatt lifted the glass to his lips, pausing for a moment then tilting his head back and emptying it with one gulp, coughing before speaking in a rough voice. “Why’d you come here, Mia?”
She turned the question in her head a few times, not sure how to answer. She knew she had to find Wyatt but was stumped on the why.
“Does it matter?” she finally asked. “I’m here, so you can either talk to me or we can sit in brooding silence while you drown yourself in booze.”
“Well, when you put it that way…” Wyatt signaled the bartender for a refill.
“Fine.” Mia threw her hands in the air. “I’ll just point out that if you didn’t want me to find you, you wouldn’t have chosen the one pub you never shut up about.”
“I’ve finally managed to get you here, haven’t I?” he asked in an almost bitter tone.
He had been badgering her to have a drink with him at this pub for a while, promising her no one they knew would be there, that they would have privacy in a sexy atmosphere with good alcohol and even better food. There was something sultry in the ambiance, Mia gave him that, but staying indoors was safe, defined.
“Honestly? I was curious as to why you’d be so upset about people admiring your picture-perfect family.”
Wyatt chuckled, a dark and gruff sort of laughter, before looking at her. His eyes were full of pain and resignation, something Mia wasn’t accustomed to. She’d seen him serious, angry, excited, full of fiery passion, but never vulnerable.
“Just because we’re photogenic doesn’t mean we’re perfect.” He thanked the bartender who placed his drink in front of him. “And that wasn’t what I was upset about.”
Wyatt turned his face away from her and lifted his drink.
“Just…” Mia huffed and covered the top of his glass with her palm before Wyatt could get any more alcohol into his system. “Would you stop with this ridiculous mantrum and talk to me?” Wyatt stared at her hand with a frown. “If it’s about the hub it’s as much my business as yours, we can figure it out together.”
Wyatt produced a derisive sort of sound, between a snort and a huff, but lowered his drink back to the bar.
There were a few moments of silence where he twisted the lowball between his fingers before letting out a sigh.
“Did you know my dad is adopted?” he asked without looking up at her.
“He talked about it in his Nobel prize acceptance speech,” Mia answered, wondering if he was still caught up in his ego-driven annoyance over the undergrads asking about his father.
“Right.” Wyatt leaned against the bar, rubbing his palm over his face. He looked tired. “That speech was one of the main reasons I chose social genomics.”
“I thought it was the comic books.”
“The comics sparked my imagination, but that could have gone a million different directions.” Wyatt spun his stool to face Mia, reaching out to sweep the strands of hair that escaped her short ponytail away from her forehead. “Have you ever heard of Professor Sebastian Duke?”
“No.” Mia was transfixed by the sadness in Wyatt’s eyes as his gaze roamed her face. She got the sense he was asking her for something, but she couldn’t pinpoint what.
“He was a researcher based in the Philippines, obsessed with the genius gene,” Wyatt explained, and Mia nodded, a zing of familiarity tingling at her cortex. “He’s also my biological grandfather.”
“Oh, it was an open adoption?” Mia asked, and Wyatt shook his head.
“More like, he dumped my dad at his college roommate’s doorstep and fled the country before anyone had the chance to strip him of his academic decree.”
“That’s dreadful.” Mia reached out and caressed Wyatt’s jaw. “What about your biological grandmother?”
“Died during his birth,” Wyatt answered, leaning into her touch. “She’d barely celebrated her nineteenth birthday when it happened, and a week later Sebastian left my dad with my grandparents.”
“She was his student?” Mia asked with alarm.
“Handpicked as his ‘special assistant’, a position he tailored especially for fresh college girls he deemed fit for his ‘experiment’.” Wyatt’s expression mirrored Mia’s nauseated feeling. “After what happened, the university launched an investigation and found out he’d been planning on using his position to seduce and try to impregnate young students as part of his research on hereditary genius IQ.” Wyatt rubbed a hand over his face with a sigh. “He was long gone by then and they never managed to make anything stick.”
The vague recognition turned into realization. Mia had heard this story before in different variations. It was almost an urban legend in the world of genetics, the professor who dabbled in questionable practices to prove genius was a dominant gene, including methods such as grooming and breeding young students.
“So, they just let him go?” Wyatt nodded. “Let me guess, he kept on with his ‘experiment’ in the new faculty he joined?”
“Yes, only, the next time he knocked up a student, she was from a strong family. They weren’t happy with the situation.” Wyatt quickly grabbed his gin and took a drink, eyeing Mia who simply reached out and downed what was left of the clear, now watered down, liquid.
“Was he finally held accountable?”
“God, no.” Wyatt’s face twisted in disgust. “He claimed ‘true love’ and married her, they have two kids.”
“What a bastard,” Mia seethed. She’d met her fair share of men like that in her ten years in the academy, and she couldn’t stand them. Though they were mostly looking for a good time with a young girl, not an incubator.
“My dad always said that even if his IQ came from the Duke gene pool, it was the Jenkins in him that made him into the man he is today.”
“Nature versus nurture,” Mia realized with a sad smile.
“He was always so scared of turning out like him.” Mia didn’t need to ask which him Wyatt was referring to.
“And you carry the weight of that fear with you?” Mia guessed, and Wyatt shrugged, turning his gaze away from her. “Is that why you stormed away? Because I suggested you hold some sort of power position over me?”
“I do, though, don’t I?” he said quietly, tapping the bar with one finger. “For all intents and purposes – I’m your boss.”
“It was a silly game, Wyatt. I thought you’d enjoy it, that it would speak to your dominant side.” Mia couldn’t fathom why she’d care enough to cheer Wyatt up in the first place, or why she was trying so hard to get him to talk to her now.
“There’s a difference between dominance and superiority,” Wyatt said, lifting his gaze and locking it onto hers, his russet eyes intense and full of sincere emotion. “I never wanted to be your superior, Mia, I wanted to be your equal.”
“Oh, Wyatt, we were never equals.” She placed her hand over his. “I was always better than you.”
Wyatt burst into loud laughter. “You’re dreadful.”
“But in a sexy, I want to take you home and spank your impertinent ass, kind of way?” Mia teased, glad she could pull him out of his gloom.
Wyatt caught Mia’s hand and tugged her off her stool to stand between his knees, sliding his free hand to her nape and sealing his lips over hers.
His kiss was slow and soft, full of emotion more than passion, and against her better judgment, Mia got lost in it.
“Thank you,” Wyatt said, gently rubbing his lips against hers.
“Don’t thank me just yet, la bête.” Mia ran her hand through his unruly mass of hair. “You’ve just told me a very personal story, do you know what that means?”
Wyatt’s eyes lit up and his lips tugged into a sexy half-grin. “Tell me.”
“You’ve broken my one rule.” Mia’s arms circled Wyatt’s neck as she pressed her torso against his. “And since I was extra nice to you today, it means tonight I get to collect my reward and punish you.”
“What kind of punishment are we talking about?” Wyatt asked in a low, husky voice, fingers closing over her hips.
“The worst kind for a control freak brute like you,” she whispered in a near moan, Wyatt’s fingers flexing against her body possessively. “Tonight, you’re mine to do with as I please, Doctor Jenkins.”