Authors: Holley Trent
Also by Holley Trent
Saint and Scholar
SAINT AND SCHOLAR
By HOLLEY TRENT
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
The bewildered young woman hesitated in the middle of the brick path. She gave her apologies to the torrent of undergrads forced to step around her at the last minute and stood up on her tiptoes trying to see over moving heads and shoulders. Extra bodies seemed to come out of the woodwork on campus during final-exam time. Any other Thursday Carla would have been able to make her appointment without a single jostle. Many students spent Thursday mornings recovering from the Wednesday night special at the pub. She sought out a familiar face, but couldn’t make out anyone she knew. Perhaps he’d been calling some
“Carla Gill! Wait there, please,” the man called out once more in his low tenor voice.
No, he was yelling for her for
. Carla was a rare enough name for a twenty-five-year-old, and the chance of there being another woman on campus at that moment with the same surname was infinitesimal. It wasn’t one of her friends or coworkers. The accent, a lilting, gentle brogue, was far out of sync with the Southern drawl her friends and family were prone to falling into.
The stream of bodies on the walkway broke just long enough for a man of athletic build around six feet tall to cut through and loop his right arm around her left one. He smiled brightly and nudged her forward to move and clear the path for the harried students. “How are you?” he asked, picking up the pace and navigating her smoothly through gaps of slower-moving bodies.
She couldn’t answer. She was paralyzed by some odd combination of arousal and shame. Seeing him caused her pulse to speed, her breath to catch. She knew this man, but even with him being a pale Adonis and so familiar, she couldn’t remember his name. Worse, his scent stupefied her, triggering memories of another man she hadn’t seen in ages. She hadn’t smelled that brand of soap since her father died.
He turned his head to look down, raising one black brow.
“I’m well.” She turned her face forward once more. Of all the flaws she pitied herself for, her tendency to blush at the drop of a hat was by far the most embarrassing. She started reciting the alphabet in her head, pausing at each letter to try to prompt her memory. She’d just
the man six months ago at the bar and they’d chatted for a full thirty seconds before she was pulled away by her friend Meg. She’d been stupefied then, too, staring at his face as if it was some kind of hypnowheel. She’d done the same two years before that when they’d run into each other at the student store. They’d been next to each other in line. He was buying printer paper, and she was buying art supplies. He’d turned around and asked the same question: “How are you, Carla?”
“Fine, fine,” was all she could manage, nodding like a bobblehead doll. He’d smirked and completed his transaction, then touched her arm gently before walking away. She hadn’t known what to make of it.
She made it up to
in her head as he deftly steered her around a clump of girls who’d paused to ogle a smartphone screen, and took the fork in the path to the right. Grant. His name was
. He was a graduate student and teacher’s assistant who taught English Composition, or at least he
been when she was in his class. That was going on eight years ago.
He paused in front of the history department’s grand staircase, where the foot traffic was light. They could linger undisturbed, at least for a moment.
“Glad to hear it.” Grant lifted his battered newsboy hat, shoved back the dark, dripping-wet curls drooping into his eyes, and repositioned the cap backward. That explained his scent. He must have just showered there on campus. Many students did after availing themselves of the state-of-the-art athletic facilities. What was his sport? Running? He certainly had the body for it.
She looked down at the arm he’d released and found the fine hairs standing on end and her skin mottled with goose bumps like she’d gotten too close to a cracking power line. He’d never touched her during the entire semester she was in his section of Introductory Composition. Not even so much as a handshake. Any more than that platonic gesture would have been inappropriate. He’d never touched her at all until that day in the student store.
For the four months she was in his class, she’d mostly stared through him from the same seat in the middle of the room. At first her shyness had been spurred on by shame, and later it was pure grief.
She’d spent most of freshman year in a haze of confusion after her father had died in September. She would go to class and stare blankly at the lectern while neither listening nor seeing, only tuning in when important keywords such as “exam” or “paper” were murmured. Her ability to read a syllabus and self-teach at home got her through the year, but barely.
She let out a deep breath and imagined she was blowing her toxic thoughts away on a breeze, the way the free therapist at the student health center had taught her when she’d finally returned to school at twenty. She’d hated that damned breeze and the therapist prescribing the exercise, but after a while the trick had become one of her vices. Using something physical to distract herself from the mental anguish. Heart rate at a more normal level and brain less muddled, she met his gaze and dug deep down into her well of Southern-girl charm.
“It’s lovely to see you again, Grant.”
He wriggled the dark brows over his olive-green eyes and let his smile spread wider. “The pleasure’s all on my end.”
She laughed. “You’re full of it.”
His face brightened at her turn of mood, and he suddenly looked a bit younger, not that he was a dinosaur to start with. He looked to be right on the cusp between boyish and what comes after. Good genes. He had the fair skin one would expect of a born and bred Irishman and nearly black hair. Combined with his rakish smirk and his casual choice of clothes, a novice would have pegged him at around Carla’s age. She, however, knew better. She knew faces. Faces were how she made her living. The fine wrinkles at the corners of his warm eyes when he smiled put him squarely in the thirty camp, and actually even a bit beyond.
Grant gave her arm a light cuff after she’d been staring at his face for far too long for politeness.
She closed her eyes tight and cringed. When she opened them again, his expression was one of concern. “Sorry. I guess I was a cat in my last life. Sometimes I stare.”
The tension in his jaw ebbed as his easy smile returned. “Yeah? Seeing you out of the blue like this is odd. I was thinking about you just a few days ago.”
“Oh?” Her tongue had suddenly crumbled to dust; she struggled to swallow. She pretended to be interested in the state of her ballet flats. She wasn’t all that worth remembering, not charming or particularly witty. That left her looks, and on most days she could take those or leave them.
Then again, she remembered some things about
other people would have found trifling even if she couldn’t remember his last name. For instance, the way he twirled his pencil in his long, elegant fingers when he was reading silently. She would stare and fixate on the spinning wood until he stopped, then resume her one-sided staring competition with the lectern.
“We’ve never really had a chance to talk, huh?”
She shook her head and rested her shoulder bag atop her feet. If they were going to settle in to a long conversation there on the steps, she’d at least spare her shoulders. “No, we haven’t.”
He rubbed the stubble on his chin and stared over her head at the clock tower. “Well, your advisor had let us all know your dad died, and I wanted to say something, but didn’t know what.”
“Yeah. Common affliction, I hear.” She tried to chuckle, but it came out sounding like a scoff. She slowly raised her head and saw the expression on Grant’s face had smoothed from one of knavish flirtation to his former concerned one. He must have thought she was off her rocker for sure.
“Yeah. I was on your end of things a long time ago myself. Doesn’t make the words come easier.” He shifted the strap of his bulging messenger bag from his left shoulder to his right and cast his eyes down to the hands she used to wring the strap of her own bag. “Listen, I wanted to just say how sorry I was. It’s late coming now, but my cowardice has been eating away at me all this time.”
She clamped her teeth as her shoulders inched up to her ears–her defensive switch thrown. Time had taught her
was sorry. Everyone pitied her. She was damn tired of being pitiful. She was sick of being told it’d all get better with time.
“My mum died when I was sixteen. Anaphylactic shock after multiple bee stings.” He tipped up his hat up and scratched his head. “We never knew she was allergic. We expect to outlive our parents, right? But the coping seems more difficult when you haven’t quite grown up yourself.”
She blew out the breath she’d been holding and let her shoulders fall. “Wow. I’m sorry, too. It was a pretty rocky healing process for me. Took me years to delete my dad’s contact information from my phone.” She grimaced just thinking about all the times she’d been bored and picked up her phone to start dialing his number, only to remember when it started to ring no one would answer. Sad as it was to be flooded with those memories now, her father always had a way of making her smile, even from beyond the grave. He used to answer his phone a different way each time she’d called. The last time, he’d picked up and said, “North Raleigh Pizza and Dry Cleaning. Which do you want?” His voice had been so flat, she had pulled her phone back from her ear to verify what she’d dialed. He’d started laughing before she pressed the device against her ear once more and groaned, “
, Daddy!” She smiled thinking of the fit of hysterics he’d been thrown into from her gullibility.
“Hey, she has teeth!” Grant joked, a wide smile crossing his own face yet again.
“Yeah, I suppose I don’t show them much nowadays.” She shrugged and crossed her arms over her chest. She’d picked a bad day to not wear a bra. Normally she could get away with it, but she’d overestimated the temperature and hadn’t planned for the chilly wind. A storm approached, which probably explained the headache she had been nursing all morning.
“You should. Makes your face light up.” He squinted at her. “Or maybe not. You probably don’t want every bum in town hittin’ on ya. Your fella probably wouldn’t like that.”