Read an Excerpt
A Lesson in Temptation
A Stanton Family Novella
By Audra North, Tahra Seplowin, Wendy Chen
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Audra North
All rights reserved.
Did standing in the hallway, looking at the paper sign taped to the doorframe, count as attending this class?
Adam grimaced. No doubt many of his students felt the same way whenever they had to attend his Financial Markets lectures. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his navy-blue trousers and let out a long-suffering sigh, silently reminding himself that Naomi and Victor had given him this class because they cared about him. Not because they wanted to torture him.
But for God's sake, did they have to choose Tango for Beginners?
Victor and I took this course last year and it was amazing. Naomi had been practically gushing last week when she handed him the gift certificate for the class. We didn't just learn how to dance. We gained a whole new perspective on life!
Adam had been at a loss. What does one say to a colleague and friend who means well, but somehow manages to find the most ill-fitting present possible?
Wow, thanks, was what he'd gone with, fully intending to toss the paper into the wastebasket without a second thought. But Adam started feeling guilty. Naomi was one of his few friends in New York, and her husband had become one by association. He knew they were worried about how stressed he was about getting his next publication out the door. They were trying to help distract him, and he owed it to them to go to at least one lesson.
Of course, he might have felt somewhat more charitable if Naomi hadn't added, You could stand to loosen up a little, maybe even meet a woman ...
He snorted. As though he could be anything less than laser focused right now. Being hired on at Columbia, one of the top universities in the world, was certainly an honor, but it didn't mean that he could afford to rest on his laurels. He definitely couldn't afford to waste any time on dating.
A young man walked past Adam, striding confidently into the classroom. Good-looking kid, maybe a handful of years younger than Adam. Years that shouldn't feel like lifetimes, but the weight of work and worries about money made him feel old. He would be thirty-one in a matter of weeks, and he couldn't figure out where the time had gone.
To work, he supposed. He'd only finished his PhD last year and had jumped straight from classroom to classroom, with only a slight difference in pay grade and a much bigger difference in workload.
Publish or perish. He needed to work every waking moment — and sometimes even in his dreams — to succeed. And now he was about to walk into a room full of people who were probably all there because they knew how to have fun, and they would know that he didn't belong.
He checked his watch. Two minutes to seven o'clock. Definitely time to go inside. He knew how annoying it was when students were late for his classes. But when he stepped over the threshold, into the wood-floored studio with floor-to-ceiling mirrors along one adjacent wall, he froze at the sight of a beautiful woman, smiling at the confident young man whom Adam had just seen walking in.
It was her.
More than three years ago, Julie Stanton had been all of twenty-one years old when she had sat in the class he TA'd, and she'd been the only student who had ever tempted him to do anything more than grade papers and answer questions about finance. She'd tempted him to do a hell of a lot more than that, in fact. But even though he'd been a grad student and not a professor, he'd still considered her his student, not to mention nearly seven years his junior. There was no way he'd ever go there.
Except he almost had.
She'd shown up in his office one day, looking for help on an assignment. There had been only fifteen minutes left in the tutorial period, but he'd spent half an hour with her, going over the work. By the time they were finished, they had been sitting so close together that her hair kept brushing his elbow, and he hadn't been able to keep from reaching out and winding the ends of those long, silky strands around his finger.
She'd leaned forward as though expecting him to kiss her — of course she had, since he'd tugged her closer by her hair, for chrissake! He'd nearly closed the distance between their lips — could feel her breath on his skin — when she'd sighed.
She'd sighed like a young girl with a first crush. Like someone with expectations and hopes for something more than just making out in a cramped campus office. It had jarred him so hard into reality that he'd jumped away from her as though he'd been burned. She'd snapped up her things and run out the door.
They'd barely spoken after that, and two weeks later the course had ended. He'd told himself it had been the right thing to do. She'd been his student, no matter that they were both still in school. And she'd been young in years and mind-set. Thank God she hadn't reported him for that advance, for taking advantage of her. His entire career would have been over before it began.
After that, he'd promised himself that he would never lose sight of what was most important again.
But she's not a student anymore, a little voice nudged at him. And she's older now.
Of course, he was older, too.
She'd grown even more beautiful in the past few years, though he wouldn't have believed such a thing was possible. Dark brown hair fell to just past her shoulders, shining in the reflection of lights in the wall mirror. Eyes the color of new pennies were set wide in a perfectly oval face, with a sweet little nose and full, lush lips that bordered on obscene.
He shook himself. He shouldn't be noticing things like that. Just because she was no longer his student didn't mean that his career goals had changed. If anything, he was working even harder, pushing himself to even greater heights.
Which meant that if he messed it up, he'd have even further to fall.
* * *
Julie had been quietly waiting for the class to begin when a sexy young guy entered the room, sauntered over, and started chatting her up. He had introduced himself as Trent, then told her that he hadn't even been sure about coming to this class until he'd walked in and seen her.
"I had to come over and talk to you," he was saying, leaning toward her in that earnest way of guys who were good at picking up women.
She just smiled politely. Lily had once told her that she just had that je ne sais quoi that attracted strange men like bees to honey.
"Bees make honey, Lily. They don't go searching for it. They're attracted to pollen," Julie had told her older sister.
But Lily had only waved her hand in dismissal. "Fine. Bees to pollen. Either way, you've got what they want."
Whether that was actually true didn't really matter, though, since the guys she'd dated so far didn't have what Julie wanted. And she certainly wasn't actively looking for a boyfriend in this class.
Not that she would say no to a fling, though. Something fun and easy. That was why she was here, after all — to get back to having fun. She'd promised herself years ago that she would live her life to the fullest, but lately she'd been practically living in her office eighty hours a week. That was also why she was letting Trent flirt with her. He was a good-looking guy with a great smile and a lot of charm. It wouldn't be a hardship for her to ease back into enjoying life by hooking up with him.
Trent had just asked her whether she lived nearby when a tingling sensation shot up her spine. Someone was looking at her. She could feel it. She turned her head toward the door and her heart skipped a beat.
Julie blushed even at the thought of the nickname that she and Frannie had given their finance TA when they'd taken an advanced-level class in their junior year. The nickname had stuck so well that Julie had been afraid to talk to him the entire semester lest she mess up and call him "Adam Hotness" to his face. His burnished gold hair was always cut short, accentuating the angular lines of his face. High cheekbones, strong nose, and eyebrows with only a subtle arch above deep-sea-blue eyes. The only soft part of his face was his mouth, marked by pale pink lips that became more noticeable whenever he didn't shave for a day or two.
Not that she had studied him that closely. At least, not more closely than any of the other girls — and probably a few of the guys — had.
He was Adam Hotness, after all.
Adam Harkness, she corrected herself. Harkness.
Oh, God. He was looking right at her! Did he recognize her? Did he remember that afternoon in his office? Or had he put it out of his mind and just thought she looked familiar, not actually memorable ... or — oh, goodness — did she just happen to be in his line of sight and he was actually looking behind her?
Calm down. You're not his student anymore. Say hello like a normal person. And definitely put that afternoon in his office out of your mind before you start blushing.
She summoned up every bit of courage she had. "Adam," she called, waving him over.
To her surprise, he actually started walking in her direction.
Next to her, Trent cleared his throat.
Oh, crap. She'd completely forgotten about him. She turned to Trent to apologize. "Excuse me, I — "
But he cut her off with a smile. "It's cool. I shouldn't be surprised that the prettiest girl in the room is also the most popular."
He winked, then immediately turned his attention to the woman to his right. Adam was only a few steps away from her now, and Julie could feel her heart beating practically into her throat. She hadn't seen him since graduation, when he had been at the School of Finance and Economics reception for parents. She'd accepted his congratulatory handshake, sliding her hand into his big, warm palm. Those long fingers had grasped hers for too short a time before he was called away by one of the professors.
And now he was standing right next to her. She stared at him for a second, taking in the small changes that three years had wrought. His hair was shorter, his frame a little leaner. There were a few tiny lines at the corners of his eyes, and instead of the ragged jacket he'd always worn back then, today he had on perfectly tailored dark pants and a light sweater with the sleeves bunched up to his elbows, exposing well- muscled forearms covered with dark gold hairs.
He looked delicious.
"Julie Stanton," came his smooth tenor voice, which she and Frannie had loved to listen to during their tutorial section.
He'd remembered her. She felt heat climb up her neck. Did he also remember that time in his office, when they'd been so close to something more than just TA and student?
"Adam," she breathed. Her pulse was practically beating out of her mouth. "What a surprise."
He put out a hand in greeting. "I might say the same thing," he replied, then added, "A pleasant one, of course."
He was giving her a small smile, but the way he was standing gave Julie pause. His back was so straight, he resembled a statue more than a man, all straight-backed and rigid-armed. He'd always been a bit formal, but never this tense.
Was his discomfort because of her, then? Was it because he was thinking of that almost- kiss they'd shared three years ago, and it made him uncomfortable? She'd practically thrown herself at him in a tutorial session,purposely moving so close that he'd had no option but to brush her hair away from where it kept bothering his hand. She'd mistaken it for an opportunity to lean in close ... at which point he'd completely shut her down.
God. Just thinking about it made her cheeks heat with embarrassment. They'd never talked after that day, even though he'd never made it feel like he was avoiding her. If anything, she'd avoided him, too humiliated by his rejection to face him.
He'd probably only come to talk to her just now because she practically shouted at him and flagged him down when he'd walked in. He was simply being a gentleman. She fought a flash of disappointment.
But before she could think of something to say that would release him from her company, a middle-aged woman with graying dark brown hair entered the room, clapping her hands as she walked.
"Attention! Atención, class!" The woman's full pink skirt swirled around her legs as she strode to the center of the room. Julie enjoyed watching the fluid way the woman walked, as though she were gliding into the room, rather than stepping.
"I am Ivana, your maestra. Welcome to Tango for Beginners."
Julie smiled. Ivana had a Russian accent. Who would have thought that she would be learning Argentinian tango from a Russian woman?
The diversity here was one of the reasons why she loved New York and had decided to stay in the city after graduating from Columbia, instead of returning home to North Carolina. The other reasons happened to be named Andrew, Greg, and Lily — her siblings, who had also ended up here for various reasons. In the past two years, their family had grown to include her siblings' spouses: Meredith, Carrie, and Bruno. And in just few more months, Lily would deliver another addition.
Julie turned and looked at Adam. He was still wearing that little smile, but he hadn't relaxed at all.
"Everyone, spread out into a circle," Ivana called, gesturing with her arms around her body. "Spread, spread, spread!"
Next to her, Adam groaned quietly. "Not only is this a dance class, it's a cheerful dance class."
She grinned in response. "I assume this is the first time you've taken dance?"
He looked confused for a second, as though he hadn't realized he said that out loud, then shrugged. "This kind of thing isn't really my cup of tea."
True. A dance class was the last place she would have expected to see him. Maybe he was trying the same thing she was — to get out a little more and remind himself what life was really about. He'd been a workaholic even when she was in college, after all.
But before she could ask him why he was here, the instructor clapped her hands again. "Now, gentlemen! Turn to your right and face the lady closest to you. Ladies, turn to your left and face the gentleman closest to you."
Their eyes met and held, and for a moment, everything else fell away as she and Adam looked at each other. It was like the past few years hadn't even happened. That same intense attraction she'd always had toward him was still there, pulling her forward. It was too much, all of a sudden, and she had to look away before she did something stupid, like throw her arms around his neck and try to kiss him.
No way was she going to get into a situation where she'd only be rejected again. This class was supposed to be fun.
Maybe once it started, she could politely excuse herself and go flirt with Trent again.
At that moment, Ivana announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the person you are now facing will be your primary partner for the next six weeks."CHAPTER 2
Ivana walked around the room, rearranging a few people before returning to the center of the circle. "Wonderful," she called out. "You will, of course, switch partners occasionally during class, but you will always start and end with the person you are paired with right now."
Adam nearly growled aloud with frustration. He remembered this feeling from the months that Julie had sat in his tutorial sessions. She'd always been smiling and laughing at one thing or another. There was something about the way she was so effortlessly happy that was impossible to resist, and he'd lusted after her constantly.
Guess that hadn't changed in the past three years. He was already having a hard time controlling his thoughts just from standing so close to her. Dancing with her would be an exceptionally bad idea.
Besides, you're only planning to be here for one week. It wouldn't be fair to leave her without a partner for the rest of the class.
At least, that's what he told himself. He looked around, hoping that there might be an unpaired guy, but no luck. No doubt the class had been specifically arranged to have an equal number of men and women, and the realization made him feel even more guilty about not planning to come back after this class. But damn it, he needed every precious hour of the next few months to build his career. He wouldn't — couldn't — rest until he was more secure. Now that Dad was gone, his sisters and mom needed him more than ever.
Julie tipped her head up to look him in the eye. "You okay?" Her voice was low and soft, and the seductive pull of it practically reached out and caressed him, sending a shiver down his spine. He had to move away from her.
"Now that we know who our partners are, let's start with some walking. Ladies, on that side of the room. Gentlemen, the other."
Excerpted from A Lesson in Temptation by Audra North, Tahra Seplowin, Wendy Chen. Copyright © 2014 Audra North. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.