Soon Nick and Megan grow closer, and their different worlds begin to merge. But if their relationship is discovered, Nick's career could be over. With Megan's parents close to campus on business, hiding their love becomes an even greater challenge. Yet keeping secrets will lead Megan to discover hers is just one piece in a much larger puzzle--next to her mother's stash of painkillers--that may put her carefully laid plans for the future in jeopardy.
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Break Your Heart
By Rhonda Helms
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Rhonda Helms
All rights reserved.
"There isn't enough coffee in the world to make a Monday morning doable," I grumbled as I reached for the coffeepot and poured. The liquid sloshed over the side of my mug.
From her open bedroom door, my roommate, Casey, laughed and ran a brush through her brown hair. "You were just like this the first day of fall semester too, remember? Completely groggy and out of it. Maybe you should have gotten some sleep last night instead of creeping in at three in the morning."
I shrugged and shot her a crooked grin. "Hey, it was a good night." I'd been invited to a last-day-of-winter-break-before-the-new-semester party off campus with a couple of fellow seniors. We'd lived it up. After all, today kicked off our final semester of undergrad.
"I'm going to meet Daniel for breakfast before my first class," Casey said. She walked over and gave me a hug. I paused, surprised, then hugged her back. She'd come a long way from the distant, awkward roommate she'd been last year.
Her boyfriend, Daniel, had changed her. No, love had changed her. Over time, she'd become more affectionate, more open with everyone, not just him. I liked the fact that we felt like real friends now, not just roommates.
"Tell hottie I said hi," I told her, then waggled my fingers when she grabbed her coat and books and darted out the door. I chugged my coffee and hopped in the shower. Threw on my favorite skinny jeans and bright red cashmere sweater, paired with knee-high black boots. Then I stuffed my books into my backpack, locked the door behind me and made my way down the street a few blocks toward campus.
The early January air was crisp, biting. Dark clouds hovered over my head, threatening to burst open with torrents of snow. But even the gloomy atmosphere couldn't shake me. As much as I griped about morning classes in general, I was pretty happy with this semester's schedule and even happier that I'd gotten into modern cryptography, a rarely offered course on campus.
I plodded along the snow-edged sidewalk, stomach tightening with a tension I'd been trying to ignore the last few days. Thinking about cryptography, the class I was heading toward now, made me think about the class's professor, Dr. Reynaldo, my senior thesis advisor. He should have gotten back to me about my thesis by now. I'd turned it in to him more than three weeks ago. Why hadn't I heard from him? Did he hate the paper? He was normally more responsive and prompt than this. Well, I'd just corner him either before or after class, because this not-knowing shit was driving me crazy.
Clusters of students thickened as I stepped on campus, passed rows of stately buildings. Leafless branches were coated in a thick layer of snow, a bright contrast against the red and brown brick buildings. Smythe-Davis was a gorgeous campus, no matter the season.
I loved living around here. Though this was my last semester in undergrad, I'd already been accepted into the master's program here—with a full scholarship and a TA position. It was both a relief to have my plans right on track and a thrill to get to stay at the school for two more years. But first I had to graduate.
Which meant speeding up and getting to class on time. Dr. Reynaldo hated stragglers, and I didn't want to piss him off the first day.
I hustled and made it to the large brick building with a full wall of windows facing the center of campus. Our math department—my home on campus.
"Hey, Megan!" a male voice said from my right. Patrick took a drag from his cigarette and shoved away from the stone half wall where he was leaning.
"Hey, yourself!" I said with a saucy wink.
He gave me a broad smile in response and eyed me up and down. "Looking good, baby." Patrick, one of our school's top basketball players, had been on my radar for a while. He was a tall, gorgeous dark-skinned man with huge muscles, sexy tattoos and thighs as big as tree trunks. We flirted off and on whenever we saw each other on campus, but it never got beyond that.
I glanced at my phone. Crud, no time to chat him up. "I gotta run," I said apologetically. "I work at Stackers. Come see me there sometime, and I'll hook you up."
His smile grew wider, and his bright teeth flashed. "It's a date."
I walked into the building, a smug grin on my face. The semester had just begun and was already off to a good start. I went up the stairs and made it to my classroom two minutes before the start of the class.
As I wove my way toward a chair in the back row, I waved at various fellow math majors I recognized. We'd been in many of the same classes together, had done overnight study sessions and last-minute cramming.
I settled in, got out my notebook and cryptography textbook. Huh. Dr. Reynaldo wasn't here yet. That uneasy flutter in my stomach returned. I'd taken two other classes with him before, and the man was always the first in the room and the last to leave.
By a few minutes past eight, the whispers started.
"Excuse me. Am I in the right room? This is cryptography, right?" the brunette beside me asked.
I nodded. "Yeah, this is it."
The door opened then, and the noise quieted down a bit then turned silent as an attractive Asian man walked to the front of the room and dropped his books on the desk in front. His shock of black hair was sculpted in a trendy style, short on the sides and longer on the top.
My heart throbbed in a vivid reaction to him. Who was he? Dr. Reynaldo's TA or something?
The man cleared his throat and turned to face us. I could see he was maybe ten years older than me. His eyes were dark, his cheekbones defined, his lips full and slightly turned up in the corners. He slipped off his coat and draped it over his chair. His form-fitting blue dress shirt showed off his lean muscles.
"Hello, everyone," he said in a low, rumbling voice. His gaze slid over all of us, and when his eyes hit mine, I swear my skin did a strange shivery thing. He rolled up his shirt sleeves, revealing toned forearms. "I'm Dr. Muramoto. Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you. Dr. Reynaldo suffered a heart attack a couple of weeks ago, and he's unable to teach his courses this semester."
A few students gasped in surprise. I bit my lip. No wonder I hadn't heard anything from him.
"Is Dr. Reynaldo okay?" the girl at my side asked.
Dr. Muramoto nodded. "He had to have bypass surgery, but he's finally home recuperating. In the meantime, the faculty is splitting his coursework, and I'm going to be teaching your class." He shot us a crooked grin, which made my heart stutter. "I hope that's okay."
I dropped my gaze down to my blank notebook paper to cover the flush crawling up my cheeks. He's only a professor, Megan. No biggie. You've had attractive teachers before.
Okay, just once—Mr. Mars, back in sixth grade—but whatever.
I heard scrawling on the chalkboard and raised my gaze to see Dr. Muramoto's hand flying across the surface as he wrote Nick Muramoto, Modern Cryptography. The fabric of his pants stretched across his tight ass, and I swallowed.
"Welcome to modern cryptography," Dr. Muramoto said as he turned around, a smile in his voice, in his eyes. "I'm very excited I was able to take this class on. I see a couple of familiar faces in here from other courses. They'll tell you I'm a pretty laid-back guy, but I do expect you to work hard and do your best."
Some heads nodded in the rows in front of me, and he nodded at them in response.
"Cryptography, which is the study of codes, fascinates me," he continued. "Always has. And I think by the end of the semester you'll find yourself intrigued by the subject too if you weren't already." He divvied up a stack of papers and gave them to the front row to distribute back. "Here's your syllabus. You'll see the weekly topics outlined, plus homework and paper due dates. Let's spend some time going over this before moving on, just to make sure we're all on the same page."
For the next twenty minutes, Dr. Muramoto spoke. I made myself focus on writing notes in the margins of the syllabus so as to ignore the cadence of his voice. Something about it was magnetic; I'd never quite had a reaction to a person like this before. So vivid and immediate. It was like all my senses were tuned in to him.
"Excuse me," the brunette beside me said to me in a quiet voice. "Do you have an extra pen? Mine just ran out of ink." She gave a frowny face.
"Sure." I dug into my bag and gave her one.
"Thanks. I'm Kelly. Want a piece of gum?" She held out a stick.
"No, thanks. I'm Megan. Have we been in any classes together yet?" I didn't remember her being around here, though I didn't know all of the math majors.
"No, I'm a transfer from Chicago. Just moved here last semester."
"—rest of today discussing the origins of codes," our professor was saying.
I snapped to attention, not wanting to miss the lecture portion.
Dr. Muramoto leaned back against the desk and crossed his legs at the ankles, his hands propped just behind him on the table surface. I couldn't stop staring at his long, slender form as he began delving into the ancient Egyptian and Greek use of secret codes.
He didn't look at any notes, just talked off the cuff. Obviously the guy had more than a little expertise in this field. Something about that unaffected air of confidence made him even hotter.
Kelly gave a soft sigh under her breath. "Gotta admit, I didn't expect our prof to be so ..." She cleared her throat delicately. "Smoking hot."
I swallowed, nodded.
"And he's smart too. He's, like, perfect." She pressed a hand to her cheek and gave a quiet chuckle. "I've never understood the whole 'hot for teacher' thing, but I get it now."
For some reason, her words twisted my gut. Normally I'd just laugh and agree with her—I had no qualms about checking out hot guys on campus and enjoying the eye candy. But this felt different. My instant attraction to him was a bit stronger than I'd like it to be.
Not to mention the underlying feeling of guilt that it was wrong for me to think about him this way. Totally the taboo factor of him being off-limits. Students and teachers didn't fraternize, period. School policy made that very clear.
The rest of class flew by. Dr. Muramoto's easygoing manner encouraged students to start speaking up about their knowledge of secret codes and ciphers in history. I was normally interactive, but today I found myself just listening, watching, absorbing the information instead of trying to prove I'd retained and could recite it back. By the end of class, I was disappointed it was over. I wanted to know more. Maybe I could do some research on ancient codes in my spare time.
That thought made me laugh at myself. Right. Because I was rolling in extra hours.
I lingered in my seat for a moment as I tucked away my books.
Kelly ripped off a corner of her paper and scrawled her name and number on it. "So, Megan ... if you need a study buddy this semester, I'd love to get together." She flushed, her cheeks turning a dainty pink. "Well, if that works for you. I don't wanna be pushy or anything."
With a smile, I took the paper, then gave her my own number. "Sounds good." It didn't hurt to have more friends or connections in mathematics. As my dad had taught me, you never knew when a beneficial networking opportunity could crop up.
The class was almost empty when I stood to go, backpack slung over my shoulder. Dr. Muramoto was behind his desk, gathering up his papers and the leftover syllabi. When I walked past him, I heard him say, "Are you Megan Porter?"
My lungs tightened in surprise at the sound of my name on his lips. I paused and turned to him. "Um, yes."
"Sorry, I meant to talk to you before class, but I was running late." Up close I could see tiny stubble along his jaw. I had this crazy impulse to touch it. I crammed my hands in my coat pockets instead. His cologne had a slightly spicy scent that was warm and inviting. "Since Dr. Reynaldo is out for the rest of the semester, the dean asked me to take over as your thesis advisor." He paused and gave me a polite smile. "I hope you don't mind."
My heart jumped in my throat. Thesis advisor. That meant not just seeing him in class. That meant conversations. In his office.
I could feel my cheeks burn as I said, "Uh, no, that's fine. I look forward to hearing your thoughts."
He nodded. His eyes lingered for a long moment on mine before he turned his attention to straightening the papers on his desk. His jaw ticked, and I saw his Adam's apple bob. "I'll have my feedback to you in a week or two," he said, his voice gruff. "I'm taking over a couple of his classes, so I'm playing catch-up. Thank you, Miss Porter." He grabbed his pen and started writing notes on the top paper.
My flush grew almost painfully hot at the blatant dismissal, and I lifted my chin and shifted my bag on my shoulder. "That sounds fine," I said. "See you Wednesday, Dr. Muramoto."
With that, I left the classroom, went down the stairs and thrust the building doors open. The brisk wind, stirring snow in the air, cooled my face instantly. I welcomed the cold as I headed down the sidewalk toward the coffee shop.
What the hell was up with me? Maybe it was the fact that I was running on fumes, since I'd gotten practically no sleep last night. It was messing with my brain, making me hallucinate. I totally must have imagined that brief flare of interest in his eyes.
Sixteen weeks to go until graduation, I told myself to help me refocus. I wasn't going to let this ... stupid and weird attraction to him get in the way of my plans, which were (a) kick ass on all my classes and keep up my honors record, (b) flirt with Patrick shamelessly, (c) complete my senior thesis with a high score and (d) sweet-talk Stackers into giving me more hours this semester and during summer break.
Being attracted to my prof didn't factor into that plan.
Coffee Baby was packed—no big surprise there. They had amazing coffee, plus their pastries were decadent and inexpensive. Not to mention it was cold outside and most students were dragging ass like me. I got in line, waited patiently, then ordered my coffee and cream cheese pastry and hovered by the wall as my order was filled.
When I got my stuff, I spotted a lone seat at a table and darted toward it—I'd learned as a kid that being shy got you nowhere. "Excuse me," I told the people at the table as I gave them a charming smile. "Is this seat taken? Do you mind if I sit here?"
"Not at all," a girl replied. She gave me a polite nod, then went back to her conversation with her friend.
I sipped my coffee and nibbled on my pastry. It was delicious, and the caffeine gave me that needed jolt to go to psychology of stress next. Ugh, I was dreading that one. Why had I put that general ed requirement off for so long? Oh, right—because I'd been too busy focusing on taking my major classes.
Hopefully it wouldn't be a bunch of "breathe deeply and meditate to get rid of stress" crap. That advice never helped me much. Where was the practicality in telling someone to just breathe through difficult situations?
Breathing, meditating, praying hadn't helped me at all when dealing with my mom's accident a few years ago, the most difficult situation I'd encountered so far. Those weeks she'd spent in the hospital, suffering with broken bones and crying out in pain for hours when the meds wore off way too fast. The subsequent intense months of physical therapy. It had been exhausting for all of us.
But she'd picked herself up by sheer strength and gone back to work, despite the fact that it had happened on a job site. She wouldn't let the accident get in the way of doing what she loved.
The woman had courage and strength I could only dream of. A real hero to me.
Her and Dad's jobs were intertwined, and in fact they often did a lot of work together. My mom was a well-respected engineer, and my dad owned a thriving construction company. From what Dad said, it had been love at first sight. He'd seen her in a hard hat, bossing around a bunch of men who were doing a reconstruction on a historical building in downtown Cleveland, and he'd fallen head over heels.
I took out my cryptography syllabus and scanned it again. Attractive professor aside, it promised to be an interesting course I could look forward to. I had to admit, as a kid I'd always been curious about messages and codes. My mom and I had watched a special on code breakers in World War II, and I'd been riveted by the idea that people were paid to break messages about top secret war strategies.
Honestly, I'd never made the connection between cryptography and math, so when I'd seen this course crop up last semester, I was beyond excited and had signed up immediately.
I chugged more of my coffee, stuffed the papers back in my bag and left the coffee shop, hot cup in hand. I had to brave the crowds and hit the bookstore before they ran out of the last textbook I needed. Then on to psychology to learn all about stress.
Excerpted from Break Your Heart by Rhonda Helms. Copyright © 2015 Rhonda Helms. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A multi-racial new adult story with an African-American heroine, Megan, a mathematics major with an Asian-American Cryptology professer, Nick. Ok, so off the top I have serious issues with the whole teacher / student trope, but I held onto hope that this would give me more than just the illicit and slightly naughty moments. What Helms does manage to do well is show the dichotomy in Megan: trying to be an adult while acting very much like a girl with an all-consuming crush, fantasies of a romance with a questionable connection, her own issues and secrets surrounding her mother, her major choice and even the whole clandestine “I know I shouldn’t want you but I do” moments. Fortunately for me, what stood out is Megan’s series of choices, some bad without reason, or even just because she is young, but her ability to sit back in quiet moments and truly reflect on what it is that she wants out of her life. No, Nick never did it for me, and if Helms has played more with the issues: racial, family, coming of age and choices over the constant back and forth into a relationship that felt forced at best, this could have been a better story. Instead, it stayed in the mostly tolerable range as I finished it and shortly forgot nearly all of the story but for some deft characterization of Megan. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.