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One daring to-do list and a crash course in flirtation turn a Type A overachiever’s world upside down.
When her flailing department lands on the university's chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to shed her frumpy cardigan for an evening on the town. For one night her focus will stray from her demanding job and she’ll tackle a new kind of to-do list. When she meets a charming stranger in town on business, he presents the perfect opportunity to check off the items on her list. Let the guy buy her a drink. Check. Try something new. Check. A no-strings-attached hookup. Check…almost.
Jake makes her laugh and challenges Naya to rebuild her confidence, which was left toppled by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship—except nothing can be that easy. The complicated strings around her dating Jake might destroy her career.
Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she's finally living again.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||2 MB|
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The student in the fourth row glanced left then right as his friends stared in other directions and the bravado drained from his face. My question still hanging in the air, he muttered, “I don’t know.”
I itched to call him out for not doing the reading, then texting during class. Disengaged students didn’t usually bother me this much, but it had been a long semester and I was tired of this room. Someone crinkled a bag of chips a few rows back, and the clock on the wall ticked away. The ticking brought back a flash of memory, but I pushed it aside.
His expensive-looking shoes caught my eye. Boat shoes. They coordinated with his plaid shorts, polo shirt, and sunglasses pushed into blond hair styled just so. I needed to check my roster to confirm his name; it was Quinton or Quenton or something equally preppy. I planned to add looking him up to my to-do list when I got back to the office.
“We’ve covered several theories. Tell us how the study of social learning can be applied to communication on social media.” I hoped he might contribute something, anything, to renew my faith in the modern American college student.
Instead, Quinton or Quenton leaned back and repeated, “I don’t know, Dr. Turner. Um . . . there are a lot of ways because of . . . um . . . the social connection.” Pen in hand, he glanced down at his “notes”—a blank sheet of paper in front of him—as if this answer should appease me.
That wasn’t even a good nonsense answer. C’mon, man.
I stepped back to address the auditorium, pulling at the hem of my loose cardigan.
“Turn to a partner and discuss three ways we could apply these traditional theories of learning to social media.” Chairs squeaked and groaned as students shifted, and voices rose.
I knew better than to judge a student so harshly based on his appearance. A penchant for Top-Siders and sherbet-colored shirts didn’t influence his intellectual ability. Quinton or Quenton would either surprise me by acing the final or he’d fail the exam spectacularly in a blaze of styling gel.
I knew this, but mostly I was still annoyed by his stupid shoes.
Joe, my department chair, waved to me when I stepped into the hall after class. “Naya, do you have a minute?”
We took the flight of creaking stairs to our floor, where a sign with the words “The Center for Learning” etched into an ancient and scuffed plaque greeted us. The home of my specialty—math education—shared the cramped space with faculty from English and social studies education. What was left of the elementary education department took up the half of the floor above us that wasn’t unusable because of water damage.
Originally constructed in 1917, the structure could best be described as decrepit. The faded, chipped paint and worn carpet were a good metaphor for our diminishing funding as the institution increasingly focused on preparing students to go into business and engineering.
When we emerged from the dim stairwell, our department secretary’s efficient voice followed us down the hall. “No, you want the campus childcare center. This is the Center for Learning . . . I’ll transfer you.”
I wondered how many times a week she answered that same question. Dr. Anita Kline, a senior professor, was a national leader in the study of early-childhood math development and online technology, and my research on math education for English-language learners had been called groundbreaking, but most of the campus assumed our building had a swing set tucked away somewhere. We needed to think about rebranding if we wanted the campus to take seriously the cutting-edge work we were doing with the science of learning.
I attempted to close Joe’s door, pulling it hard, but to no avail.
“The wood’s warped with the humidity. Don’t worry about it,” Joe said over his shoulder.
We had a little way to go before we got to that cutting edge, I thought as I sat in a chair with worn, orange vinyl. “What’s going on?”
The familiar smell of coffee and old books surrounded me like a fleece blanket. All our spaces were cramped, though Joe’s was the most cluttered.
“Do you have anything in the hopper this summer?”
“Sure—a couple manuscripts, and some grant proposals to submit, plus working on developing that new course for the fall.” Plus whatever else I find to keep me busy. “Why?”
He bobbed his head and shrugged in resignation, sitting back in his chair. “This new president makes me nervous, and rumor has it that he plans to make cuts. Not sure where our department will land.”
After six months, Thurmond University was still spinning on its hundred-and-twenty-year-old axis and getting used to our new leader: Archibald “Flip” Lewis. He was often described as “nontraditional,” a big challenge to a campus that took to change like a toddler to nap time.
“Would they really cut education? We’ll always need teachers.”
He smiled wanly. “I get the sense that everything’s on the table.”
I’d worked my butt off for six years to publish as much as I could and tirelessly improve my teaching. This was where I was good. This job was where I had solid footing, and I was going up for tenure review in the fall. Now I struggled to wrap my head around the possibility of my department being cut.
When I got hired at TU, I’d explained the concept of tenure to my grandfather as a seven-year audition for a secure job. He’d shaken his bald head and clarified that I’d gone to college for four years and graduate school another five, to then have to prove myself for another seven before my job was safe.
He’d said, “Mija, no tiene sentido!” A quick glance in my mother’s direction gave me a translation. It doesn’t make sense! I never learned Spanish, so my mom was always helping us communicate. Every time I saw him when I was growing up, he’d ask, “Estás aprendiendo?” Are you learning?
“You’re the first doctor in our family, and I’m so proud of you, but you tell me when you’re done auditioning for this job, okay? We’ll have a party.”
I remembered that conversation when the hours got long, the process seemed interminable, or impostor syndrome set in. When I decided to merge my love of math with my interest in education, my grandfather actually gave me the idea of what to study. He told me teachers assumed he wasn’t smart as a child because Spanish was his first language. He didn’t think they ever tried very hard to teach him. I wondered how I could make an impact, to prepare teachers to help all kids love math.
He was in the throes of Alzheimer’s and had been for a couple years, but I couldn’t wait to visit him one day and tell him I did it, that I was done auditioning. That the work I was doing would help all kids realize they were smart. He was only comfortable speaking Spanish at this point, so I knew I’d need to figure out how to say what I needed to. Joe’s worry lines and the looming uncertainty made me wonder if I’d get the chance.
“If they cut our program, what happens to us?”
“Depends. Faculty handbook allows for them to lay off people with tenure if the department is cut. They might keep some of us around to teach general education and intro classes from other departments, but I doubt there would be support for much research.” If it was possible to slump more, Joe did. His expression said everything I was thinking. “Without tenure . . .”
So, even if I got to keep my job, I’d spend every day teaching the Quinton or Quentons of the world who didn’t want to be there. No, thanks. I sat in silence with Joe for a moment, letting his words sink in. I had finally gotten near that finish line, I’d run the gauntlet, and now this crushing blow loomed on the horizon.
“Just be prepared, Nay. I’d hate to lose you, but don’t be caught off guard, okay?”
“Got it, Joe.” I glanced back across the desk. “Is there anything else?”
“Yeah.” He scrubbed his hand over his jaw and drew his mouth to one side. “I saw Davis the other day. I think he’s back on campus. Have you talked to him?”
I glanced over my shoulder instinctively, as if the man in question might be lurking in the corner. “No.”
Joe looked unsure. If he’d known the extent of what happened with Davis, he wouldn’t have had to ask. “I thought you’d want to know.”
“Sure. I’ll keep an eye out, boss.”
Down the hall, I closed the door on my office with a reassuring click and leaned on my desk, taking a deep breath. My mind raced and my stomach knotted as Joe’s words looped in my head.
After cracking open my laptop, I searched Davis’s name to see if there were any announcements about a new hire. If I could find out where he would be and when, I could shift my plans in order to avoid him, find new routines, stay holed up in my office. I’d done it before.
My cursor hovered over one of the search results. The headline read, “TU Professor Wins Prestigious Duncan Prize,” and the photo featured Davis accepting a glass statue with a broad smile on his face.
I’d attended with him in a backless black gown, beading across the low neckline. Davis had picked it for me, saying he wanted me to wear something slinky and sexy, and how much he loved knowing other men would want me, but I was his.
“I want to show you off, sweetheart.”
It had been tighter and more revealing than I would normally wear, the dark fabric hugging every curve and the back dipping to just above my butt, and I’d spent much of the evening trying my best to cover my body. Still, it made him happy, and I was determined to do that, knowing how wonderful he could be when he was in a good mood.
Despite my discomfort, I was relieved to find Davis was full of cheer and humor. He’d held me to him and kissed my forehead throughout the gala that followed the awarding of the prizes. We’d made love that night in the hotel’s king-sized bed, and he’d been tender. “This means big things for me, Naya. Big things. I’ll help you get there, too.” He’d seemed genuine, and I’d thought he meant it.
I shook away the memory and didn’t click on the article. Instead, I scoured the results for any recent TU references and found none. What the hell are you doing back here?
I glanced around my office. I’d spent so much time alone in this room over the last six years. The keyboard under my fingers, the scatter of the light as it filtered through the blinds in the morning, and the way the old building creaked late at night were all as familiar as my childhood home. The job could be demanding, but it wasn’t just that. In my little office, I could control things. I’d let those four walls become my whole world, and I didn’t know who I would be without them.