Yikes! Damn, he got her again. The lab staff teased her for getting so absorbed in her work an ax murderer could sneak up on her.
She looked up from her computer at her favorite tall, blond ax murderer, a.k.a. research associate. The blue, blue eyes behind the Clark Kent wire rims sparkled with humor.
He chuckled. "Sorry, I tried to make a lot of noise opening your door."
She sighed and pushed away from the big wooden desk that crowded her small office. Oh yeah, now she felt the exhaustion. "I was somewhere else, as usual."
"Just wanted to know if you'd finished the gene sequencing?"
She looked up into that sculpted face and squinted at the pain between her eyebrows. "I got a lot done, but I'm seeing double." Headache or not, she could see him just fine.
"C'mon, it's after nine. Let's give up before we have a thirty-two-gene sequence instead of sixteen."
Ouch. Fourteen hours at a computer. She closed her eyes and stretched her neck to the side.
Strong, warm hands pressed down on her shoulders. His fingers pushed her head forward, and powerful thumbs dug into her neck. She jumped and then shivered.
"That's where it hurts, right?" He dug in a little deeper.
Increased heart rate. Spiked respiration. She thought of it as the "Jake reaction." The touch of those strong, young hands that he seemed to put on her body way too often and the warm smell of him always powered a reaction. Some tiny part of her rational scientist's mind could watch while her body went wacko, tingling, shivering and yearning. She might be a thirty-six-year-old geneticist with a huge reputation to protect, but she wanted Jake Martin with a lust she couldn't reason away. It was a crappy idea, the very worst for her sanity and her career, but those were the facts. Like the direct pathway of alcohol to the liver, nothing got in the way of her desire, not his youth, his position as her assistant researcher, or the fact that he lived with his girlfriend.
She pulled away from his hands. "We should go."
His slight pause made her think she'd hurt him with her abruptness, but when she glanced up he smiled, flashing patentable dimples. "Let's get something to eat."
God, the cheekbones. The floppy gold hair. Half science geek, half demigod. He'd already stripped out of his lab coat, and the well-worn jeans hugged long, lean thighs. Resistance was futile. "Penne with sun-dried tomatoes?"
"You got it, sweetheart." He pulled her out of the chair, a move that almost backed him up to her side wall. Space wasn't a luxury afforded in this lab.
"Show proper respect there, boy child. That's Doctor Sweetheart."
"Then I'll have to demand Doctor Boy Child."
"Boy Child PhD?"
"Top of my resume." Jake leaned her against his chest--yeah, that would be rock-hard chest--and slipped the lab coat she wore on clinic days off her shoulders and threw it on her desk.
He just held her, his hands caressing her back as his breath rasped against her hair.
Damn, why did he do this? He touched her a lot, and she didn't know if he simply didn't realize how sexual his attentions seemed or if he was being sadistic. Wasn't he getting enough at home?
She pulled back and practiced her motherly smile. "I must be tired."
Gently turning her around, he pushed her toward the door, switching off the lights as they went. "Mama Sophia's?"
Outside in the open lab, she shrugged on the green wool jacket he held for her. Computers still glowed on two desks where colleagues would return after dinner to continue work. She had a dedicated team, and she hated to leave, but eventually food and sleep even outweighed cancer research. She usually got here before seven, and food breaks were scarce. The thought of pasta made her mouth water as she watched Jake switch off the lights. "C'mon, Dr. Boy Child. Garlic is my drug of choice."
"Okay, God is Italian." The subtle flavor of tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil floated over her tongue.
"Yeah, just ask an Italian. He'll tell you God gave them Sophia Loren and seventy-five-year-old prime ministers that still get it up for their twenty-five-year-old mistresses. Clearly, divine dispensation." He sucked in a bite.
Mmm. Warm, oregano-spiced air, and the cinnamony smell of Jake beside her. Her favorites. "I thought that was all about the little blue pill?"
"Also a gift from the gods."
They sat in their favorite red, faux-leather booth at the back of the homey restaurant complete with Chianti-bottle candles and red-checked tablecloths. Jake had taken off his leather jacket, leaving him in a soft, gray, tissue-thin sweater that hugged his beautiful lean torso. He'd pushed the sleeves up, and she tried not to stare at those corded golden forearms. The soft material of the sweater was almost as beautiful as his skin.
How did the man afford to dress that way on what she paid him? Never flashy, but even she could see the clothes had quality. He didn't come from money, but he had just bought a house in what she'd heard was a very elegant neighborhood in Connecticut. Did his girlfriend have money? Damn, the girlfriend certainly had him.
"Am I finally going to meet your girlfriend on Friday?"
He made a quick grab for his water glass and took a sip, splashing a few drops on his glasses. "My girlfriend?"
Why was he being coy? "Yes, the girlfriend you moved in with, right? She must be curious about where you spend so many late nights. I assume you're going to bring her Friday."
He pulled his glasses off and wiped them on his napkin, looking tense. What was up? She reached out and flipped his shaggy hair from in front of those blue eyes. The man always needed a haircut. Another part of his charm.
"I, uh, wasn't really planning on coming Friday night."
Oh, hell no. "You are truly kidding me, Jake. You've got to know what that award means to us, to our research, if someone...you know, someone on our team...were to win it." She didn't want to spoil the surprise, but she'd hocked a lot of political capital lobbying for him to win the Belden Award. The prize for outstanding young scientist was a big deal to the university too, since all the major research schools from across the country were invited to submit candidates. Jeez, it'd never occurred to her that he'd just bow out of the ceremony. "Really, Jake, it's important."
He glanced at her, and then his pasta got interesting again.
"Okay, I'll come."
"Jesus, could you be more enthusiastic? You need to come, Jake. And you'll bring your girlfriend, right? I want to meet her, and it will show the faculty council what a lovely, settled, family person you are. At least one of us isn't a confirmed bachelor."
He clenched his jaw and forced words out between his teeth. "Em, I'll come to the banquet, but I haven't got a girlfriend. And I sure as fuck can't show the faculty council my happy family life."
The girlfriend was gone? "What happened? You told me you just moved in with her." Damn, she really didn't want to screw with his life. "Jesus, Jake, is it because I'm working you to death? I'll talk to her. Give you more time off."
He held a hand to her lips. "Easy, sweetheart. I'm sorry. I haven't told you the truth, but I just...crap, I don't know. I should have told you a long time ago. I just wasn't sure it would work, it was such a long shot."
What in hell was he talking about?
She got the first direct stare since they sat down. "Em, I can't bring my girlfriend to the award dinner...because she's my boyfriend. The person I moved in with is a man." He sat back, still gazing at her steadily, challengingly.
Every nerve ending went hot. Then cold. What the fuck?
"And for the record, I never said I moved in with my girlfriend. I said I moved in with my lover, and you did the rest. I'm sorry."
She knew her mouth was hanging open. Jake, gay? Her fantasy lover? She didn't know how to feel. As a kid in the commune, she and her mom had practically collected gay friends. How could she have missed it?
Jesus, she was shaking. She didn't want him to think she was horrified. She wasn't. Just shocked and...what? Disappointed? Now there was no chance for her.
"Jesus, Jake, I know I can be self-absorbed, but I didn't know I was blind." Okay, she had to get a grip. People were looking their way. She lowered her voice. "How could it never have crossed my mind that you're gay? How could I have missed it so completely in almost two years of working together?"
"Em, I'm really sorry."
He was sorry. Shit! "You didn't think you could tell me? Did you imagine it would matter to me?"
He grabbed her hands and squeezed them. "No! Of course I didn't think you'd care. I didn't tell you I'm gay because, well, I'm not. Or wasn't. I've mostly been with women. You know; you've seen me with enough of them. I'd only been with one other man in my life when I met Roan. We met less than a year ago at the genetics conference I attended with you."
"That's why you were acting so strangely at the conference?" She remembered how edgy and distracted he'd been.
"Yeah. I was face-to-face with my sexuality and with the best thing I'd ever seen."
That put a little rip in her heart.
Releasing her hands, he gripped his own together. "But it was such an unlikely match, and the chances we'd stay together were so small, I didn't want to tell you and then split up with him." He sighed and shrugged at the same time. "But the truth is, I fell in love with the guy, and even though it amazes me every day, he loves me back. So I'm gay." Grin. "At least operationally."
Trying to get a grip here. "Roan?"
"Yeah, that's his name. And I really do want you to meet him; planned on it in fact." He touched her hand, gently stroking his fingers over her palm, and she just couldn't pull away. "You both mean so much to me. I want you to love each other too."
Maybe it would be easier to like a man Jake loved more than it would a woman. Maybe she could beat back the jealousy, knowing he was more interested in men. Fuck, she'd have to.
He sat back. "But I don't think the faculty award dinner is the place. I don't want to hide my relationship exactly. My family knows, and they're great about it, but hell, you know the faculty council and the administration, especially Kovak."
"Our own private Inquisitor?"
"Yeah. The faculty council will never say they're firing me because I'm gay. They'll make up another reason. I just don't want to rub their faces in it. If they find out some other way, fine."
She took another deep breath, just trying to cope. "You know, there are several gay men on the faculty. Professor Montag makes jelly beans look colorless, and some others probably cross-dress in their spare time."
"Yeah, but they stay in the closet. Don't ask; don't tell. Plus, they were here before Kovak, so he kind of ignores them."
"So just bring your, uh...Roan and let them guess. Maybe he's just a friend or something."
"He's a little too noticeable."
"What? A drag queen?"
He grinned. "No, you'll see when you meet him."
One thing was clear. "You have to come to the banquet. Do you get that? And if this man is the one you love, I think he should be there too. Am I making myself clear?"
He laughed. "Yes, Mother."
"Hey, why don't you and Roan escort me to the bloody banquet? Then no one will know who's with whom. We can say he's a friend of both of ours. You'll both be my dates. I get to meet him, and he gets to be there for you."
"I thought you were coming with Henry."
"Not nearly often enough." He snorted Chianti. Okay, bad joke, but then Henry was a pretty bad lover. "Anyway, as chance would have it, I haven't invited him yet, so I'm free to be your diversion."
"You're a diversion only in the best possible way." His face lit up with enthusiasm. "But actually it's perfect. You'll come home with us after the banquet and spend the weekend. I've been planning to invite you out for weeks, but we've been so busy at the lab. So come this weekend. Then you can get to know Roan and see the new house at the same time. You get me where you want me, and"--he chuckled--"I get you where I want you."
She gazed at the beautiful face. He'd taken off his glasses so nothing distracted from those crystal blue eyes. How often had she fantasized about spending time with him? Sadly, those fantasies had never involved a gay lover. But bottom line, he had to come to the banquet, and a weekend in Connecticut sounded like fun even in the company of two gay men. Of course, the faculty council sure as hell wouldn't agree with her. They would puke if they knew Doctor Emmaline Silvay, lead researcher and hope for all great international genetics prizes, was consorting with her twenty-six-year-old assistant. Gay assistant. She felt her mom's rebel blood rise in her veins.
"What time will you pick me up, and what kind of clothes should I pack?"