I was so busy trying to keep my pile of papers from flying away as I hurried into the elevator, I didn't even notice the man who'd held the door. I noticed he'd held it, and I thanked him, but I hadn't looked up.

I felt one of the books from the stack I was carrying start to slip from my arms. I did an awkward little shift-hop-dance trying to shore them up again, and though I managed to keep the book from falling, I dropped half the pile of papers onto the elevator floor in the process.

I would have sworn if I'd been alone, but when the man bent to start picking up the scattered papers, I apologized reflexively.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'll get them."

"You'll lose the rest of that pile if you do," he said. He quickly retrieved the papers and straightened them before he started to hand them back to me.

"Oh," he said, pausing as he glanced at the top sheet. "These are mine."

He looked at me then and my stomach tightened. These were the faculty book lists for the semester. I'd just run off copies and was heading up to the main office, so if one of the sheets belonged to this man, he was a faculty member. And not just any faculty member—I knew all of them already even though I'd only been at the university one year, all of them except Professor Ballard, who had been on sabbatical the year I started. So that meant he was...

I stared at him for a couple of seconds, blinking stupidly. Professor Ballard—or Nick, as everyone called him as if he was such an icon he didn't need a last name—brilliant, handsome, scandalous Nick Ballard.

"Do you work in the office?" He looked at my stack of copies and books, still holding the rescued papers, and smiled. My head filled with a confused fog as I studied his face, wondering if he was as everything people said he was.

He was respected and admired by everyone on the Science faculty for his research; he was an undisputed genius in his field. They described him as humble and generous, and as far as I could tell, academically there seemed to be no bad feelings toward him.

But there were rumors—whispers among the students, and even the faculty. I worked in the main Science Department office, so I would sometimes overhear snippets of conversations. They'd talk like I wasn't even there, not bothering to lower their voices, even when the subject of discussion was Nick.

It was said he'd had sexual relationships with several students through the years. I'd heard that both from the faculty and the students. The number of students he'd slept with varied depending on the source of information—some people said it had only been a few, some said he'd slept with a different student every semester, choosing a new girl to seduce each year. As far as I knew, they were just rumors, but scandal seemed as much a part of his fame as his various publications and awards.

"I do," I said nervously after a long pause.

"Work study?"

I nodded, noticing my heart was beating hard—he certainly was as good looking as everyone had hinted he was. He had big, expressive eyes, wavy brown hair that he wore a little bit longer than the other faculty members, angled cheekbones and a wide, pleasant smile.

"Here—let me take those books before you drop them."

He reached out, took the books and handed me back the stack of papers.

"I'm Nick Ballard, by the way."

I already knew that, but my heart beat a little faster just hearing his name.

He looked at me, waiting.

"And you...are..."

"Oh! Sofia. I'm Sofia." I blushed, feeling like an idiot. "Sofia...um...Dunn."

He smiled and I thought I would faint.

"Nice to meet you Sofia."

I blushed a deeper shade of red. A moment later the elevator doors opened and relief flooded through me as we exited, turning right to head down toward the offices.

"Are you taking any of my classes this semester?"

"No. I'm not in Science," I said. "I'm a Math major, actually."

"Oh," he said in a disappointed tone. "I was hoping you were a Science major; it's such a male-dominated field. I expect Mathematics is like that too though, so they're lucky to have you."

Any reply I might have made was interrupted by the appearance of two faculty members exiting an open office. They drew Nick's attention, and as soon as it was clear our conversation was over, I scurried off to the office, my knees a little weak.

I spent the next hour in the office filing, my head distracted by thoughts of the rumors I'd heard about him. I knew he'd have no trouble seducing undergraduate students, but I wondered how much truth there was to the stories—had he actually slept with students?

I was back in my dorm room when I realized the books I'd gotten out of the library that morning were missing. My mind jumped back to that moment in the elevator when Nick had taken them, lightening my load, and realized with a mix of dread and excitement I'd have to stop by his office tomorrow and get them.

By the time I got to the Science Department offices, I was in a frazzled state. I'd gotten up late, forgotten a notebook for my first class and had to run back to my room to get it, missing breakfast. I spent my entire first class trying to quiet my complaining stomach, and watching the clock.

I ran from the elevators, my mind still in a hurried state, mentally calculating how much time I had to get the books and make it across campus in time for my next class. I stopped at the office to see if he'd left them there.

"Sofia?" The main secretary Andi looked up from her computer as I blew in. "You're not on the schedule today."

"No, I know," I said hurriedly. "Professor Ballard has some of my books, from yesterday. I just thought he might have left them with you."

"No, he didn't." She said, turning her attention back to her computer. "But he's down in his office right now."

"OK, thanks," I said, but my stomach turned nervously as I left the office and headed toward his door.

I heard his voice before I got there and peeked around the edge of the open door. He was on the phone, but looked up immediately and beckoned me in with an enthusiastic hand gesture. I glanced around the office, which, like most of the faculty offices was primarily bookshelves and stacks of books. I eyed some of the titles, noting the majority had the word "Quantum" in their title and wondered vaguely whether his interests and mine overlapped at all—maybe I would take some of his classes later.

"Alright," he said into the phone. "I've got to go, I have a student here."

He said a quick, casual goodbye and stood as he returned the phone to its cradle.

"I stole your books!" he said apologetically. "I'm so sorry, Sofia."

The fact that he remembered my name made me flush with pleasure. I was the kind of girl who routinely went unnoticed. Some of the faculty members whose errands I'd been running for a whole year hadn't bothered to remember it. I was flattered, and coming out of Nick's mouth, it sounded so nice.

He came around from behind his desk and handed me my books.

"I hope you didn't need these last night. I felt so bad when I realized I'd run off with them. By the time I noticed, you were gone."

"Oh, no, no," I said quickly, waving my hand and shaking my head to emphasize how completely unimportant they were. I didn't like thinking he'd felt bad. "I didn't need them. Sorry I left them with you."

"You didn't. I took them. Remember?" He peered at me for a second. "Are you in the habit of apologizing for things that aren't your fault? You did that in the elevator yesterday, when I picked up the papers you dropped."

"Uh." I turned red. I had an urge to apologize.

"I wasn't accusing you," he said when he saw my face go red. "I just noticed it, that's all."

To my extreme relief, he changed the subject suddenly.

"Hey, listen—I'm wondering if you could help me with a project? I don't know how many hours your work study job is, or if Andi would be able to spare you, but I'm working on this new class, and I need some research materials rounded up from the library." He looked at me and I noticed his eyes had sort of lit up behind the oval lenses of his eyeglasses. "It's not hard, but it's kind of tedious I'm afraid."

"Oh, uh, sure," I said uncertainly.

"I'm not sure it's even kosher for me to give you a personal project like that, I'll have to see if I can sweet talk Andi into letting you go. It shouldn't take more than a few hours. When do you work?"

He was talking quickly, clearly excited.

"Uh, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday—from nine to one."

He turned and leaned across his desk, reaching for his datebook and I took the opportunity to study him while his attention was elsewhere.

He was younger than most of the other professors—I thought he must be in his 40's, and easily more animated and engaging (though I thought that was due more to personality than age). He had a small build and stood only a few inches taller than me—around 5' 7" I guessed, but his enthusiasm made him seem bigger, more forward, more there.

I'd already known he was attractive, but when he looked directly at me, his green and gold eyes made it hard to focus on what I was seeing. Now I had a chance to really notice the angle of his cheekbones, the grey that streaked his dark brown hair and guessed the female students in the department probably had a hard time paying attention in his classes.

"Thursday I have a meeting at noon, but I'm free in the morning." He ran his finger down the page, following his itinerary. "I could meet you at the Science Library at nine—if Andi doesn't mind, of course—and get you set up. You'll be able to do it on your own, I just want to make sure you're clear on where everything is."

He looked up then, his eyes bright. "Would nine work?" He took a pencil from the desktop and held it, point poised over the paper.

"Um, sure. OK."


I watched him write my name in the 9:00 block in neat, square capitals, and couldn't help feeling a little excited. A personal project with Nick. What a thrill.

He closed his datebook and slid it back onto his desk, turning to face me.

"I worked on this while I was on sabbatical, so I'm really excited to get started."

We made final arrangements and as I turned to go he reached out and tugged at my scarf.

"Did you know you're trailing behind?"

I looked and saw in my haste to get to his office I hadn't even noticed half my scarf had unraveled. I colored as he held the striped knit aloft, the fringe damp and dirtied from having been dragged halfway across campus over the slushy sidewalks.

This kind of thing happened to me all the time; I was always forgetting things, dropping things, spilling things. I'd been like that since I was a kid, and even though I was sort of used to it, it was always embarrassing to have it pointed out, and to have it pointed out by a professor—this professor—was positively mortifying.

He didn't seem bothered by it at all, but I certainly was.

"I'll get it all set with Andi," he said airily. "See you then, Sofia."


I was, of course, late meeting him on Thursday. Only by a few minutes, but I'd run all the way across campus and was panting so hard by the time I got there, I couldn't talk for a full minute. He was waiting inside, casually chatting with a pretty young woman at the desk, and smiled when I finally came in, breathing fast.

"Sorry I'm late," I gasped.

"Only five minutes." He was still smiling, watching me. "No big deal. Catch your breath and we'll go up."

We took the elevator to the third floor, and once again I found myself in a tiny space with the legendary Nick Ballard, only this time I knew it, and my heart was beating faster than ever.

I kept a tight hold on my backpack in case it should fall from my shoulder, surreptitiously checked my scarf to make sure it wasn't trailing behind again, and tried to focus on his voice as he explained what I'd be doing. It was straight-forward enough; retrieving articles from the stacks and photocopying them so he could make clean scans.

He set his bag down on a table toward the very back of the library, unzipped it, and drew out a handwritten sheet of paper which he studied for a minute before putting it down on the table in front of me. As he got his coat off he nodded toward the stacks beside us.

"Everything is in there, shouldn't be too hard to find."

I draped my coat over a chair and stripped off my cardigan (between the heat in the library, my sprint across campus, and Nick's arousing presence, I was boiling hot) and followed him down the aisle, watching him run his fingers along the spines of the books. They were thick hardbound volumes, and there were thousands of them—years and years of back issues of magazine and educational journals. He caught my look of surprise.

"I know it looks intimidating, doesn't it? But the system is fairly intuitive and everything is in the computer database, it's just a matter of finding the right volume." He pulled down a book and flipped through the pages. "The tedious bit will be finding the article."

He next took me to the computer and briefly showed me what information I'd need to copy down in order to find the right volume. He hovered behind me, leaning forward occasionally to put a finger on the screen, making sure I knew exactly which of the numbers I'd need to find the right volume. I already knew what to do, it was easy, but when he leaned that close to me I caught the scent of his cologne or soap, vaguely sweet and spicy, and didn't mind sitting through his thorough explanation.

"So you've got it?" he asked once we'd returned to the table. "It's not hard."

"Right," I said.

"You take this." He slid the list across the table, turning it so it was face up for me, and then reached for his coat. "I'll come back in a bit to see how it's going. Anything you can't find, just circle it on the list and I'll give you a hand."


"Thanks, Sofia," he said, shouldering his bag. "I appreciate it; this is a huge help to me."

I spent an hour on the computer looking up the files and copying the location of the volumes I needed, then headed down the aisle to find the first volume. It was easy enough to find the right book, and I soon had a pile on my table higher than me. I spent the next hour bookmarking the correct articles and then returned to the stacks for the rest of the books.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone approaching down the long aisle. I turned my head, recognized Nick's silhouette, and dropped the book I'd been pulling off the shelf, whacking myself in the chin. I caught it, but couldn't suppress a little noise of pain and surprise.

"Oh, sorry," Nick said quietly as he came toward me. He looked concerned, but I thought a little amused too. "I didn't mean to scare you. Are you OK?"

He hadn't scared me so much as he'd thrown that switch he threw any time he was around me, the one that made my whole body go hot and weak.

"I just wanted to make sure you were doing alright up here. I had visions of you trapped under piles and piles of Physics Quarterly."

I smiled a nervous smile and had to look away from his eyes, rubbing at my chin, trying not to replay his words "visions of you..." in my head.

"Have you run into any problems?" he asked. "Besides being clubbed by Experimental Nanoscience, I mean."

I laughed a little nervously and said everything had been fine.

"Great. I knew you could handle it, I just wanted to make sure you weren't having any trouble with the list. Sounds like you've got it under control." He turned and was about to say goodbye when he suddenly turned back.

"Oh," he said, his voice a little louder than it had been, a little excited. He quieted it and stepped back toward me. "How come you didn't tell me you were such an academic dynamo?"

"A dyna...what?"

"I was talking to Professor Asher," he said, taking another step closer. "She told me you were of their most promising undergraduates. I could tell you were bright, but I didn't know—you won a competition in high school, right? Competing against college level students. Something national. Is that right?"

"I—I was on a team that won," I said, embarrassed. "It wasn't just me."

He took a step toward me and I saw his eyes drop briefly from my eyes—lower, to my chest, and the idea he might be checking out my breasts made me shiver inside. I didn't have to look down to know my nipples were hard and no doubt, through the thin fabric of my shirt, even with my bra beneath covering them, they would be visible. I felt my face go redder, if that was even possible.

"But you went on to win the national scholarship," he said, lifting his eyes to mine again. "One hundred thousand dollars; that's pretty impressive."

The realization that he might have asked about me suddenly struck me like a blow. Had he asked my teacher specifically? Or had I just come up in conversation somehow?

I shifted the book, hugging it to my chest in part to keep myself from dropping it, but also to cover my breasts, and endured his questions for a few more minutes, feeling the usual mix of pride and embarrassment that swirled inside me any time someone told me how smart I was, but now it mingled with the attraction I felt, increasing my feelings of arousal.

Nick left and I finished the project right at the end of my work shift. I carefully slid the photocopies I'd made into a folder and brought them to him in his office. He flipped through them, his eyes running rapidly over the text, his brow drawn in concentration. When he looked up and smiled, his face transformed completely, like someone had shone a light on it, making it glow.

"This is great, Sofia. Thank you so much for helping me out." He rapped the copies smartly on the desk and set them down in a perfect pile. "I should buy you a coffee."

"Uh, no it's OK—" I started to say, but he cut me off.

"You more than deserve it." He smiled. "Well, it would have to be coffee from the Union, and you deserve better than that, but I have a class at two and it's the closest place, so until I can thank you properly, that will have to do." He stood and crossed the room to get his coat, and I could tell he wasn't going to let me object. Not that I wanted to...

We sat at one of the small tables in the Union and I was, if possible, more nervous than I'd been the first time I met him, so nervous he commented on it.

"Sofia, I don't scare you do I?" he asked, looking at me carefully. "You're so jumpy when I talk to you. You seem nervous."

"What?" I said quickly, alarmed by his direct question. "No, no, I'm not nervous. I mean—I am, but I'm not nervous because of you, I just get nervous. I don't know why I do, but I always do, I mean—I always have, I'm a nervous person, it's not because of you. Really. It's just me."

"I see," he said slowly, once I'd stopped my babbling.

I looked down at my paper coffee cup and for a few minutes more we talked about math and science overlap, and I thought he was probing a little to see just how smart I was. I couldn't drink my coffee, my stomach was so knotted, but he soon finished his and started making motions to go.

"Thank you again, Sofia," he said standing and pulling his overcoat on. I stood too, and was very careful not to drop my coat or spill my bag in the process. I started to slip my arm into the sleeve of my coat when he spoke. "By the way, your cardigan is on inside-out," he said with casual ease.

I looked down, horrified. It was. Inside-out. Seams exposed, buttons wrong way around, and I didn't have to look to know my tag was sticking up at the back of my neck. I went cold and then hot, my blood rushing in response to my embarrassment.

"I would have told you earlier, but it's kind of cute when you do things like that."

I looked at him suddenly, my tense stomach contracting even more. "Cute?"

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