Home > Collide (Off-Limits, #2)(4)

Collide (Off-Limits, #2)(4)
Author: Piper Lawson

She looks new in this light.

“Miss Barclay.”

Her head whips around, the ponytail catching her in the face as she straightens. “Sawyer. I mean, Professor.”

She’s a student.

She’s not a woman, not a temptation, not the cause of my fucking heartbeat in my chest.

“I didn’t realize you were spending the week on campus.” I lower my voice, but there’s no mistaking my words.

They’re code for “you haven’t responded to a single one of my messages.”

“After regionals, I don’t think we have anything to talk about.”

Like hell we don’t.

“The dean would disagree with you. You have my father’s keycard.”

Her eyes widen as if she’s not sure if I’m warning her or accusing her.

That makes two of us.

“I had a copy of his keycard. With better permissions. He let me make it.”

“Why?”

She doesn’t answer.

I pull the receipt from my bag and close the distance between us so I can hand it over, not so I can inhale her scent. “I found this in his office. It has your name written on it.”

Once she takes it and reads, there’s recognition but no guilt.

“It was my idea to get the fish. I thought he’d like having something in his house to take care of.”

If I expect that to make me feel better, it doesn’t. My teeth grind.

“You didn’t tell me you were close,” I say under my breath. “How much time did you spend together?”

“Some.” She holds out the receipt. “Why are you so angry?”

Another faculty member walks past me, and I nod at him.

“Because you act like I’m the one keeping secrets,” I murmur once we have some space again, grabbing the slip of paper and wadding it in my fist. “But you’re the one who lied.”

I head back to the engineering building, leaving her and her surprised look.

I never let myself care about anyone and this is why—because they don’t stick around when things get hard.

“Maintenance is on the way over to fix the elevator,” Betty says at the top of the stairs.

“Good,” I grit out.

“Hi, Betty,” says a voice behind me.

“Hi, Livvy.”

I whirl to see Olivia behind me.

“There is something we need to discuss. Five minutes—Professor,” she says.

The hallway feels too short as I head to my office and yank open the door.

She follows me in and shuts the door.

Olivia told me weeks ago that this was my office now. But I’m acutely aware that it’s not—it’s his.

I walk around his desk. Gingerly, I pull open the biggest drawer, as if I’ll find some clue about their relationship inside.

Of course, there’s nothing.

“Yes, I talked to Madison. Thanks for asking,” she says tightly.

“About what?”

“What she saw!”

“She saw nothing. Whatever she thinks she saw, she was mistaken. You and I are the only ones who know what happened, and she’s not about to render her hard work redundant on an impulse.”

There’s a locked drawer above, but no key.

“Are you kidding?” Her voice rips my attention away. “We’re this close to being found out, to you losing this teaching job, another job”—I flinch—“but you’re angry because your dad gave me his keycard? Because I told him he needed a pet?”

I grip the edge of the desktop. She doesn’t understand. “Yes.”

“Why do people think it’s impossible to have something in common with a person because they’re from another generation?” Her brows drag together. “What connects us is shared experience, but it’s not as if our lives overlap. It can be a moment—a victory, a hope, a regret. Or a shared emotion. Like a bell ringing that vibrates on a wavelength only certain people can hear. Life is lonely enough, Sawyer. Are you supposed to pretend you don’t hear the same bell?”

I’ve built the wall around my heart one brick at a time until it’s high enough to keep everyone out.

Her words slip beneath it.

“How did he make you feel?”

She crosses to his degrees on the wall, studying each as if she’s looking at the man himself and not the ink and crests and signatures he worked for. “Like I had a chance to become something.”

I want to punch the desk.

“And how did I make you feel?”

Her huff of breath could be humor or frustration or longing. “Like I already was something.”

My chest expands.

I’m not my father. Maybe we can get past what happened in New York.

Her gaze drifts to the JENGA set on the corner of my desk. She pokes at one of the bricks near the bottom, causing the entire thing to waver. “But I’m not, at least not to you.”

After all the noise and chaos in my head, the silence stretches out painfully.

“When you heard that rumor, how long did it take you to decide it was true?”

Olivia stiffens. “It all made sense. The reason you left New York was some big secret. Add to that the way you pursued me, even after you found out who I was…A lot of men have a thing for younger women.”

“Why do you think that is?”

She frowns. “A status symbol? Or if it’s secret, I suppose it’s a thrill. A reminder of their youth.”

“You know what my youth was like. Yet you think I want to be reminded of it.”

She folds her arms. “When I asked you in the hallway, you didn’t deny the rumor.”

Asking. Is that what that was?

It felt like a sentence, handed down from some jury I never met.

My hands form fists behind my back. I want to tell her the truth, but that would make this situation even more dangerous.

“Give me your phone,” I say softly.

She hesitates but does.

I hit a few keystrokes, finding what I’m looking for. The breath sticks in my chest as my thumb hovers over the button before I press it.

Warning: This action cannot be undone flashes across the screen.

Confirm.

I pass the device back.

“What did you...” She scrolls through, her jaw dropping. “You erased all of our conversations.”

By the time accusing eyes lift to mine, there’s no vulnerability. Only anger.

I can see the moment she hates me. The look of loathing is familiar, even if I never expected to see it from her.

“I’m glad he didn’t see you like this. You’re a judgmental asshole, Sawyer Redmond.”

I watch her from the window as she leaves, her high heels clicking down the steps and along the path. It’s a reminder of how far out of my reach she is. But I can’t stop watching until she disappears.

It’s better this way.

The words are less comforting than I expect.

 

 

3

 

 

Olivia

 

 

“If you glare at that phone any harder, it’s gonna combust.”

I look up at Jules from where I’m stretching, one leg extended across the back of the couch, the phone resting on the side table at the end.

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