Brooke Munroe sighed as she slumped into her preferred seat in the back row of the classroom. I’m taking a whopping three whole classes this semester, and still I get stuck with an eight o’clock. How did I get this lucky? With a shake of her head and another tired sigh, Brooke hauled her bag up and began extracting the binder and pen she had designated for note-taking.
The truth was, she knew her early-morning schedule wouldn’t be nearly so painful if she hadn’t gotten stuck working the closing shift at the diner the night before. The diner closed at one, but it was after two in the morning before she’d managed to fall asleep. And she had no one to blame but herself, seeing as how she was the one who’d agreed to take the shift. Really, what was I thinking? Oh, right. Better tips.
“–don’t know, Angie,” an unfamiliar male voice was suddenly saying from beside her. Brooke couldn’t help but turn her head slightly to see who had spoken, and she immediately found herself staring.
The speaker was a tall man with dark, slightly shaggy hair. He was midway through depositing a well-used backpack on the other side of the desk to her left, and his head was angled so that she couldn’t see most of his face. But that did help her to see that he had a strong, angular profile. He was lean – though far from lanky – and dressed in a could-be-tighter gray shirt, which was covered with a dark blue overcoat. Simple denim jeans covered his legs.
After a moment of listening, his lips seemed to curve into a laughing grin and he spoke once more into the phone at his ear. “You’ll have to check with Logan, then,” he said as he dragged the chair back with one hand before angling himself into it. With another chuckle he added, “Yeah, I know. Anyway, Angie, I have to go. Don’t want to get caught on the phone first day of class, you know?”
Realizing she was still staring (she had really wanted to see his eyes), Brooke mentally slapped her forehead and shifted until she was looking forward once more. She could only hope he hadn’t noticed.
The professor arrived before she was even finished berating herself, and almost immediately called the class to order. After briefly introducing himself, and before launching into the required lengthy syllabus explanation, he looked out over the room and calmly declared, “Now then, the first and most important thing you need to know about this class is that we’ll be doing everything in pairs. Naturally, I will therefore be pairing you up before we do anything further. Also, I very rarely allow partner-switching, so if you ask, you had best have a good reason, is that understood?”
Grumbled ‘yes’s floated up from the gathered group of students when he paused, and Brooke was sure hers wasn’t the only stomach that had fallen to her feet with his declaration. She hated any form of group work, and though she’d expected to have to put up with a fair amount of it this semester, she hadn’t expected this. This is great, she groaned silently as their professor began pairing them off.
“When I call your name, stand up and say ‘here’, so that your partner will know who you are. As soon as you are assigned a partner, find a seat beside that person and wait quietly. I’ll give you time to get to know each other on Wednesday,” the professor instructed as he flipped open his role-sheet. With barely a pause, he began calling out names, marking something beside each as that person was assigned, before skimming his finger along the roster again to find the next victim.
Brooke quietly slipped her things back into her bag, as many others were doing, in order to make the transition smoother when she eventually had to move. She was only half-listening, her gaze flicking up briefly as a new name was called, as she waited for the inevitable.
“Hawke, Blake,” the professor called a few minutes later.
Brooke had barely had enough time to think What a name, before the man to her left easily pushed to his feet.
“Here,” Blake Hawke said, thumbs subconsciously hooking into his pockets.
The professor nodded, made another mark on the role-sheet, and quickly skimmed again before calling out the name of Blake’s partner. “Munroe, Brooke.”
For a long moment, Brooke stared at the older man in disbelief. Then her senses returned and she quickly pushed to her feet, adding, “Here,” as she moved. She held the professor’s gaze only long enough for him to nod at her, and then her eyes shifted to Blake and she offered him an awkward smile as they both reclaimed their seats.
“At least we don’t have to move,” Blake whispered as another name was called.
Her smile broadened a little and she nodded in agreement. At the same time as he returned her smile, she realized she could finally see his eyes. They were a stunning shade of bright, reflective blue – and very much not the dark, piercing eyes she had expected. But that wasn’t a bad thing.
Without another word, she turned her gaze forward again, noticing that he followed suit a moment later.