Not Quite Perfect
Coming September 2018
I stepped onto the ferry, my overnight bag bumping along behind me, and dropped into a seat toward the rear of the boat. I fluttered my sticky shirt against my overheated skin—if there was anything I hated more than witnessing my mother’s sixth marriage, it was the thought of doing it in temperatures that had soared to ninety-plus degrees with no break in sight.
But that was a problem for tomorrow.
Tonight, I had to avoid running into my older brother Jack. Difficult, since our mom had booked rooms for my three brothers and me at the same bed and breakfast for the weekend. Not for the first time, I cursed the bet we’d made the month before. How he’d known our mom had been secretly dating and was close to walking down the aisle again was beyond me. But he had, and he’d used that knowledge to swindle Drew, Alex, and me out of a few hundred dollars each. As far as I was concerned, he’d cheated us, and I had no intention of paying up.
Hence, the avoiding.
What I couldn’t avoid, however, was the fact that my book club was meeting on Tuesday night and I hadn’t even opened this month’s selection. Why we’d unanimously decided to enrich our minds instead of our eyeballs by reading something that didn’t feature a bare-chested hunk of man flesh on the cover, I’d never know. Oh right. Something about broadening our horizons and being better people.
Cringing over what was about to befall me, I reached into my purse and pulled out an old, battered copy of The Sound and the Fury. Of all the great American classics the discussion leader could have chosen, she’d picked the one I’d hated most in college.
My eyes scanned the weathered pages, taking in the notes in blue ink I’d scribbled in the margins, and I winced. Normally, I wasn’t a fan of defiling books, but following Faulkner’s stream-of-conscious narrative had been impossible for my tired, overworked, twenty-year-old junior year brain to process.
I liked to think I was older and wiser now, but as I flipped the pages, I still had trouble following Benjy’s disjointed thoughts and the disconnected timeline. I shook my head when I reached the end of the first chapter. No doubt about it, my understanding of the book hadn’t improved with age or wisdom. “Fucking Faulkner.”
“Only one of the greats,” came a deep, rumbling voice from across the aisle.
I inserted my bookmark and turned to face the stranger, my breath catching in my lungs.
His lips hitched to the side in a sexy smirk and, his bright blue eyes alight with laughter, he canted his head toward my book. “But I’m thinking you don’t agree.”
I struggled to find the words to respond—not a problem I typically suffered. As a journalist, words were my bread and butter. Unfortunately, they’d deserted me the second I came face to face with the most handsome man I’d ever laid eyes on. You remember Jude Law from The Holiday? That’s what this guy looked like, only with thicker sandy brown hair, and a sexy five o’clock shadow that dotted his strong, chiseled jaw. If I were Cinderella and my fairy godmother had just granted my wish for the perfect man, he would have been it.
I cleared my throat and set my book to the side. “Can’t say I’m a Faulkner fan … which was probably pretty obvious when I cursed his name.” I smiled sheepishly. It was one thing to fling insults at a dead author, but an entirely other thing to have someone witness you doing it.
He shrugged, his right shoulder lifting and then falling. “It’s my experience you either love him or hate him.”
“Let me guess,” I said, relaxing into the conversation despite its embarrassing beginning, “you love him.”
“I certainly appreciate Faulkner’s work, and the way it helped shape the American consciousness. You can’t deny he gave a voice to the misfits and malcontents who typically served as fodder for other characters’ narration.”
“Spoken like a scholar. Or a misfit or malcontent,” I added, fighting back a smile. Personally, I found Faulkner’s characters—at least the ones I’d read—tiresome and troublesome. Then again, I was no scholar. Given the way he’d spoken just now, I guessed he was. Sadly, none of my teachers had ever looked quite like this guy—which was probably a good thing. Having an inappropriate fixation on one’s professor was generally frowned upon.
The handsome man, no longer quite a stranger, turned to face me fully, his hand outstretched across the aisle. “Professor David Carstairs.”
“Victoria Witherspoon. Reporter.” I placed my hand in his and tried not to swoon when his fingers skated over my palm as he pulled away. “Professor, huh?”
David’s head ducked forward, and his cheeks flushed. Setting his hand to the back of his neck, he looked at me with apology. “American Literature, I’m afraid.” He looked flustered by the admission, which made no sense since it was probably the sexiest thing anyone had ever said to me.
The guys who hit on me—not that I thought David was hitting on me or anything—usually opened with lines like, “Yo, babe. I work in finance. Want to go back to my place and fuck?” While it had never worked on me, I figured it must have with other women. Nothing else explained why it was such a common refrain in the bars and pubs of the Greater Boston area.
“Nothing to be afraid of. I actually love books; just maybe not this one.”
“Oh yeah?” His eyes sparked with interest. “Who’s your favorite author?”
I had an inkling the sexy professor wasn’t looking for my thoughts on the latest shifter-meets-witch romance I’d stayed up all night reading last weekend. I scrunched up my nose and looked to the ceiling, cataloguing the courses I’d taken and the authors I’d studied back in college. It had been years since I’d read anything that didn’t guarantee a happily-ever-after since my job took up all the capacity I had for sadness and strife.
Bringing my gaze back to his, I said, “I really enjoyed Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Fitzgeralds—both F. Scott and Zelda, mad as she was—and Edith Wharton.” I chuckled lightly. “Although now I realize practically all the novels I loved best have been made into movies. For all you know, I’ve never even picked up a real book.”
Without warning, David moved to the empty seat next to me and reached for my dog-eared copy of The Sound and the Fury. Thumbing through it, he examined the notes I’d scribbled in the margins and chuckled at some of my more colorful observations. Eventually, he set it back down with the rest of my belongings.
Oh, dear; he has dimples too. Kill me now.
Before I could fall at his feet and beg him to give me babies—lots and lots of babies—he turned toward me with a smile tugging at his lips. “Anyone whose notations are filled with that much passion has done some reading over the years. I particularly appreciated the part where you ranted about the lack of cohesion in Faulkner’s prose, and how Caddy only existed to showcase his misogyny and hatred of women.”
I snickered, remembering the paper I’d written on that very topic my senior year. My professor had returned it with a bright red “C” in the upper right-hand corner. While he’d thought my thesis about the prevalence of sexism in early American literature had been well researched and supported, apparently, I’d missed the point of the assignment entirely. Alas, that’s what happened when I was fueled by Red Bull and righteous indignation at two o’clock in the morning.
“Since you’re the expert,” I said, turning the tables, “what’s your favorite book?”
He didn’t miss a beat before responding. “Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.” With a sexy smirk, he added, “Also made into a movie.”
If I was a fanciful sort, I might believe it was destiny that brought Professor David Carstairs and me together. But since I wasn’t, I considered it a really great coincidence instead. “Yes, I know. I’ve read the book and seen the movie. You might not believe this, but I’ve even been inside the house they used for filming Grady’s place. One of my professors lived there.”
David eyed me with disappointment, and I realized he’d misinterpreted my statement.
“Oh! No, nothing like that,” I blurted with a laugh and a wave of my hand. “I assure you, my presence was entirely on the up-and-up. Every year Professor Burrows hosted an end-of-term cocktail party for the program’s graduating seniors. He thought it would help us transition into the ‘real world’ where grown-ups didn’t do keg stands.” I chuckled and used my fingers to make air quotes. “The joke was on him though because two years later a couple of guys ended up getting high in his bathroom. Rumor has it his parties were by invitation only after that.”
David visibly relaxed and leaned closer, his gaze dropping to my lips. “Feel free to tell me to fuck off, but I just have to say that I find it incredibly sexy you’ve read my favorite book and have a completely unique and personal piece of trivia about it too.”
Feeling myself blush under the weight of his stare, I pushed a lock of hair behind my ear and dropped my eyes to gawk at David’s hands. I’d never been a hands girl before—traditionally, forearms were more my thing—but I couldn’t stop picturing him molding my naked body with them. God, what would it feel like to have those long, tapered fingers digging into my flesh as he rocked me back and forth over his cock? I blinked and shook my head slightly, pushing the inappropriate fantasy to the back of my mind. This was bonkers. I’d known this guy for all of thirty minutes and I was fantasizing about getting horizontal with him. That never happened.
But it was precisely because that had never happened to me before that I raised my eyes and took a deep, steadying breath. If this attraction was one sided, I’d never in a million years do what I was about to do. But the way he’d stared at my mouth—like he couldn’t wait to taste me—told me it wasn’t. David wanted me as badly as I wanted him.
“You should feel free to tell me to fuck off, but do you want to get dinner with me tonight?”