Do you want to know a little secret?
I've been working on a secret project with a bunch of other talented authors.
The first one I have ever been in.
It's not your usual anthology either.
You know you want to read something a little different.
It's called Beneath the Cape--the Superhero Anthology and it was created with the sole purpose of benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project.
Stay tuned for more info soon. In the meantime, here's the first few pages of my short story that will be in the anthology...
Heroes by Christine Zolendz...July 2015
This can't be happening to me. Can't be. There's a good chance I may puke up this morning's breakfast all over myself. Folding my arms around my middle, I squeeze myself hard to stop the whirling, unnerving feeling slowly bubbling up my esophagus.
Okay, just breathe and focus.
I'm trying to read the words on the paper, but they just blur in front of my eyes. They can't seem to hold my interest. Nothing does. Not when I'm sitting this close to him. We're in the University's faculty conference room. They have all of the teaching assistants going through all the preliminaries before the start of classes. Claire's next to me, whispering things into my ear I'm not listening to. There's a clinking of water glasses and a few restrained murmurs. I can't make out any more of the noises though; even sounds get blurry when he's near.
My breakfast sloshes and churns unpleasantly around in my belly. I squeeze my eyes shut and pray I don't hurl. Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
That doesn't help. It just gives me a hot rush of vertigo.
My heart feels like it's beating at the base of my throat, loud and fast. I wonder if anyone around me notices how flushed I am. God, this is simply embarrassing.
I nervously twirl my pen through my fingers as I sit around the table with all the heads and their TAs. Everyone listening intently to the President of the college and what he's saying. Everyone save for me, who's been staring like a dork at the man sitting across from me–Alexander Masters. Just the sight of him is startling. Dazzling. It's quite sickening actually, the way the skin of my cheeks heats in reaction to him.
They should sell repellant for types like him.
Better yet, types like him just shouldn't exist. It would be so much better for me to not have to fumble to find words whenever he was in earshot of me.
Alexander Masters is one of those guys. The guys that have that haunting, brooding look about them–all serious, dark, and sexy. He's tall and quite muscular from what I could see. Graceful in a languid way. The features of his face are chiseled in rough, handsome curves and framed with messy, ash brown hair that always seems to defy the laws of gravity. His eyes, a deep sage green-almost gray, are strikingly handsome against his pale skin coloring. A small dotting of freckles covers the bridge of his nose and a small perfect indent sits on the bottom of his chin. I could sit and stare at him for hours, my eyes following his movements and gestures. And I had done so for my entire undergraduate degree. I'm surprised I ever retained any of what I'd been taught in the classes he assisted with. I bet any time he's ever chanced a look at me all he caught was the strange, wide-eyed girl with the long string of drool dripping from the side of her lips.
And he's brilliant. Handsome, smart, and sexy–a combination that causes me to I feel like a bashful schoolgirl any time I'm near him.
Yep. Some sort of anti-hot guy spray would be really useful right about now.
Papers are being handed out. Bodies shift and people start murmuring. I should be listening, but my nerves are fraying; unraveling and peeling off me like a shedding skin.
Claire leans closer, bumping into my shoulder. Her rose scented perfume thickens the air. She puts too much of that stuff on; it's stifling. "Lord, that man is perfect," she whispers.
Perfect. I inhale deeply and exhale on a sigh. Perfect isn't the right word. His presence steals the breath from my lungs in one glance. That's not perfect. That's just...hell I don't even know what that is.
"Shh," I hiss, shooting her a harsh glance. This isn't a club. It's a conference room.
My attention drifts back to Alexander. He's the newly promoted head of the biology department, taking the title from my beloved advisor, Doctor Mortimer Peeks. This is supposed to be my chance to show the department what I'm made of. Show this crappy town I could be something. This fellowship is my ticket into the PhD program–my chance for a future.
I just hadn't expected Doctor Peeks to be stepping down and Alexander to be stepping up. He couldn't be older than twenty-five, and now he's the head of the entire biology department and all its research facilities.
"I overheard one of the other graduate students say he was at Lobo's last night. Imagine? Someone saw him in your neck of the woods," Claire whispers, closely. I try not to gag from her words. The rumors that follow him are like none I've ever heard. Troubled, withdrawn, brooding, brilliant, and arrogant. Mysterious. Untouchable. "What in the world would a professor from this high and mighty place be doing down in Dark Creek in that shitty bar?"
I narrow my eyes at her. What a spoiled, rich little princess.
"Sorry, no offense or anything," she mumbles.
Right, sure. No offense. Working in that shitty little bar paid my tuition. I don't have a pair of rich parents funding my education or every fancy whim. I don't even have parents.
Shaking my head at her, I try to focus more on what's being said, but the click of Alexander Master's pen snaps my concentration right back to him.
Repellant. Something to negate the pheromones that pulsate from his pores and smack right into my face. I swallow hard; there's way too much saliva in my mouth. Click-click. I'm now obsessed with staring at his thumb. Click-click. He has great hands. Click-click. How would they feel on my skin? Click-click. I bet they’d feel good.
Claire pinches my side and my own pen drops to the table. "You're staring at him and practically humping your seat. You naughty girl," she laughs low.
I flick her leg under the table and pretend to ignore her. She knows Alexander Masters has been my idol in the field of biochemistry for my entire undergrad career. Until there was some sort of trouble last year when the whole research team was disbanded. I never thought I'd get to see him again. Now he's right across from me. Sitting this close to him is the same thing as sitting right on the sun. It makes my body erupt in flames. It's utterly paralyzing.
The pretty, blonde haired student just to his right leans into him and whispers into his ear. His lips, full and perfect, curve into a sinful smile. I wonder what she said to him that made him smile like that. My heart thuds a slow beat in my chest and my stomach coils with knots. This is insanity. Why am I so nervous in front of him? Why would I care if someone whispers in his ear?
Just breathe. Breathe. Focus, Kelly. Try to be a professional.
I'm so flustered and confused. I think...I think if Doctor Peeks isn't going to be here...I think that means I'll be assisting Alexander Masters. And now I feel faint. Why can't I focus?
Then the conference ends. It's just suddenly over.
People are standing, moving, and walking away from their seats and I have no clue what I've missed.
I have no notes. I have no idea what's expected of me. I squeeze my eyes shut and rub the heels of my hands into them. Why does this have to happen to me? Why do I have to turn into a frigging idiot every time we're in the same room? When I open my eyes, just behind a few floating black spots, I watch as his gaze travels across the table then dart up and lock on mine.
Is staring right at me.
He is now aware that I exist. Sitting across from him, mouth gaping open, and rocking my whole idiot look.
He continues staring at me.
I feel it spread over me like the hit of a drug–driving pure adrenaline through my veins, swelling into my capillaries, and splurging out the pores of my skin. I'm instantly sweaty and sticky, and I desperately want to lower my eyes and look away from him, but I can't. His gaze traps mine and I'm a helpless, stuttering imbecile.
I think everyone is leaving, grabbing up files and supplies, heading to wherever we were told to go. Yet I'm frozen like a wild animal caught on the tracks of an oncoming pheromone train.
Suddenly, my lungs tighten and constrict. The air feels too heavy to breathe in. He cocks his head, narrows his eyes, and takes a deep, long breath.
I clench my hands over the papers in front of me. My pen rolls off the table with the sudden movement and static electricity snaps up my legs as I slide my sneakers out against the thick conference room rug beneath me.
His eyes quickly sweep across my face, devouring every inch of me. My cheeks, my lips, my hair, my neck, as if it's the first time he's seen me. Maybe it is. Maybe I've been invisible to him for the last four years I've been watching him from a distance. Whatever reason, his survey of me is alarming, puckering goose bumps across the surface of my skin wherever his gaze touches.
My belly swims with rolling waves. I feel as if I'm on a small boat out on the chopping waters in the middle of an icy cold sea. If I don’t get up and run, I’m going to drown.
Swallowing hard, I gather as much strength as I can, lift off from my seat, and stand up on the opposite side the conference table from him. My struggling breath is embarrassing me. It's just a guy. I mean, seriously, Kelly you've been through loads of them. This one is no different.
But he is; he is so different.
Maybe it's the effect of his stare. Everywhere he looks my body wakens and becomes aware of the distinct area. My lips pulse as he stares at them. My cheeks burn and tighten when his attention moves there. And when his scrutiny slowly slides down my throat and takes in my neck, collarbone, and then breasts, they each in turn ache and become heavy with a strange, overwhelming pressure.
It makes me feel heat against my skin. It makes me feel everything–like the air hitting the loose strands of my hair and the rub of the soft material of my shirt over my flesh. God, I even feel the snugness of the fabric of my pants, the tingling of its touch against me, and the rise of the small hairs all over my body.
Oh, God. I have to leave.
Crunching the papers in my fist, I shove them quickly into my bag. They crumple and rip. I hear it loud in my ears, along with the shift of Alexander's body as he pushes off the table directly across from me and stands. I tear my eyes off him and let my wide-eyed stare fall somewhere on the floor by my feet. The pen that fell lies by the leg of my chair. I'm afraid if I bend down to get it, I'll never get back up again. This is stupid and childish. My body reacts as if I'd never felt the gaze or touch of a man before. And I have, so many times. Maybe too many times, if I’m being honest.
I step away from the table. Tilt my head up high and walk my way towards the door. There's an unreadable expression plastered on his face as I pass him and step out into the hallway.
The hallway; where the air is cooler and thinner, and so much easier to take into my lungs.
I hear him moving and shuffling papers behind me, but I don't dare glance back over my shoulder. How can I? I'm like the ultimate fan-girl and I'm terrified of the drool hanging from my mouth whenever he's in the same room as me.
Claire waits for me at the end of the hallway with both eyebrows raised high. I rush toward her like an idiot. "You are a complete geek," she says, grabbing my elbow. "How are you supposed to be his assistant if you're a bundle of orgasms waiting to explode?"
"Ugh. I feel sick...Just please tell me you heard what I have to do, because I don't even know my own name right now."
"Yes, sweetie. Just show up at his office Monday at nine. Wear something sexy. Classes start on Tuesday. The faculty mixer is tomorrow night." She skips out in front of me and waves. "I have another meeting in ten minutes. You working tonight or can we do dinner?"
"Working, of course." I wave back at her and watch her bounce down the hall backwards, giving me her little frowny face.
Everyone rushes outside through the building's enormous windowed doorway. I watch as they all quickly bow their heads and pull up their bags or binders as a shield from whatever weather pelts them from the sky overhead. The wind so strong, they stagger down the steps almost sideways. Of course it's raining. I'd taken my bike to school. I needed another mode of transportation, but buying a car is out of the question right now with my savings tapped dry. My bicycle was a safer option anyway; nobody around here wants to steal a bright pink, ten-speed bike.
I run out and rain splatters harshly across my face. My sneakers seep into the mud and squelch loudly as I run across the lawn.
By the time I reach where I'd chained up my ride, my jeans are sopping wet and they squash and pinch as I pull my leg over the seat. I fling my bag behind me to drape down my back and grab my helmet.
As I push the snap into my headgear Alexander walks by, eyeing me questionably; like I'm some sort of pathetic creature. There's definitely judgment in his stare. I could see it clearly written across his face. Maybe he doesn't think I belong here. Poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and now he's stuck with me as his teaching assistant. I'll prove to him I belong here. Without a doubt in my mind, I know I can.
He melts into the crowd of people, pulling out an umbrella, and walks through the sheets of rain, splashing up water with his boots. Just before I watch him cross the north lawn, he glances over his shoulder to look at me, his umbrella whipping madly above his head. His eyes meet mine and he hesitates for a brief moment before vanishing in a blur of watery winds and a smile.
My heart lodges in my throat, pounding hard.