Sunday, July 25, 2010

Excerpt from "A Novel Romance"

Dr. Lionel Pettigrew is the epitome of the absent minded professor. A true genius, he's been a college professor since he was 17. Arista Lockhart doesn't think she's smart, but she takes the job as his research assistant because she's desperate to get out of town after her most recent boyfriend has dumped her for not one, but three women. Their first meeting doesn't go all that well....

Dr. Lionel Pettigrew approached the metal detector with caution, alarm & foreboding. It never failed. He could empty his pockets, divest his person of any kind of metal, and still have the damn thing go off. Why did they need metal detectors in his office building anyway? It was a college campus, for god sake, not a war zone.

He put his personal possessions on the table, laptop and cellphone out. His belt was off, loose pants hanging helplessly from his narrow hips. Keys, change, wallet, even his shoes....

The guard saw him and frowned. Lionel bit back on his diatribe when the man shuffled his feet, mumbling.

“What?” Lionel's voice was somewhat high for a man – a fact he'd lived with since puberty.

“Sunglasses, Dr. P.”

“Oh.” He snatched them off, putting them in the tray.

He walked through the detector. It beeped. Frustrated, he stepped back, held out his arms and waited for them to run the body scanner over him. He'd missed a dime. A stinking dime! Fuming, he passed through the detector again. This time he was clear.

“Need a coin pouch,” the guard said quietly.

“Thanks for the tip.” He handed the guard the offending dime. “Why don't you hold it for me.”

“Sure thing. That and a fiver, I can do lattes at Starbucks.”

A guard with a sarcastic sense of humor. Oh, joy.

Gathering his belongings,Lionel hobbled to the nearest bench and flopped down. He was fuming by this time. He'd already been in and out of the building four times and had at least that many more trips to make. None of his classes were in the same building as his office and today was also chocked full of conferences. He had more of the same for the rest of the week. The department was under review.

“Dr. P.” The guard said politely. He held up Lionel's glasses.

“Thanks. Sorry. It's been a long one.”

“Doc, I know you hate this thing. Makes me feel bad every time you have to come through. It's for your own safety.”

“Yes, I know. Apologies all round. I'm being a stupid donkey.” That was the closest he ever came to swearing in public, though he often indulged in his office.

“Guy's got to be a dumb ass once in awhile or what fun's life, right?”

Lionel smiled, putting away his sunglasses as he tossed his long, straight bangs out of his face. Maybe he'd get a crew cut or shave himself bald like the guard. He never seemed to get around to it, which was why his hair was always too long and getting in the way.

“I'll be back,” he said in a very poor imitation of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He entered the sanctity of his office, sighing happily as he leaned against the closed door. It took a few moments to realize he wasn't alone after all. Someone was sitting in a chair in front of his desk. He stared, mouth agape.

“I let myself in,” she said quietly. “I'm sorry. Your assistant said it was okay.”

“Assistant?”

“The girl out front when I got here. She said you were in a meeting and I should have a seat.”

Jackie – pretending to be his grad assistant again. Wishful thinking on her part. She was an idiot who thought that flaunting her tits would get her through his class.

“Did you need to see me?” He wandered in the general direction of his cluttered desk, setting things in random spots as he passed.

“I'm your new research assistant,” she said quietly. “Arista Lockhart.” She leaned across the desk, her hand extended.

Lionel, whose right hand was still full, handed her the object instead of shaking her hand. Arista gazed at his left shoe with a puzzled frown. He took the shoe, dropping it on the floor beside his desk. He rubbed his hand on the seat of his brown corduroy pants, and took her hand.

“Research assistant? I've got one of those?”

“Don't you?”

“I didn't think so. But they could have given me one and not told me. Or they could have told me....” His voice trailed off uncomfortably. “And your name is?”

“Arista,” she pronounced slowly. “Lockhart.”

“Like the small spikes on grain,” he said with a grin.

“I'm sorry?”

“Your name. The little spikes on wheat – they're called Arista. Or some kinds of insect antennae.... Uh....”

She gave him a very puzzled frown. “If you say so.”

“So, research – um – assistant?” He cleared his throat, frowning.

“Doctor Murphy said it was all arranged. You requested an assistant? I thought the other girl might be.”

“No. She wouldn't know how to go about research. Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Know how to research?”

“Depends on the subject, but yes, I'm fairly proficient. I'm here to learn how to do it better.” A strained smile pasted itself on her lips. “Doctor Murphy had the impression it was imperative that I start immediately.”

“Oh! Oh. I wonder when I requested you.”

“Less than three weeks ago. You walked in, told him you needed a research assistant immediately and left. He got me as fast as he could....”

“Oh. How odd. I wonder what I was thinking?”

“But you do need me?”

“I'm sure I do. I must, if I asked for you.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Pettigrew.”

“Doctor,” he corrected.

“What?”

“Doctor Pettigrew. Not – not Mister. Doctor.”

She tried very hard not to roll her eyes. She almost succeeded. “Right. We need to talk about what my duties are.”

“I'll have to figure that out, Miss... Um....” The scent of her perfume had finally drifted over to his sensitive nostrils. It was sweet, sultry, enticing – a little spicy. He was finding it very hard to concentrate.

“Lockhart. Are you okay? You seem really distracted.”

“I'm fine. Just fine Miss – Miss Lockhart,” he said slowly and deliberately. “I have to figure out what I needed you for, then I can tell you what I want.”

“Are you always like this?”

“Like what?” He gathered up a handful of loose papers, trying to stack them. He failed, scattering them all over the floor.

Miss Lockhart rose, gathering the papers on her side of the desk. Her skirt was short, but not alarmingly so. It was soft, dark chocolate fabric that clung to her hips, flaring at her knees. Her long legs were shapely, encased in some sort of patterned tights. Her top was a rich, rose pink with a high neck and long sleeves. A matching brown jacket was draped over the back of her chair.

Lionel took all this in as she picked up papers. He fumbled awhile with those on his side of the desk, wondering who she was and where she came from.

“I bet if you told me what projects you're working on, we could figure out what you need me for.” Her voice was slightly muffled because she faced away from him, still picking up his papers.

She grabbed the last page from the floor. Straightening up, she went through them, putting them in order. Fortunately, they seemed to be numbered. Lionel didn't realize he was staring until her eyes met his with an unnerving, withering glare.

“They match your skirt,” he babbled, not realizing he'd said it aloud.

“Excuse me?”

“Your – um – your eyes.” He cleared his throat again. “Match.” He waved his hand between his eyes and his pants, indicating they matched her skirt.

She cut her eyes at him suspiciously. What's with this guy? Is he retarded or what?

“Your project,” she said patiently.

“I – I'm between projects at the – at the moment.” Dammit! He thought he'd conquered that stammer. Indulging in mental profanity, he cleared his throat again.

“Oh! I remembered!” He rushed to his desk, slopping coffee. He set it on the corner of his desk as he went through a pile of papers, mumbling to himself. “It's here somewhere. Little paper, yellow.”

Arista watched him dig as she found paper towels and cleaned up his coffee trail.

“Ah ha!” He held up a small piece of paper, pink, that was stuck to a sticky note, yellow. “This is why I need you.” He handed her the paper.

Arista took the paper with curiosity. His handwriting was small, cramped, precise and impossible to read. It took a moment to realize that was because it was in a language she didn't know.

“I don't understand.”

“Oh.... No, of course not. Sorry.” He took it from her, frowning. “It's in Norwegian?”

“You need it translated? I could run it by the foreign language department.”

“No. I know what it says. I just forgot. Now why would that be important?” He tapped the paper against his lips, frowning.

He was so absorbed in his thoughts, he completely forgot Arista. She wiped his coffee cup, setting it back down near his hand. He took a sip and sat, staring into space, still tapping and muttering. She took a seat, watching him.

He's either brilliant or retarded. Whatever, he's gorgeous!

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