Forrester watched from his hiding place under the wreckage and smell of melted iron. He waited. Sweat slid into his eye. He heard a child whimper.
A man speaking harsh words in Arabic directed someone to walk forward. A small girl crept around the corner. She looked only five. But Forrester didn’t have a handle on children’s ages. He had no children. He had no wife. He had no home. Even if he made it back to America, no one now waited. His mother and father reached middle age before their only child arrived. Last year, they both died in a car accident. And now Forrester’s best friend lay dead in the corner under this rubble called Iraq.
A black-robed man appeared at the entrance, pushing the whimpering child. Forrester clenched his fist. He waited. He eased his radio to silence. The sound might signal his location.
Patience—he knew he needed to practice it—but he heard more Arabic words from other voices.
The roar of aircraft engines sounded in the distance. It identified the planes he called in.
Now other black cloaks scurried in front of Forrester’s hazy vision. They followed their leader into this smoking tomb.
He pieced together the words he knew. The Arab ordered the little girl to go to the market. Forrester frowned. Bombs he called in might hit her. Surely the leader knew the planes came for him. The girl needed to stay here away from the explosions. But she scampered from the enclosure, no longer whimpering.
The black robes grew in number. Forrester smoothed the side of his machine gun. He focused his sights, broadening his range to target the entire group.
Rapid pitter-patters of small feet made Forrester pause. The little girl raced back into the enclosure, and the leader reacted with a violent scream.
“Go back!” The commander yelled in Arabic. By the leader’s reaction, Forrester suspected the small child carried bombs, and Forrester’s anger took precedence over common sense. He lunged out of the makeshift grave. With his heavy machine gun strapped over one shoulder and his pistol pointed at the leader, he stepped through the wreckage. The group turned in wide-eyed confusion toward the noise of moving rubble.
Forrester yelled in broken Arabic, “Remove the bombs.”
His enemies stepped as one body toward him and then paused. Through the smoke and dust, they recognized the weapon hanging from his shoulder. It pointed in its sweep directly at them. The black-robed leader reached for a remote activator.
“Allahu Ak….” The war cry stopped at the blast of Forrester’s pistol. The Arab looked down at the smashed remote, covered with his own blood.
Stepping over the ruins, Forrester spoke to the child in Arabic. “Come to me.”
The child looked horrified, but she came.
Forrester motioned with his pistol at the closest terrorist. “Unstrap the child.” But he continued the wide sweep of the machine gun as the bombs on the child’s back fell to the dirt floor.
When the little girl stepped away from the burden, Forrester spoke to her again in her language. “Run away from the planes, understand?”
Her wide eyes blinked up at him in relief. Then she turned and ran from the ruins, away from the noise of exploding bombs. A knife came barreling through the air. Forrester ducked. A hidden rifle appeared. Forrester fired, and the man crashed backward as he pushed others behind him. The black robes surged for Forrester.
With the child safe, Forrester placed his finger on the trigger stepping back as he faced them with each sweep of the machine gun. He leveled terrorists in their dash for him. The Arabic leader grabbed a fallen rifle and pointed it at the bombs. Forrester jumped behind a crumbled wall propped up by dismantled tank wreckage.
“Allahu Akbar!” The ground rocked beneath Forrester as he hit the dirt and debris flew overhead.
“Mr. Forrester, Mr. Forrester?”
Marine Captain Forrester pulled out of the ten-year-old memory. As a sergeant, he had not relived that day in a long time. His men cleared Iraq. But now ISIS ruled in the Middle East. He turned his attention to this new threat—the world of higher learning, professors, tests—and the questionable safety of this large American city, New York. It held too many mosques where men trained followers in Jihad and implemented Sharia law.
He looked at the slender professor now calling his name. Clear skin, black hair, and snapping angry-black eyes. He could fall in love with those eyes.
“Yes, Professor Zayas, could I hear your question one more time?” The younger college students snickered. The professor already asked the question three times.
Professor Maria Zayas sat behind her desk. She eyed the handsome Marine with his clear aqua eyes, black hair, and striking looks. He held the room captive. The uniform required by the cadre of the Reserve Officer Training Corps meant he already held a degree. He served as ROTC staff. Maria wondered why this cadre member enrolled in her freshman speech class. Since his arrival two weeks ago at the start of the fall semester, Maria resented her own appreciation of his vocabulary and the way he pronounced each word. She guessed her grudge rested in the fact she would have a much easier semester if her other students held to the same proper English.
However, he already proved trouble. His presence ensured the young women learned nothing about public speaking. And the young men hung onto every word he spoke as though by his uniform it made it law. Maria wondered about his rank. She knew some military ranks held the same nomenclature as the police force. Her Dad, a police investigator, met his death just months before, shot in an open fire on these streets of New York.
“Well, Mister Forrester, I will ask for the fourth time. What type of speeches do you like to give? Persuasive? Informative?” She nodded toward his rank. “I haven’t asked before, but do I call you Mister Forrester?”
“Captain Forrester, Ma’am.”
His title, ‘Ma’am’, made her cringe. This year heralded her thirtieth birthday. She was not getting any younger.
While ma’am was a show of respect, and while this man always exhibited the manners of a proper gentleman, something about him radiated danger. Maria stood up from her desk. “Captain? All right, Captain Forrester, please don’t call me ma’am, it makes me feel like I’m my mother.”
The class chuckled. Forrester’s expression remained passive, not commenting. Maria guessed his age was around her own and his title for her disturbed her. She felt annoyed that his presence disrupted her classroom procedures, his comments on politics plagued her, and his back-row seat ensured the young females dropped an item or two to get his attention.
The girls appreciated a handsome man in uniform much more than training for public speaking. His presence in that far corner also reminded Maria, as she looked high over his head, that the university ignored her work order to remove those unsightly and no longer useful water pipes protruding en masse from the ceiling. The administration’s negligence in remodeling her classroom proved her complaint. Her classroom esthetics sat last in priorities against the technology division’s space allocations.
She continued. “And I see you want to debate the cause of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.” Maria frowned as she held up Captain Forrester’s paper. She placed it far away from her. She hated guns. “That is an old argument, Captain.” Maria disagreed with the right to carry weapons. And she knew this Marine carried a pistol under his jacket. She discovered the concealed weapon last week when someone slammed her against him in a crowded elevator and there she felt hard steel against her softness. “We do not need guns carried about anywhere.” She eyed him with a raised eyebrow.
Forrester remained silent. She turned away from the class to move the lectern. He watched her thick black hair swing down her back from its tight hold by a clip at her nape. Its dark length dusted her tan jacket to her waist.
Maria turned. “We have three presenters today, so let’s get started. Jared? You ready?”
Jared rose from his desk and stood behind the lectern. “Today my speech is on jihadist warfare.” He introduced his topic.
Maria withheld the urge to roll her eyes. These students possessed the right to discuss any topic they chose. However, she considered the silent Captain Forrester sitting innocently on the back row, deliberately influenced most of the young men in her class to focus on the Middle East. And now one of her top students also appeared persuaded to join the attention on jihadist warfare.
Her silent annoyance turned to anger. While the young women in her class acted fascinated with Captain Forrester’s uniform, the young men listened much too closely when he spoke. She didn’t like this fixation on Captain Forrester. She knew the love for icons led to a broken heart. The image of her father in a full police uniform appeared in her mind’s eye. Now all she and her mother held were memories of him. He was gone because of a gun.
And now, this was the sixth speech over the Middle East. Because of her students’ focus on warfare the past two weeks, Maria considered herself a master on jihad and Sharia Law—a reluctant expert. She heaved a slow sigh of resignation, attempting to hide her frustration. She hoped for a lighter topic from Jared, maybe muddling through the continued Obama Care laughable affordability falsehoods if it came back in. But she received no such mercy—a terrorist topic—again.
Jared continued. “Americans have seen ISIS as an enemy; we have fought this enemy, and we know how to defeat it. The names this enemy uses are many: al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas. And then, of course, ISIS, or some call ISIL. This is only a few of the names they use.”
A girl’s shrill voice interrupted from the doorway, “You can’t say that all these groups are terrorists.” She wore the standard burka of a female Muslim, but she spoke with an American accent. Certain students wore this type of dress, but not black like this, and not with an American accent.
Maria paused, but she could not identify the new student. She didn’t recognize this girl who covered half her face.
“Please don’t disrupt the class. Your name, Miss….” Maria waited for the girl to supply her name. She didn’t. Several seconds ticked by.
Maria frowned. “Miss, are you enrolled in this class?”
“No, I am not enrolled in this stupid class. I am only observing the lies your students place upon the Muslim religion. I am going to turn a complaint into the university administration.”
Maria paused, not wanting to embarrass the girl but seeing no other choice.
“The speaker has not mentioned the word Muslim in this introduction. You need to listen. He mentioned known terrorist groups who identify themselves as Islamic. They claim they are Muslim. Every label cited by the speaker is a known Islamic terrorist group. Again, I say, he did not mention the word Muslim. Are you identifying the different sects of the Islamic world as one entity—the terrorists versus those who worship in peace and support legal sanctions against terrorism?”
The girl snorted in disdain. “You play with words. This ridiculous class brain-washes students into blaming the peaceful Muslim religion for promoting terrorism.”
Maria sighed. This girl would be argumentative. “You are disrupting my class. You must leave, Miss.”
Instead, the girl walked to the middle of the room. She stood. Maria scowled at the rude woman and spoke with patience she didn’t feel. “Do I have to call campus security?”
The robed woman fidgeted with something under her abaya. Her quick, furtive movements frightened Maria. She remained calm, but inside she felt compelled to yell, Get down! However, she kept her unruffled façade, restraining her overwhelming rush of panic. She attempted a furtive glance toward Captain Forrester’s seat. His chair sat empty. Maria scanned the room. She had not seen him leave. His absence lit her panic even more.
Down the hall, the rapid tap of boots raced toward her classroom.
Two campus security guards barreled in. Maria searched the students again for Captain Forrester. No trace.
Who called the campus police?
The two men looked relieved to see only one lone woman. They approached her.
One officer nodded toward her. “Ma’am, could you please come with us?” As they turned to escort the heavily clad person out, she turned back toward the classroom with a gun.
“Get down!” Captain Forrester yelled from the ceiling.
The class collapsed like a wave into a flat position as they recognized the voice. Jared’s weight pushed Maria clumsily to the floor as he covered her. Two shots sounded. A woman yelped. Metal bounced against the cement.
The students searched upward. Captain Forrester lay parallel to the ceiling, prone on the mass of water pipes protruding out of the wall. His pistol targeted the woman.
Maria pushed herself up to check on Captain Forrester as he sat high in the corner. The basketball team always hung from those pipes. But this was ridiculous. His pistol still pointed at the woman while she stood with a bloodied hand. The gun lay on the floor. The two security guards, who scattered for cover at Forrester’s warning, jumped up and grabbed the stunned woman’s arms. It caused an awkward struggle.
Jared still lay over Maria. She scooted farther out from under him and looked around the room at the awe-struck students.
She took a trembling breath. “Is anyone hurt?” No one responded. “If not, then please rise and move out quickly. I hope to meet next week.” The class cautiously rose and then scattered to the door.
The siren blast in the distance signaled the downtown police were on their way.
Jared jumped up and helped Maria before he turned for the door. “Thanks, Captain.” He nodded as he looked up at Captain Forrester sitting on pipes. Others followed him and acknowledged the same.
The woman in black screamed. “You will not be thanking the Captain too long, you Islamophobes. After we finish here, you will be very sorry! Your Captain has tried to cripple me. You will regret this!”
Maria eyed her. The campus police continued to struggle with the woman as they scowled at each other. They looked as though they didn’t know what to do with the irate screamer. A group of city police officers raced in. One waved and said. “We’re the bomb squad. Please leave the room.”
“Bomb Squad?” Maria gasped.
After being searched, the burka-clad woman, led by two officers, bellowed louder and struggled down the hall. Maria followed the terrorist to the door and stood in the hallway with Captain Forrester. The trembling in her legs grew more intense. She took a deep breath to calm herself. She mustn’t embarrass herself. But she wouldn’t be able to make it out of the building with these shaky legs.
She turned and looked up at the Captain. “I need to stay here for a while. You go on.”
“It’s not safe. They’re still dismantling the bomb.” He didn’t budge. For some vague reason, his decision made Maria feel safer. Her eyes followed his. He looked toward the end of the hall to see the police still struggling with the woman. They stepped down the stairs and disappeared. But the woman’s screams continued to echo.
Maria leaned against the wall for support. The Captain seemed to understand. He guided her weight gently to a seated position, and then he sat beside her. For several moments, while her hands shook out of control, she remained seated. The captain looked straight ahead at the opposing wall and never spoke.
Finally, upset with her continuous trembling, she looked at him in frustration. “Why don’t you leave, Captain Forrester?”
“You won’t get your balance until the shaking stops.”
“Whew!” The exclamation came from the room her class vacated. Evidently, the bomb squad found something. Maria was glad none of her students could see her now, sitting on the hallway floor, quaking.
“Why aren’t you shaking, Captain?” She asked, envious of Forrester’s calm.
“Shake?” A slight lift of his lips reminded her he never smiled. “You can’t see me shake, Professor. It comes with practice. It will pass. Hopefully, everyone will get out of this alive.” He nodded. “Now, stand up. We’re getting out of here. You need one of those French vanilla lattes you order all the time.”
Maria looked at him quizzically, but his comment distracted her from her fearful shaking. He helped her up. She didn’t remember ordering any lattes in front of him.
“How do you know I like French vanilla lattes?”
“Professor, you’ve been my assignment for the past sixty days. We’ve known of a terrorist cell here since your father uncovered it. The girl today was a local recruit. They were coming after you because your father uncovered terrorist training in their mosque.”
“A local recruit? My father?”
She followed his line of sight as he looked ahead toward the staircase. “French vanilla lattes, that’s the first thing I noticed. But the professor that went with them?” He looked down at her with those aqua eyes. “I wanted to find out about you. Do you think we can drink a coffee together? I don’t think I can take any of those lattes.”
Maria liked the calm ocean blue of his eyes right now, much different from the cold blue-steel as he held a gun. She tried not to smile, but a small tug of excitement forced her lips into a curve. The unfamiliar feeling overwhelmed her. This had long been secondary to work, classes, books, and students. She hoped he wouldn’t guess the rapid increase of her pulse.
“Captain Forrester, I’ll let you humor me this once. And you need to withdraw from my class, anyway. I think my female students will make much better scores on their presentations.”
The Captain frowned. “I hope you don’t think my presence disrupted your classroom.”
Maria paused at his oblivion to all the hero worship.
She had to clarify. “Captain Forrester, a handsome man in uniform. A Marine. Someone who now has saved the lives of an entire classroom, maybe an entire building filled with students?” She took a deep breath. “Yes, your continued presence will be an absolute disruption.”
He frowned at her compliment, which came as a criticism. “It could have been a lot more than disruptive, Ma’am.” He remained dead serious.
Maria straightened at his light rebuke. “Well . . . yes, you are right, Captain. And thank you for your presence and your . . .” Maria swallowed hard at her next admission. “. . . gun.”
Regardless of her opinion on guns, the day’s outcome could have been much different without his presence with the weapon.
Maria tried for a lighter note, “I might even accept the title of Ma’am if I’m not mistaken for my mother.” She restated her earlier complaint.
Forrester placed his forearm out for her to accept. She paused in confusion, but then tentatively took his arm. She didn’t know how to react. This would only be a one-time invitation. Then the beautiful young females who filled the campus would divert his interest. Her doubts about her wisdom in accepting a coffee with this man made her take a deep breath against her decision. She felt like a foolish girl dropping pencils to get his attention.
He looked down at her with that brief smile she glimpsed earlier. “I won’t get confused, Ma’am.”
From the aura that surrounded her, she felt more confused.
“This is it, Professor Zayas,” Captain Forrester gestured toward the sidewalk café. Tables sat at random under enormous umbrellas. “It’s the one you described.”
“Yes.” Maria nodded.
She looked at the bright array of covered tables. The students’ animated conversations echoed louder off the sidewalk than usual, probably the result of the terrorist attack. His arm ushered her decidedly in the direction he required. He guided her to her chair, stepping among the seated group. They quieted. The students eyed the couple as they found their table. Maria perched on the edge of a bistro chair. She took a deep breath. “See, I told you. Now we’ve interfered with their conversations.”
The undergraduates’ voices started again, but lower as they glanced at the newcomers and stared while the captain and Maria settled.
“The Student Square is the nearest facility to get a cup of coffee.” Forrester took a seat.
“I guess I didn’t think we would sit here once we ordered. I don’t even know if they wait tables out here.” Maria looked at the captain.
He nodded. “They do. I was sitting at this table when I first saw you order your latte at that counter.” He pointed inside. “But you never sit down in there or out here.”
“So, you’ve noticed in this assignment of yours?” She shrugged. “No, this is where the kids like to talk. I don’t want to interfere with their discussions.”
“It might do you good to see what they’re interested in.”
The breeze brushed a loose strand of her hair across her face. She smoothed it back, unclipping her barrette and refastening it to tie down her mane. She gave its clasp a tweak to ensure the clip sat straight. Taking a deep breath and recalling the recent threat to her classroom, the same blistering fury she felt at the terrorist’s interference rose within her.
“You said they assigned you to my case. Who assigned you?”
He frowned. “You sound angry, Professor. What’s wrong?”
She stiffened. “I want to find out why I wasn’t told before this happened.”
“I was assigned to you as a favor. It was none of my bosses. One of my friends back in Oklahoma gave me the warning. He’s dealing with those coming over the border.”
“Your friend in Oklahoma knew about this . . . this cell, as you call it? And no one here knew about it? Who is this friend?” Her lack of knowledge of who assigned the captain to her room nagged at her. Swallowing the sudden misgivings that assaulted her, she took another ragged breath. Although overwhelmed by thoughts of her helplessness in this recent fiasco, the captain’s attitude implied more interference than any college professor should expect. She continued. “My students are now safe. They caught the perpetrator.”
Forrester nodded, but he looked skeptical. “I know you do not want me to continue in your classroom. I don’t think your students are awed by my presence as you complain. You’re an excellent teacher, so they want to present a speech of substance instead of speaking about what color looks good on the latest movie star. I think it’s a little early for me to leave your class, since the threat may still exist.”
Maria looked away, worrying about his presence. It would not do for Forrester to loiter around. If he did, the girls would not attend to their studies. The boys would research another reason the U.S. should locate another war. Hadn’t she witnessed this for the two weeks of his stay? She took another breath with a worried frown.
The young and pretty waitress rushed to the captain’s side. “I’ll bring you coffee as you like it, black. Is that right, James?”
“Yes.” Then he nodded toward Maria. “The professor wants a French vanilla latte. Is that right, Professor?”
“Thank you. Yes, I would like that.”
The waitress left, leaving Maria to explain her previous concern, but still she questioned, “She calls you James? You must come here often.” She shrugged. “You know you could probably visit my class once or twice at most just to check on our safety. The danger no longer exists.” When he gave no response, she wondered. “It doesn’t, does it?”
“As you said, that’s reasonable to assume. But we know this cell always provides another trainee for terrorism.”
His words heralded trouble. “It’s the university administration, isn’t it? The students’ parents will ask questions. You said the terrorist was after me because my dad uncovered their training. If these kids come under another terrorist attack, I will be at fault for continuing classes.” Maria’s voice rose.
He gave no acknowledgment. She felt flustered and turned toward the artwork on the walls—a habit she developed to think of other things when upset. She recognized several portraits as having won recognition by the art teacher, Pierre Talton. His room, down the hall, matched hers with the same ancient water pipes protruding from the ceiling and no remodeling scheduled.
Somehow, the coffee shop’s pale wall along the sidewalk set off the paintings nicely. She finally gave the tables and chairs a closer analysis. The bistro sets appeared elegant.
Her observations did not last long before the captain greeted the returning waitress. She set the coffee and latte on the table. Maria looked up to see the captain frowning at her. He spoke when she made eye contact. “Professor Zayas, I’m glad you came with me for coffee. While the threat is gone, it’s too early to stop surveillance. Just relax. They hurt no one today. So, we’ll go from there. Time will tell.”
Somehow, she knew he would say that. She didn’t like it.
He sat with one fine boot forward and his arms supported on the table. He looked to be a noble warrior if she cared about such things, which she did not. She admitted he appeared even more handsome today.
“This is the time I usually have my afternoon coffee.” He narrowed his eyes on her untouched latte. “Please take a drink with me.”
She had much to say to this man, and intended to speak quite firmly, but she hoped to avoid a fuss. She held her tongue as the waitress rushed back asking if they needed anything else. Finally, Maria picked up her cup. While she sipped, the captain continued. “As I said, I am pleased you are here. Today ended well compared to what it could have.”
“But now that’s behind us. We need no more surveillance.”
“You think I’m an interference to your classroom.”
Thoughts raced through Maria’s mind. The young men always get distracted by you. And the young women. . .
Forrester continued, “. . . but there is no reason for us to be adversaries. You appear to be a sensible woman, and I am sure we can cooperate instead of arguing about my presence in your classroom.”
Maria’s rage flamed higher. “I am flattered you perceived some sensibility. That is rare praise, I am sure.”
“Not so rare. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. There are men who think the two things never go together, women and rational thought, but I am not one of them.”
“How enlightened of you. However, I accepted your invitation for a latte today only because of your protection from a terrorist. I thank you, sincerely, Captain. But you need to leave my classroom.”
“I could remain in the back seat, unnoticed. I will take care of everything involved.”
“I did not come with you to discuss your disposition of my classroom, Captain Forrester. With the perpetrator jailed, there is no need. Your presence is out of the question.”
He looked away, as exasperation flickered in his eyes. His attention returned to her. While a slight lift at the corner of his lips revealed itself today, a tight smile formed on a face turned less cordial. “Then you don’t think I can help you, Professor Zayas, as a man to a woman?” He narrowed his gaze on her, as if he were truly interested in her as a woman, not as a professor.
She could not dispel the notion as he waited to see his question fluster her. He remained watching as if her reaction might give him some success. She managed not to reveal her surprise. However, she reacted to his insinuation and gaze, not with the indignation warranted. And instead of disgust or anger, a peculiar emotion affected her. A thrilling sparkle spiraled through her body, fluttering and stirring her.
Unseen sensations danced on her skin. Laughter bubbled silently inside. The taste of forbidden pleasure might feel like this if she ever fell in love. She knew her own femininity conspired against her by making her susceptible to this man, at this time, in that way.
How unbelievably unfair. She reminded herself that Forrester was like any man. A one-night stand. Perhaps he sought a victory as in war. Since her youth, she watched it—always from a distance. After witnessing the destruction of others, she chose not to taste it. She held her career as a university professor of English. However, this man unsettled her equilibrium. She sought refuge in her anger but felt incapable of summoning its full force again, or of obliterating the new, troubling awareness she had of Forrester’s masculinity. She realized now why she herself was so aware of him in her classroom. It suffused the air between them and made her nervous.
“I will speak to the administration and check what they say.” She made her voice as clipped and steady as she could. “Surely you visited with them before placing yourself in my class?”
He calmly drank some coffee, then assumed a cool expression. “Yes, I did. And I have just proven why I needed to be in your class. There were no misconceptions about the situation, as I described it to them. I could not allow terrorists to send their recruits when I had it on very good intel. There was a risk.”
“Then why wasn’t I informed?”
“So, that’s what you’re angry about?”
“I am not angry.” Maria’s words came out in a scathing whisper.
“That’s why the administration didn’t want to tell you.”
“They knew you would have none of it unless it proved a real threat.”
“Is that what they said?”
“They knew you, didn’t they? And now I see even after the threat has been verified, you still don’t want to continue with surveillance.”
Was he scolding her? Worse, he thought he had the right. “Captain Forrester, I came with you to explain I do not need or welcome your interference in my classroom, only to learn there’s an entire army of those who interfered. It feels like they have observed me in the distance for the crime of wanting to be in control of my classroom without interference.”
“No. They considered it no crime, but your disbelief as to the threat is only weak judgment.”
She took a deep breath, ignoring his probe to push her anger. “Forgive me for speaking, but—”
“If I don’t forgive you, will I be relieved from hearing it? I didn’t think so.” He sighed with patience. “Continue.”
His arrogance amazed her. But she remained seated to speak the reason she sat here in this very public area, which she never trespassed before. “Captain Forrester, do not help me. Your meddling needs to stop. Your presence in the back of my room is not invisible. You disrupt my class. I have survived as a professor here for years . . .”
“Yes, ten years. And you’re fortunate you might have another year.”
He spoke like the captain he was, without the slightest note of apology or hesitation. Her mind formed blistering criticism of his manner. His commanding presence and superior conviction amazed another side of her, the foolish feminine side giving her unexpected trouble today.
A slow, devastating smile appeared on his remarkably handsome face. It was a blinding one that seemed deliberate to enchant the foolish Maria and placate the furious one. He seemed aware both existed and were at odds right now.
To her surprise, that grin captivated her in ways she could not prevent. The scraps of her anger slipped out of her grasp. She found it hard to look away.
“I do not require any welcome from you, Professor Zayas. I am not a sensitive man,” he explained, cajoling her to see the sense of it. “I will merely be discreet in your classroom as you practice your art—speech. And as I practice my art—defense. There should not be any reasons the students learn about the possibility of a continued threat—specifically against you or the reason your presence might have caused this attack today. He smiled again. “I am sure you understand.”
Entranced by the the intimacy of their face to face nearness and how delicious her physical responses were, she bluffed a frown, an attempt at irritation. She should experience that instead of this foolish, pleasant stimulation that prickled in her.
She stood up from the table to escape before she revealed how a hidden part of her lost all claim to fortitude or common sense.
“Good day to you, Captain Forrester. Thank you for the latte.”
The captain stood, towering by his height. “But you’re not finished.” He nodded toward her latte. “You didn’t like your drink?”
The students’ chatter stopped. Maria felt as though she stood on a stage. His stance directed all eyes at the handsome couple. Maria took a deep breath hoping she hid her confusion with the captain about his continued protection. She reached for the drink and picked it up as she placed a practiced smile on her lips, the one she wore to hide. “Of course, I liked it, Captain Forrester. I have to finish some things at my office.”
“James, call me James. Why do you have to rush?”
She took another deep breath to calm herself, not wanting to make a scene. She sipped her latte. “I’ve got to get back to my office. School may have been called off today.” She shrugged. “But there’s always tomorrow.”
He nodded. “Of course, I’ll escort you back.” To Maria’s dismay, he picked up his coffee. “Let’s walk.”
To remove herself from the stage, Maria complied.
The journey across campus felt pleasant in its comfortable silence of autumn’s falling leaves. She felt relieved the man who walked beside her gave no voice in this peaceful path. Maria reached her workplace with the captain.
Forrester broke the quiet. “I hope I’ve made my view clear. My position will be at your side and in your classroom.”
Coming. This story should be available online soon.