Book 1 in the Close Quarters Series
A Holiday Romance from bestselling and award-winning authors all about the games people play when they are trapped with someone(s) sexy for the holidays…
HIS FOR THE HOLIDAY
Jonah Sparks’ crush on Cameron Meade, everyone’s favorite professor, lasted through graduate school. Years later and no longer a student, Jonah is back and still drawn to the mysterious recluse who lights up a classroom with his lectures. With the help of a meddling friend, a secluded cabin and some holiday cheer, these colleagues might finally make the move from hot for each other to can’t live without each other.
**In celebration of the holidays, a portion of proceeds will be donated to No Kid Hungry.**
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is Book 1 in the Close Quarters Series
- Book 1: Reindeer Games
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Close Quarters Series
The dark tousled hair. The way his face lit up as he talked. Those long legs that pushed his height past six-three. And that voice, all husky and low. Cameron Meade – make that Cameron Meade, PhD – lectured about straightforward topics like the Founding Fathers and the Federalist Papers with an intensity that had the classroom holding its collective breath, waiting for more.
The sexy professor commanded attention without even trying. He possessed many skills and an impressive list of credentials. He’d published a book that in anyone else’s hands might have come off as a dry regurgitation of the creation of the Constitution, but in his it read like a great suspense novel. But his true superpower came in convincing a bunch of college students to wake up, get dressed and get to the classroom by nine on Monday morning to talk about U.S. history. Some even sat in while on the waitlist, hoping to get the privilege of a permanent slot.
Students at the prestigious Hamilton University nicknamed him Professor Hottie and the description stuck. Blame the athletic build and sculpted arms outlined under his dress shirts, or the combination of black hair, bright blues eyes and a firm chin covered with a bit of dark scruff, but the guy drew attention.
Very few saw him outside of the classroom. He wasn’t the life-of-the-party type. He didn’t socialize with students or show up at campus events. He was shy – painfully so – when he wasn’t teaching, and that only added to the mystery that grew up around him.
He’d ended up at Hamilton, a university in the heart of Washington, D.C. near the infamous Watergate Hotel, known for its history and political science programs. A parade of real-life political celebrities taught there, but none captivated an audience, undergraduate or graduate level, like Cam Meade. When he spoke about history, about the political wrangling that built the country, his eyes lit up and his voice thundered with emotion. He dragged his students back in time with him and made them care.
Jonah Sparks watched now from the last row of the packed theater-style lecture hall. He’d slipped in and snagged the only empty seat left. The one by the door, which was good in case he needed to pull off a speedy exit.
Today he sat in on an entry-level undergraduate course. As a graduate student in the University’s School of Public Affairs, Jonah ran into Professor Meade often, but he didn’t belong in this class. He’d stopped in to drop off a file. The plan had been to hand off the paperwork then get out, but one look at the professor down on the floor, reading through his notes as students filed into their seats, and Jonah had no choice but to stay.
Ten minutes later, both the lecture and the way the professor moved sucked Jonah in. And this wasn’t the first time. Professor Meade talked and Jonah listened. Hell, the man coughed and Jonah had to fight the urge to come running with a tissue. The crush was that big.
Forty minutes later, as the lecture wound down and the professor called on one student then another, Jonah thought about bolting, but he was in deep now. His gaze had locked with the professor’s more than once as he talked, as others talked. Then the class ended and noise broke out in the hall. Chairs squeaking. Students getting up. The low level of semi-controlled chaos hid Jonah’s waiting and staring.
He stood up to let a few people out of the row and into the aisle, but he didn’t move closer to the lectern. Not yet. Not while he had this brief opportunity to watch the man who haunted his dreams from the second they’d met. The way he touched his finger against the bridge of his nose when a few students shouted their goodbyes on the way out of the room. The way he shuffled the notes in front of him, the same ones he never looked at while lecturing.
When Jonah’s gaze focused again, he found Cam – because that’s how he thought about the professor in the privacy of his own head – staring back at him. After a few seconds of standing there, Cam lifted his hand and crooked his finger for Jonah to come closer.
Heat shot through Jonah. He remembered one dream that started exactlylike this and ended with clothes all over Cam’s office floor.
He cleared his throat, hoping to calm the kicking in his gut as he walked down the steps to the dais. He refused to look eager even though his muscles screamed for him to jog.
It was one of those odd male greeting rituals. They identified each other but said little more. For some reason, Jonah believed the awkward attempt at conversation fit here.
A slight smile flashed across Cam’s mouth then disappeared again. “Have you decided to repeat undergrad?”
That voice. “What?”
Cam sighed. “Why are you in my introductory class today?”
“Oh, right.” The man made Jonah forget every rational thought.
Cam’s eyebrow lifted. “And the answer is?”
Jonah let his gaze linger over Cam’s mouth, just for a second, before turning to those sexy eyes.
“Professor Radford wanted you to have this.” Jonah held out the file he forgot about until that moment and accidentally shoved it into Cam’s stomach. So smooth. “Here.”
He’d tried for a mix of cool and deliberate but missed the mark. With other guys he could pull off the perfect pick-up line and hold up his side of a conversation. Enter into an easy back-and-forth. Near Cam his abilities sputtered. Every attempt to show he was interested failed. Cam either didn’t notice or didn’t care. It was embarrassing, really.
“She asked you to deliver this to me?” he asked.
Jonah sensed he’d missed something. Sensed and then ignored because he needed to go. Professor Radford expected him back fifty minutes ago. “Yes.”
“Huh.” Cam looked down as he paged through the file. “Interesting.”
Jonah tried not to notice Cam’s hands…or how good he smelled. He blocked all of it. “Did you need me to tell her anything?”
Cam’s head shot up. “Who?”
It was as if they were having two different conversations. “Professor Radford?”
“Oh.” Cam blinked a few times. “No, we’re good.”
The word was an understatement. Cam overshot “good” and headed straight for the irresistible end of the hotness scale, but Jonah decided not to correct the mistake. “I guess I should go.”
Cam continued to stand there. “Okay.”
If only Jonah could get his feet to move.
So much for being detached.
“Catch you later.” One quick turn then he jogged up the steps to the back door of the small auditorium. With every thump of his foot, three annoying words echoed in his head.
Catch you later.
Yeah, definitely not smooth.
Hours later, Cam headed off campus. It was time for his weekly lunch date with his best friend, political science professor, Willa Radford. She was brilliant, funny and outspoken. Being a black woman in a field filled with old white men not half as smart as she was meant she had to fight three times as hard for every scrap of respect. Be better, work harder. Publish more. Snag television spots on news shows to get her name out there.
He’d admired her take-no-shit attitude from the start. They worked in the same building but in different departments. Their personalities could not have been more different. She loved to meet with students, hold chats, be out there.
He valued privacy. Outside the classroom, he fumbled when it came to communication. He was not built for parties. He dreaded mingling with most of his colleagues. He’d rather tear his own skin off than go to a department event or any social gatherings that consisted of more than two or three people, all handpicked by him. He liked Willa and her family. Other than that, he was fine alone. Happier that way.
But he did enjoy their set lunches. On the agenda today – the usual griping that accompanied the start of classes, including the dissection of their respective department heads’ “welcome back” emails. Willa’s stories usually won the day because the head of her department was a former undersecretary of something who knew about White House politics but had zero understanding of how a university or twenty-somethings worked.
As of this morning, Cam had an additional issue to discuss. He slid into the booth at the hamburger place and stared at the woman in front of him. Stunning with very short black hair and a side cut. She wore a blazer because she was always cold, even with the District’s clinging humidity.
Not one to circle a topic, Cam dropped the folder on the table between them. “Want to explain this?”
Willa peeked over the top of her menu. She even moved her glasses down further to the tip of her nose. “Looks like a file of some sort.”
Nice try.“It’s the one I gave you yesterday. At your request, I might add.”
He refused to get thrown off topic by the fake confusion in her voice. “For some reason you had Jonah, your graduate assistant, come to my lecture and hand it back to me.”
She dropped the menu against the table top with a thwak.
“Actually…” She made a scene of taking off her glasses and setting them on the table. “I told him to take it to your office.”
That explained exactly nothing. “Why?”
She didn’t look away or hesitate. No, not Willa. She dove right in as if she’d been dying to say the words all day. “I thought you might open up if the two of you were alone. Maybe talk about something other than the Constitution, though it is cute to hear you bicker about the meaning behind the words, using the historical documents as evidence for your respective positions.”
“I’m right. It is my job to know these things.”
She frowned. “Is that my point?”
The truth hit him. The hints she kept dropping. Throwing Jonah in his path.
He dropped back to lounge against the booth. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Right now?” She glanced at the menu. “Trying to figure out why someone would want an egg on their hamburger.”
“I mean the matchmaking.” It felt odd to even say the word.
“Oh, that.” She pretended to scan the menu. “Yes, that’s happening.”
“You’re not even going to deny it?”
She shrugged. “Why bother?”
“Why do it at all? That’s the real question.”
“Oh, honey. Please.”
The waitress signaled that she would get to their table in a second. The other diners, a mix of business types in dark suits and students weighed down by backpacks and attached to their phones, filled the bustling room. There were a few empty seats in the corner but the place buzzed with activity. Conversation melting into a steady thrum around them.
He didn’t let the clank of silverware or bursts of laughter throw him off. He wasn’t ready to drop this. “Willa.”
Yeah, that was annoying. “I’m serious.”
“You’re gay. He’s gay.”
“Lots of people are gay.”
“You’re both single and attractive.” She stared him down. “And I’m tired of watching you get all heart eyes when you look at him.”
“Blame the students. They use that phrase all the time.” She waved her hand in the air. “But the point is you have the hots for my assistant.”
“You do. You stare at him. He stares at you. You look ready to climb all over each other when you’re in a room together but never actually take the plunge, which is sad.” She let out a long exhale. “The sexual tension is suffocating. It’s enough to make me think about taking up smoking again. I haven’t but I might if you two don’t get together soon.”
“I do not stare.” Probably not his strongest argument but the climbing comment had his brain misfiring.
“Jonah is this smooth-talking, flirty guy whose control crumbles when you walk into a room. He rambled on for ten minutes about something you said in your lecture this morning. He couldn’t stop smiling when he mentioned your name.” She shook her head. “It’s embarrassing.”
Cam vowed to forget every word of that. He could not afford to buy into what she was saying or care…or admit how much Jonah tempted him.
“He’s a student.” There. A solid argument. One that would stop the conversation so they could get back to the burger menu.
The waitress picked that moment to set their drinks down. She took off again, headed for a nearby table.
Willa reached for a sugar packet and shook it between her fingers for a strangely long amount of time. “Graduate student, and not one of yours.”
He watched the yellow packet flip back and forth in the air. “What does that matter?”
With a dramatic sigh, she ripped it open and poured the contents in her iced tea. “He’s a man. Twenty-three, shockingly smart and in the final year of his master’s program.”
“He’s nine years younger than I am.” One of the many reason he was off-limits.
“Don’t math me.”
“You should write his online dating profile.”
She snorted. “As if you’ve ever seen one of those.”
It always amazed him how people conflated his need for privacy with assumed virginity. “I have dated, you know.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Who? I’ve known you for two years. You spend holidays with my family. You come over for dinner. You hide at home. You hide up at my cabin.”
“Maybe I need more friends.”
“Probably…but that’s not all you need.”
He needed to forget a certain six-foot-something grad student who liked to joke around with friends. Who had this dimple that appeared when he smiled and a face that lit up when he laughed. The one with the slightly too long light brown hair and soft green eyes. The same one Cam caught watching him with a far-away look in his eyes. The brilliant dreamer whose research had the entire building whispering and waiting to see what he would do next.
Jonah Sparks, the only graduate student who ever tempted him.
They could date. No rule prohibited it. He’d never been Jonah’s professor. Their lives and careers ran on different tracks. But Cam didn’t play that game. He didn’t play anygames. He lived an insular, steady and predictable life. He wasn’t looking for anything else.
He picked up the menu and scanned the blur of black print. “I’m ready to order.”
“Hey.” Willa’s hand slipped over the top of the menu and flattened the paper against the table. “He would be good for you.”
That was not a road Cam could go down. With anyone. “Never going to happen.”
Willa just smiled. “We’ll see.”