“There are many levels of hell in Dante’s Inferno.” Colt Lefevour’s voice crawled over Susan York’s skin. A cold sweat trickled down her spine. Added to the nausea twisting and the turning in her stomach, she wondered how much longer she would be able to stay in class.
These days, being sick preyed on her like a stalking panther, ready to spring at any moment. She smoothed her hand down her throat, trying to ease the lump forming there.
Susan knew her sin, was paying for her crime, but Colt’s cologne locked her into a new level of purgatory.
Hot bile hit the back of her throat. She swallowed the acidic liquid, hoping not to lose her battle in the middle of English Lit. Throwing up wasn’t her idea of making the grade, but the strong scent was waging war on her senses, a contest she wanted to overcome. Most of the semester, she had managed to avoid sitting anywhere near him. But today he was standing at the front of the class, only a few feet in front of her desk. She couldn’t escape the queasiness that assaulted her senses.
“Based on the severity of your crime, you would descend further into hell.” Colt softened the harshness of his words with a smile and continued his speech.
Susan took in his relaxed stance. He stood, leaning back against their professor’s desk. With a strong, athletic body, he looked like good sex wrapped in soft worn jeans. His attitude, almost cocky, seemed to disappear when he smiled. Add in his sandy blond hair and green eyes, and she could easily see why women found him hard to resist. Her breasts tightened with longing. She marveled at the feeling, which had deserted her the last few months. Her stomach, on the other hand, rumbled loudly with distaste.
She’d noticed most of the girls in the class wanted to win his favor. He’d been nice to all, but he still remained unattached, which only added to his appeal.
A quick surge from her abdomen caused Susan to grab her purse. She couldn’t make it to the end of his speech. Bolting from her seat, she sped to the classroom door.
She ran down the hall, bent on getting to the bathroom. After six months of pregnancy, she should be used to getting sick at the drop of a hat.
Once in a bathroom stall, she dropped her purse and allowed her body its release. She gripped the cold, ceramic toilet with her hands to hold herself erect.
She took a deep breath after her stomach emptied itself. “I hate this,” she mumbled, flushing the toilet.
Coming out of the stall, her reflection in the mirror hit her in the face. A sigh escaped. She looked awful. She swished back her dark brown hair and turned on the faucet. Cold water stung her face when she splashed it against her skin and rivulets ran down her pasty white cheeks. Her hair hung limply over her shoulders, lifeless and dull. The red lipstick she’d added to her lips this morning to give them color completed the ugly picture. She looked like a Gothic queen.
She couldn’t believe the girl in the mirror had been called beautiful only a few weeks ago. But then, the guy only wanted to get laid. He hadn’t known she wasn’t in the market for any man.
The door to the bathroom squeaked opened, and she turned.
“Gosh, Susan, are you all right?” Tracy, a cute blonde from Susan’s class, rushed forward.
“Yes, I’m fine.” Susan pulled paper towels from the dispenser and patted the moisture from her face.
“Well, you should have seen Colt’s face when you went barreling out of class. I thought he was going to take off after you. He just stood there, staring at the door.” Tracy dropped her jaw and opened her eyes wide in a parody of shock.
Tracy laughed at her silly face in the mirror. “Mrs. Murphy had to tell him to continue. Then when class was over, he helped me gather up your stuff.” She dropped Susan’s book bag on the counter with a thud. “The man must really have the hots for you.”
The admiration in Tracy’s eyes didn’t help Susan feel any better. She didn’t welcome his concern. Now, because of it, she was going to have to apologize for running out on his speech.
Even worse, she was going to have to endure the scent of his cologne again.
* * * *
A cold October breeze whistled across the community college campus. Susan glared at the clouds blocking the sun’s warmth. It was after two o’clock, and the temperature still hadn’t topped fifty. She adjusted her oversized coat to cover her baggy sweater and scanned the people coming from the parking lot. If she could catch Colt before he got to class, then she could apologize for her rude behavior Monday. She didn’t want a crowd overhearing what she had to say.
She caught a glimpse of him coming toward her. When he was a few steps away, she spoke. “Hey, Colt, can I talk to you a minute?”
“You bet.” He smiled and stopped beside her, letting the cute blonde who was walking with him go on ahead.
“How are you feeling?”
“Fine.” Susan glanced around to make sure no one was listening. “I wanted to apologize for running out on your speech the other day.”
He shrugged. “No big deal. Mrs. Murphy explained the problem.”
A rush of dread washed over her. She grabbed the sleeve of his jacket, unable to stop herself from asking, “She told you I was pregnant?”
Colt shook his head. A confused, almost pained look passed over his face. “No, she said you warned her that you might have to leave in a hurry because you have a sensitive stomach.”
“Oh.” Susan quickly released his arm and turned away. “I, uh, have a problem with your cologne. It seems to upset my sinuses.”
She walked away from him, trying to escape and catch her breath. How could I be so stupid?
With his long stride, he quickly matched her pace. “Is that why you’ve been avoiding me all semester?”
She glanced at him. The pungent odor didn’t invade her senses. “You’re not wearing it today?”
“I was in a hurry this morning and forgot.” He smiled.
“Well, uh, I’m sure most of the girls in our class enjoy the scent. I just can’t seem to stand the, uh . . .”
An increase of people in the open area told Susan their class would be starting in a few minutes.
“You can’t stand the smell of it,” Colt finished.
“Yes, well . . .” Susan hedged and reached for the door.
“You could have told me,” he said, holding the door open.
“Right.” People streamed past her out the door. “And how do you go about starting that conversation?”
In the hall, packed with students, no one was allowed to stand still for long. Susan walked forward, weaving her way down the hall and away from Colt.
She hoped to escape him, but he kept up. He entered the classroom right on her heels. “I would have understood. My mother has allergies.” He sat down in the desk next to her and took off his jacket. “I just won’t wear my cologne to class anymore.”
“Thanks.” Susan took out her notebook. She wondered why he was still bothering to talk to her. He had to know she wasn’t in the market for a boyfriend, not with her being pregnant. She couldn’t think of a bigger turnoff for a man than a fat woman with another man’s baby kicking around in her belly. And as a broke college student, he couldn’t afford a ready-made family.
* * * *
Colt glanced over at Susan’s notebook. Her long, graceful fingers sketched a leafy vine along the edge of her notes with a lead pencil. The innocent frill ran along the margins, strangling the seriousness from the classic literature.
The naïve nature of her drawings had him reflecting on what she had mistakenly told him earlier.
She is pregnant.
The thought hit him in the gut, reopening a tender wound.
He blinked, struggling to refocus on the present. His eyes followed along on the long, silky veil of her hair. Draped over her shoulder, it blocked his view of her face. Was she trying to hide from him?
The slip of her tongue earlier had caused her grief. She’d wanted to escape, but he hadn’t let her get away. All semester he’d been trying to get close to her, but the closer he got, the more she retreated. Now he knew why.
What she didn’t understand was her pregnancy didn’t turn him off. Instead, the fact fueled his desire to get to know her better. He wanted to know if she had a boyfriend, and who would be helping with her child.
Or was she all alone?
At the end of class, Colt quickly gathered up his things and stood, admiring Susan. Her hair ran down her back, almost to her butt. Bending over to pick up her backpack, he checked out the nice curve of her rear. He let his gaze follow the line of her skin-tight jeans to her pink sneakers. He glanced back up into velvet brown eyes when she started to leave.
The girl is hot, even if she is pregnant.
“Why don’t you let me buy you a cup of coffee over at the cafeteria?”
She shook her head. “It’s kind of you to offer, but I don’t think so.”
Before he could answer, she turned for the classroom door.
“Why not?” He followed her out of the room and down the hall. The crowd flowing both in and out of the building brushed, by them on their way through the door. The noise so loud, he had to yell to be heard. “I don’t bite, and most people think I’m a nice guy!”
Susan walked outside and stepped to the edge of the sidewalk to let people pass.
“Colt, look, I . . .”
She faltered when he put his arm around her shoulders. He drew her into his chest and felt her tremble. With his lips next to her ear, he whispered, “I’m not going to argue with you. We both know you can use a friend. Why can’t it be me?”
She jerked back and studied his face. He could tell she was judging his motive for wanting to be her friend. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
He smiled and walked beside her toward the parking lot. “Why don’t we go somewhere else for coffee?”
* * * *
Susan questioned her sanity when she saw Colt’s old, rusty truck turn into an apartment complex. They had agreed. She would follow him to someplace quiet where they could talk and get something to drink.
But now he was taking her to his apartment, and she wondered if she should just keep driving. Yet, her curiosity about why such a good-looking guy wanted to be her friend wouldn’t let her turn away.
Was he just after easy sex?
She took the turn.
The guy could have any girl he wanted. Why single her out?
Putting her car in Park, Susan reached for her purse. The door beside her opened.
“I thought for a minute there you were going to ditch me when I made that final turn.” He took her hand and helped her out of the car.
She walked along the sidewalk. His grip around her hand soothed some of her unease. He didn’t make her feel as if he was trying to force himself on her.
“I thought about it, and then I decided you were probably trying to find a place where we wouldn’t be overheard. Or it could be you don’t want to be seen with me. Whichever it is, I don’t plan on staying long.”
“Fair enough, since I pitched you a curve by bringing you here.” He led the way up the steps and turned to open the door to the first apartment on the left. “Come on in.” He walked across the threshold and held the door.
Susan checked out the décor of his apartment. A gray card table took the place of a dining room table. Four folding chairs with various articles of clothing tossed over them sat around the small alcove.
She paused after taking a few steps and turned. “Colt, you know I’m pregnant. What is it you want from me?”
He smiled and walked past her into the kitchen. “Unrestricted sex without the fear of getting you pregnant.”
“What did you say?” Susan couldn’t believe she’d heard him correctly.
He turned to face her. “Is that the answer you’re expecting me to give? I’m not after your body, Susan.” He opened the refrigerator. “But I must say, I never would have guessed you’re pregnant. That is, if you hadn’t told me.”
He drew out a can. “Cola or do you want me to make some coffee?”
“Neither. I’m trying to stay away from caffeine.” Susan leaned against the doorway leading into the kitchen. “Okay, Colt, if it’s not sex, then what is it?”
“How about some water?” He put back the soda and handed her a bottle of water. “I guess you don’t think it might be because I find you interesting. Or that I just might want to get to know you better.”
Susan twisted the lid off and took a long drink of the cold water. The serious look in his green eyes had her wondering if he was sincere, but her limited experience with men told her differently. She didn’t know a single guy who wanted to get to know a girl unless he was after more than just friendship.
His hands cupped the curve of her shoulder. He tugged her purse strap down her arm. “Look, sit down, and let’s talk. I promise I’ll behave.” He stepped around her, set her purse on the card table, and walked into the other room. “You can leave whenever you want.”
Still suspicious, she followed him into the living room, which had all the essential items for the classic bachelor pad. A worn, red leather recliner waited for Colt, while the panther print loveseat could be used to make out on. Perched on what looked to be an end table was the television. The elegant oak coffee table looked out of place with the rest of the furniture.
Susan sat down on the couch. “All right, Colt, who do you know that is pregnant?”
“No one. Why?”
“Well, your interest in me seemed to have increased once you knew I was pregnant.” Susan glanced around, looking for signs a woman might share the place with him. She set her water on the coffee table.
“That’s not true. I’ve liked you since the first day of class. This is just the first day you’ve said more than two words to me.” He sat down in the recliner and leaned back. His relaxed pose eased her worries, but she noticed he didn’t have a drink in his hand.
Why ask her out for coffee if he wasn’t thirsty?
“I thought I’d better take advantage of your talking to me. Or who knows? The next time we meet, you may not even speak to me.” His words came short of accusing her of being rude, but she ignored the insinuation.
The baby rolled against her bladder. She rubbed her stomach with her hand. She wondered briefly how long she’d have before she’d need to go to the bathroom. Maybe she should think about leaving.
“I haven’t noticed you lacking any female attention.”
“Yes, well, I can’t help it. I’m gorgeous.” He grinned like he was laughing at himself.
“And modest, too,” Susan added and returned his smile.
“I know. It’s a curse I’m struggling to live with.” His face fell into a sad puppy-dog look. “You should have mercy on me and offer to save me from those hordes of women.”
She laughed and realized with a start she hadn’t found anything funny in a while. “It helps build character.”
“Exactly,” he said, leaning forward, “but what about my mind? Don’t you think it needs work too?”
Suspicious, Susan hedged. She didn’t want to be caught in some type of trap, so she gave him a vague answer. “Well, I think that’s part of the reason why we’re going to college. Isn’t it?”
“Yes, but . . .” He stood up and slipped into the empty space beside her on the loveseat. “I’m not very good in literature. It’s part of the reason I’ve waited until my junior year to take the class.” He placed his arm along the back of the couch.
“But we’re only going to a two-year school.” She shifted her shoulders away from his hand. With him so close, her body tingled like a current of energy was sizzling through her nerve endings.
“I know, but I’m transferring the credits to University of Texas at Dallas where I’m also attending classes. I wanted to graduate by next May.” Colt stretched out his long legs. He relaxed back into the sofa like they were going to be there all day.
His body, so close to hers, radiated a heat which called to her senses. She gripped her hands together in her lap to keep from touching his thigh.
“I couldn’t get the course at the time I wanted at UTD, so I decided to take it at a community college.” He had his arms open wide with one lying on the back of the couch and one on the arm. “I thought you might be willing to help me.”
Susan eyed him, curious if he really needed help with the class. He looked more as if he was asking her to help him with a different type of problem, one that would get her into even more trouble than her heart could take.
“I don’t know, Colt.” She wanted to help him, but she wanted to resist the temptation. “Tracy is doing much better in the class than I am. And she’s crazy about you. Why don’t you ask her?”
He shook his head and said in a deep, staged voice of regret, “I can’t. My curse would cause her to fall madly in love with me.” He shifted and put his hands dramatically over his heart. “And then I’d have to break the poor girl’s heart. A sad destiny for both of us, she’d be heartbroken and I would be considered a scoundrel. You have to save us.”
He covered her hands, which were clamped together over her stomach. His touch loosened her hold. “You’re strong. You can resist my charm.”
Gently prying her hands apart, he placed one in his palm. She tugged back, but he wouldn’t let go. “Colt, the class isn’t that hard.”
“See? Your brilliance is shining through.” “Come on, Susan,” he said dropping his theatrical tone, “you know I like you, but I do need help with this class.”
“Is that why you brought me here?”
“Partly.” He placed her hand against his chest and looked down at her stomach.
“And the rest?” She watched his face closely. The serious concern in his eyes when they met hers surprised her.
“I was curious.”
He looked back down at her stomach. “Not many girls your age and unmarried attend college if they are pregnant.”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t be there?” She could hear her father’s voice ring in her ear about how she should stay home until after the baby was born.
“No, it tells me a lot about you. Things that make me want to get to know you better.”
“Right, like I’m an easy lay.” She shifted her hands in his grip to free herself.
“Not for me, because I don’t think my curse works on pregnant women.” He lifted her hand to his lips. “No, when I look at you, I see a strong, courageous woman who has a mission to get an education no matter the obstacles in front of her.”
Susan blinked. Did he really see that in her? Funny, no one in her family saw her strong determination to go to school in that light.
His lips brushed over her knuckles. Shivers of awareness rushed up her arm. In the dark green depths of his eyes, she could tell he was reading her reaction.
“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” She tugged lightly on her hand.
He smiled briefly before his tongue moistened the small valleys between her fingers. She had to bite her lip to keep from moaning with pleasure. For months she’d been without sex, and her hormones were screaming with need.
She shifted. The wetness between her legs told her she was in big trouble if the man could turn her on by just kissing her hand. “I, uh, think I’d better go.”
“Are you going to help me?” He released her hand.
She worked her way to the edge of the loveseat. “No.”
He kept her from rising by laying his hand on her thigh. “And why not?”
She lifted his hand off her leg, stood up, and said in frustration, “Because I’m six months pregnant with another man’s child, I’m cranky and fat and horny as hell. And if I don’t get out of here in the next five minutes, I’m going to make the second biggest mistake in my life.”
Rushing across the room, she picked up her purse and ran out the door.
His soft chuckles dogged her steps.