Chen and Holly make new allies on Mars.
"This is ridiculous. Isn't it?" The words came out between gulps of laughter.
He reached across the table and took her hand in his. "It is."
Their coffee arrived and the laughter subsided. "How about," Jules said over the steaming white cup, "we don't label this thing between us. We just let it be whatever it is."
"Whatever it is." Grace had never just let anything be. She dissected, researched, studied, and planned. The idea was liberating and terrifying. It was a good feeling. She nodded. "I like that."
Jules broke into a devastating grin. "Me too."
"Are you coming to the Mentor Mixer on Friday?"
"Of course I am darling. What are you wearing?'
And just like that Grace was at ease. Jules continued to chatter, dictating his fashion edict. The conversation wrapped around her like a well worn sweater. It was effortless-for the first time in her life she felt....comfortable.
Jules halted his fashion spiel and tilted his head. "What honey?"
"I really like you Jules."
He laughed. "I like you too honey."
* * * *
Orientation preparation for her Mentor Program kept Grace busy all week. While the Mentors were chosen for their maturity and responsibility-most were in a Grad course-they were still students and therefore notoriously unreliable. Getting them all in the one place at the one time was like herding cats. Damned near impossible.
By the time the first drink was poured she was exhausted. But in a good way. Looking around the room she felt a sense of achievement that had been missing for some time. In her last job she had been worked hard, but without challenge. Here in a different country, surrounded by new rules, new people, she was flying by the seat of her pants. Innovating-an action wholly unfamiliar to a Hawthorne.
She leaned back against the bar and sighed.
"Miss Hawthorne." His voice came before the touch of his hand, but it in no way prepared her for the electric spark of his skin.
She tried and failed at appearing nonchalant, her voice cracked in reply, "Dr Maxwell."
He chuckled and the sound was like a finger slowly stroking down the bumps of her spine.
"I thought you didn't come to these events." Everyone had told her that he didn't.
"You've been thinking of me then?" Every word he said had a direct line between her legs. The rough Scottish burr tugged at her very center. She felt a hot charge of wet wanting settle between her clenched thighs.
"Why are you here?"
He laughed, turning the heads of a few of her female student mentors. A Brazilian student with waves of sleek black hair and sun bronzed skin sent him a flirtatious wave. He waved back, adding a wink and a wicked smile. "To network of course. Isn't that what you wanted the staff to do?"
Yes. That is what she'd said at the staff meeting. The meeting at which he'd stared off into space and ignored her every word. "Network. Not pick up."
The Brazilian beauty came towards them, her gaze fixed on Drew. "Drew," she purred in her seductive South American accent, "so good to see you again."
"You too Carmen. This is your last year isn't it?"
"Uh huh, I finish up my Masters in December."
Keeping his eyes on the curvy young student he pointed to Grace and said, "Carmen, do you know Miss Hawthorne."
Carmen held out her hand. Grace took it with automatic politeness. "Sure. Grace isn't it? You're new to the Mentor program. I did it last year, I've got too much on my plate this year."
"I understand completely," Grace said-even as she didn't. She didn't understand what Drew Maxwell was doing here, she didn't understand the sexual undercurrents buzzing between him and Carmen and she sure as hell didn't understand why she cared.
Drew turned to her-his steely gaze meeting hers as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. Damn him. He probably did.
The corner of his mouth hooked up in a slight knowing smile. She was torn between kissing and slapping him. He laughed once more and the urge to slap ranked slightly higher.
The young Grad student, oblivious to the odd pla