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Caroline's Choice

Caroline's Choice

Book excerpt

Chapter 1

Victor Martinez paused in front of the office of his favorite professor. He had taken all four of his English classes from Dr. Caroline Jones, and even though he had long since completed the requirement, he liked to stop by and say hello to her now and again. Caring and involved beyond what her job required, Dr. Jones always seemed more like a friend than a teacher. It doesn’t hurt that she’s young and pretty. My days of stopping by to see her are drawing to a close. He sighed, reading a notice on the door inviting students to contribute to the literary magazine. If I had the cojones to write it, I could sure add a contribution to that… but it would reveal too much, and probably embarrass her. I should quit hanging around. I don’t even have a reason to be in the Humanities building anymore. None of his meandering thoughts stopped him from lifting his hand to knock.

Through the closed door, he heard Caroline’s normally soft and musical voice raised to nearly a shout, angry and tinged with grief. It froze his movement colder than the frost outside the window. He’d never heard such a tone from her before.

“No, and that's final,” she said harshly, and then, a moment later, “No, it was your responsibility to make sure I knew how you felt, since you…” her voice broke, “you were the one with the unusual priorities.” After a long pause punctuated by rasping breaths loud enough to penetrate the door, she snarled, “It's over, William. Don't contact me again.” The telephone clanged into the receiver loudly enough Victor could hear it from the hallway. Shattered respirations told the rest of the story.

One of my favorite people in the world is hurting. The sound drew Victor like a magnet. I have to try to help her. He knocked gently and opened the door without waiting for a reply.

The move revealed a cozy, feminine space containing a desk topped with a purple and blue scarf, long fringes trailing over the edges. Behind and to the left stood two bookshelves loaded with textbooks and novels. To the right, a cream leather loveseat took up the entire wall. Framed sketches of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning hung above it.

Caroline sat behind her desk, her face buried in her hands, shoulders shaking. At his entrance, her head shot up, revealing a red nose and tears streaming down her cheeks. Victor stepped into the room and shut the door behind him.

“Hello, Dr. Jones,” he said gently.

“Victor.” She tried to smile. It wasn't convincing at all.

“What's wrong?” he asked, unable to suppress his growing concern.

“I suppose you wouldn't believe me if I said nothing was wrong.” She smiled, an unsteady twisting of her lips that revealed no humor. Victor just looked at her. “It's personal,” she added finally.

“Yes, I can see that,” he replied, “but it's not good to be alone when personal things are going wrong. Is there anyone I can call for you?”

She considered for a moment. “No, not really.”

“Then could you talk to me?” he urged. “I don't like to see you hurting like this.” What is that in her expression? Like… desperation. She must want to let it out.

“Don't you think it's a little unprofessional? After all, you're still a student, right?”

“Yes,” he admitted. “I have one more semester after this one. However, I'm not your student anymore. I never will be again, so I don't think we have to worry about that.” He took a breath, reaching across the desk to lay his hand on hers. “I would rather be your friend.”

Caroline smiled, a little more convincingly this time. She likes that idea too. Excellent. Maybe I can cultivate a more personal connection with her over time.

“Please, come sit with me,” she urged. “Personal conversations shouldn’t take place across a desk.” She indicated the sofa and he moved there in three small steps. She joined him, settling onto the cushions and wiping her eyes with one finger as though to dispel any lingering wetness.

Lord, she's beautiful, he thought, with her glossy, chocolate colored hair clipped into a pixie cut that looks both sexy and innocent, her hazel eyes glowing even greener than usual. Victor's heart began hammering. I can hardly believe how bold I was, pushing this conversation on her. Everyone knows how shy I am... but this is Caroline. There’s something about her that has always dragged me from shyness into action. Besides, if there’s a human being who knows my innermost thoughts better than this woman, I can’t imagine who it would be.

A closeness exists between a nurturing teacher and a responsive student that transcends gender and age. After four semesters – two full years – of him writing with more and more openness, Victor had become a book laid open on her desk, and she had read every page. The bond went both directions, too. A teacher reveals feelings, likes and dislikes, and aspects of character. An astute observer can pick up on these cues and come to know the person behind the podium. Victor had observed Caroline closely. The step between student and friend was one of definition only.

They sat in silence for several seconds. Silence didn’t bother him, and it was a comfortable kind of quiet anyway, one that meant she didn't feel nervous with him there. “There's really nothing too shocking,” she said at last. “I broke up with my boyfriend. We've been together for almost three years. It was the right thing to do, but it still hurts.”

“What went wrong?” he asked, letting every ounce of concern bleed into his expression.

“I… well… I'm thirty-three years old, Victor. I want a family. When I started to talk to him about marriage, children, he said he wasn't interested in either one, ever. He figured on remaining single for life. I couldn't live with that. We have different goals and priorities. I guess we really don't belong together…” Caroline sniffled and rubbed her reddened nose.

What kind of jackass is this? “He doesn't want to get married? Have kids? What was he hanging around so long for?”

“I guess I just let him,” she replied, shoulders drooping. “We dated casually for a year before becoming… close. Then I assumed things were progressing, and he apparently didn't. I let our relationship drift too long, and it’s three years later. I'm no closer to having a family and…” she sobbed.

Victor took her hand in his. “And…” he prodded gently.

“And now I probably never will.” Her face turned bleak with grief.

“Why on earth not?” He stared at her, puzzled.

“I'm too old, Victor. I don't have time to start over.”

The explanation did nothing to aid in his understanding. Seeming to realize his confusion, she inhaled a deep breath and blurted, “I'm over thirty with no prospects. Making a family is a slow process. Even if I met someone right away, it would take time… too much time, and by then, the risks increase of either not being able to have a child, or of having one with… problems.”

Victor considered. She isn’t wrong, but there has to be a solution. An idea dawned on him… but how to phrase it… it’s a personal suggestion and I don’t want her to take offense. “Well,” he said slowly, carefully squashing down any feelings his words might generate, “if you insist on doing everything the traditional way, you may be right. After all, you have to meet someone, fall in love, get engaged, plan a wedding, and then get pregnant. That could take years. But what if you decided not to go the traditional route?”

Her delicately arched eyebrows drew together. “What do you mean?”

“Well, what if you asked a friend to help you get pregnant? Then you could have a baby right away and work on the rest later.” Years of pretending he didn't go through life squirming with shyness made Victor able to say the words, but the heat in his face sufficed to tell him his suggestion didn't sound as casual as he’d hoped.

Her eyes widened, and then narrowed. She saw something more in my expression than the simple answer I gave, but she answered the suggestion, not his expression. “I wouldn't even know where to start, or who to ask. Who would be willing to do that?”

“You might be surprised, Caroline.” It felt both strange and exciting to use her first name. His detachment melted away like snow in April with each word, until he spoke directly from the heart. “You are one of the kindest people I know. You should be able to have as many babies as you want. You would be a wonderful mother. What a fool your William is, not to realize what he had.”

She rewarded him with pink cheeks and shy half-smile. She liked my compliment. “You're sweet, Victor, but I think you're overestimating my charms. No one I know would do such a thing for me. I wouldn't even know how to ask.”

The discussion distracted her from her misery. Good. But it also opened a door for me. Victor took a deep breath and steeled himself. He couldn't not take the next step. The risk is great, but the reward

He brought up one calloused hand to touch her face. Her eyes widened, and he said softly, his voice husky with feeling, “I'm not overestimating anything.” Caroline's expression turned incredulous. He continued. “You have no idea how desirable you are, do you? Well, little teacher, let me show you. I'm going to kiss you, right now. Stop me.”

He leaned forward with aching slowness.

She didn't stop him.

His lips caressed Caroline's with the same tentative desire he was sure she’d heard in his voice. Her hands came up against his chest, not to push him away, but just to touch. The warmth of her fingers sank through the soft gray fabric of his tee shirt and seemed to brand his skin.

It was a brief kiss, but breathtaking, and when he pulled back, she opened her eyes slowly. “Did you actually want me to stop you?”

“Of course not,” he replied, his eyes intense and hot as they burned into hers. “But I wanted to give you fair warning.”


“Why what?” Please don't be asking why I kissed you!

“Why now, Victor? Why today? Please say you aren't just feeling sorry for me.”

Oh okay. “No, Caroline, nothing like that. I've wanted to forever, since my freshman year. I've dreamed about you. Today seemed like the right day. I might never have another opportunity like this, and I'm not a fool.”

“It's a lot to take in. You were a student to me yesterday.” Yet her expression hinted at something… more.

“Not just another student,” he dared to press.

“No,” she admitted, her eyes skating away from his. Then she looked back, meeting his gaze. “A really important one. You have always been terribly special to me, but the distinction still matters. I could be in so much trouble for just that kiss.” She gulped. “This has been a horrible day, and now… What do you want from me?”

“Only for you to be happy,” he replied with all honesty. “You work so hard helping others. You deserve it. If I can play some part in it, I will. I want to. Also, I want to kiss you again. You had better stop me this time,” he challenged her.

* * *

Caroline gazed, stunned, into Victor's beautiful brown eyes. More desire than she had ever had directed at her before set them ablaze. She found herself susceptible to that lust, that longing. If I’m honest, I have to admit I’ve never been completely immune to it. Plus, his first kiss was absolutely delicious. “No, don't stop.”

This time he moved with deliberation. His arms encircled her slim waist as his mouth came down on hers. She closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of his embrace and his sexy, spicy, masculine scent. Even though his mouth claimed hers with intense pressure, he had the softest, most beautifully shaped lips she had ever kissed; the upper one a perfect Cupid's bow, the lower almost too full. He has a mouth fit for a god.

The sudden, forbidden passion between them overwhelmed her, not least of all because she had just come from a doomed affair with another man. You really are hopeless. Helpless too, she realized. Done in by the sweetness of his kiss. When his tongue touched her lips, she opened, tasting the mint of his toothpaste as she bathed in his desire. Who would ever have thought it possible?

When the endless moment passed, he didn’t release her but continued to hold her against his chest. He leaned close to her ear and murmured, “I can't undo the pain you’ve experienced today. I can't recover those years for you. But I'll do whatever else you want. Anything.”

“Anything is a big promise, Victor.” She pulled back, admiring the chocolate pools of his eyes. I could happily drown in them. Wait, where did that thought come from? Has this secret lust just been waiting for an opportunity to surface?

“I mean it,” he insisted.