Excerpts

Force of Gravity

I rush to the bathroom and splash cold water on my face. What is wrong with me? I’ve never lost control over my body like that. I’m always in control―I don’t even drink! Sure, I’ve had plenty of crushes before―wait, this isn’t a crush; he’s your teacher―but I’ve never had this kind of physical reaction before. And just because I haven’t had sex yet, doesn’t mean my boyfriend doesn’t turn me on.

 

Does he turn me on?

 

Maybe I thought I knew what it felt like to be turned on . . . until now. What the hell are you saying?! You are not turned on by your tea―I can’t even say it to myself. If I do, it will make it true, and I am perfectly happy living in the land of denial.

 

Happy? Okay, more like desperate to live there.

 

I face my reflection and find mascara running down my face. Way to go, Kay. At least the bathroom is empty. I wipe it away and try to freshen up my makeup, but it’s no use. I have wildness in my eyes, like I’m hopped up on amphetamines. Get a grip!

I take a deep breath and gather my thoughts.

 

This man is my teacher. Even if he wasn’t, he’d still be too old for me. He’s a grown man, with a grown-up life and would probably laugh his ass off if he knew what I was feeling. I’m sure he thinks I’m a freak after gaping at him like a moron just now.

 

But what was that look in his eye?

 

No! He doesn’t want some stupid, doe-eyed teenaged girl. He wants a woman. He probably has a woman―a grown-up, beautiful woman who doesn’t fumble when she speaks to him and calls him by his first name. She’s probably some supermodel and sleeps in his bed every night. Why are you thinking about his bed?! The late bell rings, and I swear out loud. I take one more glance in the mirror before rushing to second period with my face still flushed and my body trembling.

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

I do the entire problem over three times before finally summoning the courage to raise my hand. What I wouldn’t give to be enrolled in an all-girls Catholic school right now, so I could actually focus on learning math instead of being intimidated to raise my hand because of my teacher’s insane good looks. He’s working with another student when he notices my hand in the air and gives me a quick nod to let me know he’ll be there in a minute. My palms moisten, and I wipe them down on my jeans, scolding myself for being such an idiotic school girl with uncontrollable urges.

 

So pathetic.

 

“My calculator’s messed up,” I say as he approaches my desk.

 

“Let me take a look at it.”

 

I hand it to him with swift obedience. “I swear I entered everything correctly.”

 

“I can figure it out,” he says. “I can work these things forward and backward.”

 

My stomach swirls as he squats down next to me, pressing a combination of buttons and pulling up screens I’ve never seen before. I peer over his shoulder in amazement. This man can work a TI-84 graphing calculator like nobody’s business. Am I seriously finding this sexy? I’ve just reached a new low.

 

“Okay, your settings were off, but I also think you entered a number in wrong somewhere.”

 

“I checked three times,” I say, annoyed.

 

He smirks. “It’s a machine; it can’t make a mistake. It can only do what you tell it to.” He places it in front of me and stands. “Is it updated?” he asks, picking it up again. I have no idea what he means, and I think he can tell with the way he smiles at me. “I’ll check it for you.”

 

He walks over to his desk and plugs it into his computer. I didn’t even know you could do that. I observe him as another student comes up to his desk and asks a question. His self-assurance is so alluring. High school boys seem to overcompensate for their lack of confidence, coming off as arrogant. But Mr. Slate is older, more mature. He never crosses the fine line that divides confidence and arrogance. And even though I try to fight it, I’m finding myself drawn to him like a hummingbird thirsty for nectar. He makes me want to be more mature, sexy, and assertive.

 

He makes me want to be a woman.

 

“Here you go, Kaley,” he says, dissolving my thoughts. He sets my calculator on my desk, his chestnut eyes gleaming into mine. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

 

Oh, help me.

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

Jace elbows me. “Hey, Kennedy. What’s up with you?”

 

“Nothing,” I say.

 

“What’d you do to her, Bradford?”

 

Tommy squeezes me. “Nothing, dude!”

 

“Fix her a drink,” teases Emily.

 

Everyone laughs, and I grit my teeth. “I’m fine, just tired.” Jace cocks his head to the side, and I shrug out of Tommy’s hold and slide off the booth. “I need to use the restroom.”

 

Jace takes my seat as I rush to the ladies room. It’s crowded when I enter, so I go back out and lean against the wall in the shadowy hallway. I’m being so ridiculous. Am I so stubborn that I can’t just go with the flow? I’m usually the queen of going with the flow. I always go wherever they want to go and do whatever they want to do. I’m the designated driver. The responsible one. The reliable one. The one everyone can count on. But suddenly, I don’t feel like any of those things―I feel like I’m their puppet. I’m everyone’s damn puppet. Something inside of me has snapped, and I’m desperate to cut the strings. But I know it isn’t just my redundant social schedule that’s bothering me . . .

 

It’s him.

 

And that’s even more ridiculous.

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

He’s no longer in uniform and wears a thin, dark-gray athletic shirt―leaving little to the imagination of what his upper body possesses―with a pair of black athletic pants. He still wears his baseball cap that threatens to hide his beautiful eyes in a way that makes him even more mysterious. The newfound ache swells below me.

 

“Do you mind if I sit for a second?” I ask.

 

Not waiting for an answer, I hop up on the back ledge next to the equipment and let my legs dangle before I cross them. His eyes flicker to my bare legs for a moment, sending a thrill across the back of my thighs. Uncertainty crosses his expression.

 

“This is okay, right?” I say with a timid smile. “It’s not like we’re alone or anything.”

 

He stares at me without a reply―we both know we’re pretty much alone. No one can see us back here. He seems guarded and takes a step back, continuing to watch me without saying a word.

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

“Hey, it’s getting dark. Let me walk you to your car.”

 

My body goes numb, and I lead the way, hoping my legs won’t give out on me. I now know where the phrase “weak in the knees” comes from and pray to God I don’t trip and fall flat on my face.

 

When we reach my car, I’m surprised when he leans against it. He slips his hands in his pockets and watches me as the sun sets across his face, making him even sexier than usual―if that’s even humanly possible.

 

He interrupts my internal swooning. “Hey, I’m really sorry about your parents. Have you thought about talking to the school counselor?”

 

“No way,” I say, lifting a hand in protest. “I don’t want to do that.”

 

“Well, okay. I can understand that, but you have to talk about it.” He pauses. “You can talk to me if you need to. Don’t keep it all bottled up. Take my word for it.”

 

“Thanks,” I say, feeling my cheeks flush.

 

His gaze intensifies as it locks onto mine, and he tilts his head to the side. “How old are you, Kaley?” His voice is low.

 

I stop breathing completely as I try to remember how old I turned on my last birthday. Suddenly, this is the most difficult math question he’s ever asked me.

 

“Uh . . . eighteen,” I reply, my voice barely above a whisper. A brief moment passes before I return the question. “How old are you?”

 

He gives me a heart-pounding half-grin. “Twenty-five.” He chuckles. “That’s probably so old to you isn’t it?”

 

I hold his gaze. “Not at all.”

 

His smile fades, and his expression spurs an unfamiliar response in my body. The front door of the school screeches open, and he springs from my car. A custodian steps outside carrying a large garbage bag and plods down the sidewalk, disappearing around the corner.

 

Hmm . . . Mr. Smooth actually seems a little jumpy for once. I’ve never seen him less than confident, and it catches me off guard.

 

“Drive safely, okay?” he says, cutting our conversation short. “And keep your chin up. Go have fun tonight!” 

 

“I think I will.”

 

I give him a soft smile, and his eyes linger on my lips before he breaks his gaze and heads back to the faculty lot. I watch him walk away, savoring the moment before getting into my car.

 

That was . . . interesting.

 

As I drive off campus, I flick on the radio. A remake of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” plays through the speakers, and I laugh to myself as I crank up the volume. I roll down my window, letting the warm breeze whip around my hair as I belt out the lyrics.

 

I’m suddenly in the mood for a party.

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

When we pull up to my house, I notice that my parents forgot to keep the front porch light on, leaving an unfriendly darkness to greet me.

 

He peers through the windshield. “Are your parents home? Do you want me to walk you to your door?”

 

If I let you walk me to my door, I may just lose my mind and invite you into my bedroom.

 

“No, that’s okay.” I open the door and climb out of the Tahoe.

 

“Kaley?” He clicks off the dome light, causing moonlit shadows to spread across his face. He hesitates for a moment. With only the glow of the dashboard, it’s difficult to see his expression, but he seems on edge. “This is going to sound silly, but please don’t tell anybody about tonight.”

 

I’m silent. I don’t know what my response should be. What did happen tonight? Does he think something happened between us?

 

“You know, taking you home and all that,” he continues. “As a teacher, I’m not supposed to be alone with a student.”

 

“Even if you’re helping out a stranded girl?” I tease.

 

His face is sober. “Never.”

 

“O-okay,” I falter. “No problem, Mr. Slate.”

 

Did he just wince? It’s too dark to know for sure.

 

“Thanks, Kay. See you Monday morning. Be safe.”

 

“Goodnight.” Reluctance grips me as I try to bring myself to shut the door. I don’t want this moment to end.

 

“And Kaley?” He leans forward on the console. “He’s an idiot for letting you walk away in that dress tonight.”

 

A thrill erupts from every nerve ending in my body, and I struggle to find my voice.

“Thanks,” I whisper.

 

Forcing myself to break his gaze, I close the door to the Tahoe and walk up my driveway. I don’t look back, but can feel his eyes on me as I slide my key into the deadbolt. My phone vibrates through my clutch yet again, and I hesitate before entering the house, finally allowing myself to peer over my shoulder. He’s staring at me, so I wave a quick goodnight. He doesn’t move a muscle and seems to be deep in thought―almost as if he is looking through me. I step inside the foyer and close the door behind me and lean against it, my heart pounding in the darkness. My breaths are uneven, and I try to calm down. I shift over to the window and peer through the shutters and watch him slowly drive away as my phone continues to buzz. 

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

I slip through the crowd, keeping a focused stare on Mr. Slate. He’s still leaning against the wall with his hands comfortably in his pockets, no longer looking my way. With my shoulders back, I step in front of him, sliding a hand on my hip.

 

“What the hell was that about?” I shout through the blaring music.

 

“Kaley,” he says, glancing around the ballroom. “What are you doing?” His voice is firm, but quiet.

 

“What am I doing?” I spit out. “I’m dancing with my boyfriend at prom, what are you doing?”

 

He lifts a shoulder. “I’m chaperoning.”

 

“Is that all?” I ask.

 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says, peering down his nose at me.

 

I step closer, meeting him squarely in the eye. “Really? Because it looks like you’re enjoying my dress, Mr. Slate.”

 

Anger flashes through his eyes as he steps forward, away from the wall. “Kaley, stop,” he warns. He folds his arms and scans the room over my head. “Just walk away.”

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

I reluctantly slip off my halter top and shimmy down my shorts. Tommy lets out a whistle, and I give him a feeble smile as I step into the spa. The scalding water bubbles against my skin, sending a jolt through my body. I fasten my hair into a high bun and slowly ease my way into the water. Feeling eyes on me, I look up at the kitchen window.

 

Mr. Slate is watching me.

 

If it was any other teacher it would creep me out, but instead, heat courses through my veins that has nothing to do with the temperature of the water.

 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

In one fluid motion, he grabs my waist, pulling me close, and parts my lips with his. He tastes even better than I remember, and my thirst for him deepens. I wrap my arms around his neck, and I’m suddenly very aware of the fact that we’re completely alone. There’s no danger of Derek, or a custodian, or anyone interrupting us this time, and everything I’ve been pushing down the last month comes flooding to the surface. My body is starved for his touch, and I kiss him with a ravenous hunger. He lifts me up, and I lock my legs around his waist. After three quick steps, he slides me on top of the glossy kitchen island and tangles his masterful fingers into my hair, gently tugging it. We claw at each other with an uncontrollable desperation.

 

I reach down to the hem of his shirt and yank it up.

 

“Kaley,” he warns, breaking away from my lips.

 

“No,” I say, abhorring the loss of his kiss. “Don’t you dare do this again.”

 

“You’ve been drinking. I don’t want to take it too far.”

 

I smother his protest with my lips. “What did you expect when you lifted me onto your counter top?” I murmur between kisses.

 

“I know, I’m sorry.” He pulls back for a moment, his gaze flashing to my legs. “You’re just hard to resist,” he says, sliding his hand up my thigh.

 

“So don’t,” I say, my breaths ragged.

 

“Kaley, you’re not sober,” he chides, but his words don’t match his actions.

 

I tug on his shirt. “I’m good, Slate.”

 

His eyes burn through me, and my dress is forced up higher as he wedges himself farther between my legs, his mouth locking onto mine. We’re in the same position as that fateful study session and a well of emotions spring up inside me. I slip my fingers underneath his shirt and run my hands up his back, greedily exploring the muscles that have teased me all semester.

 

“I need you,” I whisper.

 

He pulls back with force. “Don’t say that,” he warns. “I can’t take advantage of you.”

 

“No, I’m good,” I say, clutching onto him. “Take advantage, please!”

 

A deep chuckle escapes his throat. “Okay, okay. I have to do the right thing here.” He pries my hands loose and tries to step back, but I tighten my legs around him. “Kaley,” he cautions, but I sense a trace of amusement. “This isn’t easy for me―I am a man. Don’t push it.”

 

“So, what now?” I say. “You’re just going to make out with me in your kitchen and then make me go home?” I grin as I squeeze his hips between my thighs.

 

He sighs, brushing the loose hair out of my face. “I should, but you’re making it very difficult to stay away from you.”

 

“Then don’t stay away from me..."

 

 

 

Kelly Stevenson

National Bestselling Author