He stabbed a small mushroom onto his fork, leaned across the table, and offered it to her. Haley frowned. To consume food from his fork seemed an overly intimate gesture for a teacher and student to engage in. Alfie certainly would never do anything like this, and he was her partner. He’d consider it unhygienic to offer her his own fork with a morsel on it. He’d never shared a utensil or a cup with her in nine years, and she’d barely known Channer for nine weeks.
“Uh.” She wasn’t sure what to do. To refuse seemed churlish. Okay, she’d eat it. What harm could it do? He wasn’t diseased. He just had a brain injury.
She wrapped her hand around his and slipped the mushroom off the fork and into her mouth. It was sweet and chewy and…her heart slowed down a few beats. Why did he look at her like that? His eyes were so still, so fixated on her face. Was he all right? She let go of his hand but couldn’t break contact with his mysterious alien eyes. How come she’d never noticed before the tiny colored flecks that floated in the dark depths of his eyes? Why did she feel gooey and soft all of a sudden, as if she’d turned into the marshmallow that still floated in his cup of cocoa?
Hell, she was worse than gooey, she was weak and breathless and, fuck it, the dark pools of his eyes mesmerized her so thoroughly she couldn’t think straight. Did he know he made her feel like this? Her stomach rolled and roiled and her hands trembled in her lap. Was it some Xephon trick?
“I er…I er.” She couldn’t form a word. Her tongue felt thick in her throat and as dry as dust. And even worse, her brain simply wouldn’t function. Was this how it felt to be him? “Uhhh.” Blast it, what the hell was going on? His eyes narrowed slightly and she realized there was calculation behind his gaze, a sharp intelligence that stole her breath away. He assessed her reaction to him as thoroughly as any other person she knew. So much for serious brain damage—she could throw that theory out the window immediately.
His insanely sexy mouth quirked in the merest trace of a smile for a moment and she felt embarrassment sweep over her. He’d reduced her to the awkward, mindless state of a pubescent schoolgirl caught in the wash of a powerful crush, in the space of several heartbeats. In fact, his gorgeous mouth and intense gaze had her so flummoxed she felt sick. And curse him that he should notice. He wasn’t supposed to find out his teacher could be affected by him in any amorous or sensual way. So why had she reacted in this crazy and inappropriate manner? Why did she send out flagrant signals of sexual awareness to this alien male? She barely knew him. And she wasn’t single either. Dear gods, Channer had her so flustered she could barely function and she loathed that he knew it, too. They weren’t supposed to respond to each other this way. This crossed a line as far as she was concerned. They were teacher and student. It was definitely time to leave.
She tried to stand up, but her legs suddenly felt as heavy as lead. It was as if she was thoroughly glued or magnetized to the seat of her chair. Alarm trickled through her and she looked back at him. He had to have used those mysterious Xephon powers she’d heard about, and if he had, he definitely wasn’t as mentally incapacitated as his lack of communication suggested.
“Channer,” she whispered hoarsely. “I have to go now. I…ah…ah.”
Haley’s hand flew to her mouth and she forgot about the sexual tension that’d nearly ripped the universe apart. Had he really just spoken out loud? She turned her eyes to him. Say it again. Say it again. Her heart hammered heavily in her chest. He’d said that so quickly and so quietly. Had she just imagined it? Her throat felt tight and she was falling. Not literally, but falling nevertheless, into his dark and dreamy eyes. The turquoise flecks in his irises expanded and tried to pull her into another dimension. And if she fell too far, she might never come back. His nearness made her feel as if it was difficult to breathe all of a sudden, and her heart pounded as if she’d just run a race. She was far too aware of him. It was horrifically wicked and dangerously inappropriate. It excited her more than anything she’d ever experienced before and she could barely stand another moment of it.
He reached for her hands and held them under the table and sat quietly as he regarded her calmly. The feel of his fingers linked with hers was a glorious comfort even as she battled with the knowledge she shouldn’t be so familiar with him. Alfie had never held her hands. He thought such an act was infantile. And yet this childish act of hand-holding with this alien man felt more wonderful than anything she could remember doing in a long, long time. How disloyal of her. She should feel guilty. She should feel bad, because she was his teacher. Why didn’t she?
He magically soothed her by holding her hands—mysteriously turned the tide of her agitation to a calmer state just with his touch. When her breath and heart rate returned to their normal rhythm again he let go of her hands suddenly and stood up and she found that she could also stand once more. He’d released her from his spell, thank goodness. He’d also eaten everything she’d ordered and indicated to her it was time to leave. She went to pay for the food, but he stopped her. He pulled her back against him and opened his wallet for the clerk.
“Someone will cheat you if you do that too often.”