London, United Kingdom
Isha stepped out of the staff entrance onto the dark side alley. A grey outdoor lamp glowed dimly from the corner of the Bar Atlantic building. Fat drops of cold rain splattered onto her skin and the pavement.
“Great,” she muttered. She’d forgotten her umbrella. She would be soaked through before she reached her destination.
Just what she needed after a long day. Not.
In a hurry, she navigated past stacks of water-stained crates, greasy-looking puddles and the large metal industrial bins.
This was what she got for wanting to experience student life like any ordinary millennial.
A job that finished late at night, freezing rain and bad days.
She puffed out a sigh.
What she wouldn’t give, at this moment, for a minder with an umbrella ushering her into a warm, chauffeured car and taking her home. On days like this she missed the luxurious comforts of being a regal princess.
An image of her father’s stony expression flashed in her mind as his words registered, “We’ll see how long you’re going to cope with student life without your royal privileges.”
Her quest for independence had turned into a battle of wills with her parents.
Her father was noble and proud. The idea of one of his children living like a commoner was an irritation he would rather not endure. He hoped she change her mind.
All Isha had to do was to make one phone call and all her royal perks would be reinstated.
However, she was on a quest to explore the world and understand herself better. These years at university provided the best time to do so. Upon graduation, her life would be taken over by duty to her family and to the Kingdom of Bagumi.
Meanwhile, she had abandoned Her Royal Highness, Princess Isha Saene on the plane when she’d disembarked at Heathrow Airport over eighteen months ago and taken on the persona of Ruby Bagumi.
Ruby wasn’t entitled to chauffeured cars or indulgent servants or excessive bank balances. She had to work to top up her student allowance if she wanted any extras beyond the necessary living expenses.
She pulled the collar of her coat as far up as possible, turned right onto the main street and walked briskly towards Piccadilly. Green Park, the underground station she needed was ten minutes in this direction.
On a warm, dry night, and when she had her flatmate and best friend, Amara, for company, she could do the forty minutes walk to their apartment in Pimlico. Not a good idea to attempt the walk alone at this late hour.
The other option would be to try to hail a black cab. However, that task could prove impossible in this weather. Catching the tube was the best option, and hopefully, she’d be home in twenty minutes.
After a hot shower, she could crawl into bed and forget the crappy day she’d experienced.
She’d barely trudged fifty yards through the downpour when the beam of lights from an approaching vehicle made her jump away from the edge of the pavement in the hopes of avoiding a splash of the dirty puddle.
“Ms. Bagumi?” A familiar masculine voice called out.
Isha froze, her heart jolting. She would recognise that sensual rumble anywhere, but she must have misheard with the rain and all.
Still, she turned to the sleek, black Audi TT parked by the pavement. Through the wound-down front window, the driver came into view. It was him!
What was he doing here? She usually saw him once a week on Mondays in the lecture hall. She’d never encountered him outside of the university premises.
He stepped out of his car.
She moved backwards, wrapping her arms around her body as she tried to slow her racing pulse.
He came around, raindrops splashing on this blazer, soaking him. He didn’t seem to care as he held the front passenger door open. “Get in the car.”
She shook her head and took another step away. She didn’t make a habit of getting into men’s cars, although this one was hardly a stranger.
“Thank you. But the tube station is not that far.”
She could kick herself, though. Professor Bassong, the man who had taken up a leading role in her salacious dreams, the man who was totally out of bounds to her, offered her a lift and she was turning him down? What was wrong with her?
In all of her fantasies, though, she hadn’t envisioned an encounter with him while drenched like a cat dragged out of the River Thames. She must look horrid in her current state—wet hair plastered to her face while water dripped down her clothes.
“Ms Bagumi, you’ll catch a cold in this weather. Let me take you home.”
She recognised the challenge in his tone above the howling wind. He was really saying ‘are we going to stand out here and debate the benefits of getting a lift?’
He spoke the truth. Her body still hadn’t acclimatised to the changeable British weather. A few more minutes out here, and she would be sneezing and coughing for days.
Hadn’t she been the one praying for a chauffeured limousine a short while ago?
Although she hadn’t expected the prayer to be answered by the sexy professor in his sporty coupe, she would be foolish to decline.
“Alright. Thank you,” she replied and hurried into the car, sinking into the warm leather bucket seat with a sigh of relief.
He joined her and shut the door as she clicked her harness into place.
“Where are you headed?” he asked.
She told him, and he keyed the address into the console of the satellite navigation, long fingers flicking the controls. Then, he drove down to the end of the street and turned right at the traffic lights, onto the main road heading south-west.
Warm air blew out of the vents, taking the chill off her skin. Her pulse raced, and her chest tingled.
She stared at her wet hands. Touching was not a good idea. Nope.
In the months since he’d been her lecturer, she had been content to attend his classes and observe him from across the room. She participated in class, asking and answering questions. They’d gotten the results of Semester One examinations this week and she had done very well on all the subjects.
In all that time, they hadn’t been in a one-to-one situation.
Now she sat in Professor Bassong’s car, only a few inches from him. They hadn’t made any physical contact, but she could reach out and touch him.
Water dripped from her hair, packed in a bunch with an elastic band. She grimaced. She would damage the seat with her damp clothes.
“I’m really sorry about your car,” she murmured. “Perhaps you should’ve left me to walk.”
“And let you catch a cold? No.” He glanced at her, his expression too intense in the unlit interior.
Was he concerned? Or did she observe something more profound in his eyes?
“True. But it shouldn’t matter to you whether I catch a cold or not,” she stated, as the hope of something more than fleeting flared inside her.
“Of course it matters. If you catch a cold, then you are likely to miss my classes. And that’s not good. You’ve had a hundred per cent attendance record so far. You can’t ruin it.”
Shoulders slumped, she fiddled with the buckle of her tote and let out a sigh. “Oh.”
His only concern was her attendance in his class?
Why did she wish for more from him?
He seemed to have picked up on her dismay and looked at her again. “And you are my most engaged student. I have to come to each class prepared with my A-game. You keep me on my toes.”
Wow. High praise from her professor. He might as well have lauded her as the best student or even the most crucial person in the world.
A grin spread on her face as warmth radiated through her body. “Thank you, Professor Bassong.”
“You’re welcome.” The lines around his eyes softened, and his mouth curled up.
Hot damn. He was even more handsome when he smiled, even from a side profile.
And those sensuous lips of his—how would they feel on hers, on her neck, on her breasts?
She relaxed, her body melting with the fantasy, desire tingling along her nerve endings.
Hot for him, even watching him as he turned a dial mesmerised her.
The soulful voice of Asa came through the speakers as she sang ‘360’ from her debut album which had been released recently.
“I love this song,” she said before she could stop. She loved every song on this groundbreaking album.
“You do?” he sounded amused.
“Yes. Every track in the album. It’s my favourite. I practically have it on a loop in my music player,” she rambled. “I can’t believe you listen to the same songs as I do.”
Was it serendipity that they shared a love of this type of music?
“Why not? Because I’m old and not hip enough?” His black eyes sparkled with humour.
“No. You’re not old.” Well, he was older than her by ten years. She’d read his impressive biography.
He’d been born in Wanai, West Africa, a PhD holder and a successful lawyer in his own right. He spoke English, French, Ganui and Wanai. His father had been a Chief Justice of the supreme courts. Unfortunately, he had died in a fatal accident a few years ago. His mother was a lecturer and a well-known women’s rights activist.
“I mean you’re young and sexy and attractive, you can listen to whatever you like ...” she rattled on until she realised what she’d just said. “Oh my goodness. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that, Professor Bassong.”
“You didn’t mean that I was young and sexy and attractive?” He chuckle rumbled in the car.
She would’ve enjoyed the deep merry sound from him if she wasn’t currently dying of embarrassment.
“No ... Umm ... Yes. Oh Lord.” She covered her face with her hands. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. And thank you for the compliment.” He didn’t sound offended.
She dropped her hands and peeked in his direction.
His lips were still curled upwards as he drove into another street.
She recognised the houses in her neighbourhood. The rain downpour had slowed to a light drizzle.
“You can stop here,” she said, eager to escape. Perhaps he wouldn’t remember what she’d said by the time she saw him again at the next class.
“No. I’ll walk you to your door. It’s too late at night for you to be on your own,” he replied in a firm tone. Same tone he used in class.
She didn’t argue. Better to just keep her mouth shut in case she said something else outrageous.
He drove past her apartment building in search of a parking space and found one a block down.
Hands trembling, she pulled her key bunch from the tote and unclipped her seatbelt as he climbed out.
Before she could reach for the handle, he opened the door.
“Thank you,” she said in surprise. No one had done anything chivalrous for her since her arrival in the U.K.
His gallantry didn’t end there as he ascended the steps to the entrance of the block of flats, waited for her to unlock the latch and held the slab for her to walk in.
“I’ll be fine now,” she said, not wanting to be any more trouble.
“I said I’ll walk you to your door. There have been incidents of people being attacked in communal areas like this.”
A smile curled her lips as she walked up the stairs.
He reminded her of overprotective older brothers, Zawadi especially, who didn’t want her in London without twenty-four-hour security.
“Do you always finish work this late?” Professor Bassong asked as he followed her.
She glanced back in surprise. “How did you know I was working?”
“I was in Bar Atlantic with a friend. I saw you serving drinks.”
He’d been there? She stopped when she reached the entrance to her flat. “Oh. I didn’t see you.”
He placed his hands in his trouser pockets and held her gaze. “I was in the VIP section upstairs.”
Her mouth fell open as a gasp escaped. “VIP?”
She didn’t serve the exclusive area as it catered for clients with peculiar requirements. She’d been curious but not brave enough to actually request a change on the rota.
“Yes,” he said, his gaze piercing. “Have you ever been up there?”
“No. Of course not,” she replied quickly. “I only work downstairs in the main club.”
Since he was a VIP member, did that mean he was one of those with peculiar requirements?
Had he been with someone else tonight? She crossed her arms over her chest burning with jealousy as she stared at his face to figure out if he had.
His expression stayed unreadable. “So do you finish at this time every shift?”
“More or less. I work only on Friday nights.” She answered with a pinched expression, still unsettled about the possibility of him with someone else.
“It seems reasonable although I don’t think walking through dark alleys alone at this time of night is a good thing.”
“I’m usually not alone. My friend Amara who is also my flatmate works at Bar Atlantic too. But she is away on a Valentine weekend to Paris.”
Yesterday had been Valentine’s Day.
Had Professor Bassong spent it alone? She wanted to ask him but it was inappropriate. Him giving her a lift didn't give her license over his life.
Her discrete investigations had revealed him to be single and available which had excited her. She had fantasised about him waiting for a suitable time when their love for each other could be revealed.
However, she hadn’t prepared for him dating others.
Her stomach hardened and black spots formed in her vision.
Stupid. She had no claim over him. She was forbidden from getting involved with him.
Try telling that to her heart which had become set on him from the moment she’d seen him walk into the lecture hall for the first time.
She wanted to arrogate him, and put a tag on him that read ‘Keep off. Property of Isha.’
“Okay. If you open your door, I can go.” He pointed his right thumb over his shoulder in the direction they’d just come.
“Of course.” She put the key in her lock, and it popped open. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied. “Good night, Ms. Bagumi.”
“Good night, Professor.” She stepped into her apartment and turned around.
His footsteps thudded as he walked back towards the stairs.
“Professor,” she called out, feeling like she had to do something. Tonight was the closest she’d been to him all year. Perhaps, this was her only chance to seduce him. “Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?”
He turned around, hands in his pockets. “No. Thank you, Ms. Bagumi. Perhaps another time.”
“Of course.” Her cheeks heated, and she shut the door and leaned against it, eyes closed.
What did she know about seducing an older man anyway? She had no experience.
So why couldn’t she let go of this taboo attraction she had towards her lecturer?