The audioboook of Kissing Tolstoy is FINALLY HERE! AHHHHHH! Thank you all for being so patient <3
Nobody Looks Good Naked, Dear Professor #2
A Penny Reid Newsletter Exclusive
Professor Hanover’s eyes were affixed to his smartphone with the determined unsteadiness of a man who was exceedingly uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, I was in the precarious position of being naked.
Wait. Let me back up a second and explain. Most people aren’t aware that there are five stages of naked for a woman.
The first, and most obvious of course, is just buck-bare-naked. No clothes, no nothing. All skin.
The second stage is virtually naked. The nipples might be covered with a bit of sequence, but not always. Typically all that is needed is a strategically placed triangle secured to the front lady parts by either adhesive or barely visible plastic string. Usually the bottom is completely exposed.
Stage number three is almost naked. The boob—the nipple at a minimum—is scarcely veiled and panties of some kind are worn, frequently a G-string or floss-like thong.
Stage four is still a type of naked, but some would argue it may also venture into the not-technically-naked category. We call it transparently naked and it normally involves a bra, panties, or lingerie of some sort. However—whatever the items—they are completely see through, sheer lace. As such, very little is obstructing the eye from the skin beneath.
Finally, stage five just manages to cross the line from naked to not naked. It is being in a state of undress, donning conservative underthings—like an opaque nightie, or a long slip—and is commonly referred to as disrobed.
But back to me being naked in front of my professor.
I hadn’t recognized him at first. I don’t look at the faces of clients. I exit the session with a vague impression of a person like, ‘that guy who smelled like peanuts’ or, ‘the really tall one who tried to touch my boob.’
They, the men and sometimes their second wives or mistresses, were always looking at my body, never my face or eyes. So looking directly at the customers seemed unnecessary.
Actually, let me amend that, they weren’t looking at me. They were looking at what I was wearing. At first, when I started, I assumed they were assessing whether seven hundred dollars was too much to pay for a bra. But the longer I worked for The Pinkery as a lingerie model, the more I began to understand that the clients weren’t concerned with money. They had plenty of money.
They were concerned with their own boredom.
Which meant I only ever noticed someone, really saw them, if they weren’t looking at me.
Victor Hanover – Dr. Hanover, my Research Methods professor – wasn’t looking at me.
He was looking at his phone.
Because I was currently stage three naked.
I blinked against the murkiness of mortified recognition and turned my attention to the only other person in the room. He was older than Dr. Hanover, nicely dressed, with silver hair at his temples. The unknown man was also smaller than my professor, but somehow his presence felt larger, suffocating.
I couldn’t focus on this older man’s face, but not for the usual reasons. I was distracted, too busy arbitrating the wrestling match between my shock and embarrassment. Embarrassment was winning.
“I said, could you turn?” he snapped.
I nodded, turned, happy to show them my basically bare backside if it gave me a moment to collect myself.
Dr. Hanover and this older man were sitting in a private room—my private room—at The Pinkery. As the most exclusive lingerie, fripperies, and accoutrements shop in New England, it required a membership and minimum monthly purchase guarantee for entry and continued access. I wasn’t used to seeing anyone I knew in real life while at work. Neither my classmates nor my professors could afford the membership or the merchandise.
For that matter, the scraps of lace and silk were firmly out of my budget as well.
“What do you think, Victor?”
I swallowed, being careful to do so quietly. The last thing I wanted was to be the source of a cartoonish gulp while my professor contemplated my ass. He was looking at my ass. I was sure of it. I knew the precise moment his eyes lifted to my skin and I gritted my teeth, feeling the affliction of his gaze traveling lower, over my thighs.
Call it a sixth sense, call it intuition, but I always knew where the clients were looking. This uncanny ability usually came in handy as it meant I could focus my energy on highlighting that area, giving it the best light, angling my leg just-so.
But not this time. This time I held perfectly still like I used to do when caught by my mother with my hand in the cookie jar. And by cookie jar, I mean my hand in my high school boyfriend’s pants, in the back of my car on prom night.
My mother—God love her—tossed three condoms into the backseat and called over her shoulder, “You better get my daughter off before you come all over her car.”
I hadn’t inherited my mother’s impressive talent for punchline delivery, but I had inherited her pragmatic nature. I’d always been more likely to freeze than flee, or fight, or flirt when faced with a mortifying situation.
Which was why I stood stock still as I heard Professor Hanover clear his throat before saying, “I’m not sure where I should be looking.”
“Oh for God’s sake,” the older man huffed with obvious impatience, “The model, Victor. Look at the model.”
“Why? She’s not for sale.”
I closed my eyes, pressing my lips together. It was such a Dr. Hanover thing to say, much more in character than glaring uncomfortably at the screen of his smartphone.
Over the last two months of sitting through his course, I’d never once seen him uncomfortable, though I’d seen him glare plenty. Glare at students who took too long to answer. Glare at students who were obviously unprepared for class. Glare at students who couldn’t quite grasp the concept of a split tailed T-test.
He glared all the time, in that exasperated ‘I’m so much smarter than you, you might as well be a single-celled organism in comparison’ kind of way.
But uncomfortable? Never.
It was Victor’s turn to sigh. “I don’t know why you brought me.”
The older man made a sniffing sound. “Is it so odd that I would want to spend time with my son?”
His. . . son? What? Wait. That’s weird, right? Who would take their son to a lingerie shop? Or maybe this practice was all the rage and I was completely out of touch.
Victor scoffed, and I imagined he was rolling his eyes. I’d never seen him roll his eyes, he was far too enlightened for that, but—for some reason—I imagined him as rolling his eyes now.
“Fine. Lyla suggested it.” The older man lowered his voice to a gruff whisper.
“Victor . . .” the single word was ripe with warning.
“I’m sorry, is she one of your wives? I’ve lost count, so you can’t expect me to remember names.”
Now I rolled my lips between my teeth, because that was also a very Professor Hanover thing to say. The man was firmly in the asshole column, but his sarcastic sass always made me laugh (sometimes against my will). This meant I was frequently ducking my head and hiding behind my laptop during class.
It also meant that I never, ever, ever put myself in the position of being on the receiving end of his sarcasm. I knew the Research Methods textbooks so well, I probably could’ve taught the course at this point.
But back to the good professor and his mad dad.
“Don’t I deserve happiness?” the older man ranted, “Don’t I—”
Victor made another scoffing sound, raising his voice over his father’s. “You want to keep looking for happiness between a woman’s legs? Fine. Go for it. But don’t fucking bring me here and expect father-son bonding time. Sitting in a bourgeois lingerie store, slobbering over a woman one third your age while your current wife—”
“You know we’re engaged,” his father thundered, and it sounded like he’d lunged to his feet.
“Whatever,” Victor’s voice also rose, “Current vagina of the moment—”
“Mr. Hanover,” a woman’s voice cut in, silencing both men.
But not just any woman’s voice. Madame Purple, my boss, and a take-no-bullshit-or-prisoners kind of super woman. She reported directly to the owner, Madame Pink.
At the sound of her voice I flinched, half turning on instinct. But then I stopped myself and offered just my profile. From my vantage point I could see the professor, standing, facing his father. Unable to help myself I looked at him; I’d been so shocked by his presence earlier, I hadn’t taken a moment to study the man.
Firstly, he looked pissed, his eyes flashing fire, his hands clenched into fists.
Secondly, I realized he wasn’t in his usual baggy dad-jeans and dorktastic, overly large, brown and yellow striped button-down shirt. With a pocket protector.
One shirttail tucked in, one shirttail flapping in the breeze.
No. Not today.
Today he was wearing a dark blue tailored suit. And it fit. And he looked damn fine in it. It made him seem taller. . . or was it the waves of menace and fury? Or had he always been tall?
Also, I’d never witnessed his hair anything other than flat and ignored. Not today. His hair was styled as though the man knew how to style it. However, he did don his usual black horned-rimmed glasses. The effect of this makeover plus the glasses gave Victor Hanover a distinctly nerdy-sexy-Calvin Klein-model vibe that. . . well, it startled me.
He was still firmly in the asshole column, but now he was in the sexy asshole column.
“What?” Victor’s dad didn’t try to veil his impatience with my boss’s interruption.
She smiled at the two men, her purple, shimmery lipstick a gorgeous complement to her velvety, brown skin. “You have a phone call.”
“A phone call.”
Mr. Hanover straightened, his gaze flickering over her like he couldn’t decide whether to be indignant or furious.
But before he could question Madame Purple further, she volunteered, “It’s Madame Pink. She wishes to discuss the status of your membership.”
My eyes widened, but I caught the crack in my demeanor almost instantly. Schooling my expression, I gathered a silent breath.
There was no three-strikes and you’re out policy at The Pinkery. You were out when Madame Pink said you were out. End of story. She never explained why. And once you were out, you could never get back in.
Mr. Hanover shifted restlessly on his feet. “I apologize if our raised voices caused any disturbance.” It looked like the words poisoned him as he spoke them. I imagined this man rarely—if ever—apologized. This suspicion was confirmed as his son glanced between Madame Purple and his father, seemingly confused, or astonished, or both.
“Please,” Madame Purple widened her smile, stepping to one side and motioning to the door with a graceful movement of her hand, “After you.”
Mr. Hanover slid his teeth to the side and sent his son a quick, incensed look. Then the man turned a rigid grin to my boss and gave her a little head nod, strolling unhurriedly out of the room while fiddling with his cuff-links.
My boss gave Professor Hanover a whisper of a smile, then to me indicated with her chin toward the bar console in the corner. “Lavender, please pour a glass of scotch for your guest. And . . .” Her eyes moved back to him and she studied his openly bewildered expression for several beats before continuing, “And perhaps the black and red garter ensemble next.”
I wanted to wince. I wanted to wince so hard. Or at the very least communicate my panic with a glance of extreme askance. It would be the most askance glance in the history of glances.
But I didn’t. Mostly because I was frozen. But also because Madame Purple didn’t give me chance. She turned on her heel and left.
Here I go.
. . . I couldn’t move.
But I had to move. I glanced at the camera, artfully hidden in the corner, and reminded myself of how much I wanted this job—for the record, it was a lot.
Finally, I did it. I forced my feet to carry me towards the bar.
“Where are you going?” Professor Hanover’s voice was heavily seasoned with suspicion; my steps faltered at his tone.
I didn’t stop, though my gaze instinctively lifted and connect with his, causing my chest to tighten with dread. I ignored the sensation. Instead I focused on his frown. To my immense relief, I saw his gaze was cloudy with something like frustration, but definitely not recognition.
I motioned to the bar and continued towards it, saying nothing. If I could help it, I rarely spoke in front of clients, just what was required according to our guidelines. But beyond that, I wondered if Dr. Hanover was more likely to recognize my voice than my face.
I was quiet in class, answering succinctly whenever he called my name. And I typically wore a hat with my hair tucked up inside or pulled back in a ponytail. I also never wore makeup outside of work, mostly because makeup was expensive. In addition to inheriting my mother’s pragmatism, I’d also inherited her frugal nature.
Flexing my fingers, I relaxed, realizing that the chances of him recognizing me were actually fairly low. He had, what? Over a hundred students in that lecture hall every week? And that was just my class.
Slowly, I placed my hands on the glassware, pleased to see they weren’t shaking. I’d just removed the stopper to the decanter and released a steady breath when he spoke again.
My fingers stilled and I glanced at him, discovering that my professor was strolling towards me. His hands in his pants pockets, his attention on the bar console. He stopped a few feet away while I tried to stand as nonchalantly as possible.
Have you ever tried to stand nonchalantly before? Like tried to be pointedly disinterested? Or “act normal?” It’s impossible. It’s like trying to pee on a target with an audience of five hundred nuns.
Not to mention, Victor Hanover had just apologized. To me. For what, I had no idea.
The mere idea of the superior professor apologizing to anyone for anything had me questioning whether I was awake, or if this was a dream, or maybe I was high. Granted, I’d never touched drugs. Nevertheless, the possibility of being high felt more likely than Dr. Hanover apologizing.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, his voice softer, his gaze resting everywhere but on me, “My words were sarcastic and spoken in anger. They were meant to reflect how my father views women, and are not indicative of my own thoughts. He is a faithless taint, and should be despised. For the record, I do not share his . . .” Victor’s eyes moved to the left, as though he were searching for the right words. “I do not share his lack of respect for other humans, especially female humans. Therefore, I’m sorry you heard it. But more than that, I’m sorry I said it.”
How about that.
Unable to tear my gaze away, I stared at him, openly examining my professor. His eyes were a dark color—maybe dark green, maybe brown—it was hard to see them behind his glasses. His nose reminded me of Brad Pitt’s nose; smaller than the average man-nose, but strangely it worked for him. Victor’s jaw was angular, strong, and covered in late afternoon scruff. He was probably one of those guys who had to shave twice a day.
Victor Hanover was so. . . odd.
And quite suddenly made enormously attractive by his apology.
This abrupt discovery of his attractiveness—especially relative to his previous plainness and firm placement in the asshole column—overwhelmed me.
Maybe because I’d never been this close to him? Maybe because I’d never seen him impassioned? Maybe because I’d never seen him as anything other than a dry, distracted, and aloof goof? Or maybe because I’d never looked at Professor Hanover before and thought of him as a man.
As brilliant? Yes. As funny and witty? Yes and yes. As a sadist who enjoyed torturing his students and forcing them to learn all relevant applications of the chi-square test? Yes, yes, and yes.
But never as a man.
It was overwhelming. He was overwhelming. The crush alarm sounded between my ears and low in my stomach. My face flushed with heat and I swallowed a breath.
He was still staring beyond me, lost in his own thoughts, which gave me a precious moment to compose myself. I needed it.
This wasn’t good. I still had two months in this man’s class and he called on every student at least once a week. He might not ever recognize me, but crushes made me tongue tied and stupid. If I were tongue-tied and stupid for this man, he’d squash me like an ant.
Plus—hello—I was standing in the same room as him, stage three naked, lest I forget.
“What’s your name?” He still hadn’t looked directly at me.
“Lavender,” I answered breathlessly without thinking. Had his voice always been so deliciously deep?
“No. What’s your real name?”
I shook my head, my mouth forming a tight smile as I glanced quickly at the camera in the corner, then busied myself with making his drink.
He followed my gaze, then whispered, “We’re being watched?”
I nodded, my smile growing a smidge more sincere as I held out the glass of liquor I’d just poured. After a short moment of hesitation, he accepted the glass, his fingers brushing against mine. A shiver raced own my spine at the contact but I ignored it, stepping, turning, and strolling away toward the open rack of lingerie.
Going through the motions, I decided I’d put the garter ensemble—which consisted of a red and black bone-bustier with garter straps and thigh-high silk stockings—over the bra and thong I was already wearing.
I’d just finished rolling up the second stocking when he said, “You don’t have to do that.”
Looking to him, I lifted a questioning eyebrow. He’d stayed by the bar, one hand in his pocket, the other holding his drink. His posture was relaxed as he took another swallow of scotch, but he’d yet to meet my gaze.
“Don’t you have a robe?”
I straightened. “Do you want to see a robe?”
“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable? If you were less . . .” He scratched the back of his neck, his attention on the wall behind me.
“If you were covered?”
I blinked at him and answered before I could think better of my response. “No. Would you?”
“You wouldn’t?” Once again, he was strolling toward me, this time his gaze was on his drink. “It doesn’t bother you? Being objectified?”
“Think of me as a clothes hanger.” That’s mostly how I thought about it.
He snorted, his features twisting with amusement and disbelief. “My imagination isn’t that good,” he said to his scotch.
“Fine. Then a mannequin.”
Dr. Hanover’s eyes flickered quickly over my form and he appeared to stand straighter, the muscle at his jaw jumping as he ground out, “My imagination isn’t that good either.”
Sensing his discomfort, I reached for a red, silk kimono and slipped it over my shoulders. “If you’d like to see a robe, I’ll wear a robe.”
“Do you get paid if you put on the robe?”
“But you don’t like the robe?” His inquisitive stare was pointed at my forehead.
“It’s a lovely robe.” I deflected smoothly, but then stumbled over the next part, “W-would you like to touch it?”
Gah and drat. I had to ask.
Every time we put on a new layer we were supposed to ask the client if they wanted to touch the item. And that meant he could basically touch me anywhere as I was covered from neck to ankle in red silk kimono.
Dr. Hanover drew in a slow breath, his gaze coming to my body, moving lower and lingering this time, as though now that I was no longer naked, he’d given himself permission to actually look at me. His stare moved slowly, caressing a path to my neck, jaw, to my hair where it rested over one shoulder.
Suddenly, his frown returned, and this time he looked thoughtful. He blinked.
And then his eyes shot to mine, growing at once cold and hot, and dread unfurled like a slithery beast in my belly.
He recognized me.
Or rather, he realized he knew me from somewhere, but hadn’t quite figured out who I was. Which meant I had exactly two seconds to do something drastic.
Instead—big surprise—I froze.
“Wait a second.” Dr. Hanover drew closer, until less than two feet separated us. Peripherally, on autopilot, I realized I could smell his cologne. He smelled great and I chastised myself for noticing that he smelled great. Especially now. I needed to act, and instead I was sniffing him.
Do something other than smell him!
His eyes were currently flickering over me with urgency, jumping from my breast to my lips to my neck to my eyes. And when they finally settled, I saw that his irises were dark green.
That slithery beast of mortification punched me in the gut as my professor whispered, “I know you.”
** END OF PART ONE **