1 Chapter 1: Carson

The TA avoids all eye contact as he sets my paper facedown on the desk before moving on to the next row.


The knot in my belly tightens as I realize that's probably not a good sign. What I can't afford is to barely scrape by on yet another test or quiz. I'd rather drop out of college than retake this class. And just to be clear, my mother would kill me if I actually did that.

Someone needs to explain what statistics has to do with being a theater major anyway. How is this supposed to assist me in pursuing my dream career as a stage actress?

The short answer is that it won't, which is exactly why I made a last-ditch effort to persuade my advisor on the third day of class that I should be given an exemption from Western's graduation requirement. His response was to sigh heavily as he removed his horn-rimmed glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose before effectively telling me to suck it up, buttercup.

So I'm stuck for the duration. A puff of air escapes from me as my shoulders slump. Failing this class is not an option.

"Aren't you going to look?" Mike asks from the desk parked next to mine.

I scrunch my nose and give my head a few violent shakes. "If it's bad, it'll ruin my entire day." And that's the last thing I need.

He rolls his hazel eyes before pushing his sandy-colored hair away from his face. "God, you are so dramatic."

A reluctant smile tugs at the corners of my lips. "That's what you love about me."

He tilts his head as if seriously considering the statement. "Hmmm...is it?"

I give him my most winsome smile before batting my eyelashes. "Yup, pretty sure it is."

"Maybe," he admits before pointing to the paper. "If you won't do the honors then I will."

The thick ball of tension that has taken up residence in the pit of my belly turns painful. "Stop trying to peer pressure me into doing something I'm not ready to."

His eyes ignite with humor as he elbows me. "Come on," he cajoles, "do it or I won't be your friend."

With a frown, I smack his shoulder and shift on the chair. "You're such a jerk."

He shrugs, looking unaffected by the insult. "Never said I wasn't."

When a few seconds trickle by, he raises his brows expectantly.

Ugh. I can already tell he won't drop the topic until I show him.

"Fine," I grumble. Air gets wedged in my throat as my heartbeat picks up tempo. I do a silent countdown before quickly flipping over the paper and staring at the number circled in red ink in the top right corner.


Shit. That's worse than I'd assumed it would be. My lips sink at the edges as my eyes widen. It's official, my Friday has just gone down the tubes.

"Sorry," he mumbles, looking equally surprised by the dismal score. "I really thought it would be better. We spent a ton of hours studying last week."

My hand drifts to my right temple where a headache is beginning to brew. This class will be the death of me, I just know it. All of my other courses are going great. Since day one, statistics has been a gigantic pain in my ass. No matter how much time I spend preparing for the tests or slogging through the daily assignments, I can't seem to wrap my mind around the concepts. I have some kind of mental block when it comes to math. It's always been a struggle, but I've usually been able to pull off a C. I would be thrilled with that at this point. We're talking happy dance and everything.

All of the red check marks decorating the page blur before my eyes until it looks like the paper is bleeding and should be promptly put out of its misery.

"Good morning, everyone," Dr. Holloway greets with a cheerful smile from behind the podium at the front of the room. "It's Friday, so I'll attempt to make this as painless as possible. Sound good?"

Ha! It's much too late for that.

His comment is met with a lone grunt or two that echo off the walls. By the blurry-eyed expressions filling the packed lecture hall, my guess is that most of my fellow students decided to jumpstart their weekend early. If they're expecting this material to do the trick and bring them back to life again, that won't be happening. Even though our professor does his best to breathe life into statistics, it's still dry and tedious.

Not one to be put off by the unenthusiastic response, he claps his hands together. "Excellent. Let's dive right in, shall we?"

Precisely forty-eight minutes later, my brain is on the verge of exploding from information overload. Statistical confidence intervals and the difference between populations swim around in my brain. If I'm not careful, the material will leak right out of my ears and onto the floor in a gooey mess.

As soon as he glances at his silver wristwatch and dismisses class for the day, everyone perks up and comes alive as if a switch has been flipped.

"Oh, I see how it is. Now you've all got something to say, huh?" Professor Holloway shakes his head as if disappointed in the caliber of student who populate his lectures. "Maybe I should assign a few pages to complete over the weekend."

The room erupts into noisy protests.

"Yeah, I didn't think so." He waves a hand in mock irritation. "Get out of here before I change my mind." His gaze travels over the sea of students loading up their bags before homing in on me. "Except you, Ms. Kendricks. Would you mind sticking around for a few minutes?"


"Sure." It takes effort to lift my lips into a smile.

Mike leans toward me. "Ohhh, the sexy professor wants to speak with you all alone. Lucky girl."

When I glare, he waggles his brows. "Give me a break," I mutter. "We both know he wants to discuss my dumpster fire of a grade."

Mike's gaze shifts to our instructor, who's shuffling around paperwork as undergraduates flee his classroom like rats from a burning building. "I'd be more than happy to have a little private tutoring from the likes of him."

An unwilling smile quirks my lips. This isn't the first time Mike has made just such a remark. "Something tells me the private tutoring you're looking for isn't in math." Especially since the big jerk received a ninety-three on his test.

A ninety-three!

That's the kind of grade I can only fantasize about.

His eyes turn dreamy as he leans his elbows on the laminated desktop before resting his chin on clasped hands. "I'll take whatever that man is willing to give me."

A chuckle bubbles up in my throat as I glance at our professor. I totally understand what Mike is saying about Dr. Holloway. He's good looking with dark hair and blue eyes. If I had to guess, I'd say he was somewhere in his early to mid-thirties. The man obviously takes care of himself. Beneath his sport coat and khakis, he's lean and muscular.

Once I've packed up my belongings, we rise to our feet and move to the center aisle of the large space.

"All right, girl. I gotta get moving. I'll see you at three for rehearsal."

"Yup, I'll be there."

I live for play practice. It's what makes everything else in life bearable. Even statistics. I've been involved in the theater since I was a kid, and it's what I channeled all of my grief into after Dad died four years ago. I'm not sure I would have gotten through the loss of him without it. Instead of being constantly steeped in grief, I was able to escape, at least for short bursts of time, by pretending to be someone else.

With one final wave, Mike takes off and I turn, moving down the staircase to the front of the room where Professor Holloway waits. As the last student heads out, a heavy silence falls over the space. I clear my throat and hitch my backpack higher onto my shoulder.

"You wanted to see me?"

He glances up from the handful of papers he's in the process of organizing. "Yeah, thanks for sticking around. I was hoping we could touch base. I noticed you didn't do so well on the last test."

That's something of an understatement, and we both know it.

My grimace has the corners of his lips bowing up. Straight white teeth flash through the artificial light filling the room.

As he shifts his stance, his blue blazer falls open, revealing a perfectly pressed white button-down. "Oh, come on now. Is it really that bad?"

I huff out a breath as my shoulders loosen. "I know it doesn't look like it, but I'm actually trying. I studied for this test with Mike, and he got a ninety-three."

A thoughtful expression crosses his face as he nods. "Mike is doing well in this class. He seems to have a firm grip on the material."

I shoot him a sour look. "Unfortunately, his knowledge doesn't seem to be transferrable."

"In this particular case, I would agree with that statement," he says easily. "I wanted to mention that I have office hours every Tuesday and Thursday from four to six. You should stop in early next week, and we can spend some time going over your test and rework the problems you had trouble with."

"That would be all of them," I admit.

"Luckily for you, Ms. Kendricks, I just so happen to have a Ph. D in Applied Statistics. With a little one on one attention, I think we can get that grade up before the end of the semester. Right now, you're sitting at a D. And contrary to popular belief, that doesn't stand for ‘darn good.' More like ‘danger zone.' I don't think either of us wants to see it drop any further."

I suck in a sharp breath before blowing it out and jerking my head into a tight nod. With the upcoming production on campus, my schedule is jampacked, but there's no other way around it. I need help. And Dr. Holloway is offering it.

"Thank you. I'll plan to stop by on Tuesday."

"Excellent. You'll see, a little extra help will go a long way."

He's being really nice about this. Even though I loathe stats with the passion of a thousand burning suns, I'm appreciative of the lifeline he's throwing me. Plus, I can rub the fact that I'll be spending a little time alone with our sexy professor-as he likes to refer to him-in Mike's smug face.

"You obviously don't understand how terrible I am at the subject," I joke.

"Have a little faith, Elle. With enough hard work, nothing is impossible."

It takes effort to rein in my snort.

I certainly hope he's right about that. Or I'll be suffering through this class for a second time.

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