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Pushing the Limits(10)

By:Brooke Cumberland



"Sorry that I don't participate in the same extra circular activities like you, but I happen to enjoy being in relationships."

"Yeah, well, so did Katie Holmes. Look how that turned out."

"You're such a pessimist."

"I'm a realist," I correct, grabbing the tour schedule from a pile of  papers. "Looks like my first tour is in fifteen minutes. I'm going to  use the restroom and grab a drink quick." I jump off her desk. As I walk  toward the door, I call over my shoulder, "Go drink some coffee to  lighten up those dark circles around your eyes."

"I hate you!" she calls back, making me laugh at her dramatics.

Once I'm finished, I wait for my first group to arrive. Tour buses and  schools make trips here regularly, so I've met a large diversity of  people. However, today's group is the spunkiest group of women I've ever  met.

"So what is your organization called again?" I ask as I lead them toward the first room.

"The Red Hat Society," one member explains.

"We also brought you a hat!" another member adds. She walks up to me and  places a pink fedora on top of my head. "Since you're under fifty, you  can't wear red," she explains. "So you're a Pink Hatter."

"Wow … it's like Mean Girls for seniors," I tease, smiling and adjusting the hat to fit over my messy knot.

"Don't feel bad, darling. Pink suits you well." She gives me a wink, and  I know their tour is going to give me a run for my money.

My first half of the morning with the Red Hat Society is filled with  hilarious animated stories and random fits of laughter. I try to stay  focused and remain professional, but these women have definitely kept me  on my toes.

"Ladies, you have all been so wonderful!" I smile and feel like I'm saying goodbye to part of my family. "I hope you come back!"

"You've been a hoot, Aspen!" Eva, the sassier one I've come to realize,  says. We exchange goodbyes and a few hugs before they take their red  hats and purple scarves out the door.

I walk back to Christine's office with a smile and fall down in one of  the chairs. "Oh my God! That was the most fun I've had on a tour," I  gush, grabbing her attention right away.

"I could hear them all the way in here! They did sound pretty sweet on the phone though when they made their reservation."

"They really were. Normally, strangers don't ask anything about me, but  they were all ‘where did you grow up' and ‘are you married?' It was  refreshing."

She tilts her head slightly and gives me a questioning look. "Where did you grow up?"

I realize this is something I don't normally talk about with people.  Even people I know. It's just not something I like to bring up because  it usually leads to other questions, which ultimately leads to me  dodging them as much as I can.         

     



 

"About two thousand miles to the east." I grin, not willing to give her a clear answer.

"I know you aren't married but are you seeing someone? Exclusively, I  mean." She cracks a smile. "I don't even know if you have siblings or  what your favorite color is."

"That's because I don't feel the need to parade my life on social  media." I grimace. "And I don't really talk about my personal life  much."

"Why's that?"

"Because there's nothing to talk about," I lie. I shrug it off, hoping  she'll let it go. "My next tour coming soon or can I grab something to  eat real quick?"

"Oh!" She snaps her fingers in the air. "They canceled, but Ms. Jones was looking for you."

"All right. I'll go find her." I smile. "See ya later!" I call over my shoulder as I begin to walk away.

My mind wanders as I think what Ms. Jones would want to see me for.  She's in charge of the upcoming gala this spring, which means she's been  super busy lately. So I really only talk to her if I see her around.

I feel my phone buzz in my pocket as I start walking toward the stairs  up to her office. I reach for it and read over the couple of missed  messages. As I get closer to the staircase that leads up to Ms. Jones'  office and the employee's lounge, I notice a guy's silhouette standing  near the edge of the steps.

"Are you lost?" I ask, trying to grab his attention.

I step closer just as he turns around and faces me.

Oh, fucking hell.

I nearly stop dead in my tracks as his eyes lock on mine. I try to get  ahold of myself, but his deep, intense green eyes burn into mine, and I  can't look away.

"No," he answers with a sly smirk.

The moment his eyes reach mine, I have to remind myself to breathe.

"Professor Hampton," I say in surprise. "Didn't realize it was you."

"That's okay. And please, you can call me Morgan." He lays a hand on his chest. "We aren't in the classroom, Aspen."

I swallow, and I swear I see him wink at me. "Oh, right. Can I help you  with anything?" I take a step and wonder if he's heading up the  staircase, too.

"I'm looking for my aunt. I think her office is up here." He nods his head up the steps.

"Oh, who's your aunt?" We start heading upstairs as I try my best to act unaffected by his good looks and charm.

"Melinda Jones."

I nearly choke as I realize he's Ms. Jones'-my boss-nephew.

"Oh, um … her office is upstairs to the left. I was just headed there, actually."

"I had no idea you worked here," he states as we climb the steps.

"Yeah, mostly on the weekends, but I fit in a couple shifts during the week when I can in between classes."

"How do you like it?"

"Oh, I absolutely love it. I nearly work every day in the summer."

"I bet you enjoy that." His lips part, and I trip on the step in front of me. "You okay?"

"Fine," I insist, quickly recovering by grabbing the railing. "Damn stairs came out of nowhere."

He snorts. "They do that sometimes."

I lower my head to hide the stupid grin on my face as we walk the short  hallway to Ms. Jones office. I knock on the door, and seconds later, she  whips it open and squeals as she sees Morgan next to me. "Finally!" She  wraps her arms around him as best she can, but considering he's well  over six feet tall with a solid chest and arms, she actually struggles  with getting her arms around him.

I stand awkwardly as I watch them, wondering if I should even be  standing in the middle of it all. I glance at them as they break apart,  her smile wide and excited. "I'm so glad we can see each other more  often now that you're living back home."

"Me too."

Back home? I think to myself, wondering where he's been and for how  long, but I keep my mouth shut until Ms. Jones looks in my direction and  finally acknowledges me. "Aspen! Great, you're here. This is my nephew,  Morgan. Morgan, this is … "

"Aspen." I turn slightly and glance at him as he cuts her off. The way  he says my name is so smooth and hoarse at the same time, which actually  makes no sense at all, but somehow, it does.

"Oh, great! You've had a chance to meet." Her eyes light up again. "I  have a phone conference in about two minutes, so Aspen, be a dear and  give Morgan the grand tour. I'd do it myself, but I can't get out this  godforsaken waste-of-my-time meeting."         

     



 

"Oh, okay," I say breathlessly.

"She doesn't have to, Aunt Mel. I mean-" He turns and glances at me. "I don't want to be a burden."

"Are you kidding?" She nearly gasps. "Aspen loves giving tours! And  she's the best at it." She winks at me, and I secretly wonder if she  knows something I don't know.

I hadn't even told Kendall about him. She knows I have a night course  this semester, but I haven't brought up the fact that I want to take the  professor home and do very, very bad things to him. Bad and  inappropriate things.

However, inappropriate just went up about ten notches.

"Yeah, it's no problem. My group canceled, and I'm free for the next two  hours." I smile at Ms. Jones, avoiding eye contact with Morgan because I  don't want her to get suspicious.

"Sounds good." He turns toward me and grins. "Lead the way."





"Where would you like to start?" I ask as we walk back down the staircase.

"Hmm … what's your favorite exhibit at the gallery?"

"That'd be the Fashion Faire." I smile with a shrug. "I'm a sucker for historic fashion trends."

"Really?" His eyes narrow suspiciously. "I would've pegged you as more  of a Paris Fashion Week guru," he says, lowering his eyes down to my  flats that I wear at work, but I know he noticed my heels in class.

"Well … a girl can love both," I say matter-of-factly, biting my lip to  keep from smiling. "And I'm pretty concerned that you even know about  fashion week."

He flashes that deep-dimpled smile, and it takes all my willpower to  look away to avoid the flutters that are sure to surface if he continues  looking at me like that.

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