Release Date:

Feb 6, 2020

ISBN:

978-1-951786-06-9

More From Tavi  →

Degrees in Love

by

Tavi Wayne

She knows the behavioral science behind any problem… except for the one in her heart

For thirty-two years, Laney Travers has handled a lot of problems, but a relationship with a white man wasn’t one. Her love affair with gorgeous Tie Stevens seemed destined, however. She fell in love with his voice over the radio waves nearly three years ago. When Laney finally crosses paths with Tie at his talk and book signing, sparks fly between the two, and like two moths to flickering lights, they find themselves inseparable in bed and out of it.

But are they?

As a psychology professor, Laney can’t help but evaluate her interracial relationship through a socio-political lens, a cause of potential strife. Tie disagrees but secretly worries about maintaining his relationship with Laney because of his self-made status. When it comes to diplomas, he doesn’t stack up.

And Laney has a shameful secret that is enough to keep her from admitting her emotions. Is their chemistry one for the books or just a theory?

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“Pardon me, excuse me.” Laney Travers’s coffee was sloshing around in her WYQT travel mug, with dark brown streams beginning to emerge along the rim. “Could I just get past you? Thanks,” Laney whispered as she squeezed herself past the two men sitting at the end of the row.

She was in such a hurry to be seated she didn’t even have time to engage in her momentary worry about whether it was less offensive to have her butt versus her groin in people’s faces, since obviously no woman except an early ’90s Kate Moss could proceed any way but sideways.

She’d arrived at the Radisson Hotel a little later than she’d hoped.

Why did people refuse to leave the empty seats on the end when an event was bound to be sold out or standing room only? Or why couldn’t they just offer to move down? There were at least fifty people in the room waiting for radio host Tie Stevens to speak. She had raced downtown from campus to see the National Public Radio program host and to have him sign her book. Laney willed her bags to be as quiet as possible, willed her coffee to calm down for a moment longer. After placing her mug on the floor, she glanced at the front of the room and took a quick breath in, heart pounding. Tie was staring directly at her… and was that a flicker of amusement that crossed his face?

Laney looked down, feeling her ears and cheeks warming. A moment later, she tentatively lifted her head.

Tie was now focused on Cheryl Wallace, the general manager of WYQT, the local NPR member station. She was expansively singing Tie’s praises, reminding the audience of his publications as well as his best-selling book, Everyone’s Business.

Ah! Her pen and notepad, of course. That was what she had meant to grab before Tie’s brilliant green eyes had trapped her midmove. She rustled among the contents of her laptop bag and located her notebook du jour, found a blank page, tapped the pen that she was wise enough to tuck into the spiral binder, and finally felt settled.

Though what she could possibly have to write about Tie’s anecdotes from his book… was virtually nothing. Still, one never knew. And she could doodle. Maybe starting with those beautiful eyes of his. Although a black pen would do nothing toward capturing the sparkle and glorious green hue of his eyes.

Laney tapped her pen on paper, ignoring the sideways glance of the irritating man sitting next to her. If he didn’t want to deal with her, he should have moved his ass down. Next to this nice mellow lady to my right. Who seemed to be on Valium or Xanax. It was definitely a too-much-Xanax smile. She’d seen it on her sister Lola’s face many times.

People began to shift in their conference room seats.

The station manager was finally closing. “That it’s my great pleasure to welcome to our studios well-known author and radio personality, host of NPR’s Biz-E Life evening business program, Tie Stevens!” Ms. Wallace clapped enthusiastically and waited for Tie to shake her hand before she finally joined others, including Biz-E Life’s staff, in the front row.

“Hi, everybody.” He had a shining white smile, and his greeting was even more enticing in person than it was on the radio.

Laney looked around. Was she the only attendee who found sexual intrigue in the voice of an NPR program host? Looking at him now… well, she couldn’t imagine any warm-blooded creature not finding intrigue.

“Not to stand here conjecturing on how the economy will withstand the latest political debacle, or what small business owners should be looking for in the next election cycle,” Tie was saying. “No, I promise none of that. I’m here to give you a little glimpse of the scenes behind Biz-E Life and some general observations from my book. And then I’ll basically open it up to questions. As you can see…” He rounded the table away from the podium, and leaned back against the desk, half-sitting, half-standing. “I’m pretty laidback.”

Just like his sultry voice. The authoritative voice that came into her home every evening at six thirty. The voice that conveyed such accessible business and economic information Laney actually felt confident enough to weigh in on her colleagues’ occasional discussions of such matters. Who would have thought she, who dropped her economics class in college because her head swam, would have the nerve to casually opine on stocks? Tie’s engaging program had even inspired her to subscribe to Businessweek and The Economist. He really seemed down-to-earth, seemed to “get” her. Well, his audience. Tie didn’t know her—the connection she felt to him was a function of good radio.

And despite being a down-to-earth guy on public radio, Tie could pass for a celebrity anywhere. He was simply gorgeous, with his thick, golden-brown hair and enticing lips. What the hell was he doing in a radio studio? At least put the guy in front of the CPB/PBS cameras!

She was in awe, conscious of his attractive mouth, but in her own world, so she was startled when he once again caught her off guard—this time worse than before. He was looking directly at her, less amused this time but rather curious, expectant. Everyone turned in her direction during the pause.

Laney dropped her pen. “I’m sorry, I missed that. Excuse me?” She heard the man beside her take in and let out a long exasperated breath. If Laney weren’t so mortified and distracted by Tie, she would have had a few colorful words for this man.

Tie grinned, a slight dimple forming in his right cheek, a dimple that complemented the slight cleft in his chin. Damn! He was hot.

He shook his head, a lock of hair falling near his forehead. “I didn’t say anything. You just looked like you really had something you wanted to share with me, or to ask.”

Laney had no doubt that her normally tawny skin was reddening. Tie might have noticed, because he quickly turned attention back to himself. “See, that’s why I’m not Professor Stevens. It was clear from day one that I wouldn’t have a clue how to manage a classroom!” The audience politely laughed, and Laney was, hopefully, forgotten.

She bent to pick up her pen. Could she do anything adult-ish without spacing out in the process? She hadn’t been a twenty-something for a good while. How could she not notice that she was practically serenading the speaker with her eyes? No wonder he was distracted. So, she sat very still, looking up only to glance at the pastel-colored walls. Otherwise, she focused on creating small doodles—hearts for some reason—and tried not to look at the speaker.

Applause signaled the end of the session, and after the station manager jumped up to make sure that people wouldn’t leave before a couple of “important” WYQT announcements, people patiently waited to file out of the room. Some made a point to move near Tie so that they could shake his hand, and those with a copy of his book had the natural excuse to ask for the favor of his signature.

As Laney passed Tie, she noted in her periphery that he appeared to face her. She tentatively turned his way. She wasn’t distracting him right now, right? Laney continued to move along with the line, eerily aware that Tie’s eyes were following her as he multitasked. She confirmed it by looking back once or twice. Suddenly, she turned around, drawn in his direction. Her knees weakened, so she steadied herself before trying to casually stroll toward him. There weren’t many people left in the room at this point.

He looked at her expectantly. Laney couldn’t figure out whether he seemed unsurprised to see her or again just fascinated and curious about her presence. “About earlier…”

“Yes? You did have a question?”

“No. Well, at least not one that was yet formulated.”

“Ah,” Tie said. “See, a professor would know how to read students’ faces. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’m sorry I threw you.”

“So is your question yet formulated?” He was rubbing the bottom of his lower lip.

His gaze on her was interesting. There was no sign of arrogance, no sign of impatience, no sign of anything but—could it be—something bordering on enchantment.

He smelled lovely. Not as though he wore a certain cologne but rather “Essence of Tie.” She suddenly wished the room were completely empty so she could rest her head against his crisp white shirt, take in his scent, and get a break from those intense, beautiful eyes. Even through his clothes, she could tell that he had a hard, protective chest.

Instead, Laney sighed, shoulders dropping. “No. No, I’m sorry, Mr. Stevens—”

“Tie.”

“Tie. I’m not sure why I felt the need to speak to you.” She felt her face warming. “It takes a while for my thoughts to come together sometimes. Although, believe it or not, I’m the professor here. Maybe my intention was just to come and apologize for the disruption.”

“No worries. Again, that was at least as much on me. My father is the professor in my family. His son went into ‘show biz,’ according to him,” Tie said. “Where would we be if Einstein was rushed into articulating his questions, right? He asked the key questions—and, boy, were they key—when he was good and ready.”

“Oh, Einstein. No pressure there.”

Tie smiled. He just stared at her instead of giving her a friendly “bye.” Laney tried to meet his gaze, as she wanted to appear confident, but she caught herself shifting her weight from foot to foot. Making matters worse, Ms. Wallace was standing nearby, with other staff. Though they busied themselves with talking, they were also obviously waiting to talk to Tie about their next moves, probably dinner or something. Laney gave the general manager credit for not just interrupting.

“Here I am taking up all your time, and I’m sure your producers…” Her voice trailed off.

He was still staring at her.

“You’re really breathtaking. Stunning.”

Laney looked at her feet, toward the station staff, toward the disappearing line, anywhere but back at his long, dark lashes. Her stomach fluttered and she was flooded with desire she had no idea what to do with. Her desire to kiss him suddenly became very urgent.

“I’m sorry.” Tie’s tone changed, his volume increased, he seemed to snap out of his trance, or whatever it was, and Laney’s train of thought was disrupted. “I’ve held you up and I’m embarrassing you. I’m just used to speaking the truth, telling it like it is. Your presence—you keep stopping me in my tracks.”

“Telling it like it is!” Ms. Wallace cheered, repeating Tie’s tagline.

Laney found it hard to talk. “It’s okay,” she mouthed to Tie. He winked, showed his right dimple, then began to move toward Cheryl.

Laney turned toward the door in a daze, hoping she’d be able to remember where she parked the car. Wait! She didn’t get her own copy of Tie’s book signed! That must have been somewhere in her frazzled mind when she approached Tie in the first place. Her cheeks burned. Should she turn back this late in the game? Well, she couldn’t make her impression on him any worse, right?

She hurried over to Tie, who had just rejoined the staff. “Uh, excuse me, Mr—Tie. I completely forgot I’d wanted you to sign my copy. I’m so sorry to bother you yet again. Could you…”

“Sign it for you? Of course.” He returned to the table where he had been signing books. “To whom should I make this out?” He glanced at Laney with a—she was afraid to admit it, but it looked awfully seductive—look in his sparkling peridot eyes.

“Um, Elaine Travers. Well, Laney. Just Laney, please.”

“Okay, just Laney, then.” He was scribbling furiously. What on earth was he writing? Her name wasn’t that long.

“Pleasure chatting with you for a moment, Laney.” His gaze on her lingered, and as he handed the book back to her, his fingertips grazed hers.

She was immediately flooded with a tingly warmth and lightness.

“Pleasure is mine, Tie.” You have no idea.

Not until she was outside in the sultry August air did she open the book.

To Laney, whose beauty leaves even me at a loss for words! If you have a moment, call me at 312-555-2753. Perhaps we can grab lunch or dinner. I’m in town only for a couple of days and I’d love to see your exquisite smile again.

Two pages of Tie Stevens’s handwriting! Never mind how large the lettering. Never mind what it said. Laney’s head felt light.

She caught a glimpse of herself reflected in the tall hotel window. What on earth did he find so stunning? Granted, he wasn’t the first to comment on her looks, but with a face and body like his, and his fame… and she certainly wasn’t looking her best, having come directly from a day of meetings on campus. She rustled her long, full, dark brown ringlets and, though she couldn’t see them well in the dark reflection, she imagined her large, shining chocolate-brown eyes in her golden-brown, heart-shaped face staring back at her.

“Well…” She ignored the curious glances of people walking past. “You must have done something right this morning, chick.” She smiled and made a mental note to thank Nette for talking her into wearing something, even just lip gloss, whenever she left the house. A mood boost, Nette had said.

Well, multiple compliments and an invitation to dinner from Tie Stevens was about the biggest mood boost she could hope for.

But also the most intimidating.

End of Excerpt