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Learning Curves

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THE STUDENT IS READY…Graduate student Madeline Watson can't believe the university rejected her human-mating-rituals study, hinting a good girl like her can't handle the racy subject. Okay, so maybe she has a few gaps in her mating knowledge. But she's changing that by propositioning campus bad boy Cal Turner. With his expert instruction, she'll learn the finer points of desire…and how much fun it is being bad.BUT IS THE TEACHER?Mechanic-turned-teacher Cal has to shake a reputation that's been a lifetime in the making. Which means he can't risk a public fling with Maddy…and he can't refuse her oh-so-tempting offer. But he could give her private lessons–just the two of them–studying the art of seduction. Until their passionate sessions overheat the classroom and Cal's left wondering who really is the teacher.
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Madeline Seduces a Man, Part Two, was about to begin

Madeline Seduces a Man, Part Two, was about to begin

She slid across the front seat to squeeze close to Cal’s side.

Their thighs converged, hip to knee, bringing her barely-there stockings into contact with his denim-clad leg. A rush of heat blazed through her making her more determined to seduce this bad boy.

She whispered softly in his ear, “Don’t I get a second-date kiss?”

He refused to meet her hot gaze.

She grazed her lips against the scratch of his cheek, stole a quick taste of his warm skin.

He let out a low whistle. “Honey, you don’t know what that does to me.”

“I wish it did more.”

He turned to her suddenly. “Do you mean that, or are you just tempting the hell out of me as some kind of social experiment?”

“I want you, Cal.” Maddy trailed a fingertip down his cheek. “I want to see how fast we can go from zero to sixty in that back seat of yours.”

Dear Reader,

What good girl doesn’t occasionally dream of letting her inner wild woman run free? If you’ve ever entertained the idea of really letting your hair down, I bet you’ll like reading about sociology scholar Madeline Watson, who can’t wait to undertake the study of human mating rituals for her dissertation. Too bad the university thinks upstanding Madeline has spent too much time in the ivory tower to undertake such an earthy subject. Now she needs to shed her good-girl image in a hurry, and she knows just the man to help her!

I hope you enjoy seeing how Madeline leads the campus on a steamy, wild ride that turns their lives upside down. Learning Curves is set at my alma mater, the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Although I didn’t have quite as much fun there as Maddy does, I loved every minute spent at that venerable institution in pursuit for my master’s degree.

If you like Learning Curves, don’t miss my first Harlequin Blaze title in February 2002, Silk, Lace & Videotape. Visit me at www.JoanneRock.com to learn more about my future releases or to let me know what you thought of my story. I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Reading!

Joanne Rock

Learning Curves

Joanne Rock


To Dean, for ensuring we’ve always taken the road less traveled. Thank you for the adventure!


Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15


“IF YOU’RE FREE Saturday night, would you mind initiating me in the rites of womanhood?”

Thunking herself on the forehead, Madeline Watson slumped down on a bench outside the business department’s faculty lounge to wait for her quarry. All the come-on lines she concocted were too stuffy. Head in her hands, she stared down at her penny loafers and wished she’d paid more attention when other women discussed their dating adventures. Why had she spent the past ten years with her nose buried in books? She had no idea how one went about propositioning the sexiest man in town—or any man for that matter.

Wouldn’t it be simpler to invest in a killer red dress and a pair of stiletto heels?

She cleared her throat and tried again. “What would you think of taking our relationship to the next level?” A nearby giggle alerted her to the new wave of students tromping through the University of Louisville’s echoing marble corridors on their way to evening classes. Great. All Madeline needed to cap off this hideous day was to have a student report her for trying to pick up imaginary men in the hallway.

The embarrassment would be well worth it if her proposition worked, however. No man had ever sent her hormones into overdrive the way Cal Turner could with one lazy smile.

The door to the faculty lounge swung wide and Madeline plastered her back to the wall as if she could root herself to that very spot. A handful of university professors poured through the door, balancing heavy textbooks, steaming cups of coffee and overstuffed briefcases. Their sudden appearance forced Madeline to recall that the object of her quest was no imaginary male. Cal Turner might look like a fantasy, but those drool-worthy pecs were as real as the grading curve.

Madeline rose, praying she wouldn’t lose her nerve to face the lone man who would be left in the lounge in a few minutes. She nodded to the handful of professors she knew from her years on staff as a graduate assistant, but most of the coffee-clutching crowd was business faculty, a breed far removed from the social sciences department that Madeline called home.

The old Mae West line ran through her head as she waited. “How’d you like to come up and see me sometime?” But that one didn’t really apply to her…she lived in a one-story house just outside of downtown.

She needed something modern. Something direct and aggressive to go along with her quest to be more daring. If she was ever going to get the dissertation review committee to sanction her study of human mating rituals, she had to prove to them there was more to her than just a buttoned-up intellectual. A fling with the most notorious ladies’ man on campus ought to do the trick.

The fact that a fling would also fulfill her secret desire for Cal was purely coincidental. Could she help it if the perfect man for the job happened to be someone she fantasized about on a regular basis?

Madeline unbuttoned the top button of her oversize men’s shirt and took a deep breath. She could do this.

Once the noise had died down and her digital watch flashed 6:01 p.m., she eased open the frosted-glass door and stepped inside the faculty’s inner sanctum. Foam cups littered all three round tables, along with leftover napkins and doughnut crumbs. The only person left in the faculty lounge was Cal.

For a moment Madeline gave in to the pure pleasure of staring at the man who didn’t know he held her future in his calloused hands. Seated in a back corner with his elbows on the table, he wore a gray T-shirt depicting the school’s mascot—a Louisville Cardinal. The T-shirt stretched over mouth-watering muscles, making him look more like the mechanic he used to be than the successful entrepreneur and business instructor he’d become. Of course, Tuesdays weren’t his night to teach. He usually came to the university to review lesson plans and read student papers, even after long days of overseeing his chain of car repair shops, Perfect Timing.

Madeline savored the broad lines of his shoulders, the intriguing cut of sinewy forearms. When she reached his solemn profile, she was unsettled by the chiseled jaw and sharp angles of his face. Without his customary grin, Cal looked less like her good-natured friend and more like the campus wolf.

Perhaps he heard the catch in her breath.

He turned from his grade book. “Hey, gorgeous.” He smiled the killer smile that had probably broken hearts from Cincinnati to Nashville.

Madeline hadn’t known knees truly could knock until that moment. What had she been thinking to come here like this? She closed her eyes to steel herself, knowing she’d lose her nerve if she didn’t ask him right off the bat.

He waited patiently, his hazel eyes turning her knocking knees to something more akin to jiggling Jell-O.

Don’t talk like a textbook, she schooled herself. Act casual.

“I know you’re busy and all, Cal.” She gulped for air and courage, her heart pummeling her chest in a fit of rebellious nerves. “But what would you say to getting out of here and setting the sheets on fire back at my place?”

For one painfully endless moment, the words hung there, echoing over and over in Madeline’s mind.

She slapped her hand over her mouth in a vain attempt to staunch the stupid question she’d already voiced. She lowered her hand, ready to flee if only her feet would cooperate.

Cal blinked back at her, silent. Slowly he closed the grading book in front of him, as if hoping to stall his response.

She hadn’t known a moment of such keen mortification since she—the scientist’s daughter—had flunked twelfth-grade physics.

“I think all those years on the Harley have started to affect my hearing.” He flashed her a rueful grin, complete with the dimple that sent female coeds into swoon mode. “Could you run that by me again?”

There wasn’t a chance she would repeat that hideous proposition.

“It was nothing really, I—” Unsure what to say, she shuffled backward. “I’m just going to head on back to my building now.” She inched further away, eager to escape and disgusted with herself for losing her nerve at the same time.

“Wait a minute.” He rose from the chair.

Maybe, if she had been in the company of an average man, Madeline would have made a break for the door. Instead she could only stand there and gape at six-feet-plus inches of impressive male.

He took full advantage of her immobility as he sauntered over to her. Did he know how disarming that dimple could be?

“I thought I heard a very interesting offer just now.” A hint of backwoods Tennessee still softened an occasional vowel, lending his words a pleasing drawl.

She shook her head so hard her glasses rattled against her nose. “All those years on the Harley, remember?”

“Maddy, how long have we been friends?” He reached up to cup her shoulders, holding her at arm’s length.

Heat stole through her at the contact. “Four years and two months.” She recalled every time they’d touched during that time, too. And none of those idle brushes of hands exchanging coffee mugs could compare to the way he held her now. Cal’s undivided attention intoxicated her.

“That sounds about right.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “And during those four years and two months, I have heard you ask me about my garages, my lesson plans, my teaching ideology, and maybe a time or two about my students. But in all that time, not once have you asked me back to your place to set the sheets on fire.”

Heat suffused her cheeks, her limbs, her chest…she’d bet even her fingertips were blushing bright red. Obviously he’d heard her question just fine.

“The funny part is, I used to flirt outrageously with you just to get you to crack a smile.” He cradled her cheek with one palm and lifted her chin.

Heady sensation clouded her brain cells. She’d had a boyfriend or two since high school, but the emphasis had been on “friend” and those relationships hadn’t compared remotely to this. Ever since she’d come to the university, she’d been absorbed in her work, obsessed with succeeding in the academic world and following in her father’s footsteps. There’d been no time for a man—until now.

His hand slid away, landing on her shoulder once again. “But no matter how much I teased you, you always turned me down cold.”

She blinked up at him, more tongue-tied than usual around Louisville’s bad boy. She might be able to quote complex sociological theory and speak in front of a lecture hall full of hundreds of students, but she had no clue how to converse with a man on an intimate level.

“So why don’t you explain to me what’s going on?” He maneuvered her toward the office chair at the lounge’s lone computer terminal, then gently pushed her into the seat. Pulling over another chair, he plunked down in front of her and waited.

Maddy sighed. “I guess that means no?”

There was something unbearably sad about having your best friend turn you down, even though Cal surely had no idea he rated as the closest friend she’d ever had. He probably had other people off campus who were more important in his life with his chain of garages, but Madeline’s world of geeky scholars and tenure-obsessed assistant professors brightened whenever Cal was around. She valued the evenings they’d sit together comparing problematic students, the demands of the administration, the joys of the classroom.

Cal lifted his hand to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “It means that if the Lady Scholar is propositioning a guy from the wrong side of the tracks like me, then her world has obviously been turned upside down. So out with it.”

The soft scrape of his fingers against her cheek imparted a pleasure that went far beyond the thrills she found in a successful day of research. Cal’s work-roughened hands, the same ones that had wrestled blowtorches and solder guns, caressed her so gently.

Yet she knew that physical pleasure was only temporary, even if she’d never fully experienced it before. Her career field—sociological studies—had always been the one constant in her life. She had to find a way to get her project approved. If only Cal would help.

Cal watched Madeline take deep breaths. She was an odd bird, his Lady Scholar, but he’d had the hots for her since laying his hands on her engine and his eyes on her up-tipped nose four years ago. Intelligent, diligent, and already respected for her contributions to the sociology department even at her young age, Maddy embodied the qualities he most admired in a person.

The fact that she also epitomized the absentminded professor only added to her appeal. Cal guessed she had miles of dark hair, even though she wore it in some sort of knot all the time. She seemed to have no clue she was gorgeous—in a sweet, unassuming way. Cal wondered sometimes if he was the only guy on campus who recognized it. Maddy trooped around the university in sensible shoes and glasses, her delicate figure hidden beneath her bulky men’s clothing.

Cal had passed many pleasurable hours imagining precisely what that body looked like beneath those baggy shirts. Like a car cover over a vintage Vette, her clothes kept her hidden. But Cal had always been able to spot a classic, even when shrouded. She’d put up with enough of his come-ons to last her through her next two degrees and hadn’t once bitten. What was her game now?

“Honey, I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s going on here, so you might as well spill it.”

He got up to get her a cup of coffee while she pulled herself together. This had become part of their ritual on Tuesday nights—kicking back in the lounge near his office, sharing java and tales from the classroom. Cal enjoyed shaking off the blue-collar world of his car repair shops with some academic talk, but not nearly as much as he liked being near Maddy. He’d always flirted with her, but now he accepted the friendship she offered. He was safer with friendship anyway, considering his history with relationships.

Friendship he could handle. According to his ex-wife, it was the serious, intimate relationships he screwed up.

Willing away unhappy memories, he returned with two mugs to find Maddy’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. She didn’t look sad exactly. She looked…furious.

“They turned down my dissertation!” She wailed the words as if she’d announced Armageddon.

“I’m sorry.” What did that have to do with her sheet-burning plea? This woman had just flipped his world and now she wanted to talk about her research?

“The dissertation committee wants me to continue my work in literary sociology, but I’m not interested in that anymore.” She removed her glasses and pressed the heels of her hands against her forehead.

Cal felt a moment of triumph to see her wide, dark eyes without their perpetual tortoiseshell screen. He folded her glasses and set them aside. “You’ve had a lot of success in that arena, right?”

“Yes, but I’m ready to move on. I got into sociology because I wanted to study people, not literary theory. I want to do a pure sociological study.”

What was it about her stuffy way of speaking that acted like a hormone shot in the arm? The way those luscious lips wrapped around lofty concepts proved brains and beauty could coexist quite happily. “Okay. What did you propose?” He steeled himself for more of her highbrow speak by taking a long swig of coffee.

“I want to study human mating rituals.”

It took every bit of control he possessed to not spew coffee on her shoes. Instead, he opted to choke down his drink and indulge in a long coughing spell.

“Are you okay?” she asked, hammering him on the back with a surprisingly strong fist.

“I don’t know,” he rasped. “I think you’re just taking me a little by surprise today.”

She stiffened. “You don’t think I’m cut out for it, either, do you?”

“What?” Dear Lord, he’d barely recovered his breath. He wasn’t ready for round two.

“You don’t think I’m the kind of woman who knows enough about the mating process to write effectively about it.” She stood, all five and a half feet of her trembling with anger and indignation.

“Is that what your review committee said?” No wonder she was upset.

She seemed to lose a bit of her edge then, sinking back down into the chair, defeated. “Just because I don’t go out very much doesn’t mean I can’t see mating rituals all around me. It’s not like I don’t have…feelings.”

Thank goodness his coffee cup remained firmly planted on the table, where he intended to leave it for the rest of this conversation. “Just where have you been hanging out to witness these…whatever you call them…‘mating rituals’?” Cal didn’t know if he’d be able to continue this discussion if they kept flinging around the term “mating.”

“I don’t mean the sex act,” she informed him. “I mean the flirtation that goes on between men and women as a prelude to sex. The human equivalent of mating calls. You know.” She waved her hand in the air as if he would understand exactly what she meant. “Mating rituals.”

Heat surged through him. He couldn’t sit there staring back at her any longer, so he got up and paced the lounge. “This is what you want to study for your dissertation?”

“I want to do some empirical research on what sorts of flirtation leads to an actual relationship.”

Cal wiped a hand over his face. “Now you mean the sex act.”

She beamed at him like a star pupil. “Exactly.”

“Won’t this be difficult to follow up on?” No wonder her plan had gotten turned down by the review committee. If there had been any men on that board, they wouldn’t have been able to sit still through her risqué proposal. “I mean, how will you know what takes place between men and women after they leave your field of vision?”

“Interviews.” She sipped her coffee, appearing more calm now that they were discussing her field.

He, on the other hand, felt edgier than a caged beast. “I see.”

But he didn’t see. All he could envision was naive Madeline Watson camping out at area singles bars in her glasses and sensible shoes, getting hit on by the hounds that hang out in those places. She might be a smart lady when it came to college, but she had obviously lived a sheltered life. She didn’t know anything about the world Cal had grown up in—a world where guts and determination counted for more than any degree.

She set her coffee mug back on the table and traced the red U of L logo with an idle finger. “One of the members of the dissertation committee implied I didn’t get approved because I’m not experienced enough to handle such a racy project. Can you imagine?”

That had been his thought exactly. How could you write about flirtation when you’d never tried it? He, of all people, knew Madeline Watson wasn’t the type of woman a guy could trade sexual innuendos with. He’d gotten the impression that because her father had been a single parent and a brilliant scientist to boot, Maddy had been a little overprotected.

“But I’ve decided I’m not going to take no for an answer.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m going to repropose the project.” She looked up at him, her gaze unusually sure and steady. “But first, I’m going to procure some of the experience the committee seems to think I’m lacking.”

Cal paused in mid-pace and sank onto one of the tables for support. “You’re going to procure experience?” He had that feeling you get when they’re reading off the lottery numbers and you have them all right so far. Did the Lady Scholar really want to use him for…practice? He couldn’t decide whether to be insulted or excited as hell.

“Yes.” She stood, her back straight beneath her bulky men’s dress shirt.

Still, he could see her fingers pluck a nervous rhythm against the cuff of an overly long sleeve.

“But I need to create a public splash as I do this experience gathering. I need to have an affair that will be highly visible.”

Damn. Maddy’s public splash was dousing cold water over a scheme that had started out sounding so promising. He couldn’t afford a high-visibility affair. Not anymore. “And you were coming to me with this proposal because…?”

Maybe part of him wanted to hear that she’d found something to admire in him after all this time. Underneath that proper exterior, did Madeline Watson hide a small flame for the garage mechanic?

“I came to you because you’ve got the most notorious reputation on campus. If I’m seen so much as walking to class with you, my status as the inexperienced bookworm with nothing to do on Saturday nights will disappear. And if, perhaps, you imparted a passionate public kiss or two…”

Cal’s insides twisted. She only wanted him because his bad reputation might rub off on her. She wanted the man he once was, not the man he was trying to become—the man he had to be if he had any hopes of gaining custody of his sister.

Even so, he would have jumped all over that offer a few months ago. He’d have given anything to see what happened when uptight Madeline decided to take a walk on the wild side. If her actions tonight were any indication of what was in store, then it sounded pretty damn enticing to him.

But Madeline officially ranked as a graduate student at U of L, even though she taught more classes than he did. Relations between graduate students and teachers—including part-time ones such as Cal—were frowned upon by the administration. Cal couldn’t risk the potential scandal of a relationship like that right now. He was sort of surprised Maddy would, considering her dedication to her job. This project obviously meant a lot to her.

Madeline studied him intently, the flicking rhythm of her fingers against her shirt cuff picking up pace. “Will you help me?”

Cal closed his eyes, knowing he would damn himself for a long time to come. “I’m sorry, Maddy. I can’t.”

He was prepared for her to be disappointed. He wasn’t prepared for the horror in her voice as she echoed his words back at him.

“Can’t? What do you mean, you can’t?”


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