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Episode Eight

Nova

 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’d always found that nothing ventured meant nothing to lose, but some things—and some people—were worth the risk.

 *** 

We drove to a restaurant in town called Giovanna’s Italian Bistro. The team supposedly hung out here a lot and though I’d never been here personally, I’d passed by the place a million times. Since Dad and I had driven to the arena together, he went home with the car and I’d come with Seth, who’d promised my dad he would get me home safely. It was a little ridiculous, because Dad wasn’t nearly as overprotective as he’d been tonight. I was a grown woman who worked two jobs and had a life. He knew that.

Me getting attacked probably had him on edge. Not to mention he definitely had been showing off for Rosa. I’d never seen my dad behave like that either, all flirty and cute. It kind of grossed me out, but at the same time, I felt bad for him. He’d been alone a long time, and while I harbored no illusions that Dad was a monk, he’d never dated after Mom died. At least not that I’d seen, and I’d just assumed he wasn’t interested in finding someone else.

After tonight, I knew I’d been wrong. It still made me uncomfortable, but he’d always put my needs before his own, so he was due a little happiness. Even if it was in the form of trying to date my boss.

Luckily, I didn’t have time to think about it anymore because we were sitting at a big table in the back with a bunch of the Mavericks and their significant others.

“Nova, Seth, this is my wife, Lauren,” Ben said, his arm slung around the back of the chair of the gorgeous blond next to him.

We said hello as more people came in and sat down. I’d started to lose track of names but everyone was friendly and welcoming. I hadn’t been sure what to expect in hanging out with the team, but they were surprisingly low-key and humble. On the other hand, they were not quiet, and as food and wine arrived, they got louder and more boisterous.

“So what do you do besides dress up as Ricky the Raven and study astrophysics?” Wes asked Seth as we started to eat.

“I teach part-time at the university. Wash U.”

“That’s amazing,” Ben said, nodding. “Good for you.”

“Let’s have a toast to the future Dr. Parr,” Wes said, raising his wine glass. “Who is also a serious badass.”

Seth’s face got a little red and he dipped his head, but his lips turned up as we all clinked glasses.

“What else do you do, Nova?” Lauren asked me. “Other than working at the arena?”

“I work at a library during the day,” I said. “I’m a bit of a book nerd.”

“Same.” Nina Laughlin, who was the team’s starting goalie’s wife, nodded. “I love books. I read everything, all the time.”

“Are you a librarian?” One of the guys on the team, Nash Reilly, stared at me like he didn’t quite believe it.

“I’m a library associate,” I said. “I help people check out books and use some of the resources, like the computers. I love being around books every day.”

“You are not what I picture a library associate looking like,” Nash said, grunting as Wes elbowed him.

“Be polite,” Wes muttered.

“I am!” Nash protested. “It was a compliment.”

“It’s okay,” I said quickly. “I’m not offended. You guys don’t look like what I thought hockey players would look like either.”

“Oh, none of us have teeth,” Ben said. “It’s all dentures and implants, so I’m sure the vision in your head is more accurate than what you see here.”

“I have teeth,” Nash muttered.

Conversation shifted to other things and I looked over at Seth. He was adorable in a nerdy kind of way. Now that I was next to him, I could see how long his eyelashes were and I wondered if he ever took his glasses off. I’d never kissed a guy with glasses, and for some reason, I really wanted to.

“So…what do you do for fun, Seth?” I asked him, since he didn’t seem inclined to talk to me now that we were out and away from the arena. Maybe he didn’t like me?

“Fun…” He scratched his chin and looked at me questioningly. “I’m sorry, can you explain what this is, this concept of…fun?”

I laughed, playfully nudging him with my leg. “Very funny. Come on, you must have fun sometimes, no?”

“My roommate and I play video games when we have time, but I honestly don’t have a lot of free time. I’m either in the lab doing research for my dissertation, teaching, grading papers, or inputting grades. Seriously, I’m a pretty dull guy.”

“I don’t think you’re dull.” I looked into his eyes but he quickly looked down, focusing on the calzone in front of him.

Damn, he was shy. It was kind of cute, but I wasn’t used to being in charge like this. Guys were usually all over me, but I already knew Seth wasn’t like other guys.

“Tell me about your students,” I said, opting to go with a topic he was probably comfortable with.

He chuckled, immediately relaxing. “I teach Introductory Physics and Mechanics, and Introductory Mathematical Physics.”

“That sounds like way more math and science than I’d take,” I said, laughing.

“I love math,” he said. “Even though that’s not really my focus.”

“What, exactly, does an astrophysicist do?” I asked, resting my chin on my fist. “I honestly don’t know much about it.”

“In general, we study the universe. We use telescope observations and data we collect from satellites and space probes to try and prove or disprove different theories. Obviously, from the name, it overlaps with astronomy, and we put it together with physics to see what’s what in the world around us.”

“I have a feeling you dumbed that way down for me,” I said, chuckling. “But it’s interesting. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, right?”

He nodded. “Yup. So was Stephen Hawking.”

“He did a bunch of stuff to do with black holes. I read about some of his work not that long ago.”

“You read about black holes?”

“Sure. I mean, not a lot, but they’re kind of cool, all dark and mysterious, eating up all the light until the space-time continuum is out of whack.” I had no idea what I was talking about, but I kept a straight face, trying to see if Seth would figure out I was messing with him.

“Uh…” He pushed his glasses higher up on his nose and frowned.

I burst out laughing. “I’m kidding. I have no idea what I just said.”

He grinned back at me. “I had a feeling, but believe it or not, you’re not entirely wrong. They don’t eat light per se, but they’re so dense that light can’t escape. Hence the name. They’re also important in understanding gravity, because when a large amount of mass is condensed into a small space, the resulting object is called a singularity and it literally rips the fabric of space and time.”

I listened as he explained more than I ever thought I’d need to know about black holes, completely enthralled with his words. The way his eyes lit up when he talked about certain aspects of black holes that obviously interested him. His voice was lower than it had been earlier, as if talking about astrophysics was the real him and the guy he was the rest of the time was just taking over until the astrophysicist could re-emerge. And hearing him talk about all that stuff kind of turned me on.

What the hell was wrong with me?

“I’m boring you,” he said at one point. “I’m sorry. Never ask an astrophysicist about his work.”

“But I like hearing about your work,” I said softly. “I like your voice, and how it changes when you talk about things that are important to you. I bet your female students are mesmerized in class.”

This time he was the one who burst out laughing. “Not hardly, no. But thanks for that. Most of my students sleep through class. They’re mostly freshmen and sophomores, so they’re just trying to get through the slog of the first two years, you know?”

“I’d love to slog through those years of college,” I said wistfully.

“Did you ever go to college?”

I shook my head. “No money for college right now. Maybe someday.”

“What would you study?” he asked.

“Definitely library science. I’d spend every waking moment in the library if I could.”

“Me too. Well, I guess it’s a toss-up between the library and my lab, but I like them both pretty equally.”

“I guess I’d leave to go to hockey games sometimes. I do love hockey.”

“Me too.” Our eyes met and something sparked between us, but before I could react, he’d looked away. Again.

I’d never met a guy as interesting—or as shy—as Seth, but I liked him. He was absolutely the smartest guy I’d ever met, but he was cute and sweet and obviously had a big heart since he’d gotten beaten up for me.

“You know, if I haven’t said it at least a dozen times, I can’t express much I appreciate you jumping in to save me from those two idiots the other night.”

This time his look was intense, all shyness gone as his eyes narrowed and zeroed in on mine. “I loathe guys like that, who think a beautiful woman doesn’t deserve respect. It pisses me right off. There was zero chance I was going to let them hurt you. At least, not as long as I was still conscious.”

I put a hand on his arm, resting it there lightly. “You were amazing, taking on both of them. I’ll never forget what you did, Seth. Never.”