Diane's hand was soft, with long, slender fingers and uncalloused palms that had probably never done a day's honest work in her life, much less held a police officer's weapon. It gripped Helena's wrist firmly nevertheless, though, preventing her from leaving her fraudulent professor's home.
Helena hated how her heart had started racing.
She turned, glaring up at Diane. "P...Please let go of my wrist." She had to fight to make her voice steady. A swarm of confused emotions--fear, pity, anger, and others she knew but refused to name--kept fluttering inside her, clouding her thoughts and wobbling her voice like an singing saw.
"Just listen to me." In stark contrast to the mockery and teasing of a moment ago, Diane's voice was suddenly soft, conciliatory, apologetic. Helena was getting whiplash."Please, Helena. Just give me a chance."
"A chance to what? Bury me in a cornfield?" Helena laughed, but felt needles of embarrassment to the quiver the laugh held. She'd just confronted her professor about defrauding the university. How determined was Diane to keep that secret?
"To explain. To help you understand." Diane leaned in close, her eyes large and plaintive, university-defrauding eyes. "And to come forward myself about this. At least give me that dignity."
Helena bit her lip. This close, she could smell Diane's exertion, no doubt from an earlier bike ride. She felt disoriented, off-balance, cloudy. Diane was too close. Diane wasn't close enough.
No. She jerked her wrist away.
"Please, Helena. You're the only one who might listen."
Helena hesitated. She looked up at Diane, then down at her wrist. "Fine," she snapped. "I'll... hear you out. Start talking."
Diane gave a radiant smile of relief and gratitude that definitely made Helena feel nothing in particular inside. But instead of talking, she turned and made her way back to the kitchen. "When I came to this university, the Dean and I--you know Jenny--we discussed my hiring over drinks. A good cop hates loose ends, even if she's not a real one."
"What do you mean?" Helena felt like she'd already lost the thread of the explanation. Diane's bare ass swinging in that diaphanous nightgown probably hadn't helped.
Diane flashed Helena a smile as she made her way to the sitting room, a glass in each hand and the bottle tucked under her arm. "I mean that I like a little symmetry in my life. Just share a drink with your professor, Helena, okay?"
"Okay," Helena said, and immediately regretted the impulsive answer. That--that didn't prove anything. She didn't have that reflex Diane had gone on about. Fuck that. Helena was still in charge here. She had all the cards, whatever Diane thought.
She just had a bad habit of saying 'yes' to people who spoke... authoritatively. Habit. Not reflex.
It wasn't as if Diane was any danger to her, she told herself. Helena wasn't the most physically imposing. She stood short and curvy, with a build her ex-girlfriend had once praised as 'soft', but she was quite in shape and trained in mixed martial arts. Maybe Diane had the advantage of size on her, towering above her with that supple, limber build, full teardrop-shaped breasts at eye level--normally tightly confined to an exercise bra but now practically on display beneath that diaphanous dress--but as long as Helena didn't let Diane get the jump on her, she was pretty sure she could kick Diane's ass. And there was no way Helena was lowering her guard, drinks or no.
They sat across from one another in the sitting room. Helena took the couch, Diane a regal armchair, the expensive kind with varnished wood and cushions that your aunt wouldn't let you jump on.
She watched intently as Diane poured the bottle. She wasn't letting her eyes leave the glass meant for her, not even for a moment. She waited to see Diane take a long sip of the drink before she did the same.
The drink was surprisingly smooth and nutty, with a hint of chocolatey sweetness. Helena's surprise was evident, apparently, because Diane laughed. "Oh, yes, it's very low alcohol. I don't much care for getting drunk."
"Me neither," Helena admitted. "I, um, used to have kind of a problem with alcohol, actually."
"Oh!" Diane's eyes widened. "I'm so sorry; I had no idea. We can just drink water, or--like, I think I've got some grape juice in the--"
"It's fine." Helena snorted. "I'm fine nowadays. I can have a sip now and then, especially if it's low-alcohol content." She took another sip, savoring the flavors. "I just have rules like, you know. Not going to bars, not buying anything for myself. AA's all-or-nothing god-fearing standard isn't applicable to everybody."
She scowled, realizing she was getting conversational despite herself. It was too easy to just... talk to Diane. That was always the problem.
They sat in silence for a moment, nursing their drinks.
"So," Diane said slowly, "I suppose you want to know why."
"I know why." Helena rolled her eyes, gesturing to the armchair. "That's why. This drink--" She raised it and took a sip. "--is why. Money. That's not interesting."
"Please let me finish, Helena." Diane's tone was that of a scolding professor, and Helena couldn't help but flinch. "As I was saying, I suppose you want to know why I've kept you at a distance."
Helena's breath caught. She focused her attention on the bottle. The back listed among its ingredients cinnamon, nutmeg and hazelnuts--plus a bit of cocoa, just as she'd thought. She wondered how much sugar was in it, taking a sip testingly. It was almost like a melted milkshake.
"It's... difficult." Diane's gentle voice pulled her back to reality, and to this subject she had told herself firmly she did not care about. "It's difficult for me, because I've always liked you, Helena. A lot. You're a brilliant student, you do every extra-credit project, and you always have something interesting to share in class."
Helena hid behind her wine glass, giving a noncommittal, "Hmm."
"Not to mention, well..." Diane laughed, brushing a stray lock of beautiful crimson hair from her heart-shaped face. "Can I say something unprofessional, seeing as I'm about to be fired anyway?"
Helena shrugged. She knew she should cut this off. It was irrelevant. It was flattery. It was. It was not healthy that she still wanted to hear these things from Diane, even now.
"I say this entirely objectively, since, well, we're talking about my behavior with the students." Diane leaned over and rested her chin over her steepled fingers. "You're very attractive, Helena."
Helena felt her cheeks get hot. Her heart was suddenly racing.
"You're a beautiful girl with a sweet manner and a charming smile. Of course I noticed that." Diane smiled at her. "So why, you must be asking, did I never... proposition you, like I did the others?"
Helena took another sip of the drink and finally found her voice. "Because I'd have stopped you."
"Very good, Helena. That's definitely part of it." Diane gave a gentle laugh. "Mark and Susan are very capable TAs, of course. Susan is great at helping her classmates, and more social than you, and Mark, well... he does tend to get higher grades than you. Just slightly."
Helena squirmed in her seat, dropping her gaze back to her glass. "Right," she said.
Of course she wasn't the best student. That wasn't... no, wait, why did she care? The class was about to disappear. Why did she feel those pangs of self-doubt and embarrassment anyways?
"But." Diane's voice rang out firmly, startling Helena back into meeting those piercing blue eyes. "You're hardworking. You do every task you're given without question, and you have a wonderful attitude. Mark groans when I give her papers to grade. Susan makes jokes about my lecturing style behind my back. You never do either. You're loyal, dedicated and... agreeable. You listen to everything I say." She winked. "And as we've seen tonight, you never miss a trick. That's why you're my favorite student." A faint smile ghosted across her pretty unpainted lips as she took the tiniest sip from her glass. She reached over and took the bottle, topping herself off--had she been that low?
Elena swallowed. Her throat was suddenly very dry. Favorite student. Favorite student.
"But that's sort of the problem." She reached over with the bottle. "More?"
Helena nodded mutely. She didn't trust herself to speak. She focused on the bottle as it refilled her nearly-empty glass.
"To put it bluntly, Helena, you're too smart." Diane smiled sheepishly, pulling back and setting the bottle back down. "I know that must seem silly, but I had to keep my distance from you because I worried you'd... well, do what you've done tonight. Catch me. You were too clever to risk getting close to." She sighed. "Not to mention the other risk."
Helena lifted the glass to her lips, focusing all her attention on stopping her hand from trembling. "O-Other risk?"
Diane leaned back and stretched. Helena's eyes were suddenly drawn to those ample curves as the thin fabric was stretched taut, and her heart fluttered. Diane leaned back in, smiling at her, that beguiling, charming smile. "You're a beautiful girl with a beautiful mind. You're sweet and attentive to me. Remember the day I told the class I was sick, and you came the next class with homemade chicken noodle soup? It was delicious, by the way." She giggled. "There was a very real risk I'd get... too close."
Helena couldn't quite breathe for a moment. Diane's eyes were beautiful, dazzling, and Helena felt dizzy the longer she met them. She wished she'd grabbed dinner before coming over here.
But something in Diane's words snagged her attention. "I do remember that day," she said, making her voice cold. "And I remember that Mark missed the other class he and I shared that day, too. I thought that was interesting."
Far from looking abashed, Diane beamed and leaned down over the coffee table. "That's what I mean, you know. Mark and Susan never would have caught that I'll bet."
Helena took a hurried sip of her drink, then a deeper reflexive gulp as she noticed how much cleavage Diane was baring by leaning forward. She lowered the glass quickly. "I, um--"
"You're just so smart," Diane cooed. "And you pay me so much attention. I know it's corny, but, well, maybe part of me liked that. You were this sweet, kind, good girl. I didn't want to drag you down with me."
The glass would have shattered had Helena not released it a half-second before. She squirmed in her seat on the couch, stammering something incoherent.
"I didn't want to tempt you." Diane winked. "Corrupt you. Take you by the hand and pull you down under."
"I--I'm sure I would have been fine." Helena couldn't make the fluttering stop, couldn't stop her legs shaking. Thank God for the coffee table. She finished her glass, and as she set it down, she noticed Diane had taken the opportunity to scoot the chair a little closer.
"More?" Diane asked sweetly.
Helena nodded, mind racing, as Diane reached over and refilled the glass. She needed to steady her nerves a bit right now. She needed to keep in mind that she was in control here. She had a plan. Things had... swerved off-track a little, was all. But her plan was still intact. She'd just finish this drink and leave.
"N-Not that I'm saying I wanted to be harassed, she added hastily, as the interpretation of her words occurred to her. "Just--"
"Just that you could have handled it," Diane said silkily. "I know, Helena. I was joking, you know."
"Oh." Helena hid her blushing cheeks behind her glass.
"I was joking about you being obsessed, too," Diane added, giggling. "I mean, I don't think your interest in me is anything unusual. I had a sparkling reputation before you uncovered the dirt underneath. The professional intrigue must have been overwhelming for a good student like you."
Helena bit her lip. She was tired of being the one getting flustered. Something impulsive in her wanted to return fire, put Diane back in her place. She spoke without thinking. "I think you're forgetting another reason to take an interest in you. May I say something un--unprofessional as well?"
Diane blinked, then nodded, her smile widening.
"You're quite beautiful, Professor Wood," Helena said, as smoothly as she could. She took an elegant sip of her drink. "Maybe that's why you're so used to things going your way?"
She'd hoped to fluster Diane, to put her off-balance the way she'd been off-balance this whole night. But Diane only seemed delighted. She beamed. "There, see? That's exactly what I was talking about earlier. You're such a sweet girl!"
Helena's grip on the glass tightened. Damn it, why had she thought that would work? No, better question, why did she even care about flustering Diane? This night was making her stupid.
"By the way," Diane said coolly, "my back's getting a bit sore. Do you mind if I..." She gestured to the couch.
Helena's eyes widened. She felt herself freeze in place like a scared bunny. "I--I, uh--" She gulped down her drink, mind racing. This was going too far. This wasn't gloating anymore, this wasn't confrontation, this was--this was flirting, she was flirting with her professor, or her soon-to-be-ex-professor, and-- "I...don't think I, um..."
"Oh my gosh, I think all the blood in your body flowed to your cheeks just now." Diane giggled. Before Helena could react, Diane reached out a hand to pat Helena's cheek.
The back of her hand felt cool. Which meant Helena's cheek was burning.
Diane raised the bottle with her other hand. "More?~"
Helena's breaths came short and shallow. She was losing control of this conversation, losing control of herself. She tried to find her voice, to say no, but the drink was already pouring, such a pretty rich strawberry amber hue, and she licked dry lips.
"It's okay, honey. You can stay right there, and I can stay right here." Diane smiled gently, caressing Helena's cheek faintly before pulling back. Her breasts jiggled with the sudden motion. Helena stared at Diane's tits just a second too long. Oh my god. "We're just enjoying a little drink. My last drink as a professor, even. Otherwise I'd have to drink alone, and an ex-alcoholic knows better, don't you? You mentioned that in your first essay for my class."
Helena nodded weakly. "Sure. I mean... yeah. As long as there's n-no impo--impoprop--" She lifted the glass to her lips and took a long drink. The drink calmed her nerves, but at the rate they were going, at how stupidly, embarrassingly flustered she was getting in front of her professor--her smug, brazen fraud of a professor--she was going to run out of booze before her nerves settled down. She suddenly wished it was something stronger. She couldn't see the label--what had Diane said it was? 5%? 10%?
"Improprieties?" Diane asked sweetly.
Helena nodded, cheeks burning, and lowered her nearly-empty glass. Her head was spinning. "I... I, um.."
"I-I, uh--" Helena watched Diane tip the bottle down and empty it into the glass. "I sh-shouldnnn, um--"
"Last glass," Diane murmured. "Treat yourself. After all, you have my class off now. Almost a shame you'll be getting that Incomplete. In my books, you've earned an A tonight."
Helena's thoughts felt like falling leaves as she took another deep gulp. The liqueur was so sweet. So smooth. Hard to even believe it was alcohol. "I, um... Incomplete?"
"Well, since I'm going to be fired, Helena," Diane explained patiently, "your grades won't be considered valid. I'm sorry. You'll just have to repeat the course with someone else."
Diane reached down and took a delicate sip from her drink, smiling sadly. "Which, yeah, is a shame. I saw how hard you worked. It seems backwards that you'd be punished for being good."
"Yeah." Helena nodded. She was still trying to get the leaves to settle in a dense enough pile to fully register what Diane was saying. She was getting an Incomplete? That... she'd known that might happen. But it still stung to hear. "I mean, that... you know, I... when I do the right thing, it's not because I expect a reward or a pat on the head."
"Oh, I know!" Diane giggled. "But, you know, if I had my way? Well, if I was in charge, a reward and pat on the head is exactly what you'd earn here. That's all I'm saying. If I was in control of things."
For some reason, that made Helena lose her breath for a solid few seconds.
Diane leaned in slightly. Helena's gaze fell on her ample cleavage, and she took another nervous sip. "Everything okay, Helena, sweetie?"
"Y-Yeah, I just--I'm just, um... it's a little hot in here, isn't it?"
"Is it?" Diane tilted her head to the side, smiling innocently. "I didn't notice. But I guess that explains why you're getting so red."
Helena's body tensed. No. No. None of this was going how she'd planned. It was all unraveling, spiraling, whirling out of control like a ball of yarn dropped from a cliff. She was making a fool of herself in front of Diane. She needed to retake control. Needed to go back to the plan. Needed to...
The lights framed Diane's playful smile perfectly as those beautiful blue bedroom eyes shone like nebulae. "The drink isn't... getting to you, is it, sweetie? You look like you're about to pass out." She giggled. "That would be quite the scandal, wouldn't it? A pretty girl like you, curled up on her unethical professor's couch... like a drowsy kitten?"
The glass shattered in Helena's hand.
The piercing sound and fireworks of pain in Helena's palm should have jolted her back to reality. She flinched belatedly, staring at the broken remnants of the glass, the shard cutting through the ball of her hand. Instead, it only stunned her into numbness. She was too shocked to give more reaction than a tiny whimper.
Professor Wood wasn't stunned, though. Professor Wood sprang into action.
"Oh, sweetie!" Diane leaped to her feet and rushed around the coffee table. The older woman took Helena by the hand.
Pinpricks that had nothing to do with pain blossomed across Helena's palm, down her wrist and arm, and straight to her thudding heart.
Diane's touch was gentle, and her hands were soft and delicate as she carefully took the remnants of the cup from Helena. She looked down at Helena, eyes wide with concern. "Are you okay?"
"I--um--" Helena realized she was shaking. "I-I'm fine, it just--it hurts--"
"Oh, gosh, Helena." Diane reached down and cupped Helena's cheek. "You poor thing. It's going to be okay. Just sit here." She gently pulled the shard of glass from Helena's hand. "It doesn't look like it was too deep. There are a couple little pieces, though. Stay right here, and I'll be right back."
"But--" Helena stared up at Diane, her world widening around her professor, then narrowing until it held only her. Only Diane. "O-Okay."
She felt Diane's hand brush soothingly through her hair. "Everything's going to be fine. I'll take care of you."
Helena barely held in a whimper that had nothing to do with pain.
As Diane rushed to the other room, Helena struggled to quell her beating heart, to arrest her spinning thoughts. No. Stop.
She had to get ahold of herself. She couldn't--couldn't let Diane see her like this, couldn't let Diane take over--but her hand hurt, and Diane was just taking care of her, and surely she could trust Diane--but no, she couldn't--but she did--she knew she couldn't, but oh, fuck, everything was just too spinny and blurry to make sense of, and Diane was so confident, and time was galloping away from her--
She felt the couch cushion shift, and a warm, soft body pressed against her. She turned, her heart taking off at a wild, panicked prey's gallop, and stared up into the eyes of her beautiful unscrupulous professor.
Diane smiled down at her, tender, gentle, nurturing. Helena couldn't see a trace of manipulation in those eyes, not a shadow of a smirk across those full, painted wine-red lips. But was Helena just too drunk to notice?
She quivered, her world racing in circles around her. How... how much had she actually had?
Diane set a cloth first-aid kit down on the coffee table. "It's okay, sweetie."
"Shh. Just relax. I'll take care of these little cuts." Diane's voice was soft, breathy, melodic--a wispy lullaby to a frightened animal. "Okay?"
"I..." Helena found herself giving a meek nod.
Diane smiled and took Helena by the hand.
And set a newly-filled glass of liqueur on the coffee table in front of her.
Helena bit her lip.
None of this was going according to plan.
What had... been the plan?