She's my forbidden obsession. My student. A blank slate begging to be used.
My cruel reputation precedes me.
With tenure in my grasp, no student is foolish enough to think that I would put their success before my own.
But that does not stop Mara Slate from challenging me.
Mara sparks my curiosity. She’s strong. Determined. Passionate. With the secret desire to obey…
She says she is interested in submission, but there is still so much she does not know. There are lessons I want to teach her.
It is against the rules. We could lose everything.
But I cannot resist. I must make her mine.
I’m young for a graduate student but still as capable as my peers.
To prove it, I need Dr. Evans’s commitment to be my partner in the contest.
Dr. Evans is a billionaire. Powerful. Esteemed. Influential.
He’s also an arrogant asshole.
Yet he’s teaching me more than I thought possible. About myself. About desire.
All I’ve ever wanted is to be respected for who I am and what I know.
But what if achieving that means becoming my teacher’s pet?
Author’s Note: His Pet is a full-length standalone book in the dark romance series, The Afterglow. It is a slow burn dominant and submissive forbidden romance, and contains themes of age gap, pain, and restraints. Reader discretion is advised.
Triggers & Content: forbidden teacher/student romance, parental death (disease), pushing limits with safewords, age gap, clear consent
Kinks: clear consent, crawling, degradation, pet play, restraints
Interconnected Standalone: The couple gets their HEA, but the secret club plot continues throughout the series.
“But he’s so dreamy,” a student said. She tossed her hair behind her back. “I’ve heard he’s single too.”
I took a seat behind the group of students, trying hard not to listen, but being unable to avoid it. Undergraduates at the university were notoriously loud. I clutched the stack of books to my chest; Dad’s old shoulder-bag was already full, and I could only stuff so much into that thing before I risked ruining another strap. I glanced at my phone, reading the schedule information: Fear, Loathing, and Las Vegas Literature, General Education Credit: Humanities. The things you could take as an undergrad were a cakewalk compared to the courses you had to take as a doctoral student. You would think that a class on Las Vegas, in the exact city most of these students had grown up in, would lead to an empty lecture hall, but no—almost every seat was taken. Nearly one hundred and sixty of us.
Not that I was supposed to be there.
“Dreamy? How?” another asked.
“The older man sort of vibe. You know. Salt and pepper hair. Silver foxed daddy vibe. I want to jump his bones,” she said with an obvious wink in her tone.
“Does he have gray hair?”
“Well, no. A few here and there.”
“Then that’s not a silver fox.”
“Whatever. You didn’t check the department website?”
It was then that I realized why the lecture hall was full. Very few men were in the class. Most of the class was full of students. Female students.
Ugh. It was aggravating.
“He’s a billionaire. Billionaires have side babes. Don’t believe everything you hear,” a man sitting next to them said. “He isn’t single. Not in a million years.”
“Billionaire? But I thought professors were broke?”
“Stock market investments back in the early two-thousands. The professorial thing is more like a hobby.”
“Why the hell do you know so much about him?”
“Yeah. That’s kind of weird.”
“I don’t know,” the man shrugged. “He’s my life goal.”
I opened a book for a different class, pretending to read it, but it was hard to do anything when they were so damn loud. And I’ll admit it; I kind of wanted to listen. I was asking him for a favor once the class was over; knowing more information about him would help.
“Isn’t he an asshole? Judge My Prof says that he never gives an A. Like ever.”
“That doesn’t make him an asshole. That makes him a hard grader,” another woman down the aisle said.
At least someone had sense.
“I heard he’s always disproving anything and everything his students say. To prove a point. That there is no right answer. Ever.”
“That’s because this is the arts. And arts are always subjective.”
“No, I mean, to the extreme. Not even to teach anything.”
“Graduate classes, maybe. Smaller. More room for discussion.”
“You mean argument.”
I found my earbuds, turning it to a rock playlist, loud enough to drown out their conversation. Now I could think straight. Dr. Evans was the only available professor left in our department for the Crossing Collaborations Contest, which meant that even though this was my first year in the doctoral program, and even though I had never spoken to this professor, if I wanted to win the contest and get my peers to take me seriously, I had to get him to agree to work with me.
One of the students turned around and tapped the back of her seat, looking at me. I pulled out the earbuds.
“Hey,” she asked. “Do you know if we can use this class to fulfill the arts requirement too?”
I shook my head. “I didn’t go to undergrad here.”
“Wait. Didn’t go?” She looked me up and down, scrutinizing me. “You mean you’re not a freshman?”
I grit my teeth. “No,” I said.
“Are you a grad student then?”
“I’m a doctoral student.” I knew what was coming next. I braced myself.
“But you look so young,” she said. “You look like you’re not even eighteen yet.”
I had recently turned twenty-one, so if anything, I should’ve looked like an upperclassman. But I have my mother’s round face and puffy cheeks, her circular eyes. Mom and Dad used to call me their ‘little cherub,’ until at ten years old, I demanded that they give me a new nickname.
I wasn’t going to admit how old I was. That I was their age.
“Nope. Doctoral student,” I said again.
“Are you the TA?”
Why did they have so many questions? “Nope.”
“Oh. Are you his girlfriend?” This time, it was the woman who had called Dr. Evans dreamy. I could give them credit for being an inquisitive bunch.
The door to the lecture hall slammed open, and out came the so-called dream god himself. A professor. Supposed billionaire. The eligible bachelor. The man out to prove that everyone else was wrong.
None of that mattered to me. All I needed was for him to work with me in the contest.
“I’m Dr. Evans,” his voice called out, deep and reverberating in the hall. He went down the stairs to the pit, setting up at the table. All one hundred and sixty students pulled out pens and paper and snapped open their laptops. “This is Fear, Loathing, and Literature of Las Vegas. If you aren’t in the right class, then get the fuck out.”
A chuckle murmured through the room. I had noticed that professors used profanity to get a rise out of the students, to make sure that they were paying attention. I’m not like your high school teacher, I’m a cool professor. After years of studying for my bachelor’s and master’s, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
Dr. Evans handed out the syllabus and the reading list. After a few minutes of lecturing on the depravity and power dynamics lingering in a city that survived on sex and gambling, he dismissed the students. Everyone shuffled out, but I stayed in my seat, waiting for the aisles to clear. A few eager students lined up to talk to him, including He’s-So-Dreamy. In the midst of the rush, I recognized a fellow graduate student waiting down below. Dark brown hair and an oval face, dressed to perfection in a stylish retro outfit, Jessica was in her second year of the doctoral program. I had seen her at the meet-and-greet during orientation week. She waved to me. I could use a friendly face.
But as I walked towards her, Dr. Evans made his way towards the staircase leading up to the ground floor, briefcase in hand.
“Dr. Evans,” I said.
He hurled his shoulders in a complete circle, catching me off guard.
“What?” he asked.
Dr. Evans stared at me, his light blue eyes piercing, like a double-edged sword. His shoulders were strong, broad, taking up space, commanding with his presence. A sweater vest pulled tight over his solid chest, a tie tucked beneath it. If clothing told a story, maybe he was a billionaire. Dr. Evans’s clothing looked new and of expensive quality, better than the tattered clothing I was used to seeing professors wear. That I wore myself. Not that I cared. But there was something different about the way he held himself, the dominant stance, as if he were the sole ruler, and Las Vegas University was his empire. And yet his eyes were completely on me, as if we were the only ones in the room.
Self-assured with a touch of asshole. And something else.
“Dr. Evans,” I said, focusing myself, “My name is Mara Slate. I’m a first-year student in the Ph.D. in Humanities Program, and I—”
He held up a hand. “I have office hours for discussions like this.” He swiftly strode up the stairs, exiting through the door and into the afternoon light. I stared up at the doors, watching them swing shut.
What had just happened?
“I wouldn’t take that seriously,” Jessica said. She patted me on the shoulder. “Dr. Evans is kind of like that. Always ready to say no. To disagree. To decline.” She shrugged. “It’s kind of his thing.”
“How can that be someone’s thing?” I asked. The students that were left, including the two of us, filtered up the stairs. “How does that get him anywhere? Especially as a teacher?”
“Don’t know,” she said, lifting her brows, “But he’s up for tenure this year. We’ll see how that goes.”
“Do you like being his TA?”
“God no,” she said. “I was supposed to be Dr. Smith’s TA, but something got screwed up in the registar, and here I am, with the all-mighty Dr. Evans himself.”
I could relate. “They put my work-study in the library,” I said.
“Not bad. Could be worse.” She opened the door, holding it for me. I went through. “Could be janitorial work.”
“They wouldn’t do that.” I paused, “Would they?”
She laughed and shoved my shoulder. “Of course not. But they will stick you in the food court, which, believe me, is way worse than organizing by the Dewey Decimal System.”
The sun was bright, beaming down from a clear sky. My mother had moved here a year ago, which was why I had applied to Las Vegas University, or LVU, in the first place. While I welcomed the change from the snow in Tehachapi, it only took seconds before it felt like my skin was tanning into leather here. We sat down at a park bench and table under a tree. I grabbed my water from my shoulder-bag, and Jessica eyed the strange designs on the bag with the scrutiny of a scientist.
“My dad’s old bag,” I explained. I quickly latched the buckle and shoved it away before she could say anything. “Good luck charm. Gotta keep it in the family.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I remember you saying that in the Meet and Greet,” she said. “Anyway, a lot of us like to meet at the Ego Trip on Fremont Street. Maybe go to the casino afterward. You should come next time.”
Legal drinking was something that I could only officially do in between orientation and the start of the semester. To avoid the banter I knew would come from bartenders and bouncers and servers alike, for the ultimate birthday in Las Vegas, I had declined the first invitation to go out with the graduate students. They already thought I didn’t belong in the group. I didn’t need them to know that I had literally turned twenty-one that day.
But this time, I could go.
“Maybe,” I said. Many of the doctoral students were in their thirties and didn’t have the time to get to know me, nor cared to, unless it was part of an outing with the rest of the cohort. And I wanted to be accepted. “Yes,” I corrected.
“Cool,” she said. “We’ve been wanting to get to know this mysterious student from the mountains.”
She said it like Tehachapi was some unknown entity, when it was only a couple hundred miles away.
“It didn’t seem like anyone cared,” I said. During orientation, I had been asked if I was in the wrong room by multiple incoming graduate students, and when I said I was in the doctoral program, their jaws dropped. One professor had even laughed at me.
Which was why I needed to win the Crossing Collaborations Contest. It meant more than getting my name published next to a professor’s. It meant proving to everyone that I was meant to be there. It meant proving to Dad that I could do this, like he always wanted to.
“It’s a lot of talk,” she said, “Who knows who. Who has been published where. Who is sucking who to get an extra class. In the end, you just need to get published in a place you respect. Getting hired where you want to be hired. Not what anyone else thinks.”
The hiring season seemed like a faraway fantasy, but publication? Oasis, LVU’s newly established academic journal, was good. Enough. Respectable, I guessed. Whoever won the Crossing Collaborations Contest would have their article published in the journal. I didn’t really care about the journal, but I was doing the contest to prove that I was supposed to be in the program with everyone else.
Because honestly? It always felt like no one took me seriously. Only Dad, and he wasn’t taking classes with me anymore.
“The Crossing Collaborations Contest,” I asked. “Are you submitting?”
“Of course,” Jessica said. “Dr. Smith promised to work with me last year. We have a meeting on it soon. Are you asking Dr. Evans to team up?”
“That’s the idea.” I stroked my shoulder bag’s strap, the original synthetic band sewn to a seat belt by Mom years ago, then both straps sewn to a piece of leather by me last year. “He’s the only one left in the department.”
“He’s the only one who doesn’t participate.” She leaned on the table. Her gaze drifted, and I followed it: the undergrads falling off of the slackline between a set of nearby trees.
“But you said he’s up for tenure,” I said. She turned towards me. “Maybe he’ll have to do it this year. You know. Seal the deal.”
“That’s a good point,” she said. “I would bring that up when you go to his office hours.”
Damn. I realized I hadn’t taken a syllabus with me when we were in the class. There was no need to take the handout if I wasn’t his TA. “Do you know when his office hours are scheduled?” I asked.
I jumped up from the seat, swinging my bag into my grip. “Thanks for the chat. Gotta run!”
I darted across the patchy grass, in and out of the concrete, making my way towards the Department of Humanities, stuck in the Liberal Arts and Culture Building. It was a structure with harsh lines, like an old vision of the future, smashing together the humanities, social sciences, art studio, art history, cultural studies, and literature department. Our floor was the fourth, though some graduate students had to share offices on the third.
When I stepped into the entrance lobby, the taps of my shoes were the only noises. I slowed my steps, easing my gait, going past the mini café, making my way to the elevator.
The elevator shook as it lifted me, and my stomach ached. Why did I feel nervous? There was nothing to be nervous about. He was only a professor. I had met with many professors one on one before.
I searched at the directory and found Nathan Evans, Assistant Professor, 442. Assistant, huh? Not an associate. I could use that information to my advantage.
The hallway was empty, except for one student sitting on the ground outside of an open office. As I came closer, I realized she was sitting by Dr. Evans’s room. She looked like she might be my age, give or take a year, with shoulder-length white-blond hair, the barest hint of roots showing, and blue-green eyes.
“Someone is already in there,” she said.
I leaned against the wall and sighed, then slid down to sit next to her. “I just want to get this over with,” I mumbled. I was full of energy, but the longer it took to get out, the less likely I would actually use it.
“I get it,” the woman said. Undergrad or grad student? I couldn’t tell. She held out her hand. “Hazel.”
“Mara.” I shook her hand. “Are you in his Fear and Loathing class?”
She pointed at the room. “He’s tutoring me,” Hazel said. “Or he’s supposed to be tutoring me.”
A quiet murmur, gaining intensity, sounded from the open door. Why did he already have students coming to his office hours? Tutoring made sense. Requesting his partnership in a contest, made sense. But did the hot-for-teacher obsession stretch to his office hours, even on the very first day?
“Do you know anything about him?” I asked.
“He’s my sister’s fiancé’s friend, I guess?” She tilted her head. “No. Not really. I saw him at Club Hades once or twice, but we never talked. He’s an acquaintance.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’ve never heard of Club Hades?”
“Or the Afterglow?” I shook my head. “Are you new around here?”
“Ah. Figures.” She smiled. “It’s an s&m club. Not sure if that’s your thing.”
An s&m club? “Like sadomasochism?”
“Like I would mean anything else,” she said. “Don’t get too excited now.”
The truth was that I had read about it in books—Story of O, Justine, Venus in Furs, almost everything in theory by Florence Berkley, though it was up for debate if she was talking about power in general, or sexual power—but I had only read about it.
“I’m not judging,” Hazel said. “Like I said, I was there too. It’s a fun place.”
Fun isn’t what I would call sadomasochism, but what would I know? A tingling sensation crawled through my fingers, making me even more nervous. This wasn’t like me. I was calm and confident around professors. Fake it until you make it, like Dad taught me. But I was desperate to know what I should prepare for.
“What’s he like?” I asked.
“He’s not the nicest person, but,” she paused, looking around, “He’s tutoring me for free. As a favor. So he can’t be totally bad.”
The door opened, and He’s-So-Dreamy came out, sniffling her nose, her lip quivering. She scowled as we gawked at her. What the hell had happened?
Hazel and I looked at each other blankly.
“You go first,” Hazel said.
“But you were here first,” I said. I was being polite. I wasn’t afraid to go in. Was I?
“Yeah, but we’re doing a tutoring session. You’re here for whatever.” She gestured forward. “Go on.”
“Thanks,” I said, begrudgingly, but meaning it. I stood up, wiped the dust off of my palms, then stretched my shoulders.
He was a professor. Nothing more.
He gazed out of the window on the back wall. From around his frame, I could see a view of the courtyard between our building and the registrar. A few students were sitting at a bench. Another was asleep in the grass. Dr. Evans gazed out at the scenery as if he could control the pieces in a puzzle.
“Mara, is it?” he said.
I clenched the strap of my bag. Take a deep breath, I thought. It’s only a contest. If he says no, then screw him. There’s always next year. I can always ask for another professor’s partnership a year early, like Jessica…
But how did he know it was me? He hadn’t even seen me walk in.
Despite the sunlight leaking through the window, it was dark in his office, more shadows than light. Two small framed pieces of art hung on the sidewalls, a full bookshelf next to the window. Waiting for me to answer, he turned to the side, and his strong nose was silhouetted by the window.
“Dr. Evans,” I began, “It’s the Crossing Collaborations Contest. I wanted to ask you, because you’ve been influential in the power dynamics in literature, and—”
“Please,” he said sarcastically. He faced me. His dark hair was flecked with subtle grays, and the lines around his eyes were haunting, scowling at me. Fiercely blue, demanding everything I had to say. I shrank under those eyes. “I’m your only option. Save the bullshit for someone who will fall for it.”
What the hell was I supposed to say to that? But Dad had taught me not to take no for an answer when it came to what I wanted.
“Okay. Fine,” I said. “You’re the only one left. Everyone else, everyone I would rather work with, is already taken. And as I’m sure you know, there is a one-to-one limit with how many students can work with a professor in the contest.”
He glared at me, waiting for me to finish. My neck and arms felt hot under that stare, like he could melt me into a sloshy pile of stammering embarrassment. Save me now.
Say it, I thought. Demand it. It’s what I came here for, right?
“Be my collaborator,” I blurted out.
The smallest hint of a smile crossed his lips, then vanished almost instantly. “That wasn’t a request. That was a command, Mara, and I don’t take lightly to being told what to do.”
But he was pressuring me to make a move, wasn’t he?
“Please be my collaborator, Dr. Evans, sir,” I said. “I need this.”
He sneered. “I’ve never done the contest before, and I don’t intend to start now.”
“But why?” I shot back. “The contest encourages collaboration, which is integral to the humanities, and let’s be honest, Dr. Evans. You need this as much as I do.”
A coldness crossed his face, chilling the room around us. His brows furrowed.
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“You’re an assistant professor,” I said, emphasizing the word ‘assistant.’ “You’re going up for tenure this year, right? You need to do the contest. Even if it’s not with me.” I gestured at the room around him. “Or you can kiss this office goodbye.”
“You say that as if I need the income, Mara.”
Oh, right. Billionaire-whatever-man. Give me a break.
“I don’t need anything this place has to offer me,” he said, staring me down, shrinking me in place. “Including you.”
My cheeks were prickly with rage, embarrassment, frustration? I don’t know. But I clenched my fists and walked to the door. Fine, Dr. Asshole. Be that way.
When I turned to leave, he was still watching me from behind his desk with cruel fire in his eyes.
“Fine. Don’t take me as your collaborator. But take someone else,” I said, rummaging the best defiance I could muster, “Either way, you should consider the contest. For your own sake. If you’ve been here long enough to be up for tenure, being here, having this job, it must mean something to you.”
A few seconds went by. I didn’t move. I stared back. But he was melting me, right there. I was losing, wasn’t I?
“The answer is still no, Mara,” he said.
I sucked in a breath and shoved the door wide open. I had a shift at the library in an hour, and I needed to eat and read for my next class before I started. I didn’t have the time to argue with an unbearable jerk. I waved to Hazel and left.
Something she had said clung to me. Dr. Evans went to Club Hades. I would find him there. My credibility in the program depended on it.
If he was hell-bent on telling me no, he would have to say it there, too.