Something was up.
Katie finished organizing the mail that had come in the prior day and wiped down the stainless steel table that Bennett had just finished working on. He hadn’t asked her to assist this time and she thought it was really sweet that he was taking the effort to try not to give her anything that would scare her.
Then she frowned. It was sweet of him to try to protect her feelings but it was hardly going to help her prove her worth as an assistant. She really wanted to stretch her wings and get used to doing things outside of her comfort zone.
She’d always been the good girl, the one who followed the rules and tried to keep the peace. Not that there was anything wrong with that but it made for a pretty boring existence. Don had loved to throw that in her face, that she wasn’t spontaneous. Well, no more. Things were different now and she would be different, too. She wanted to shake things up and make a difference in the world. Katie sighed. Nothing she’d ever done would be considered revolutionary or exciting.
“Can I help with that?” she asked when Bennett appeared holding several glass beakers.
She’d never tell him this but whenever he asked her to fetch one or the other, it always made her giggle because some of the liquids looked like Kool-Aid.
“No, I’ve got it. You can leave early if you want.”
Frustrated, Katie slapped her hand down on the stainless steel table between them. “What gives? I know you only hired me to get Ri off your back but I can do more than sort mail.”
“That’s not true,” Bennett said finally, after blinking at her in surprise for several seconds. “I didn’t just hire you because Ridley suggested it. That was the catalyst, yes but I hired you because I wanted to.”
Katie gave him a disbelieving look. “So far all I’ve done is grab a few things for you, clean up a little and sort mail. You don’t need an assistant for that.”
“You’ve been very helpful,” Bennett countered.
“I’m a disaster. Try again.”
“Um, actually … I must confess to an ulterior motive.” His eyes wouldn’t meet hers all of a sudden and then he turned bright red.
Oh boy. Katie was starting to have an idea where this was going. This whole deal had been too good to be true from the start. Bennett had told her himself that he wasn’t socially adept so he probably couldn’t see just how screwed up approaching a woman like this was. Not to mention that if he was blushing like that, he probably had some weird fetish that he was going to spring on her. He was a good-looking guy even if he was a little odd so the only way he’d need to pay for sex was if he wanted her to do something pretty strange.
“You look like you’re about to be sick,” Bennett observed after almost a full minute of awkward silence.
Katie struggled to get her facial expression under control. Even if she was completely offended that he’d thought to hire her as a way to hit on her, this was still Jackson’s brother. The Alexanders had always been amazing to her and she didn’t want things to be weird when they saw each other in the future.
Or weirder, anyway.
There was no way things wouldn’t be awkward when she saw him and she wasn’t sure how she’d explain things to Ridley who adored her brother-in-law.
“I think maybe you’ve got the wrong idea about me. I need money but that doesn’t mean I’m up for anything weird.”
Bennett’s eyes rounded. His mouth opened and closed a few times before he finally managed to speak.
“Wait, you think I brought you here as a sexual overture? I have no idea what in my statements or behavior could have indicated that.”
Bennett looked truly perplexed. His confusion made it obvious that he hadn’t been thinking anything of the sort which made Katie feel pretty stupid.
“Sorry. It’s just when you said you had an ulterior motive, I assumed—”
“Actually this brings up a good point.” Bennett interrupted. “I have no idea how the things I do or say are perceived by others. I make social missteps and cause offense quite regularly due to this. That’s why I need you. To teach me.”
“You want me to teach you how to be … non-offensive?”
“Normal. I want you to teach me how to be normal.”
“Um, okay.” Katie sat on the stool at the counter. Her eyes landed on the small plants growing under the clear domes. She looked around the room, taking in the string of chemical equations on the chalkboard across from them and the jars of strangely colored liquids in beakers on the next table. Suddenly she laughed.
“Actually that makes way more sense than, you know, the other thing.”
Bennett smiled a little at that. “I saw you when you were disciplining your son that day. After dinner.”
Katie nodded that she remembered. He’d asked her a lot of questions that evening, about whether she got frustrated correcting her children. It had definitely been a strange conversation.
“Well, it occurred to me then that mothers correct their children a little at a time. They’re able to train them effectively because they’re usually present to intervene when they behave inappropriately. That’s exactly what I need.”
“You need a mother? You already have a mother and she’s amazing.” Katie wasn’t sure where he was going with this because Julia was practically the blueprint for the perfect mother.
“She is amazing. That’s not what I mean. I need someone to watch my behavior and correct me in the moment when I misstep.”
“Sorry but I have to wonder, wouldn’t this have worked the first time when Julia was raising you?”
Katie crossed her fingers that he wouldn’t take offense at the question. When he didn’t say anything, she could have kicked herself. “Stupid question? Never mind.”
“Don’t ever be afraid to question things. That’s the mark of a scientific mind,” Bennett mumbled, sounding like he was only half-paying attention to the conversation. He stroked his chin a few times and then his lips moved silently.
Katie realized that he was talking to himself.
“Bennett, are you listening?”
“Hmm? Oh yes, I was just thinking about the fact that my mother’s birthday is coming up.”
When he noticed the look on her face, he shook his head hard. “See, this is what I mean! I drift off in conversation, go off on tangents and I need someone to bring me back to things. Anyway, where were we?”
“Wondering why you think this would work if it didn’t stick the first go around when Julia was raising you?”
“My mother loves me too much to give me the harsh truth. She loves me as I am, even as strange as I am. She would never tell me something that she thought might hurt my feelings. But I need someone who can tell me the harsh truth.”
“I don’t want to hurt you either, Bennett. I like you.”
Bennett gaped at her. “You do? Why?”
Katie laughed. “Um, you’re brilliant and you’re actually really funny sometimes. Maybe you just need to find more people who share your interests? Like, I don’t know … another scientist?”
Bennett gestured around them. “Look around. I want more than just this in my life. All I do is work and sleep and then wake up to work some more. But the only thing I know how to do is approach problems logically. Getting a tutor seems logical to me. I know this is unorthodox, but will you help me?”
Katie was pretty sure this entire thing had a high probability of being a terrible idea. But she discovered something about herself in that moment. She had a really hard time saying no to a handsome face and a sincere request.
“I’ll help you. On one condition.”
“What’s that?” Bennett looked wary.
“You have to actually listen to what I have to say. If we’re going to do this, it’s not going to be easy and you’re probably going to hate the things I suggest but I have to know you’re serious about this.”
He shrugged. “I dabble in genetic engineering of organic compounds. If I can do that then I should be able to handle this, right?”
The Alexanders and Friends
A heartwarming romantic comedy about two complete opposites on a quest to discover the formula for dating success. A standalone romance in a USA TODAY bestselling series.
Bennett Alexander is a scientist, an inventor and speaks four languages but the intricacies of the social contract are something he’s never mastered. His childhood friend, Olivia, is the only one who understands him but he has no idea how to go from friends to lovers. If only love could be like one of his lab experiments; start with a hypothesis, control the variables and then test until you find a solution.
Katie Mason is everything he is not. Warm, funny and beloved by his entire family, she’s also a single mother desperate for a job after a painful divorce. With her help, Bennett decides to run the most important experiment of his life. Katie will be the control and with her help, he will test how to modify his behavior. Once he finds the formula for attraction, he might have a shot at being the kind of guy a woman could fall for.
With Katie as his teacher, they embark on a series of unorthodox dating lessons. Soon she has him doing the craziest things from going on fake dinner dates to reading fantasy novels to having…fun.
From what he can tell, there’s just one thing wrong with his experiment – the fact that Katie seems to like him exactly the way he is.
What’s a brilliant scientist to do when he suspects that he’s falling in love?