Home > SEAL Next Door (SEALs of Coronado #9)(7)

SEAL Next Door (SEALs of Coronado #9)(7)
Author: Paige Tyler

“There was something you mentioned last night that got me thinking,” he said. “About your doctorate degree. Please don’t think I’m trying to call you out or anything, but doesn’t it take a long time to get a PhD? I mean, you look like you’re about my age. Aren’t most people close to thirty by the time they get to where you are?”

Poppy froze, the cup of flavored water halfway to her mouth, turning to look at him. For a moment, he thought for sure he’d insulted her or something, but then her shoulders relaxed.

“Do you know that you’re the first and only guy who has ever asked me that?” she said softly. “The first guy to ever make the connection and add up the numbers in your head. I’m not sure if that says more about you or the men I’ve been dating.”

There might have been some question marks in that little diatribe, but something told him that Poppy didn’t expect an answer. So instead, he sat there and waited. He’d learned that from his dad.

“When women want your opinion, they’ll ask for it. Until then, keep your thoughts to yourself.”

“I was always insanely good at math and science,” she continued. “Even when I was a little kid. I have no idea why. My parents aren’t academics. Dad is an auto mechanic and Mom is a loan specialist at a mortgage company. The most I can say is that they always encouraged me to read. And when I started showing an interest in advanced studies at school, they urged me to pursue them.”

“When you say a little kid, how old are we talking about?” Sam asked. “Twelve, thirteen?”

She laughed, eating a big lush strawberry, the juice staining her lips an even darker pink than they already were. “I finished high school before I turned sixteen, had my bachelor’s from UC Berkeley by nineteen, and a PhD before I turned twenty-three. So, yeah, I started young.”

Whoa.

Sam ate a little more cheese, then a few olives and grapes, thinking about what she’d told him. Poppy must have taken his silence for something different than what it was, because she stopped eating to regard him with an expression halfway between disappointed and accepting.

“It’s really not that big of a deal,” Poppy said, and he got the feeling she was sorry she’d ever mentioned anything about her education. “I have a couple degrees. There’s nothing special about that.”

Before his eyes, Poppy was almost shrinking in on herself, her shoulders sagging, gaze trained on the small table, like she was ashamed of what she’d accomplished and how smart she was. Had the other men she’d dated made her feel that way?

“It seems pretty special to me,” he said, slipping his fingers under her chin and gently turning her face his way. “In fact, it’s impressive as hell. And you should never let anyone tell you any different. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been going to college when you were so much younger than everyone else there. I don’t think I would have been able to do it myself.”

The expression on Poppy’s face was so full of hope and gratitude that it was like watching the sun come up. “Thanks,” she said. “Nobody’s ever said anything like that to me or even took the time to consider the situation from my perspective.”

Sam picked up a strawberry and held it up to her lips. “Well, most people are stupid. So, there’s that.”

She laughed and bit into the piece of fruit, a little dribble of juice running across her bottom lip and down her chin. She quickly wiped it away with her finger, giving him an embarrassed smile. Damn, he wanted to kiss her so badly right now.

But he didn’t want to rush this thing with her. She was too special for that.

As the sun crept closer to the horizon, Poppy told him about reading college texts on math and science while eating lunch in middle school and living at home with her parents during her bachelor’s program while her college classmates lived in the dorms or apartments off campus.

“Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t like I was socially awkward or anything like that guy from The Big Bang Theory,” Poppy said when Sam asked about making friends with people older than her. “But when you’re under the legal drinking age for the majority of your university experience and are smarter than people in your class older than you are, it can be difficult to connect with people.”

“I can see that,” he said. “Did you get to party at least a little bit in college, or did you spend all of your time studying?”

“I dated some, but not until I was pursuing my doctorate,” she said. “It wasn’t difficult finding guys who’d ask me out since the program I was in was mostly made up of men, but I never clicked with any of them.”

He grinned. “Well, their loss is my gain.”

She blushed, the color rivaling that of the sunset. Both were equally mesmerizing. Sam had lived in San Diego his entire live and would never get tired of the ocean views, but sharing it with Poppy made it feel like he was experiencing it for the first time all over again.

It was almost completely dark by the time the people from the picnic place arrived to clean up. Sam thanked them again and gave them a big tip, saying he and Poppy had a wonderful time.

“Dinner was perfect,” she said as they walked to his pickup.

“I’m glad you liked it.” Sam grinned, mentally patting himself on the back. “I thought we might do something else, too, if you’re up for it.”

She flashed him a smile so bright that it lit up the early evening darkness. “Definitely. What do you have in mind?”

 

* * * * *

 

Sam’s steps were perfectly in sync with Poppy’s as they walked up to the second floor of their apartment building. He had one arm draped across her shoulders and she had one of hers wrapped tightly around his waist. She’d been huddled close like that since the middle of the haunted ghost tour they’d gone on after dinner. He wasn’t sure if Poppy had truly been scared by all the spooky stories their guide told, but he preferred to think she was using it as an excuse to get close to him.

“I can’t believe I’ve lived here my entire life and have never done a ghost tour,” she said when they reached her door. “That was incredible! Though if I come banging on your door in the middle of the night because I can’t sleep, you have no one to blame but yourself.”

He chuckled as Poppy unlocked the door and led him inside. “I’ve available for late night support anytime you need me, which makes having me right across the hallway very convenient.”

They’d spent the drive home talking about the combination bus and walking tour through several of the coolest places in the city, including Old Town, Sherman Heights, the Gaslamp District, and the El Campo Santo Cemetery. They hadn’t seen any ghosts, of course, but the tour guide had been excellent and they’d had a blast. Besides, anything that got Poppy to stick that close to him was a win in Sam’s book.

“I had an amazing evening,” Poppy said, closing the door and turning in his arms, her body pressed tightly to his chest. “Best. Date. Ever.”

Instead of answering, Sam lowered his head and captured her mouth with his. It had been a completely spontaneous decision, but the moment their lips met, he knew he’d never be able to regret it. Incredibly, Poppy still tasted of strawberries. Then again, maybe that was always what she tasted like. Either way, as her lips parted to allow him to tease his tongue into her mouth, he knew he’d never taste anything as intoxicating again.

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