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The Widow and the Professor, #4

The Widow and the Professor, #4

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Recent widow Francie Davis, embarking on a college journey as her child enters Harvard, finds her life taking unexpected turns with the arrival of a brooding new boss and an unforeseen visitor. Simultaneously, Professor Alex Diederik grapples with a vengeful ex-wife, emotionally fragile daughter, and the complexities of his attraction to Francie. 

When secrets are revealed and tensions mount, their budding romance—and their lives—are at stake.

Main Tropes

  • Workplace Romance
  • Later in Life Romance
  • Widow


When the Professor meets his match, romance and risk may write the final test.

With her only child off to Harvard, recent widow Francie Davis is finally going to college. But when a grumpy and undeniably attractive new boss and an unexpected visitor enter the picture, she realizes life still has a few surprises in store for her.

Meanwhile, Professor Alex Diederik's life is spiraling out of control. His bitter ex-wife is trying to poison his relationship with their daughter, and his attractive new administrative assistant is a distraction at work. As he tries to navigate the complexities of his personal life, he finds himself drawn to Francie in ways he never thought possible.

But when secrets are revealed and tensions mount, their budding romance—and their lives—are at stake.

Intro Into Chapter One

Francie Davis hurried down the stairs, her only thought to get through the visit to the cemetery. The flashing of the ancient answering machine caught her attention. Come on! She worked two jobs and only had a single day off each week. Sunday was supposed to be hers.

She almost ignored it. But what if it was an emergency? Her son had gone out early with some friends. Had something happened? Her finger trembled as she pushed the Play button.

“Chessie, they’ve found me,” a gravely masculine voice said, “and that means they’ll look at my family. I’m sorry to do this to you. Watch your back.” The caller had then disconnected.

A shiver nipped Francie’s spine, and she felt suddenly cold despite the muggy late August weather. No one had called her Chessie in over twenty years, and then only her much older brother. But he was dead.

A creak on the porch made Francie jump.

Watch your back.

The ominous warning sent her scrambling out of view of the living room drapes. She held her breath and listened. Hearing nothing but the afternoon breeze rustling through the old trees outside, she tiptoed to the side of the front window to peek around the curtain. The neighbor’s cat looked up from where it sat preening on one of the wide front porch’s rocking chairs.

With a sigh of relief and a little embarrassment at her overreaction, Francie leaned against the wall. That message had better not be a prank. Who would do that to a recent widow? Only someone lower than a snake in a wheel rut.

She frowned. But if it weren’t a prank… No. Francie couldn’t even think about it being real. With Rafe off to Harvard in a few days, she didn’t need to be spooking herself, or she’d never sleep once she was alone in the old house.

Francie glanced around the beloved room with its happy childhood memories of visiting her grandparents, of later ones raising her son here. And even those protecting him from his verbally abusive father. She had lived in this house nearly all her married life and resented that some fool kid could steal her comfort and turn her home into something sinister.

She glared at the ancient answering machine. What were the odds a prankster could have chanced on a childhood nickname for her? It was pure, dumb luck. Should she question Rafe in case it had been one of his friends? No. She couldn’t imagine any of them doing anything so mean. It must have been a college student on a lark, randomly dialing numbers.

Irritated the trickster had gotten to her, Francie pushed the memory of the message to the back of her mind. She didn’t have time for such nonsense. After collecting the flowers she had picked earlier, she hurried out to her clunker of a car.


Francie placed the bouquet on her husband’s grave and stepped back. Since the burial two months ago, she had come every Sunday. No longer numb from the shock, now she only carried guilt.

They had been married nearly twenty years, and all she felt was relief he was gone. Not that she had wished him dead. No, she had never done that, but living with him had turned into torture. She didn’t really know why she still came. Maybe in part because people who’d known her and Greg would expect it. They had all thought the marriage was a good one, despite his poor health.

It had been a lie.

The sound of approaching footsteps behind Francie brought the answering machine message to the front of her mind. She spun around, her hands raised in defense. When she recognized the beloved face, she let them fall. Feeling foolish at her jitteriness, she smiled at her son, the one good thing to come from Greg.

Raphael had his father’s height and eyes, but he’d gotten his Italian dark hair, olive complexion, and slender frame from her. She said a silent prayer that life wouldn’t turn Rafe into a bitter, spiteful man like his father.

“You all right, Ma?” Rafe came to stand beside her.

Francie turned back to the grave. “Just surprised to see you here.”

“Why do you still come?” Rafe shot her a side-eye, shoving his hands into his pockets. “You know he didn’t deserve it.”

Francie glanced away. She’d given up trying to stop Rafe from making disparaging comments about his father, but she refused to acknowledge them. It was bad enough she agreed with most of them.

“I thought you were going to pack today.”

“Done, but I need to talk to you, Ma.”

Something in his tone made Francie face him. Out of habit, she crossed her arms. He arched a brow at the gesture, and she dropped them.

After Rafe had taken a psychology class in his senior year of high school and studied body language, he’d taken to chiding her for doing it. He’d declared it proved how closed off she was. It had tempted her to remind him she was the parent, but he’d also noted she only dropped her arms at home when she was doing something with them. That she always crossed them around his father.
Francie might have succeeded in keeping her problems from their neighbors, but Rafe had lived the truth right beside her. Her little protector, now all grown up.

“Let’s sit.” Rafe guided her to a stone bench near the grave.

He sounded so serious it made Francie’s stomach twist. Had he done something he shouldn’t? Her biggest fear was that he would make the same mistakes she and his father had.

All those years ago, Greg had been so handsome in his high school cap and gown, so confident. They were going to conquer the world, and Francie had believed every word. College, great jobs. They would have it all.

Francie clenched her rough, callused hands and took a deep breath, trying to steel herself for bad news. She reminded herself that Rafe had said he’d finished packing. Whatever he had to say couldn’t be something to threaten his Harvard scholarship.

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