Deadly Chemistry ONLY
a Sex, Lies, and Science Geeks novel by Teri Anne Stanley
Former undercover cop Mike Gibson has been lying low, working as a maintenance man to put his troubled younger brother through college. But when a beautiful scientist enlists Mike’s help to repair the damage done to her lab by a group of vandals, Mike finds that his, and his brother’s pasts, are about to be brought to light.
Lauren Kane was happy having a secret crush on the hot maintenance man at Tucker University, but when the drug she was studying is stolen, Lauren has a chance to get to know Mike in person. The problem is, he seems to know more about what’s going on than any maintenance man should. But then the drug turns up in the wrong hands, and Mike and Lauren have to decide if their own chemistry will help, or hinder, the race to save innocent lives.
Title: Deadly Chemistry
(Sex, Lies, and Science Geeks)
Author: Teri Anne Stanley
Length: 246 pages
Release Date: June 2014
Pricing is not guaranteed
by Teri Anne Stanley
Copyright © 2014 by Teri Anne Stanley. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Lauren wasn’t hoping to find a knight in a shining Tucker University Maintenance uniform when she left her lab at the crack of dawn. She was hoping to find the car keys she’d tossed in true absent-minded professor style into the bottom of her bag when she’d been worrying about why her alarm system was malfunctioning, worrying about her project, worrying about getting funding for her project, and worrying about dying in obscurity as a failed scientist in the event a tractor trailer ran the one stop light in the center of town and smushed her—so she didn’t see the man who knelt next to the door until she tripped over him.
As she flew ass-over-tea-kettle, he caught her in his—whoa—incredibly, uh, firm arms.
She sprawled, half on the concrete, half on the lap of—she looked at the breast pocket of his shirt—Mike. Mike The Hottest Maintenance Man In History. But of course, that last part didn’t quite fit on his name tag. Dark brown eyes, a chiseled jaw, curly-but-not-girly black hair. There was something edgy and dangerous about him that said, I’m all man and you’d better watch out.
She was trying to figure out how to thank him and stand up without making more of a fool of herself when he spoke.
“Are you all right?”
He had quite the voice. Not quite Darth Vader deep, but damn close. Like that country singer, the one with the bad reputation—low, with a touch of bluegrass twang.
“Oh boy,” she murmured.
His lips rose at one corner. “Are you hurt?” He waited, one long, muscular arm stretching around her shoulders to keep the glass door from shutting on her head.
She thought for a second—maybe two—about staying there for a while, next to his Irish Spring and fabric softener-scented self.
“You said that already.”
Now the lips were in an official smile.
Oh, hell. “Oh, hell.”
Mike The Smiling Hot Maintenance Man’s expression took on a hint of confusion, jolting Lauren out of her sex-starved, pathetic, crazy cat lady—who’d never been so close to that much testosterone—daze.
“Do you need me to call 911?”
That voice again. It did stuff to her…parts. “No, it was just another false alarm.” She gathered the few wits she could find and clambered to her feet.
He rose with her, then bent to pick up a pen, a quarter, and—lovely—her tampon case, which had all fallen from her purse when she tripped. He didn’t skip a beat, just handed her everything. “What false alarm?”
“Oh. You meant…911 because I fell.” Her face heated. Apparently, the spill had jarred a few brain cells loose. “Thanks. I’m okay. The false alarm”—she waved her hand vaguely in the direction of the lab she’d come from—“is from a monitor on a secure cell culture incubator that keeps going off in the middle of the night. There’s never anything wrong, but when it goes off, my phone buzzes until I come in and reset it. The alarm. Not my phone.” There. That was almost coherent.
“I can come by later and see if you’ve got a bad electrical connection,” he said, his forehead—his strong, high forehead—creased in thought.
Geez. When did foreheads get sexy? She really needed to get out of the lab a little more often. “Um, okay.” Reaching into her bag and finding her keys on the first grab this time, she said, “That would be great. My lab is 403. Whenever you want to stop by. That would be fine. Good.”
“Okay. Good.” He was smiling at her again. “What’s your name?”
For a moment she couldn’t remember her last name, the one she’d had her whole life. “Kane. Lauren Kane.”
“I’m Mike Gibson. Nice to meet you Lauren Kane. Dr. Lauren?” There were little crinkles next to his eyes when he smiled.
“Um, yes. Doctor. Not, you know, M.D. The other kind.”
He nodded, that half smile cranked up at her. How did eyes so dark look that warm?
She totally had to get away from this guy. “Well, bye.” She gave him a little wave, then scurried toward her green SUV and didn’t glance back at the building until she was safely in her car—with the doors locked and the windows up. Not because she was worried about crime in tiny Tucker, Kentucky, home of the Tuck U Trojans. No, she was worried about protecting herself from the temptation to flirt with Mike Gibson.
He was not for her. Nerdy scientist girls had to stay away from hot guys with big, muscle-y arms and white smiles.
So why the heck couldn’t she stop looking back at the biology building?
She shook herself. What was wrong with her? She had to get out of here. She could lust after him from a distance. That would be fine. Safe. He could be her pretend lover. She turned the key and threw the car into gear. With one last glance over her shoulder toward her new imaginary boyfriend, she stomped her foot on the accelerator.
And promptly shot backward over the curb, knocking over a trash can, which wound up wedged under the rear bumper.
“Gack!” She put the car in park and jumped out to survey the damage. Rounding the back end and seeing the trash can, she shrieked and stepped out of the way of a family of possums—a mom and three…teenagers? They tottered about, blinking in the bright morning sunshine.
“Whoa, careful!” Maintenance Man Mike was suddenly there, grabbing Lauren’s upper arms and shifting her out of the way of the scraggly little things. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said. “But the kids—I ran over their house!” One of the little ones clung to its mother’s fur, but two others careened blindly away from the scene of the home wrecking.
“I tell you what,” Mike said. “You pull your car forward, off the trash can, then we’ll see if we can’t help ’em out.”
“Okay.” Lauren’s heartbeat started to slow and beat a regular rhythm. Except where Mike had touched her arms. There, her skin seemed to be throbbing and tingling. Sheesh.
She moved her car forward and off of the sidewalk, then went back to Mike and the possum. Fortunately, there were no other faculty members’ cars in the lot yet. What would she have told them? No, I wasn’t texting and driving. I was mentally undressing a stranger.
Oh well. Nothing to do for it but to catch some possums.
The alarm on her phone chimed. She pulled it from her pocket and checked the time. “Shoot.”
“Are you late for something?” Mike paused to look at her, pulling on a pair of leather gloves.
“Oh. I’m—I have an eight a.m. class. I was going home to change. But…”
He waved her on. “I got this. I’m a master possum catcher.”
“No, but how hard can it be?” He grinned.
Her parts—including her brain, tingled. “Are you sure? I can probably—”
“I’m sure,” he said. Then that perfect bottom lip curved a little more. “Just watch the road. And try to put the car in drive before you hit the gas this time.”
Mike shook his head as the scientist—Lauren—drove away. She was cute in a nerdy, awkward sort of way. Tall, blond, and curvy, but not the type of girl that he usually went for. His brother, Evan—reserved, proper, too-smart Evan—would fit better with her. Hell, Lauren and his brother already worked in the same building. He wondered if Evan had already asked her out, but he wasn’t going to ask. He had a goal much more important than pacifying his libido and no business chasing women.
He just needed to keep his head in the game and bring down Dino Romain so he could trade in his Tucker Maintenance ID badge and get back the badge—and gun—that he preferred to carry.
Just thinking about the leader of the Devil’s Rangers raised Mike’s blood pressure. The fucker had managed to set Mike up as a dirty cop and walk away with a shit-ton of heroin—and now Dino had expanded into the designer drug market. But at least Mike had a line on those drugs. Devil’s Dust was being made right here at Tucker University, and Mike was going to find the source, bust Dino, and get his damned job back.
A rustling from beneath the arbor vitae lining the walkway reminded him of his current quest. Possum retrieval wasn’t part of his plan, either, but he didn’t think rescuing animals would cut into his crime fighting time too much. “Come on, Mama,” he said.
The mother hissed when he got within three feet of the bush, where she sat squinting at him. Should he call Dylan? His little brother had a way with animals. One of the only things he was good at, besides getting into trouble. Of course, it was Mike’s own fault the kid had slid off the straight and narrow.
Mike had to hope he’d be able to find a way to keep Dylan on track, now that he was at least in school and working.
He checked his watch. Only six thirty? Still too early. Dylan would just get pissed and assume Mike was inventing reasons to check up on him. He gave up on Mama Possum and turned to the nearest baby, which had wandered out from wherever it had been hiding and was making some sort of sound that might be a possum cry. He sighed. He didn’t have a chance in a million of keeping his own fucked up family together, but maybe he could figure out a way to reunite the over-sized, not-quite-naked mole rats. He crept forward. The baby looked at Mike and keeled over, dead.
Oh, shit! Had he scared it to death? He scooped it up and gave it a cautious poke. It was still breathing.
“Ah. You’re playing possum. Funny,” he told it before gently lowering it back into the trash can.
“Hey, Mike.” Jason Dietz, Mike’s maintenance department supervisor, and an old family friend, approached. “What are you doing?”
“Uh, just helping some natural resources along.”
“Seriously? You’re playing with the possum who lives in the trash can? What’s that thing’s name on Sesame Street? Oliver?” Jason squatted down and made kissy noises. “Come here, Oliver.”
“Oscar. Oscar the Grouch. Except this one’s a female. She’s got babies.”
“Come on Oscarina, baby.” Jason gave up and straightened. “Anyway, can you go check out the electrical situation in the bio building? The alarms were going off again last night.”
“Yeah, someone told me about that. I just finished replacing the card reader on the door. I’ll go in a few minutes.”
“Your brother thinks there’s some sort of disturbance in the Force or something.”
“Is the problem in Evan’s lab, too?” God forbid his brother’s tree frogs be disturbed.
“Nah, it’s just in that hot scientist chick’s space. You know, the tall blond with the nice, uh…” Jason made the universal sign for bodacious ta-tas.
“If I didn’t love you like that inappropriate uncle who shouldn’t be invited to Thanksgiving, I might tell you what an asshole you are,” Mike said.
Jason shrugged. “But you know exactly who I’m talking about, don’t you?”
Mike had a mental vision of the hot scientist—Lauren—with her big amber-colored eyes and a charming blush. And, yeah, maybe a curve of soft breasts pushing against an old Tucker University sweatshirt. Her body was intriguing, but it was Lauren’s smile that kicked him in the gut. He shook his head and picked up his tools. “I’ve got to go get some stuff from the office. I’ll head over there after I take care of that plumbing thing in the History department.”
“Seriously. You should go for her. She doesn’t seem too stuck up to date a man in blue. Even if it’s not the kind of blue you want to be wearing. If I wasn’t happily married and twice her age…”
Mike laughed in spite of himself. Unfortunately, his real purpose for being here didn’t allow for romance. He only had one reason to be on the maintenance crew at Tucker University—and it wasn’t to meet women. He had to find where that drug was coming from before it claimed any more victims. He knew that it was being sold to users across the river in Cincinnati by the Devil’s Rangers, but if he was going to get his suspension lifted, he had to prove the leader of the gang—Dino Romain—was the link.
Lauren let herself into the lab after her class, and heard the radio she kept on her desk playing. Weird. She didn’t remember turning it on earlier. Especially not to a news station. Probably another issue with her electrical wiring.
“A dangerous new drug is hitting tri-state streets and sending addicts to the emergency room in record numbers. Cincinnati police say they don’t know where this drug came from or—”
She snapped it off. Thank God she lived in tiny Tucker, Kentucky—Cincinnati was almost an hour away. It was a college town—hardly immune to recreational drugs, but hopefully the big, bad stuff stayed out of reach in the big city.
She dropped her briefcase next to her desk and booted her ancient laptop, longing for the day when her project was well-funded and she could update her old equipment.
“Hi, Lauren,” came a familiar voice from the cell culture room.
Crap. Alex Barker.
She whirled around, frowning. Dealing with the ex-boyfriend-turned-former-coworker was so not on her to-do list today. “What are you doing here?”
“I need a flash drive I must have left when I moved out. It’s got all my notes from last year on it.” He wore a pink, long-sleeved dress shirt, un-tucked, over expensively distressed jeans, and shoes that looked old but probably had been purchased last week at twice Lauren’s monthly paycheck.
Huh. He’d aspired to Abercrombie-dom back when he hadn’t quite been able to afford it, now it looked like he could. The new University of Cincinnati gig must either be paying pretty well, or he was still living on the edge of his credit limit.
“Oh. I put all that stuff in here.” Lauren dug a plastic storage box from under her desk, then handed it to him.
“And I’m popping in for old time’s sake.” He smiled ruefully, running a hand through his blond hair. Lauren was surprised his fingers didn’t get stuck in all theproduct he used.
“How’s the new job?” she asked, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear about it. The higher paying job at a bigger university apparently had come with the bonus of an expanded ego.
“Good.” He started to sort through the miscellaneous junk and didn’t look at her when he said, “I could still use a co-investigator. I can see about bringing you on, if you like. You know that if we collaborated, we could do twice as much than we do separately.”
“Thanks, but I’m not really interested in starting all over somewhere new. I’m happy here.” Besides, Alex’s offer of a good word probably came with the expectation that they would resume their “friend with half-assed benefits” relationship, which had not helped her career.
He nodded as though he’d expected her refusal. “I really hope you’ll change your mind.”
He crossed his arms and looked at her. “You’ve got to get over this misplaced fear of losing your seat on the board of directors of Feminists ‘R’ Us. Working with a man isn’t going to wreck your career.”
Wow. He’d really never understood her, had he? She counted to ten. Working with a man wasn’t a problem as long as she wasn’t involved—currently or formerly—with him. Working with Alex was a problem. He’d tried to take over her projects in the past, which was eerily similar to what had happened to her own mother.
After all, how many times had she heard the story about how her dad had shown up one day and offered to help her mom, a budding scientist, with her project? Nine months later, Karen Kane was a stay-at-home wife and mother—with a useless Ph.D. In addition, only two of Lauren’s female friends from grad school had gotten married. The first spent way too much time reassuring her husband that she was working in the lab after hours and not cheating. Another had gotten married to another scientist, but then quickly divorced when they couldn’t find jobs in the same time zone. Lauren had grown up knowing she wanted to be a scientist, so her option was to give up relationships. She’d tried to have both with Alex, and that hadn’t worked. He’d wanted to “help” her—right into obscurity.
She forced a smile. “Thanks anyway, but I think I’ll stick around here for a while longer.”
Apparently giving up on finding his USB drive, he put the box down next to a pile of lab notebooks. One binder fell off the table with a flutter of pages. “Are you still keeping all of your notes on paper?” he asked, replacing the notebook on the precariously stacked pile. “That’s terribly inefficient.”
“This is still working pretty nicely.” She didn’t bother to explain that she’d already started recording her newer data on the computer—he’d probably stay and tell her how to do it right.
Alex wandered over to the complex system of bubbling flasks and tubes that constituted Lauren’s research career. “How’s the algae growing?” he asked.
She had developed a strain of algae that was going to make her name famous. Actually, the algae had her name. H. kanus. “It’s slow,” she said, excitement building the way it did when anyone asked about her algae. “It’s growing well enough, but when I process it from step one to step two, I don’t get as much product as I was getting a few months ago. At first I thought my student worker had made a mistake, but then I tried it myself and had the same problem. There’s something going on during that overnight step, but I’ll figure it out.”
He nodded, thoughtfully.
Damn. Why’d she go and tell him all that, anyway?
“What about the third step? Is that working?”
“Sure. That seems to be working great. But if I can’t get enough of step two to make this commercially viable, the Pemberton Society will never invest in my project. And if I can’t get seed money for more preliminary data…”
“You’ll never get the NIH past the abstract of your grant.” Alex nodded in sympathy. “I heard that the building is having some electrical issues. Maybe that’s what’s causing the problem with your process.”
Lauren shrugged. “Maybe. Evan said he called maintenance to come look at the circuits.”
“How is Dr. Nerd doing?”
Lauren bristled. “I wish you wouldn’t call Evan that.”
Thankfully, Alex changed the subject. “What are you going to do if you can’t get the Pemberton Group on board?”
“I’ve applied for every small grant I can think of. Nothing’s come through. This is my last chance.”
“What about a grant from the Tucker Foundation?”
Lauren laughed. “Miss Emmaline’s Kentucky Jelly money?” The elderly woman was well known at Tuck U, having made a success out of her own career as a scientist, studying ways to increase local fruit production. She’d also kept the town of Tucker alive, having provided employment to about half the population—those who didn’t work at the college—at her factory.
Alex nodded but frowned. “Why is that so funny? She’s got some sort of grant set up for faculty research, doesn’t she?”
“Yep. And it comes with conditions that I don’t meet.”
“What do you mean? I never applied for one of her grants, but I know it’s there.”
Lauren thought of the eccentric old lady, whom she’d met at a faculty luncheon not too long ago, then explained her reasoning. “The one for this department is for a female scientist who is married.”
“Married? Why? I thought Miss Emmie was a feminist before her time or something.”
“I think it’s designed to help faculty that are married get jobs at the same institution.” Miss Emmie’s heart was in the right place, but Lauren only saw marriage as a fast track out of research. After all, her own mother was living proof.
A frown marred Alex’s forehead, then disappeared. “You know, we could still—”
“Excuse me.” A deeply male voice came from the doorway.
Lauren turned to see Mike standing there, in all of his maintenance man manliness. Dang. How did he find shirts to fit shoulders that broad? She stepped away from Alex, feeling oddly uncomfortable about talking to her ex-boyfriend…and oddly glad to see the rescuer of possums and all-around perfect male specimen standing in her lab doorway.
The preppy guy in the pink shirt gave Mike a dirty look, but Mike ignored him. The pretty possum-terrorizing scientist smiled in greeting, and something warm landed in Mike’s gut. Oh, no. He had a couple of jobs to do—fix shit and find shitty drugs. And he didn’t have time to be distracted by Doctor Beautiful.
“Um, hi,” she said. “Did you—is the possum family okay?”
“Possum?” asked Pink Shirt, turning to stare at Lauren. “Are you still wasting time with needy wild things?”
Mike looked at the guy, who was now staring at him with a raised eyebrow. The implication was clear. Pink Shirt thought Mike might be one of Lauren’s charity cases. What—because he was dressed in a maintenance uniform? What a douchebag.
Lauren caught his gaze with hers. “It’s a long story.”
Mike couldn’t help himself, he winked.
“Uh-huh.” Pinky looked from Lauren to Mike, frowning. This was a guy who didn’t like being left out of the joke—if he even had enough of a sense of humor to get it in the first place.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t find your flash drive,” Lauren said to Pinky. “If I run across it, I’ll shoot you an email.”
“I can stop by any time,” the guy told Lauren. He was clearly reluctant to leave, but he’d been dismissed. Shut down. Kicked to the curb.
Mike stepped up to bat. “I’m here to check your circuits.”
It sounded like Pinky said, “I bet you are,” as he brushed past on the way through the door.
When Lauren’s visitor disappeared, Mike returned to the reason he was there—business. “You say you’ve got alarms going off for no reason?”
“Yes! Please, come on in,” said Lauren.
“Your possums are fine, by the way,” he said. “Possum? Possums? I don’t know what’s right.”
She tilted her head, then shrugged. “Oh, who cares? Thanks for taking care of them.” She waved her hand in the direction that Pink Shirt had gone. “I have a soft spot for animals.”
“Is the guy in the pink shirt one of your critters?” Mike heard himself ask, then mentally slapped himself upside the head. What was he saying? The only fishing he should be doing was to find whoever was making Devil’s Dust. “Sorry. None of my business.”
Lauren laughed. “No, he was…um, he isn’t one of my critters.”
“He wants to be.” Damn. More words out of his mouth. He needed to stop that.
“He had his chance.” Her clear brown eyes held his for a second before she cleared her throat and said, “So, um, what do you need from me?”
Mike nearly groaned at the thoughts that entered his head—not scratching, biting possums or squealing alarms, but soft touches, sighs, and whispers. He managed to say, “Just going to check your connections. Make sure nothing is sending out too much juice.”
“I’ll let you get to it,” she said then and went to do something to a complex arrangement of glass containers full of bubbling green stuff. Something that involved her bending over to flip a switch on a power strip.
Nice pants. No panty line. Plenty of time on the elliptical trainer.
She straightened and turned.
He thought he pulled his eyes back into his head in time, but wasn’t sure. He got his tester out and started checking outlets. “What is all this stuff?” he asked, gesturing to the test tubes. “What kind of research do you do?”
“I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” she said.
He laughed. “It looks like pond scum.”
“It is pond scum.” She smiled. “Fancy pond scum. I genetically engineered blue-green algae to produce a morphine analog.”
A jolt zinged through Mike that had nothing to do with electricity or sexual attraction. He’d just hit the jackpot.
“Did you say morphine?” he asked. “Like, heroin?”