Authors: Teri Anne Stanley
Tags: #deadly chemisty, #romantic suspense, #terri ann stanley, #contemporary, #romance, #suspense, #chemistry
Some chemical reactions generate too much heat…
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 is 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.
Teri Anne Stanley
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Tracy Mort Hopkins. 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.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at
Ignite is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Rochelle French and Stephen Morgan
Cover design by Fiona Jayde
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition June 2014
For Tom, my own personal hero.
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
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,
She sprawled, half on the concrete, half on the lap of—she looked at the breast pocket of his shirt—
. 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.”
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
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—
—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.”
. 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.
. 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.
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
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.
She moved her car forward and off of the sidewalk, then went back to Mike and the possums. 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.
. 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.
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—
—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
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
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.
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
? 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.