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It was small, charmingly quaint, and heads above the majority of accommodations he usually had on a research jaunt. He knew a lot of people thought he was a man more suited to a dark and dusty library. He often was, but he was just as much at home in a tent in the jungle, so long as he had enough battery power for his equipment.
Satisfied with his living arrangements, he headed outside to unload the Rover.
On his second trip he stopped to watch the sheriff’s cruiser pull up, and Ripley climb out.
“Dr. Booke.” She was feeling vaguely guilty about giving him a hard time on their first encounter. Which she wouldn’t have felt, she thought resentfully, if Nell hadn’t scolded her about it. “You’ve got a lot of stuff here.”
“Oh, this is only part of it. I’ve got more being sent it tomorrow.”
Nosy by nature, she looked in the back of the Rover. “More than this?”
“Yeah. Lots of neat stuff.”
She turned her head. “Neat?”
“Lots of it. Sensors, scanners and gauges and cameras and computers. Cool toys.”
He looked so pleased with the idea that she didn’t have the heart to smirk. “I’ll give you a hand hauling what you’ve got inside.”
“That’s okay. Some of it’s pretty heavy.”
Now she did smirk, and hefted a large box out of the back. “I can handle it.”
No question about that, he decided and led the way inside. “Thanks. You work out? What do you bench-press?”
Her brows lifted. “I do twelve reps of ninety pounds in a set.” She couldn’t get a good gauge of his body type in the long coat and the thick sweater under it. “You?”
“Oh, about the same, considering body weight.” He walked out again, leaving her following and trying to get a sense of his shoulders. And his ass.
“What do you do with all this…neat stuff?”
“Study, observe, record, document. The occult, the paranormal, the arcane. You know, the different.”
He only smiled. Not just his mouth, she noted, but his eyes as well. “Some people think so.”
They hauled the rest of the boxes and bags in together.
“It’s going to take you a week to unpack.”
He scratched his head, scanned the piles now crowding the living space. “I never mean to bring so much, but then, you never know what you might need. I was just in Borneo and could’ve kicked myself for not packing my backup energy detectorlike a motion detector, but not,” he explained. “You just can’t find one of those on Borneo.”
“I’ll show you.” He shrugged out of his coat, tossed it carelessly aside before hunkering down to paw through a box.
Surprise, surprise, Ripley thought. Dr. Weird had one excellent but.
“See, this one’s hand-held. Completely portable. I designed it myself.”
It put her in mind of a little Geiger counter, though she didn’t think she’d ever seen an actual Geiger counter.
“It detects and measures positive and negative force,” he explained. “Simply put, it reacts to charged particles in the air, or in a solid object, even water. Except this one isn’t submersible. I’m working on one that will be. I can hook this up, when I need to, to my computer and generate a graphic printout of the size and density of the force and other pertinent data.”
“Uh-huh.” She gave a quick glance at his face. He looked so earnest, she thought, so pleased with his little hand-held gadget. “You’re really a total geek, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, pretty much.” He flipped his unit on to check the batteries. “I’ve always been into the paranormal and electronics. I found a way to indulge myself on both levels.”
“Whatever floats your boat.” But she scanned the piles of boxed equipment. It looked like Radio Shack had exploded. “All this high-tech junk. Lots of dough, I bet.”
“Mmm.” He wasn’t giving her his full attention. His activated sensor was giving off a low but definite reading.
“Do they give you grants for stuff like this?”
“Umm, maybe, but I never needed one. I’m a really rich geek.”
“No kidding? Don’t let Mia know or she’ll jack up the rent.” Curious, she wound her way through the boxes. She’d always liked the little cottage well enough, and was still a bit steamed that she wasn’t the one moving int. But things with MacAllister Booke weren’t adding up for her.
“Look, usually I’m big on minding my own business, and I’ve got less than no interest in the stuff you do, but I’ve just got to say, you just don’t seem to fit. Professor of strange, geeky rich guy, little yellow cottage. What are you after?”
He didn’t smile now. His face went quiet, almost eerily intent. “Answers.”
“All of them I can get. You’ve got great eyes.”
“I was just noticing. Nothing but green. No gray, no blue, just intense green. Pretty.”
She angled her head. “You coming on to me, Dr. Geek?”
“No.” He very nearly flushed. “I just noticed, that’s all. Half the time I don’t realize I’m saying something that’s in my head. Comes from spending a lot of time on my own, I guess, and thinking out loud.”
“Right. Well, I’ve got to get going.”
He stuck the sensor in his pocket, neglecting to turn it off. “I appreciate the help. No offense before, okay?”
“Okay.” She offered her hand to shake.
The instant their fingers clasped, the sensor in his pocket beeped madly. “Wow! Wait. Hold on.”
She tried again to tug her hand free, but his grip turned surprisingly strong. With his free hand, he dragged the sensor out of his pocket.
“Look at this.” Excitement rippled through his voice, deepened it. “I’ve never had it measure anything this strong. Almost off the scale.”
He began to mutter numbers as if memorizing them while he tugged her across the room.
“Hold on, pal. Just what do you think”
“I need to record these numbers. What time is it? Two twenty-three and sixteen seconds.” Fascinated, he passed the gauge over their joined hands. “Jesus! Look at that jump. Is that cool or what?”
“Let go. Right nowor I’m taking you down.”
“Huh?” He looked at her face, blinked once to orient himself. The eyes he’d admired were hard as stone now. “Sorry.”
He released her hand immediately, and the sensor’s beeping began to slow. “Sorry,” he repeated. “I get caught up, especially with new phenomenon. If you could just give me a minute to record this, then interface the portal with my computer.”
“I don’t have time to waste while you play with your toys.” She shot the sensor a furious look. “I’d say you need an equipment check.”
“I don’t think so.” He held out the palm that had clasped hers. “It’s vibrating. How about yours?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Ten minutes,” he said. “Give me ten minutes to put the bare essentials together, and let’s try it again. I want to test out vital signs. Body temperature, ambient temperature.”
“I don’t let guys test my vital signs until they’ve bought me dinner.” She jerked her thumb. “You’re in my way.”
He stepped to the side. “I’ll buy you dinner.”
“No, thanks.” She headed straight for the door without looking back. “You are so not my type.”
Rather than waste any time on annoyance when she slammed the door behind her, Mac searched for his recorder and began relaying the data.
“Ripley Todd,” he finished. “Deputy Ripley Todd, late twenties, I’d guess. Abrasive, suspicious, casually rude. Incident occurred on physical contact. A handshake. Personal physical reactions were a tingling and warmth along the skin, from point of contact, up the right arm to the shoulder. An increase of heart rate and a temporary feeling of euphoria. Deputy Todd’s physical reaction is unsubstantiated. Impressions are, however, that she experienced the same or similar reactions, which resulted in her anger and denial.”
He sat on the arm of the sofa, considering. “Early hypothesis reached upon previous research, current observations, and recorded data is that Todd is another direct descendant of one of the three original sisters.”
Pursing his lips, Mac switched off the recorder. “And I’d say the idea really ticks her off.”
Reprinted from Heaven and Earth by Nora Roberts by permission of Jove, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001, Nora Roberts. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.