Chapter ONE

 

“WAKE UP, Devlin. It’s getting late.”

His mother’s sharp tones rocketed him out of sleep, but he wasn’t in his old bed, twenty-five years ago and late for school. Neither was he in his enormous bed in the main house. He was on his mother’s couch, which wasn’t nearly wide enough to keep him from rolling to the floor in a startled, confused tumble.

“Honestly, kid.” His mother’s tone became softer. “You okay there?”

Hardly a kid, but he didn’t expect he’d break her of the habit at this late date.

Devlin flipped a tangle of sandy brown hair out of his eyes and gazed up at his mom, perfectly dressed and coiffed and ready for some luncheon or fund-raiser or something. “Fine, Mom.” Except for an extreme case of embarrassment. Over his forty-one years, his mother had witnessed much worse, but it was still somewhat pathetic to have fallen off the damn couch, especially when he didn’t have inebriation or a hangover to blame.

“You realize you have a perfectly good bed at your own house, right?” Her upper lip twitched as she suppressed a laugh.

He nodded. Plenty of time to untangle his limbs and get sorted once his mom left. “I know.” But everything he did in that drafty mausoleum of a house echoed, the reverberations of solitude almost painful.

“It’s not even that far to walk. Even if you drank too much.”

Over the past few years he’d gotten drunk more than he used to, even for a guy who’d spent more than twenty years fronting a band, but he didn’t think he’d ever been so blind, stinking drunk that he couldn’t find his way from his mom’s place to his house. That was the whole point of having her live in the guesthouse.

“Didn’t drink. Just… fell asleep watching Galaxy Quest.”

A discreet sniff from his mother might have been annoying, but she was still his mom, and she’d never liked him lying. When her nose wrinkled anyway, his cheeks burned in further humiliation. How long had it been since he’d showered last? If he never went anywhere besides his mom’s place and his house, showering seemed an unnecessary expenditure of effort.

His mother’s temporary amusement faded into worry, and that jabbed him with guilt. “Sorry, I forgot to shower, but I’ll get on that right away.”

She sucked in a breath, like she was going to say something, but let it out slowly. She didn’t really need to say it, because he knew damn well what she was going to say. And he knew she was right. He also hated to worry her.

“I’m going to start going through those boxes in the basement today.”

The worried look fled. “Finally. I swear that stuff is attracting vermin.”

Dev rolled his eyes. If nothing else, he paid a groundskeeper and housekeeper plenty to ensure there weren’t any unsanctioned vermin in either of their houses, but she thought it would be “good for him” to sort through all his old stuff. Cathartic or some such shit. But if it would ease the pinched lines of concern around her lips, then it was the least he could do. He’d pretty much binged all the television shows he was interested in anyway and had started working his way through some pure dreck.

“I’m not sure when I’ll be back. I’ve got a full day of committee planning meetings, and Gail mentioned she might like to go out for dinner after the meeting. Will you be able to manage?”

Two years ago he would have huffed in exasperation. He was a grown man, middle-aged even, and could look after himself. But over the past six months, he hadn’t given anyone the impression that he could, in fact, look after himself. Not well, at any rate, so he could hardly blame his mother for the question.

“I’ll be fine, Mom. Pizza delivery is the number-one app on my phone.” At least she wasn’t aware—yet—of his doctor telling him he needed to start eating better or he’d be facing cholesterol meds.

“Tomorrow I’ll cook. Something healthier than pizza.”

“Sure, Mom. Sounds good.” But his mom had a brand-new social life he’d never known about until they started living in close proximity to each other. More than likely she’d be canceling or rescheduling some dinner or other to baby her son. Her forty-one-year-old son. She deserved the opportunity to be happy. Dev just wished he knew how she’d moved on when he couldn’t bring himself to do the same.

“Be good. I’ll see you later, kid, although you might want to give your own bed a whirl tonight. Sleeping on the couch can’t be good for your back. And you need your sleep.” The expression on her face was nothing less than mischievous. “Tonight’s a school night, after all.”

In a swirl of Chanel, she was gone, leaving Dev as stunned as if she’d punched him in the face.

School night. Surely she couldn’t mean what he thought she meant.

Dev waited until he heard the garage door close—her little hybrid was too quiet for him to hear its engine—before he tried to get up.

“Oh fuck.” He ached, and it felt like he’d hyperextended his knee. It was either the couch or the fall. He stumbled into the kitchen, muscles tense all over.

After emptying the grounds from the coffee maker, left over from his mother’s morning brew, he prepared another pot for himself.

With some caffeine in his system, he sat at his mother’s kitchen table and grabbed her calendar. Some of her clients provided free calendars as a promotional service, and she’d been using them faithfully for as long as he could remember. Birthdays, anniversaries, appointments—more doctors now than the Little League games that had filled his youth—appeared in her strong hand. Sure enough, she’d clearly marked tomorrow as “School Starts” in exactly the same way she’d done every year from kindergarten to grade twelve.

How was it September already? He wasn’t drinking steadily and yet somehow managed to lose the past few months to… television and video games. He huffed out a bitter laugh. Income from the band and his savings meant he wouldn’t have to worry about money, but right at this moment? He was an unemployed middle-aged man who slept most nights on his mother’s sofa.

But he was no longer Blade, the gritty singer and bassist for the punk-industrial-goth band Negative Impression. Negative Impression died six months ago with their guitarist Trent, more commonly known as Reaver. The part of Dev that made up Blade had died alongside him. Now he was just Devlin Waters, unemployed and about to go back to university.

These days he had enough money to blow it off and not worry about the loss, but he’d disappointed his dad those many years ago when he’d dropped out after only a year. Not that his dad hadn’t ultimately been proud of what Dev made of himself, but his father passing a few years ago made him want to erase that disappointment. Hitting his forties had been the impetus to reapply to finish his degree, although he’d intended to attend part-time while he continued recording and touring with the band.

When Trent died and Dev realized there was no way he could face music without his best friend, he’d changed his application to full-time, paid the required additional tuition, and then zoned the fuck out, more or less forgetting about the whole thing.

He was too old for this shit, but what else did he have to do with his life?

 

 

JACK JOHNSON strode into the lecture hall at a brisk clip. He was a few minutes late, and he didn’t want the wretched frosh in their first year at university to buy into the fifteen-minute myth/urban legend and take off before he had a chance to hand out the syllabi for the year. Then again, it wasn’t like attendance was mandatory at any class, so if the whole class decided to fuck off, it just meant Jack had more time, and the students were more likely to fail.

Sanji, one of the teaching assistants for this course, gave him a hard look from his place in the front row. He rolled his eyes.

“Good morning. This is Intro to Archaeology. I’m Dr. Jack Johnson. Normally this class is taught by Professor Nadine Redmond, but as she is on parental leave for the next several weeks, I’ll be teaching you lot of miscreants.”

His grouchy words got a few titters from the students, but he hadn’t been trying for humor. He was happy for Nadine, he really was, but he was annoyed that he’d been assigned to cover the class, in addition to his normal workload. Intro to Archaeology sucked donkey eggs, and he didn’t have Nadine’s love of “nurturing the next crop of budding archaeologists, getting them excited about prehistory.” Absolute garbage. If they managed to make it to university and not realize archaeology was one of the most interesting academic disciplines, then it wasn’t up to him to correct that oversight. There were already too many students in this class, and this might be the worst year possible for him to have an overloaded schedule.

“Sanji, here, will be handing out the syllabus for this year.” Jack handed Sanji the stack of papers—and the reason he was late. Sanji waved at the students as he stood. “Sanji is one of your teaching assistants, as is Meredith.” She also stood and waved before Jack continued.

“In case you weren’t paying attention when you registered, classes will be here, Monday and Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. sharp, unless there are holidays or other breaks, according to the official university schedule. Each of you should also have signed up for one hour of practical lab work each week, which may be guided by either myself, Meredith, or Sanji. There are several sessions—”

He broke off as the door opened, and in strode a man who was clearly not a brand-new first-year university student.

“Sorry I’m late.” The man gave him a rueful grin but didn’t sound terribly apologetic.

“Do try to be on time in the future.” Jack’s scolding didn’t faze the man a bit. He merely wiggled fingers in Jack’s direction as he slid into an open seat in the second row. Meredith leaped up and hand-delivered a syllabus. Undeserved attention for a student who was late.

With a barely smothered grimace, Jack turned his attention back to his notes. He did not like being interrupted.

“Where was I? Oh yes. Lab sessions will take place on Thursday or Friday starting next week.”

God willing, he’d only be doing the labs for a couple of weeks.

“How many of you have seen the Indiana Jones movies?” Pretty much the whole class put their hands up. Hell, he hadn’t even been alive when the first one came out. The students seemed to get younger every year, but that didn’t diminish the almost timeless appeal of those movies. Or the timeless appeal of their star. Jack suspected his preference for older men might have germinated in his youthful crush on the ruggedly handsome Harrison Ford.

“How many of you think Indiana Jones is an accurate portrayal of an archaeologist… the most recent movie aside.” Because there was an official term for an archaeologist who went around unearthing alien artifacts, and that name was “crackpot.” Or perhaps “whackadoo” in more casual circles.

Far too many hands remained in the air, and he scowled at them. Honestly. Critical thinking was a lost fucking art.

“Well, I’ve got some bad news for you. There may have been a time when people barely above grave robbers called themselves archaeologists. And they behaved alarmingly like our charming Dr. Jones. Archaeology uses science, gold and gems are as rare as getting struck by lightning, and treasure doesn’t tell us nearly as much about prehistoric societies as do garbage dumps.”

Which was precisely the reason this class filled up every goddamn year, and the attrition rate was so high. Halfway through the semester, they’d be lucky to have half this many students. It meant a shit-ton of work in those first few weeks and months, though, until the exacting nature and the lack of glamor bored the idiots who thought they’d be slapping on a pith helmet, rifling through a grave or twenty, dodging spear-wielding natives, and scoring a solid gold idol, all in the first week. Indiana Jones might have been hot, but he was a grave-robbing maverick, at best.

At least the labs were scheduled in pairs so that as soon as attendance dropped, any of Jack’s labs could merge into Sanji’s or Meredith’s equivalent, freeing up a few hours of his time. Unfortunately, depending on how determined this lot of frosh were, he might well be teaching labs until Nadine returned. Couldn’t she be more traditional and take the full year’s mat leave? But nooo, she had to split the parental leave with her husband, and that meant he was temporarily covering, rather than shuffling the entire schedule or course offerings for a full year.

“Now that you know what not to expect… the required text is listed on your syllabus. I expect everyone to have a copy before your first lab session, although if you wait until next week, you will be hopelessly behind.” Jack continued on with the first day’s lecture. Not much of a lecture, merely going over expectations, required reading for the next class, and an incredibly abbreviated history of the discipline.

Most of the first lecture he could deliver in his sleep, and a good thing too. Several times over the rest of the hour, Jack found his eyes wandering to the latecomer in the second row. By rights, in a class this full, he should never have found a seat so close to the front, but the rest of the “fresh out of high school” crowd seemed to have an ingrained terror of sitting too close to the front, and the damn lecture hall filled from back to front.

Mature students weren’t uncommon, but usually it meant a couple of people his father’s age interspersed in the sea of kids in their late teens. It had been a gift, because as yet, he’d had not one man who attracted him show up in any of his classes. Not any of his undergraduates. Some of his graduate students had held some appeal, but it hadn’t been hard to avoid any impropriety.

This man, though, was going to be a distraction of the first order. A few years older than him, maybe as many as ten, sandy blond hair, freckles, laugh lines at the corners of hazel-colored eyes. Lean, fit, wearing jeans that lovingly cupped an ass made for sin, and a package that could tempt a saint. Something about his jawline and the sharp line of his nose gave Jack a frisson of déjà vu, but that had to be his mind playing tricks on him. No way could he have met and forgotten a man like that.

Jack Johnson might be a nerd, but he was no goddamn saint, and the sheer temptation of this man—this student—was going to make this class a million times more hideous. Last thing he needed was to battle a fucking hard-on in front of four-hundred-plus students. Nadine and her adorable cherub of a baby owed him large, and as soon as she got back, he’d collect.

Forty-seven excruciating minutes later, Jack excused the class and dashed out before anyone could tuck notebooks and laptops into bags.