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Authors: Carla Michaels

Rebel Betty

BOOK: Rebel Betty
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Rebel Betty


Carla Michaels

Copyright 2016 by Carla Michaels



Chapter 1


“Professor Gilbert?”

Thaddeus Gilbert glanced over his shoulder at the softly spoken question but did not stop walking. In the distance, past the stand of trees whose red buds were coated in ice, he could see the brick facade of the hall, and a peek at his watch showed less than two minutes before the start of his first class. He quickened his step. None of the students would complain about the delay, but years spent in the military had left their mark. He hated to be late, even when an April storm had dumped ten inches of snow on central Ohio that weekend, bringing everything to a grinding halt.

Shifting his bag, he motioned the speaker forward with a wave. “You will have to walk with me if you need something."

Yesterday, the snow had been magical; the heavy white powder coated the landscape in a thick blanket, and the fields were painted an endless expanse of white. Today, all that he could think about was the dampness in his boots from an icy puddle in the faculty parking lot, and the wreck of his front yard caused by a tree that had shattered under the heavy weight of snow. A low level headache was pounding behind his eyes, the product of another night spent with very little sleep. The twin demands of a full class schedule and a paper due to be delivered at a conference in a few weeks were playing hell with his nerves.

The morning air burned as he inhaled, frigid and bracing.  The sidewalks were crowded with students who streamed in from all directions, huddled against the chill. Many of them wore similar mutinous expressions. Spring Break had ended days before, and they had returned from trips to Florida and Mexico only to be hit with a last blast of winter.

A beefy shoulder jostled Thad’s elbow as he lifted his cup to take a drink, sloshing steaming coffee over his chin. He cursed and paused to wipe a hand over the wetness, allowing the woman trailing behind to catch up and then keep pace with his strides.

he thought, resisting the urge to stop and stare.  At first glance, he could not have said what it was about the woman's appearance that held his attention so completely. Her clothing would not have been out of place in a country music video: faded jeans that hugged long legs and a canvas coat that was left open at the top to show a plaid shirt. Soft waves of cinnamon colored hair moved around a pretty, angular face that seemed pale against the snow. Her age was difficult to pinpoint, though he guessed her to be younger than his 38 years. Compared to some of the meticulously groomed and scantily clad girls that stalked the halls, she appeared ordinary, without a trace of make-up, but there was something wholesome and arresting about her pretty face. It was as though she had nothing to hide.

The eyes
, his brain finally supplied. The dark, fathomless eyes and the secrets he could see in them were at odds with the studied casualness of her appearance.

“Are you in one of my classes?” he asked, although he thought not. He would have remembered her.

“I am not a student,” she said, and her lips twitched with amusement. “My name is Lara Foster. We spoke on the phone a few days ago about something that I dug up on my farm. You asked me to see you before class?”

Recognition dawned, and he stopped walking. “Yes, Now I remember. From up near Troy.” He grimaced, motioning to his stuffed bag. “Sorry about that. The last few weeks have been crazy."

"It's not a problem, but if this is a bad time..."

The details of their conversation began to emerge from the fog of his mind, and he was anxious to remedy his misstep. "No, not at all. Why don't you come with me and I will see if I can look at it before class."

Together, they walked up the wide steps to the entrance where massive bronze doors were held open by the flood incoming students. Old light fixtures dimly illuminated the halls, seeking to dispel the gloom. Some of the newer buildings on campus were filled with sunshine from banks of windows, creating the illusion of light, although they could do nothing to break the gray that kept Ohio in its grasp from the fall of the last autumn leaf to the beginning of spring. He could have switched his class to one of those buildings, where the computer systems did not blink out regularly. Although the anthropology department on campus was small, his classes were popular, and always filled to capacity. They were a filler class, peopled with those who dreamed of living out Indiana Jones fantasies.   But he liked the old buildings. The uneven walls and drafty windows gave him the sense of being a part of an academic traction that stretched back thousands of years.

Thaddeus looked through the door at the packed room and frowned. There would be no chance of them speaking before class, not with over a hundred students watching.

“Any chance we could speak after class? If you don’t mind hanging around for an hour, you could sit in on the lecture. Then we can go back to my office.”


Lara checked her watch and nodded. She followed Dr. Gilbert through the door and watched as he was engulfed by a crowd of students, all vying for his attention. Walking up the raised platform of seats before the desk, she stopped near the back and could not resist a small smile.

Some things would never change
. Throughout her time in school, she had never been at the head of the class in any sense.  Between the dyslexia and a healthy sense of adventure, she had barely squeaked through high school.

“Is this seat taken?” She asked a plain, quiet-looking girl engrossed by her phone.

The girl shook her head and Lara sat down, depositing her bag on the floor.

“Are you auditing the class?” She asked, surprising Lara by putting down the phone. The unexpected Wisconsin accent made Lara smile.

“Something like that. I have to speak to the professor after class.”

The girl snorted. “Lucky. He's cute. Not known for being much of a player, though. I’m Jordan,” she introduced herself, pushing glasses back up her nose. Jordan had the pale skin and red rimmed eyes of someone who spent the majority of their time in front of a computer screen, but her grin was friendly, and warm.


Amusement puckered her face, making the stud in her upper lip jiggle as it stretched across white teeth. “Like Tomb Raider?”

Lara sighed and shook her head, wishing for the millionth time that her mother had named her for something besides a classic romantic novel. “No, like Dr. Zhivago.”

“Who's that, another professor?”

Dr. Gilbert called the class to order and began taking attendance. A student aid scurried around the room handing out a stack of graded papers, and the professor took out his computer and opened it. As it connected, he stripped off his dark jacket, revealing a checked shirt tucked into worn jeans. He rolled his sleeves up past his elbows, displaying muscular forearms with only a faint dusting of light hair.

“Oh my God,” whispered the girl beside her.

Lara nodded in agreement. It was a look that flattered most men, making their biceps appear larger and lengthening the torso.  Dr. Gilbert needed no help, and Lara felt a curl of warmth begin in the pit of her stomach. An attractive man, and one that did not seem overly conscious of it, always a plus in her book. He vaguely resembled the blonde actor who had been in all those car movies a few years ago. Especially the hair. Blonde and curly, slightly too long to be strictly professional, it formed an untamed mane that Lara longed to run her fingers through, if only to disorder it further.  The tortoiseshell glasses he wore might have been a fashion statement, or an effort to make himself appear more professional, but she did not think so. Someone who wore jeans to teach would not bother.

He rose from the desk and the students instantly silenced.

“We will begin our discussion of the early Woodland Civilization by talking about the Adena.”

For the next hour, he spoke of the society that flourished throughout Ohio and Indiana before the birth of Christ, leaving behind thousands of burial mounds in the Ohio Valley. The lecture was delivered in a practiced, easy style that made it sound as though they were participating in a conversation rather than listening to a monologue. His voice was part of the reason. Deep and throaty, it would have made a fortune doing voice-overs in commercials, hawking exotic hotels or men’s aftershave. A butterscotch voice, tinged with whiskey. The professor's voice and casual manner made the class a pleasant experience. Had there been no reading requirement, no stumbling over unfamiliar words and sounding them out, she could even imagine enjoying this class, if he was the teacher.

A series of photos accompanied the lecture, blown to huge size by the computer screen. As captivated as the rest of the class, Lara stared as pictures of the famous burial mounds and carved funerary objects flashed on the screen.

“There is evidence to suggest that the Adena practiced forms of body modification. The skulls of many buried in the mounds show a flattening of the rounded, back portion of the skull. Although this could have been the result of being carried in cradle boards, it is more likely that they practiced head-binding, similar to what we discussed with the Meso-American cultures.”

Dr. Gilbert hit a key, and a deformed, cone-headed skull labeled “ Maya” flashed on the screen. “We have no way of knowing if they also practiced forms of genital mutilation, such as the drawing of a barbed string through the flesh of the foreskin that was so pervasive in the Mayan culture...”

In the silent room, her strangled "eek" was very loud, eliciting laughter from the other students. Dr. Gilbert must have found her horror amusing. He flashed a quick grin in her direction, the expression so charming that her heart began to speed up.

A question from a student in the first row interrupted the flow of the lecture.

"Can you elaborate on how the mounds were actually created?"  

Dr. Gilbert nodded. "Of course," He turned to write on the board, presenting a lovely view of his back that numerous students took full advantage of. Smart phone were whipped from pockets, and Lara saw more than one photo being taken of the professor’s rear.

Lara leaned over to the girl seated next to her.

“What’s going on?” she whispered.

“The girls in my residence hall are having a contest. Best faculty ass.”

Cocking her head, Lara studied the object in question. Though she had seen better, it was quite nice. Neither old-man flat nor line-backer large, it betrayed a fit body and enough style sense to buy pants that actually fit.

“He gets my vote.”

“Mine, too,” the girl giggled, and then shushed as the professor walked over to the computer and pulled up the next series of notes. “And his voice is just…yum.”

Lara nodded in agreement, and then hushed as Dr. Gilbert began wrapping up his lecture.  

“As archaeologists, we study things.” He gestured over his shoulder at the aerial photograph of the Snake Mound, whose curving, sinuous mouth was open, as though trying to engulf the sun. “The artifacts of people long dead tell us much of the intricacies of their lives. When I see a tool worn from years of use, or the mask a shaman used to bring comfort to the ill and the dying, I know that the people in a society valued work, and sought to care for those they loved. This means something. The ways in which the dead were interred means something.”

“My challenge for you is to look at the things that you place value in. A thousand years from now, what will these objects say about you?” He pulled a smart phone out of his pocket. “This technology is already obsolete. In a year it will be no more relevant than a cassette tape, if any of you remember what that is.” He placed the phone back in his pocket and looked around; his intensity was infectious, and every eye focused on him. “Make something with your own hands. Leave the world a better place."


The class filed out, their raised voices filling the hall.

Lara remained seated, occasionally checking her watch to make sure that she would be on schedule. Mackenzie was with the housekeeper, but Maria had to leave by supper time in order to care for her grandson. The appointment with the lawyer and her broker in Columbus were scheduled for early afternoon, and she would need to be on the road soon.

Dr. Gilbert looked up from the desk when only a few students remained, clustered around him. After waving them out of the room, he threw the coffee cup in the recycle bin.

“Did I bore you to tears?” he asked.

“Hardly. Your lecture was fascinating. .”

He nodded his thanks and began packing up his papers and computer. “Would you like to go back to my office? Or perhaps we could discuss this over coffee. There is a nice little place near the library.”

At this, the blonde student who waited near the door glared at Lara so spitefully that she had to stifle a laugh. Shining platinum hair was tossed over tan shoulders, and the girl stomped out, an impressive feat in ballet flats.

“Thank you, but I need to be heading somewhere else soon.” She took a photo from her bag, along with a large Ziploc bag.

The professor’s face grew pained and his fingers twitched while watching her unwrap the contents of the bag: a stone tool larger than her palm and a twisted piece of metal, unmistakably copper with a thick layer of verdigris. Through the tarnished green film, the faint outlines of a face could be seen, roughly drawn though still powerful and compelling.

BOOK: Rebel Betty
12.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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