“Treasure hunt?” Nicholas gulped. Not what he’d expected this conservative, strait-laced professor to say. “What kind of treasure are you talking about?”
“The kind that rewrites history,” Becky said. “The kind that changes the way archaeologists view the landscape forever. The kind that opens your eyes to new discoveries that have been hidden beneath a shroud of vegetation for thousands of years.”
“You have my attention, Dr. Benson.” Nicholas shoved aside his desire to flirt, tempted by the alluring pursuit of knowledge.
“She had me at treasure hunt,” Levi said, leaning on his elbow, chin in his hand.
“Are either of you familiar with LiDAR?” She waited but they both shook their heads. “No? Do you at least know what I do for a living?”
“Don’t you teach at the University of Houston?” Nicholas creased his brow.
“I was recently recruited into their consortium of experts at the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, or NCALM.”
“You always had a thing for remote sensing.” Nicholas remembered the way her eyes lit up while talking about aerial photographs and digital imaging. “Congratulations on your new position.”
“For once I admit ignorance on this one,” Levi said. “Explain your job to me like I’m an undergrad.”
“Our team flies an airplane over the tree canopy firing billions of laser pulses down to the ground where they bounce back, and we capture them using high-tech scanning equipment.” Her voice took on a sweet, teasing lilt that had Levi blinking his eyes in a daze.
“I think I’m in love with you,” Levi said, his chin never leaving his hand where his elbow still rested on the edge of Nicholas’s desk. “Will you marry me?”
“Now you understand why I needed so many cold showers during graduate school.”
“You never mentioned that.” Levi still hadn’t taken his eyes off Becky. “Can you say that again? Billions of laser pulses and high-tech scanning equipment?”
“I’ll do even better than that and tell you how we use the speed of light to measure how much time it takes the pulse to go from the airplane to the ground and back up again to measure how big things are.”
“Big?” Levi gulped.
“You know, the size of the trees and the buildings and stuff.”
“Size matters, I’m sure.” Levi nodded with enthusiasm.
“Especially when we strip away all the reflections from vegetation to reveal just the bare jungle floor.” She leaned closer to Levi and Nicholas fought the need to laugh at his brother.
“Stop it, Becky, you’re gonna give him a heart attack.” Nicholas chuckled.
“I’m givin’ ’im somethin’.” Becky sat back and folded her arms across her chest with a smirk.
“But seriously, back up a sec,” Nicholas said. “Are you saying that you’re using spectral analysis to remove the vegetation from the image to display the ground beneath the trees?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Her smirk turned into a full out grin. “You wanna see?”
“Yeah,” both guys said at once.
“Dr. Stephenson?” A young man poked his head in the door, backpack over one shoulder and a skateboard tucked under his other arm.
In unison, both brothers answered again. “Yes?”
“Oh, you guys are creepy,” Becky said. “How can you stand to share an office?”
“I don’t understand the question.” Levi returned his gaze to Becky.
“Sorry, got distracted talking to an old friend.” Nicholas stood to shake hands with his grad student, having forgotten they had an appointment this morning to discuss his final project. “Hey, Dr. Stephenson, could you take Dr. Benson on a quick tour of the department while I give my full attention to my student and then perhaps the three of us can take an early lunch to view that data analysis.”
“I’d be more than happy to.” Levi stood and offered Becky his hand to help her from her chair.
Becky accepted Levi’s hand but pouted at Nicholas. “Don’t take too long, Dr. Stephenson. I can’t wait to show you what I’ve got.”
“You are going to be the death of me, Dr. Benson.” Nicholas felt his voice drop an octave and his heart raced.
“I can’t kill you yet, Dr. Stephenson. I need your expertise in archaeology for my treasure hunt.” With that she turned and allowed Levi to lead her from the room.
Nicholas bumped his head against the cinderblock wall and moaned.
“Your girlfriend’s hot, Dr. Stephenson.”
He’d almost forgotten his student was still in the room. Oops. “Yeah, well, she’s not my girlfriend.”
“Yet…” the little punk said.
“Anyway, about your final project—” Nicholas walked around and sat at his desk, waving his hand for his student to take a seat.
The entire time he was trying to listen to the student’s proposal, all Nicholas could think about was that one magic word. Yet.