Authors: Leslie Dicken
The door creaked open. “Drakor?”
He turned at the sound of his sister's voice and shoved his hands in his pockets. “You should not come out here.”
“Is she gone?”
“Yes. But she said she would be back.”
Ankra's eyes lit up. “Ah, good.”
Drakor's chest tightened. “It is
She tilted her head. “You are perspiring.”
He cleared his throat. When the
would his body recover? “It is warm.”
“It is much warmer than this at home. You have said so yourself.”
Drakor wiped his damp forehead with his arm. “Let us go inside to discuss this recent incident.”
Ankra nodded and held the door open for him. They stepped into the dim house.
“Drakor!” It was the voice of his father.
They skirted the stairwell to the front room. Their reference book said this room was called a parlor. Drakor insisted that so many useless items created chaos, but no one wanted to listen to what he had to say. And they would not listen to him now.
Drakor stared at the ticking timepiece on the mantel and waited for his family to settle in behind him. He knew their patterns, their unbending need to keep to habit. Ankra would sit on the striped chair and take his littlest sister, Sitora, in her lap. His brother Brundor would stand by the side window, fiddling with something breakable. His parents would sit together on the flowered couch.
“Tell us,” his father said at last, “what should we make of this stranger?”
Drakor turned to look at them. They all were positioned as he predicted. “We should be concerned.”
“She caused no harm,” Ankra threw in.
Drakor glared at her. “
should not have come down.”
“Iâ” She glanced over at their father, whose face was pale, even in this darkened room. He didn't return the glance. “She caused no harm,” she said again.
“But she will!” Drakor would have pounded his fist on the mantel but there was no room. If nothing else, his tormenting erection had dissipated. Anger easily cured that.
“You worry too much.”
“No, Father, you worry not enough. You know what happened before.”
“Drakor, we know Alaziri was your friend, but we cannot give up this mission because of one failure.”
. His friend was missing, presumed dead, alone on a foreign planet without the proper burial ceremony. Yet, his father spoke of failures. “We should find his body and then abort this mission.”
“Absolutely not.” His father sprang up from the couch, but then groaned. He rubbed his back, inhaling several deep breaths. Everyone in the room became motionless until he could continue. “Thisâ¦this mission is high-priority and critical.”
Drakor took a step toward him. “Earth is too risky.” He was lucky to stare directly into his father's eyes. With almost every generation Elliacians grew shorter. Bone deformities and slow growth became more common on Elliac despite intense research. While the rest of the family escaped harm due to a dominant gene in their DNA, his father's health declined each year.
A breeze blew in from an open window, bringing with it the scent of approaching rain. For some reason it made him think of the water Erinprice wanted from them. What else would she want from them?
“We are in danger at all times of being discovered. Alaziri is missing, presumed dead. You see that we were found today.”
His father sighed. “Our mission is vital to Elliac's survival. These humans will save us.”
Drakor sucked in a breath, flexed his fingers, but could not calm his galloping pulse. He paced the floor before the fireplace. Great Sun, he must find a way to get off this planet. Once he found Alaziri's body, he'd find a way back to Elliac. He didn't belong here on Earth. He belonged at home, searching for his
“I miss my friends.”
They all looked over at little Sitora, who played with a cloth doll. Her dark hair cascaded over her small shoulders and her round eyes blinked up at them.
“Make new friends.” Father patted her shoulder.
“You won't let me out of the house,” she whined.
“We need to learn more about these humans first.” He turned back to Drakor. “You and Ankra have a job to do. You must integrate with them, discover who they really are. What makes them different than us and how are we the same?”
Images of Erinprice flashed through Drakor's mind. She looked similar enough to them, despite the light hair and sky-colored eyes. Her frame was thinner than the females on Elliac, but he could still relish the weight of her breast in his hand, the feel of her white thighs under his tongue.
Drakor shifted as his groin once again hardened.
Father's gaze lifted with hope. “Tell us about the one who came here today.”
“Find someone else.” Someone who would not torment his body, confuse everything he ever learned.
“She seemed very nice.” Ankra pushed Sitora off her lap. “Drakor is angry because he did not have control of the situation.”
“I had control.” But did he? The moment his gaze landed on her at the doorstop, Drakor's strength dissolved into a pool of lava. Every cell, every hair, every sensation came alert, pulsated. How the
could he spend more time with her?
His father rubbed his back. “You will have two assignments on this mission, Drakor. To find any useful inventions for our home world and to seek out ways the humans keep their bones strong.”
“This is suicide. Just like Alaziri, we willâ”
“You will do it.” Father reached for Mother and helped her to stand. “I have spoken, my son. It will be done.”
Drakor bit his tongue to hold back his argument, but his pulse thundered in his skull. No, they wouldn't listen to him. Alaziri disappeared on his mission to Earth and he had kept minimal contact with the humans. Not only must Drakor integrate himself with these people, he now had to spend time with the painfully tempting Erinprice.
Drakor's gut clenched. His erection poked uncomfortably at the zipper. He stormed from the room and raced up the stairs, taking two at a time. Didn't they realize he didn't have time for these foolish endeavors? The anniversary of his birth was only a few weeks away. He'd be thirty sun-cycles and still without a
Because of that Erinprice's nosiness today, he could end up an
. And be alone forever.
“I'm telling you, Greg, something was really strange about these people.”
Erin's brother lifted the remote from the armrest of his leather recliner and changed the channel. “Journalists are always looking for a story. You'll invent one if necessary.”
“Are you saying you don't believe me?”
“All I'm saying, Erin, is that you've been searching for a big break for years. You'd believe the moon was made out of cheese if it could be your exclusive.”
She rolled her eyes and glanced around the impersonal dÃ©cor of his family room. Decorated by an interior designer, the art and furniture matched perfectly and yet said nothing about who her brother really was.
Erin tucked her hair behind her ear. “Sure, it's easy for you to say. You have your own company, your own house.” She stood up from the couch. “I need a huge story, more than you realizeâ¦”
He looked over at her. “Oh, I realize how much you're pushing to prove yourself. Just becauseâ”
“Don't go there.” Past regrets swirled like sour milk in her gut.
Greg shrugged. “Whatever, but you know I've offered you a job many times. You're too damned stubborn to take it.”
“I don't know anything about designing software and I'll be damned if I'm going to be my brother's secretary.”
Besides, she went to school for journalism. Searching for facts, uncovering human interest stories, telling compelling tales was in her blood. Ever since she could ride a two-wheeler, Erin had been riding up and down the street looking for stories. A lost cat, a scratched up car, a missing toyânothing could get by her.
He flipped off the television and stood. “You could learn a lot, you know, and maybe enjoy something other than snooping around.”
Erin growled. This was not working out as planned. She wanted to bounce some thoughts off of him, to see if he thought that house and family were odd. But all he did was argue with her. As if it was his job to look out for her.
She was surprised he wasn't freaked about her going inside the Victorian alone. Of course, Greg didn't know about her immediate attraction to Drakor.
Her breasts tingled as she remembered the sculpted planes of his chest. Strong hands like his could cup her bottom with a swift ease as his sensual lips nibbled their way down to her navel. Oh God, the dreams she had last night. It had been a long time since an orgasm had wakened her up like that.
Erin guzzled her soda, but it didn't do much to cool her down. “Wellâ” she wiped her damp palms on her shorts, “âdon't you think it's strange that they don't have anything in their kitchen?”
“It's not like they didn't have one.”
Erin rolled her eyes and headed into the cooler air of his kitchen. She sat on one of his metal barstools and tapped her fingers on the tile countertop. “You have an answer for everything. It's really annoying.”
Greg followed her. “That's why I'm your brother. I can tell you how crazy you sound.”
She shook her head. “They're the ones that sounded crazy. I'm telling you, I have an intuition about this one.”
He raised an eyebrow and opened the fridge. “Want a bologna sandwich?”
“Sure.” She took another swallow of soda.
“Didn't you say something about the guy's sister?”
Erin grinned. “Yeah. She's gorgeous. Beautiful dark eyes and black hair that goes all the way down her back.”
“Oh? Hot, huh?” He turned from spreading the mayonnaise and stared at her.
“Very shapely. Soft-spoken.” She sighed. “Just the kind of girl worth marrying. Oh, but I forgot, you'll never make a commitment. Not when there are so many fish in the sea.”
Greg shoved the sandwich in front of her. “I can make a commitment when the right person comes along. And, at least I enjoy the fishing.” He leveled his eyes on her. “You haven't had a boyfriend, in whatâ¦three years? Not since that Evan guyâ”
“Lay off, Greg.” She suddenly lost her appetite.
“It's been a really long time, Erin. Give yourself a break.”
A break from what? From her failures? She'd lost more than just her heart with Evan.
Erin pushed the rest of her sandwich away and reached for her keys. “I'm outta here.”
“Wait.” Greg put a hand on her shoulder. “Sorry I pissed you off. Am I going to meet these strange people?”
“Perhaps.” She shrugged him off and went outside into the mass of sticky air. She slid her sunglasses on and stared up at Greg's end-unit brick townhouse.
Someday she'd have a house like thatâor better. She nearly lost her job once due to idiotic, overzealous ideals and one worthless guy. Mixing business with pleasure had been the biggest mistake of her life. She was damn lucky to have this job in spite of it. But she could do bigger things, she could escape the blunders of her past. All she needed was one huge story.
Erin wiped her forehead with the back of her arm and started the car.
Something bizarre was going on in that majestic Victorian in the woods. She'd spend the next two days digging deeper into her John Doe and his burned-down cottage, but then, come this Saturday, she was going back to investigate.
Boredom added to their torture. It wasn't enough that they were a million miles from home, or that they were faced with a possibly hostile population, or that Drakor was only weeks away from losing the chance at a
, or that a human female tempted him even in his dreams. No, they also had hoursâdaysâof boredom.
On the bed opposite Drakor, Brundor tossed a ball of paper into the air and caught it. The house was still, the air motionless. A beam of sunlight sliced the room in half.
Outside the window, birds twittered in the trees.
Abruptly Brundor sat up. “I hear something.” He moved to the window. “That small vehicle is coming.”
Drakor leapt up from his bed.
She was back
, he had prayed the Earth female would not return. Despite Father's demands, this stranger signified troubleâto the mission, to his family, and to himself.
He joined his brother at the window and watched the vehicle roll to a stop near the front steps. The sound died away, leaving only the birds once again.
The door of the Earthen vehicle opened. Erinprice emerged, her white skin glowing under the bright Earth sun. She wore yellow pants today that skimmed just past her knees, showing where her calves curved to the delicate bump of her ankle. A striped shirt hugged her firm breasts. But her arms were bare, other than some circular jewelry around her wrists that clanked as she walked.
She slid dark spectacles off of those sky-colored eyes and turned to shut the vehicle's door.
Drakor tried to fight it, but he could not stop the heat snaking its way through his veins. It circulated through his limbs before settling with a blazing snap in his groin. Perspiration tickled under his hair.
A knock sounded on the front door below them. Brundor turned away from the window, his smooth, unlined face eager. The Crossing, the years of searching for a lifemate, had yet to take its toll on him. “I want to meet her.”
Drakor's gut knotted. “That would not be wise.”
“Why not? You and Ankra have met her.”
They heard voices below. Ankra must have let Erinprice into the house.
“This human cannot be trusted.”
Brundor narrowed dark eyes. “You don't think you can trust me.”