Authors: Leslie Dicken
Then she turned to her mother's plot and dropped the rest of the flowers in that vase. “Look, Mom, I brought daisies, your favorite.”
Erin brushed the dirt from the plaques and cleared away the stray grass. The sun burned the top of her head and sweat ran down her back, but Erin didn't mind. She owed this to them, at the very least.
“I wish we could chat.” She sat back on her heels. “What would the two of you think of Drakor? Would you find him handsome and charming? Would you think him evil when you found out he was an alien?”
The taste of salt filled her mouth and Erin sniffled. How could she figure these things out on her own? Could she trust Drakor? She needed this story, she needed to prove herself again. It had been her goal for three years to overcome the bitter taste of her embarrassing lack of judgment.
But what would it all mean for Drakor's family? Were her dreams worth more than theirs?
Drakor heard the distinct sound of a vehicle engine and bounded down the staircase to the front door. Erin was back. Perhaps she was here to sneak another look around for more evidence. Or maybe to torture him again.
He grinned at the memories of last night, the images tightening his groin. He pulled the door open and stepped out onto the front porch, squinting in the bright sunshine.
But it wasn't Erin's small, faded blue vehicle parked out front. It was Greg's larger, boxy one. Disappointment coursed through him, dousing the heat stirring in his veins.
Erin's brother came forward, his light hair combed neatly away from his face. He wore sharp, pressed pants and stiff, blue shirt and carried a small telephone in one hand. Greg offered the other hand as he came forward.
Drakor accepted it and shook it as expected.
“Erin spoke of your parents' passing. I'm very sorry.”
His gut tensed. What else did she tell Greg? He could be here now as a spy or a decoy. Drakor swallowed, forcing himself not to react. For all he knew, Erin might have told her brother nothing of what she saw.
Greg glanced at the dry dirt on the ground. “Hey, is your sister inside? Is it alright if I see her?”
Drakor tried to steel the intense jealousy roiling through him. Why could he and Erin have this type of relationship? Why could the two of them connect and yearn for each other without the distrust and animosity hovering between them?
“She's in the kitchen with Sitora,” he answered and stepped aside.
Drakor listened to the door close behind him and then wandered out to the spot where Erin had hidden that day. What had she actually witnessed?
He placed palm against the rough bark of the tree and tried to get a view of what Erin might have seen. From this vantage point, she could have seen everything. Drakor sighed. There was little he could do about it now but to continue to distract her. Or, if necessary, to use everything at his disposal to plead to the chance she may reconsider. Even if that meant his little sister. Even if that meant making herâ¦what did the humans call it? Fall in love with him.
The sound of the front door closing redirected his attention. He watched as Greg and Ankra came down the steps together, his arm around her shoulders. His sister looked around, her face pinched in concern.
Drakor came forward. “You are going back with him?”
Her features relaxed with relief. “Yâyes. But Sitora is inside alone.”
“Where is Brundor?”
Ankra shrugged. “I don't know. I haven't seen him all morning.”
Drakor tried to shake off the unease building inside of him. Perhaps he was within the invisible shuttle again. Once Greg left, he'd have to get his brother out of there.
“I'll find him,” he reassured her and she nodded.
He watched the two of them leave, half-praying that Ankra would finally get pregnant so they could be back on Elliac within days. The other half feared he wouldn't have any more time with Erin, that once they were gone from here he would never lose himself in a female's arms again. And the ever-present failure at finding his friend's body nagged at him.
Once the large vehicle was out of site, Drakor punched in the code on his crystal pad. The craft materialized and he headed down the hill for it. Hopefully, unsupervised Sitora wasn't causing any trouble inside the house.
He lowered the ramp and stormed up into the interior. The dim glow illuminated the hallway and Drakor headed for the cockpit area first.
His voice echoed off the walls. The cockpit was empty. He searched the rest of the craft, room by room, and found them all empty.
A cold weight of dread sank in his stomach. Great Sun, where had his brother gone? If he wasn't in the house and he wasn't in the shuttle, where was he?
Drakor bounded down the ramp and into the yard. He made the ship vanish again and headed toward the house. He had to find Brundor before Brundor found trouble. And he was forced to drag Sitora with him.
His little sister was still in the kitchen room when Drakor came inside. She seemed oblivious to everything but the food she held in her hand. A cookie, Erin had called it. Supposedly, it was sweet, like the frosting he tasted, but he couldn't bring himself to try it now.
“Sitora, we need to leave now.”
She looked up, her eyes bright. “We're going somewhere? Can we go to see Erin?”
He wished they could. He wished he could leave Sitora with Erin so he could find Brundor alone. More than anything, he wished he knew how to pilot one of those Earth vehicles. But they would either need to walk or use the Elliacian method of Transfer.
“Maybe we'll see Erin later, but we need to find Brundor first. Have you seen him recently?”
She shoved the last bite of cookie between her lips. “He weft a wong time ago,” she said, her mouth stuffed with crumbs. “Soon after Erin weft.”
After Erin left? That was hours ago, just a short time after daybreak.
Drakor pulled Sitora to her feet and went out the front door. For now, they'd walk. Maybe Brundor would be on his way back. He wouldn't want to miss him.
“It's hot out here,” Sitora whined the moment they started down the dirt road.
“Not as hot as it is at home.” Drakor took her hand in his.
“I want to go home. I don't like it here.”
“You like it when Erin comes to visit.”
“But you don't like her.”
Like her? Drakor sucked in a breath. How did he feel for Erin? Anger? Resentment? Frustration? Desire? All of those things at any given moment. But like her? What was that? If she was his
, he would love her. There would be no one but her. But she wasn't. And he had lost all chance to find the one the fates had chosen for him.
He clutched his sister's sweaty hand and continued down the dirt path. They had just about reached the paved road when a sleek, black vehicle slowed.
Drakor's lungs squeezed, dread burrowing into his gut.
A tinted window slid down with a motorized whirr. A female with vibrant yellow hair and dark eye coverings smiled at him. A strong, flowery smell tickled his nose and increased the ache in his head.
“Well, hello, Mr. Tall, Dark, and Extra Hot.”
Drakor blinked at her. He recognized the voice from somewhere but couldn't quite place it. But what made him the most nervous wasn't only that his brother was not in the car, but that this female was headed toward the house.
She chewed something in her mouth and made a loud popping sound with it. “I didn't realize this worthless path would bring me something so worthwhile.”
He wiped the sweat collecting on his forehead. “Have we met?”
Her red-painted lower lip thrust forward. “I'm hurt that you don't remember me. It's only been a little over a week.”
His mind scrambled to remember the females he met the short time he had been on Earth, but no one remained firm in his memory but Erin.
“At Mickey's,” she said, removing the eye coverings from her face. Eyes, a different shade of blue than Erin's, glanced up at him with obvious seduction. “My name is Rita. I work with Erin.”
Sitora popped around to the front of his legs. “Erin? You know her? Can we go see her?”
Rita smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. “And who is this little girl?”
“Can we go see Erin?” Sitora asked, her dark gaze imploring him.
“Not now, we have to look for Brundor, remember?”
“Brundor?” Rita reached forward and adjusted a knob on the vehicles interior. Cool air hissed out of small vents, blowing her hair. “Who is that?”
“My brother. We are looking for him.”
“Oh, you have a brother? Is he anything like you?”
Drakor shrugged. He was wasting his time standing here talking to her and her silly questions annoyed him. “We look somewhat alike but he is much younger. I'm sorry we cannot stay but it is important that we find him soon.”
She reached out the open window and grabbed his arm. “Wait. I could probably help you find him. Town is several miles away from here.”
“Can we go see Erin?” Sitora repeated, tugging on his shirt.
Rita licked her colored lips. “Erin did not come in to the office today, perhaps she is at home. I could drop off the girl and take you to find your lost brother.”
Sitora bounced up and down on her toes. “Can we? Can we? Please, Drakor!”
Rita glanced him over and he felt strangely embarrassed by her lingering stares. Her fingers stroked his forearm. “Drakor. You know, I never did learn your name. Interesting.”
He wasn't stupid. He knew the signs. She wanted him. If he gave her the slightest gesture, she would open herself to his embrace. This was the type of female Brundor needed. But she held no appeal for Drakor. Even if he did find her attractive, he had no desire for her. His Crossing complete long ago, he would only crave his
. And, for some odd reason, Erin Price.
Drakor took a step back and her hand fell away. “Do you know where Erin lives?”
“It would be kind of you to take us there, but if she is not home we will need to bring Sitora with us.”
The thing in Rita's mouth popped again. “Of course.”
Drakor helped Sitora to the backseat and tightened the harness straps over her lap. Then he climbed in to the seat next to Rita. She eased the car forward and his stomach tensed. He didn't want her to see the house. If it had aroused suspicion in Erin, it would no doubt do the same for Rita.
“You should turn around now,” he said, touching her hand briefly, hoping it would distract her. “It is a long way until there will again be enough room.”
She smiled and turned the car. Once they were on the paved road, her fingers left the steering wheel and came to rest on his knee. Drakor sucked in a breath. It wasn't that he felt the powerful yearning Erin's similar touch had given him, it was Rita's intent. If only it were Brundor sitting in this space. If only Brundor had not disappeared, leaving him in this predicament.
“So, Erin tells me you two are close,” she said, “but I don't believe her lies.”
Drakor tilted his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes. He felt the rush that signaled a need to protect Erin, but kept himself in check. Defending her with words or actions would only make his present matters worse.
“Erin doesn't lie!” Sitora cried from behind him.
“Cute,” Rita mumbled. “Erin has a fan club.”
Drakor groaned as a nauseating taste filled his mouth. Somehow he knew that he was going to regret getting in the car with this female. One way or the other.
After the trip to the cemetery, there was no way she could go into work. Putting up with Rita's sneers and Rockford's questions was not on her list of priorities right now.
Erin took out the tub of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream and scooped herself a huge chunk into a bowl. She was going to need complete silence to piece this story together and all the comfort food she could find.
She spread all of her notes on an old Formica table Greg had handed down to her. As usual, everything in her notebook was a jumble. She always amazed herself that she could piece together a story out of her scrawled, unorganized notes.
A knock at the door made her jump. She tried to swallow the ice cream but the bite she just took had been too large. Quickly swooshing it around in her mouth, Erin hurried to the door. Hopefully, it wasn't some solicitor trying to sell her a magazine subscription or a new vacuum cleaner. She just needed peace and quiet.
Erin opened the door and nearly choked on the cold blob sliding down her throat. Drakor stood at her door, his hair slick and tousled and his eyes worried.
“Erin!” squealed a high-pitched voice.
She looked down to see Sitora let go of Drakor's hand and grab a hold of her legs. “Hey, you, what a nice surprise.”
Surprise wasn't the word for it. How did they get here? She never did ask Drakor how he got to her office building the other day. But not only how, but why?
“Um, come in.”
Sitora ran inside with glee and immediately started poking at the stereo, TV, and anything else her little five-year-old hands could touch.
Drakor stepped just inside the door as if he didn't intend to stay. His scent wafted toward her and she instantly reacted to it. An embarrassing flush rose to her cheeks while a low heat pooled between her legs. His dark eyes locked onto hers and her lips tingled, yearning for him to kiss them.
But then he glanced away. “I'm sorry to come unannounced like this but I have a favor to ask you.”
She could think of a favor too, but not with Sitora around. “What is it?”
He sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. “Brundor is missing.”