Authors: Leslie Dicken
With Brundor still inside.
Erin swallowed the last of her lousy and very cold coffee. She watched Rita smile, chew her gum, and flirt her way into Rockford's good graces. It didn't matter that the door to his glass enclosed office was shut. Body language told its own story.
Her boss opened his door and ushered Rita out. They laughed with an ease that made Erin nervous. She bit her lip and resisted the urge to sprint to the bathroom.
“Ms. Price,” Rockford turned to her, “your turn.”
Erin swallowed, grabbed her spiral notebook and followed him in inside. He sat in behind his desk, the brown pleather chair squeaking loudly under his weight. She pushed the door closed and edged toward the open seat.
“Go on, sit down.”
She carefully lowered herself to the seat. Meetings like this always made her nervous. Especially when Rita went before her. How could she compare with her? Rockford knew Erin's history and had given her the chance, but she could always see the doubt lurking in his gaze.
“Well, what have you got for me?” he asked in his raspy, over-smoked voice.
“A story, Ms. Price. Do you not have the start of a story?”
“Uhâ¦” She glanced down at her notes, which were basically just a listing of the odd things she could gather from Drakor, Ankra and the house. It didn't amount to much of a story right now. And so far she had nothing really to connect them to her strange John Doe.
He coughed and then cleared his throat. She glanced up at his red, beefy face. His small eyes stared at her. “Ms. Dixon informed me that she told you of my plans for next month.”
Erin nodded. “Yes, she said something to me about it.”
“So you know that one of you will have not only the front page, but also a full spread if your story makes the grade.”
She nodded again. “What about the one who doesn't make it?”
Rockford shifted his chair and reached for today's paper. He held it up to her. “I don't need two big egos around here.” He flipped through to one of the back sections. “But I have an opening for a fact checker.”
The blood hummed in Erin's ears and her throat tightened. She would not go backwards. Evan already did enough damage to her career, she wasn't about to let Rita send her tumbling downhill again.
“Am I making myself clear, Ms. Price?”
“I understand, sir. What is the deadline?”
“I want to see a rough draft in three weeks.”
“Three weeks?” She scanned her meager list. There wasn't enough here right now to caption a photograph. Maybe she should find another story? Maybe there really wasn't anything unusual about Drakor. And yet, she could not forget the odd manner in which he shielded her from his house and family. Or the fact that he lived in the same spot her John Doe had once lived. Hell, the man had absolutely no idea what a condom was.
She would have to talk to Greg about his night with Ankra. And she would have to go back to that vibrant Victorian house at the end of a dirt road. If she could just find a way to do some serious snooping.
“Ms. Price?” Rockford pushed himself up from his chair and looked across his desk to her lap. “Care you tell me what you have in mind?”
She tilted the sheet toward her chest. “Do I have to?”
He sighed. “Do you have something there? Are you working on an idea?”
“Yes. I still have a lot of work to do, that's all.”
“Two Mondays from today I want an outline or a rough draft of what you are working on.” He pointed behind her out the glass door. “Your competition has already begun her investigation. I suggest you get moving on yours rather quickly.”
Erin nodded. “Yes, sir.”
She left his office and went back to her small desk. She had to get out of this itty-bitty town and back into the real world. She had ambition, goals, and right now the very real need to prove she was still a kick-ass journalist.
She needed to call Greg. If he had a lot of information for her, it would save her having to go out to the house. She wasn't up to seeing Drakor after what almost happened.
Even a day and half later, she wasn't sure if she was disappointed or relieved that they never finished what they started. While she was safe from making the mistake she did with Evan, her dreams had gotten a lot more erotic and left her wholly unsatisfied when she woke.
Erin picked up the phone and dialed Greg's office.
“Invasion Shield, Inc., may I help you?”
“Hi, Cindy, it's Erin. Is Greg available?”
“He didn't come in today. Called in, saying he had some things to take care of and we could reach him on his cell in case of an emergency.”
Erin coughed. “He didn't come in?”
“Nope, didn't sound sick or anything. Maybe you should try his cell phone. You have the number, right?”
“I have it. Thanks.”
She hung up and stared across the room. Rita looked very busy. On the phone, taking notes, checking something on her computer. Oh, it would be great to find out what her story was. How nice if it was as half-baked as her own.
She picked up the phone again and twisted her chair away from Rita. She dialed Greg's cell.
He answered on the third ring. A loud noise like water or wind blasted in Erin's ears.
“Greg, what are you doing? Where are you?”
“Hello? Is this Erin?”
“Greg. What's that noise?”
“Sorry, I can't hear you!” He hung up.
Erin felt her cheeks heat. She stared at the phone in her hand. He just hung up on her. And where the hell was he anyway?
Erin glanced up into Rita's sharp eyes. “It's nothing.”
“How was Saturday night? Did your friend get home safe and sound?”
Erin shivered, remembering his kiss on the porch. And later, when his hot body covered hers, when his expert tongue stoked a fire under her skin.
“He got home just fine,” she managed to answer.
Rita lifted an eyebrow. “Well, if he's looking for someone else to show him the town, pass along my number.”
“I'll be sure to do that.”
Rita pulled a piece of gum from her pocket, unwrapped it and popped it in her mouth. “Was that your brother you were trying to call?”
“Is it your business?”
“Everything is my business, my dear.”
Erin clenched her teeth. She'd like nothing more than to strangle this woman right now. Ever since Rita Dixon got here, she'd taken everything important away from Erin. Greg was all that was left. And Drakor.
She got to her feet, a thought suddenly occurring to her. “Are you doing a piece on Greg or Invasion Shield?”
Rita chuckled and snapped her gum. “You can read my story on the front cover next month. Have a nice day.” She turned and went back to her desk, shaking her head the whole way.
Erin groaned. She had to get out of here. She had to get more information on her story. She had to figure out if she really had a story or if she was wasting her time.
She snatched her bag and headed outside into the summer heat. The thick air in the parking lot dampened her neck. Heavy clouds blew in from the west. Great. A storm.
Erin pulled out her cell phone and called Greg again. With no one else in the parking lot, she could yell to make herself heard.
He got it on the second ring. “Erin, is that you again?”
This time the background was quiet. “Yes. Where were you?”
“At Blackrock Falls.”
“That was the falls I heard? What are you doing there?”
“Minding my own business. What do you want?”
Erin leaned against her car door. “I need to talk to you. Remember what you promised?”
“Oh, come onâ¦”
“I have to do this story, Greg. It could be the start of something big or the end of my career.”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “Hold on.” He covered the mouthpiece for a few minutes and then got back on. “Sorry, I had to get out of the car.”
“Why? What are you doing?”
“Listen, I'm with Ankra, okay? I wanted to show her the falls. We were about to head to lunch when you called.”
“Well, isn't there something to tell me about this weekend?”
“You want to know how late the night went? When I took her home the next day?”
Erin pulled her notebook out of her huge purse and leaned on the hood of her car, using it as a table. “Don't be an ass. Can you give me anything unusual? Anything to go on?”
“Hmmmâ¦well, she seemed really annoyed that I used a condom.”
“Gregory! I do not want to hear that!” Ick. Hearing about her brother having sex was almost as bad as imagining her parents doing it.
“Okay, okay.” He laughed. “But after what happened in college, I wasn't about to take chances.”
Erin winced. How could she forget about Sarah and the pregnancy? Those weeks were hell on Greg and their parents. He almost quit school to marry her and then Sarah came back from a weekend at home saying she had miscarried. Greg suspected an abortion, but whatever happened, the two of them broke up. It was no wonder he refused to have sex without protection.
He cleared his throat. “You said to tell you anything unusual. That seemed awfully strange to me.”
“Will you move on, please? Anything else?”
“Erin, I didn't really take notes. Can we get together for dinner later this week and I'll try to come up with something?”
Great. He wasn't going to be a big help, was he? She'd have to come up with some plan on her own.
“Fine. Let's meet at The Onion Bloom for dinner tomorrow.”
“I can't. I have a commitment.”
“When can you meet, Greg? We need to chat.”
“Can it wait until Thursday night?”
She groaned. Typical Greg, agree to help out when he had the need, but then do whatever he could to back out. “Fine. I'll plan to meet you there at six thirty.”
She closed her notebook and shoved it back in the bag. “What?”
“I almost forgot about this. Don't think I was still drunk, but I could have sworn I saw something yesterday when I dropped her off.”
Erin dug around at the bottom of the purse for her keys. “What do you mean? You saw something.”
“It happened so fast. I might have really imagined it.”
“What? What was it?”
His voice dropped lower again. “Something shiny and silver and huge in their backyard. It was there and then it was gone.”
“Greg, what are you talking about? I can barely hear you and I sure can't understand you.” She shifted the bag and bent to unlock the door.
“Listen. It looked like something out of Star Trek.”
“Yeah. It looked like a spaceship.”
Her keys clattered on the asphalt.
Drakor glanced up at the sky. Dark clouds formed overhead and he smelled the rain in the distance. This would be the first precipitation they witnessed since arriving on Earth. He knew from his studying that the amount of rain depended where you were on the planet, but this little town didn't have much during the hot months.
At home, the showers and storms came almost daily. Elliacians had learned to live with the often violent weather outbursts. They built their walls extra sturdy or burrowed underground. But more than the storms, they all suffered if outside for over an hour. The sun could severely burn both skin and eyes. First they had adapted to it with their darkened skin, then they learned to avoid it. Now it seemed, they couldn't get enough of it to strengthen their bones.
He pushed aside several yearling trees as he walked on the dry forest ground. He had found no evidence of their arrival on Earth. Nothing had fallen off the shuttlecraft. At least, not that he could see.
Drakor looked ahead as the sound of crunching grass came near. Brundor called out to him.
“What is it?”
“You have a visitor.”
By the look on his brother's face, Drakor knew who it was. Of course, who else would be here to see him? He tried to deny the energy coursing through him. The past twenty-four hours had actually been a relief. He felt no cravings or urges. His body could rest. All that would change in a few minutes.
Suddenly, Drakor remembered that it was Brundor who delivered the message. He stalked over to his brother, who leaned against a large tree. “Tell me you did not touch her.”
“No. But I should have to get you back for yesterday.”
“That again? You refused to leave the ship. I had to make it invisible. You know that.”
Brundor crossed his arms. “All you had to do was give me the code. I could have done it.” He shuffled his feet in the dirt. “You act like you're in charge.”
“When Father isn't around, I am in charge.”
“Yeah, well, you said you don't like the old customs from home, so why don't you forget this one too? I shouldn't have to wait for you to die or join with your
in order to have some power.”
Drakor clenched his teeth and pushed his way past. “Power. Social status. Self-importance. You sound just like Father.”
Brundor grabbed a hold of his arm. “How can I prove I am old enough to handle things if you two won't let me?”
Drakor shook him off and continued toward the house. When would Brundor mature into a man? He still seemed to be several sun-cycles from it. What kind of a fool was he to risk their exposure so he could punch in the code?
Drakor stopped short. He had almost forgotten to step around the shuttlecraft. Though visually undetectable, physically it was still there.
He came around to the front of the house and his gaze settled on Erin's small vehicle. The windows were all the way down and steam rose from the hood. He went closer. She wasn't in it but he could smell her essence on the seats.
“It's small, I know, but it gets me around.”