Odell Beckham Jr
Odell Beckham Jr
Who needs mistletoe?
Most people wouldn’t think of a bad Santa case as the perfect Christmas gift. Then again, Molly Malone, office manager at Hunt Investigations, isn’t most people, and she could really use a distraction from the fantasies she’s been having since spending the night with her very secret crush, Lucas Knight. Nothing happened, not that Lucas knows that—but Molly just wants to enjoy being a little naughty for once . . .
Whiskey and pain meds for almost-healed bullet wounds don’t mix. Lucas needs to remember that next time he’s shot on the job, which may be sooner rather than later if Molly’s brother, Joe, finds out about them. Lucas can’t believe he’s drawing a blank on his (supposedly) passionate tryst with Molly, who’s the hottest, smartest, strongest woman he’s ever known. Strong enough to kick his butt if she discovers he’s been assigned to babysit her on her first case. And hot enough to melt his cold heart this Christmas . . .
It took Lucas Knight longer than it should have to realize he had a woman in his bed, but to be fair, he had a bitch of a hangover. Even worse than that, last night was a blur, prompting him to take quick stock. One, there was a bundle of sweet, soft curves against him. Two, his head was currently threatening to secede from the United States Of Lucas. And three, his side hurt like … well, like he’d been shot.
It’d been two weeks since he’d gotten caught in some crossfire on the job and he hadn’t yet been cleared for more than light duty – something he’d obviously managed to ignore last night given that he was palming a nice, warm, feminine ass.
Straining his brain, he remembered taking a pain med before going to O’Riley’s Pub to meet up with some friends. A client had been there, someone he’d recently helped save from a multi-million dollar corporate espionage. The guy had ordered shots to toast to Lucas and … shit. Knowing better than to mix pain meds and alcohol, he’d hesitated, but everyone had been waiting on him, glasses hoisted in the air. Thinking just one shot couldn’t hurt anything, he’d knocked back the drink.
Clearly, he’d been wrong and it’d been enough to mess him up big time, something he hadn’t been in years, not since his brother Josh had been killed. Shoving that away for another time – or never — Lucas cracked open one eye, but when his retina was stabbed by a streak of sunlight glaring in through the window, he immediately slammed it shut it again. Taking a deep breath, he told himself to suck it up and opened both eyes this time, learning two additional facts.
He was naked and completely uncovered.
And the woman snugged up at his side was rolled up in his comforter like a burrito.
What. The. Hell.
A few more images slowly began to filter into his brain. Kicking ass at the pool table and winning two hundred bucks from his boss Archer, who ran Hunt Investigations where Lucas worked as a security specialist.
Dancing with a sexy brunette…
And then making his way upstairs, but not alone.
His head was pounding too hard to remember anything more, but clearly the brunette had not only come up, but stayed. She was cuddled up too close to see her face, especially with the way she had the entire blanket wrapped around herself. The only thing visible was a mass of shiny brown waves peeking out the top.
Holding his breath, Lucas slowly pulled away until he could slide off his bed.
The brunette’s hair never so much as quivered.
Letting out a relieved breath, he shoved on the clothes he’d so thoughtfully left for himself on the floor – seriously, he was never taking another pain pill or drinking alcohol again – and headed for the door.
But unable to do it, unable to be the guy who just walked out, he stopped and detoured to his kitchen to make her a coffee. Leaving her caffeine was a nice gesture, right? Right, but … shit. He was out of coffee. Not surprisingly since he usually grabbed his from work because Molly, who ran the office at Hunt Investigations, made world-class coffee. And since one of the benefits of living on the fourth floor of the Pacific Pier Building and working on the second floor meant convenience, he texted the coffee master himself:
Any chance you’d send up a cup of coffee via the dumbwaiter?
A few seconds later, from his bedroom came a cellphone buzzing with an unfamiliar tone and he froze. If his plan was to leave before the awkward morning after – and that was always the plan — he was on borrowed time.
Since nothing came back to him from Molly, he moved onto Plan B and scrawled out a quick note: Sorry, had to get to work, take your time.
Then he hesitated. Did she even know his name? Having no idea, he added: I’m leaving cash for an Uber or Lyft – Lucas.
He dropped some money next to the note and grimaced at himself for still being a complete asshole. He stared down at his phone.
Still nothing from Molly, which meant she wasn’t going to save the day. She was smart, sharp, and amazing at her job, but for reasons unknown, she wasn’t exactly interested in pleasing anyone, especially him. Locking up, he left his apartment.
The Pacific Pier building was over a century old and sat in the center of the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco. It was five stories of corbeled brick, exposed iron trusses, and big windows built around a legendary fountain. Retail and businesses took up the ground and second floors, with residential on the third and fourth. The fifth floor penthouse belonged to his friend Spence Baldwin, who owned the building.
All of it was currently decorated for the holidays like it was about to star in a Hallmark movie.
Lucas jogged down two flights of stairs to Hunt Investigations, fully prepared to be blasted by Molly at her front desk. Not just for his text, but for his appearance at all. Off duty since the shooting, he wasn’t supposed to be back at work until next week, and that was if his doctor cleared him. But Lucas couldn’t stay home another day, a fact that didn’t have anything to do with the stranger in his bed.
Or at least not all due to the stranger in his bed.
He scrubbed a hand over his unshaved jaw, feeling incredibly tense, which for a guy who’d apparently gotten laid last night, didn’t make much sense.
Nor did the fact that sitting on a bench outside of Hunt Investigations front door were two old ladies dressed up as elves. Knitting elves.
The one on the left looked to be making a Christmas stocking. The one on the right was working on something too small to see. They smiled at him in greeting, lips coated in bright red lipstick. Left elf had a smudge of it on her teeth and her little elf cap seemed to quiver on top of her white hair.
Right Elf pulled out her phone. “I just got a text from Louise,” she told Left Elf. “It says, ‘Don’t be late for work tonight, Santa’s turned into Grinch. SMH.’” She blinked. “What does S-M-H mean?”
“Shaking my head,” Left Elf said.
“Oh thank goodness,” Right Elf said, putting a hand to her heart. “I thought it meant Sex Might Help.”
They both cackled over that before they saw Lucas.
“Hello there, young man,” Left Elf said. “We were hoping you were Molly. We’ve got a problem involving a bad Santa and she said to meet her here.”
“A bad Santa,” Lucas repeated, starting to wonder if maybe he was still in bed dreaming this day.
“Yes, we work for him. Obviously,” Right Elf said, gesturing to herself.
“You’re … Santa’s elves,” he said slowly. “And you work for him at … the North Pole?”
“Right.” Left Elf snorted. “We work right here in the city like you, at the Christmas Village in Soma, in too tight of costumes for too little money. Honey, didn’t your mama ever tell you Santa isn’t real?”
Okay, so they didn’t believe they were real elves. That was a relief. Lucas had a great uncle who sometimes thought he was Batman, but that was only on the nights he drank away his social security checks with his cronies.
“Santa promised us half of the profits,” Right Elf said. “To go to the charities of our choice. Last year we made enough to give big and hit up Vegas for a long weekend.”
Left Elf nodded with a smile. “I’ve still got Elvis’s underwear from that big impersonator party we were invited to, remember, Liz?”
Liz nodded. “But this year, we’re not getting anything. Santa says there aren’t any profits, that he’s barely breaking even. But that can’t be true because he just bought himself a brand new Cadillac. Molly’s my neighbor, you see.”
Lucas didn’t see at all. He was good at certain things, such as at his job of investigating and seeking out the asshats of the world and righting justice. He was good at taking care of his close-knit family. He was good, when he wanted to be, in the kitchen. And – if he said so himself – also in bed.
But he was not good in social situations, such as those that required small talk, especially with old ladies dressed up as elves. “This really isn’t the sort of case that Hunt Investigations takes on,” he said.
“But Molly said you’re an elite security and investigative firm that employs finders and fixers for hire, whoever needs them.”
Not strictly true. A lot of the jobs they took on were routine; criminal, corporate and insurance investigations along with elite security contracts, surveillance, fraud, and corporate background checks. But some weren’t routine at all, such as forensic investigations, the occasional big bond bounty hunting, government contract work…
Nailing a bad Santa wasn’t on the list.
“Do you know when Molly might arrive?” Left Elf asked. She was looking at him even as her knitting needles continued to move at the speed of light. “We’ll just wait for her.”
“I don’t know her schedule,” Lucas said. And that was the truth. Hunt Investigations was run by the biggest, badass he’d ever met. Archer Hunt, and he employed a team that was the best of the best. Lucas was honored to be a part of that team. All of them, himself included, would step in front of a bullet for each other, and had.
Literally, in his case.
The lone woman in their midst was Molly Malone, equally fearless, though in other ways. She was the one to keep them all on their toes. No one would dare venture into her domain at her desk and put their hands on her stuff to check her schedule, but he could at least ask around. “I’ll go check her ETA,” he said and headed inside.
He found Archer and Joe in the employee room inhaling donuts. Grabbing one for himself, he nodded to Archer and looked at Joe, one of Lucas’s best friends and also his work partner. “Where’s your sister?”
Joe shrugged and went for another donut. “Not her keeper. Why?”
“There’re two elves outside waiting to talk to her.”
“Still?” Archer shook his head. “I told them we wouldn’t take their case.” He headed out front. Lucas followed because if his social niceties game was stale, Archer had zero social niceties game.
“Ladies,” Archer said to the elves. “As I explained earlier, your case isn’t the kind of case we take on.”
“Oh we heard you,” Left Elf said. “We’re just waiting for Molly. She promised to help us personally if you wouldn’t.”
Archer looked pained. “Molly doesn’t take on cases here. She’s office staff.”
The two elves looked at each other and then tucked away their knitting. “Fine,” Left Elf said. “We’ll just go straight to her at home then.”
Archer waited until they’d gotten on the elevator before turning Lucas. “Why are you here?”
“Gee, good to see you too, bossman.”
“Let me rephrase,” Archer said. “How’s your side? You know, where you have a GSW?”
“It’s no longer a gunshot wound, it’s practically just a scratch now. I’m good enough to get back to work.”
“Uh huh.” Archer looked unimpressed. And … still pissed. Lucas had been hoping that he’d gotten himself out of the dog house by now, but apparently not.
“I didn’t get a report from your doctor clearing you,” Archer said.
Lucas squelched a grimace. His doctor had told him – repeatedly – at least one more week. But he’d be dead of boredom by another week. “We’re having a minor difference in opinion.”
“Shit.” Archer swiped a hand down his face. “You know I can’t put you back on the job until he clears you.”
“If I stay home another day, I’ll lose my shit.”
“It’s only been two weeks since you were shot and nearly bled out before we got you to the hospital,” Archer said. “Way too close of a call.”
“Practically ancient history.”
Archer shook his head. “Not even close. And I told you to abort. Instead, you sent the team out to safety and then you alone hauled ass deeper into the yacht, knowing it was on fire thanks to our asshole perps trying to sink it for the insurance pay out.”
“I went deeper because there was still someone on board,” Lucas reminded him. “Their lead suspect’s teenage kid. He’d been holed up and had fallen asleep watching TV. He would’ve died if I’d left him.”
“And instead you almost did.”
Lucas blew out a breath. They’d had this argument in the hospital. They’d had it twice since. He didn’t want to have it again. Especially since he wasn’t sorry he’d disobeyed a direct order. “We saved an innocent. You’d have done the same damn thing. So would any of us.”
Archer looked over at Joe, who’d been silent through this entire exchange.
Joe lifted a shoulder, an admission that yeah, he might’ve done the same thing. And so would Archer, and Lucas damn well knew it.
“Shit,” Archer finally said. “Fine. I’ll unground you, but only for light duty until I hear from your doctor personally that you’re one hundred.”
Lucas didn’t dare smile or pump a fist in triumph. “Deal.”
Archer went from looking pissy to mildly amused. “You don’t know what light duty I’m going to make you do yet.”
“Anything would be better than staying at home,” he said fervently.
“Glad to hear you say that.” Archer jabbed a thumb at the door. “Molly’s going to want to take those elves seriously. She’s been asking to take on a case for months now, but our cases have all been too risky.”
Lucas rubbed his side. Wasn’t that the damn truth. “And?”
“And your ‘light duty’ job is to make sure she turns those elves down,” Archer said. “She’s not ready yet.”
Joe nodded his agreement on that and Lucas let out a mirthless laugh. He understood why Molly’s boss might tell her not to take on a case, but her brother should know better. “Hello, you’ve met her, right?” Lucas asked them. “No one tells Molly what to do.”
“Improvise,” Archer said, unmoved. “And keep in mind, you’re still in hot water with me. So be careful.” He looked at Joe. “Give us a minute.”
Joe looked at Lucas and left the room.
“You’ve got something else to say?” Lucas asked Archer.
“Yeah. Don’t screw this up. And don’t sleep with her either.”
Granted, Lucas had never been all that discriminating when it came to the fairer sex, but this was Molly they were talking about. She was the baby sister of his friend and coworker, which meant she was noton his radar. At least not during the day.
The nights were something else altogether because there’d been more than a few times where she’d starred in his fantasies – his own deep dark secret since he liked breathing. “I wouldn’t sleep with her.”
Archer looked behind him to make sure Joe had left. “Elle and I saw you at the pub last night, flirting with her.”
This had Lucas’s full attention. “What?”
“Yeah, and what the hell were you thinking? You were lucky Joe was late.”
He’d flirted with Molly? Was he crazy? He’d long ago learned to ignore the undercurrent of electricity between them because he had zero interest in mixing business and pleasure, and even less interest in hurting her.
And he would eventually hurt her.
Not to mention what Joe would do to him after he did. And if Joe failed in this new mission, Archer would happily finish him off, and they’d both have every right. But Lucas wouldn’t go there, ever. His job had come between him and The One a few times now, so he’d shifted his priorities. He still loved women, just not one woman — and he was good with that and who he was.
Except … sometimes, like two weeks ago when he’d almost died on the job and had been forced off duty, he knew he was fooling himself. He’d been left feeling far more alone than he liked to admit. He looked at guys like Archer and Joe, both who’d managed to make love work for them just fine, and he wondered what the hell he was doing wrong.
Drawing a deep breath, he thought of the woman in his bed two flights up. Maybe for starters, he should try to remember the name of the women he’d just slept with. “Trust me,” he said. “Nothing happened with Molly last night”
“No, really. Apparently, I was preoccupied with someone else.”
Archer went brows up. “The new brunette at the bar?” He then clapped Lucas on the shoulder. “Glad to hear you’re not going to have to die today.”
“Yeah, well, when Molly finds out you’ve put me on babysitting duty, she’s going to kill us both.”
“That’s why she’s not going to find out.”
Lucas stared at Archer, a very bad feeling coming over him. “I’m supposed to keep it from her?”
“Now you’re getting it.”
Lucas didn’t know much about Molly’s past other than something bad happened to her a long time ago and she still had a limp from whatever it’d been. Joe had kept a tight lid on his and Molly’s rough childhood. Both brother and sister had some serious trust issues. He shook his head glumly. “This is worse than monitor duty.”
“Is it worse than dying?” Archer asked mildly.
Shit. Lucas went back upstairs. He needed a shower, fresh clothes, and a clear head before he faced Molly, as well as a good story because apparently he couldn’t tell her the truth. He hoped to hell that a long hot shower would clear his brain enough to come up with something believable, because something else Molly was – sharp as they came. He stalked through his bedroom, hit the switch on the wall and froze.
The brunette was still in his bed.
At the bright light flooding the room, she gasped and sat straight up, clutching the sheet to her chin, her hair a wild cloud around her face.
And not a stranger’s face either.
Molly was in his bed and his first thought was oh shit. His second thought tumbled right on the heels of that — he was going to die today after all, slowly and painfully.
New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold and visit http://www.jillshalvis.com for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.
Volume 1 (Kingdom Journals)
Alena’s story -$0.99 in ebook, Free on Kindle Unlimited)
He wouldn’t understand. He didn’t live in a pretend world. In truth, he did. Most beings, pure humans, walked around thinking they were the only type of people that existed.” –Alena
As a creature forbidden by both vampire and witch cultures, Alena is forced hide her identity. Her mother moves them from city to city searching for answers. When Alena finds Hunter everything changes. She believes their bond may be the. But her mother finds Theron, an equally handsome and mysterious suitor. Will the truth of his intentions be uncovered before it is too late? Or will her Mother’s kingdom be reduced to embers?
Volume 2 (Kingdom Journals)
Camille’s story – Free on Kindle Unlimited
“… the previous night’s vision, or whatever it was, ended with a name I heard clear as day, as if the people were in my room. Ivy, the girl and boy recited together.” – Camille Could her dreams be real? Is she the key to freeing witches from their curse? Of course not, right? Thinking that her only chance at a normal life lay in a new treatment, Camille joins Dr. Antos and a group of teens for a month long camping trip in Iceland. There she meets Jude, a fellow schizophrenic. Dr. Antos invites Camille and Jude to extend their work with him on the island of Sardinia. Camille is suspicious of Dr. Antos’s intentions but her dad goes missing, leaving her no choice but to travel to Italy. Is she walking into a lion’s den or has her illness invaded her reality?
Volume 3: (Kingdom Journals)
Jude’s Story: Free on Kindle Unlimited
Jude only knows one thing: he must rescue Camille. It doesn’t matter what must be done to save her from the evil coven, he will do it. But once she’s recovered, what will his role be? How does he fit into the trinity’s prophecy? Find out in this urban fantasy adventure novel that finds the Kingdom Journals characters traversing the globe in search of Camille, and the key to breaking an age-old curse.
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Volume 4: Anne’s Story
Kingdom of the Damned is a stand-alone prelude to the Kingdom Journals Series.
“…he that believeth not shall be DAMNED” – Mark 16:16
In 1557, witches burn her home and family. She escapes with the help of a family friend and they hide among humans. At seventeen, another atrocity ignites Anne’s passion for justice. Circumventing the globe, she seeks to unite the vampires and build peace. Powerful enemies amass against them, but her friends number many, including a surprising and mysterious hero. In a war for survival, love feels extravagant, and heroes don’t always prevail. Can she best her enemy and find happiness at last?
The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all cattle,
and above all wild animals;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.”
— Genesis 3:14
The Edict of Châteaubriant, signed 27 June 1551 by King Henry II of France, censored Protestant rhetoric and enabled seizure of funds for punishment. The Edict of Compiègne, of 24 July 1557, allowed the death penalty for crimes of heresy. The witch community, garbed in the Catholic faith, hunted and killed vampires under the guise of bringing the pagans to justice.
Mabon – The Fall Equinox – 21 September 1557, France, during the reign of King Henry II
A vampire has memories from the time they are born. I recall my mother’s face and her warm skin, the sound of her voice. I’ll see you tonight in your beautiful red dress. I love you. She kisses my forehead.
In the evening, I slide the garment over my head, and Elizabeth curls my hair with a hot iron rod. She fits the sash around my waist and into a large bow on my back. I sit in a chair, waiting for the sun to set as she dresses her children for the party. Her daughter Elle twirls in a circle, making her skirt fan out. Even though Elle is older, I am as tall as her, because she and her brother, Hank, are halflings.
Hank is two like me, but not as big or smart. He fiddles with his collar buttoned tight around his neck. As the sky grows dark, I climb atop the chair near the window, impatient to be united with my family and to begin the festivities. An orange glow rises over the hill where my house lies in the next valley. The color looks different than any sunset I remember.
I run to Elizabeth. “Elizabeth, the sky.”
“Come see.” I grab her hand and pull her to the window.
As I push up on my toes to look out the glass, I see flames shooting above the ridge. Men carrying torches summit the hill and race towards us. At one’s signal, they circle the house, making a ring around Elizabeth’s cottage.
“Finn!” Elizabeth yells.
“There’s no way out.” Finn’s eyes dart around the room. I can smell the fear rolling off his skin.
Elizabeth points out the window to a tall tree. “When we open the door, run.”
Wide-eyed, I nod. Elizabeth scoops up Elle, and Finn grabs Hank. Opening the door, they sprint towards the forest. I dart off in the opposite direction. A large dog barks on my heels, but I am fast and reach the tree before the animal overtakes me. Low branches form stairs, and I jump to the first. I feel a tug at my skirt and hear it rip as I reach for the second limb. I catch it and swing to a higher branch. The beast jumps and yelps, but I focus on the limbs above. The branches become thinner, and the space between them shorter as I climb, hand over foot, until I feel the trunk sway with my weight.
Looking down, I see the men with the torches have surrounded Elizabeth and her family. Flames close in on them, engulfing the group in smoke. A bitter smell assaults my nose. The men douse the flames, and when the air clears, I see forms lying on the charred ground. I watch as the men retreat, leaving Elizabeth and her family lying atop the charred grass.
Tricia lives in Colorado with her family and four-legged friends. She writes young and new adult fiction including fantasy, paranormal, dystopian, and romance titles. If not out on the trail, you can find Tricia on your favorite social media!
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What you get is Just Like Gravity, a contemporary paranormal romance set in the Scottish Highlands. Just Like Gravitycombines reincarnation and mystery in an action-packed tale of star-crossed lovers. Can Anna navigate the churning waters of Destiny? Will her dreams and tarot cards show her the way or is she doomed to relive the same tragedy over and over and over?
Mariel’s story begins in Scotland in 1604.
Barney’s begins in Scotland in 1939.
All three are linked, and in case of Mariel and Anna, are more than linked. Keep your eyes on these two. This tale has great adventure. There are murders and murderers in the book. We have love and much lust. Anna and her boyfriend. Davy McIntosh drink enough scotch whiskey to float a you-know-what, But no more than what’s needed. They go through some really tough times. Whiskey is needed, and they find it by the barrel. Plus they never miss a chance to shed their clothes, inside, outside, and by the side of the pond.
Scorchia Dubois can really write. Just Like Gravity moves fast, has great humor, and even greater suspense.
I loved the book. I’m fixin’ to give it 5-stars.
Award-winning author Sorchia Dubois lives in the piney forest of the Missouri Ozarks with seven cats, two fish, one dog, and one husband.
A proud member of the Scottish Ross clan, Sorchia incorporates all things Celtic (especially Scottish) into her works. She can often be found at Scottish festivals watching kilted men toss large objects for no apparent reason.
When Ed Anderson discards his life to become a homeless person, he has no idea of the shit storm about to happen. Almost overnight, the city’s homeless population spikes.
So does the murder rate.
Ed learns that aliens posing as homeless people are eating the city’s wealthiest residents. he tries to warn the police, but they think he’s crazy.
The situation is worse than Ed describes, though.
He’s right about the aliens. They’re here to free humans from wealth and poverty. The flesh of the rich is just a tasty reward for their hard work. And if humans refuse to embrace the utopia imagined for them, there is a Plan B:
“Jahd and Dahl did well,” Senz said. He laid beside Ren, naked and filthy from head to toe. “This place is bountiful. Almost like home, but without the screaming and the imminent death.” He chuckled. “Yet.”
“We told you to put clothes on, Senz. It is how things are done here.”
“If a man cannot be naked in his own home, then what has the world come to?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Seriously, you have to wear clothes. We do not want to draw attention. So far, they have accepted us here. If someone starts complaining to the authorities about us, perhaps saying we are exhibitionists or perverts, they will force us to move on, or worse, they will notice you have a couple of noticeably inhuman parts and we will have to escalate the plan. Dahl would be displeased should that happen. We may even have to return home.”
“So? It would be nice to go home once in a century; do you not think so?”
“We cannot move on until we have done what we came here to do. It would be selfish of us to leave them to their misguided ways when we know how much better their lives could be.”
Senz sighed. He picked up the pants he’d discarded with his shirt on the ground beside him and sat up. As he put his legs into the coarse material of the pants, he nodded at the cooler tucked into Ren’s tent. “Did you eat it all, or will you share?”
“Sure. Help yourself.”
“I only received the entrails last night. Not very filling and they taste terrible.” “A meal is a meal.”
“Meh,” Senz zipped his pants and then reached for the cooler. “Little too rich for me.”
He laughed at his own joke.
Ren shook his head. “There is no such thing as too rich.”
“Unless you are one of them.”
“We will be heading out again tonight, so do not eat too much. Dahl has put you on the list.”
“Praise the human lord.” Senz removed a long, tubular package wrapped in brown butcher’s paper. He opened it. “I gave up hope on getting the first taste.”
“We said we would rotate so everyone gets to enjoy a fresh kill. Dahl has prepared a schedule. It should be smooth sailing from here.”
“There are lots of them here, eh? It will take a while to do them all.”
“It will,” Ren said. “But we have time. The second wave arrives soon. Dahl says the General’s unit is docking in a place called California. I heard there are even more of them there. Must be nice to have rank so you can pluck the juiciest fruit.”
“You will get there. Dahl likes you.” Senz winked.
“Do not be a… dick.”
“Is that a new insult?”
“Yes. It means you are being mean and annoying.”
“Huh.” Senz bit off a piece of meat, chewed, and then swallowed. “I like it. I hope I have the opportunity to use it soon.”
“Just do not call Dahl or Jahd a dick. They are not in the mood for humor these days.”
“Always like that in the early stages of a renovation.”
“Yes, it means restoring or repairing something. Making it new or upgrading.
Is that not what we are doing?”
“It is. Renovation… so many words in this language that mean the same thing.”
“Gopher is teaching me the ins and outs of it. They also like words that are not words.”
“Slang. I know.” Ren scowled. “Do not become fond of Gopher.”
“I find that impossible. He is thoroughly entertaining.”
Ren sometimes wished he’d been put on the General’s fleet, where they weren’t allowed fraternizing and all that mattered was the mission. “By the way,” he said. “A disturbingly hairy man at the church said California has wealthy morsels on every corner. He said they bleed money out there. Tehn thinks he knows something. I did not allow him to kill the man, though. As he is not wealthy, I figured Dahl should approve it first.”
“He was not being literal,” Senz said. “Another ‘figure of speech’ in this language. Makes my head hurt, which is why I am grateful for the education
Gopher is providing.”
“I suppose he is useful.”
“And I, too, heard the General’s city is wealthier than this one. This is a good start, though.” He bit into the meat nestled in the brown paper again. “Look who is back.”
Ren looked to where he pointed. A short man with a hook in place of his right hand, and a good year’s growth of facial hair matted around his chin walked toward them, cup in hand: Gopher. “You must remember he is not one of us. Put some distance between yourself and him. If the mission goes wrong, he will not survive.”
“Jahd says we will need liaisons. They will trust what other humans say or something.”
“The fact that we did not eat them should be enough to make them grateful.”
Senz shrugged. “These creatures are strange. They do not behave in a way that is logical.”
“True. Still, I think Dahl’s original plan was better. Tell them how it will be and kill anyone who does not fall in line. Seems a faster way to get things done.”
“I disagree. We must cultivate relationships. Make them see we mean to help them, instead of bullying them into doing things our way. If they like and respect us, then they will work with us. The renovation will be successful, and we can go home sooner.” Senz put the last of the meat in his mouth and swallowed it without chewing. “What do I know, though? I am only a soldier who is fond of a human that smokes plants and scratches his genitals with unseemly regularity. I am not a great and powerful leader who knows all because of my rank.”
Ren picked a speck of dust from his pants. “Are you speaking of Dahl?”
“Never,” Senz said. “I was merely voicing an opinion. I would not mind keeping one, though. Perhaps I will be permitted to bring Gopher back. It has been done before. The bums at the shelter are hilarious as well, and they do not judge.”
“All humans judge.”
“You are wrong. I told them I eat the rich when times are tough, and they asked for recipes.” Senz laughed. “If they knew the truth, I imagine they would… what is the phrase? Shit in their pants, I think.”
Ren didn’t bother telling Senz they weren’t supposed to reveal themselves or how they survived. He’d been told enough times. Dahl would have to know about the security breach. Senz might not get a chance at fresh meat after all.
“Hey,” Gopher waved at Ren. “Your buddy Judd said to tell you soup’s on.” He shook the can.
Ren smiled. He waited until Gopher knelt and then pulled a dollar bill from the can. Senz did the same and they both inhaled the scent of the money. Ren saw the donor clearly in his mind. He looked at Senz. “Care to do some reconnaissance with me?”
“Do we get to eat this reconnaissance?”
“All right. Let’s go.”
“You guys are fucking odd,” Gopher said.
Ren smiled. “I found you a new dog.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes,” Ren said. “You were so upset about the old one that got crushed by the bus, I thought you might like a new one.”
“Well thanks. I do miss ol’ Goober, so I ain’t gonna say no to a new friend.
Where is he?”
“Dahl has him. We did not know if you wanted him skinned or not, so we have left him alive for now.”
“Skinned? For fuck’s sake, don’t skin the poor thing. What good is a dead dog?”
“He is alive…” Ren was confused. He’d seen animals in the homes of others and wondered at the way they treated them like family. “I thought your kind ate animals.”
“Christ, not dogs.”
“Do you not breed cattle and pigs and other animals for the purpose of eating?”
“Why not dogs? They too have meat that is edible.”
“Because we’re not savages.”
“And you think we are odd?”
(review request submitted by the publisher for an honest critique)
Renee prayed on the fear some people have (alien invasion) but also gave us something new to consider. It’s not what we see coming that we should worry about… it’s what we don’t see, what could be lurking out there, we should fear.
Many folks believe in aliens. They also believe one day aliens will invade us. However, I don’t imagine most individuals envision the otherworldly beings integrating themselves so seamlessly into our society. Unfortunately, a vast number of people turn a blind eye to the homeless so posing as of them was one helluva, brilliant disguise.
I liked many points in this story. No, I don’t mean I like aliens eating us Earth dwellers. What I mean is… I enjoyed how Renee wrote the scenes were the aliens learned about our society, the inventiveness on how to blend in, and the reason why the aliens felt the need to bring us Earthlings back to basics.
Yes, they were disgusting beings doing horrific things but this story was more than just a planet take-over.
Of course, some humans revolted and this is where my score dropped a point. The ending…. I didn’t quite grasp it.
What will become of Ed? What’s the ‘visitors’ next course of action? The end didn’t feel like an end but a set-up for another installment.
Heart Rating System:
1 (lowest) and 5 (highest)
Renee Miller has published stories in the crime/suspense, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy/horror/comedy, and erotic horror genres. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, or on her blog.