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The craft tilted.
She scrambled to flip the lever that would switch her to manual control, then gripped the guidance bar with both hands. This wasn't good! Her teeth rattled and her body shook from the violent vibrations that overtook the craft. She was going to crash into Earth and her life cycle would extinguish!
It was all Mala's fault. If her cousin hadn't decided she just had to go to Earth in search of something more than their perfect world, then Kia wouldn't be in this predicament.
Her concentration switched back to the orb she raced toward. It grew bigger and bigger. Her anxiety level mounted higher and higher.
The craft began to spin as it entered Earth's atmospheric pull. Clouds rushed past, then mountains, blurs of colors.
Oh Great One in all your infinite wisdom-Help!
The craft suddenly began to slow. Okay, this was better. Some measure of control returned.
Until she crashed into an immobile object and came to an abrupt stop. It was all she could do to keep from slamming her head into the control panel.
She swallowed past the sick feeling in her stomach. Not even onemillisecond on Earth and already she felt ill. The planet was probably rife with disease and pestilence.
Okay, she could do this. She drew in a deep breath, raising her chin. After all, she was a warrior-brave and true of spirit.
Oh Great One, creator of every living, breathing Nerakian, the contents of her stomach were about to depart her body. Not good. She'd never been sick a day in her life.
Deep breath. Slow inhale, now exhale.
When the world stopped spinning, she stood, waving her hand in front of the door.
She raised her foot and executed a perfect kick, connecting with the metal. It groaned and creaked, then trembled open.
Her craft would not be safe to travel in again. Not that she wanted to return the same way. No, she would face the Elders' wrath and ask them to transport her and Mala back to Nerak in a tube transporter-a much smoother way to travel. There was a lot to be said about newer models.
Freezing air swirled inside the craft. She shivered. Earth was a cold planet. Why would Mala want to stay here? She'd said it was because she'd wanted imperfection. That no one could survive in their perfect world.
Mala had gotten her wish, it would seem. Earth did not look at all perfect. And what was wrong with perfect? It certainly hadn't done her any harm.
No, she had a feeling it was more than that. Her cousin had been stuck on the idea of being with a real man rather than a machine since finding their grandmother's secret diaries and her video of interplanetary space travels to Earth.
Kia had never seen the attraction of having a man, Nerakian or otherwise. Not that there were any men left on her planet.
Now that she thought about it, Mala had been particularly interested in the documentary Grandmother had stashed away: Debbie Does the Sheriff. Her cousin had been extremely excited with her found treasure. Kia hadn't cared to view it. She'd been quite content with her life.
She grabbed her satchel and jumped down. Her feet landed with a thump.
Good. She would've hated to be sucked down into nothingness.
No, it didn't matter what Mala found so intriguing about Earth, Kia was here to take her back to Nerak by whatever means necessary.
Kia had been given the DNA of a warrior, not that she'd ever had the chance to actually use her skills since they were at peace. But if she had to use force, she would.
She removed her locator from her front pocket and flipped it open. After putting in the necessary data, she pushed a button.
She jiggled the instrument. The small screen remained black.
Broken. Now what?
Mala was living on a ranch. That was the only information Kia had. A ranch, possibly with herds of animals.
A loud rumbling vibrated the ground beneath her feet. An army of brutish men? She slipped behind a tree and waited to see if warriors would appear, but the rumbling faded.
Her gaze moved upward. A tree. But up close, it felt ... different than she'd expected. The description in the archived books described it perfectly: brown, rough-textured bark.
Another loud rumble shook the ground. What could be making that horrible noise?
She was a warrior-she stood taller, one eyebrow quirked; she would investigate.
She touched a button, shrouding her craft in invisibility, then removed a black cape from her satchel and fastened it under her chin. She would look into the rumbling and maybe locate Mala in the process. Soon this nonsense of staying on Earth would be forgotten and they could return to Nerak.
An hour later she came to the realization that she might be going in the wrong direction when she came to a fence and beyond that was a road. It didn't look like a ranch.
Ranches were supposed to be dwellings with smelly cows and ... and cow-men. Although she hoped she never came face-to-face with a half-cow, half-man. That might even test her beyond what she was prepared to encounter.
But the rumbling didn't come from animals. It came from the wheeled craft traveling on the road.
"Primitive." She shook her head and tossed her bag over the fence. A few seconds later, she stood on the other side. Now what?
Just when she thought her day couldn't get any worse, one of the large craft pulled close to her, swirling up a cloud of dust that made her cough.
"Need a lift?" a burly earthman asked as he leaned his head out the window.
"A lift?" Why would she want this overgrown beast of a man to lift her?
"Yeah, need a ride? I'm going to Dallas if you're headed that way."
"Do they have a ranch there?"
He nodded. "You must be talking about that one from the TV show-Southfork. Yep, it's still there and open to tourists."
Tourists? What was a tourist? No matter. She would soon be with Mala. "Good, then I will ride with you."
He leaned over, disappering. She wondered if he might have dissolved into a puddle. Adam-1, her companion unit, had gotten too close to an incinerating machine once and melted into a shiny blob of metal. Very messy.
A few seconds later, part of his craft opened and then he straightened.
"If you're goin' with me, then you'd better hurry. I gotta get this load on in."
"I'm ... goin'." She hurried around the side of the conveyance and climbed inside.
She would observe this man while she searched for Mala. The language on this part of the planet was similar to her own, although he talked rather peculiar. She would learn his manner of speech so she would blend in.
She climbed up and into the front of his machine and tried to make herself comfortable on the lumpy seat. Her hover seat was much better. And her craft cleaner.
Her nose wrinkled. What was that odor? It was quite possibly the worst thing she'd ever smelled. The sooner she found Mala the better. Surely her cousin was ready to leave this awful, imperfect world by now.
She waved her arm, but the door didn't close. Apparently, the closing mechanism was broken. The man leaned across and pulled it shut. His body odor filled her nostrils. If he didn't move from her immediate vicinity she really would empty the contents of her stomach.
"You're a cutie." He moved back to his side.
She looked at the man. Part of his hair was missing. The top part. Only the side hair remained, and it stuck out at odd angles. His uniform consisted of a wrinkled orange shirt with the logo of his department: "I'm a Mother Trucker and Proud of It!."
He was disproportionate, too. His abdomen protruded over his pants to an alarming degree.
"Name's Hank. You got a name?" He wrestled with a stick that came up from the floor, then pulled onto the road.
The motion of his craft jerked her forward. She grabbed the door and held on. "Yes, I got a name. It's Kia." Her teeth felt as if they'd be jarred loose any second. "Does it go airborne?"
"That's what I like, a woman who likes speed." He grinned and she noticed the bouncing craft had already caused him to lose most of his teeth.
Hank shifted the stick, then pulled a cord above his head that set off a loud horn and left her wondering if the noise had damaged her eardrums.
"Yee-haaaaa! We're truckin' now!" he said as the dial jumped to ninety. "Yep, this eighteen-wheeler will dang sure get you where you're goin'."
No, they weren't going airborne. They were still stuck on the road. When this horrendous episode was over, she would tell Mala how displeased she was about everything. She would probably tell her with each passing of the suns until their life cycle ended just so Mala wouldn't forget.
"We gotta have some tunes playin'." He turned a knob and pushed a button.
Screeching filled the craft, bouncing off the interior. It was a horrendous sound like nothing she'd ever been subjected to. Earth torture. It wouldn't work. She'd die before she revealed Nerakian secrets!
"That's my brother Elmo on the CD. He made it hisself. Danged if I know why he hasn't hit the big time."
Your taters are turnin' mushy in the fields and the infernal revenue service says you owe back taxes, but you gots the love of a good woman and ...
"Enough!" Her ears were aching from the obnoxious noise. She turned the same knob and peaceful silence filled the interior. Hank's brother would make a good interrogator, but apparently he was harmless, except for his voice.
Hank frowned. "You got an attitude problem, don't ya?"
"You will take me to this Dallas and you will do it quietly."
His eyes narrowed. "And what if I just pull over and let you out? You can hoof it the rest of the way. I dang sure don't need a mean-spirited woman riding with me."
She raised an eyebrow. He backed down, turning his attention to the road once more. He mumbled something else but she couldn't understand what he said. It was for the best.
Soon her eyes drifted closed. Traveling to Earth had drained her. If she slept for a few minutes, she would awaken refreshed.
"Hey, lady, wake up."
She roused slowly to that incredible stench again. Hank leaned into the conveyance on her side, the door open. When she turned her head away, she realized darkness surrounded her. Had the end of her life cycle started? Was her light fading away? The man was extinguishing her with his body odor.
Would she never see her sisters or Mala again?
"Boy, you slept like the dead. It's already night."
"Night?" It took a second for his words to sink in but when they did, she sighed with relief. She remembered now that Earth only had one sun. Nerak did not have night as the two suns rotated opposite each other.
"Yeah, you been sleepin' about four and a half hours. You didn't even stir when I stopped to fill up."
He already looked pretty full to her. Not that she cared as she peered through the front glass at the darkness that surrounded her.
"Is the ranch near?"
"I ain't goin' that far. You're on your own from here."
She climbed down, jumping the last part. She'd been sitting so long, her legs almost buckled. She grabbed the door until she felt steady.
The crisp night air seeped into her bones. Nerak was a comfortable temperature year-round. She hugged her arms around her middle as a cold shiver swept over her. Cold wasn't good. Mala must be ready to return by now.
"There's a bathroom inside that bar across the street there if you've a mind to use their facilities, but it's a biker bar so you best be watchin' yourself," Hank told her. "Someone in there can tell you where the ranch is. Not the best place to be hangin' around, though."
He shuffled his feet, then let out a deep breath that made her nose crinkle in distaste.
"Talk to the man behind the counter. Fred knows me and he'll help you out."
She nodded and started to walk away.
"Most people would at least say thank you seein' as how I gave you a lift."
She would have to remember that. "Thank you."
He muttered something about ungrateful women but she'd already started walking away. She stretched her sore muscles as she made her way toward the dark, squat building with the bright flashing light proclaiming it as Paw's Roadhouse. She watched until it was safe, then hurried across the road.
Other than the bar, there was little else on this strip of road. A flashing light declared the structure beside it as a motel, except the last letter didn't light up so it looked like Mote.
There was a row of small conveyances in front of the bar. She ran a hand over the sleek metal and leather of the nearest machine. It was nice. Maybe these vehicles went airborne.
As Kia started toward the door, a woman came out. Not like any woman she'd ever seen, though. Blazing bright red hair matched her bright red lips. She wore a tight pink top so low her voluptuous breasts almost spilled out, and skintight shiny pink pants that sparkled when she moved.
And she chewed something that made a smacking noise.
The woman's gaze ran over Kia. "Honey, you're in the wrong place."
Kia tested her new words. "I gotta see Fred."
The woman thumbed over her shoulder. "He's inside. Last I saw, he was cleaning off the counter. I never would've thought he was your type." She shrugged as she moved past Kia.
Not her type? Kia wondered what her type was.
He tensed as familiar warning signals sounded in his head.
Something was about to happen. Not the drug deal. This was different. A gut feeling that didn't have anything to do with the bust.
Slowly, his gaze scanned the room. Had someone slipped inside? He quickly discounted that idea. The way he'd positioned himself, he had a good view of the front and back entrances. He had a suspicion whatever was about to go down wouldn't be good.
The door opened, letting in a blast of cold air. His gaze swung in that direction.
Then she came into the bar.
Windswept coal black hair that hung past her shoulders, skin warmed to a deep golden tan, as if she spent a lot of time in the sun. Her black top molded to her delicious curves, inviting a man to look. Black pants fit her like a second skin, inviting a man to touch. A black cape reached almost to her boot-clad feet, warning him to stay the hell away.
She scanned the smoky room. Her gaze stopped and held his for the briefest amount of time before moving on.
She had the deepest blue eyes he'd ever seen. Or maybe they were black. She was too far away to know for sure. Either way, he'd been sucker punched by the burning heat from that one look.
And definitely trouble.
Why the hell was she here, in one of the roughest bars on the outskirts of Dallas? She didn't look like the usual biker bitches that trolled the bar for drugs or a cheap thrill with some badass gang member.
He let his gaze slide over her. No, she didn't look like her taste would run to cheap thrills or drugs, but then, it wouldn't be the first time he'd been fooled. It just didn't happen very often.
She glided over to the bar. He couldn't hear what she said to the bartender over the noise of a heavy metal song playing on the jukebox. Apparently, one of the bikers did because he sidled up to her, running his hand over her shoulder and squeezing her arm.
The heat from her eyes changed to a cold stare. The biker should've been frozen to the spot, but he didn't seem to be taking the hint the lady wanted to be left alone.
Nick raised his bottle to his lips, concealing what he was about to say. "We have a problem."
"No, we don't, Nick," came the voice of his partner into the earpiece Nick wore.
"You saw her?" He took a drink of the lukewarm beer.
"I couldn't miss her, but it doesn't matter. We're here for a drug bust. As soon as the mark comes in and makes his buy, we take him down. It's the only way we're going to get any info on the Russian mafia. We're not here to get you laid."
Yeah, yeah, he knew the drill. Get someone on the inside to talk-a stoolie. Sometimes they would do anything to stay out of prison. Hell, they'd rat out their own brother if it kept them out of the pen.
Excerpted from Earth Guys Are Easy by KAREN KELLEY Copyright © 2008 by Karen Kelley. Excerpted by permission.
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