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By Rebecca Flanders
Harlequin Enterprises LtdCopyright © 2003 Rebecca Flanders
All right reserved.
Chapter OneUntil the spaceman fell out of her apple tree, Houston Malloy was having a perfect morning.
For the first time in over a month, she didn't have bus duty, cafeteria duty or a parent-teacher conference. Mark had gotten up with her first call, hadn't complained too much about his breakfast and had even brushed his teeth without being told. Houston had fifteen minutes before she had to leave for school, which allowed her plenty of time for a second cup of coffee and her favorite pastime - taking in the view from her kitchen window.
It was the middle of May, and Iowa farm country had never been more beautiful. Houston liked to get up early, even on school days, just to watch the light spread over the meadow, which on this particular morning was bedecked in spring green, butter cream yellow and morning glory blue. Her neighbor's sheepdog, Arthur, was chasing a honey bee beneath the low-hanging branches of the apple tree - he was not very bright, Arthur - and her calico cat was dozing in a gentle patch of sun on the windowsill. It was precisely the kind of peaceful bucolic scene Houston had moved to the country to enjoy.
She turned away to refill her coffee cup, and when she looked back a humanoid creature in a silver jumpsuit and helmet was tumbling out of the apple tree.
The coffee cup slipped out of her fingers and crashed to the floor, splattering her shoes and the hem of her skirt with coffee before she jumped out of the way. Arthur the sheepdog went into a fit of crazed barking and Heloise the cat shrieked and took off across the lawn in a black-and-orange-and-white blur. Mark clattered down the stairs, shouting, "Hey, Mom, you won't believe what's going on in the meadow!"
But Houston was already running across the front porch, the screen door banging behind her.
By the time she reached him, the alien - or whatever he was - had managed to get to his feet, apparently unharmed, and was now trying to fend off the attentions of an overexcited Arthur, who couldn't decide whether to lick the stranger's face, defend the apple tree from attack or chase the cat. The stranger, for his part, was muttering angrily what must have been curses, while alternately trying to chase the dog away and gather up something that had spilled on the ground.
Houston, when she was within ten feet of him, slowed her approach, regarding him warily. He was without a doubt the strangest thing she had seen in her meadow in quite some time. The formfitting silver jumpsuit displayed every muscle and plane, ripple and bulge, and though a few of those were quite interesting, curiosity was not enough to override caution. His head and face were completely covered by an oval helmet made of some kind of black plastic or glass, completely unlike anything she had ever seen before. In fact, everything about him was unlike anything she had ever seen before.
Mark ran up and she grabbed him by the shoulder, watching the scene before her with growing concern. The dog was barking and circling the stranger, and Houston could now see that what he was trying to pick up from the ground were small instruments, like computer tools, and little pieces of black plastic. Apparently something had been broken in the fall.
Abruptly, the man pulled off his helmet, running his hand through a headful of squashed sandy curls, and glared at her. "What are you staring at?" he demanded.
Houston took a startled step backward. "I beg your pardon, but it's not every day a man wearing a silver lamé catsuit falls out of my apple tree. What are you doing here?"
"Experiencing a crisis, if you don't mind. Is this your beast?"
He bent down again to search the ground, and Arthur, apparently encouraged by his audience, lunged for him. Mark broke away from Houston and ran to Arthur, grabbing him by the collar while keeping a curious eye on the stranger.
On further study, Houston decided he probably wasn't a spaceman, after all. Curly brown hair and clear hazel eyes seemed to her distinctly all-American traits, and she doubted whether the kind of curses he was muttering were taught on the average alien planet. It was just that bizarre outfit he was wearing ... that and the fact that he appeared out of thin air between one blink of her eye and the next.
Houston looked around. No car, no horse, no motorcycle, not even a bungie cord from which he might have conceivably catapulted out of a hovering helicopter. She took a cautious, protective step toward Mark. "Where in the world did you come from?"
He barely spared her a glance. "Clarion, Minnesota. Excuse me, young man. If you could hold that animal back a little farther I'd be grateful."
Mark voiced one of the questions that was uppermost in Houston's mind. "How did you get here?"
He didn't glance up. "That's a rather complicated story."
Houston looked at her son, thinking out loud. "Sky diver?"
Mark shook his head. He was a studious child, his eyes alert and thoughtful behind Clark Kent-type glasses, and far too serious for a ten-year-old. He could always be counted on to point out the obvious. "No parachute," he replied.
Houston took another look at the man's shiny suit.
"Well, eliminating the spaceman theory -"
"Great son of a cat!" the man exclaimed, and Houston threw him a startled look, stepping quickly closer to her son.
The man straightened up with both hands full of tiny machine parts and scraps of grass, his expression disgusted and dismayed. "Look at that! Everything broken, scattered, filled with dirt -" Suddenly his expression changed. Houston thought she could actually see color drain from his face. "Where's my ...?" His hand went to his belt line - though he was wearing no belt - as though he expected to find something there. When he didn't, he turned to search the ground again, a new desperation in his movements.
Excerpted from Quinn's Way by Rebecca Flanders Copyright © 2003 by Rebecca Flanders
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.