“It’s not all about serving coffee and typing reports.”
Working for a secret organisation specialising in alien cover-ups, Connor Smith is no stranger to the abnormal or dangerous. His love life on the other hand… not so exciting. Until he reluctantly agrees to a blind date and meets the perfect bloke, Jason.
Things are finally falling into place for Connor, so of course that’s when he attracts an alien stalker.
Noah Jones, ex-alien, has been stranded on Earth and forced to live as a human since 1648. Alone and detached from the world around him, Noah has spent centuries observing and recording humankind. In all that time, he’s only experienced a connection with a human once… until he finds Connor.
Even knowing Connor is in a relationship, Noah can’t ignore their potential bond, or stay away.
While dealing with missing alien artefacts, a dangerous and shadowy group of collectors, and the ever-present Noah, Connor finds his orderly life crumbling around him. At least he still has the perfect boyfriend…
When Noah goes missing, Connor is forced to face the feelings growing between them and the mounting evidence that Jason isn’t who he says he is...
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The Dross Woods, four-bloody-something in the morning, hunting for six-armed, two-legged white creatures.
Agent Connor Smith, personal assistant of Chief Security Lieutenant Natalie Tallis of Primrose UK, yawned. The lingering mist clung to his ankles as he tightened the straps of his field gear. He took his tranq out of its holster and flicked his torch on. The dense, tall trees hampered visibility, and the smattering of shrubs didn't help, either. The path, at least, was wide enough for two.
"How many were there again?" Agent Simpson, team Alpha's leader, asked. His dark, bald head gleamed in the early dawn as he moved to stand next to Connor.
"Ten, I think." Or eleven. Connor hadn't been awake enough to pick up everything during the interview with the Cleaton brothers, two aging sheep farmers, who had called it in. Why have a sheep farm so close to this vast and dense piece of forest? It was asking for trouble.
"They kept them in the stables, right? So, what happened?"
"Broke out," Connor said as he trailed into the woods after Simpson. Though Connor outranked the stocky but agile team leader, Simpson had at least a decade of field experience on him. Simpson's torch lit up the uneven, knobby-rooted ground, and Connor used his to search the shrubbery next to the path. He wished he'd brought an extra coffee, because he was not awake enough for this. Hopefully, the pale colour of the creatures made them easier to spot.
"So, broke out?"
"Have you seen the thing they called stables? It's nothing more than a rickety old shed. Even one-armed creatures would have had no problem breaking out, let alone these ... Noren, I think the brothers called them."
"All I understood was that we're here to catch us some aliens." Simpson veered left, following the whimsical bend in the path, and looked back. "It was a late night."
"Right, you were chasing another missing artefact. Lieutenant Tallis filled me in. File's probably making its way to my desk as we speak." Connor squinted, aiming his torch at the shrubbery to his left. A mix of red, yellow, and purple flowers brought some colour to the otherwise dreary looking forest. "It's the eighth time this has happened. It's becoming a problem."
"Don't I know it. So, did they say how big these fellas are?"
"Chest height or about. Why? Spot something?" Connor pointed his torch along Simpson's.
The shrubs shuddered and shook until Simpson stepped forward. A twig snapped, followed by meowing. A cat. Just a cat.
Connor shrugged at Simpson and they moved forward again.
Somewhere a shout rang out: a high-pitched screech that caused goose bumps.
"One down!" someone called through the commlink — team Bravo's Forente or Briers, Connor guessed. "There are at least two others here."
"That way," Simpson said, pointing to their right, onto a narrow path overgrown with creepers.
Connor nodded, but Simpson had already turned away.
Step by step, they followed the narrow path, the darkness only broken by the light of their torches. They were hampered by the creepers as they moved along — listening, stopping, and listening again — as well as having to push low branches out of their way every other step.
One by one, more teams called in their catches.
"They seem to like sheep," Forente commented after his first catch. "I heard one bleat, and the next thing we know, one of those Noren is coming right at us."
"Good to know," Simpson said. "Keep up the good work."
"How many is that now?" Connor eyed the shrubbery in front of him, squinting as he pointed the torch at it. Eerie how dark a forest could be at daybreak. He preferred the smell of fresh moss to the damp, woodsy smell that now hung around him.
"Seven. I think."
So, three to go, and he and Simpson had yet to run into any.
Something rustled behind them, and Connor turned, aiming his tranq. He hoped it wasn't another cat. More rustling, but no movement in the shrubs. The foliage was denser here — they must have reached the middle of the woods by now.
Satisfied a Noren wasn't stalking them, Connor went to catch up with Simpson. When a sudden crunching of leaves to his right stopped him again. Something whitish moved behind a tree, too large to be a rabbit. He wished he'd paid more attention when Tallis had told them what to look for. Not that she'd been any more awake than he was. Simpson wasn't the only one who'd been working late. The —
Another crunch, nowhere near, though. If there were two Noren around, he'd need Simpson. He tapped the commlink. "Simpson?"
"That was me. The path circles back onto itself."
That was a relief. "There's one behind a tree in front of me."
"Right. Want me to move around it?"
"Good idea." Then he remembered the comment about the sheep. "Wait. You don't have to. Draw it out, bleat if you have to. All I need is a clear shot. I can't take a shot as long as it's hiding behind that tree," Connor said, keeping an eye on the tree the Noren hid behind. He hoped it was just the one, even though they didn't seem violent towards humans.
Simpson's imitation of a sheep sounded nothing like the real thing, yet the Noren thought it genuine enough, since it came out from behind the tree, straight into the dense shrubbery next to it.
"Bugger." Connor tracked the movement, but the shrubbery blocked his view. "I don't have a shot. It fled right into the bushes."
Simpson didn't reply. Instead, he made his way around Connor, judging from the flashes of torchlight jumping around, and repeated his sheep imitation.
The leaves shuddered, and Connor narrowed his eyes, hoping to get a clear shot.
Simpson bleated again, and this time the Noren came running out of the shrubbery. Connor aimed and pulled the trigger. The Noren went down hard. Hit in one. He knelt next to the creature, taking the cuffs out.
"Nice shot, Smith," Simpson said when he reached them.
"Thanks." Connor cuffed all three sets of arms. It seemed like overkill, but he knew better than to take any risks. He was about to activate his earpiece to ask how many were still on the loose when a shrill whistle sounded, calling them back.
"Well," Simpson said as he helped Connor pick the Noren up, "I guess that's that."
"All in a day's work, Simpson, all in a day's work." At least, for a personal assistant at Primrose.
* * *
"Connor, come on, hurry up or we'll miss the train."
Connor rolled his eyes as he warmed some hair gel in his hands. Why had he agreed to join Isa to the pub straight from work? Sure, he always had a spare set of clothes in the office — you never knew what might happen in this job — but he'd much rather have gone home and taken a shower first. Actually, as wonderful as that sounded, after the long days he'd had this week — tracking a missing Noren — he'd rather lounge on his sofa with a cold beer and some soothing music.
At least, they assumed the Noren was missing. After returning to the shed and locking them all up, they'd done a recount and had ended up being one Noren short, according to the brothers. The Cleatons swore they had counted them several times. There should have been ten, but they'd only caught nine. So, either one had escaped, or the brothers couldn't count.
Now, one seemingly harmless missing alien wasn't worth the effort, but adding that in with all the artefacts that had gone missing in the past two years, it seemed suspicious. Enough for Tallis to make finding it a priority, and have Connor put a search out for it. Three days had passed and nothing had turned up yet. No odd sightings, no disturbances, no spooked sheep, nothing.
Bloody hell, Isa sounded annoying when she was impatient. He almost heard her pouting.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." He ran his hands through his hair, messing it up with style — as shown by his hairdresser — and cast one last glance in the mirror. That would have to do. He washed his hands, grabbed the hanger with his suit, and exited the toilet.
Isa waited for him in the hall, arms crossed, as he walked back into his office to hang up his suit. "You don't look half bad," she said, looking him up and down with piercing, cognac-brown eyes. "I guess I can forgive you for taking so long."
Isa Griffin, personal assistant of Chief Security Lieutenant Clark Matthews, was Connor's colleague and best friend. She was wiry and about half a foot shorter than him, but deceptively strong. Her short, thick auburn hair didn't even need any product to look stylish — according to Connor at least. Isa never stopped complaining about her unruly hair.
He snorted as he hung the suit on the coat rack in the corner of his office, right next to the giant stainless-steel filing cabinet. He hadn't been in the toilet for more than five minutes, including the time it had taken him to change clothes. "Where were we going again?"
"Clyde's. Unless you prefer some place quieter."
He hadn't been to Clyde's in ages. Not since Zack. "Are you trying to tell me something?" "No." Isa didn't even need to look at him — the slight change of pitch in her voice said enough.
Bloody hell, she was trying to set him up ... again. He rubbed his forehead. She knew he hated being set up, but she wouldn't stop. What was it about Isa, his best friend, that made her go out of her way to find him a new bloke? He stared at his desk, frantically looking for a reason not to join her — a missed report, a last-minute delivery — but, as usual, there was nothing, not even a misplaced scrap of paper.
He shook his head and followed her out of his office. It might be better if he pretended not to know what she'd done, even though they both knew better.
They'd barely reached the corridor when Tallis rounded the corner. She pushed her long blond hair behind her ear, revealing her sharp jawline, and held out a file. "Connor, oh, good. You're still here. I scheduled a meeting with Parker tomorrow at ten, but I need to reschedule and I can't seem to reach him. Can you call him first thing and make sure he gets this file?"
Connor took the file and nodded. "Of course, Lieutenant, first thing. Do you need me to stay?" Any excuse would do.
"No, no. I have everything I need, thank you. Enjoy your night out. You, too Agent Griffin."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Connor and Isa said simultaneously, even though Tallis was already walking away, obviously deep in thought.
Connor tried not to show his disappointment, ran back to his office to put the file on his desk, and followed Isa towards the lifts.
"You know, I still can't believe you got her."
Connor raised his eyebrow. "Thank you for that vote of confidence."
Isa shook her head. "No, not that. You're good, the best around here, probably, not counting me, of course. It's just ..." Isa shrugged, waving her hands in the air.
Connor knew exactly what she meant. Tallis was rather particular in choosing her personal assistant. His predecessor had been a somewhat stern-looking lady, right down to the grey bun and reading glasses, who could no doubt outrun him. If she hadn't decided to retire after one bullet wound too many, she'd probably still be working.
No one had been more surprised than Connor when Chief Research Lieutenant Rupert Holloway, his then-boss, had recommended him to her. He'd not even been here a year, and Tallis was one of the most revered lieutenants at Primrose. One trial week had been all she'd needed to hire him as her personal assistant almost a year and a half ago. He shuddered to think how green he'd been when he'd started working at Primrose.
They were almost out of the building when one of the guards stopped them. "Agent Smith?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but Lieutenant Tallis needs you to come back in."
"Tell her I'm on my way."
Connor turned to face Isa and shrugged. "I'm sorry. I guess we'll have to do this another time." He tried to keep his face blank. He really didn't want her grumbling about how ungrateful he was.
Isa's expression showed a thunderstorm on the horizon, but all she did was sigh. "Yeah. It's not like we have a nine to five, is it? Any idea what it might be about?"
"After Simpson's report and the Noren, I wouldn't be surprised if it has something to do with the missing artefacts."
"I guess you'd better go up. Call me later, all right?"
"I'll text you."
"You'd better." Isa leaned in and kissed his cheek. "Who knows, you might be done in half an hour, and you can still make it to Clyde's tonight."
Connor nodded, even though he had no intention of going. Whoever she had lined up for him would have to find his own entertainment tonight.
* * *
Taking a deep breath, Connor pushed the door open with his elbow and entered the meeting with a full tray. Tallis mouthed a 'thank you' when he put a steaming cup in front of her.
She turned to the burly bloke next to her. "That's absurd, Andrew. I can't believe you still think it's a coincidence."
"What else can it be?" Commander Andrew Kittler, head of Primrose UK, asked. "No one but us knew about those artefacts, no other organisation or person even has the ability to locate them —"
Tallis clicked her fingers, interrupting him. "Connor, please enlighten Commander Kittler."
Connor nodded at her, put the tray down near the door, and took his own coffee with him as he ambled over to Tallis' desk, set up to one side of the oval table, to commandeer her keyboard. This was what they'd been working on relentlessly for the past hour and a half, and the reason she'd decided to call this emergency meeting.
Connor opened the file — a map and timeline of A-Watch findings and the fire at Lieutenant Langham's house — on the big screen hanging in front of the teal-coloured wall opposite Tallis' desk. "A-Watch, the system we use to trace artefacts of alien origin all over the country by scouring for certain alien materials, was developed for us by our former Chief Development Lieutenant, Wilfred Langham. After his retirement, Lieutenant Langham retained ownership of the programme and took the original first test CDs with him, storing them in his own personal safe at his home at Grantham Park."
Commander Kittler straightened up in his seat. "But ... his house burnt down almost two years ago."
"Yes, it did." Connor showed a photo of a burnt computer tower, and melted CD. "The contents of his safe were retrieved intact except for one test CD, which was later found partly melted inside Lieutenant Langham's computer. Or so we believed." He paused to give Tallis the chance to take charge of the conversation again.
"We now have doubts," — Tallis rose from her chair — "about the authenticity of the CD we rescued from that fire. We think what we have in our possession is not the actual test CD, which included a fully working prototype version of AWatch. We think the test CD was removed before the fire."
Commander Kittler frowned as he watched the screen. "Natalie, have you been holding out on me?"
"We only have a partially melted CD and a strong hunch. Rupert called me less than two hours ago about the results of his initial tests, and he'll need to conduct further tests before we'll have any definitive proof."
"What does this have to do with the missing artefacts?"
That was the question Tallis had been waiting for. Connor smiled at her pleased expression.
"In the two years since the fire," she pointed at the timeline on-screen, "our agents have ended up empty-handed eight times after A-Watch located alien artefacts. That is no coincidence. Somehow, someone knows how to get there before our agents do."
Commander Kittler studied the timeline with a frown. "You think they have the programme."
He seemed at least half-convinced. That was good news, because further testing would eat up a large part of the research budget, which Commander Kittler would have to sign for. Connor handed out the papers containing the estimated costs for the research needed and crossed his fingers as the commander winced at the numbers.
"I think they do, but we can't be certain until Rupert finishes his research."
"Can these tests really determine whether or not the CD you have is a fake?"
"Rupert says they can, but we'll need to get our hands on the other test CDs as well, and they're still in Lieutenant Langham's possession."
"You don't think old Wilfred's involved, do you?
"No. He was asleep in the next room and barely even woke when the firefighters found him. Besides, Langham wouldn't have had to steal the prototype, let alone plan such an elaborate ruse. It's his programme, he knows exactly how to create a working copy."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Aliens, Smith and Jones"
Copyright © 2012 Blaine D. Arden.
Excerpted by permission of Cayendi Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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