Universal Alien (Katherine

Universal Alien (Katherine "Kitty" Katt Series #10)

by Gini Koch

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Overview

Universal Alien (Katherine "Kitty" Katt Series #10) by Gini Koch

Sci-fi action meets steamy paranormal romance in Gini Koch’s Alien novels, as Katherine “Kitty” Katt faces off against aliens, conspiracies, and deadly secrets. • “Futuristic high-jinks and gripping adventure.” —RT Reviews

Being the wife of the vice president isn’t easy. Especially when your talents lie in kicking butt and rocking out, rather than politics and diplomacy.

Jeff and Kitty Katt-Martini find out just how difficult it can be when Kitty accidentally offends the Australian prime minister. Now they have to smooth things over, pronto, or risk creating an international incident the worldwide anti-alien coalitions will be able to use to force Jeff to resign and the A-Cs to leave the planet.

Before Kitty can make things even worse, a cosmic congruence and a little help from some powerful beings shoves her into another world—one where she’s been married to Charles Reynolds for years and aliens don’t exist. She’s also landed in the middle of a huge conspiracy and is marked for death…but at least that’s business as usual.

Kitty’s not the only one who’s confused, because the Kitty from that world has taken her place in this one. Now Alpha Team and the Diplomatic Corps have to make sure that no one realizes there’s been a switch, while preventing World War III from happening. And they have to do it while keeping this new Kitty in line, because she has views about what to do and how to do it, and time is running out.

Can each Kitty save the day before it’s too late and then go home to her own universe? Or will one Kitty decide to keep the other’s life—forever?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780756409302
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: 12/02/2014
Series: Katherine "Kitty" Katt Series , #10
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 463,650
Product dimensions: 4.00(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Gini Koch writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series for DAW Books, the Necropolis Enforcement Files, and the Martian Alliance Chronicles. She also has a humor collection, Random Musings from the Funny Girl. As G.J. Koch she writes the Alexander Outland series and she’s made the most of multiple personality disorder by writing under a variety of other pen names as well, including Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch. She has stories featured in a variety of excellent anthologies, available now and upcoming, writing as Gini Koch, Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, and J.C. Koch. Reach her via: www.ginikoch.com

Read an Excerpt

DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES —MARCA REGISTRADA HECHO EN U.S.A.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF INDIA, Abdul Kalam, shared a lovely sentiment—Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work.

He’s totally right that we’re not alone, of course. But with all due respect, former president Kalam is dead wrong about the entire universe being friendly to us. There are a lot of “others” out there, and while some are all for helping good ol’ Earth, there are plenty who think we should be avoided, enslaved, or destroyed.

 • • • 

George Carlin said that if it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.

I know he’s right. I just know there’s more out there than we’ve seen. I look for it, sometimes, when I feel alone. I look for all the “others” out there. So far, unless they’re in a comic or a book or a movie, I haven’t found them.

 • • • 

I’m not sure what’s actually more surreal—that the universe is teeming with life of all kinds, or that I’ve somehow gone from being a single marketing manager to the wife of the Vice President of the United States in just under five years.

Oh sure, it was a long road between “there” and “here”—much of it filled with fights against many very bad things, both extraterrestrial and very terrestrial. Humans are really the worst though. We’re devious and nasty on a scale that, thankfully so far, none of the aliens showing up to visit or move in seem able to manage. I’ll take a fugly space monster over most of the human megalomaniacs I’ve dealt with over the years.

Being married to an alien, at least one from Alpha Four of the Alpha Centauri system, has definitely been the highlight. Well, our hybrid and scary-talented daughter is a highlight, too. Jeff and Jamie make all the change and general surreality that has become my daily life worthwhile.

 • • • 

Sometimes, I wonder what it’s all about. I mean, I have a pretty great life, and I love my family. I’m a good wife, mother, and daughter, and I do things that matter. But there are days when I just can’t do anything right, and I wonder what’s wrong with me.

 • • • 

Oh, of course, I have bad days. Sadly, since becoming the Second Lady, or whatever I’m really supposed to be called now, there’s a lot of pressure. Shockingly, with more public scrutiny comes more ways for me to screw up. And there are days when I wonder what’s wrong with me.

 • • • 

Sometimes, I just want to see what it would be like, if things were just a little different. Maybe not a whole lot different, just enough to where I could do something more, be something more . . . be something else.

 • • • 

Sometimes, I just want to know what it would be like if I was me, but maybe a little less unwillingly famous and a whole lot more competent on the regular people things I sometimes seem incapable of managing with anything resembling smoothness or competence.

 • • • 

Some days, I just want to be somewhere else. A place where I do everything right.

 • • • 

Some days, I’d really like to be somewhere else. Where everything I do is right.

 • • • 

Hey . . . is there an echo in here?

CHAPTER 1

MY BRAINS OOZED out of my ears.

Not from being shot or something. From boredom. Massive, stultifying boredom. Boredom on a scale so epic I didn’t think anyone could really fathom it. I could barely fathom it and I was living it.

Cheers went up from those around me. Well, not most of those immediately around me. I was surrounded by Americans. Sure, more than half of them were actually aliens only one, two, or zero generations out from Alpha Four in the Alpha Centauri system, but still, beings that lived in America and had been raised as Americans. And this was not an American pastime.

“You’re sure this is cricket? I mean, the game. The game that millions of people around the world supposedly love?”

This earned me a dirty look from everyone near me, American or no. I’d tried to keep my voice low, but apparently cricket shared something in common with golf, that most boring of Scottish games that had infected the U.S., in that the fans were hushed unless something “exciting” was happening on the field.

I wasn’t actually sitting next to my husband. As the newly minted Vice President of these non-cricket-mad United States, Jeff was sitting a couple of rows below me with now-President Armstrong and the Australian Prime Minister. Technically, as his wife, I should have been sitting with them.

Wiser heads had prevailed, however. Despite a great deal of effort and patience on the part of the Head of the C.I.A.’s Extra-Terrestrial Division and the American Centaurion Public Relations Minister—otherwise known as Charles Reynolds and Rajnish Singh—and a week’s worth of immersion therapy, I still hadn’t been able to grasp or enjoy cricket.

Since we’d been in our mid-twenties Chuckie had lived half the year in Australia, and Raj had been born and raised in New Delhi. Ergo, they both actually enjoyed cricket. In fact, Raj was quite a rabid fan, and Chuckie had an Aussie team he supported. Meaning if anyone was going to get this game through to me, it should have been them.

Only, it took the complexity of baseball, the slowness of golf, and the bizarreness of croquet, and managed to turn them into something that, sports lover though I was, I just couldn’t manage to follow, let alone like.

The hope had been that I’d pick up enough to have the light bulb go off while watching a live match and suddenly become an expert. Hope might have sprung eternal, but it was definitely being dashed against the wicket today, because I still wasn’t sure where the wicket was, let alone what it was or why it existed other than to be the current bane of my existence.

It didn’t help matters much that the entire point of this extravaganza was the Australian government’s visiting to show support for both the new administration in particular but also aliens in general.

Because of Operation Destruction, the entire world knew aliens lived here. The entire world also knew that there were a lot of different alien races out there, and that some of them really hated humanity. Of course, some of them liked us just fine, in part because we’d given the exiled A-Cs a home.

However, there were still a lot of people around the world who felt that aliens were the worst things to hit Earth, and they wanted us gone. Off the planet, in work camps, or merely wiped off the face of the Earth, they weren’t picky. What with Jeff and then-Senator and now-President Armstrong’s surprise landslide win, knowing an alien was a heartbeat away from the presidency had all these anti-alien groups in a tizzy of epic proportions.

Australia had its share of alien haters. Club 51, our biggest, most coordinated anti-alien enemy, had made a lot of inroads into Australia, meaning one of America’s biggest allies had a huge anti-alien population.

So it was vital for us to make the Australian Prime Minister and his retinue feel happy and comfortable. The PM was a huge cricket fan, hence this game. That I was supposed to feign excitement about.

Wished I’d studied acting instead of business in college, because, despite my desire to be a good wife and representative of my constituents, I was failing to convince anyone that I liked this sport.

The fact that we’d spent money to fix up the stadium where the Redskins played football to look like a cricket field didn’t help. They weren’t my team—we might live in D.C. now, but I remained true to my Arizona Cardinals and their tradition of usually losing—but I’d have committed many major felonies to have seen the Redskins trot onto the field and toss the pigskin around. I couldn’t pick a Redskins player out of a lineup, but still, football was a sport I understood and enjoyed.

I loved baseball, too, but neither the Washington Nationals nor my beloved Diamondbacks were going to be showing up to save my day. There were lots of guys on the field who, according to the program, were quite cute. Not that you could really see them. So I didn’t have that distraction going for me. And when I could see them, they were standing around in a giant circle or running back and forth along a small strip of dirt in the middle of the field far, far away. For whatever reason, this didn’t make my Sports Gene go wild.

My phone beeped and I dug it out of my purse. At a normal sporting event I’d never have heard it. At this one, not a problem. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to spend time on my phone when we were at public events, but our daughter wasn’t with us and the text could be about her.

Sadly, it was from the head of Alpha Team. James Reader was none-too-gently suggesting I plaster a look of enjoyment onto my face. He wasn’t technically at this event—Alpha Team’s job was to protect, not to be the face of American Centaurion. Had no idea where in the stadium Reader and the others actually were, other than nowhere I could see them. However, they could see me, and I looked, if I took his text to be accurate, “like you’re about to die while passing gas.”

I replied with one word: “charming.” Wanted to say other words. But my Secret Service detail had clued me in—I had no such thing as privacy anymore.

Dropped my phone back into my purse as people nearby gasped. Something was happening on the field. It appeared to be exciting, based on the crowd’s increased murmuring. Couldn’t tell what the heck it was. Looked around. Right now would be a great time for a parasitic superbeing to form, or for an intergalactic invasion to happen, or anything else that would alleviate the boredom. Waited hopefully. Nothing. Apparently the Powers That Be liked cricket. Or had been bored into inactivity.

“When is the halftime or intermission or whatever?” I asked Raj. Again, tried to keep my voice down, but apparently the acoustics in this stadium were great, because I got another host of dirty looks.

“There isn’t really a break like that, as I’ve explained.” He managed not to add “over and over again,” but I could see the thought written on his face. “We’re watching a T-Twenty game, so there will be a short intermission in about an hour.”

We’d already been watching this for an hour and had been sitting here even longer. I wasn’t sure I could stay conscious for another hour without moving around. And there were at least two more hours to get through after the short intermission. And this was a “short” game. “Real” cricket could go on for days. This game had to have been created to torture political prisoners. Wondered if I could invoke the Geneva Conventions as a way out of the boredom. Probably not. My luck never went that way.

Plus I was uncomfortable. Under normal circumstances—you know, before my husband had somehow become the Vice President—I’d have been in jeans, my Converse, an Aerosmith thermal of some kind, and my nice, warm snow jacket. Or I’d have been in what the A-Cs, who were love slaves to black, white, and Armani, always wore—a black slim skirt, a white oxford, and black pumps, with a long black trench coat.

Because we were now some of the most public of figures, I was required to pay a lot more attention to what I was wearing. I’d also been assigned my own color—iced blue. I was in iced blue as much as I’d been in black and white before. In fact, I missed black and white, I was in this blue so much nowadays. This meant that for this event I was in an iced blue pantsuit, an off-white Angora sweater, and neutral high-heeled boots. And pearls. Supposedly I looked great. I felt remarkably stupid dressed like this at a sporting event.

Chuckie got a text and grunted. “You need to pretend to be having fun,” he said. Either his voice hadn’t carried or everyone else agreed with him, because no one shot the Evil Eye toward us.

“I’m trying.”

“It’s not working.”

Made up my mind. “Then, I’m out of here.”

CHAPTER 2

“WHAT THE HELL?” Chuckie sounded ready to lose it, though he managed to keep his voice down.

“You can’t leave,” Raj said, as he tried to watch the so-called action on the field and look at me at the same time, with limited success.

“No freaking duh. I’m going to the concession stand. Now.”

Raj, sensing that the emergency was about a negative three on a scale of one to ten, turned his full attention back to the match.

“Couldn’t we just send someone?” Chuckie asked, sounding relieved. “You’re going to have to go with a contingent, and that’s going to be noticed.”

“I need to piddle.” I didn’t, but I needed to splash cold water on my face and drink about a gallon of coffee to make it through this ordeal. Of course, I was in makeup, so cold water on my face was probably out. It was also February and we were outdoors in the freezing cold. I was at risk of dying from hypothermia as well as boredom. Hypothermia sounded better.

Chuckie heaved a sigh. “The Secret Service has to escort you.”

“Fine. They probably want some coffee and to use the bathroom, too.”

This earned me a dirty look I chose to ignore. I got up. The entire row behind me got up as well. There was some grumbling from the crowd behind us. I had no idea how, but we’d somehow packed this stadium with every cricket fan in, by my guess, the entire United States. Maybe we’d imported them from Europe or something. Regardless of the statistics Raj had thrown at me, I couldn’t believe that more than about fifty thousand Americans liked this sport.

The row behind me was made up of my wide variety of bodyguards, of which my Secret Service detail was only a part. This detail included two women and four men—the wives of Vice Presidents rarely got as much security as I rated, but apparently, my reputation had preceded me.

All of the Secret Service agents assigned to us had picked up cricket in less than a day and understood the sport. They didn’t love the sport, but they understood it. They, like everyone else, had given it the Old College Try in terms of teaching me. Unlike everyone else, they’d given up quicker. I respected their intelligence and ability to identify a lost cause quickly.

Two of the other men behind me were Len Parker and Kyle Constantine. I’d met them right before Jeff and I got married, when they were still playing football for USC. They graduated into the C.I.A. and had been the bodyguards Chuckie had assigned to me early on in our stint in D.C. Len and Kyle both understood cricket, but as former football players, felt it wasn’t a real sport. This made me love them even more than I already did.

The others were from Centaurion Division. Four A-C agents, one human. The human guy was Burton Falk, who I felt actually reported up to the person who was most likely coordinating the majority of my actual protection—Malcolm Buchanan.

Buchanan had been assigned to me by the Head of the Presidential Terrorism Control Unit, also known as my mother. Mom had put her best operative onto me and my daughter, Jamie, at about the same time Chuckie had assigned Len and Kyle to me. There was never a day I didn’t appreciate Mom’s protective instincts, because Buchanan had saved our lives quite a number of times.

He wasn’t here, that I could see. He had Dr. Strange powers, and if he didn’t want you to see him, you didn’t see him. He insisted it was just training. I didn’t believe him.

However, while I didn’t see him in the stadium, I knew he was nearby, watching for threats to my safety. Sadly, Buchanan was no help in terms of the threat to my sanity currently being perpetrated on the field.

Of course, my getting up meant that everyone on one side of me had to get up, too. Because Chuckie was the smartest guy in any cricket audience, he’d put himself in the aisle seat and had me right next to him, meaning he was the only one who had to stand to let me out.

He heaved another sigh and offered his hand. “I’ll go, too. Why not? It’s not like this is the first match I’ve seen in ages or anything.”

“Wow, bitter much? You can stay. I’m sure my thirteen other protectors can handle my trip to the bathroom.”

“Advise Cosmos that Cyclone and Playboy are on the move,” Evalyne said quietly into her lapel. She was the head of my Secret Service detail. The Secret Service gave out nicknames to those they were protecting. Based on Chuckie’s wealth, position within the C.I.A., proximity to us, and personal relationship with me and the rest of American Centaurion, he was considered one of those under protection.

A Secret Service agent next to Jeff nudged him. Jeff turned around. Chuckie cocked his head, Jeff shared an obvious “go with her” sign. Chuckie nodded, and I gave up. Gave him my hand, he helped me out of the aisle, then took my elbow and helped me up the stairs to the concourse. Cameras flashed.

“Great,” he muttered.

“Yes, this is us, off to have our torrid affair with my husband’s blessing and a baker’s dozen of witnesses. We’re so smooth, you and me.”

He laughed. “It’s amazing how you make it sound ridiculous and the tabloids make it sound like we’re actually committing adultery every five seconds.”

“It’s one of my many gifts. You know what’s weird?” I asked as we reached the concourse level. “When it bothered Jeff, it didn’t bother you. Now that he just finds it amusingly annoying, you find it distressing.”

“One of us has to cover the worrying about our reputations part of this goat rodeo we find ourselves in.”

“Thanks for taking one for the team. Crap. I left my purse under my seat.” I almost never left my purse anywhere. Experience had shown that I needed to have it, and its contents, with me at all times. Sure, I might not need hairspray, a Glock and several ammo clips, the giant hypodermic needle and adrenaline I still had to slam into Jeff’s hearts more often than I’d like, or most everything else inside it. But I sure needed my wallet to buy coffee.

Chuckie sighed. “I’ll buy whatever, Kitty. I don’t want to go back and forth any more than we have to.”

“I have money for her,” Len said. “Jeff gave it to me, just in case.”

“I feel like an infant.”

As I said this, Evalyne shot some hand signals at the agents with us and everyone fanned out. The three A-Cs disappeared. Well, they used hyperspeed to check out the concourse, but to human eyes, they were here one second and gone the next.

Of course, my eyes weren’t fully human any more, just like the rest of me. Due to our enemies pumping Jeff full of Surcenthumain, what I thought of as the Superpowers Drug, he’d mutated. His sperm had mutated, too, so that Jamie was born extra with a heaping side of special. And she’d passed a lot of that along to me.

The A-Cs were back. They were all troubadours, meaning that they reported to Raj. “Cleared,” Manfred said.

Falk wasn’t looking at any of us but was, instead, staring at the TV screens that were installed about every fifty feet, so that spectators who were buying concessions wouldn’t miss the action on the field. He shook his head. “Sorry, but we have a problem.”

CHAPTER 3

“GOD, WHAT NOW?” Chuckie asked as he looked at the screen Falk was staring at.

I did the same. The game wasn’t on. Instead it was the anchor team for whatever sports news station that was covering the game. Couldn’t hear them, but the stadium had closed-captioning on all the screens, and I could certainly read.

The general insinuation was that it was obvious I hated cricket. The discussion centered on whether I hated the sport, hated the Aussies, hated politics, hated the Armstrongs, hated my husband, or hated Chuckie. Or some combination thereof.

“Wow, does it get any better than this?”

“Probably,” Evalyne said as she took my other arm. “Heading to the Excuse Station with Cyclone,” she said into her lapel.

Chuckie laughed as Evalyne led me away and to the bathroom, the rest of my Secret Service detail trailing us. “I really need to go,” I lied.

She snorted. “Right.” We got inside and she and Phoebe, my other female Secret Service agent, checked every single stall. The couple of women who were in there finished up and scurried out.

I knew without checking that the four male Secret Service agents were blocking both doors to this bathroom, two to each entrance, meaning that no one else, other than Elaine Armstrong or another woman within our little Circle of Protection, could come in here until I left. Under normal circumstances, this meant I was the fastest woman in the world in here. Today, I didn’t feel the need to rush.

“You don’t have to pretend to go for our sakes,” Phoebe said. “You’re probably doing less political damage in here anyway.”

Per Chuckie, and I saw no reason to doubt him, most Secret Service agents didn’t act informally with their assigned subjects. However, I’d managed to stand the official Secret Service formality for about a day.

Then I’d had a very private and meaningful talk with those assigned to me, wherein, assisted by Len and Kyle, I explained that they would call me Kitty, I would call them by their first names, and we would act like normal people whenever we were in private, or I would make life a living hell for one and all.

They’d all seen the wisdom of being casual. Len and Kyle had also shared how I rolled with them. Falk had chimed in with his impressions of me, too. Basically, no one on my protection detail could claim that they didn’t understand how I operated. Which, happily, appeared to be working out. We were, by now, one big informal family whenever we were in private. This meant, among other things, that I got honesty from the people who understood far more about what was going on than I did.

“Thanks, Pheebs. I appreciate the support. It’s not my fault this is the most boring game ever created.”

Evalyne shook her head. “It’s not that. At all.”

“Really? It is to me.”

“No,” Phoebe said. “Evalyne’s right.”

“Explain what you mean, Ev. It has to be more interesting than whatever’s going on out on the field.”

Evalyne sighed. “Look, if, before your husband moved into the Vice Presidency, you’d been bored, and the three of us had been wandering around, trying to find something to do, and we’d stumbled upon this game? You’d have suggested we give it a try, because it’s something new. We’d have gone in, you’d have asked someone near us what was going on, you’d have listened and paid attention. Then you’d have looked at the program. You’d have chosen which team to root for based on which team had the cutest guys, or which team had the most impressive record, or, preferably, the team with both.”

“Or you’d have supported the team of whomever we were sitting by,” Phoebe said. “Then, you’d have gotten into the game. By the end, you’d be a fan. Maybe not a huge fan, but you’d have your team, have a favorite player, and have made friends with those sitting around us.”

“How can you assume that?”

They both sighed. “We’ve read up on you, it’s required,” Phoebe replied. “Think about it. If the scenario we just described had happened, wouldn’t you be having fun?”

Considered this. “I guess so. Probably.”

“You’re not enjoying yourself because you’re being forced to be here,” Evalyne said. “Everyone tried to cram this knowledge down your throat, so instead of it being a fun outing, it’s a job. And it’s a job you didn’t sign up for.”

Washed my hands slowly. Not that I needed to, but that way I’d be able to honestly say I’d used something in the bathroom. “I suppose you’re right. So, how do I fix it? And, based on what Burton pointed to on the TVs, I need to fix it.”

“Just pretend no one spent the last week trying to make you like and understand this sport,” Evalyne suggested. “Look at it as a sociological experiment. You need to determine what it is that everyone likes about this game. Two of the men close to you love the game—why? Focus on figuring it out, not fighting against it.”

“I can do that. I think.”

Phoebe shook her head. “They’ve made you so tentative. I understand why you’re rebelling.”

“Jeff didn’t become VP because he wanted to. He did it because it was the right thing to do for our people and country.”

“I didn’t mean the Vice President. Or any of your allies.” Phoebe shrugged. “But your enemies’ attacks are taking their toll. And I don’t mean their physical attacks. I mean the ones you’re trying to handle here—the innuendo, the insinuations, the pressure to be some sort of perfect political wife.”

“Yeah. All that sucks.”

“And it’s affecting you negatively,” Evalyne said. “So, let’s go out and get you some coffee. Then, try to figure out why much of the world thinks this sport is the best thing going. It’ll at least make you look like you’re paying attention.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

We left the bathroom to find Chuckie and the rest of my detail standing there. The A-Cs each had two cardboard trays with four cups each. We were carting a lot of coffee. Maybe I’d make it through after all.

Chuckie had a giant cup in his hand, which he gave to me. “They make lattes here. It’s a triple vanilla latte with lots of extra vanilla in it.”

“I love you. And I say that with full knowledge that someone’s lurking in the shadows and that it will be on the news within the hour.”

“Let’s get back, I want to see what I can of the match.”

“Oh sure, it’s all about you.”

We chuckled all the way to the edge of the concourse, me happily sipping my latte. To find that the crowd was very animated.

People were jumping up and down and acting like normal sports fans for the first time. There were a set of older men who were flashing the V for Victory sign at each other, only their palms were turned in, not out. Figured this was how the Aussies or cricket fans in general did it. Nothing else was normal about this game, so their “we’re winning” sign being a little backward was par for the course. The crowd was, hands down, the most excited they’d been since getting inside the stadium.

Because the crowd was standing and we were no longer around the TVs, I couldn’t actually see what was going on down on the field. However, clearly it was a big deal thing, and per my chat with my Secret Service gals, I needed to get with the program. And what better way to do so than to share in the joy of whatever had happened while we were getting coffee?

We hustled back to our seats, to see everyone in our section standing as well, meaning I still couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. However, I was going to show willing or I was going to die trying.

Due to the fact that everyone had something in their hands, other than the Secret Service detail, who were doing their usual Threat Watch activities, Chuckie was ahead of me going down the stairs. To let me into my seat, he and Manfred walked down and handed Jeff one of the trays of coffees, clearly for him and the rest of the bigwigs.

I was taking a step down as the Prime Minister turned around and smiled at me. I flashed him the Aussie V for Victory sign.

And all hell broke loose.

Certain moments of your life move in slow motion. This was one of them.

As I held my hand up, I saw Chuckie go from relaxed to horrified. He lost his grip on the coffee tray as he lunged up toward me, shouting, “Noooooo!”

Peripheral vision showed that Raj who, like the rest of the crowd, was standing, had spun toward me at hyperspeed and was also lunging for me.

The Prime Minister’s expression went from pleasant to seriously pissed off. Then it went to freaked, as Jeff, who barely had a grip on the coffee tray, spun around to see what was going on. This, of course, meant that the coffees flew out of his control and, seeing as this was my life, slammed into the Prime Minister and his wife, while managing to splatter the Armstrongs as well.

All of this happened in a split second, and in that split second, I also managed to lose my balance. As I went down, my coffee flew into the air and, because of how I’d been standing and holding the cup, it sailed right at the Prime Minister. A direct hit, too.

I spun to try not to slam my face into a chair or concrete steps. Managed it, but wasn’t able to tuck my head too well, which was a pity, because I hit, hard.

The last thing I saw before I blacked out was Jeff, Chuckie, and Raj, all looking freaked out and pissed off. Not the nicest vision, really.

CHAPTER 4

YESTERDAY HAD PRETTY MUCH SUCKED. I was glad it was past, and had no idea how today was going to go, but one bad day in the past was always better than a bad day in the present or future.

No matter what the day or even night had been like, though, we managed to keep one thing sacred—the morning. It’s hard to train kids to get up a little later, and harder to train non-morning-people to wake up early, but we’d done both.

I loved this time, as my husband ran his hands over me, then pulled me close up against him. “Mmmm, morning, baby.”

I turned over and snuggled my face into the hair on his chest. He was more morning compatible than me, so he took my kissing his pecs as a decent greeting.

Snuggling turned into more, quickly, helped by his hands stroking my breasts and his tongue stroking my neck. He knew all the right spots to spend time on. As I started to moan, he chuckled against my skin. “Sing for me, Kitty.”

Our house was well soundproofed, and, really, he was on “the” spot, so I acquiesced. I was a good, totally turned-on wife that way.

I remained turned on while he slid my nightie and his pajama pants off. Of course, he was still stroking my neck with his tongue and nipping it with his teeth and touching me all over, which might have had something to do with my sounding like a cat in heat.

As he slid into me my wailing increased. All this time together and he was still the Gold Standard, and he proceeded to do all the things he knew I liked. Of course, I liked a lot, so he had plenty of options to go for in order to practice and perfect his technique.

We did have a bit of a sexual routine though, centering mostly around how fast he could bring me to orgasm the first time. This morning, as he rolled onto his back and put me on top of him, the first one arrived quickly. As he thrust into me and I rubbed against him it hit and I gasped. “Oh . . . God . . . so good.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” He pulled me to him and kissed me deeply as my body shuddered.

Once I quieted, a bit, he moved us into a sitting position, my legs wrapped around his back. We’d used this position a lot when I was pregnant and still liked it. He was deeper inside me, but not in an uncomfortable way, and it was very romantic, too.

Our arms were wrapped around each other, and he kissed me deeply again as we rocked together, each little thrust sending him a bit deeper inside me, making me start to shudder from pleasure again.

His arms were tight around me, as one hand slid up the back of my neck and into my hair and the other went down to the small of my back. I clutched at the back of his shoulders as we went faster and faster. How long we were like this I wasn’t sure because I was focused on all the feelings he created inside me and out. But ultimately the friction increased to the point where I couldn’t have kept myself from climaxing if I’d tried. Not that I’d ever tried that in my life, and saw no reason to start this morning.

I flipped over the edge and he joined me. The feeling of him erupting into me made my legs tighten around him as I moaned into his mouth and he growled with pleasure in return.

We stayed like this, kissing each other and stroking each other’s backs, until our bodies quieted. Then we untwined and lay back down, his arm around my shoulders, holding me close, my head on his chest, playing with the hair there.

He kissed my head. “I love you, Kitty.”

I heaved a happy, fulfilled sigh. “I love you, too, Chuckie.”

CHAPTER 5

“THINK WE’RE UP TO THE ZOO TODAY?” Charles asked as we enjoyed our snuggle time.

“No idea. Jet lag seems to get worse each trip, instead of better.”

“And it doesn’t help that we had to come back to the States earlier than normal, either, I know. And I’m sorry.”

I hugged him. “It’s not your fault. Well, I mean, it is because you’re the smartest guy in every room, and government think tanks tend to get reliant on people like you. But otherwise, I know you’d rather be in Oz right now. In the nice weather.”

He chuckled. “True enough. But, we’ll make the most of our extra time here, I promise. Maybe we should see if there’s decent snow still on the slopes up north and go skiing.”

“While that sounds great, I don’t want to get into the jet again for at least a week. A long car trip would be an even worse idea. And considering how cranky everyone’s been these past two days, you and me included, I’m kind of hoping everyone sleeps in today in a big way.”

No sooner wished for than denied. There was a soft knock at our door. Charles pulled the covers over us. “Come in.”

Peter stuck his head in. “So sorry to interrupt, darlings, but the little ones are up and bounding and I don’t know how long I can keep them entertained and quiet. Emphasis on quiet. Even with your father’s help, Kitty, I might add. Jetlag has officially worn off the entire family.”

“Is James up?”

“Yes, he is. However, he’s doing the market run for me this morning so we can all actually have, well, brunch by the time all the adults are truly up and ready for it. Your father and I have already entertained the children to the extent of our copious abilities while only allowing them a scrap of bread and sip of water so they’ll still eat with the rest of us. Hence why they’re past impatient to get to the two of you.”

“We’ll be ready in about five minutes,” Charles said. Peter nodded and closed the door. Charles pulled his pajama pants on and helped me with the nightie, then settled the pillows on the bed so we could sit up against them comfortably. “Ready for the onslaught?”

“Always.” I snuggled next to him. “Especially when you prep me like you just did.”

He grinned. “It’s one of my favorite things.” The door opened and three blond heads bobbed into view. “And here are the rest of my favorite things.”

“Daddy! Mommy! Get up! Get up!” Max shouted as he jumped onto the bed with us. He might have been our second child, but he tended to lead. “We took a vote and everyone wants to go to the zoo today!”

Charlie clambered up. “Not quite everyone. Uncle Peter says we need to wear lots of sunscreen even though it’s cold outside. Grandpa Sol says we just need to wear hats.” He reached down and helped his little sister up. “What do you think, Daddy?”

“I think you’ll want to do what your mother says,” Charles replied as he put Jamie onto his lap. “What do you think, Jamie-Kat?” Everyone felt Jamie looked exactly like me. Couldn’t argue, but I knew I’d smiled a lot more at her age. Maybe we just didn’t smile enough at her.

Jamie didn’t answer, just leaned her head into his chest.

Max burrowed in between us, back against the pillows. Max was a real blend of the two of us—my eyes, chin and body structure, Charles’ everything else. Per his father, and mine, he had all my personality, though.

Charlie sat between us, facing us, legs crossed. He looked just like Charles to me—same eyes, wiry build, facial structure, and personality—which was a nice stroke of luck, since he was named for his father. I recognized his Serious Face expression—I’d seen it on his father’s face since we were both thirteen. “Jamie doesn’t want to go.”

“Did she say that?” I tried not to sound hopeful.

He shook his head. “But I can tell.”

“Me too,” Max said. “She wants to stay home.”

I chucked Jamie under her chin. “I know you want to watch your mirrors, Jamie-Kat. But the animals will miss you if you don’t go see them.”

She shook her head. “Bad things are going to happen.”

Jamie rarely spoke. But the few times she did, she spoke perfectly, as if she was a much older child. However, she never spoke to share fun, happy, or loving things. It was always to tell us something bad was going to happen. So far as we could tell, she’d only been right a couple of times. But those times had been devastating.

Charles hugged her. “Bad things happen all the time. But they’re not going to happen to us today.”

Before he could say anything else, Jamie sat up straight, then clambered off the bed and trotted out of the room. I tried not to notice that Jamie hadn’t waited for or asked for a kiss from either one of us. That she’d let Charles hold her this morning was good enough.

The rest of us looked at each other. “I love her, but she’s weird, Mommy,” Max said finally.

Charlie shot a disapproving look at his younger brother. “She’s our sister, no matter what. Besides, it’s probably just that Uncle James is back.” It probably was. Somehow, Jamie always knew when James was near.

Max shrugged. “I know.” He hugged me. “It’s okay, Mommy.”

Charlie crawled over and hugged me, too. “Yeah, it’ll be okay, Mommy. I promise.”

“Wow, I guess I’m not doing a good job of not showing the two of you that I’m worried about your sister.”

Charles hugged all of us. “We’re all worried. But we’ll fix her, or keep her safe, or do whatever we have to to keep our family safe and make it all right, right?”

“Right,” the rest of us said in unison. Then the boys both laughed and shouted, “Jinx!” And, as kids will, kept on shouting jinx at each other as they got off the bed and left our room.

“Ready for a shower?” Charles asked me. I nodded and he laughed. “I won’t pinch you if you break the jinx.”

“Awww, you spoilsport.” Sighed. “I didn’t mean to let the boys know how worried I am. I just wish Jamie was . . .”

Charles put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me. “It’s okay, baby. She loves us. She’s just . . . slower with some things.”

“Right. We’ll see what the doctors here think. D.C. has really good doctors.”

“Yes.” He kissed my head. “Let’s get cleaned up and ready to face the day.”

“I wish I knew why she wanted that mirror so much more than she wants us.” I hadn’t meant to say this aloud. But sometimes the words slipped out.

We didn’t talk about what was wrong with Jamie much, because it made Charles defensive for reasons I didn’t understand and that meant we would fight, even though I hadn’t meant to start a fight. We only really fought about Jamie, and never because we weren’t in agreement for what to do—because we both had no idea—but because we were both so worried about her.

But this didn’t seem to upset him. “Well, maybe she just wants to look at the prettiest girl in the world all the time.” He stroked my cheek. “I know I do. All the time.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere.”

“Yeah? Will it get me lucky in the shower?”

“Scrub my back and you can have me any way you want me.”

He grinned. “Never let it be said that I don’t take advantage of the best deals offered.”

CHAPTER 6

SHOWERED AND DRESSED, we headed downstairs. While I adored living in Australia and missed all our friends there the moment we got onto the jet to leave, I loved our home in D.C., too.

Charles and I had grown up in Phoenix, and I’d always figured that’s where we’d live and raise our family. But life had led elsewhere. We spent half the year in Australia and half in the U.S., and we’d had to settle on the East Coast for Charles’ job at the think tank. So all of us—Dad, Peter, and James included—had dual citizenship. Charles said that it was worth paying extra taxes if that meant cutting down on the hassles of inter-country travel and living.

Fortunately, we had plenty of money. Charles was a self-made multi-millionaire several times over, both in business and in the stock market. So we lived well, albeit not lavishly.

We probably could have lived in a ritzier neighborhood, but I’d fallen in love with Colonial Village the first time I’d seen it. Back then, just as now, it was beautiful—streets lined with incredibly well-maintained, gorgeous homes and beautiful, mature landscapes, butted up against Rock Creek Park. The neighborhood was safe, the people who lived in it pleasant and friendly, and I could honestly say that when we arrived, every time, it was truly like coming home.

My dad, James, and the kids were all in the dining room by the time we got downstairs. Dad came over and gave me a peck on the cheek. “Feeling a little better today, kitten?” he asked me quietly.

“Yeah, I think we all are. How are you doing?”

He hugged me. “As well as always.”

“Sol’s complaining that I’m hogging the kids,” James said. He was still the handsomest man I’d ever seen, even handsomer than Charles. Which explained why he was the top male fashion model in the world. Jamie was snuggled in his lap and the boys were hanging off of him. James flashed us his cover boy grin. “Oh, and, morning, you two. We were all wondering if you were going to sleep forever.”

“We were, but then we realized that you’re a diva and would demand we witness you stealing our children’s affections,” Charles said with a grin.

“Again,” I added.

“And to think I gave you control of my career.” James shook his head. “It’s a miracle I can afford to eat.”

“And we force you to live with us, too, don’t forget that,” I added. “Because we want to make sure you’re going to pay for the kids’ educations. They love you best after all.”

“It’s all I have,” James said dramatically, while the boys giggled. “If not for the love of the children, I’d be cast aside until you needed me.”

Peter snorted as he wheeled in the large serving cart. “Yes, Jimmy, you’re suffering so. My darlings, take your seats. Breakfast is served.”

Charlie and Max went to their seats, Dad picked Jamie up and put her into her chair between him and James, while Charles helped me into my chair and then sat beside me. I sniffed. “Peter, that smells amazing.”

“Just a little eggs Benedict made in our family’s unique style for the adults, and scrambled eggs with lox and chives for our precious little ones.” Our family’s special eggs Benedict addition was lox. We all loved lox. And Peter’s hollandaise sauce was to die for. I started to drool a little.

“And fresh-squeezed orange juice!” Charlie added.

“And cocoa, tea, coffee, milk, and whatever else we want to drink,” Peter said as he put a perfectly arranged plate in front of me. In addition to the delicious-smelling egg dish, there were beautiful breakfast potatoes, sliced fruit, and a small serving of yogurt.

Peter was, as always, amazing. We’d only been in D.C. for a day or so and he had the household running like we’d never left. Peter could have had a full staff—we could certainly afford it—but he insisted that he preferred to ensure that he remained invaluable. Once we were all served and Peter was seated, Dad said a short blessing, then we all got to the business of eating breakfast.

Conversation centered around how good the food was and the weather, which was cold but clear. Charles brought up the skiing idea, which was met with enthusiasm from the boys. All the adults, however, were of my opinion—we’d rather avoid being in the jet or on a long car ride for a while.

“So, Dad, we’re thinking we’ll tackle the zoo today. You coming with?”

“No, kitten, I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Dad sighed. “Your Aunt Carla has a half-day layover and wants to see us. I told her that you all had unbreakable plans, but that I was free.”

“Oh. God. Thanks for taking one for the team, Dad. You’re the best.”

“Is she coming here?” Charles asked, with absolutely no enthusiasm. I shared his reaction.

Dad shook his head. “I’m meeting her at the airport. She gave me the usual complaints about Colonial Village.”

“How does Aunt Carla the Bigoted Snob come from the same family as Mom?” Colonial Village was mostly African-American. No one here had ever made us feel anything other than welcome, and we had a lot in common with our neighbors, seeing as they were all affluent and mostly in high-powered government jobs. Only my Aunt Carla or someone like her would complain about our having a home here.

“There’s one in every family, kitten.”

“Be glad Charles has money,” James said with a laugh. “Or you’d never hear the end of how you shouldn’t have married him.”

“Yes, because the money’s what motivates Kitty,” Charles said dryly. He took and squeezed my hand.

“Right. Not brains, personality, looks, or, you know, anything else.”

Charles grinned at me. I’d learned, fast, not to mention that I was motivated by our great sex life—Charlie had been far too aware, far too early, of what words meant. We weren’t sure if he was smarter than me and Charles, but we were betting that he was. Max, too. Jamie . . . well, the jury was still out.

“Do you need us to drop you at the airport?” James asked.

Dad shook his head. “I’ll drive myself. That way, if Carla’s flight is delayed the rest of you won’t have to worry.”

“We could take her to the zoo with us. I’m sure the lions are hungry.”

“Kitten, she’s still your aunt. She loves all of us, even if she’s not our favorite person. So, is everyone else going?” Dad asked, the other men, more than me.

“I can’t,” Peter said. “Much as I’d love to.”

“Awww,” Max said. “Why not, Uncle Peter? It’s always more fun if you’re there.”

“You always say the nicest things, my dearest. But your Uncle Peter has discovered several issues with the house that must be taken care of immediately if not sooner. It’s a good thing we came back earlier than planned,” he said to me and Charles, “and thankfully we have wonderful neighbors here, because firing the maintenance company and hiring a new one is first on my agenda for today. Charles, should I try to stick with the same budget?”

“Whatever you want, Peter, you know that’s what we want. Choose the service you feel is best, and then worry about what it costs.”

“And get presents for whoever covered whatever for us,” I added.

Peter waved his hand nonchalantly. “Already handled, Kitty darling. Pictures will be taken so everyone knows what we gave to whom. The neighborhood is throwing us an early return party in a few days. I’ll be coordinating that, of course. So, today I’m homebound.”

“That’s two of us out,” Dad said. “What about you, Charles?”

As Charles opened his mouth, Social Distortion’s “Ball and Chain” started playing. This wasn’t my ringtone—our ringtones for each other were the same, Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend.” No, this was the ringtone for the think tank. He sighed as he stood up. “Let me get back to you on that.”

CHAPTER 7

“HELLO?” Charles walked out of the dining room.

As he did so, James’ phone rang as well—or rather, “Psycho Therapy” by the Ramones started. That was his ringtone for the main modeling agency he worked through. Charles had become James’ manager years ago, for a variety of reasons, most of them centered around the fact that James was our best friend and we wanted to be together and take care of each other as much as possible. But the modeling agency preferred to call James directly—Charles said no a lot more than James did.

James followed Charles’ lead—both with sighing and stepping away from the table.

Charlie looked at his grandfather. “No, Grandpa Sol. Daddy’s not going. And neither is Uncle James.”

I recognized the sounds of their conversations and knew my eldest was right again. “Looks like you guys are stuck with me and me alone.”

“That’s okay, Mommy,” Max said cheerfully. “Even though you’ll make us do field trip reports, you still buy the best treats.”

We traveled so much, and Charles had suffered so much in school, that we’d made the decision to homeschool our kids as soon as Charlie was old enough to learn to read—in his case, at two years of age. Max had waited until he turned three. With Jamie, I hadn’t taught her to read—she had just started taking books and appearing to read them when she was eighteen months old. From the little we got out of her, she was really reading, and comprehending.

So the kids liked going to different sites, but the boys knew they’d have to give some kind of report later. My mother had said that this probably lessened their enjoyment while improving their abilities to observe. She’d approved.

“It’s always nice to be appreciated.”

“Yeah, it is,” Charles said as he came back into the dining room. “I’d just like to be a little less appreciated when we have family time planned.”

My turn to sigh. “We came back because they needed you. It’s not a total shocker that they want you now, as opposed to later in the week.”

James returned. “Yeah, Chuck isn’t the only one being called in.” He handed his phone to Charles, who looked at whatever message was there and grunted. “Sorry to desert you, girlfriend, kidlets. Duty in the name of fashion calls.”

Even though Charlie had predicted this, the boys groaned and Jamie looked unhappy. Before I could add in my disappointment, the sounds of Good Charlotte’s “Girls and Boys” hit our airwaves.

I pulled my phone out. “Hey, Caro Syrup, what’s shaking?”

“Kit-Kat! You’re in town and you haven’t called me. I take it we’re no longer friends and I should slash my wrists or try to steal your husband, right?”

“Oh, of course, right.” My turn to leave the room and drop my voice. “We had a tough flight in, Caro. Really tough. I’m amazed any of us are up to doing anything today, but all does seem well.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Jamie had a meltdown?”

“Of epic proportions. She did not want to leave Australia. The flight was horrible—turbulence the entire time, and if James wasn’t a fantastic pilot and Charles the best navigator around we’d probably be in the news as a tragic crash. I think they’re the only ones who didn’t throw up, too. The kids were sick the entire trip. And it’s a long trip. So that day was hell on earth. And then everyone was exhausted and jet lagged, and yesterday was worse. Not just one kid melting down, but all three, and the five adults lost it, too.”

“Even your dad?” Caroline was my sorority sister and my best friend from college. She’d known me a long time, and knew how even-keeled my dad normally was.

“Yeah, even Dad. I think he couldn’t take the rest of us, honestly. It was like an episode of Jerry Springer. I’m just thankful Charles’ parents stay in Phoenix or Temecula during the U.S. winter, or they’d have gotten to enjoy the ‘fun’ and lose their minds, and their cool, too. Believe me, alcohol was imbibed. More for survival than for enjoyment.”

“Sounds horrible. But you just made me feel great about still being single and childless.”

“Glad I could help.”

“Hey, I called because Senator McMillan’s in a locked-door meeting and I was given the afternoon off. I was hoping to drag you off shopping or something.” The senior senator from Arizona was married to a sorority sister, albeit one from many years before ours. But that sorority connection had helped—Caroline was his right-hand gal and I was über proud of her. She almost never got time off, so getting a whole afternoon free, right when I was in town, was a rarity not to be tossed aside.

“We were going to hit the zoo. Not that any of the menfolk can actually go, other than my little men. You want to come with?”

“If that’s the only way I can see you, sure. But if the kids want to hit the Smithsonian instead, I think their Auntie Caro could arrange some special tours.”

“On this short notice?”

“Kit-Kat, you wound me. I’m a mover and shaker. I’ve got connections. Besides, the guy who manages the Congressional tours has the hots for me.”

“Despite my desire to see who you’re stringing along at the museums and/or the Capitol, after the past couple of days, I think we want to vote for a location where, should a repeat of yesterday happen, we won’t be nearly as noticeable.”

“Good point. That’s why you’re Super Mom. Okay, I’ll meet you at the zoo in how long from now?”

Checked my watch. “We just finished brunch and everyone’s dressed. In an hour?”

“Sounds good. Don’t drive too fast—you haven’t been back long enough to be used to driving on the correct side of the road, you know.”

“Everyone’s a comedian.” We hung up and I went back to the dining room. “Auntie Caro’s going to meet us at the zoo.” The boys cheered and even Jamie looked a little happier. “At noon, so we need to get moving.”

Charles nodded. “We all have to get rolling. I’ll drop James at his shoot. Sol, you sure you don’t want a ride to the airport?”

“Nope, I’m looking forward to driving my birthday present.” We’d gotten Dad a new Lexus hybrid for his birthday last year and he adored it.

With five adults in our household and three kids to drive around, we had a lot of cars. Probably meant we were conspicuously consuming, but whatever. We were really popular with our Lexus dealer in Silver Spring. Considering Peter wasn’t happy with the maintenance company, I’d probably have to take the cars in soon—car care while we were out of the country was part of their service.

“You going to give the ‘super spy’ a call?” James asked.

“Wow, you’re reading my mind. Well done. Yeah, I was just thinking that I probably better take the cars in to get serviced and visit with Jack.”

Charles groaned. “That just means Ryan’s going to show you another new model you want, while his wife drags you off on a shopping spree. Really, you can let me take the cars in.”

“No way. Jack’s just a grateful dealership owner and Pia’s fun to shop with. She never tries to make me spend too much money.”

“Nope, you can do that all on your own.”

“I resent that. I don’t deny it, but I resent it. Besides, I like the Ryans, and you do, too. Stop whining.”

He grinned. “It’s called teasing, but I’ll stop. You’re not taking the cars in today, so we’ll worry about it later. And we can crack all the Tom Clancy jokes about his name when we’re together—he lives for someone coming up with a new reference.”

Everyone helped me get the kids ready to go then, fortified with a ton of sunscreen and snacks courtesy of Peter and a set of hats courtesy of Dad, hugs and kisses courtesy of everyone, and some great kissing from Charles for me alone, we got the kids into our LX570. It was built like a really attractive tank, but we drove our most precious cargo in it, so I was great with owning the road, so to speak.

It wasn’t my favorite car—that was still my old IS300. That car was older than Charlie but still drove like it was on rails and turned on a dime. Charles could tease me about the Ryans all he wanted—Jack ran a great dealership and the service department was unparalleled.

Because it was just two of them, Charles and James could have taken the convertible, but instead they opted for the IS. Couldn’t blame them—thankfully there was no snow on the ground, but it was crisp and cool. Definitely not “top down” weather.

My men drove off first, with admonitions to have a lot of fun. I dumped my purse onto the passenger seat, ensured my phone was actively connected to the LX’s Bluetooth, then realized I’d forgotten my iPod. “I forgot our music. I’ll be right back. You three promise to behave?”

“We promise!” the boys said. Jamie nodded.

“Super, back in a jiffy.” I raced back inside. Heard Peter snarling politely at someone and decided not to bother him. My iPod wasn’t where I normally put it, so I had to search for a couple of minutes to find where one of the kids had left it.

Back downstairs, Peter was still snarling about the lack of anything being cared for while we were out of the country, so I headed straight back to the car. Made sure my iPod was connected to our audio system, triple-checked that everyone was safely buckled in, then turned on our music. “What do we want to hear today?”

“Jack Johnson!” the boys shouted in unison.

“Mister Surfer Dude of Coolness it shall be, then.” I turned on my Mellow Man playlist and the sounds of “Upside Down” wafted over our airwaves.

“The song is right,” Jamie said. “We’re going to go upside down. We should stay home.”

“We’ll be fine, Jamie-Kat.”

The boys chose to ignore their sister and sing along with the music. This was probably the better choice. As near as we could tell, Jamie didn’t like music. A doctor we’d seen in Paris had said that she was listening to a different soundtrack inside her own head, and until we could match that, we wouldn’t make any progress with her. Charles said he was a quack, and Dad and James had agreed. But sometimes I wondered if Dr. Marling was right.

Heeding Caroline’s warning, I decided not to take Beach Drive and to go through all of Rock Creek Park to get to the zoo. Instead I headed for 17th Street to hit 16th Street and go that way.

While the boys sang along to the music I relaxed and enjoyed being back in this area. I was looking at the road, but I was also looking around, paying attention to everything. Which was why I spotted the black sedan behind us.

All of our cars were black—my favorite color for cars—but this wasn’t one of ours. It looked like a Lincoln Town Car, so it was probably a limo of some kind. Only limos normally didn’t have metal push bars on the front. And I was pretty darned sure this one was following us.

Reminding myself that I was probably just overreacting based on the past couple of days, I did a test. The light coming up was yellow. Normally I’d have stopped, but the road was clear in front of me and in the intersection, so I floored it, and made our right turn onto 16th Street as the light turned red.

The black Lincoln turned right into oncoming traffic. My mother had always told me to trust my gut. And my gut said that whoever was behind us couldn’t mean us any good. We were the family of an extremely wealthy man—that meant we were targets for kidnapping. We didn’t spend our lives thinking about this, but the thought was always there in the back of my mind, the fact that someone could decide to use us to get money from Charles.

As I sped up, I hit the Bluetooth and made the call. “Miss me already?” Charles said as he answered.

Took a sharp left onto Alaska Avenue. What a pity that Walter Reed had moved to Bethesda—we’d have been conveniently close to a hospital otherwise. On the other hand, I wanted to avoid any of us needing medical attention. The Lincoln followed us, proving that something bad was surely trying to happen. Found myself wondering if I should head for Bethesda, just in case.

“I think—” I was going to share that I thought we were being followed and were probably in danger. Only the Lincoln slammed into our rear and my head slammed into the steering wheel before I could say anything else.

As I started to lose control of the car and consciousness, I felt something—no, really, someone—go through me. And then, blackness.

CHAPTER 8

I COULD SORT OF HEAR the sounds of panic around me. Same as when I’d given birth to Jamie, I could also see myself, because I was outside of my body.

Not far outside. So I couldn’t see, say, the entire arena. Meaning that, whatever else was going on, I was going to miss the rest of the cricket match. I was okay with this.

What I wasn’t okay with was everything else. Things were chaotic but I could see Jeff’s expression, and he looked terrified. Could hear people telling him to wait for an ambulance. Could hear Chuckie calling for medical help and prepping Walter Reed to expect my arrival. Could hear Raj calling for Tito and telling him to meet us at the hospital. Heard my Secret Service unit telling Jeff to get me lying down flat.

Jeff scooped me up into his arms. “None of those will be fast enough. The hospital’s in Bethesda. And it’s an hour from here by car. Five minutes is too long. Deal with the fallout,” he said to Raj and Chuckie. Then he ran, carrying me, at his fastest hyperspeed.

The beauty of A-Cs and their hyperspeed was that the idea of going as the crow flies was something they were quite familiar with and wholeheartedly approved of. Jeff was right—to get to Walter Reed from the football stadium was an easy 45 minutes without traffic. However, it was probably about three minutes or less when Jeff was running. His cousin, Christopher White, would have been faster, but Christopher had stayed home. Wish I’d followed his lead, but figured I’d better focus on staying home with my body.

“Hang on, baby,” Jeff said as we ran. “It’s okay. Don’t leave me, Kitty. You stay with me.”

I tried to, I really did. But as we neared what looked like the outskirts of Rock Creek Park I heard something else. The sounds of, of all things, Jack Johnson singing “Upside Down.” This wasn’t the song I wanted to die to. I didn’t want to die at all, but especially not while Mr. Put You To Sleep was crooning.

Then I felt us go through something, though if what I was seeing was correct, nothing was there, and Jeff hadn’t run us into anything. I mean, sure, we were on the street, but Jeff was going so fast the cars and people were as motionless as the buildings.

Whatever we went through didn’t feel solid, but it felt real. Real weird and real tingly, but real nonetheless.

There was a flash of light. I saw the Universe Wheel, the same one I’d seen when Jamie was born and I’d basically died in the delivery room. The one that looked like the most gigantic slide projector wheel ever, showing all the different universes in the multiverse.

I’d forgotten all about the Universe Wheel until now. Didn’t have time to marvel about this, or the Wheel, because there were other pressing matters demanding my attention. Just as before, there was a golden thread attached to me now, but it wasn’t the only thread I saw. Another thread crossed with mine as I and the person attached to said other thread flew past each other.

Managed one quick look. She looked like me. Dressed a little differently, hair styled a little differently, but otherwise, me. Figured our expressions were probably the same—openmouthed shock.

We passed like those proverbial ships in the night, then the feeling disappeared.

And so did the Universe Wheel, the golden string, and presumably my doppelganger.

Something else disappeared, too.

Jeff.

CHAPTER 9

I SLAMMED INTO A CAR SEAT, hands on the wheel. I was able to think fast in many circumstances, and—head injury from landing on concrete steps or not—this was one of those circumstances.

There were what sounded like little kids screaming and Jack Johnson singing. God alone knew why, but that’s what was on the sound system. There was also something hitting us from the rear. And into oncoming traffic.

Didn’t ask what the hell was going on. Just did what I’d gotten used to for the past many years—I reacted. Spun the wheel and got us back into our proper lane. We missed a head-on collision by about a half a second. We missed sideswiping three cars by about a second. Yeah, I hadn’t had to drive like a maniac away from crazed killers for a while, but I still had the skills.

We weren’t out of the situation, however, so took no time to preen. A quick look into the rearview mirror showed a black Lincoln with all the windows blacked out trying to slam into us again. That it was the car that had slammed into us already was a given, based on the impressive push bar it sported on the front.

We were near the old Walter Reed hospital, which was on the same straight line from the football stadium as the new Walter Reed, which explained why Jeff had been running this way. Had no time to wonder where Jeff was. I was too busy trying to keep the car from going out of control.

Fortunately, adrenaline rush being what it was, I felt okay now, which was good because this hospital was no longer active. A-Cs had faster healing and regeneration, and I’d reverse-inherited that from Jamie, too. So, while my head still hurt, I was pretty sure I wasn’t bleeding anymore. And while it might be a good idea to race off to the new Walter Reed to get help and possibly find Jeff, if these were the usual alien-haters on our tail, driving into a hospital full of the sick and injured would just give our enemies helpless targets to attack. Besides, the hospital was a lot farther away than the Lincoln.

Someone was shouting, a man’s voice. Chuckie’s to be exact. Had no idea how he’d gotten here. I spun us into a 180 and watched the Lincoln speed past. Then I hit the gas. Once I had it floored, I realized I was driving a gigantic Lexus SUV. This was not the A-C brand of choice. Sadly, this car didn’t seem equipped with the usual A-C bells and whistles, either, meaning I couldn’t spot either a laser shield or cloaking button.

Risked a quick look in the rearview mirror—not to see who was behind us but to see who was in the car with me. Two cute little blond boys who looked about seven and five were strapped into their age-appropriate car seats. Each one was holding one of Jamie’s hands. All three kids looked terrified.

Well. However the hell this had happened, I’d woken up from a concussion in a car with my daughter and a couple other kids, and whoever was trying to kill me was going to kill them if I didn’t prevent it.

Chuckie was shouting my name. Realized I’d also woken up in a car with a good Bluetooth system, because he wasn’t here, but on the car’s speakers. “Got it under control,” I shouted back. “Just have some agents meet us somewhere along the way.”

“What are you talking about? Where are you?” Chuckie asked. He didn’t sound calm at all. “What’s going on?”

“No freaking idea. Kind of busy.” Heard a noise that wasn’t Jack Johnson. It was a familiar sound though. Checked a side view mirror—sure enough, they were shooting at us. Enough was enough. Hoped the entire audio system was voice activated. “Switch music to Aerosmith!”

Thankfully, the music stopped mid-snore and switched. “Dream On” hit the car’s airwaves. Not the song I’d have chosen in this precise circumstance, but even the slowest Aerosmith song was better than the entire Jack Johnson oeuvre.

I had the opportunity so I turned us into Rock Creek Park. Maybe I could lose them in here, and worst case we wouldn’t cause a gigantic pileup when they drove us off the road.

“I have no idea where you are, Kitty,” Chuckie said. “Or why you’re worrying about music at a time like this. I just heard you and the kids screaming . . .”

“Use the GPS tracking or whatever. Call my mom. She needs to know what’s going on, I’d guess. If she doesn’t already know, I mean.”

There was a thudding silence on the other phone. “Kitty, baby, are you okay?” he asked finally, his voice extremely careful and precise.

“Um, no, and why are you calling me baby? Jeff will hurt you for that, you know.”

“Who the hell is Jeff?” Now he didn’t sound careful or even freaked out. He sounded like Jeff normally did if I mentioned another man’s name—jealous.

Before I could share that this was a really lousy time for him to crack weak jokes, the Lincoln took some more shots at us. This was a two-lane road, meaning I was weaving in and out of the thankfully light traffic, both on our side and oncoming, which added a certain thrill that had been so lacking to this experience. But I had no guess for how long it would be before they shot some tires out, whether ours or someone else’s.

I didn’t know this area all that well. We’d done a couple of picnics here, but, nice though this area was, it wasn’t our part of town. Though it was a lot better to be chased here than around Embassy Row. Of course, if I’d been there, I could have just gotten to the American Centaurion Embassy and this would all be over. Still was a workable plan.

“I’m going to try to get to the Embassy,” I told Chuckie.

“What embassy? Why? Kitty, we’re in America, remember?”

“Yeah, I do. I—” But what I was going to say was cut short by screaming, mine and the kids’. Their screams were of terror—mine was of rage. The bad guys had managed to shoot out one of our tires.

Naturally this happened at a point on the road where we could, and, of course, did, go over an embankment. There were a lot of highway railings along this road, but not right here, and we headed toward the water.

Rock Creek really was a creek. Even so, this could have been a big deal, but the car handled fantastically and, modestly speaking, so did I. Sure, we bounced a lot and I was happy my seat belt was on. Had no idea how it was on, but chose to not complain when the cosmos decided to do me a solid. It happened so infrequently.

Managed to keep the car from hitting any trees, rolling, or going into the water, but it was a near thing. We did spin out rather impressively, especially since we were on some rocks, and ended up with the back of the car at the water’s edge and the front facing the road. So I had a great view of the people who were getting out of the Lincoln with machine guns. No one I recognized.

Survival instinct took over. I grabbed my purse that was somehow on the seat next to me, ripped out the iPod and phone that were connected to this car’s systems and threw them in, got my seat belt off, and leaped out of the car, flinging my purse over my neck. At the fastest hyperspeed I had which, after a lot of practice with Christopher and in danger situations such as this, was really fast.

Ripped the passenger door behind me off its hinges. I’d worry about apologizing for that to whoever actually owned this vehicle later—I had three kids to get. The younger boy was nearest to me, and I was able to unbuckle his toddler car seat quickly. The older boy was in a simple booster seat and he’d gotten himself unbuckled.

Jamie’s car seat was more problematic, in part because it wasn’t her car seat and, amazingly enough, it was more complex than the one we had for her. Decided I’d already hurt the car and ripped the car seat out, Jamie and all. Held her and the seat in my left arm.

Flung the younger boy onto my back. “Hold on, legs around my waist, arms around my neck but not too hard.” Reached through and pulled the older boy to me and held onto him with my right hand. “Hang on, all of you!”

Then I ran us across the river at my fastest hyperspeed. And kept going. I didn’t look behind us. Firstly because I couldn’t with all I was carrying, and secondly because I was a sprinter and I’d learned in high school that sprinters who looked behind them lost their races. The only times in my adult life I’d ignored that adage had only proven why it was a wise one.

Heard the sounds of gunfire starting and congratulated myself on getting the kids out of the car and out of range in about five seconds. Potentially a personal best. Perhaps I’d brag about it somewhere in the far future.

Heard what was absolutely an explosion and found the ability to speed up. If my fuzzy memory served, there was a golf course somewhere around here and I decided heading for it was probably my best choice.

It was like a forest in here, which made sense for the kind of park Rock Creek was, but it was hard going in a pantsuit and boots, not to mention lugging all the kids and stuff along. Absolutely none of the foliage was helping us in any way, though I managed not to ram any of the kids into branches and such. Could not say the same for myself. However, I’d gotten some increased strength along with the hyperspeed, so I managed to get us through and keep on going.

Sure enough, after I stumbled and bumbled us around for a while, I managed to find the edge of the golf course. Ran onto the nice grass that had no trees trying to stab me and the kids and made it about a hundred yards in. Then I stopped and put everyone down.

As I got Jamie out of her car seat, the boys threw up. Okay, they were human. As I put Jamie onto the ground, though, she threw up, too. So, maybe it was just fear. “It’s okay,” I said as I held her and stroked the younger boy’s back. “It’ll pass.”

The oldest boy recovered first. “Mommy, what’s going on? Why did those people try to hurt us?”

Looked around. There was no adult here but me. “Um, who are you talking to, honey?” I asked him.

He’d already looked scared, but his expression changed, to a different kind of fear. “I’m talking to you, Mommy.”

CHAPTER 10

THE YOUNGER BOY STOPPED BARFING and got to his feet. He looked at me closely. Then he took Jamie’s hand and pulled her away from me. “That’s not Mommy,” he said in a low voice.

I ignored him, since he was right, and took her back. “Jamie-Kat, are you okay? Tell Mommy if you got hurt.”

She cocked her head at me. Then she smiled. “You did great. Mommy.” There was something extremely off in how she’d said this, and as she leaned against me, I tried to figure out what it was. Realized that she’d said my name as if she’d made a decision to call me Mommy, not that she actually thought I was her mother.

Watched the boys out of the corner of my eye. The older one looked shocked and freaked out. The younger one looked suspicious and worried.

“Mommy, why don’t you know us?” the older one asked, almost pleadingly. “It’s me, Charlie. And Max,” he pointed to the younger boy. Charlie looked familiar, but not because I’d seen him before. But I knew I’d seen someone who looked like him before. Possibly because my head still hurt, I just couldn’t place who.

Before I could reply a couple of older men rolled up in a golf cart. “You and your kids okay, ma’am?” the driver asked.

“Not really. We were attacked and shot at and our car exploded and I need to call my husband. And the Secret Service.”

The two men looked at each other and chuckled. “I’m sure the regular police will be fine, honey,” the passenger said.

“I doubt it. We were attacked by men who drove us off the road and shot out our tires. And then they shot up our car so that it blew up. I think.” I hadn’t looked behind me to be sure, after all.

“Uh huh,” the driver said. “I’m Hershel, this is Hymie.” He looked at me expectantly.

“I’m Kitty. This is Jamie. And Charlie and Max.”

“Okay,” Hershel said. “Well, Kitty, Jamie, Charlie and Max, we have no guns, but I don’t see anyone pursuing you, so I think you’re in the clear. Let’s get you and your kids back to the clubhouse, honey. I think we can fit you all in if your little girl can sit on your lap.”

They both got out and Hymie put Jamie’s car seat in the back of the cart with their clubs. As they helped me and the kids into the back seat, my brain nudged—something was off with this. Not with the kids—something was clearly off with them—but with the reactions from the two men.

I was the wife of the Vice President. I was now one of the most recognized people in the D.C. area. Sure, if we were in Des Moines, maybe no one would know who I was. But since the campaign, or what I thought of as Operation Defection Election, I couldn’t walk outside without paparazzi following me, and they weren’t the friendly, helpful kind like Mister Joel Oliver. Sure, maybe Hershel and Hymie didn’t pay attention to the news, but considering they both looked older than my dad, it seemed unlikely.

The boys sat quietly on either side of me and Jamie perched on my lap. She didn’t say anything, which was also odd. Jamie was a chatterbox.

“Can you call my daddy?” Charlie asked the men as we “sped” along the golf course.

“Sure, son,” Hymie said. “Doesn’t your mother have a phone?” He looked at me over his shoulder.

“Oh. Yeah. I do.” Dug through the purse and pulled out a phone. It wasn’t my phone, though, but it definitely was the one I’d pulled out of the car—the charging cord was still attached. Pulled the cord out and tried to unlock it. My code didn’t work. Charlie took the phone out of my hand and put in the right code.

“It’s okay, Mommy,” he said quietly. “You hit your head and it was really scary. Daddy says that sometimes trauma can create an incredible adrenaline rush, but then after you’re safe, you sort of collapse. It’s just like that.” He handed the phone to Hymie.

“Hello,” Hymie said cheerfully. “No, I’m not Kitty, but I think we have her and your kids.” I could hear a man shouting. “Whoa, whoa! Calm down, mister. We’re not trying to hurt them. We found your family on the golf course. Your wife’s pretty shaken up, said her car exploded.” Heard more shouting.

“And that someone shot at her,” Hershel added.

“Yeah, and she was shot at. Not by us, so stop yelling.” Hymie eyed us. “Nope, they seem okay. Shook up, but okay.” He dropped his voice. “You wife hit her head for sure. You need to get to Rock Creek Golf Course right away. Yeah, sure, we’ll stay with them. Lost our spot on the course already anyway.”

He hung up and handed the phone back to Charlie. “Hang onto that, son. Your dad said he’d be right to you but he may have to call again.”

Decided now was as good a time as any to ask a pertinent question. “Excuse me, but is the Vice President an alien?”

We reached the golf cart parking area as I voiced my question. Hershel sighed. “Now’s not the time to discuss politics, is it?” He helped Max out, then took Jamie from me, while Hymie went and got our car seat.

“No, and neither is the President,” Hymie said. “Regardless of your political party, you really shouldn’t believe everything you hear on Fox News, honey. Try thinking for yourself.”

“Huh?”

Neither Hershel nor Hymie seemed interested in explaining what they meant. Hershel handed Jamie back to me and took both boys’ hands, Hymie kept the car seat and put his hand on my back to keep me moving, and we headed into the clubhouse.

There weren’t a lot of people here, but we made quite a stir with the few who were as we went to the front. I checked outside, but there were no suspicious looking cars in the parking lot and no one packing heat I could spot.

Risked a look in a mirror as I rejoined the kids, Hershel, and Hymie—I looked like the poster girl for dishevelment. My clothes were pretty much wrecked. Sure, we had the Operations Team, what I called the A-C Elves, and sure, they were actually one really superpowered being with a serious hard-on for free will. But even so, I doubted the bloodstains were going to come out, A-C Elves or no A-C Elves.

There was a lounge area with couches and a television and Hershel ushered us over there. I dumped my purse into Jamie’s car seat and sat down with the kids. The adrenaline rush was starting to wear off. Hymie had someone change the channel to local news. There were no news reports of a high-speed chase through Rock Creek Park that ended with a car exploding. There was one mention that traffic was being rerouted from Beach Drive due to an accident, but that was it.

Hymie shrugged. “Guess the reporters aren’t interested or aware of your mishap.”

This, more than anything else that had happened, told me that something was very, very wrong. There was no way that the news media wouldn’t be having a field day with this. Sadly, it had been a really long time since no one in the media had cared about what I did or didn’t do.

A couple of years ago, I’d have just assumed that Imageering out of Centaurion Division had altered the footage. But events, and what appeared to be an outer-space virus, had conspired to cause pretty much every imageer to lose their natural talents. Meaning there was no one around to manipulate the images and hide my mistakes. I’d really missed this, especially since Jeff had become the Vice President.

But today it didn’t seem to matter.

Before I could ask Hershel and Hymie some more questions they were probably going to ignore or give me inscrutable responses to, all three kids’ heads swiveled toward the door.

I turned to see Chuckie running in. He looked stressed out of his mind. As he looked at us his face drained of color—I’d only seen him look like this a few times in our lives. Figured I looked a lot worse than I thought I did.

Speaking of looks, Chuckie looked slightly different than he had earlier today. His hair, for example, was shorter. Not a lot, but as if he’d had a haircut between my hitting my head at the stadium and now, which seemed unlikely.

He was also dressed differently. The A-Cs were love slaves to black and white, formality, and Armani, and Chuckie, as the Head of the C.I.A.’s Extra-Terrestrial Division, had adapted and wore the same “uniform” as all the other men who were aliens or worked for Centaurion Division.

However, I knew my designers, and Chuckie was not only not in a suit, but he wasn’t in Armani, either. He was in a Tommy Hilfiger ensemble that made me think we’d dragged him off of someone’s yacht. He was dressed more colorfully than I’d seen him, or anyone else I spent a lot of time with these days, in years.

However, I’d spotted who Charlie looked like. He was the spitting image of Chuckie. I just hadn’t known Chuckie until we were thirteen, so I’d never seen him as a little kid, other than in some pictures. It was clear that how Charlie looked was exactly how Chuckie had looked. How Chuckie had a son who was this old that I didn’t know about, however, was a mystery I had no answer for.

Before I could ponder all these mysteries anymore, Chuckie reached us and pulled me into his arms. “Kitty, baby, are you okay?” His voice shook and he hugged me tightly and kissed my head, very lovingly and possessively. I managed not to react one way or the other, mostly because my head really hurt and I had no idea what was going on.

He let go with one arm and pulled the kids in. Not that he had to work to do this—all three of them, even Jamie, had clearly been waiting for this and flung themselves at him. Jamie seemed reasonably calm, but both of the boys were trying not to cry.

“Chuckie, you need to stop calling me baby,” I said quietly. “Jeff is going to pop a vessel as it is.”

He reared back and stared at me, eyes narrowed. “I ask again, who the hell is Jeff? And why, if you’re trying to tell me that you’re leaving me for whoever the hell he is, are you calling me Chuckie?” His voice was cold and he sounded hurt and angry.

I blinked. “Um, I’ve called you Chuckie since ninth grade.”

“Only in bed for the past seven years,” Chuckie replied. He still looked and sounded upset.

“Mommy hit her head,” Charlie said urgently. “She doesn’t know me and Max, Daddy. No matter how she’s acting, I think she’s really hurt.”

Chuckie’s expression softened. “Ah. Hang on, ba—, ah, Kitty.” He let go of me and hugged the kids tightly, doing the parental body check for broken bones and other injuries. “How badly are you three hurt?”

“Not at all,” Charlie said. “Mommy got us all out.” He looked at me nervously. “She did it really fast, Daddy. And she pulled the car door off. And carried all of us, running so fast we couldn’t see.”

“You know what we talked about,” Chuckie said.

“I know, the adrenaline rush, like the Hulk,” Charlie said. “I think it was like that, but Mommy isn’t feeling . . . right.”

“She’s not Mommy,” Max said emphatically. “I keep on saying it, and no one listens.”

Realized that Max was speaking like I did. My head was starting to throb from all of this, and I rubbed my forehead.

“It’s Mommy,” Jamie said calmly. “Charlie is right—she’s hurt her head.”

Chuckie’s jaw dropped. “You’re sure, Jamie-Kat?” She nodded. “Okay. Kids, you three sit here and let me check on Mommy.” He turned fully back to me. “Let’s see your head,” he said gently, as he stroked my forehead.

“It’s not my forehead; it’s the back of my head.” I turned, and Chuckie hissed.

“Why didn’t anyone call a doctor or an ambulance?” he asked, of Hershel and Hymie more than me.

The two other men shrugged. “She didn’t appear to need one,” Hershel replied. “She’s not bleeding anymore and I don’t know what they would do for her concussion.”

“I don’t have a concussion.” Hopefully.

Hymie snorted. “She asked us if the Vice President was an alien. A concussion your wife has. However, we thought getting her and your kids off the golf course and to safety was more important than calling nine-one-one.”

“I’m not his wife.”

At this everyone stared at me. Other than Jamie, who was rummaging through my purse. Or what was passing for my purse. My purse was big, black, and made of cheap yet extremely durable leather. The purse Jamie was digging into was a large pink and purple Coach bag. I didn’t own a Coach bag. I didn’t own a Coach anything.

“Yes, you are,” Chuckie said, voice strained. “We’ve been married for eight years. We have three children . . . the three children here. You know, the ones that look like us? The ones calling you Mommy?”

I was about to protest when Jamie handed me a wallet. Wasn’t a wallet I recognized, but it kept to the purse’s theme—it was multi-colored pastels and by Coach. “Here, Mommy. See?”

Took the wallet and opened it up. There was my driver’s license. Two of them, actually. One was for the District of Columbia, and one had a yellow stripe on the top and some red flower in the middle, and shared that it was for the state of New South Wales, Australia. Both of them listed addresses I didn’t recognize.

Both of them said the same thing. That I was Katherine Sarah Katt-Reynolds. And both of them had my picture on them.

CHAPTER 11

STARED AT THE DRIVERS’ LICENSES for a bit. Then I stared some more. Finally felt able to speak. “I’m so confused.”

As I said this, Reader came running in. “Chuck, I came as fast as I could.”

“Uncle James!” The boys threw themselves on him, and he hugged them. Head hurting or not, I’d gotten really good at catching when people around me were passing signs to each other. And Reader absolutely was passing signs back and forth with Chuckie. Reader gave an almost imperceptible nod, and Chuckie’s arm tightened around me.

“How’s my girlfriend?” Reader asked. “Kitty, you okay?”

“I think there’s been some sort of weird misunderstanding. I’m not his wife. I’m not these kids’ mother. Well, I tell a lie. I’m Jamie’s mother, but I’ve never seen your boys before about an hour ago or whenever we were attacked, shot at, and driven off the road.”

“Kitty has at least a concussion,” Chuckie said, voice tight. “And she’s been talking about some guy named Jeff.”

Reader shook his head, just slightly.

What People are Saying About This

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"The tenth outing of Koch's insanely fun Alien series.... Hilarious, thrilling adventures that are sure to make readers giggle and grin!" —RT Reviews (top pick!)

Campy, hyperactive, implausibly entertaining, there’s a lot of fun here, and more fun to come in future installments.” —SF Site (for Alien Research)

"If you're a fan of this series, you won't want to miss Alien Research — it really is another fabulous installment. If you haven't discovered these books yet, but are looking for a fast-paced, action-packed series full of humor and sexy aliens, then I can't recommend it highly enough." —Feeling Fictional (for Alien Research)

"The best hallmarks of the series—frequent banter, head-first dives into action, tangled webs, and Kitty’s snark—are in full force again." —Publishers Weekly (for Alien in the House)

"Aliens, danger, and romance make this a fast-paced, wittily-written sf romantic comedy." —Library Journal (for series)

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Universal Alien 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
BooksnKisses More than 1 year ago
NUMBER OF HEARTS: 4 REVIEW:  In Universal Alien Kitty’s world gets turned upside down and things may never be the same.  I really liked Universal Alien. I will admit that when I first read the blurb I was really nervous. I didn’t want anything upsetting Kitty & Jeff’s story. But I trusted (after a bit of reassurance) and really liked this story. There were differently a few anxiety moments that I wished that “our” Kitty was with Jeff and the whole AC crew. But both Kitty’s were great and where they needed to be at the time. This world switch-a-roo also gave us a few answers to questions that have been plaguing us for many many books. But like always Ms. Koch give us just enough to drive us nuts with “oh goodness what is going to happen next”.  I have to say that I think that Jamie-Kat (both of them) stole the show for me. Jamie in both worlds is so accepting and so sweet. Jamie-Kat has easily become one of my favorites.  Disclaimer:  I received a complimentary copy of this book from DAW in exchange for an honest review. This review is my own opinion and not a paid review. 
Under_The_Covers_BookBlog More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Annie and posted at Under The Covers Book Blog In book ten of the Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, the gang experiences the biggest problems ever faced before. How much time do you have because I could be here all day trying to list them all out but the most important thing to know is that Kitty still remains true to herself. Well, apart from the very strange fact that she finds herself in a world where aliens don’t exist and she’s married to Charles Reynolds. But that’s not all. There are two Kittys. I know, this is all too much to handle! But it’s okay because Kitty is still kicking butt when she (accidentally) offends the Australian prince minister and jeopardizes Jeff’s career in the process. At just over 500 pages, UNIVERSAL ALIEN packs quite the hefty punch. You definitely don’t want to be caught off guard with this one. With Koch’s vivid imagination and fun, playful side, this book is brimming with plenty of action and aliens but is also stepped in politics and diplomacy as well. To me, this doesn’t feel like a strictly sci-fi book. Jeff and Kitty have a wonderful romance, but Koch’s writing actually reminds me more of an Urban Fantasy novel with its upbeat authorial voice. Basically, it had all a reader would want in an intriguing read. P.S. Daniel Dos Santos continues to make the most beautiful, eye-catching covers around. This book is amazing from start to finish. *ARC provided by publisher
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a ride and read. As per the norm, Gini Koch does not disappoint. Kitty, Jeff, Chuckie and crew have pulled it off... Can't wait to see what happens next!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love all the series but this is the best by far and a rest from political one party all good and the other all evil nonsense!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have Gini's first 15 books in her Alien series. I love them so much, that I have reread all of them many times! I have them on my Nook, if I had the paper back books, I probably would have worn the ink off of the pages!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This series just makes me want to keep reading. It's fun and quirky; totally out there.
damlindabks More than 1 year ago
I have loved every book in this series but this installment may have become my favorite!  The alternate universe story line was really well done and the characters were every bit as captivating as they were in the other books in this series.  And the laughs!!!  They just keep coming.  Thank you Gini Koch for another great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
still a good ,but too many characters to remember, best to read all books one after the other
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have bought all previous books and loved them. Didn't like this one at all.  Undecided if I will continue To read the series. It gives the impression that if she hadn't missed her sons she would have gladly stayed with Martini and he didn't seem to have a problem with her staying.