-NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER-
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ODD COUPLING: When I re-published this book I added this extra scene to Chapter Six.
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The conference room located in the main administration building at NASA was jam-packed with high ranking military officers and every department head employee. Marilyn Bennett, Vice-President of the United States, sat at one end of the long table flanked by her security detail, two burly men and one tough looking female. Much like the woman they guarded, all were no nonsense types. Ms. Bennett quietly studied a report stacked on the table in front of her.
The diminutive woman was in her mid-fifties, professionally dressed in the stylish unisex power suit worn by most political figures. She wore her salt and pepper hair pulled back into a tight knot secured at the nape of her neck. The style made her appearance look more severe. Even though she stood small in stature she commanded attention. An uncomfortable silence settled over the room as everyone waited for her to finish.
Marisella Grainger slowly shifted her hips to uncross her legs as unobtrusively as possible. She sought to find a more comfortable position on the hard seat of the folding chair she was ushered toward when she'd entered the room. Marvin Broussard, her supervisor and head of the science department - biological division, had been summoned to the NWG complex in New York City a week ago. He didn't plan to return until a joint treaty between Earth and the Alliance was ironed out. Marisella, the resident NASA xenobiologist, who'd had the misfortune of being thought of as the expert in her field, had been promoted to department head in the meantime. It hadn't been her idea. She had important research waiting in her office, files and files of information about every alien species in the Alliance. Hanging out in a conference room filled with military officers and upper echelon NASA employees was not her idea of a good time.
She tugged at the hem of her short skirt in an attempt to conceal a few more inches of her slim thighs without success. Her fashion choice that morning didn't work in her favor. She'd donned knee high boots, a mini-skirt, and a tight fitting stretchy top. Its neckline scooped way too low, and displayed an abundant amount of cleavage. Of all days for her to wear her let's-go-dancing-right-after-work clothes. She felt like a streetwalker sitting amongst a crowd of strict churchgoers. She cringed at the thought.
I feel like such an idiot in this getup.
Most days, she'd happily shut herself away in her office, and not see anyone until she left the building, but not tonight. It was almost ten-thirty in the evening. They'd been stuck in the conference room for hours, and the workday hadn't ended yet. She'd given up hope an hour ago about going out dancing with her friends. Not happening.
Marisella shot an impatient glare up at the brawny man who sat beside her. Derek Johnson, the head of security at NASA, crooked an apologetic smile back at her, and absentmindedly swiped a large palm over his short-cropped blond hair. He'd personally escorted her to the meeting. 'Orders,' he'd said when he'd unexpectedly showed up at her office door.
With his Nordic good looks and muscular physique, she thought he'd look more at home on a sailing ship rather than stuck in a stuffy conference room full of nerds and soldiers. He was handsome, she'd give him that. She knew he was interested in her. He'd asked her out on more than one occasion, but she'd always declined. Her work was her life. So far, she hadn't found a polite way to tell him he just wasn't her type, and she was a firm believer that office romances never worked. The good news for Derek was that she wasn't the only fish in the NASA pond. There were many unattached women there who'd jump at the chance to take him on for even one night of slap and tickle.
A tapping noise interrupted her thoughts. The vice president used an old fashioned pencil as a drum stick to rap out an irregular beat on the top sheet. She'd obviously finished reading the thin stack of papers. The woman didn't look happy. Marisella had no idea what was in the report, and she wasn't sure if she wanted to know, judging by the woman's expression.
"So, now we have another 'incident' to manage." Ms. Bennett looked at the army general seated next to her. "Sam, do we know exactly where this craft came down and if the pilot is dead or alive?"
He cleared his throat and gestured to a view screen mounted on the opposite wall. A bird's eye view of a parcel of property appeared. The image was in real time and enhanced by night vision lenses. A column of smoke drifted across the scene from where a few small fires still burned.
"At 18:43 this evening, a small ship they call a striker came down on a ranch in southern Texas. Unfortunately, the area is swarming with purists. If the pilot is alive, he won't be for long."
"Unless we do something," Marc Jacobs, the FBI officer assigned to NASA spoke up. "Our intel-reports are positive. The pilot survived, and has been tracked to an adjacent property. We're certain the alien has taken refuge here." He aimed a laser dot at one of several structures located near the middle of the neighboring ranch. "This ranch belongs to a Ms. Bethany Montgomery. The family isn't known to be anti-Alliance. However, the ship crashed on John Clayton's property." A collective groan spread through the gathered crowd. "As we're all well aware, Clayton carries some political power in Austin. His lobbying efforts at the state capital have hurt NASA's credibility over the past several months."
"His complaints have reached the president and many of the NWG representatives," the vice-president added. "Right now, most of our supporters think he's a major crack pot, but this alien ship dropping out of the sky and landing on his land will add fuel to his fire. He'll garner some media coverage at the very least."
"And an alien captive if we don't act," Marc added. He focused a determined 'let's do something about this' gaze at the vice-president.
"Do we know what species?" Marisella blurted, and almost jumped out of her seat at the sound of her own voice. What the hell am I doing opening my mouth in front of this group? Normally shy and standoffish at work, she'd just spoken without thinking.
All eyes in the room shifted their overly intelligent gazes to her. She only knew a few of them. The rest were strangers. She nervously cleared her throat to buy a few seconds to recover. It was enough time for her to remember her manners.
"I'm Marisella Grainger, lead xenobiologist and acting head of biological sciences."
The FBI agent glared at her. "Yes," he answered, giving her the thinnest of smiles. "We have direct contact with Commander Tram onboard the Seeker. The pilot is a D'Lyrian male, a warrior-type of some importance, but that was all he'd divulge." After he answered, the FBI agent arrogantly raised his brows as if challenging her to respond.
Dammit. Don't let him get to you. You know this is important.
"You're certain he said the pilot was a warrior?" She had to ask. It made a huge difference.
"Yes," Marc responded with a snort of impatience.
Marisella tried not to panic as she quickly brought to mind several facts she'd learned about the D'Lyrian species. She condensed the information into a few pertinent points, and clung to a tiny bit of self-confidence before she told the crowd what she knew.
"The D'Lyrians are a war-like species similar to humans, but they've adapted to a peaceful way of life to conform to the Alliance's rules. It makes sense that he'd try to find a safe place to wait until his people can retrieve him. Since his ship crashed, he might be injured and need medical attention." Determined to keep their attention long enough to make her point, Marisella didn't even spare a second to look at Derek for confirmation before she continued. "A security detail could reach him, and bring him back here if they can convince him to leave with them. The fact that he's a warrior might make it more difficult."
"Why is that?" The vice president asked.
"They are much larger than the normal D'Lyrian males. In fact, they're huge and according to all reports, they're very distrustful of other aliens, like us. They're a feline species, and have long sharp claws and teeth. The warriors don't hesitate to use them for defense or attack. The information I've read is clear on that point. If you try to rescue him, you'll need to make sure he understands your intentions."
Derek cut in. "If you want us to move on this, I can have two teams together, and loaded on choppers by midnight."
"This isn't an operation for civilians!" The general interrupted, and rudely ignored Derek as he spoke to the vice-president. "My troops are trained for this type of mission."
"US military involvement might worry some of the NWG members," Derek argued, apparently not intimidated in the least by the high ranking officer. "NASA is an approved landing base for the Alliance and we have no formal obligations to any military groups ever since the world government took charge of all the armed forces on the planet. This is a job for NASA, not the government."
Marisella noticed that Derek's fists were clenched so tight his knuckles whitened, but he kept them planted on top of his thighs. It was clear how strongly he felt about the subject. The general's responding sneer made it obvious to all in attendance that he disagreed.
"I agree, but only if we decide to rescue this pilot." Marilyn Bennett's voice remained calm and assured. "The military cannot act without orders from the NWG which I suspect will take too long." She swept the room with a calculating look. "Give me a show of hands. All in favor of NASA handling this 'incident' raise your right hands." Every right hand in the room went up, except the General's. "Good. It's NASA's baby now." She pushed her chair away from the table, and stood in preparation to leave. However, she paused, and leveled a pointed gaze at Marisella. "Ms. Grainger, it's my understanding that you and several of the other scientists at NASA have had the translator devices implanted, courtesy of the alien medical staff. I expect you to go along on this mission. Your skills may be needed if this pilot is taken alive."
Marisella couldn't have spoken another word if her life depended on it. She sat in stunned silence as the room emptied. Panic filled her at the very thought of confronting one of the large feline males. The adrenaline rush triggered a fight or flight response which didn't help one bit since her butt seemed glued to the chair. Why me? She was a scientist, not a storm-trooper. The most dangerous thing she ever did was make coffee.
Derek stood beside her and fielded questions from a few NASA employees as they filed out. After the last one exited, he offered her his hand. She took it and let him help her to her feet. Weak kneed, she staggered around the chair while she leaned against him for balance. Now was not the time to pass out. How embarrassing.
"Guess this will be our first date, huh?"
She groaned and gripped his hand tighter. "Oh, just muzzle it, and get me a bullet proof vest. Okay?"
He chuckled good-naturedly. "Oh, baby, I like domineering and kinky.
She wondered if he'd like it if she threw up.