After taking a deep breath, she tried again, speaking slowly and calmly. “I was out running. That’s where I saw the naked man. In the woods.”

Heath tensed, eyes narrowing, his police instincts going on full alert, hand moving toward his gun. “Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” His gaze searched the wooded area for any movement.

“I did. At least, that’s what I tried to tell the stupid dispatcher.”

“I’ll need a description.” He pulled a pad and pencil out of his shirt pocket.

She thought back. “Tall.” He was a lot taller than her. And tanned. “Dark.” Wow, it was really hard to actually give a description of someone she had seen for a brief moment, and she really didn’t think Heath would appreciate her saying the naked guy was…well endowed.

Heath cleared his throat.

All right already, she was thinking.

The naked guy had been nice looking, in a serial killer sort of way, though. “Handsome,” she finished.

His pencil paused above the pad. “Tall, dark, and handsome?”

It sounded bad now that she thought about it. “Well, he was,” she defended herself. Where was it in any rule book that serial killers had to be ugly?

He sighed. “What was he wearing?’

“He was naked. I told you that already.”

“I guess you did.” He studied her for a moment. “Maybe you’d better tell me exactly what happened.” He motioned for her to go up on the porch.

Whatever. She walked up the steps and plopped down on the porch swing. Heath followed, then leaned against the railing.

“I was out running, and this hawk landed in front of me.”

“A hawk?” His eyebrows drew together. “I thought you said it was a naked man.”

“The first thing I saw was a hawk.”

“That’s not normal. I mean, having one land in front of you.”

“I know. It was almost creepy the way the bird just stared at me. And then a heavy fog rolled in.”

“Fog?” He looked at the blue sky, then back at her.

“Yeah, it was really weird.”

“Go on.”

“I heard someone groan.”

“The hawk?”

She shook her head. “I thought it might be the hawk’s owner or something. Then the fog sort of drifted away, and there was a man.”

“The naked man?”

She sighed with relief. He was finally getting it. “Yes, the naked man.”

“What did he say?”

“That his name was Crisco, and he was from another planet. I forget what name he called it. And that he was here to take me back with him. That’s when I maced him and ran home.”

He closed the pad and slipped it, along with his pencil, back in his pocket.

“Do you want me to show you where I saw him?”

“I don’t think that will be necessary.” He came to his feet and marched down the steps, heading toward his patrol car with purposeful strides.

“Where are you going?” She jumped up and followed.

He suddenly turned, and she had to skid to a halt to keep from plowing into him.

“Ria, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve known your mom and dad for at least twenty years, I’d run your butt in for making a false report,” he said with more than a touch of exasperation.

“But he was there.”

“Think about what you’re saying, girl.” His eyes suddenly filled with pity. “A hawk lands in front of you, fog rolls in when the sun is out. Then, apparently, the bird turns into a naked man who tells you he’s an alien and wants to take you back to his planet.”

Okay, it did sound crazy. “But it happened.”

“Do you want me to call your mother for you?”

She shoved her hands down deep inside her pockets. “No, I don’t want you to call Mom. I’m not having a spell or anything.”

“They have doctors in Dallas who might be able to help you, you know.”

“I’m not crazy!” She turned on her heel and stomped back toward the house.

Of course you’re not crazy.

“Shut up!”

“I was only trying to help,” Heath said.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”


Great. Dig the hole a little deeper.

She strode up the steps and into the house. Then it hit her. Everyone in Miller Bend had a police scanner. She supposed it would be all over town by this afternoon that she was seeing aliens—and talking to the voice in her head…again.

Another mark against her. At least it would give the townspeople something to talk about at the July Fourth festivities this weekend. Unless something out of the ordinary happened that would give everyone something better to talk about.

Yeah, right. What could top her seeing a hawk, then a thick fog, then a naked man who claimed to be an alien and wanted to whisk her off to his planet?

Nope, they’d definitely be talking about her.

Chapter 2

“Hey, Ria, seen any aliens lately?”

Ria froze in the process of unfolding her camp chair. She recognized the voice—Ben Dansworth. He was a real dweeb, and had been since third grade.

“Don’t pay any attention to him,” Ria’s mother said as she settled into her chair. “He’s an ass. Let’s enjoy the parade. After all, it’s the Fourth of July. We’ve been blessed with nice weather, and how often do we get to watch a good parade?”

In Miller Bend? Nearly every holiday was all. New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year…name it, and they had a parade. And then there were the celebrations that went along with the parades. They even had an Old Settlers reunion celebration—and parade. And it was the same floats, with only minor changes to denote why they were celebrating.

But a flood of warmth settled around Ria as she watched her mother make herself comfortable, smiling as she looked around at the people she’d known since the day she was brought into this world.

Living forever in their small town suited Ria’s mom. Maggie Lancaster was a slice of hot apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a warm summer day. She was crocheted sweaters and homemade quilts.

And she’d gotten stuck with a defective kid.

Ria only wished she didn’t have to screw up all the time. Or hear the voice inside her head.

I beg your pardon. I’m not just a voice inside your head. I happen to be part of you. If you would pay a little more attention, I could explain everything.

“Shut up.”

“What, dear?” Her mother glanced Ria’s way, the lines around her mouth and eyes deepening.

Great. Ria had told her mother she no longer heard the voice. It was just a small white lie so her mom wouldn’t worry.

Ria smiled. “You know, shut up. Not shut up when you tell a person to shut up. I

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