only smiled.

He taunted her! Well, they would just see who smiled last!

The fire truck passed, then turned the corner, but she could still feel the tingles that one look from him had left behind. Much to her chagrin, they stayed with her until the parade was almost over.

Ria wished she could drag Carly with her tonight, but her best friend had caught a summer cold and decided to forgo the activities. Not that Carly joined in that much. She was more content to stay in her own little world, away from the crowds. The girl really needed a dose of confidence.

“Oh, there’s Vicky Jo.” Maggie waved at her friend.

“Go ahead and join her,” Ria said. “The parade is almost over.”

Maggie nibbled her bottom lip.

“I’ll put the chairs in the back of my car, and then probably wander around a bit. I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll see you tonight.” Her mother hurried to catch up with her friend as Ria stood, folded the camp chairs, and looped them over her arm. Maybe she would grab a funnel cake and take it by Carly’s. Carly had a strange passion for them. Besides, she needed to talk to her about Kristor, and plan her next action against him.

When she got to her car, she juggled the chairs while reaching in her pocket for her keys, but lost her balance. The only thing that kept her from falling on her butt was a hard chest and strong arms.

“Thanks.” She laughed as she untangled from the chairs, but her laughter quickly died when she turned and saw the man who’d helped save her from an embarassing moment. “You!”

“Now are you ready to leave?” Kristor asked.

She automatically reached for her can of mace, before realizing she hadn’t brought it. She’d only been going to a parade, not jogging through the woods.

“Who are you?” Her eyes narrowed. He had his nerve standing there as if he owned the world looking all… all…

Sexy? Manly? Delicious? Shintara’s sultry laughter rippled.

Like a dictator, Ria finished her own thought. She returned her attention back to the crazy guy.

“Why did you tell me you were from another planet? And why are you renting my old room? I want you out of my parents’ house. And I refuse to go anywhere with you.” She looked around for a cop but, of course, there wasn’t one.

“Your adopted parents are very nice. It was good when they took you into their home and raised you.” His gaze raked over her. “Although, you don’t have the same personality. They’re very friendly.”

Goose bumps popped up on her arms. “What do you know about me?” Someone had told him she was adopted. They had to. It wasn’t like it was a big secret, but her parents rarely mentioned it.

“I know of your family, and where you come from.”

Why was she listening to this garbage? No way could he know about her biological family. He couldn’t. Could he? She needed to think. He was confusing her.

She pushed the button on her keychain and popped the trunk of her car, but when she started to lift the chairs and put them inside, he brushed her out of the way and did it for her.

She watched him, wondering if he was telling the truth. She had searched for information—what adopted child wouldn’t?—and had come up empty-handed. The woman at the adoption agency told her it wasn’t unusual to have a baby placed on the doorstep of the orphanage. Unfortunately, the child would never be able to find out anything about her family. So, how did this stranger know about her parents?

She closed the lid of her trunk. “Why should I believe you? Everyone knows I was adopted. It’s not a big secret. You could be making all this up.”

He clamped his lips together, his face taking on a reddish hue. Ria wondered if he was about to blow a gasket, but just as suddenly, he calmed.

“I have no reason to lie,” he said in a stilted voice.

You could at least listen to what he has to say, Shintara said.

Yeah, like I listened to you about the whoopee cushion? I don’t think so.

Are you ever going to forget about that? Give me a break! At least hear the guy out.

Nope, Ria had learned her lesson with that one. Her high school teacher? During assembly? Sheesh! What had she been thinking to go along with Shintara? Although, Ria might have gotten away with it if Donald Evans hadn’t told on her.

But what if he did know something? “First, tell me why you were running around in the woods naked.” Let him answer that one.

“It is our custom.”

Just as her mother had said. So maybe she might have misunderstood when he’d said he was from another planet. Maybe he had meant country. It was possible.

She wavered. As much as she loved her parents, there was a hole inside her that only knowing about her biological parents could fill. Ron and Maggie Lancaster would always be her parents, no matter what she discovered.

“Okay, I’ll listen, but not anywhere too private. I still don’t trust you.”

He planted his fists on his hips, feet apart, as if he was about to argue. He reminded her of a Viking warrior, except dark rather than blond. One who was apparently put out at the moment because she didn’t just take off and go wherever he wanted. And that was so not going to happen.

“Where then?” He finally gave in.

“The park,” she said. They would have booths and picnic tables, and there’d be a crowd. Plus, it was within walking distance.

She pocketed her keys and headed in that direction, not looking to see if he followed, but she was pretty sure he did. She could feel his gaze on her. Was he on the level about knowing where she came from? She’d wondered for so long. Why had her parents left her in the care of strangers? What had they been like? Had they loved her?

Panic set in and, for a moment, she considered telling him to forget the whole thing. What if her parents were serial killers locked away in prison?

Maybe that’s why she didn’t stop walking. Good or bad, she needed to know.

Kristor stayed a step behind Rianna. Stubborn, obstinate female. Women usually did whatever he asked. Why should this one be any different? His frown deepened. Maybe because she was only part Symtarian. That had to be it.

Rianna tensed when she was around him, showing her uneasiness, but she also wanted knowledge about her past. He admired her for facing her fear. But would she believe him when he told her that her ancestors were from another planet? Probably not. He had to admit, he hadn’t made a good first impression.

Throw her over your shoulder. Force her to return to New Symtaria and be done with it.

Labrinon, I wondered when you would say something, Kristor told his animal guide. He had thought about throwing her over his shoulder, but his father had cautioned him to lean on the side of diplomacy, and his mother…

Ah, his mother. For such a delicate flower, she could easily bend her husband and children to her will. In her soft voice, she had begged him to be gentle. It was not in his nature, but he would try, at least, for a while.

I’m sure she has naked men jumping out in front of her every day, telling her they’re from another planet and wanting her to leave with them, Labrinon continued, words dripping with sarcasm. You shouldn’t have spoken. It ruined the element of surprise. Before you could grab her, she ran. Not a very well-thought-out maneuver.

Did you not hear anything my brother said when he returned with Callie? Exasperation laced Kristor’s thoughts.

Of course, I heard Rogar.

Not very well, apparently. When Rogar had transformed from a jaguar to a human, Callie ran away screaming.

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