The Minister’s Manipulation
Releasing August 28th
Jamie Cohen strode into the elevator on the 8th floor of NASA headquarters, hit the button for the lobby, and leaned back against the elevator wall. A large exhale blew her carefully coiffed bangs above her forehead, joining the scowl in throwing her usually pristine appearance into disarray.
She crossed her arms over her chest and muttered to herself. “I can’t believe they still haven’t found her.”
A moment before the elevator doors finally got around to closing, a hand appeared in the gap, causing them to spring back open. A tall, well-dressed man joined her against the elevator wall, his expression the definition of patience.
“Don’t start, Lance,” Jamie said, holding her hand up. “It’s been nearly six months! If those eggheads were going to do something, they’d have done it already.”
Lance shook his head. Every lock of hair stayed perfectly in place on his handsome head. “As one of those eggheads, I promise you we’re doing everything we can.”
Jamie sighed. Her fiancé looked like the opposite of “egghead.” He was fit, muscular, and had a charming smile and pleasant demeanor. They’d met the first time she’d stomped into the NASA offices, demanding that they bring her sister Sylvie home. He’d escorted her to coffee after she’d yelled at most of his superiors, hoping to calm her down and explain that they were working hard to bring Dr. Cohen home.
Still, no sign of Sylvie had been found. She’d been shot into space looking for extraterrestrial life, and her shuttle had crashed on an alien world. No one had heard from her in all this time. Were they even looking?
Jamie eyed her companion. Dr. Lance Cargraves had a degree in mathematics and was one of NASA’s most decorated astronauts. His warm brown eyes, wide smile, and excellent bone structure made him stand out among the other glasses-wearing, lab-coat sporting eggheads.
Of course, she’d accepted when he’d asked her out to dinner after that first fateful coffee.
Jamie had rushed to Washington D.C. after she’d heard the reports that NASA’s first solo long distance mission had resulted in a crash-landing. If it hadn’t been her sister, Dr. Sylvia Cohen, on the rocket, she would have had no idea that the mission even existed. Current events in space travel weren’t her strong suit.
She didn’t know anyone in this town, and Lance had been her first friendly face. So it had made sense to accept his proposal after they’d been dating for a few months. Still…she had a few niggling doubts she hadn’t been able to lay to rest.
“Look,” Lance said, his smooth voice hauling her out of her restless thoughts. “Why don’t you go home, take a nice hot bath and try to relax. I’ll take you out to dinner tonight at that bistro you mentioned, the one where all the celebrities eat.”
Jamie gave him a half-hearted smile. The elevator stopped, the doors opening onto gray carpets and displays of outer-space memorabilia. Lance took her arm, steering her towards the double doors and then out onto the street. He leaned down, planting a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll make the reservations. You pick out your prettiest dress, and I’ll pick you up at eight.”
Then he was gone, back into NASA headquarters. And Jamie stood alone on the sidewalk, feeling lost as passersby surrounded her.
She shook her head, wondering how she’d once again been blown off by the eggheads upstairs and distracted by her own fiancé. I will find you, Sylvie, even if I have to climb into a rocket myself!
Drak’Karren Rasveen, Minister of Defense to the planet Zanthar, trailed behind his target at a reasonable distance. Not that she’d notice me if I walked in front of her, waving my arms over my head and shouting “I’m an alien” at the top of my lungs.
It seemed to him that Dr. Sylvia Cohen’s sister’s head was permanently in the clouds. Or better yet, her head was tucked between the pages of those glossy gossip holo-magazines she bought in bulk. I bet she’s got one tucked in that designer handbag right now, he thought. Next to a metric ton of lip gloss, eye shadow, and mascara.
Drake shook his head, wondering how he even knew what ‘mascara’ was. It’s her fault.
Following around a shallow, fashion-obsessed human had taught him all sorts of things. That high heels with red bottoms were the height of class. That a female’s hair should look different on a daily basis. That the handbag she was currently carrying cost enough to feed a family of four for several months on this backward planet.
But one lesson, in particular, had been harder than all the others to learn. I am not immune to human females’ charms. Or at least one particular female.
Drake scowled as he followed her onto the train platform, maintaining a healthy distance from Jamie Cohen. Although he’d been exposed to images of humans since childhood, along with a multitude of other alien species, he’d never seen them with anything other than intellectual curiosity.
He’d spent the last several months working in close contact with Dr. Sylvia Cohen, Captain Jennifer Brooklyn, and female members of her crew. Not once had he ever experienced any form of attraction to them. When he’d landed on Earth, his alien form disguised, he’d been surrounded by humans of both sexes. None of them had ever made him react.
Drake couldn’t figure out why she got under his skin like she did. Maybe it was the way she moved. Like she walks on water.
She boarded the train and Drake followed, entering the other door in the same car. The train was crowded, and he was forced to stand, but he watched as two businessmen immediately gave up their seats for Jamie. She flashed a smile at them both, sat, pulled out her phone and promptly began ignoring them.
Drake grit his teeth. Anytime he’d gotten close to the beautiful Jamie Cohen; she’d treated him the same. A brief acknowledgment, if any, then nothing.
He’d been following her around for a week now, getting to know her habits. She’d been a person of last resort on their list, the least likely person to aid him in infiltrating NASA headquarters. And yet, as every other avenue had led to a dead end, she was now his best hope of accomplishing his mission.
Why did she have to be so goddamn sexy?
The way she laughed. The way her eyes seemed to have their own shine. The way her lips curled up into a slow smile. Her body, similar to her sister’s but with curves all her own. And those fiery red curls, seemingly designed to make him crazy.
He’d had weeks’ worth of uncomfortable erections, but at least he was making headway. Now if he could find a way to use her to gain access into NASA’s secured areas without alerting the enemy.
His body swayed as the train headed away from the platform. Drake considered the circumstances that had led him to be here, now, obsessed with a human female who could never know his true identity.
When Jamie’s sister, Dr. Sylvia Cohen, had crashed through the planetary defense shield on his home world, he should have led the charge to discover how the little Earth craft had accomplished what had seemed to be a technological miracle. Instead, he’d been a prisoner of his people’s ancient enemy, a shape-shifting race known as the Hareema. He’d been replaced by a Hareema double who had almost succeeded in toppling Zanthar’s government.
Once he’d been freed from his cage by Lieutenant Ontarii and his plucky human companion, Captain Brooklyn, Drake had immediately began putting the pieces of the Hareema plot together. All evidence led to Earth being infiltrated by their shape-shifting enemy.
He’d spent months looking at the issue from every angle. And once Kat’Chinna Yarr had returned from her recon mission with the human lieutenant from Captain Brooklyn’s crew with Brook’s ship in tow, his scientists had found the key to infiltrating Earth without being discovered.
They had turned their enemy’s biology to their own advantage. As he stood here, on the Earthling train speeding towards Jamie’s stop, he was cloaked entirely by a thin membrane of Hareema carcass. They’d been able to calibrate it so that he appeared to be a nondescript human male. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Average looks. Someone who could blend in with a crowd.
His height and build, however, had proved exceedingly difficult to mask with the skin-suit. In his bare feet, he was almost seven feet tall and was much more muscular than the average human. Somehow, Zantharian scientists had figured out a way to configure the Hareema suit to make him appear much smaller than he was, much closer to the average human height of around six feet.
Suddenly, Drake’s senses were on high alert. One of the businessmen who had opted to stand so that Jamie and her overlarge handbag had a place to rest was bending to tap Jamie on her shoulder.
He was too far away to hear what they were saying, but he didn’t miss the little moue of annoyance on Jamie’s face. She shook her head, but that didn’t stop the man from resting his hand on her shoulder.
Drake started moving forward, trying to get closer. The numerous passengers in the train car made that no easy feat. Short of shoving his way through the crowd and drawing unwanted attention to himself, he was stuck inching his way past other commuters.
Jamie brushed the man’s hand off, then stood, swinging her handbag onto her shoulder in a motion that screamed agitation.
Drake’s senses went on high alert. If he hadn’t been disguised, the train passengers would have been treated to the sight of a huge yellow-skinned alien intent on violence. Instead, as a nondescript average human male, he was at best ignored and at worst given dirty looks as he pushed his way through the press of bodies.
His eyes followed Jamie as she moved next to the door. Her stop was next. He abandoned his attempts to make it to her side and moved closer to the door nearest him. He slowed his breathing as the train slowed, pulling into the station.
Drake had to be calm, look normal, avoid notice as he stalked his target to her lodgings. The doors at last opened with their customary whoosh, and he made sure Jamie had disembarked before he exited the car.
Avoid notice. Blend in. Look normal. Non-threatening.
The human female made her way across the platform, heading for the stairs that brought her to street level. Drake lagged behind, not wanting to draw her attention.
The two suits from before tumbled out of the train just before it took off from the station. Drake’s body shot through with adrenaline. The one who had touched Jamie was talking rapidly to his companion who was shaking his head. Another moment of furious conversation and his companion seemed to relent, then followed the man as he headed to the stairs.
Drake could just see the top of Jamie’s fire-kissed head as she made her way up the stairs. He quickened his pace until he was a few steps behind the businessmen, close enough to hear their conversation.
“Trust me; she’s game. She just needs a little persuasion. You know how chicks always play hard to get.”
The man’s friend turned his head, allowing Drake to catch sight of the skeptical look on his face. “One drink, Chuck. Then I have to head back to the train. Marsha will have my guts for garters if I’m late for dinner again.”
“Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,” Chuck muttered. “I don’t know how you can stand that woman, Jim. When are you going to divorce her and find a pretty young piece like that one?”
When Chuck nodded his head in Jamie’s direction, Drake had to restrain himself from popping the bastard’s eyes out with his thumbs.
By the next block, they’d caught up with their quarry. Drake took a position behind the corner of a nearby brownstone, his muscles tight, his body screaming for action that he was forced to restrain.
“Miss,” Chuck said, pulling a folded newspaper from his shoulder bag and breaking into a jog. “You forgot this on the train.”
Jamie turned, confusion painting her pretty face. “Pardon?”
Chuck came to a stop in front of her and waved the newspaper under her nose. “This. You left it on the seat. I thought it might be important, so we tracked you down.”
Jamie’s eyes widened. “That’s not mine.”
The businessman laughed. “Well isn’t this a pickle!” He dropped the newspaper to the ground and held out his hand. “I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself earlier. I’m Charles.” He extended a hand, then slapped his partner on the back. “And this is Jim.”
Jim nodded, his smile small and his face saying he didn’t exactly want to be part of this transparent pretense at a genuine meeting.
“Nice to meet you,” Jamie said after a beat, finally taking Chuck’s hand.
It was a mistake. Once he had her hand in his, the businessman was loath to let it go. “What’s your name?” he asked, his toothy smile making Drake’s insides clench with an emotion he was hesitant to put a name to.
“Jamie.” Her eyes darted back and forth between the men, and she took a step backward, but Chuck held her hand prisoner.
“Now that we’re all friends let’s have a drink. I know a place a few blocks from here that makes a mean dirty martini.”
“No thanks,” Jamie said. “I have to get home and make dinner for my husband and kids.”
Drake knew it was a lie but inwardly applauded her attempt to defuse the situation.
“Husband and kids, huh?” Chuck said, pulling her hand up closer to his face. “Funny, I don’t see a ring on your finger.”
Jamie gave a tug on her hand, but Chuck kept hold of her wrist. “I don’t like to wear my ring when I ride the train. It could be stolen.”
Chuck laughed. “Cute. Look, honey, we both know you’re not married, a hot young thing like you. Why don’t you drop the act and join us for a drink?”
“Let go of me.” Jamie tugged again, this time hard enough to nearly stumble backward.
The businessman laughed, and the sound set off something in Drake’s brain. Something terrible.
Something that wanted vengeance drenched in blood.
Before he realized it, he was striding towards the fracas, his fists balled in rage.
Jim hadn’t even had a chance to realize someone was behind him before Drake had him in a headlock and began dragging him backward.